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Interview with Dr Neil Schofield

Dr Neil Schofield is a retired consultant anaesthetist, formerly at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. Neil and his wife Dr Jennifer Goy, a former consultant anaesthetist at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, retired nearly ten years ago and have enjoyed many trips abroad ever since, including to Antarctica, the Silk Route, Laos, South West China, Tibet, Bhutan, Burma and Indonesia.

Dr Neil Schofield is a retired consultant anaesthetist, formerly at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. Neil and his wife Dr Jennifer Goy, a former consultant anaesthetist at Stoke Mandeville Hospital,…

We take around 2 trips per year and want to visit places now while we still can! Perhaps sometime in the future we may need to go to more conventional holiday locations that have easy access to medical care, so we’re making the most of it!

I’ve always enjoyed visiting new places – even if I’m driving in England and see a road I’ve not taken before I’ll take the turning just to see where it leads. I grew up near the Peak District and take pleasure in exploring.

Although my wife enjoys reading, we’re not beach holiday people. I prefer to see the sights of a country. I don’t mind adding a beach holiday onto the end of a trip – in Indonesia we recently spent 3 enjoyable days at the beach before flying home.

Well I don’t do it! My wife Jennifer is the travel planner and we use a couple of good travel agents, including one organising tours for Cambridge and Oxford alumni. The groups are small with excellent guides who escort us.

We often decide where to go next because of conversations with other travellers. They will recount tales of their recent adventures and it tends to inspire our next trip.

Last year Jennifer enjoyed a three-month module at SOAS on Buddhist art and one of her essays was on Borobudur – a 9th century temple in Java, Indonesia. This was one of the reasons we organised a trip there. We recently went to another Buddhist area, Ladakh, which is a region in the far northwest of India, close to the borders of Pakistan and Tibet (China).

We went for three weeks, travelling with a small group and visiting some of the magnificent monasteries of the area. Ladakh is only accessible by road for around five months of the year as there are just two routes in. We flew into Leh, the capital, and stayed in small hotels which were very comfortable as we moved around Ladakh. For the final few days we flew to Srinagar in Kashmir and stayed on a luxury houseboat on a lake.

The food on our trip was perfectly edible but I don’t think you’d go to Ladakh as a foodie. We were normally offered four different vegetable curries and another with some sort of protein, often a hard-boiled egg. We didn’t go for the food, and the monasteries or gompas, views and landscape were magnificent.

The region surprised me because I had assumed it would be quite lush. We had been to the Eastern Himalayas which is very green. In fact Ladakh is a desert. There is very little rain and the water comes from the snow melt and is then channelled to the villages via an irrigation system which can be seen across the mountainsides.

Often on these trips the first day consists of just taking things easy and wandering around the local area to acclimatise. The main city of Leh sits at 3,300 metres so it’s high. The translation of Ladakh is actually ‘the land of the high passes’. We had no altitude problems.

We flew into Leh from Delhi and some may find the approach to the runway a little nerve-wracking. Leh is nestled in the upper Indus valley so the plane must fly along the valley, past the airport and make a tight U-turn below the level of the surrounding peaks to land.

We also visited the Nubra Valley which is further north than Leh on the very edge of India. We travelled by normal two-wheel drive car through the KhardungLa pass at a height of over 5,600 metres, the highest motorable road in the world. The roads are good because they are maintained for the military in the area. The Ladakh region has a disputed border between India, Pakistan and China, but we were really unaware of the military presence unless we drove by an army base.

The Numra region has large gompas at Samstenling and Disket, as well as sand dunes and Bactrian camel rides.

The gompas are spectacular with incredible scenery. There are so many of them, largely supported by local villages. They also contain impressive images and artwork.

We also saw some extensive moonlike geological formations near the Lamayura monastery not far from the banks of the Indus River in Ladakh.

Yes, a few people on our recent travels have told us we must go. We want to go now, while it is open to tourism. With any of these places, you never know when the opportunity to visit will disappear. We are looking forward to seeing the gardens and monuments which people have said are wonderful. We also hope to visit the north-west corner which is lush and green.

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