PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1974 - SEPTEMBER
1 September, Leh
MOUNTAINS - TIBET - ARMY CAMPS - LEH
At 4:00 this morning we are warming ourselves with tea. The trees have gone and there are high high mountains all around, but less snow - earth covers the rocks, but the rocks often jut through, it is very flaky rock - beautiful jaggedness. The place we stop for lunch is far out - real Tibetans - women in fancy dress with velvet clothes and earrings, selling apricots, fresh and dried, and apples. On the road to Leh I see a Buddha carved in stone, a yak, pretty villages in the valleys, box-shaped white-washed houses stepped up the mountain-side with small windows ungeometrically set in the walls. On route we see mantra walls, a metre thick, the tops covered in stones with writing - Buddhists are supposed to recite these as they pass. We also see many holy places where pages of scripture are buried. Some are old and crumbling down, others are big and brightly painted with gold tops. After passing many army camps, we reach Leh just after 6:00. It is set in the valley of the Indus (Chinese waters) - the mountains around are very high, a few peaks are snow-capped. All the Germans make for a hotel, I find the Mansa rooms - Sikh and Hindu temple next to each other - an American and Englishman already there - general amusement at the place and the people.
2 September, Homes
A LOCKED PALACE - A 6KM WALK - A MONASTERY
In Leh, there are two main streets and a market where they meet - three bread-makers, two banks, general stores (which sell a lot of army goods too) three hotels, one power station going from 7-11:30 - lots of Tibetans, and a lot of other people too. There's a huge palace on the hillside, that looks like a monastery. I walk up to it - fine view of Leh - but it's locked, and I can't go in. Friedhelm goes off in a taxi tour for 30 rp with some German women. I change £10 and, at 11:30, catch a bus to Karu. A 6km walk takes me to the temple. I talk to some men working on a project to dam the Indus - they tell me it goes down to minus 35 in the winter - they offer to feed me and let me sleep with them, but I press on. It's a little hot when the sun beats down - green fields, a few houses and, a little higher up, the monastery with its complex of houses.
At the monastery, two young monks guide me around, but they persist in asking me for pens. I am shown the room where the head lama used to sit - highly decorated and painted and carpeted with pictures of Buddha. Downstairs is a courtyard where a few monks are sitting in a circle and singing - they are all dressed in dark red blanket robes and a yellow shawl - one man has an orange shawl. After the singing is finished, the monks take some candles back into the outer room where there is a huge statue of a cross-legged Buddha with a gold head and enormous ear lobes. A lot of printed material hangs on the walls (as it does from the tops of the houses and the holy places). No-one speaks English. A young boy befriends me, takes me to his house - makes me chai and Ladhaki chai (salty, I don't like it). Later a man rings a gong around the temple, and my boy holds a big piece of wood and bangs it with another at an ever quicker rate. Then, finally, seven or eight monks arrive, bow to Buddha and sit themselves down in the temple along two lines, cross-legged. They begin to chant. I sit behind them. For two hours they sit cross-legged chanting. The monk in orange has a drum. Symbols, a bell and two horns are played or blown by the others. Ladhaki chai is brought around three times, and ordinary chai twice and, each time, the monks slurp away for five minutes. Some monks do a hell of a lot of bows to Buddha. There are two or three children hanging around, but one man does all the work - the he even sweeps up during the chanting. The young boy and his friend, though, cook rice and vegetables. There is no conversation, so I sleep soon after 8:00.
3 September, Leh
GRUEL - GIANT BUDDHA - CHUNG
The monks are of up early. I join them around 8 for another chanting session - not quite as long as yesterday and broken up by the serving of gruel - no other word for it - lumpy oats in a soup with bones and vegetables. All the monks slurp it up.
The whole set up is much like any religion - I mean there's no religion left - it becomes purposeless after chanting the same words for so long. The words are kept on oblong slips of paper, and in drums set in the walls, which can be spun. I'm in the dark as to the supposed meaning of all they do. The only day-to-day task I see is a man painting a small chest with many bright colours - curls and flowers. The temples are brightly painted too. I was told by another traveller that this monastery, called Homes, has been in a bad state, but I don't know if this is true.
After morning prayers and full from gruel, I give away my pencil, and march back down to the road in the mid-morning sun. After an hour of reading, I get lifts from a water carrier and an army truck; then I walk into Leh in the afternoon with a very hungry stomach. Potato patties, biscuits and apricots, much chai. I find Hubert who is still sick and unmoving. Some Germans tell me there are 500 monks at Homes and in Upper Goompa, so I must have seen only a small part of the operation (although I also know that many monks go to the villages in the summer). I walk out of town looking for the local temple but I can't find it so I head for the top of the hill where there are a few monastery-like buildings (more than twice the height of the palace). They are mostly ruined houses, but I walk up the stairs onto the roof and into the door of another. At the very top there is a ruined paper-mache and mud Buddha. I take a small relic from it. A little further down is a locked room with lots of goodies inside. Two monks are making their way up the hill. I follow them. There is a red house at the top, inside is a 10 metre Buddha with its toes fatter than my arms - very very impressive. Dal, sabsi, rice with Friedhelm and his German friends, then to a Chung house. It has rows of pots (like a Yorkshire pub) - 1 rp a bottle. The women are really beautiful and very friendly. I eat too much, and go to bed early.
4 September, Leh
PHYANG - MONASTERY - A LONG WALK
7:30 bus to Phyang. Not far from the village it picks up a group of young girls on their way to school, they all start singing happy, jolly tunes. With the sun and blue sky and the prospect of a really nice monastery, I feel OK. The monastery is not very high up in the mountains, and there do not seem to be many signs of life. I find some monks who speak a fraction of English - they show me two temples. In one, the monks are packing up their oblong bits of paper (each has a block of wood with very intricate carvings of Buddha around which the paper is carefully wrapped). The style here is the same as Homes, but the paintings differ, not in subject but in the Buddha positions - noticeable figures include an angry black and a toothy Buddha with the wheel of existence as a body. The temples tend to be cluttered with candles, pots, bibles etc. I stay not long and walk up the valley past the hamlets and the country folk to a quite spot in the rocks above - read a while - then a long walk across the maze of wheat fields stepping down the valley, through the centre of an army camp. I am very tired and hungry by the time I reach the road. I hang around at a corner post for a long time, and eventually they give me chapati and veg.
