A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Ozac



It’s 2011 and I am 66 years of age. Ordinarily I wouldn’t hasten to remind myself of that, but in this instance I think it’s probably a good idea to establish the fact at the outset and give myself an anchor in reality before I mentally plunge back down the time tunnel of my life and become 19 again.

I have decided to take a journey. I am going to relive the Great Travel Adventure of my youth, country by country, town by town, highway by by-way, retracing exactly the same route I took 46 years ago. The difference will be that this time it will be a virtual journey. The pack on my back will exist solely in my mind, the passport can stay in the drawer, and I won’t need to worry about visas or stomach bugs. I will arrive by Google Earth, look around courtesy of the World Wide Web and leave at the click of a button to spend each night dreaming in the comfort of my own bed. That certainly will make a difference, believe me.

On the 24th August 1964, a few months short of my twentieth birthday, I said goodbye to suburban claustrophobia in Sydney, Australia, and embarked on the Italian liner Galileo Galilei, bound for Bombay, India, from where I planned to travel overland across Asia, North Africa and Europe to England, in the company of my boyhood friend Adrian Sever.

We had dreamed of such a journey since schooldays and prepared meticulously in the months leading up to our departure, researching widely and establishing a number of pen friends along our projected route. Even so, we were largely heading into the unknown. There were no guidebooks for our sort of travel then, and the overland route was still a few years away from becoming the famous ‘hippie trail’ of the late sixties and early seventies. With our youthful enthusiasm for adventure, we were eager to face the challenges of the road, and we were fortunate that the political situation at the time, though in places precarious, permitted most of the borders along the way to be open, providing a short-lived window of opportunity that allowed the bulk of our travel goals to be accomplished.

The journey to England took us just on six months and when we arrived the cultural phenomenon known as the ‘Swinging Sixties’ was at its height. I lived and worked in various parts of London for sixteen months, taking short travel breaks, including a four week period motoring around Europe in an old Bedford van with Adrian and two Malaysian friends.

After various changes of plan we decided to return to Australia in similar fashion to the way we had come - overland, but by a different route except for some necessary or desirable repetition. So began a second great adventure that we had not originally envisaged. This took a further four months, ending in Singapore, from where we flew home, arriving in Sydney to a jubilant welcome from our families on 17th November 1966. We had been away for two years and three months.

In the pre-digital sixties, before mobile phones, internet cafes and Skype, contact with loved ones when on the road was limited to the international postal network, unreliable at best, especially if the stamps were interesting. I kept up a regular fortnightly correspondence with my family while backpacking, and weekly when in London. My mother dutifully replied to every letter she received, keeping track of a complicated address schedule and providing a support system from the other side of the world that I could not have done without.

I also kept a journal, and it is this that will guide me on my virtual journey and form the basis of this blog. It is the voice of an innocent abroad, thirsty for all kinds of new experiences, but fearful as well, and prone to a bit of post-adolescent navel gazing. I make no apologies for that. As I transcribe the journal I will be making the parallel trip, so the voice of the sixty-six year old will be there as well. I will do my best with the photos, but they are mostly scans of slides which have been sitting in boxes for decades, gathering dust and mould and slowly fading like the memories they were meant to evoke. How the conversation between a wide-eyed nineteen year old and his equally wide-eyed incarnation half a century later will develop, and what they still have to learn from their common experience, remains to be seen.

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Posted by Ozac 20:46 Comments (5)

The Journal

At Sea on the Galileo

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.


Monday 24-8-64

We sailed for India aboard the TV Galileo Galilei at midnight on the 24th August 1964. The actual embarkation and sailing gave me a unique experience. The feeling was a curious mixture of joy, sadness and fear. Once outside the Heads this gave way to a certain elation, and I was childishly bounding up and down the passageways thinking I had already overcome the unbalancing effects of the ship’s movement. After somewhat apprehensively enjoying my new won freedom for a few hours I went down to bed, did not bother to clean my teeth even, and slept in my underwear. In trying to fall asleep, which took some time, I felt slightly ill for the first time.

Tuesday 25-8-64

Between Sydney and Melbourne - I slept well, but awoke this morning to a badly pitching ship. Being closed in that cramped, swaying, pitching cabin made me feel violently ill and I vomited several times this morning. I tried to eat some breakfast, took a pill, and stayed up on deck, but nothing helped. Most other passengers felt the same I think, as very few were up and about. I felt bloody awful, I hated the sea and the ship, loathed everything about the trip, and was already missing the family as well. If I could have, I would have got off the Galileo and gone home. So now I know what it is like to be both homesick and seasick. After vomiting about 1.30 I went to lunch to get something solid inside me, and I managed to keep that down. The seas had abated and it seemed that the worst was over. I went to see a movie in the afternoon (Man in the Middle with Robert Mitchum) and this I found to be a most peculiar sensation. It was a rather tame film, but I did not mind, as I was quite glad just to be feeling better. I had a good dinner, stayed alright during the dance in the main lounge, and at midnight went down to the cabin. I had showered, shaved and dressed for dinner, which had also made me feel better, and as the cabin was no longer moving I felt I would be able to get a good night’s rest.

Wednesday 26-8-64

Berthed in Port Melbourne - I awoke to a fair day with the ship already berthed. I felt fine and had an excellent breakfast before heading into town with Ade, Tony, Jim and Dave. Probably the most vivid impression we all got of Melbourne was the weird little two carriage train which took us into the city (Flinders Street Station) from Station Pier in Port Melbourne. It was more of a tram than anything else, and was dirty from one end to the other; typical of Melbourne we thought, and we were right, it is a filthy city, with even the new buildings covered in grime. We wandered through Treasury Gardens, took a few photos, saw Cook’s cottage, and looked through their two excellent cathedrals (St. Paul’s CE and St. Patrick’s RC). The priest we met in St. Pat’s allowed us to go up onto the roof and into the main spire, which gave us an opportunity for some unusual photos and some panoramic views.

Spire of St. Patricks Cathedral, Melbourne

Spire of St. Patricks Cathedral, Melbourne

We took a taxi back to the ship for lunch and remained on board until tea time. We returned to the city after dinner, went for a tram ride, became terribly bored and went back to the ship. We were sick of Melbourne already. I suppose we were rather unfair, since we only saw a small section of the place, and none of the supposedly better areas. We were cynical and downright arrogant. We acted foolishly. However, considering the traditional rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, what else could we do? We were all pretty bored. There was little or nothing doing on ship and we were not looking forward to the following day, also to be spent in Melbourne.

===Ozac 2011===

I was certainly making a rather hasty judgement on Melbourne and expressing a very parochial attitude. The irony is that I would later live there for three years and then work there for extended periods on a number of occasions after that. I love Melbourne. It is a totally people friendly city, easy to get around, great parks, galleries and eateries, and the only city in Australia with a proper theatre district. It gets better every time I go there. Even the weather isn't as bad as people say and the autumn is marvellous. I got to ride on that same little train almost every day for a couple of years, working in South Melbourne. It never got much cleaner, but I noticed that every time there was a big liner in port they put on a smart new train for the day to create a better impression. Must have happened after we left.

Thursday 27-8-64

Still fine, and quite warm out on deck. I spent most of the morning out near the empty pool, doing nothing, and then after lunch went into the city with Ade, Jim and Dave. We roamed around some more, then got back to the ship by four, as we were due to sail at 5 pm. The ship was full of visitors and we were feeling rather proud and boastful, being passengers, and seasoned travellers at that. We laughed to ourselves at the emotional scenes and thoroughly enjoyed watching the visitors and trying to pick out the new passengers. We had fun catching and throwing streamers to those onshore, laughing and calling out to them, and generally acting like schoolboys. We sailed on time, and after dinner there was a dance, which was quite enjoyable. It was a most peculiar sensation to be dancing on a rolling and pitching floor. Things slowed down for me about twelve, so I went to bed.

Friday 28-8-64

Enroute to Adelaide - This morning on deck I was treated to a most beautiful sight; we passed between Kangaroo Island and the mainland, and the sun shining on the rolling green hills and the beaches was truly something I had never seen before. It made me realize that we were now really on the way to beautiful exciting places. Deva (Peter) Singh, the Indian chap in our cabin, who has a farm near Jullundur in the Punjab, and is a Sikh, has given us the first experience of Indian hospitality by inviting us to stay as long as we like, all expenses paid, on his property, which is apparently rather large for his district. He has told us he has the biggest house in the village. He is a naturalized Australian by reason of his father being such, is very proud of it, and speaks English with a very broad Australian accent, which he picked up while working in the banana and cane growing areas. One of his fingers is missing (bitten off in a brawl, he says), and he looks a bit like a dark Barry Jones (so Ade says). He said he would like us to go straight with him to his home when we reach Bombay, but as we have to go to Poona first this would be impossible. I like him a lot, and although I would not impose in regard to ‘all expenses paid,’ I think we will definitely take advantage of his hospitality for a few days.

We berthed at Outer Harbour, Adelaide, at 4-30 pm, and took the train into the city. I like Adelaide. It is spacious, somewhat quaint and provincial, and a very relaxed looking city. We could only stay an hour or so, so all I got was a very general impression, but I like it very much. We returned to the ship, seven of us, for dinner and a most boring evening of gin rummy. There was quite a farewell as we left Adelaide for Fremantle, but third time round was souring a bit, so I did not stay out on deck to watch the ship pull out. The most exciting thing about Adelaide was arriving. The dock was in a most picturesque setting, and the tugs pulling us in would have made an excellent photo if I had had a colour film.

Saturday 29-8-64

Crossing the Bight, enroute to Fremantle - Out here at sea time means nothing. Today is Saturday, but it could be any day of the week for all it matters. With no land in sight, the ship is just an island in a seemingly endless sea. There seems no reason to record time, as there is nothing to relate it to. And so I lose track of the hour, the day, and later, perhaps the month. Whether it is night or day does not even seem to matter. The sea at times is hateful, sometimes boring, and sometimes wonderful. It has been difficult as yet to see the overpowering force of the wind and the sea, as they have stayed reasonably calm. Neverthless, perhaps I will yet experience the awe-inspiring might of the elements.

Sunday 30-8-64

This morning I awoke late. Strange to wake up at 11 am to a dark room. Wrote my second letter home this afternoon, and played my first few games of deck tennis.

Deck tennis on the Galileo

Deck tennis on the Galileo

I feel I am now completely adjusted to the movement of the ship. It can get as rough as it likes now, I can take it. This evening, about 5 pm, we sighted land for the first time in two days. It was a beautiful sight. I am not sure whether it was a group of islands or the W.A. mainland, but at that time, with the sun just beginning to redden the sky, and the wake of the ship glowing an intangible turquoise, this misty land on the horizon could have been anywhere on Earth. It was the first glimpse of the kind of thing I have dreamed about.

