I have never been to the Soviet Union. When I wanted to visit Moscow. I was not allowed. They said I would require special permission and would have to organise my tour through Sputnik, and hire guide to accomany me all the time I was there. Then, two decades later, when I finally did get an opportunisty to go there, I did not wat to go. It was to join Mr. V.P. Singh's press party on one of those tours that Indian prime ministers make. These kind of tours are both journalistically and from the point of view of tourism most unsatisfcory, you are hustled around like a group of schoolchildren on a picnic and fed official handlouts. And, before you know it, you are back in New Delhi, with several rows of ministers standing at the airport to welcome the prime minister back.
Besides, I did not appreciate the idea that during Rajiv Gadhi's time I was not once invited and the first time V.P. Singh went abroad, I was. It put me in a camp and I do not like being in any camps.
So the farthest East Europe I have been is Yugoslavia and I was there during Marshal Tito's time, which puts the visit back many years.
I had travelled extensively through the country, entering it at the Greek-Yugoslave border town of Gevgheli, then travelling through the states of Macedonia, Serbia, Crotia and Slovania.
My memories of the places and people are very clear. In Macedonia, it was raining, cold, damp, all the time; a substantial part of the population was still Muslim, there were mosques, baggy Turkish trousers; there was a town named Titovelles, and in the capital, Skoplje, there were old London double-decker buses. At the bus terminus, there was a ramp, like the one you have at Victoria Gardens to get on the elephants's back. Passengers would directly eneter the upperdeck of the bus from these ramps.
In Belgrade, the people looked more East European, there was a lot of drinking, people would invite you into their house early in the morning for breakfast and serve strong spirits; the Danube looked grey, there were large pictures of Tito extending over five and six floors of building, the Simplon Express brought passengers, among them a Sikh, travelling from Baghdad to Paris.
In Zagreb, capital of Croatia, the population still looked East European; there were industries, chimneys spouting smoke forming a skyline, and old Europeans trams with tracks laid in the road that looked like railway tracks.
But Lubliana was definitely Western Europe, the food was Italian and Austrian, there were skislopes just outside the town, the people looked healthier, smarter, were better dressed. And Trieste and Italy were a steep winding cliff road down to the sun-splashed Adriatic.
But the point is not Yugoslavia; it is, if I were given another chance, would I still go to the Soviet Union. And the answer is: No.I would rather go to China, the last communist country in the world.