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February 2008





As someone who can't finish a meal without eating something sweet – including breakfast – a discovery of delicious desserts has lifted my spirits.

India's chaos is bothering me less now I've discovered the joy of a murgh tikka chicken dish followed by a sticky gulab jamun pud.

In fact, I'm experiencing a second love affair – with food.

Train Man sometimes looks at me polishing off pudding with pride – a girl who eats with gusto – and at others, disgust.

But in Rishikesh last Tuesday, as I ordered a pudding called Hello To The Queen, he looked relieved to see me smiling again, despite the madness around us.

Not only did the name make me giggle, it tasted amazing: a biscuity base layered with mashed banana and lashings of vanilla ice cream. It was so vast, Train Man and our friends Diccon and Julie joined in.

But it wasn't just pudding that danced on my taste buds. In the past week, we've feasted for next to nothing on curries and naan galore washed down with banana lassis.

On Wednesday we took a three-hour taxi ride 32 miles north to Mussoorie, at the foothills of the Himalayas, for another food awakening.

At the Kalsang restaurant they serve momos, which translates as ‘dumplings to die for'.

On Thursday, we walked past a Hindu wedding and got roped in.

Our self-consciousness soon faded when we saw the spread: vats of creamy dhal, piles of samosas, and rose water ice creams covered in flowers so beautiful, I didn't know whether to eat them or put them in my hair.

And after all that? Beans on toast for breakfast at Hotel Padmini Nivas.

But the bliss soon turned to panic. Diccon and Julie go home tomorrow and it's dinner à deux from now on. Oh no! What if Train Man and I become one of those couples in restaurants who never speak...?

Miles travelled: 32 around a mountain Terse sentences exchanged: Still none! Puddings eaten: 17

Next week: Is Zoë's love life going off the rails?





I was so preoccupied with my capsule wardrobe, I forgot to think about the culture shock that awaited me in India.

From the '70s-style airport to the reckless rickshaws, the constant noise of bhangra to the cars' beeping, it hadn't crossed my mind how overwhelming this would be.

And was it the pollution, or was everything unsettlingly beige?

Fortunately our friends, Julie and Diccon, were waiting at the hotel – we were going to travel together for a week before they went home – and I'd never been happier to see them.

Julie is a goddess in heels with a love of rosé wine and a hatred of public toilets, so if she could rough it in India, so could I.

And as Train Man had told me with wide-eyed enthusiasm all about his travels around India eight years ago, I wanted to be a boho babe and fall in love with it too.

As we caught up on the hotel courtyard at sunset, Julie enthused about the food, the hilarity, the jewellery and the sights they'd seen in the past fortnight.

"OK," I thought, "I can do this." But it turns out I couldn't.

The next morning we caught the train north east to Rishikesh, the home of yoga and a hotspot for hippies.

But where most people in this holy city apparently feel awakened and alive, I just felt weird.

Maybe it was the jet lag, the dirt, the beggars, the monkey peeing on my foot, or the power cuts.

Or maybe it was walking into a cow in the dark on our way from the Ganges to the grubby hostel the others had chosen.

I did that thing I do when I'm not happy. I go mute. Train Man knew something was wrong, but I tried to be brave and shone my torch in his face so he couldn't see me welling up.

"Baby, I feel out of sorts," I confessed, as we got between our filthy sheets. "I do too," he reassured me. "But we're on day two of a year away – it'll take adjustment."

I put my head in the curve between his neck and his shoulder and buried my face. I suddenly felt at home.

Miles Covered: 4,354
Terse sentences exchanged: None yet
Curries eaten: 21 (three a day)

Next week: Zoë finds pudding paradise...




She fell in love on her daily commute. Now Zoë Smith invites you along on her travels with ‘Train Man’

Last Thursday, and the bright red digits on the check-in desk scales filled me with pride. My backpack, containing my entire life for a year, weighed just 13.8kg – lighter than Train Man's meaty 16.9kg.

Ever since that fateful day six months ago when he sent me a text saying: "Sod this, let's rent out the house and go travelling", two words dominated my thoughts: capsule wardrobe. When Train Man bought me a backpack, I nearly cried as I examined the lack of space. "My footwear won't even fit in!" He looked unimpressed. And like that Meryl Streep film where she has to choose between her children, I had to pick running shoes or heels. (In case you're wondering, I chose the running shoes. I'm hoping to get some knock-off Jimmy Choos in Bangkok.)

I vowed to create a capsule wardrobe I wouldn't feel invisible in. I'd travelled with my friend Jo when I was 18, looking like a sack of spuds in elasticated trousers. I wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

So while Train Man pored over guidebooks, I went to every Roxy store in London to find the perfect beach dress. And then there was the make-up. My dressing table is a pigment party of juicy eyeshadows, cheek creams and gorgeous lipglosses – how could I scale that down?

To save room on eyelash curlers and mascara, I did the single most shallow thing I've ever done: I had my lashes permed and tinted. I told Train Man it was for medical reasons – that if I couldn't curl my lashes every day I wouldn't be able to see properly. He looked at me proudly, kissed my eyes and commended me on having such long lashes. Bless.

So the teary family farewell at Terminal 3 was lightened by my luggage triumph as I teased Train Man on his sloppy packing. "But I'm carrying the guidebooks, your washbag, your sleeping bag and your towel!" he moaned. Good point, I thought. He'll look after me this year…

Miles covered: 20 (getting to Heathrow).
Terse setences exchanged: None... yet.
Panic attacks: Don't ask!

Next week: Zoë runs into trouble in India