October 1989. It was startling, having just arrived at the Soaltee Oberoi Hotel in Kathmandu, to receive a fax from David Dukesherer, Chief Executive of Hemphill-Harris Travel Corporation, the company that I worked with. Addressed to “All of the group members on tour”, it stated that, as a result of its financial situation, “we have decided to terminate your tour as of today…if you continue independently, you do so at your own risk and expense”.
We were in the early stages of a deluxe 30 day tour of India and Nepal. There were 24 participants. Everyone booked with Hemphill-Harris of Encino, California, because of the company’s solid reputation in the travel world in providing excellent services.Our document wallets were embossed with its motto:”Taking you places no one else can”
The greater part of the group had started from San Francisco, others joined in Hong Kong before continuing to Nepal. Kathmandu was the starting point for a much anticipated Everest flight by private plane. This was a great success with unusually clear and dramatic views of the world’s highest mountains.A late afternoon flight then took us to the unique Tiger Tops Lodge,by the Chitwan National Park . It was an unforgetable experience of two days, taking river safaris to see crocodiles and the one horned rhino, jungle walks and, riding specially trained asiatic elephants to spot the Bengal tiger in the long grasses and even a leopard in the trees. a different highlight every day.So, the announcement by Mr. Dukesherer came as a shock. We arranged a meeting to discuss how to proceed and exchange ideas.
I met that evening with all participants after checking the situation with airlines, agents and hotels. The only thing that became quite clear was the failure of Hemphill.The company was not contactable.
Among the issues raised were the problems of changing airline arrangements and the loss of a much anticipated experience.But I could report that hotels initial deposits had been paid and offered to investigate further. After much discussion, several members suggested that they would be prepared to go on if I agreed to continue leading the tour. I agreed and offered to contribute to the cost of the land arrangements with my emergency funds issued in travelers cheques by Hemphill. By the end of the evening only 2, out of the original 24, had decided to leave and return home from Hong Kong.
Having contacted the various hotels originally reserved by Hemphill, nearly all agreed to rebook the group, crediting the original deposit if everyone paid the difference, individually, upon arrival. The exception was the legendary Lake Palace Hotel which was always fully booked and with a waiting list.However, as a goodwill gesture, I was able to negotiate a visit and lunch in the hotel when arriving in Udaipur.
Next day, Oct 19th, we set out for Varanasi, the city on the Ganges, the holy river to Hindus.In the following days we saw Khajuraho, Agra and had a perfect day at the Taj Mahal. Then on to Fathepur Sikri followed by Delhi with the Houses of Parliament, India Gate and a Sound and Light Show at the historic Red Fort.
A great highlight of the tour was the visit to Kashmir and Lake Dal with its floating gardens.We saw Shalimarand stayed on the Deluxe Houseboats which we reached by slim “shikara” lake boats.More elephants in Jaipur for the trip up to the Amber fortress-palace and, when reaching Udaipur the lunch promised by the Lake Palace Hotel.The final stages of our memorable journey included Aurengabad, for the famous rock-cut monasteries and temples of Ellora as well as the great caves at Ajanta before our flight to Bombay.In the course of an informal farewell evening we discussed how much we had rescued from a disastrous situation.With good humor we awarded ourselves with an Extraordinary Certificate of Completion, witnessed by the Oberoi Hotel Front Office cashier.
Our last overnight was in HongKong before everyone dispersed on home journeys to the USA and Canada, promising to keep in touch.I flew to New York, returned to our apartment at East 55th in Manhattan and deposited my Hemphill salary cheque with Citibank. Needless to say it was returned unpaid because of “insufficient funds”.