5 September, Kargil
READING - QUIET TIME - A PLEASANT JOURNEY
Yesterday, Friedhelm booked me a ticket on the bus back to Srinigar, so I had to be up at 6. The bus is not full and I sit in the front and stretch my legs out. The valley on the Leh side of Kargil is very beautiful, villages and monasteries scattered around, grass, trees and rocks. A lot of the day I am reading 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' and what is bound to be the tragic story of the three-day love affair between the dynamiter and the pretty young Spanish girl. Early afternoon we (the buses and a couple of trucks) have to stop at a TCP post for three hours because of a large army convoy. There is an army shop but it's expensive and sells lousy tea - everybody sits around in the sun - I go alone down to the river where there is a lot of shit from the army camp - I wash and lie a while. I'm quite sad thinking about home and Maja and lack of permanent friends, then I sit a while with an army man who is knitting and looking after four sheep. He gives me a beadie.
6 September, Srinigar
A FEELING OF HOME - NEW GOLDEN HIND
Kargil is already out of the Tibet Buddhist area but I have another close look at the very fine stone relief of a standing Buddha with four arms on a big rock by the side of the road (it is in the beautiful valley). On the bus, again through the trees and glaciers of Sonamarg - a few stops for the military and for the driver to buy meat and to eat - we lunch with our Sikh friends. This time in Srinigar we aren't exactly besieged by houseboat owners - we go with the Germans in their Volkswagen to the houseboat they know, at the other end and side of the lake. But, once there, I find Kashmiris are all the same. I ask if I can just sleep for 3 rp, but the houseboat owner goes on and on about his good meals. I try to explain how I need to live on as little as possible and that I can eat rice and veg in town for 2 rp and I don't want to pay 11 rp for 2 meals and a bed. He doesn't answer if I can sleep for 3 rp, and the arguing goes on, so in the end I agree to pay 11 rp. I take a welcome shower. It's all Germans here apart from one Englishman from Newcastle who is smoking the hubble bubble. Friedhelm plays a guitar in the evening and we sit quietly contemplating the night.
7 September, Jammu
GOOD AND BAD SIKH GUYS IN TRUCKS TO JAMMU
Well Friedhelm had left his cardigan on the bus so we walk into town together. I'd been told that if I took a bus to Batwami I could easily catch a truck to Jammu. I wait four hours, until the Sikh driver of one military truck persuades the Sikh driver of another truck to take me. Every five minutes he speaks with a rubbing of fingers, to indicate he wants money. When we stop for tea, he doesn't let me go with him any further unless I pay him, and I refuse to pay until we get to Jammu. I walk out of the village to find a TCP post. 'Help & Service, Welcome' is written in large letters in the garden - so it is nice when this is really offered: tea, cigarettes, bed and food. But I decline the latter two since it's only 4. Eventually a good Sikh guy with his wife, and passengers on top, takes me for 12 rp. Sitting on top of the lorry, it's an ace ride up the mountains with a cold wind blowing. It's lovely scenery - we pass an enormous glacier carrying boulders - sometimes there are streams with wooden huts all around - but the roads are bad. Despite the cold I remain on top until dark, then I sleep inside. We don't arrive at Jammu until 1:00 in the morning.
8 September, Jammu/Delhi train
At 1 in the morning we arrive in Jammu and the good guy Sikh lets me sleep in his lorry, but, later on, the mosquitoes and the heat drive me out. (There was tar on the floor of the lorry which permanently stained my sleeping bag.) I sleep till dawn on some grass covered in my sheet. At first light I make for the railway station - the ticket office opens at 7 and the reservation counter at 9. The first train to Delhi goes at 3:40 - 22 rp - and arrives at 5 in the morning. I take up with yet another German, Andreas (he has a 20kg pack). We take bread and milk in the ramshackle chai huts outside the station - I write in the railway restaurant and talk to an oddish Australian lady who knows everything! Then, what a hassle - all the compartments of the train (in the station three hours early) seem to be reserved. We sit in an empty compartment for two hours and get chucked out, then we have to squeeze in a super-full one. The train leaves on time. It is hot and crowded and uncomfortable. I read, and, at every stop, drink chai. When it gets dark I sleep a little, only to wake at every station. When people leave the compartment, we don't let any new ones in. Eventually, I have more room and sleep to Delhi.
9 September, Delhi
ACCOMMODATION - ANDREAS HASSLES IN DELHI
I'm afraid I don't like Andreas too much, after just one train journey - he's always complaing of something. At Delhi train station he wants to take rickshaw or scooter but the bus stop is not far away - to Connaught Place then to Teen Munti Road. The Youth Hostel turns out to be virtually an international hotel - back to Connaught Place and another similar place. Andreas gives up and takes a scooter back to camp site (which he only knows about thanks to me). Unfortunately after looking at one lodging house which is so dirty and untidy I too give up and return to the camping. However, I find that I must have a tent or be with someone who has a tent. I'm told to come back at midday. I sit in the hospital cafe opposite writing my diary, eating an omelette and talking to two nearly qualified doctors. All they want to talk about is girls and sex in England. Later I find Andreas talking to some other Germans about me 'here's the fucking bastard' he says when I arrive. He's the limit. One of the most fabulous showers of my life. Andreas asks me to do shopping for him but his list goes on and on. First stop tourist office, where I pick up a few leaflets but nothing on Delhi; next stop poste restante, where there are no letters for me; next stop market.
Connaught Place is a central ring road with arcades of shops (travel agents, airlines, postcards and trinket street sellers, general shops selling good quality materials). I try one so-called student travel centre where I'm offered a flight to Bangkok for just over $80 but without a stop-over in Rangoon. Along one road I find a big building with fruit sellers, milk shake sellers, tailors and the black market. The juices and milk shakes are excelent; and there is good curd and milk too. To get back to the camping I take a wrong bus and end up at a better market where most things are cheaper. I am shattered at the end of the day but it is difficult to sleep sweating, and my sheet isn't big enough to cover me - there are plenty of mosquitoes. The cafe here is one complete and utter rip off.