Monday 31-8-64

When I came out on deck we were approaching Fremantle. It was exciting to think that this was to be my last day in Australia. The overseas terminal where we docked was very large, and very new, much better than Sydney. A whole group of us went in on the bus to Perth, and I was somewhat apprehensive of this, right from the first. As the day wore on, the usual indecisiveness of large groups made it most frustrating. We must have wasted hours. I could not change my pounds in the city, as there was nothing less than 10,000 lira notes at any of the banks. We had lunch in King’s Park, which affords superb views over Perth. It is a beautiful city, even more spacious and relaxed than Adelaide seemed to be; clean, warm and friendly. My only objection is an occasional artificial quality in its buildings. Whereas Adelaide, for example, has created a genuine atmosphere with its many quaint old buildings, Perth seems to have created a somewhat pseudo atmosphere, with architectural styles borrowed from elsewhere, (example: London Court [Elizabethan], Tech. College [Norman], University [Spanish], Town Hall [German Gothic?]). This must have been a phase it passed through, as its newer buildings are excellent. Nevertheless, I like Perth very much and I would enjoy returning one day to see more of it. At about 4 pm we took over the lounge of the King George’s Hotel and had a swinging, drunken party. Once I overcame my natural quiet reserve, I had a wonderful time, even though I went through about three days living expenses. I will feel the pinch during the rest of the trip to Singapore. It was a Good-bye Australia party, and we sang Waltzing Matilda all the way back to Fremantle in the bus and into the terminal. Back on board we quietened down and I went to bed with a headache. I believe the ship pulled out two hours late, because of wharfie trouble.

* * *

Posted by Ozac 21:28 Comments (0)

In the Indian Ocean

Heading North

Tuesday 1-9-64

Enroute to Singapore - Stabilizers are in and the ship is rolling a lot as we try to make up lost time. They have filled the swimming pool, and passengers stand around gawking as if they had never seen one before. The sun is beaming, an excellent day. The Indian Ocean is like glass, with only the even swell moving the ship. Life is terribly easy at the moment, a wonderful feeling. The food is becoming somewhat monotonous. It is all too spicy and not enough variety in taste. Some clean, plain Australian food would not go amiss. Blast that bloody front tooth of mine! It came out finally in Perth, and I can’t stick it back in again. I think I will wait until India, and have Dr. Kale fix it (free?). I am yet to see a sunset at sea. This is one thing I have looked forward to very much, but it has always been too overcast at sunset. This evening I thought there would be one, but it never fully developed.

Wednesday 2-9-64

Today a complete change has come over the ship and everyone on board, all due to the weather. We are steaming north now of course and the weather is becoming more tropical by the hour. Whereas yesterday people were wearing winter clothes still, today everyone is out on deck in swimming costumes and summer gear. The atmosphere on deck is how I imagine a Riviera atmosphere would be - relaxed, playful, friendly, sunny, with deck chairs and swimming pool, umbrellas and drinks, sunglasses and sunhats, accordion music in the background, and above all, a cosmopolitan harmony. That’s what makes it so exciting to me, complete harmony among all the nationalities on board: Australians, Italians, Greeks, Germans, New Zealanders, English, etc..

* * *

The sun, a huge, shimmering golden circle, is making its final appearance for the day from behind a grey, low bank of cloud. It is huge and brilliant, and rims the surrounding cloud with gold so as to make a regal exit into the sea. The sea is composed and waiting, and when the sun is fully ready he falls with the greatest dignity into her depths. The sea does not murmur, but there is an empty sky. Such is the sun’s daily duty, and so it was today. Full five minutes later the sun comes to life again. The grey cloud thins, the sky glows orange, green, yellow, pink and blue, all light radiating from the point where the sun sank. The black blue sea reflects all these colours. All these colours merge into a deep golden fire. I saw this sunset tonight. It is what I have been waiting for. The first such sunset I have ever experienced. I am watching it still. The blue black and the gold deepen by the minute. There is nothing to clutter it. It is a merging of the elements. The sun, the sea, the sky, the clouds. I am still not satisfied. It has not moved me fully. Perhaps it is the ship in my background. To experience it fully it would be necessary to be alone on the sea. The gold is gone, the day is dead, the night is born.

Thursday 3-9-64

In two days we have passed from wintry weather into humid tropical conditions. Out on deck it seems difficult to breathe, the air is so full of moisture. We have now left Australia well behind, and tonight we will be passing through the Sunda Strait, between Java and Sumatra. Sometime tomorrow we will be crossing the equator. Trying to forget the people on the ship for a moment, I look out to sea, and everything seems so different and so full. I can imagine World War II battles being fought in these waters, and ships being sunk, and men struggling for their lives in the sea. Not far distant, Java and Sumatra, scenes of Japanese atrocities, and now trouble spots of South-East Asia, teeming millions, and a completely different environment to the one I have lived in. All so very close. The air is different, the horizon is haze, the experience is all so very new.

Tonight I have been sitting out on deck talking frankly to the first interesting person I have met on the ship. At about 12 midnight, lights appeared out to sea, one on the port side, and two on the starboard side. They were Indonesian gunboats following us. After about half an hour they dropped astern.

Friday 4-9-64

Off Indonesia - At ten o’clock this morning we had the crossing of the line ceremony, although we are not due to actually cross the equator until later tonight. It was a messy, sloppy affair, and got a little out of hand. Rather a pointless business, but it is traditional. We passed dozens of small Indonesian islands during the day, and occasionally saw a small fishing craft in the distance, only just discernable through binoculars. At four in the afternoon, Ade and I went up to the bridge. The heat and the glare were shocking, but the view and the clean quiet efficiency of the whole set-up made it worthwhile.

Me (right) on the bridge of the T.V. Galileo Galilei

Me (right) on the bridge of the T.V. Galileo Galilei

The Captain was there, and Ade faked a shot of me apparently being shown something by him, even though I was several feet back from him and a female passenger. Ade wanted me to try the same with him in the shot, but I am not sure whether it will work out.

Optical illusion shot. I am actually several feet back from the other two

Optical illusion shot. I am actually several feet back from the other two

I went to bed quite early so as to be able to get up at five for our arrival in Singapore tomorrow. We will be crossing the equator late tonight and the day has been steaming hot and humid. The sky and horizon were hazy and I did not enjoy staying out on deck too long. The sunset was quite something, with the islands dotting the sea, and the clouds, creating a beautiful sight. Note: I saw some flying fish from the bridge in the afternoon.

===Ozac 2011===

The Lloyd Triestino ship TV (Turbo Vessel) Galileo Galilei, launched in 1961 to commence service in 1963, is now sadly at the bottom of the sea. After a couple of name changes under different owners she became the Sun Vista, and during a cruise in South-East Asian waters she caught fire on the afternoon of 20th May 1999 and sank 9 hours later about 60 miles south of Penang, at a position we would pass close to within the next 48 hours. Fortunately there were no fatalities.
She was a magnificent ship, built for the migrant run between Genoa and Sydney and, in alternate monthly sailings with her sister ship the TV Guglielmo Marconi, carried many thousands of young Australians, such as myself, on her return voyages to Europe during the sixties and seventies.
There was a chilling moment, when I came upon the website www.drmike.smugmug.com which contains a remarkable series of images of the encrusted wreck, lying on its side in 70 metres of water in the Malacca Strait. There were the very wheelhouse windows I am looking out of above, and the starboard side bridge wing and compass, the mirror image of the port side one in the photo with the Captain. It was an eerie feeling.

T.V. Galileo Galilei

T.V. Galileo Galilei

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Posted by Ozac 18:58 Comments (0)

Fiasco in Singapore

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Saturday 5-9-64

At Singapore - I rose at 5.30 am and went up on deck, just in time to see the rising sun. The lights of Singapore attracted my attention more however, as this was our first overseas port of call. We took the pilot and customs officials aboard about 6.30 am and proceeded to our berth. Then came the announcement; “Singapore is a closed port at the present time and no passengers in transit will be allowed ashore”. This came as a complete shock, and at the time, with Singapore stretched out before us, oriental, fascinating, it could not have been worse if we had been asked to abandon ship. I had been in a state of slight nervous apprehension about landing in this strange foreign city, and I was glad that this feeling passed with the announcement, though I feel it will only delay it until Bombay. Nevertheless, as the thought of missing Singapore settled in, I became bitterly disappointed. We passed several small islands on the way to the dock, and they were covered in tropical jungle and native Malay style houses. There were also some bombed out ruins and some prosperous looking British Colonial homes. It was all so picturesque and definitely how I imagined Singapore would be. There was a fishing village on stilts over the water, and motorized sampans making their way up the harbour. I tried to imagine the time when the Japanese had invaded the island and had patrolled these very shores and waters. The experience was already so strong and yet it was so frustrating to think that it was not to be completed. We had come so far, and were so close, yet we were to leave without seeing it. From various sources we learned the reason for the ban. Last night there had been renewed outbreaks of racial violence in the city, many being either killed or injured. Malays were fighting Chinese, and the riots were apparently instigated by Indonesian infiltrators who had been parachuted in the night before. The whole of the city had been declared a danger area and a state of emergency was in force. A twenty-four hour curfew was imposed and it was, and still is, impossible to move about without a curfew pass and a police escort. No one except disembarking passengers could possibly leave the dock area. Singapore was having big trouble and we had arrived in the thick of it. There was so much I wanted to see, do and buy, but impossible. About 12 midday we were allowed to walk around the dock area, and we took full advantage of this small concession. There were some World War II sunken hulks in the water on the other side of the dock, some distinctive architecture, and plenty of Malays, Chinese and Indians working on the wharves. They were very friendly and talked freely of the trouble, especially the smartly dressed police. I went on board a tug and talked with the captain, a Malay, for a while. Some of the others gave money to some small children, through the wire fence, but it disgusted and embarrassed me to see them being so patronizing, as if they were feeding animals at the zoo. It was exciting to see the typically attired native workers, and it is definitely the people, and not the change of scenery, that make you realize where you are. Another complete tour of the docks after lunch found us eventually aboard the Lloyd Triestino ship T.V. Asia, which was in port at the same time, enroute to Hong Kong. Much older and smaller than the Galileo. We returned to the ship and she sailed at five pm, six hours early. Singapore was a fiasco, a disappointment and a cheat. Thousands of miles to see a confined dock area, interesting though it was. We could not buy any cheap goods, so we lost money on that score. I can hardly wait now until I disembark in Bombay. I am sure I would have loved Singapore and its people, so I will come back one day to see it and stay awhile. Tonight we are sailing up the coast of Malaya, and Ade tells me we have just passed Malacca, on starboard side. Sumatra is to port. Five more days of partial monotony, until this new life of independence and experience which I have tasted begins to fully bloom.

Posted by Ozac 21:29 Comments (0)

Next Stop India

Last Days at Sea

Sunday 6-9-64

(In the morning the Galileo passed west of the spot where, renamed the Sun Vista, she was to sink some thirty five years later, at 1.22 am on 21st May 1999. Ozac 2011)

In the Malacca Strait - Today everyone was still somewhat dejected over the Singapore fiasco. Everything was dull and there was just nothing to do. I was very bored. Late afternoon we rounded the northern tip of Sumatra and, as the seas began to rise, we sailed into the Bay of Bengal. No land now until Ceylon.

Monday 7-9-64

In the Bay of Bengal - Worse than yesterday. No land in sight and nothing to do but eat, sleep, sit and talk. I am glad I will be disembarking at Bombay. I do not think I could stand another fortnight. The sea has many moods and is a great elemental force, but no matter where I have travelled in the last two weeks, the sea has looked the same, with the possible exception of the equatorial area, where everything was hazy and still. The sea outside now looks exactly as it did when the ship was crossing the Great Australian Bight, yet we are not far from Cape Comorin, the southernmost point of India. The only thing that makes one realize that one is getting somewhere is to make stops at foreign ports. To Fremantle it was fine. To Singapore it was fine, but then what happened? No one got to see Singapore but from a distance. The whole trip so far seemed pointless, and the prospect of another five days at sea, without land, was not an enjoyable one. We are now three days out from Singapore and I am bored stiff. If I could realize just exactly where I am on the earth things would be different, but for all I know I could be anywhere. When I disembark at Bombay I know things will change, and I will begin to feel the fullness of experience, which I began to taste in that frustrated glimpse of Singapore.

