From first camp to Siswan (Olwen Law writes from the Hola Mohalla ride)

Posted on March 20, 2016

Our “what to bring” list for the Indian rides advises bringing ear plugs in case of noisy dogs in camp.  But our camp last night is incredibly quiet, not a dog can be heard although we were woken by some noisy peacocks.  It can also be quite cold at night when camping and so we are provided with duvets, extra sleeping bags as well as the ultimate treat of a hot water bottle, but again I am pleasantly surprised and toasty warm all night.

Our camp is overlooked by a large Sikh temple, which is known as a Gurudawara. We shall be visiting one later in the week when we reach Anandpur and the Hola Mohalla festival.

This is really glamping Indian style. The tents are spacious with two beds, table, mirror and a floor covering. There are two large shower cubicles and a plentiful supply of hot water for our bucket shower. Is there anything more refreshing than an open air shower after a hot sticky day in the saddle?

The kitchen truck supplies an excellent breakfast.

camp at siswan
We have cereal, bananas, grapes, followed by tasty omelette and toast. The food cooked by our camp staff at breakfast and for lunch is a highlight of each day.

We mount up at 9.30 and continue to follow the river bed, with occasional detours through small hamlets but managing to avoid traffic most of the day. There is much to see as we ride.

We pass a busy brick kiln. Women are working hard carrying bricks to and fro – but the bigger piles of bricks are being moved by tractor. No donkeys working in this brick kiln. While we see some ponies and cart and an ox cart as well, there are not as many as I remember from a previous visit to Rajasthan. That is probably partly due to passage of time and partly because the Punjab has a more developed agricultural industry.

The principle form of energy for cooking and heating for the rural people is still dried cow pats and these are piled up in very regular constructions to dry.

We pass a large group of camels – not a problem to our Marwari horses used to seeing them in their home state of Rajasthan. These camels are being used to bring timber out of the forests.

Nomadic people, with their herds of water buffalo, have set up semi-permanent homes right in the middle of the river. In just a few months, they will move on and their homes will be washed away as the river floods (when the snow melts in the mountains and the monsoon rains arrive).

But there are also much more substantial farms, like this one, on higher ground and probably safe from all but occasional high floods. Their corrals, homestead and collection of animals looks like something out of a medieval history book (or a film set).

We set up our lunch stop in the grounds of a small house surrounded by green barley fields. They would apparently normally be harvesting the barley in about three weeks (in mid April), but this late crop still has to ripen.

In the distance we can see the mountains and some hill stations. Shimla is just beyond the range we can see.

Our horses on this ride are the beautiful Marwari horses from the Dundlod Stables in Rajasthan who have been trucked some 400kms to the Punjab. The Marwari horse is of course most notable for its curly ears which can almost touch at the tip and rotate almost 180 degres. It is sometimes difficult to know when they are back and when they are forward.

I think I should aim for all my photographs to be through beautiful ears like this, belonging to the stunning grey mare I am riding. Having come from the deserts of Rajasthan,  crossing the many streams and little gullies of water on this ride has sometimes been a challenge for her and she has to think twice before putting her dainty toes into a stream. But I was taken completely unawares when, at the last minute, she took a massive leap across a 6 inch puddle which must have contained a huge dragon. I managed to stay on, only to find that my stirrup leather had completely snapped. But the support vehicle provided a replacement within about 3 minutes, so all well.

Tonight we stay in the Siswan Forest Lodge, which is a small guesthouse set in lovely gardens, and have yet another tasty dinner.
Later I’m wondering if I should use those ear plugs because a huge construction site is doing some kind of dredging work just outside my window, or should I feel sorry for the poor fellows having to work the machine in very gloomy lights this late into the night. But fortunately it all shuts down at 11pm and total silence reigns (OK there is at least one barking dog!)

You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email or visit

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