10 September, Delhi
TEN LETTERS MAKES FOR A SUPER HAPPY DAY
Sleeping on the grass is tolerable - I wake up damp with mosquito bites. I am smoking and eating too much, and I have a habit of liking the left side of my moustache. First thing, tea and cake at a chai hut nearby. I walk down to the main Old Delhi post office, past the big Friday Mosque and Red Fort. It's a long walk but joy of joys there are ten letters waiting for me - three from family, Tudor, Phil, Johnnie, Sue, Howard, Ann. Howard is soon off back to sea; Sue and Jo passed their finals; family having a good time in the US; Tudor and Phil getting pretty fed up with everyday life. I lunch in the hospital cafe, shower and re-read letters. Final walk to Connaught Place for milk shakes, fruit juices, and to change money (207 rp for £10 with straight guy). The Indian Coffee House in Connaught Place is vast and packed, but I drink good coffee for 35 p. I buy four books for 6 rp. I am tired on returning but as others are going to the cinema I go too. Dosher. It is so bad - action-packed with guns, fights, women etc - just like Superman but with real people - the scars change in every frame and sprinkled flowers disappear in 30 seconds of action. I don't understand why there are no English films. I buy a coconut and grapefruit for supper.
11 September, Delhi
UNIVERSITY AND STATION - INTERESTING TALKS
I walk to Delhi Gate where I grab and hang on to a bus - it's a crazy system, as bad as the railways - people hang on the outside of the vehicle, to the one door and the windows - women don't have much chance to get on, and those inside have a hard time getting out. But they're cheap. I go to the Central Secretariat, Foreigners Regional Registration Office, where I'm told I can get a permit on the border of Darjeeling. Next I take super express bus to the university, and look in vain for a student union building. Instead I find - of course - an Indian Coffee House where all the students are sitting around talking. I eat and talk to two postgraduates. They say it's impossible to get jobs after A-levels or a degree or a masters - even after a PhD it's difficult. There are many many PhD students.
I'm not feeling so good, really tired and wanting to sleep but I have to go to New Delhi Station for concessions and reservations. After crawling over and under fences, I eventually find the right place and then it only takes ten minutes to get the concession for my whole trip to Calcutta. Getting the reservation and ticket, however, is more complicated: the reservation counter for Taj express says go to Head Booking Clerk; he says go to counter 34; at counter 34 there is a long queue. Eventually I buy a ticket to Siliguru (24 rp) and the reservation man gives me a seat (after ignoring me for ten minutes). I drink iced water which sells everywhere for 5 p, and, while eating yoghurt and banana, I talk to a Sikh. He tells me he must pay £1,000 when his daughter gets married. I take yoghurt, apples and bananas back to the camp-site on a scooter (the driver says it will cost 2 rp but I tell him to put the flag down, then he starts going the wrong way - it costs 1.30 rp in the end). I try to sleep but it's not to be - I have green diarrhoea!
12 September, Delhi
AN ORGANISED SIGHTSEE
What a horrible night. By first light - before even the poorest people have stirred from sleeping on the island in the middle of the road - I head to the tea stall. As I drink my tea I watch another seller gradually open up his tea stall, get his fire going, undo the padlocks mechanically, unthinkingly - every day is the same. I make for the tourist office first but miss the first tour - 8 rp for a 10 till 5 tour. A comfortable coach whizzes first to Qutab Minar, a towering pillar originally of seven stages. The area used to be the central mosque in the reign Qutab and there are various remains and tombs around - lovely gates of beautifully carved stone work. I'm feeling real ill and empty - I can see and appreciate the sights, but it's difficult to enjoy the tour. Jantar Mantar is interesting - big curved red sandstone objects built in such a position so as to guage information of the heavenly bodies by the shadows - 17th century. Later I write postcards to home, Gwenda, Howard, Maja. Much of Delhi is really nice, big spacious lawns flanked by government buildings, well laid out - the round parliament secretariat and other parliament buildings.
The afternoon tour whizzes past the old and new forts, and then stops for half an hour at the Ghandi museum and memorial. It's mostly photographs and things he'd touched. There's one interesting letter on fasting unto death, and I read the first pages of his autobiography. The place where he was incinerated, marked only by a large black marble slab, is situated in a very clean tidy park. We stop at the Red Fort which entails a lot of walking - it's mostly big open halls that used to be closed off with enormous curtains - some pleasant inlaid marble baths. But, these forts don't excite me much.
Also today I see a large Hindu temple, a total mixture of sandstone, red and yellow, and unaesthetic long slanted domes - but a fascinating place. Some benefactor put marble plates everywhere with wise words. Nehru's shrine is a complete bore. Humayuns tomb is only interesting because the main hall was built on a load of graves which are not haunted by birds (!?). I go again to the Post Office and eat an omelette at the Hospital.
13 September, Agra
AGRA - THE TAJ AND AN EVENING WITH INSECTS
I find a good seat, and the train is punctual, but my great expectations are dashed by boring scenery. We reach Agra at 10. What a hassle with the rickshaw drivers - these poor kids and men must really fight to make a penny. I insist on walking to the tourist office, but go the wrong way. Two rickshaw drivers follow me; and they fan me while I drink tea. I am rude or completely ignore them - eventually they get on my nerves so much I shout at them. I sit down to sleep until they go away. Indians are like children - whistling and laughing when you shout at them. Maybe it's good but they lack pride.
It is one or one and half kilometres to the tourist office, just as the rickshaw boys said. I find some good leaflets and then I allow a rickshaw man to take me to a hotel right near the Taj for 3 rp in the dorm. It has clean shower and toilet. I walk around town and to the Taj. As it's Friday it's free to get in. Looking through the main gate of the garden, it's very beautiful, but difficult to describe. It's pure white marble and beautifully proportioned - with red sandstone porches on either side. The river Jammu is behind and there's a lovely garden with a pond down the middle. A high red sandstone wall encloses the garden. Outside the main Taj Mahal area are outhouses and burying places. But, as I approach the Taj it loses its appeal, and when I go in, the only beauty is the marble screen carved as though it were lace. I sit at the back on the terrace of the Taj and look out on the river and the water buffalos wallowing. The evening and night are bad - so many insects - jumping, hopping and flying - attracted by the fluorescent light. I can't sleep, and end up on the roof on the concrete floor sleeping in my clothes.