Tony and Jim, 2 days to Bombay, 12 days to Genoa

Tony and Jim, 2 days to Bombay, 12 days to Genoa

Tuesday 8-9-64

The veil of boredom lifted for a short time this morning as we rounded Ceylon and headed north for the western coast of India. It settled down again as we lost sight of land. I could not realize it was the Ceylonese coastline. Ade and I packed our London bags last night, and this morning we took them down to the baggage room. We now have only the rucksacks and their contents left. Late tonight, as I came up on deck after a documentary film on India, I saw the lights of India for the first time. I do not know exactly where we were, but there were many lights, and it was India.

Wednesday 9-9-64

Tomorrow morning we will be in Bombay and today we could see the Indian coast all day. It still could be anywhere. This afternoon we sorted everything and packed our rucksacks, which were bulging with cigarettes and liquor. The day passed uneventfully, but I could feel myself coming to life again as we approached our destination.

* * *

Posted by Ozac 22:00 Comments (0)

Culture Shock in Bombay

Leaving the Galileo

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Thursday 10-9-64

We came into Bombay at 4 am this morning, so when I awoke we had already berthed.

T.V. Galileo, Berthed at Apollo Pier Bombay

T.V. Galileo, Berthed at Apollo Pier Bombay

It was very strange to go to sleep at sea and to wake up with the city of Bombay sprawled around. From the deck I immediately noted the Gateway of India away to the left. The sight from the ship was not how I imagined Bombay to be, it was more like I imagined an Arab port to be. We left the ship once again with the gang, though I felt somewhat reluctant, but it was our last day with them so I persevered. We took a horse drawn vehicle into the city, eight of us, and paid 10 rupees - highway robbery! We found the American Express office, collected our mail, and wanted to leave our rucksacks there, but to no avail. They told us the best place to leave them was in the baggage room at Victoria Terminus (V.T.). We walked a mile in searing heat to do this, but were rather worried after we had booked them in, as the security did not seem very strict. With the load off our backs, we then wandered up and down the streets experiencing this foreign place. At this time I was feeling a little apprehensive about the future. We made our way back to the Gateway of India and the nearby Taj Hotel, a fantastically elaborate building. The Gateway seemed an impressive waste of money. It must have cost a fortune, and to what purpose - so the King and Queen could walk beneath it. At present, hundreds of homeless people sleep under its arches.

The Gateway of India

The Gateway of India

We went for a ride in a felucca and checked into the nearby Salvation Army Hostel for the night. There we met an Australian family by the name of Bell who had come across on the Marconi the month before, and they walked down to the docks with us to see the Galileo sail. The mob on board threw us down dozens of pieces of fruit and lowered two bottles of beer. I did not feel any heaving of the heart as the ship sailed, but the last mouthful of beer went down the wrong way, and I threw up all over the wharf. We caught a taxi back to the Salvo’s and had a drink before going in. Mr. Bell was most helpful and friendly, and gave us many hints on how to avoid being ripped off in the cities.

Bombay seems to me to be one of the worst places on God’s earth. It is huge, crowded, chaotic, old and filthy. To feel alone there is a terrible feeling, and this is how I felt on that first night, as I fell asleep in that barren god-forsaken hole the Salvo’s call a hostel. Outside was a teeming city of four million, and not one of them did I know or trust. For the most part they seem to live in the worst poverty imaginable, and one million of them sleep in the gutter. Beggars followed me everywhere on the street, and I was frightened of them, and embarrassed, when I refused them and they persisted. I feel it will take some time to overcome these feelings. Although I feel very insecure at the moment, I know there is no going back, and that I must accept and face up to the reality of my present position and make the best of it.

===Ozac 2011===

“Although I feel very insecure at the moment” was something of an understatement! This first day in Bombay I remember as being the worst of the whole trip. For a start, we were sweltering in jeans, boots and army surplus long sleeved shirts, carrying heavy rucksacks on our backs, cameras round our necks, water bottles on our belts, and trudging miles in scorching heat looking for somewhere safe and cheap to park the luggage and spend the night. We were fending off persistent hordes of beggars, hawkers, rickshaw drivers and black marketeers all day. Many of the beggars were horribly deformed. We were stepping around corpse like sleeping bodies covered in flies, on every filthy pavement and public place. We were appalled by the odours, the poverty and the disease, and could see only endless days of such surroundings stretching in front of us. Insecure? I think I was probably terrified. Where I wanted to be was back on board the Galileo, and if I could have sailed away from this bad dream I would have thought boredom at sea was bliss. But I knew that wasn't going to happen.

In a pool of light on an almost deserted Apollo Pier that night, trying to catch the fruit raining down before it split open on the concrete, feeling a bit like the target in a sideshow, and putting on a brave Aussie face for our smiling Mediterranean bound compatriots at the rail above, my stomach was turning over, but that icy beer on a string, like bait on a hook, was too much of a temptation, and I quaffed it back with abandon to show them how confident I was. No wonder I then had to lurch into the half shadows and bring it all up.

Back in our dismal cubicle at the Salvation Army Hostel, which I see is still in business a stone’s throw from the Taj Hotel, we stretched out on hard narrow cots listening to a hacking cough from the other side of the low partition wall and watched the fan revolve slowly on the ceiling. We didn't say much. All our years of dreaming and months of planning had led us to this moment of utter despondency, as we finally comprehended the reality of the challenge ahead.

We needed a lifeline, and fortunately we had two, in Poona, not far to the south. Ram Kale, a recently married dentist who had studied in the United States, was Ade’s pen friend, and I had been corresponding with Nuruddin Khambata, a university student. With them there was the promise of sanctuary until we could acclimatize, and so it proved to be.

* * *

Posted by Ozac 22:37 Archived in India Tagged mumbai bombay gateway_of_india Comments (0)

Meeting with Pen Friends

To Poona, then to Aurangabad and back

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Friday 11-9-1964

We collected our bags from the luggage room in that chaotic VT and got on the train to Poona. We were both very glad to be leaving Bombay. On the train we met a family of Indians on holiday from Aden, who shared food with us, and a Professor from the College of Military Engineering in Poona who said we could stay with him if we had any problems locating Dr. Kale. This was unnecessary however, as we arrived in Poona and got a taxi straight to Ram's home, which is also his surgery. It seems quite good and has a small garden area at the side. We rested in the afternoon and went for a short walk in the evening. Ram and Shobha, his new wife, who is delightfully shy, set up mattresses on the floor of the waiting room and we slept there for the night. We have had our first real Indian meal, had an Indian style bath and squatted on an Indian style toilet. Such wonderful new experiences, and the feelings of insecurity and fear are beginning to slip away.

Saturday 12-9-64

In Poona - This morning, Dileb Desmurkh, from upstairs, drove us around Poona in his car. We went out to a large mountain outside the city (Katraz) and then to a temple on another hill (Parvati). We met my pen friend Nuruddin at his father’s shop in Gandhi Road. He is just as I imagined from his letters - friendly, intelligent and a little reserved, and is really pleased that we are finally here. We are all going to get along very well.

Saturday 12-9-64 to Sunday 20-9-64

The following entry is one for seven days, as I am so far behind in my diary.

Movements - Around Poona Saturday, Sunday & Monday, then Tuesday evening we went up to a fort on a mountain outside the city (Sinhgarh or Sinhagad: Lion Fort) and slept the night up there. It was the most difficult climb I have ever made in my life. It was three miles up the mountain and it took one and a half hours to get there. We slept the night on the floor of a bungalow belonging to a friend of Dilep’s and when I awoke in the morning I had a shocking stiff neck. It was tremendous in the night to sit up there on a mat on the floor, on top of a mountain, by lamp light, and just think and see and experience. Besides the stiff neck, the morning brought a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains and countryside. We were above and in the clouds at times and the sunrise and mists were superb.

In the clouds at Sinhgarh

In the clouds at Sinhgarh

We had to hurry down the mountain to catch an early bus back to Poona, as we had to leave for Bombay that day. We had three lifts to Bombay, and the last one dropped us right at the door of Mr. Ramdas, who put us up for the night. We had met him a few days earlier, when he and his wife gave us a lift back to Poona from Karla caves. They had a really luxurious home and I felt uncomfortable sitting there in sweaty untidy clothes. They gave us dinner, bed and breakfast, and Mr Ramdas drove us into town to his office. Ade left for American Express and then intended to return to Poona by train. Mr. Ramdas gave me some letters to contacts in Goa, Bangalore etc. and then I went and changed some money on the black market (6.5 R to $1), fixed up some other things with Cooks etc. and met the chap who was to take me back to Poona - the same chap who had given us a lift to Ramdas’ the day before. He picked me up at four, but we did not leave for Poona till 7.30. He owns Metro Motors in Poona, don’t know his name. Also in the car was Abdul Razak, who lives a few doors down from Nuruddin in Gandhi Road. Got back to Poona at midnight Thursday.

Friday at 4.30 am, got up, packed, and said goodbye to Ram and Shobha. We met Nuruddin and got on the road to hitch to Aurangabad, to see the caves at Ellora. Got there by jeep and bus about 9 pm and stayed at Little Flower High School. We were given this by a priest we met on the road in the morning. We had also met an Australian Jesuit, Father Cronin, from De Nobili in Poona. The night in Little Flower was OK and for nothing, and on Saturday morning we started for Ellora, about 16 miles out of the town. The caves were astounding, but numerous, and therefore a little tiring. The best was a Jain temple - a masterpiece, and completely monolithic. Could not get back to Aurangabad that night, so stayed at the Dak bungalow at Ellora, our first. Not too bad. Went over the huge fort at Daulatabad on the way back, a vast Moghul fortress, well preserved, and with a maze of tunnels and steps. A tall minar (Chand Minar) dominates. Some good photos of the fort I hope.

From the Fort at Daulatabad

From the Fort at Daulatabad

Back to Aurangabad and the ‘little flower’ at 2 pm, lunch in town, and out to Bibi Ka Maqbara, imitation Taj Mahal, built by Aurangzeb for his wife’s tomb. This is Sunday, and tonight we will stay at the school again and push off back to Poona in the morning.

===Ozac 2011===

This rather telescoped entry to cover what had been a very busy week in and around Poona, with probably little time alone to write up my journal, nevertheless contains reference to a couple of encounters which had significant outcomes for us as time went by, not only as we travelled in South India, but well beyond.

Clearly we had soon recovered from the shock to the system of that first day in Bombay, as there we were again, and this time, instead of the dog-box at the Salvo’s we were staying in the beautiful home of a very cultured Indian family, who not only housed and fed us, but drove us around some of the more impressive parts of the city. Our lift by Mr. and Mrs. Ramdas from the Karla Caves back to Poona had been our first hitch in India, and was due directly to the boldness of Ram Kale, who had been dubious that it could work, but nevertheless marched straight up to the first decent car he saw and asked for a lift for the three of us. He couldn’t have made a better choice. Mr Ramdas proved to be a very charming and generous man whose unsolicited letters of introduction subsequently opened a series of unexpected doors for us.

I had forgotten that we split up for the return the following day to Poona, leaving me by myself in Bombay for the afternoon, practising my ‘baksheesh nay’ technique no doubt and making my first tentative foray into the black market. I must have felt quite pleased with myself.

