Abhijit Shilotri, 39, CEO of Yatra Exhibits, and his wife Harshala travelled to the UK for a month in winter without their sons Arjun, 9, and Aaryan, 5. “This holiday was just for us,” they say
Why did you decide to go back to the UK?
Our first trip to the UK was way back in the summer of 1999. We saw a few of the regular sights, did a few regular things and shopped for the regular keepsakes. But even during that trip I was convinced there was much more to the UK. So, we decided to go back. Maybe to emphasize the difference, we chose to travel for a month in the depths of winter. Harshala worked out the itinerary with the help of RCI professionals over 8 hours.
That most British of questions— what was the weather like?
Cold play: Shilotri and wife Harshala redefined the term winter escape.
We did worry about the cold, but we were so well prepared—think inner wear, winter wear, gloves, beanies—we didn’t feel cold at all. We tried to make the most of the day, though there was hardly any sun throughout. It was cloudy and snowy, and we fell into the habit of leaving the house early, doing our thing, and hitting the sack as early as 7.30pm at times.
London, I guess, was your first stop?
That’s right. We arrived bang in the middle of the Christmas sales and I must confess to being swept away by the shopping frenzy. Despite the crowds, though, there’s so much camaraderie in the air. But two days later, we were in Rhyl, a seaside resort in Denbighshire, in north-eastern Wales. We stayed in a lovely cottage, with peacocks for breakfast guests each day, and made it the base for intensive explorations around the area over seven days. We went to Llandudno, also on the coast, and then to Conwy Castle, a 13th century structure with magnificent sea views. We also went to Chester, on the England-Wales border, and visited the zoo, rated the best in the UK. All of us like animals, and we had heard the Chester zoo had some very rare species. Apart from being very well-maintained, it was packed with animals we had never seen before: the okapi, which looks like a horse but actually belongs to the giraffe family; the red river hog, which comes from Africa; and the ring-tailed lemur from Madagascar…we videographed them all to show the boys back home.
The rest of our days here were spent exploring Rhyl, hiking in the mountains and walking around in Rhyl, Prestatyn and Dyserth. Surprisingly, for this time of the year, the countryside was quite green. It snowed occasionally and it became the coldest we’ve ever known—much more than in Switzerland, where the snow lay feet-deep on the ground.
Scotland! In Glasgow, we stayed with an Italian family we had become friends with while they were in Mumbai. They’re absolute foodies and had been missing Indian cuisine, so Harshala actually cooked a desi meat curry for them.
After a couple of days there, we left for Pitlochry, in the heart of Scotland. The journey was testing: Our train was at 2.40pm but when we reached Glasgow Central at 2.20pm, we realized our train was leaving from Glasgow Queen Station, 10 minutes away. Our cabbie outdid himself and dropped us off at the station at 2.37pm. So here we were, running along in search of platform 1, with all our luggage, for a train that would not leave a minute after 2.40pm. We made it with seconds to spare and reached Pitlochry, but, at 4.16pm, the town was pitch dark and completely dead.
Anyway, a kind cabbie— again—took us to Kenmore Club, an RCI property some distance away, where we were booked. After the harrowing day, it was lovely to be welcomed with mulled wine and mince pies while a member of the staff played the bugle.
Did you get around to exploring the Scottish countryside?
Oh yes, the very next day, which was Christmas Eve. We went for a long mountain walk with 15-20 other residents of Kenmore Club, their dogs and a guide. The countryside was beautiful—still very autumny, all orange, gold and rust, and the Loch Tay was a constant companion. That was probably the high point of the day, literally, since Christmas is a very family-oriented affair there. Christmas Day, too, was very quiet. On 27 December, though, we went on a tour of Blair Athol, one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland. We came away with two 15-year-old bottles and the art of drinking whisky: Not neat, not on the rocks, never with a soda or a cola, but with a dash of water. Something in the water releases the true fragrances and flavours of a single malt.
What about Edinburgh?
Getting there was an adventure by itself! There’s only one taxi in Aberfeldy, the nearest “big town”, and that had already left for Glasgow by the time we called him. A local lady dropped us to Aberfeldy, but by the time we reached Pitlochry, we had missed the train to Edinburgh. But we managed to catch a bus and arrived in the most majestic city we had seen in Europe. It was raining and cold, but so beautiful—it reminded us of Paris.
We ended the day at Fantasy Paradise, a lap-dance parlour— after the distillery, where kids aren’t allowed, this was the second time we were happy we hadn’t brought the boys with us. Unlike the sleazy joints of Thailand, this place elevated the risqué art to a fine aesthetic.
Back to England, in the longest journey we had done so far on the trip: 11-and-a-half hours on the road. We reached Leicester in the evening, and made our way to Rutland. We had a three-bedroom cottage here on the banks of Europe’s largest man-made lake, and we had invited two Indian couples, friends of ours, to spend New Year’s Eve with us and bring in 2008. We made a couple of trips to Cambridge and Oakham, but spent most of our time on the RCI property, which had squash courts, an indoor pool, spa, tennis courts, cycling tracks, et al.
Fly British Airways to Heathrow from Bangalore, New Delhi or Mumbai (Rs26,000 economy return, plus taxes and surcharges).
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org