14 September, Agra/Varanasi train
A CYCLE RIDE - INDIANS - THREE ORANGE MEN
The street sellers here in India bore me - only the small ice lollies for 10 p are worth having. Around the Taj everything is 10 p more - I sit looking at the Mahal again and then go to the station. A direct train to Benares needs to be reserved 10 days in advance but I can go via Lucknow. I reserve a sleeping berth for tonight at 10 for 5.50 rp - much money, and then I hire a bike (20 p an hour) and cycled around the bazaar of Agra proper - brightly coloured fabrics - and the Red Fort. A good meal - rice with tomato and potato. To Ijma Ud Daulah - exquisitely inlaid marble on the outside - and something of interest on the inside (unlike the Taj).
I have a little tiff with the manager of the Shah Jahan over watered-down milk. But I might have been wrong. He treats me really well, gives me some black tea and holds me warmly before I go.
I'm starting to get (pretending to) angry often with the Indians now, sharply reprimanding them when they say 'what do you want?' or 'come on darling' or 'my dear'. Mostly they laugh it down or laugh at my anger or sometimes they manage to talk louder than me. Mostly I'm having fun and have a smug smile on my face when I walk away, but they too are are laughing riotously.
As I'm writing, here at this desk, with the gas light above and the mosquitoes playing at fighter pilots, three strange men surround me dressed in light orange cloth, carrying knapsacks, one of them has an umbrella and the other two carried three-pronged straight pitch forks. Their foreheads are patterned with light orange powder; stone bead necklaces hang about their chest. They look as though they have suddenly appeared from the pages of a story book. It is 8:15pm, my train goes at 10. Perhaps I should confess that, for the first time in India, I gave a beggar money. It's crazy all the people who have helped me and given me cigarettes and food or a place to sleep and I am so hard.
15 September, Varanasi
RICKSHAW HASSLERS AGAIN - VARANASI AND THE GOLDEN TEMPLE
It is sweaty on the train and difficult to sleep - lots of tossing and turning. The conductor wakes me as promised before Kangur - I'm pretty beat. I drink a few cups of tea. When the train comes in I'm horrified because it's so packed, but, it seems, my berth reservation can be continued. So I sleep until 8, this time in a three-tier, and then read History of Modern China until Varanasi. The same old hassle with the cycle rickshaws - I shout NO over and over again and still they come. I eat a meal and still they come. I drink tea in despair. But since nobody can help me about a bus to anywhere, I finally take one who knows the Central Hotel (as mentioned in my BIT guide) - 3 rp for hardboard. I go a-wondering immediately. There are many, many beggars here - many many people - wooden platforms, a few boats and dirty mud down by the Ganges. Walking through the back streets I find the good Hindus essential market - red and orange powder for dyes, bangles, beads and flowers. Then to the Golden Temple with its idolic statues and two golden-plated roof-domes. It's full of people circulating and trampled flowers and mud and one cow. I am thrown out because I'm carrying my shoes. 'Come to my silk shop' is the thing here. I go with one boy, professing to be a student, to a sitar recital, but it is only a shop where they make 'em - and a cover for morphine sales. There are so many people and rickshaws and tingling bells.
16 September, Varanasi
HINDU HOLY DAY - QUIET IN A LIBRARY
So many people thronging to the Ganges - crazy. I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands, rich and poor, with little bowls to collect water, occasionally sprinkling some on the cows. Early in the morning I go out fo town to the Benares Hindu University. Here there is a lot of green and space with cream/brick-red buildings. My first stop is an eating place which is cheap. I walk around the campus, many buildings, not startling architecture but certainly not dull either. Even here everyone seems to be heading for the temple. I talk to an oldguy - very friendly. He tells me that this is a special day when everyone goes from one temple to the next. I get thrown out of one building because it is an all-Indian student leaders meeting. The temple here is pink and white and new. People entering give flowers and money to a plain bowl set the middle of the temple. Two men sit nearby sorting out the money from the flowers. For much of the rest of the day I sit in the main library reading up about Hinduism and Buddhism.
Both religions believe in the wheel of existence and the reincarnation of the spirit into some sort of animal - you live and die until you can get out of the system. Buddha found a way by reaching enlightenment and he indicated to his followers how to do this. There are three lines of Buddhism but I can't distinguish them. Hindu is a general name for the religion but many people don't know it because they workship a particular god - Vishnu or Shiva are the most important ones, but there are many others designed for local village need and comfort. It's a pretty loose religion based on personifying abstracts. Jainism is another branch of Hinduism. There was much more I wanted to read.
Indian women: Rich ones wear bras and saris, leaving their midriff bare whether it is fat and crinkly or not; poor ones just wear saris with sagging breasts hang loose. The young ones feed their babies anywhere - on railway platforms or waiting rooms. They all have red spots on their foreheads. Most have a nose-pin and ear-rings. Kids run around naked most of the time. Indian men: Mostly they wear what can only described as very loose nappies. They have spots on their head too and sometimes a little dye in the hair. Their hair may be very short but often has a few very long hairs from the middle hanging down to the neck. They also wear ear-rings. I've seen a couple of completely naked men wandering around. Everybody pisses in the street where they want.
17 September, Varanasi/Siliguri train
CREMATION - WALKING IN THE RAIN
I didn't sleep very well again. Everything is so damp when I wake. First we walk through the back streets looking for Manikarwika Ghat. There are so many temples everywhere - little ones not much bigger than a box and bigger ones with idols of some sort. Here on the bank of the Ganges is where they burn bodies, neatly arranged and draped in cloth, on piles of wood. I'm not shocked or horrified but pensive. It's only strange seeing the flames grow larger and eat the once living form - maybe I am a little shocked. Long narrow alleys and many steps lead to the Ghats where people are washing and boatmen canvassing. Walking along a tiny busy narrow street I find the milk and curd sellers.