The other encounter, of even more ongoing significance, was our chance meeting with the two Jesuit priests as we waited for a lift outside Poona. They suggested we could stay at the Jesuit High School in Aurangabad as there was a school break and the classrooms would be empty. This worked out well, as we not only got free sleeping space, but somewhere to wash and a couple of meals as well. It had never occurred to us before this to take advantage of the extensive network of Jesuit and other Catholic institutions throughout India, but after Aurangabad we were only too willing to front up to such places in the evening if there was nothing else on offer. Both Adrian and I were a couple of years out from a Christian Brothers education so we had no trouble talking the appropriate talk, and I was not above dropping reference to my family’s connection to the Jesuits in Australia. I don’t think we were ever turned away, and we got to meet some extremely formidable men of fine intellect, great dedication and compassion, and gained an insight into an aspect of India that we might otherwise have overlooked. Even well beyond India’s borders they were still helping us occasionally, as the Jesuits are almost everywhere.

With the aid of the internet I have identified the Australian priest as Father Kevin Cronin S.J., a greatly loved and respected teacher, writer and archivist, Chaplain at the Jesuits’ Hazaribagh Mission for many years, who died on 8th October 2007, aged 78.

At the time I wrote the above journal entries, we were both just beginning to learn the ropes of the type of travel we had determined on, but we were quick learners, particularly where it came to saving money, of which we had relatively little. The big problems were always going to be where to sleep free of charge and where to get a nourishing evening meal at minimum cost. These had to be faced daily, and things like washing and laundry, obviously important, tended to follow on. The ‘little flower’ system we had discovered by accident was a life saver on many occasions, but also had its drawbacks, as I note in later entries. It was one of a number of possibilities. The best was always staying in someone’s home, a welcome break from the road and a chance to refresh. The worst was sleeping on the floor or, slightly better, the luggage rack of a III Class railway compartment on a crowded night train, as I was soon to discover. The pendulum always swung back and forth. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Time for some navel gazing.

Musings on the First Month

I have been away from home for nearly a month now, and in India for well over a week. How have I adjusted? How do I feel about things?
I no longer feel insecure or homesick, though I feel a little nostalgic at times and like to think of life at home. I am getting used to India, with its masses, its poverty and its beggars, its filth and its differences in religion and customs. Australia seems very far away, and so does Europe. I am here in India for two more months. I have to settle down to it and gradually I am. I am adjusting fairly well to the food and the way of eating. The vegetarian diet does not worry me. I am occasionally eating meat, but not often. I do not miss it. The only thing I really miss is cleanliness, but I am slowly getting used to the lack of this, as really, nothing anywhere seems to be clean.
I am becoming more confident and outward looking, turning mirrors into windows, not worrying about trivialities, past, present or future, nor anything in the past or future for that matter. I think I am becoming more independent, trying to accept things as they are and as they happen.
India is a strange country to me, and it is difficult not to be wary of people who look and dress so differently and who speak a completely foreign tongue. I no longer fear them. Why? The first time It really dawned on me that they were just ordinary people like me, who laughed and cried, felt happy and sad etc., was when I was in the bus on the way out to the fort. An Indian villager got in with a sick woman who I thought was probably his mother. She sat in the seat next to me and he opposite her. She was obviously very sick. She fell forward and was very still. I thought (really believed) that she had died, and I was quite worried by what I thought might follow. She had not died , but was just extremely weak. The man, I was unable to look at. Then later, he pointed to my badge and asked me if I was Australian, and we started talking. Apparently he had fought in New Guinea during the war. This was indeed his mother, who had just come out of hospital, and he had no other way of getting her home except on the bus. She had borne seven sons and five daughters. This son had been injured during the war. These poor people must have had many trials in their lives. I thought about them for quite a while and this little incident made me feel that I was beginning to understand them a bit.

* * *

Posted by Ozac 23:14 Archived in India Comments (0)

St. Francis and the Hippies

Belgaum, Goa and the Retreat House at Baga

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Monday 21-9-64

Today was spent on a bus from Aurangabad to Poona. Completely uneventful. We reached Poona at 5 pm and went to Nuruddin’s place for the night. He took us to dinner. Gandhi Rd. seems to be about the best kept business section of Poona.

Tuesday 22-9-64

Spent a most comfortable night, and Nuruddin’s father drove us out to the Belgaum Rd. after breakfast. We got a lift in an Ambassador after about 40 minutes. Two Indians taking their employer's car all the way to Madras. They had two boxer dogs in the back, which we nursed, one each, and on the way down mine was suddenly sick all over me and my pack. I then insisted that Ade and I swap dogs (foolishly), and an hour later the other one did the same thing. What a bloody mess! The country on the way down did not vary much. A few small villages, a few larger towns, rice fields, mountains, rivers, and some cane fields. Carts and lorries also cluttered up the road. We got to Belgaum about 5 pm and went to the bus station to book a seat on the bus to Goa next day. We took a rickshaw to St. Paul’s High School, run by the Jesuits, and managed to wangle a bed in the sick room for the night. A black bearded priest was terribly suspicious and I could have kicked him. He went to get the Director when we asked if he wanted to see our passports. Dinner will be about eight, and then bed.

Wednesday 23-9-64

We left St Paul’s School, in order to catch the 11 o’clock bus to Goa. A Father Irineu took us to the bus stand, and turned out to be a really decent old bloke.

Fr. Irineu Lobo S.J.

Fr. Irineu Lobo S.J.

He had travelled a lot himself, and although I could not make out what he was talking about much of the time, he kept me fascinated for an hour, until the bus came. He told us to approach the Jesuits in Old Goa, using his name and also said we could stay at a Retreat House at Baga, of which he is the Director. He seemed keen for us to do this. The bus left, but returned after a few hundred yards with a broken mainspring. At 12 instead of 11 we finally left Belgaum for Goa in a different bus. After a really rough and perilous ride through the mountains, we reached Old Goa at 5 pm. Old Goa consists of a cathedral and three huge old churches, which are being repaired for the Eucharistic Congress in November, during which the body of St. Francis Xavier will be exposed here in Goa. The Jesuits here gave us a room for the night in a disused novitiate which is also being repaired. It is a huge place, and with hardly a soul living here it has a rather eerie atmosphere about it. It adjoins the church where the body of St. Francis lies. They gave us a bed, but could not give us food. Ade was feeling ill so he went to bed, and I went down the road with one of the supervisors to find something to eat. I ended up in one of the palm branch huts of the local villagers, who agreed to prepare me two omelettes. One of the many who lived there could speak a little English, and raved on about one thing and another: cousin’s brother in the army, five children, very poor man. When I paid up, I was given a glass of home distilled liquor, as potent as any I had ever tasted. I was also given a native cigarette. Not too bad. It was quite an experience, but I was glad to leave. The man took me back to the novitiate and I went up to my room. This is a wonderfully restful place, and I wish I could stay a week and just do some reading and thinking, and sink into the surroundings. But there seems no prospect of getting a meal here, so I guess we will move into Panjim tomorrow.

===Ozac 2011===

The Jesuits have been in India for almost 470 years, since their co-founder and pioneering missionary Francis Xavier landed in the then Portuguese colony of Goa in 1542. The legendary ‘Apostle of the Indies’ died in 1552, aged 46, on a voyage to China, but twelve months later his body was returned to Goa, and all but an arm and a few of his toes have remained there ever since. Enshrined for the last 400 years in the baroque Basilica of Bom Jesus, what's left of the Saint is kept in a glass and silver casket high above a side altar, where it is venerated by thousands of pilgrims annually. Attached to the famous Basilica, and pre-dating it by about 15 years, is the Professed House of the Jesuits, built in 1585. This old seminary was the ‘disused novitiate’ where we spent our first night in Goa, in rooms overlooking the forecourt of the Basilica. It seems strange to think that less than a week after our chance encounter with the two Jesuits on a road outside Poona, we found ourselves knocking on the door of the Society at one of their most sacred sites.

The Indian army had liberated Goa from Portuguese colonial rule in 1961, and by 1964 the new order seemed to be well established. However, when the Eucharistic Congress was scheduled for November/December 1964 in Bombay, and involved a visit by Pope Paul VI, Roman Catholic Portugal was not amused, as political tensions between the two countries were still running high. The extensive restoration of the huge complex of churches and other religious buildings in the heart of the old Goan capital must have been a strategic public relations exercise on the part of the Indian Government, who were paying for much of the restoration.

Zooming in on the satellite view of Old Goa I can see what an impressive complex of churches large and small it is, and it reawakens vivid memories of being taken across from the Professed House to the immense Se Cathedral, also known as Saint Catherine’s Cathedral, to see the restoration in progress there. We entered this cavernous building, one of the largest churches in Asia, and were confronted by a mountain of bamboo scaffolding, filling the nave and rising to the distant ceiling, upon which an ant-like army of painters, plasterers, and other craftsmen were labouring away at the decay of centuries, repairing flaking surfaces and crumbling mouldings and limewashing everything whiter than white.

* * *

We are staying at too many priestly places. It is good to get free accommodation and meals, but the religious façade is difficult to keep up without feeling hypocritical, and besides, I feel somewhat restricted by the atmosphere they create. I don’t want to make a habit of the system.

So far from home, and so much further to go yet. I am travelling in India, yet sometimes I feel a closeness to home, whenever the countryside is comparable to, similar to, that of Australia. A month today I have been away, and all that Australia presented to me, excepting my family, has slipped well into the past, and much has been almost obscured. Only the present seems to exist, and even that not too tangibly. I feel I shall be alright now as long as my finances hold out. I am accustomed to travelling and nothing now seems too difficult to approach in this regard. I am also beginning to feel a confidence in my ability to tackle career problems, though I am completely out of touch with anything in that line. I can only let the future bring what it will. At present it is impossible to predict what will happen in the next hour even, and for the next eight months, I am content to leave it that way.

Thursday 24-9-1964

At Baga - 2nd month begins - We walked out of the door of the house in Old Goa and within 30 sec. had stopped a car which took us into Panjim to the office of Mr. Tamba, our contact ex- Mr. Ramdas. No luck with him, so we decided to spend the night at the Retreat House Father Irineu had mentioned, at Baga. At the tourist bureau we saw the name Huggins on the register, as an Australian. We called at the Hotel Riviera to see him and he turned out to be a passenger from the Galileo. We talked a while and he offered us lunch, which needless to say we accepted. Western style, with a beer. Afternoon we walked about, not much to see, and then by ferry & taxi managed to reach the Retreat House, which was empty. What a bloody mess. A door was open so we left our packs. No food! We went to a nearby house and told our story. The chap there said there was a cook who belonged to the Retreat House, but he must be in town. Someone went to look for the cook. Three fat ladies in the house next to the man said they could give us food. They thought we were priests or brothers. When I said grace out loud (what a stupid thing to do) they were convinced. The cook had come, all apologies, he too thought we were priests and asked me if I wished to say Mass in the morning. No? OK Brother. That was it, so I let it go. We had a good meal and wanted to get to bed, so after the cook had finally got round to saying goodnight, which took quite a time, (he had finally realized that we were not priests or brothers) we turned out the lamps and went to sleep.

Friday 25-9-1964

I awoke at sunrise
What a really excellent place we have come across. It is set high on a promontory jutting out into the Indian Ocean. It is like being at sea again. The sky, the sea and now the roar as it meets the land.

