Despatched to the Himalayas to report on a spa, off I went. Who could not love an airport that is called Jolly Grant? This is the official name of the airport in Dehradun. I looked for plaques containing explanations of the name on arrival but couldn’t find any. So I have been unable to verify whether the airport was named after a local hero, is a misprint for Jolly Giant (possibly Jolly Green Giant), or was a jolly grant from the Brits back in the day (before 1974, anyway, when airport was built).
The arrival was one of the times that my composure was wobbling. I had no mobile phone signal. If there was no-one at the airport holding a card with my name on it, what would I do? Hike through Uttarakhand on foot like the pilgrims around me? Charter a copter? The options seemed few. (I could probably have sequestered a minicab, I admit.)
But there was the man with my name on a card. All was well.
Off we set, and all was suddenly … interesting.
As we drove through the Rajaji National Park, my driver, helpful, pointed out leopards. He pointed at them. “And some tigers have been seen.” He pondered. “Elephants, too.”
If he had raised these wildlife photo-opportunities while driving down a perfectly level road, I would have been delighted. However, I was visiting in the monsoon. Traversing washed-away vertical mountain roads around hairpin bends at speed was doing nothing for my spa equilibrium. The IATA (International Air Transport Association) code for Jolly Grant Airport is DED, and I now wondered if this was some mournful harbinger. It was clear: I was going to hurtle off a mountain and be eaten by leopards.
I thought I might have to arrive at the spa and announce that the roads — and the sightings of leopards — were so alarming that I would simply have to remain until September when the rains were over and the roads restored.
The spa itself was quite extraordinary: everyone floating about in white pyjamas, peacocks on the lawns, monkeys in the trees, Tibetan therapists willing to try to unknot the kinks in my shoulders, a balcony that looked down onto clouds and the River Ganges. Oh, you know, all the usual ayurvedic spa stuff.
After a few days, however, in which I ate nothing but foods suitable for my dosha and imbibed only Himalayan spring water, I had such a large need for a g&t that I would have repaired those roads myself on the downward journey. Holding the leopards at bay, if necessary, with the only weapon to hand: an aromatic wild-rose candle.
Safely returned to Jolly Grant, I found yet another reason to love it: it only has four check-in counters. You can’t get lost in that. Bijou. Boutique. Not GIANT. What’s not to love?
If you know where the name of this lovely airport arises, please let me know…