I take a shower and curse the heat and all the people. Then I go for another walk. There is one long street full of nothing by trinket shops. There are many sweet shops too but at 20 p each they are a trifle expensive. One main street is filled with sari shops. The market is full of vegetables I don't know - there are no cauliflowers or garden peas. Bananas are being auctioned. The auctioneer sits on his stool while his skivvy holds up two clumps of bananas with 50-60 bananas on each stalk. Then he talks fast until they are sold - I think for 10-20 rp a pair. Free bananas here. Later there is some monsoon rain - everybody is running, looking for shelter, putting up umbrellas. I just stride along as usual - but it is nice to get dry later and eat some lunch. The train leaves late. I passed the sweat time finishing Modern American Short Stories.
More on Hindi women: they sweep the roads, run chai shops, smoke beadies. The richer women (higher caste) are well respected and room is made for them on buses; also all women can go to the front of a ticket queue at railway stations.
18 September, Siliguri
TRAIN TRAVELLING ALL DAY - FLOODS
At Barauni I change trains and wait around a few hours - I get a seat on this crowded train, but it isn't a good one and for the first half of this second part of the journey I sit in the dining car - a big cup of coffee for 30p, lunch of rice and chapattis and all the horrible vegetables for 3 rp - eventually I am thrown out when others want to eat. For most of the journey there is the incredible sight of floods - endless water like immense lakes - sometimes as far as the eye can see - with a solitary tree sticking out - all the crops on this land are ruined. To think of all the hungry people when winter comes. The train track is always on an embankment 10 or so feet high - there are lots of palm trees - and banana sellers in the stations. We arrive in Siliguri at about 9:30 - two or so hours late - I am hungry, tired and cramped from sitting so long on the lousy seats - and the air is so wet. My arms and shoulders are infested with mosquito bites. I can't get a ticket for Calcutta or a bus to Darjeeling tonight. Chapattis and mutton over the road from the railway station. After some gentle persuasion, the restaurant manager lets me sleep here. I fall straight to sleep and don't wake till the morning for the first time in a long time.
19 September - Darjeeling
MIST AND RAIN - TOURIST MONASTERY - DARJEELING
I am woken early in the morning by the gods coughing - tremendous thunder and intense rain - it is very damp and a little cold. I have much time to pass until 8:00 when the reservations open - half the time I spend queuing for the toilet in the station - then I talk for a while to an Australian whose been two and half months in Assam - he reckons I need a permit for Darjeeling. The permit is a lot of bureaucracy but eventually I am free. I walk to the Air View Hotel and catch a bus to Darjeeling. I am so tired and sick. Most of the journey is in mist and I can see nothing. I get off the bus at Ghoom in the cold and wet with the idea of staying at the monastery and going early to Tiger Hill in the morning, but the monastery is super-touristified with signs saying 'The monks will perform prayers for 15 rp' etc etc. So I leave quickly still feeling sick and tired - Then it rains again, really hard. A jeep takes me into Darjeeling for 1 rp. I wander round for a while and stumble on a hotel with some tourists in. It's a rip off - 4 rp for a room with 2 beds. I talk to a Swiss man for a while, eat fried noodles and vegetables downstairs, then crash out at about 5pm.
20 September - Darjeeling
BREAD AND JAM - REFUGEE CENTRE - BENGALI PLAY
I am up at first light, and find a not-so-good vantage point to watch the sun rising - it's golden on the side of the mountains, but there's only a small panorama, trees and mist block the rest. I walk fast towards a higher vantage point on the east of the town - I pass a main street with banks, a converted church cinema and shops which are still closed. I reach Chowrasta, a high point of the town where kids are playing football, but the sun is already too high and the mist spreading - I go back down to the town, and search for a bread shop. Slowly, the town comes to life. The tea shops, selling sickly sweets, open first, then the men who sell spices-on-leaves (green leaves with paste and powders rolled up - very popular in all India) who also sell cigarettes. The boarded up tin huts of the market gradually reveal fruit and veg and linen shops. After much wandering I find some bread, buy some jam (apricot no less) and scoff these with black tea for breakfast.
The town is a collection of wooden shacks and concrete flats compactly squatting on the side of a hill. There is much wood and coal industry here. The whole place always seems wet - water is always in the air and running down channels - and yet water is in short supply - in the hotel we get one bucket of hot water a day and cold water is not freely available. Dogs are always scavenging in the rubbish. There are many strange fruits and vegetables in the market - none look particularly appetising: small bad tomatoes, many bananas, expensive apples, spiky green things, peppers. Many shops sells a very old hard dirty cheese cut up into blocks.
At the tourist office, they are no maps, but the lady draws one for me. After changing money, I head for the Tibetan Refugee Centre which is three kilometres away. On the way I stop for a game of table tennis at the Gymkhana Club. The walk is mostly descending rapidly through the tea plantations - wet sparkling greenery. The Centre consists of corrugated iron and wood huts. Tibetans labour at wood carving chests, weaving materials, belts, carpets, spinning wool, painting cards. They are given board and lodging and pocket money, but they live basically by selling these products. Originally, the refugees came to India when the Dalai Lama was exiled here way back in the early 20th century. They seem to be industrious and cheerful. I buy a colourful belt for 4 rp and feel I want to give them more money.
I trot on down through more acres of tea plantations until I hit a road. I walk along this road singing, even though I'm tired and don't feel well (I've a cough and snotty nose). Then, naturally, I have to climb and climb and climb finally reaching the small zoo and Himalayan mountaineering institute. In the zoo, there are leopards, snow cats, jungle cats, partridges and a bear. The bear and leopard are roaming free in pens, the others are in cages. In the mountaineering institute there is a small interesting museum of equipment, photographs, models, and a big relief map of the Himalayas. It was set up by an Indian after Hilary succeeded in climbing Everest, and it runs many mountaineering courses for Indians.
Later I go to see a Bengali Play - it seems OK, a little amateurish in light and sound but with reasonable acting. I walk out very early, though, because I can't understand a word and I am totally dead beat.