Calangute fishing boat, with Retreat House in background

Calangute fishing boat, with Retreat House in background

A beautiful beach, really golden, coconut palms and a native village. Fishing boats on the sand and fishermen preparing their nets. A cool ocean breeze, peace and quiet save for the sea. A retreat indeed. One could sit here and write a book, undisturbed. The setting is superb. A home here would be wonderful. The Retreat House is disturbing only in its partly corroded state and the preference for rather childish holy pictures. There are no priests at least, but a feeling of artificial spirituality still pervades. The scene here is beautiful, but it has not really moved me. I don’t know why. Perhaps this type of appreciation is being dulled by saturation. Career wise, I thought this morning that it is good to recall the past, to live entirely in the present, not regard the future except to say that when I reach London, I must take a further step up, not down by returning home. Start from scratch in the theatre again with the true path decided. Until then, settle all other drives in these next eight months.

* * *
We swam today, watched the semi-naked, G stringed natives haul in their nets, washed all our dirty clothes, wrote letters, sat around, and generally felt refreshed for travelling once again.

===Ozac 2011===

It is hard to reconcile the crowded, overly exploited tourist destination this part of Goa has become today with the unspoiled paradise we discovered when we made our way out to Fr. Irineu’s Retreat House at Baga nearly 50 years ago.

We waded across the tidal narrows at the opening to the Baga River, climbed the jungle path to the improbable looking building perched high on the point facing the Arabian Sea, and from there looked back onto a pristine tropical scene of golden sands fringed with coconut palms, punctuated only by traditional outrigger fishing boats and thatched village huts discreetly placed among the trees. It was perfection.

I am amazed to find that the Retreat House is still standing there in all its splendid isolation, looking well maintained and serving the same function, but the satellite reveals that instead of a fishing village it now overlooks a highly developed resort town, with hundreds of sun lounges and umbrellas dotting a beachfront lined with bars, restaurants and all the other gaudy commercial infrastructure of a package-tour holiday playground, Indian style. Was it always inevitable that this would happen?

It seems to me that the major events that have shaped Goa’s destiny have all had to do with arrivals - the arrival of the Portuguese colonists, the arrival of Francis Xavier and the Jesuits, the arrival of the Indian army, and then the arrival of the hippies, followed by the arrival of the tourists.

The arrival of the hippies - that took place in 1965, or at least the vanguard, led by a famous character called Eight Finger Eddie, arrived then and settled at Anjuna Beach on the other side of the headland. The words ‘cheap’ and ‘paradise’ got around, and during the late sixties and early seventies a trickle turned into a torrent and the beaches of North Goa became the must go dance party hangout at the end of the trail, for every nomadic spiritual and alternative lifestyle seeker who had made it to India. Some, like Eddie, who died in October 2010, aged 85, never left and watched the culture they had established there grow exponentially and then evolve as economic opportunism weighed in and generations changed. The party never stopped, but before long a different type of dancer had turned up, one with money, and the Baga and Calangute side of the headland became the tourist mecca that it is today.

All I know about the hippie era in Goa is what I am reading on the internet. I wasn’t there then. I was there before then. In fact, I was there just before then, September 64, only months before Eddie and the gang turned up. I truly wish I had bumped into them. If I had, I too might never have left. On the other hand, I was at the beginning of a journey, not the end, and I was purposed on a career as an actor, in London if possible. So I only stayed a couple of days, and can’t be blamed for anything that happened later to the glorious beaches of North Goa. We discovered and enjoyed a perfect paradise, and we left it in the same pristine condition that we found it.

Baga Beach at Goa

Baga Beach at Goa

Posted by Ozac 17:50 Archived in India Comments (0)

First Nights on Indian Trains

From Goa to Bangalore

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Saturday 26-9-1964

Up early, but missed the only morning bus from Calangute. We had to walk miles in searing heat to the bus stand in the town. We caught an antique little bus to the ferry at Panjim and this ride was by far the most interesting part of the day. The bus was crammed to capacity, so I managed to get a close up view of the people of Goa. The seashore villages were full of activity and this also was fascinating. I decided that Goa was the place to write my first article about. We got the ferry to Panjim, then made our way by various means to Vasco de Gama. The train to Hubli was to leave at 5.30 pm. We got window seats and settled down for an all night session in the train - I have never spent a more exhausting night - it was crowded, uncomfortable and I got no rest at all. The train was so slow and we had an hour’s wait at Londa for a connection, during which I slept a little on the platform. The second train was hardly any better. We arrived in Hubli at 4.30 am Sept. 27 after 11 hours in a third class Indian Railways’ carriage. We sat on the platform until 6.30. The day’s diet had consisted of boiled eggs and bread for both breakfast and lunch and omelette and bread on the train. Nevertheless the day was the most expensive yet.

Sunday 27-9-1964

We spent 6 hours on the Bangalore Road this morning, waiting for a lift. We finally got one only 80 miles to a dump called Harihar. We will get a train tonight from here to Bangalore. Hang the expense. I am just so tired. This will be the second successive night on a train. Let’s hope to God it will be better than last night.

I can remember seeing a film called Bhowani Junction, about the Anglo-Indian conflict. Harihar is just such a station. Low platform, rusty brown railway cars on sidings, Indians running all over the tracks, hot day, and a tired and dirty old town surrounding all. The atmosphere captured was true.

Hubli almost made me sick. We walked from the station out onto the Bangalore road, through one of the dusty, poverty ridden areas of the town. It was the morning crap hour, being demonstrated in the street every few yards, and feeding time for the hogs. I was almost physically ill.

Monday 28-9-1964

The second night on a train was not too bad, compared to the night before. At Harihar station we met George ---, an Englishman who was touring India after spending three years teaching in Ethiopia. He was by now at the same stage we are - so sick of being asked endless questions that we have started to make things up for the heck of it. It's sometimes hard to remember what's been said in the previous breath however, so you must be very careful that you don’t contradict yourself. The train left at 8.30 pm, and because we were travelling more than a certain distance we were allowed to get into a sleeper (III Class), and this was not too crowded. I rolled out my sleeping bag on the floor, and that is where I slept. It must have been a deep sleep, as Ade told me in the morning that at one station people were trampling all over the place, and I did not wake up.

Bangalore at about 7 am - We had breakfast on the station, and set out to find a post office, as Ade wanted some of the new Indian stamps. (insert: we invaded the A/C & 1st Class waiting room at Bangalore Station, and were not turfed out).

We first looked for a PO that was supposedly in the slum area, but no one could tell us where it was. Go to the GPO! Trudging through the dusty slum area of what we had heard was a very clean, up to date, and progressive city, gave us a bad first impression, but then we got over to the administrative and business area of the city, and our impression changed. The buildings are huge, new, and many are not too badly designed. The Secretariat is immense and imposing and not too ornate. After Ade had finished with his PO business we got a rickshaw to R.A. Mundkur’s residence (the contact Mr. Ramdas had given us in Bombay). It was quite a well-to-do home. In Australia it would be a pleasant, well-kept suburban two-storeyed house. There were two black cars in the driveway. We met Mrs. Mundkur, gave her the letter, she rang her husband, and we proceeded to his office in the black Ambassador. His office was that of the Home Guard, Bangalore Division, and he turned out to be the Commandant General, something similar to our Commissioner of Police in Sydney.

Mr. and Mrs. R. A Mundkur

Mr. and Mrs. R. A Mundkur

He was very helpful. Sent us to the Director of Tourism, sent us around the city in his car, put us up in his home for the night, arranged for our visit to the game reserve at Bandipur, and gave us a reference in Mysore to his brother-in law, the President of the Air Force Selection Board.

* * *

It is absolutely impossible to predict what will happen to us from one hour to the next. Our fortunes go up and down. One minute we are giving up hope after waiting hours for a lift, the next we are in a comfortable car speeding to our destination with a friendly host who gives us lunch and drops us right where we wish to go. One night we are sleeping on the floor of a III Class railway carriage, the next in a comfortable bed in the home of the Bangalore Commissioner of Police, with our every need attended to. One thing always seems to lead to another, seldom have there been dead ends, but it is impossible to predict where any one thing will lead.

===Ozac 2011===

Hitchhiking is a true game of chance, and the odds are usually stacked against you, but our very first hitch in India had proved a winner, and it paid a further dividend here in Bangalore. We could not believe our luck. We had no idea what to expect when we bowled up to the Mundkurs’ home with the letter of introduction, and Mrs. Mundkur must have received quite a surprise to be confronted by us. As we were being driven in the black Ambassador to Mr. Mundkur’s office we noticed there was a furled flag on the bonnet, and when we turned into a grand driveway and pulled up in a porte-cochere, the car door was opened by a uniformed guard. A highly polished brass plate beside the imposing entrance told us where we had been delivered, and we entered uncertainly, but when the initial formalities were out of the way Commandant General Mundkur did not hesitate to offer us his hospitality. He was a generous host, naturally more relaxed at home than in the office, and his lovely wife was warm, caring and very motherly to us. I have never forgotten them. All that was a long time ago, of course, but I have found the building with the porte-cochere, still there, and I note that the Bangalore training facility for Fire and Emergency Services is the R A Mundkur Academy, testament to the high regard in which he was held.

Posted by Ozac 21:34 Archived in India Comments (0)

From Stable to Palace

'Auspicious' Days in Mysore

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Tuesday 29-9-1964

Left the Mundkurs after breakfast and were taken to the Mysore road. Long wait, then got a lift about 30 miles, then finally one right to Mysore District Forest Officer. Fixed up about Bandipur, then proceeded to Group Captain Samsi’s office. The Selection Board offices are in a group of buildings which were formerly the Royal Stables of the Maharajah of Mysore, and are at present under lease from him, by the Government. Gr. Capt. Samsi is a very dignified officer, quite young for his position, and he immediately caught on to what we wanted. He put us up in a suite above his office, probably used for visiting officials, and it really is the most excellent accommodation we have had so far. It is a completely separate little unit. We have bedroom, dining room, bathroom & toilet, a large terrace overlooking the courtyard, our meals are served to us in the suite, and staff who will cater for our every need. We are really riding high at the moment. What will tomorrow bring, good fortune or bad?

Wednesday 30-9-1964

When we arrived in Mysore yesterday, we approached the barracks of the Palace Guards, looking for the Air Force Selection Board. They would not let us near enough to ask questions. This morning we drove through with Captain Krishna, Captain of the Palace Guard, and all the guards on the gate jumped to attention. The Gr. Capt. had rung him to make arrangements for us to visit the Palace, and we drove there for a whirlwind tour.

It was an ‘auspicious day’ as Capt. Krishna kept saying, and no visitors were allowed, as they were mounting the Golden Throne for the Dasara. We managed to see them doing this and could see the Maharajah’s family watching from an upper gallery. We visited some of the huge halls, the trophy room etc., and just as we were leaving, the Maharani drove past in a Rolls. We were only at the Palace about 20 minutes, but what a fantastic (literally) experience. In the afternoon we took a bus out to Bandipur, but when we discovered that it would cost 22 Rupees to see the place, we turned round and hitch-hiked back to Mysore. We got a lift from two English women with very plummy accents. They were very nice however. Dolores (actually French born) Richard (her BBC voiced husband) and Eileen (a friend on an 18 month holiday in India) were going to Mysore from Ooty as guests of the Maharajah during the Dasara festival. They were going to stay in one of the guest palaces. The two women asked us to come for a drink, so we did, and had a real party. They had brought a portable gramophone with them. The husband left for a while to see the Maharajah and returned later with the M’s private secretary. We were driven back to the stables and after having some dinner went to bed. I was quite sober, but Ade was rotten. I have been feeling quite sick ever since leaving Bangalore. I think I have the flu.

===Ozac 2011===

There is a great deal of information on the web about the 400 year history of the Golden Throne of the Wodeyars and its central role in the ten day Dasara Festival, which is the major annual cultural event in Mysore. The large ornate Throne, with the steps leading up to it and the golden umbrella above, is kept in a strong room all year and only brought out for Dasara, when the Maharajah takes his symbolic seat with great ceremony and conducts a nightly Durbar. The setting up of the gold, silver and jewel encrusted Throne in the days before the Festival begins is itself an elaborate two day ritual, with historic religious significance, held in private, and we were indeed privileged to be discreet witnesses of the proceedings, if only for a few minutes.

The Air Force Selection Board appears to have moved, but after a bit of searching I managed to find the Old Royal Stables where we stayed, recognizing instantly the large terrace overlooking the courtyard and the clock tower opposite. How amazing to fly around Mysore from a couple of hundred metres up, spotting various landmarks and reliving that visit of so long ago!

Posted by Ozac 18:53 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Life of a Sahib

Bangalore to Madras and North to Calcutta

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Thursday 1-10-1964 to Wednesday 7-10-1964

Since returning to Bangalore from Mysore on the 1st, I have been quite ill with the flu and have not felt like writing anything. I am feeling much better now and so have decided on a collective entry for this past week.

Returned uneventfully to Bangalore on the Thursday and stayed with the Mundkurs that night, then Friday and Friday night also, as I was still feeling sick and they wouldn't let me leave. We decided to push off for Madras early Saturday, but did not get out there until 10 am. No lift all day. Slept the night on the floor of a garage and tried again Sunday. Midday we got lifts in separate petrol trucks, going together, all the way to Madras. Cost 8 rupees, but we were finally there at 7.30 pm Sunday. We forced ourselves upon the Wilsons in Madras, and settled down in an air-conditioned bedroom for the night. Considering how humid Madras is at this time of the year, the air-conditioning was an unbelievable luxury. The Wilsons are an extremely nice English family who moved to Madras from Bombay about a week ago. We were given a lift to Belgaum by their servants a couple of weeks back (the one with the vomiting boxer dogs). Ade had accidently left his hat in the car, which gave us an excuse for turning up. They are all moans about Madras and its weather. The next morning we sat about with the Wilsons and two other guests they had, Trevor --- and Peter Prince, who had flown in from Ceylon the day previously after having played in the All India ‘rugger’ tournament. Peter Prince is the manager of one of the teams, and is the former lightweight boxing champion of India and Ceylon. He is at present president of the Bombay Boxer Dog Club. Trevor has a BBC accent, is something to do with oil, and spends most of his time travelling through Asia. Monday afternoon we went for a swim in the pool of the Madras Gymkhana, the local social club. The Australian Cricket Team, who are at present in Madras for a test match, were at the pool when we arrived, but they did not stay long.

Awkward moment when I asked Mrs. Wilson if we could stay another night, but it passed. Tuesday morning we pushed off to see the temples at Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram. Saw the ones at Kanchipuram first. Not bad! Of the Vishnu type, symbol U. The one with the hundred carved stone columns was quite superb in its delicately detailed sculpture. We spent the night at the local Catholic church. The sole Indian priest there, Father Anthony Doss, was most happy to welcome us, and he insisted on opening up a bottle of Australian Mass wine to celebrate. Wednesday we caught the 11 am bus for Mahabalipuram. This place was most disappointing. There were a few interesting side shows, but the main thing of interest, the Shore Temple, was a dismal flop. It was so much smaller than imagined.

The Shore Temple

The Shore Temple

We secured a ride back in a jeep with two Yanks attached to the foreign aid programme, and reached the city about 4.30 pm. Taxi to the station, where we booked on the Howrah express the following night (Thursday), and then another taxi to the Wilsons. We were quite welcomed there this time (I think it was the slight inconvenience with the other guests last time). Another night of air-conditioned comfort.

Thursday 8-10-1964

Went swimming at the Gymkhana Club this morning and three Australian cricketers were there: Redpath, Martin and Sellars. Ian Redpath told me they were leaving for Bombay at 2.30 this afternoon. (The test finished yesterday, we won). Back to the Wilsons for lunch and the afternoon was just a sit-around. That’s all Mrs. Wilson and Patricia seem to do. Must be the heat! They packed us some sandwiches to eat on the train, and at 7.30 pm we thanked them for their hospitality, said goodbye, and the driver drove us to the station. We found our seats alright, and tried to prepare for two days of hell on the train. At 8.15 pm we left Madras for Calcutta. We drew cards for who would stretch out on the seat. Ade won, so I got the floor, and had a hard, dirty, crawly bug sort of night. I was glad when it was over. I awoke suddenly at six in the morning, just as we were crossing a huge river. I don’t know what river it was (just south of V--------), but in the half light, it was a dynamic sight to awaken to.

(It was the great Krishna River, at Vijayawada, the busiest rail junction in South India, and the nearby Prakasham Barrage upstream, damming the river, must have been spilling over because of the rains, making the waters flow at maximum width below the long railway bridge we were crossing. Ozac 2011)

Friday 9-10-1964

Enroute to Calcutta - We spent all day today on the train. Actually it is not quite as bad as I expected. A few people have got off, so it is not too crowded or uncomfortable. I feel filthy of course, but I think I can take another night. Thank God this trip people have left us alone so far. Nobody seems interested enough to ask stupid questions; it is quite a change. I get the seat tonight to sleep on. That should be good. Tomorrow Calcutta. I have always wanted to go to Calcutta. I think I associated it more than any other city with the British Raj. I wonder what it is really like.

===Ozac 2011===

We had decided to take a train all the way up the east coast mainly because there had been disastrous flooding in Andhra Pradesh State and we felt sure that hitchhiking would be extremely difficult. But we also wanted to get to the north of India now as quickly as possible, as that held more interest for us. Weighing up relative costs as well, it was becoming clear that hanging around waiting for a lift could often be more expensive that taking a train, especially III Class, which was very cheap, and even cheaper if we managed to wangle student concessions. So the railway system now became our primary mode of transport, and often provided sleeping accommodation of a sort, for the rest of our stay in India.

The Wilsons were incredibly good to us in Madras, especially since we were total strangers and brashly imposed ourselves upon them when they had other guests. They were certainly under no obligation, carsick dogs notwithstanding, but hospitality came naturally to them and they made us feel welcome, whatever they might have been thinking. They were a real sahib and memsahib of the old school, perhaps in their late fifties, who had been in India prior to Partition, and had seen no reason to leave when Independence came. Mr Wilson held a senior position in a large corporation and India to them was home, even if things had changed. Madras in their minds wasn’t a patch on Bombay, but they were doing their best to adjust to that too, and were obviously spending quite a bit of time at the Gymkhana Club, which had all the ethos of its colonial past to recommend it. I found the club a splendid place to escape to, and its large pool still looks very cool and inviting on the bird’s eye satellite view. Its web page says the Gymkhana was founded on its island site by a group of colonials in 1884. Today, guided by its all Indian Committee, it seems a lot bigger than I remember, with the more modern facilities that one might expect, and I am sure it still plays host to visiting Australian test cricketers when they are in town. A venerable institution.

Posted by Ozac 21:08 Archived in India Comments (0)

Fairlawns, Calcutta

In the grip of Durga Puja

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Saturday 10-10-1964

The train arrived at Howrah station at 1.15 pm, half an hour late. We left the station and stepped into the most crowded, confused scene I ever expect to experience. It was the Saturday afternoon peak hour, and negotiating it was like an atom bomb sized ride on the Luna Park dodgems. The chaos on the Howrah Bridge over the Houghly River was absolutely unbelievable. Every person, taxi, truck, pedi cab, rickshaw and cart in Calcutta seemed to be on the bridge at the same time, and in the middle of it all a large number of goats were being nonchalantly herded across. We arrived at the address the Wilsons had given us - Fairlawns - a small but classy old colonial hotel in Sudder St., off Chowringhee, the main boulevarde. Mr and Mrs Smith, the proprietors, friends of the Wilsons, agreed to put us up for the night, gratis, but said that tomorrow there would be no room. The place is full of Russian technicians on holidays from Durgapur, about 150 miles away - keep to themselves very much. We will take all our meals at the Fairlawns and perhaps arrange for accommodation elsewhere - the Salvation Army is directly across the street. This afternoon we visited nowhere in particular, we just wandered about the area nearby. Some of the poverty here is the worst I have seen, and you can walk just 50 yards and you are in a swank area. I am hardened now to the poverty. You must become so, or it would be absolutely impossible to exist here. The Smiths have given us a newly painted room adjoining the gatehouse, separate from the main building. The room is still wet in parts, but the paint smell is not unbearable.

Sunday 11-10-1964

This morning we visited the Victoria Memorial - ‘quite a poetic edifice in white marble to the memory of the old Queen and of the British Empire’. It is now a museum of British rule in India. The grounds are beautiful, but just outside the gate, the dirt begins. There is crap all over the streets, absolutely anywhere and everywhere. Had a visit to the Calcutta Planetarium, just near the Memorial. It has one of the largest domes for a planetarium in the world, 75 feet across. The machine was very ‘outer spatial’ and the atmosphere created was very theatrical. I enjoyed a few minutes thought about the theatre. I have been to a planetarium before, so I became a little bored, but I think it was worth the rupee. We moved into the Salvation Army Hostel this afternoon; it is a dreadfully damp and dingy place. The same atmosphere pervades as at the counterpart in Bombay. I am glad that we can more or less live at the Fairlawns across the street. Did not venture out this afternoon. Too tired. We are in such comfortable and relaxing surroundings at the hotel that it is difficult to pull ourselves away from them. The food here is wonderful. We ought to stay until our welcome wears off, and that might not be too long unfortunately. I should walk around the city a bit at night, by myself. I am feeling somewhat spiritually barren. I think it is the hard case I am building against what I see every day. Perhaps it would do me good to relax this a little. Wasted the whole night playing a game called garam at the hotel with an Armenian family, The Chaters, who are on their way to Australia. I got really furious with Ade, but it was only a game after all. Sometimes though….. Reminds me of that skit with Carol Burnett and Danny Kaye.

Monday 12-10-1964

Not a bad night. Got up and crossed the street for breakfast. We walked down to American Express to collect our mail. Shut! Because of these damn religious holidays. The whole business section is closed down for the entire bloody week. And the stupid man who was in attendance at American Express told us he couldn’t give us our mail, and it was only three feet away from him. We were furious. We got it eventually thank God. It was so good to hear from home after a month. We went round to the Australian Trade Commission to ask about Darjeeling and Nepal. Met a couple of Australians also trying to get up there. The Government offices where Sec. Control is are shut for the week, so there goes Darjeeling. No! We must not let it go like that. I will never get another chance. The Nepal Consulate is also closed for the day. Shit, what a mess. The gateman there was a Nepalese nut who could not speak a word of English and had to speak through a taxi driver who was almost as bad. We came back to the hotel in disgust. We must get away from here soon. We will find it too hard to adjust to the road again. We will try again for the Nepal visas in the morning and then head out somewhere. We are paying 7 rupees a day at the Salvos, just for bed and breakfast (which we don’t have), so we can’t keep that up and pay moving about expenses too. Must keep a tighter rein on finances. I think I am way over, and my accounts are very general. (We had a robbery at the hotel last night, a Russian).