21 September - Darjeeling
MISTY TIGER HILL - DEBATE ON LOVE - CINEMA
This morning I wake before light and hear the sounds of cars. I dress quickly with idea of hitching to Tiger Hill. One car offers to take me the eight kilometres for 10 rp; but, eventually, one of the many many taxis takes me for 3 rp. I hang on the back for dear life. For one hour 60 odd Indian tourists, 10-15 taxi drivers and I stand around in the cold waiting for the sun to rise. There is a family which lives here in small huts and on sell tea to the early morning visitors. There is thick cloud everywhere. As it gets lighter some of the wet green hills can be seen with white impenetrable clouds sitting in the valleys as well as above and beyond obscuring the Himalayas. As glimpses of the sun's rays start so all the rich Indians take photos - but my view yesterday was far better. On the pretence of walking back I get a free ride to Senchal Lake - artificial water reservoir for Darjeeling, but it's not pleasant or scenic at all. I run down the hill and along the road to Ghoom. I eat bun after bun for breakfast before visiting another Buddhist goompa. I cadge a lift to the AVA art gallery, which contains portraits and pictures of people, Tibetan mostly - one type of portrait was created by embroidery of straight lines - like scattered pins.
I am pretty fucked when I get back so sleep for a couple of hours in my dingy smelly dark room. Later I walk around town a little. This place is so English - most people speak good English, all signs are in English, culture and institutions are in English. It's the complete reverse of Varanasi which was so Hindu, where all signs were in Hindu and which was hot and crowded. Here there are a few beggars and dirt but the atmosphere is far clearer. The Tibetans are easier people.
Food: Mornu, four bits of beef in pasta (like mantu in Mazir without the yoghurt) and soup 1 rp; Thukpa, soup with mince beef, noodles and spring veg 1 rp; Chow chow, fried noodles and lettuce, tomatoes, beef 2 rp; a big big beef steak and chips for 3.50 rp. I am eating a lot.
At 3:00 at Loreto College, the Orchid Club presents the 5th anniversary intercollegiate debate 'Love is a myth'. Six people on each side speak for 6 minutes and the judges decide who is the best and which side has the best combined best speakers. The place is very full. The result is very popular with lots of shouting afterwards. On the way back, I am just in time for the cinema - 'The Bride Wore Black' by Truffaut. A woman's husband is killed on her wedding day and she kills the killers one by one. There is a poor news reel and corny ads. Drink some Chung with Thukpa and bed after a good day.
22 September, Darjeeling/Calcutta train
GARDENS - MUSEUM - FETE
I try to catch the sunrise again but it's not as good as the first day - Kanchenjunga quite spectacular. I wander down to the botanical gardens but it pours with rain and there is nothing to see so I make my way back for the market and to the Natural History museum which is more interesting - mainly birds but a lot of stuffed buffalo and dear heads, foxes, mongooses, weasels, snakes and insects, all mostly with good descriptions - no flora or spiders or elephants (except for two feet). I idle some time watching roller skating and tennis at the Gymkhana Club. I go to the Bethany School fete - 20 p - lots of kids and about six stalls giving away useless prizes worth less than than the ticket for which you get one chance in 12. So very English though. At the bus station I find I've been not got seat two as I booked but seat eight with a broken window and no leg room. I read mostly - there's not much to see because of cloud. I am a little worried that we won't make the train but it's OK. From 4,000 ft, there is a fabulous view of the plain and the rivers spreading out and meandering.
23 September, Calcutta
RIP OFF DORM PRICES - CALCUTTA - FLOODED STREETS
I am getting really fed up of these train journeys, sleeping in clothes and getting up in clothes and sitting around on the hard benches all morning with the Indian hustlers running up and down the train - tea in little pottery cups, popcorn, singing beggars - flat scenery - pretty little mud and thatch houses amidst palm trees - I see bananas on bushy type trees without trunks - a few people planting rice or grass. The train is a couple of hours late, we pull in at 11:30 - but there's no hassling rickshaw or hotel men which is really nice. Moreover, I have a map, and know where I am going. I walk slowly through the streets of Calcutta - pretty unspecial - a lot of street people, a lot of cars, a lot of rickshaws (but no cycle rickshaws or scooters). I find Sudder St and am directed to the Paragon - 6 rp for dorm - super rip off, but it seems to be the cheapest in town. All the travellers are here so that's cool. As usual I just dump my stuff and go to walk around town. First to the post office, which takes some finding - surprise, surprise a letter from Rog!. The tourist office has moved to over a mile away from where it is on my map, but when I get there they give me a better map and a bit of info. The Burmese embassy is still open so I collect a triplicate form and take it back to the hotel. Dinner with an American and a walk in flooded streets.
24 September, Calcutta
VISAS - TICKET FOR PLANE - RUSHING AROUND BASICALLY
I am addicted to cake and tea for breakfast. My second cours is four of those breads (super little ones) fried in fat with a small chunk of mixed meat, then yoghurt and banana. I whizz off to the Thai end of town - the tram rides both ways are hell - to fetch the visa (25 rp plus three photos). Then, with this slimy travel agent and a Czech boy, I trot to Union Burmah Airways. This is a real hassle. A slimy man gives us cocked information and nearly has a fit because I'd actually booked my flight through Tradewings yesterday so he wouldn't get the commission. We have to go to a bank for special forms and a 731 rp credit (student concession) for the Calcutta-Rangoon-Bangkok. Drink some pineapple juice, eat veg and chapattis - change another £5 - shower back in the hotel - fabulous market covered - shops of all kinds - meat, fruit, toys, bread, butter, cheese, everything. Buy butter, cheese and tomatoes. Later play cards - heated argument with fellow dormer over hash and legalisation.