Tuesday 13-10-1964

We got our Nepalese visas this morning, in one hour, with no trouble, for ten rupees. Feeling quite good about it. I am going to Nepal!! Went to the railway station, and after much confusion and waiting about finally booked on a train tomorrow night at 10.15, which will get us to Muzaffarpur. From there up to Kathmandu. Nothing to do this afternoon, so I took a little walk and then read and thought etc. and only reached some hazy conclusions. We will remain with the Salvos tonight, and strain our welcome at Fairlawns for meals tomorrow.

* * *

From this trip I am making, this conscious journey towards a career, there should be emerging a stronger, more independent self. I don’t know if there is. After being here a month I find myself only too willing to grab at the false mode of living which European residents offer. Any European in the still colonial-like section of society here has money enough to do nothing, and they are waited on hand and foot by Indian bearers and other servants. It is not good to live in this way. It makes one oblivious to the surrounding poverty and disease, the plight of these unfortunate Indian people. The basic drives of mankind are fully physical: food, shelter and sex. I don’t know about the last one, but food they have a minimum of, and most do without shelter. They are simply living pieces of skin and bone in filthy disease ridden gutters, and it seems strangely ironic that they are striving to stay alive in a world which offers them no more than this. The temples, the art and the history notwithstanding, the reality of India to me is the dirt and the disease, the open sores and stinking streets, the animal existence of so many and the lack of any form of human dignity among such a large section of this great barefooted people - certainly great in number. I am hardening against what I am seeing every day, but I shall never forget it.

Wednesday 14-10-1964

Spent most of the day lounging around Fairlawns reading, but went up to have a look at the Indian Museum this afternoon. Absolutely packed because of the holiday, and as there was little of great interest to me anyway (the whole of India is one big museum), I did not spend too long there. Tonight after dinner, the Indian chap who has been somewhat obnoxious and at times downright rude, suggested a game of chess. Sorry, I said, but we are leaving for Nepal in about twenty minutes. He seemed somewhat surprised, and shut up for a time. How are you going? - by train, I see, and how are you getting to the station? - by taxi, I see, then you better leave right now, as you may have difficulty obtaining one because of the Puja. I took him at his word, and asked the red-turbaned gateman to get us one. Mr. Chater and his two sons decided they would come to the station to see us off. We said our goodbyes and thank yous and got to the gate just as the chap arrived with the taxi. I have been in Calcutta five days, but the final hour was the most stimulating of the whole visit.

At present Calcutta is in the grip of Puja fever, Durga Puja being an annual festival and series of holidays, much the same as the Western World’s New Year celebrations, except they go on longer. They celebrate with mass gatherings around brightly lit and gaily coloured religious displays, and set off the most powerful and frightening fire crackers I have seen. That final taxi ride through the streets of Calcutta to Howrah station, and the actual parting of the train, was an unforgettable experience. The five of us left at high speed from the hotel, turned into Chowringhee and headed for Howrah. The streets were overflowing, if that is possible, and the smog created by the cracker smoke, with the neon lights of the city blazing hazily through it, combined with the teeming masses of yelling Indian ‘fun-seekers’, created an atmosphere of feverishly confused excitement. Pedlars were everywhere selling their wares, as in the daytime, but now they seemed much more interesting, and tolerable. Even the beggars did not seem pathetic anymore, as they were as much a part of the atmosphere as anybody. The taxi sped from one street to another, past one crowd then another, close to exploding fireworks and hurrying rickshaws, and as the whole scene was taken in in a series of quick glances, the resulting image pile-up gave me a feeling of heated elation. During that fifteen minute ride I loved Calcutta. We urged our way through the maze of traffic on that astounding thoroughfare Howrah Bridge, crawled in and around the half human, half vehicular traffic on the other side, and approached the station. The fever pitch and my elation continued as half a dozen porters raced after the taxi, hoping to get our business, business which does not exist in our case, with our packs. We entered Howrah station to a scene which was just as hectic as that outside. Porters with bags, baskets and bundles on their heads criss-crossed the main hall to get to their respective platforms. Passengers did the same as blaring loudspeakers informed them which train was which. Scattered every few yards throughout the hall were the poor and wretched, fast asleep on the cold stone pavement, motionless in contorted poses such as you see in ancient Indian statuary. They can sleep anywhere, in any position. Weaving in and out of all this we reached our platform and went through the jostled business of finding our carriage and our seats. As usual there was enough order in the confusion to be able to do this, and we were shortly back on the platform, sweating profusely and trying to cool off under one of the fans, but being showered with hundreds of the millions of tiny flying creatures flitting around the lights. The night was hot, sweaty and bug-infested, but I was still elated as I watched the stream of station pedlars flogging everything from baby’s rattles to the Kama Sutra, from apples and moth-balls to flexible combs, as demonstrated by the pedlar. Half an hour later, our goodbyes said and sincere best wishes expressed, we moved slowly out of Calcutta and away from Durga Puja. As we passed slowly through the suburbs, occasional evidence of the festivities was visible, but it gradually faded away, and without continued stimulation, so did my excitement give way to exhaustion, and I spread out my sleeping bag on the seat and tried to get some sleep. It came in snatches, but was better than none. Tomorrow, Muzaffarpur and then on to Kathmandu.

Posted by Ozac 20:50 Archived in India Tagged calcutta howrah durga_puja Comments (0)

Under the Spell of the Gods

Ten Days in Nepal

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Thursday 15-10-1964 to Monday 26-10-1964

Our contact in Muzaffapur was B.K.Sinha, a wealthy grain contractor. We were soon roped into giving a talk to the local Rotary Club on Wednesday 28th, after our return from Nepal. We went with a friend of our host to see the four and a half hour Indian musical epic Sangam, in three parts, finishing at 2 am. If that wasn’t enough, we had to endure our companion humming along with every song in the film. We then stayed up another two hours, watching the local Dusserah festivities, and were invited to the roof of a nearby police station, an excellent spot to see the elaborately decorated floats of gods and devils being dragged to the river to be immersed, amidst spectacular sword dances and mock battles in the streets. With the drums and the music and the smoke from fireworks it was a heady atmosphere. We stayed two nights in a guest room with its own entrance on the ground floor of B.K. Sinha’s large house and set off on Saturday 17th for Raxaul on the Indian-Nepalese border. Slept there on the verandah of a rest-house occupied by the Canadian Military Attaché in Delhi, plus family. Nice chap, they were just returning from Kathmandu. Next morning, Sunday 18th, we went through border formalities and were finally in Nepal. From then until now has been one of the finest periods of my life.

Nepal - Birgunj to Kathmandu

We obtained a ride on a truck and set off for Kathmandu at about 9 am. It was not long before the environment had changed totally. The contrast was sudden and complete. We started to climb through beautiful forest scenery. We saw the first clearwater streams since leaving Australia, winding their way in similar fashion to those in the Snowy Mountains. The road is a masterpiece of engineering, the path it takes, but it is only loose gravel and the bushes and trees beside it were covered in a fine coating of white dust, testimony to the fact that it is the only road into Kathmandu from the outside world. At every turn or hairpin bend, of which there are many, another vista of the ever higher foothills of the Himalayas. My excitement increased and has stayed high through virtually the whole of my visit to Nepal. The abundance of timber is in striking contrast to India, where all you find are a few half-hearted attempts at forestation. We passed through our first Nepalese villages, just as I had imagined them after reading National Geographic articles on Himalayan areas. They have so much more of a strong rugged character than Indian villages, and with fewer people and their setting amongst rushing mountain streams and soaring hills, they are such a pleasant and picturesque change.

We continued to climb, and at one stage must have gone up a thousand feet in a mile or so, as we negotiated a series of ten zig-zag hairpin bends. Higher still we passed a huge rock with LOVERS CHAIR written on it, named by the foreign construction engineers, and I saw the first heavy machinery since leaving home. There were harrowing moments as we passed other trucks on narrow stretches of road. In mid-afternoon we were up in the clouds, literally, above 6000 feet, and it was suddenly quite cold. We observed with eye and camera (I hope) superb scenes of mist-shrouded pines.

Eventually the highest point of our climb, the pass called Shimbanjang at 8162.9 feet. We could not see any snow-capped peaks, but we still had ten days for that.

The descent was as interesting as the ascent. Beauty everywhere. Valleys of patchwork fields and neat, well spaced peasants’ cottages, all similar in style, painted sienna on the lower half and ochre on the upper half. Towards evening, the sun shining in rays through openings in the western clouds lent a master’s touch to the painting like beauty of the valleys and range upon range of mountains. As evening fell, a brilliant red sunset and rolling grey misty mountains.

Friendly Nepalese greeted our waves with wide grins as we went down into the Kathmandu Valley. The checkpoints along the road were a novelty, so not really a nuisance. The 11 hour journey was tiring, because our senses were saturated with the beauty of Nepal. We have discovered, as relatively few people have, the greatness of the highest country on Earth.

In and around Kathmandu

Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal, is more like a country town in size. It is fascinating almost beyond description, a city of countless pagoda style temples and enchanting market places. Compared with India it is clean, the number of people far less, and they seem happier and friendlier. We ate at only four restaurants constantly: The Globe (converging spot of most foreign visitors of meagre means); Juanita (nicer than Globe, but less well known); Tibetan (three table job, not bad, but too far away); Imperial (the best setting and the highest priced, safest place to eat, but only if you decide not to worry about spending a little more). We stayed in a hotel called the Hillview, in a room with four others: Mark & Eric, travelling in a Land Rover from England; Ian, a fellow Australian from Kirribilli, huge chap, nice bloke; and Tony, a terribly English chap who went into the importing business while he was there. It was really amusing to watch him go to work with the dealer. The tariff was 2.13 N rupees per night, and the place was hardly worth that; stinking toilets and showers, a room with straw mattresses on the floor, a rat which constantly ran across a ledge on the wall, water dropping constantly into a smelly alley outside, a window which did not allow enough light into the room to see anything even at midday, and an electric light which was periodically turned off by the management. Still, it was not bad enough to stop us from getting a decent sleep, and the company was good. The manager was a slimy fellow who kept walking into the room to check on how many were staying there. The hotel was a United Nations den of travelling bums, mostly American, but every other travelling nation was represented. Inevitably, the hotel soon became the black market centre of Kathmandu, and bargaining in cameras, watches, sleeping bags, film, clothes and money went on virtually 24 hours of the day. All this made the hotel bearable, so we actually had a fairly good stay for our money . Best rate I got for the dollar was 11.5 N rupees. Kathmandu was a city of endlessly absorbing experiences; I never became tired of walking through the market places and looking in the curio and craft shops. I bought a Nepali hat under the guidance of a young Nepali called George, who showed us around the town the first few days, and who asked us for a dictionary (English - Nepali), which we gave him. I feel perhaps he really got a better deal than we did. I also bought a Sherpa jacket for 25 N rupees. I would have liked to have bought prayer wheels, Buddhas etc., but I spent a fortune in Nepal as it was. First day we saw King Mahendra and Queen Ratna drive past towards the palace from the airport (returning from non-aligned countries conference in Cairo).

As soon as we had arrived in Kathmandu we had checked into the local Jesuit High School, run by American Jesuits, and more particularly by a Father Moran, who is a fanatical radio ham. We sat in while he tried to contact somebody, but there were too many people on the air. Apparently when Hillary was on Everest on the original climb and on later expeditions, Moran was his only contact with the outside. Hillary is at present up there, and Moran acts as mediator each evening when he calls his wife in New Zealand. We found out later that he is a very influential man in the country, and gets anything he wants. Second night we stayed with a contact that didn’t work out too well, and it was only on the third night that we moved into the Hillview. We took cycles one day and cycled throughout the town, looking at temples, streets, people etc., and another day rode horses out to the Buddhist Stupa at Boudnath. We went all over the valley, to Baktapur, Patan (with its superb Durbar Square), etc., but to me the best place in Kathmandu was Swayambanath, the Stupa on the hill outside the city.

Swayambunath Stupa

Swayambunath Stupa

I was lucky to be there on the most important day in one of their religious festivals, and the sights and sounds were unforgettable. Tibetan bands and chants, pilgrims offering food and flowers to Buddha, the unbeatable views of the city, the priests, the monkeys tormenting the pilgrims and stealing the offerings, the gambling being carried on around the Stupa, the extraordinary beauty of the Stupa and surrounding shrines and buildings, the flat faced Tibetan children, the steep steps leading down, the restful atmosphere among the trees below, where the sun filtering through the leaves fell into rays when striking the smoke from offerings, the peace and beauty of the countryside on the way back. This country is so wonderful. Saw a funeral crossing the river on the way back, and burning pyres on the banks.

We went in Mark’s Land Rover up to Nagarkot to spend the night. It was a very scenic, but quite hazardous and bumpy ride up. We drove out through the beautiful fields and up into the hills, past neat little villages and grazing cattle. We turned a bend around dusk, with restrained apprehension, and there in the distance, though looking very close, was a huge pyramid peak rising above the evening cloud. Our excitement burst. We moved further and saw a full range of mountains in the hazy distance. We were positive Everest was one of them. We slept the night up there in most comfortable lodgings, and next morning hurried out to take full advantage of any break in the clouds. For a couple of hours we had occasional glimpses of the majestic ranges, but at 9 am, the mist suddenly cleared completely, and for an angle of 180 degrees we saw the profound majesty and unsurpassable beauty of the greatest peaks in the world, the Himalayas, Everest among them.

The Himalayas from Nagakot

The Himalayas from Nagakot

An ambition had been fulfilled and I was satisfied just to have experienced this.

Another wonderful experience in Nepal was the friendship we struck up with some musicians in a back street. Eric had bought local drums, and the drummer tried them out. This first visit was good, but it was capped by the second visit two nights later. It was a different drummer, and the subtlety of his playing was superb. His hands and the sounds they made were hypnotic - the old organist was superb too. To this local religious music and prayers, they gave their whole souls.

Posted by Ozac 21:17 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

By the Ganges at Varanasi

Holy City of the Hindus

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Wednesday 28-10-1964 to Saturday 31-10-1964

Returning from Nepal, we spent another night in Muzaffarpur and gave our talk to the local Rotary Club. It went over fairly well, even though a few of the members fell asleep. The following day we caught the night train to Benares. On the train we ran into John, an American we had met in Calcutta and Nepal, as well as a New Zealander, also named John, and an American girl, Marianne. The latter two were travelling without tickets, and they got away with it. The kiwi can talk his way out of anything, and Marianne bursts into tears over having ‘lost her ticket’. It made the night interesting, and it was good to be travelling with a few more westerners. 6 am on Friday morning, we arrived in Benares, or Varanasi, Holy City of the Hindus, on the banks of the sacred river Ganga. The station was like any other in India, and so was the town as far as I could see at first glance. It was obvious that it is only along the Varanasi riverfront that the city is distinctive and unique. We had agreed to push on to Khajuraho on the 11.30 am train Saturday, so we had to cram a lot of sightseeing into the one day. First we took a boat out on the Ganges for an hour,

Ganges Riverfront, Varanasi

Ganges Riverfront, Varanasi

and went from the poor man’s pyres to the paying customer pyres, then a trip through the narrow alleyways to the love temple (a donation from Nepal and similar to countless temples there - erotic) and to the Vishanath temple, the most sacred in the Hindu religion (it has 500 lbs of gold on the dome). Then a quick trip through the market lanes to a bus which took us to Benares Hindu University. Our contact there was no longer there. Big place but did not look over it. Bus back to town (Godowlia Chawk seems to be the centre of the city) and then a bus out to Sarnath, where the huge stone stupa and associated ruins are, and where Buddha is said to have preached his first sermon. The museum there, the grounds, and the park around the ruins are the best kept of all the archaeological sites in India. Back to town to Clark’s Hotel, where our second contact flunked out, so then to the station for dinner and bed. I was not satisfied. We had seen the city in such a hurry that nothing seemed to have sunk in. I felt as if I was on a guided bus tour. It was a most irritating feeling. Here I was, in the city of Benares, on the River Ganges, a city I had read about since Social Studies at school, a city I would probably never visit again, and I wanted to really experience it, especially the waterfront. I had to go back the next morning to re-see the sights of the day before and complete the experience. We all went back into town on the bus this morning (Saturday), visited the Jai Singh observatory (quite unique), and then walked down to the ghats. We spent about an hour wandering along the ghats, and I am now satisfied.

It was the same as photos I had seen, only now it was alive, and I was standing there in the midst of it. As you stand on the bank, above you tower the palaces of the various Maharajahs, built to be above the annual flood (a line exists which is the height of the 1948 flood, the highest ever). Many of them are excellent structures and the stone masonry seemed to me to be particularly fine work. Then in front of these come the ghats, the massive steps along the entire river frontage of the city, where the most significant acts in the lives of Hindus are enacted. The floods of the monsoon period have only recently abated, and many of the ghats are at present covered with feet of mud, which is being slowly dug away and returned to the river. Standing on the main ghat in the centre of the city, I looked away to the right. I could see a wisp of smoke rising in the distance, a body being burnt at the spot we had gone close to in the boat yesterday and seen the attendant beating the charred remains with a pole to hasten the process of returning to ashes. Directly below me was perhaps the most interesting part.

It was the main anchor point for most of the dirty brown but picturesque boats which take tourists out on the river, or pilgrims, or the dead bodies of diseased persons, which are not permitted to be burnt. Between the boat moorings and the actual bank is where most of the bathing in the Ganges is done, though people are enacting their ‘sin cleansing’ from one end of the town to the other. Platforms stretch out onto the water and holy men and pilgrims sit to say their prayers. Huge brown reed-matting and bamboo umbrellas dot the ghat, and beneath them holy men sit dispensing Ganges mud and red dye to the foreheads of the cleansed ones, or anyone who gives them a few paisa. The scene there is one of quiet confusion, yet the feeling is that everyone is there for a purpose. The Ganges itself is filthy, and yet these people dive in, swim, bathe and drink from it with no apparent ill effects. The Hindu religion apparently forbids burning the corpses of animals, children under five and diseased persons, so they are all thrown into the river, and I saw several bloated dead animals float by. I saw people bathing within a few feet of a bloated goat. Across the other side of the river is just mud flats, and the contrast between each bank is very striking. Lining the mud flats were small boats and some people moving about, yet in the heat haze, all on that side of the river seemed motionless. Walking back up the main steps and into the main street one comes across all kinds of pedlars and beggars and holy men. Apparently the beggars expect something from everyone with the mark on the forehead, and we had it. Two hundred yards further on, Benares becomes just another Indian town.

Posted by Ozac 22:31 Archived in India Tagged ganges varanasi ghats benares sarnath Comments (0)

Ladies Only to Agra

Midnight in Gwalior

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Sunday 1-11-1964

The afternoon of the 31st, we caught, with Marianne and the two Johns, a train for Satna. We only just caught it, having obtained concession passes at the last minute, but we did not buy tickets. We were caught and had to pay the full fare. Got to Satna at night, slept on the station and got the morning bus to Khajuraho. Saw all over. They are really a superb group of temples; they contain the most vivid and finely detailed sculpture I have yet seen. Long walks were involved, and the heat was extreme; so was the dust, but we passed through an interesting village.

The main temple was a beautiful piece of work, and it sat in perfect proportion on its podium, looking like some castle in fantasy. It was literally breath-taking. We slept at the circuit-house, (all five in a single room), and caught a bus for Harpalpur on the Monday morning.

Monday 2-11-1964

A fair bus trip, during which I thought a lot about present and future. I feel things building to a point of solid decision on some matters connected with my future. We arrived at Harpalpur, where we were to catch the train. We were all running short on rupees, could not cash a traveller’s cheque at the small bank and were becoming quite worried. Marianne and the American John (the kiwi returned to Calcutta) sold watches however, so we were able to move on. The others gave me 50 R for one of my traveller’s cheques. At 3 pm we caught a train for Jhansi. The night ahead was to be quite extraordinary.

Incident at Gwalior, in the middle of the night

Leaving Jhansi was a scramble, as the train was not a sleeper type and it was already crowded. Marianne got into the ‘Ladies Only’ compartment, the only one which was comparatively empty, and we three others hopped in as the train began to move. It seemed an excellent setup - plenty of space, the ladies did not mind, and it was completely shut off from the remainder of the carriage; we felt fortunate to find it, and bedded down for an expected fair night’s sleep. At 12.15 am the train arrived at Gwalior, and we all awoke sharply to loud shouts and banging on the door. The door was slowly opened by Marianne, with John behind her, ready to resist an onrush, but once the catch was slipped, no chance of that remained, and the next half hour was to be the strangest I have yet experienced. The pushing, yelling, animal like crowd fell in like a dam bursting; ‘Ladies Only’ meant nothing; porters with luggage, passengers with bundles and babies; men, women and children crushed through the narrow door in a single seething mass, and among all the chaos and confusion came perhaps the source itself. An elderly man was half carried, half dragged and pushed onto the train and laid on the seat formerly occupied by John. The smell of this wretched old man was foul. Ade and I had quickly retreated to the safety of the luggage rack and watched the scene from there. Within a few minutes the compartment had become a cage of animal-like beings, acting with no order at all, and the centre-piece was a dying man. An argument began. Apparently one female passenger wanted the old man removed, and his wife or daughter quickly protested. Then their respective males suddenly weighed in and loudly began a verbal fight which was so spontaneous in beginning and so seemingly violent in the confined space that it was quite terrifying.

It was to end just as abruptly however, as during the intense struggle among the living the old man quietly died, there on a grimy seat in a packed railway compartment. He was bundled out of the carriage with the same lack of ceremony as he had entered, along with his now grieving wife and family. The only reaction among the remaining crowd was for three people to move into the seat previously occupied by the dead man. Their obvious thought was “now we will have more room.” How strange these people are about life and death. Nothing might have occurred for all the difference it made to them, and this indifference was in me too until I pushed myself into thinking about it. The first death I have witnessed, and in such strange circumstances, caused no instinctive emotion whatever, not even shock. This fact disturbed me more than anything. While the people in the compartment tried to arrange themselves more comfortably, the body was laid out on the platform, and the wife and daughter began to wail a death chant. I watched the wife for a few moments. She was almost vomiting with grief as her whole soul was channelled into the chant over her dead husband. A child was handed to her, but she took it with a mechanical movement in her limp arms. These people I feel care nothing for their neighbours or their own kind, but within a family, all are one. This woman’s heart was torn in two when that old man died. The whistle drowned the chant, and the train moved slowly, quietly, and with seeming respect back into the night, while her passengers laughed and talked, perhaps of the incident, I don’t know. A position found, I fell eventually asleep, and awoke in Agra.

Posted by Ozac 23:03 Archived in India Comments (0)

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