25 September, Calcutta
MAGNIFICENT JAIN TEMPLE - SHITTY CALCUTTA
Morning bus tour of the city. The Jain temple - this is a super ace place - coloured glass pieces stuck straight on plaster in infinite patterns - marble pieces in mosaic to form large petals and fountains - 20 completely different little columns in a wall - the temple is beautiful - all the four ceilings are different - mirrors big and little - so one can see all the temple from an alcove through the mirrors - I can't describe it - but ace. A fairly boring temple of some god who preached 'go out and do your duty'. Belur Math headquarters of Ramakrishna mission, the same religion as the last temple. A solid looking building supposedly with Hindu and Muslim domes with the foundations in the shape of a cross and an idol of the founder of the faith in the Buddhist position. Our guide gets quite het up about this. For an hour and half the bus bumps its way through the pit holes of Calcutta's roads and cars and lorries and tramways - we can't go to the botanical gardens because the road is blocked.
Afternoon bus tour. Indian museum - lots of fine things - archaeology, ethnology of a few larger tribes - a few paintings and ivories - ornaments from the bellies of crocodiles - not enough time here. While the others are at Nehru's Children Museum, I go to get my Burmese visa. Victoria Memorial Museum with large English portraits, a statue of the Queen by Brooks - a piano which belonged to the Queen - various relics of the British period and quite a few water colours of Indian scenes. The zoo - bigger than Darjeeling by as much as Regent's Park is bigger than this one. The tigon is quite interesting and kangaroos, rhino and hippos. Some very beautiful birds - emus and ostrich too. Afterwards, I go back to the children's museum - dolls, western toys of disputable quality, corny science gadgets that don't work and Indian fables in 60 modelled scenes.
Calcutta is a pretty shitty city. One big park in the middle, a lake in the south and the other areas solid with tiny businesses and ramshackle houses - busy people - horrible place.
26 September, Calcutta
NEAR RIOTING AT THE AIRPORT AND HASSLING WITH OFFICIALS
I wake in the middle of the night and remember that I've not taken my malaria tablet. After the usual breakfast and a coffee with the Czech, I take a bus to the airport. The flight is at 12:50, and the check-in time is 11:30. We are very early so we sit in the air-conditioned restaurant talking with two French brothers. Later we check in our baggage and have to wait until after 1:00 to be called to departure. Here we buy a bottle of Johnnie Walker and a carton of Rothman or Stuveysant cigarettes (they haven't got Dunhill or 555s). After the flight to Bangkok leaves we are left: a family of four, an Indian going to Tokyo, a British couple, an Australian, a Malayan or two in transit, another weird guy from I don't know where, an American girl, an American guy, another English man and me. We sit around peering out of the window looking for a UBA plane. At about 2:00, when it is already clear that the plane is going to be very late, we are all summoned to the A/C restaurant (outside customs) where, after a long wait, we are served with a chicken curry rice. We are all acting like children, demanding this and that, coffee and ice cream, more rice. Half way through the coffee we are summoned back to the departure lounge - probably because they don't want us to carry on snacking. People getting more angry as the afternoon wears on. As evening approaches the loud speaker announces the cancellation of flight UBA 212. We are asked to go back through immigration and customs - there are riots, anger and shouting. We refuse to go out through customs (where we would have to leave our duty free stuff). The customs officials ask us nicely but we want to talk to the UBA manager and get an assurance of an hotel and food for the night. For 60-90 minutes we talk with the officials, but then finally accept that we will get nothing and consent go out and sleep in the lounge. We all change a dollar and go to the restaurant for a while too. Some try to sleep there but the airport police arrive and shift us. Only the Indian guy, who was in transit, is put up in a hotel. It is worst for the family with two small kids. A pretty restless night - hot, the fans too high up, plenty of mosquitoes, and people moving around.
27 September, Rangoon
FLYING - RANGOON - DIARY PANIC AND RUNNING
At this point in time I have £91 cash, $240 travellers cheques and just about three months to get to Australia before the visa restrictions are enforced.
We pass through all the formalities again - the plane leaves about 8:45 - only half the seats are taken - pretty comfy - everybody jolly that we are off - iced lemon from a sour Burmese hostess - smooth take off - I'm almost frightened, every sound, every raising or lowering of the pitch of the engines and I'm thinking it's so long since I've flown I've forgotten these things are normal. Fabulous views of the paddy fields, villages, rivers, flooded areas, roads, bridges - higher and higher - into the clouds - above the jungle and river delta, brown rivers silting into the sea - dense green islands - ocean. Breakfast is cold omelette, bread and cake - good coffee. We fly through rain clouds, bad weather with some bumpty bump. A cool comfortable two and a half hours. Rangoon appears from nowhere. An A1 touchdown - quick efficient customs - and into Burma. It's a good feeling - we hassle around for a bit - nobody can decide what to do, whether to go the station, the YMCA or tourist office. All but the couple and Englishman get off at the YMCA; three others go back to the railway station.
As I'm booking into a locker with the others I realise I'd left my duty free bag on the bus with my diary in! I hump my bag on my back take a scooter taxi the wrong way - it's pouring but really pouring with rain - I am totally soaked when I get to the station - the three have just got their tickets for the 3:45 but they haven't seen my bag. I'm running, running to the tourist office (I don't know what I would have done without a map that the American had left lying about in Calcutta airport). The tourist office has moved 1/2km away - I'm a sight when I arrive, my sandal broken, my waterproof on and all soaked - I am nearly crying for my diary. I don't recall the name on the side of the bus very well and it is 20 minutes before we sort out that it is the UBA I should be talking to - running, running - to the UBA office. The little bus driver comes in the door and gives me my bag - minus the cigarettes - but I am so happy to get my diary back I don't make too much of a fuss - I just write down a quick complaint and tri-shaw to the station.
It's pretty shitty around the station - I find the British guy on his own waiting for the train - everywhere is damp and warm - the trains look really terrible - after half an hour he goes to cash in the tickets and succeeds with no effort which makes me glad - I can't find Gay or Steve - then everybody is in the YMCA sitting in the hall eating and drinking coffee - after booking in we do likewise - I go out for a short walk - there is no electricity at first and I end up having fried noodles which are OK.
28 September, Mandalay
EXPRESS TO MANDALAY - CHINESE HOTEL AND EATS
I must have slept well for the first time in ages because nearly everybody has packed and gone. I stroll to the station picking at odd foods on the street which are totally different from India. The train leaves on time - uncrowded, spare seats, restaurant car with only fizzy drinks and biscuits - three stops on the eleven and a half hour ride of five minutes only - bananas and oranges abound - rice and chicken wrapped up in big leaves - good proper coffee and pink tea - we play cards, black maria, gin rummy - I read a Perry Mason book. Interesting countryside, flat valleys, hills both sides far away, flooded fields, paddy fields - villages - corrugated iron, wood and leaf rooves on huts on stilts tucked away in the middle of palm trees and dense undergrowth. Burmese people with huge fat cigars hanging from their mouths - even the poorest people. In Mandalay, the police take our names, and a Chinese takes us to an eight kyat hotel - bit of a rip off. We shower and go out to a Chinese restaurant - sweet and sour pork with rice, OK - expensive by my standards but not so expensive on the budget I have - I change £2 for 50 kyat with the Brom guy who leaves in a couple of days. The American whizzes off on his own, so there are six of us in the hotel - the two Frenchies, English couple, Czech and I. There's mosquito netting on the beds.
29 September, Mandalay
GREY MARKET - MANDALAY HILL - PAGODAS
So here we are in Mandalay and two days of our visa gone. The beds not so comfortable - I am very weak and tired again with diarrhoea. There's good coffee here in Burma, proper coffee - a lot of fried things in the street - fried bananas, fried prawns, fried balls, pancakes - many stall on the road are semi-restaurants, selling noodles and rice and bits of chicken or pork and spices. All the men wear a cylinder of cloth from their waste to ankles with the loose bit at the top tied forming a large knot, only the rich ones wear trousers. The women wear blouses and long bright coloured material tied lightly to one side and restricting their movement a little. All the people look clean and smart, neat and tidy - no pushing, no hassling in the streets, just staring but mostly they look away when you return the stare. The whole scene is so different from India
I walk into the centre of town with the Frenchies to sell whisky (they've already sold their cigarettes - 75 for Rothmans and 65 for Stuyvesant). We have a bit of trouble because we turned down one offer of 95 for each of two, and then later we turn down 450 for the lot - finally we get 88 each and 9 for my little ones. The sellers on the street constitute the black market - cigarettes, whisky, playing cards (which are illegal), medicines (old and dirty), odd tins and anything that isn't readily available. Also on sale are fruit and veg and cloth and plastic wear - one electrical shop sells black market tape recorders. We return in less than triumph to eat eggs on toast for breakfast at the Chinese restaurant - it seems the black market people only make two or three kyats profits on every whisky bottle they sell.
We try to find bus 4 - not so easy - so we haggle with a cart driver who promises to take us up Mandalay Hill for 3 ky. But it turns out he thinks we meant Mandalay Hotel. For an extra kyat he takes us (6 of us, poor horse) round the massive palace walls and moat to the foot of Mandalay Hill. There are 1,729 steps to the top - all the way up the steps are covered by corrugated tin rooves. There are flower sellers, drink and food sellers, religious necessity sellers. The pagodas are of various types: with small, big, standing, sitting, gold-plated, marble-handed crossed-hands-on-leg Buddhas. The view is not so good due to the closing in of mist. We can see the palace hills and the flat wet plains and scattered pagodas. Patrick and Steve incessantly talk about cameras - they take pictures of monks and pretty Burmese girls, but they make them pose.
On the way down we get a fine view of the 730 pagodas we visited and which constitute the largest book in the world - the Buddhist holy words are inscribed on marble plates and housed in the little pagodas, with big super holy ones in the middle (which Gay wasn't allowed to go near). A little further away are some interesting ruins; a monastery with beautiful, if old, worn and rotting wooden sculptures on the roof; and sides of a house of Buddha built on stilts - the inside is quiet but unspecial.
I am tired by this time and glad to get back. Only Czech and I eat. I try the sweet and sour chicken - but there's not a scrap of chicken. The others go to the night market, I go to sleep.
30 September, Mandalay
ENGLISH HILL STATION - GARDENS - RETURN HASSLES FOR DUCK
Around the railway station is a fine open fruit and veg market with lots of things to eat - in a tea house I find a tea cake. I buy six tickets for the express back tomorrow and order a taxi for 10:15. The manager of the hotel takes us to the taxi station and for 30 ky we hire a taxi to Maymyo. It's a fair ride if a little uncomfortable, with some fine views and dense undergrowth, to 3,000 ft and over. This place used to be the British Summer Capital and it used to be beautiful with majestic houses, clean roads and well kept gardens but now there's only the stage coaches (as seen in Westerns) - the drivers have hats to match too. It's a long long walk (although I am cycling) and we rest in pretty botanical gardens which are quiet and beautifully upkept. We meet some friendly Burmese Indians - a lot more pictures taken - a stagecoach takes us back to their home - the six of us sit talking to the father, but the women remain out of sight and the boys stay silent. They give us coffee, Indian sweets and oranges. The man says he came from Bangladesh but fought against the British in the Second World War. I talk to a girl at the back of the house who streams questions at me - but she doesn't give me time to answer them. She is engaged to a boy in Rangoon but all she knows abuot him is that he is well off and has a degree. They won't meet till the wedding.
We had told our taxi driver we would be back between four and five - when we arrive at 4:45 he turns up but without a jeep and then disappears. The situation is complicated because we have ordered a whole duck at THE restaurant for 7:30 tonight. By this time all the Mandalay taxis had gone back - at 5:35 (it's a two hour trip back) one guy says he would take us for 70 ky - what a rip off! - the proper and normal price is 40 ky. The load of stuffed dummies (the other five) just sit around unable to make a decision. At 5:45, I decide we aren't going to get back unless we pay 70. He drives very fast, I am standing on the back thinking of Maja but admiring the full moon. We arrive at 7:30 on the dot. The duck is small and well cooked but is chopped up, bone, gristle and all - with mixed veg. It's OK. Later on in the evening, I talk with two English and a NZ guy going home - we swap info and drink good lemon juice. They say Laos is terrific, they did the Chiang Mai - Luan Prabang trip round to Bangkok in three weeks - really cool.
During the night Pete wakes me up - we both have 20 mosquitoes inside our nets.
Paul K Lyons
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