A Journal of
Adventures on the Subcontinent of India
by Marc Borom
This is a stream of consciousness account of a mild mannered scientist's wanderings (sometimes alone) through the cities and backwoods of one of the most mystical lands on the globe. It all started with an invitation to present a technical paper on research on glass at an international conference in New Delhi, India. The invitation resulted in a travel grant from the US National Science Foundation. The conference organizer, Dr. Arun Varshneya from Alfred University, had also scheduled a one-week long, pre-conference tour, which our wayfaring scientist elected to join. He further decided not to waste all that travel time and expense on just a two week stay in India and, therefore, made additional plans to travel into remote parts of India looking for tigers and Indian one-horned rhinoceroses and to dive in the clear waters of the Arabian Sea in the archipelago of the Maldives off the southwest coast of the Indian Subcontinent. Why India is referred to as a subcontinent remains a mystery since it is part of Asia. Maybe it is because India started out on its journey to where it is now some 100 million years ago when it broke away from the supercontinent of Gondwanaland. It drifted northward and ended up smashing into Asia and pushing up the Himalayan mountains. The collision must certainly have created hard feelings with the people in the north, but there were the Himalayan mountains to keep everyone apart. The damage suit has never been settled. Well, lawsuits notwithstanding, read and enjoy.
The Flight Over
Saturday - February 22, 1986
The beginning of my trip by limo to New York was uneventful. I spent time discussing (in German) odds and ends with an Austrian on his way to Vienna on same flight as I, (Pan Am #66). After checking my luggage, I went to the ticketing desk and picked up my prepaid ticket. At Gate 11 I met Veejay Jain who lives in Delhi and is Dr. Arun Varshneya’s student. Veejay invited me to stay with him and his family in New Delhi on arrival. That was a surprise and a really nice offer, which I accepted. We discussed hotels in Delhi, Calcutta and Madras. Veejay said he had never stayed in a hotel in India that cost more than 40 rupees (12 Re = $1). On the basis of Veejay's information, I have decided to cancel all my 800 rupee accommodations and travel on the local economy. On the flight I shared a row (seats A and C with B empty) with a really nice young college student who was studying International Law in Vienna. She spoke English, French, German and Spanish. Her mother is Argentinean and her father is American (she spent her childhood going to boarding school in Vienna - her mother is very protective and domineering so school away from home seemed a good idea).
I rented a headset and watched the movie, “Jagged Edge” until 2:00 A.M. EST (12:30 P.M. Delhi time). I didn’t know whether to sleep or try to stay awake and fool jet lag. We were flying into the twilight of dawn. Oh, I forgot to mention the most interesting thing about Jain. He thinks he is getting married on March 7th and invited me to his wedding. The date has been set but the bride has not been selected yet-- the idea of a real prearranged wedding blew my mind!! His parents are choosing a wife for him (a woman he has never laid eyes on nor has spoken to). The sun rose full force at 2:44 A.M. EST. I had lost my jet lag night.
After landing at 5:45 A.M. EST, I de-boarded for thirty minutes in Frankfurt and had to stand in line for thirty minutes to get back on board since we were joined by half the population of the sub-continent of India. No sleep yet--my back was showing signs of weakening.
I fell into thirty minutes of deep sleep between Frankfurt and Vienna. On wakening, I gave in and set my watch to Delhi time (+101/2 hours); it was now Sunday, February 23 at 8:45 P.M. I promised myself that as soon as dinner was served I would will try and get four hours of sleep (in spite of the bumpy air outside)!
I had only logged about 2 hours of sleep by the time we arrived in New Delhi. Customs in the airport in New Delhi was an absolute jam up. It took about 2 hours just to get through the passport check line. No one ever checked our luggage for declarable items--we just walked out!
Monday - February 24, 1986
Veejay's family met us at the airport and we proceeded to the Jain’s home by private car. Our journey ended at 5:30 A.M., New Delhi time. The Jain's home is very modest. People were sleeping on the floor. On our arrival, the bedding was removed from the living room floor and tea and store bought cookies were brought out and served. There was much interested discussion of Veejay’s bride selection plans.
At around 6:00 A.M. I was shown to my room which was built on the roof. To flush the john you poured a bucket of water in the bowl, there was no hot water and no toilet paper. Good thing I had liberated a roll of t-paper from the Pan Am flight as I left! The bed was warm, clean and comfortable. At 8:00 A.M. I was awakened with the delivery of a five gallon pail of hot water for my stand-up bath. I used the left over water to do laundry.
The Jain’s are, by religion, vegetarians. For breakfast we had a stiff cream of wheat, toast, stir-fried grain and bean like patties and, of course, tea. There was no silverware and food was eaten with the right hand only since the left hand is used exclusively in place of toilet paper. I ate everything that was served. I think it was all safe--time will tell!
After breakfast, Veejay, his brother Ahjay, his brother-in-law and I drove down to Mercury Travels, Inc. as an emissary for the conference to learn how conference arrangements were progressing. What we learned was how big a mess the conference arrangements were in. On a personal note, I found that the hotels had been overbooked and that I had lost my five star hotel room during the conference. Only non-starred hotels were available. I had gone from a $70 a night room to an $8 a night room.
The traffic in New Delhi is incredible. A western driver would simply be killed!! There is some secret code of ethics in the rules of the road that escapes me. Traffic, due to British influence, is left handed.
The roads are shared by bikes, manual and auto rickshaws, scooters, trucks, buses, horse drawn wagons and commercial bicycles laden with such incredible amounts of stuff that you wonder how they stay upright. Driving is done with car horns, bells and brakes. Big buses even have “horn please” written on their rear plus “use dipper at night”. (The dipper is the lever that switches the headlights from bright to dim). Vehicles weave in and out of traffic with only fractions of an inch clearance.
Masses of people are everywhere. Self-actualization is nearly impossible. You wonder about the existence these people share. I was dropped off at my alternate conference hotel to reserve rooms for the week of the conference. The lobby was shear bedlam. It took me 45 minutes to make my 85 Re. deposit. Outside I was hounded by a little girl about 6 years old who moaned “Allah One rupee” and pointed to her badly maimed left arm-probably inflicted by her parents as an aid in begging. It was difficult to keep walking without conceding, but I did.
I took an auto-rickshaw back to the Jain’s and was charged 40 Re (the Jains laughed at my having been overcharged three times as much as normal). The Jains were all out negotiating with potential bride’s families. I lay down for about an hour - having had no lunch. At 5:00 P.M. the Jains returned (there was a housekeeper at home when I arrived; there seems to be no shortage of cheap labor). Veejay appeared to be in shock. He had been hoping for a Farrah Faucett and had been offered a Whoopie Goldberg. He still has a few more options to check out.
They dropped me off at my 5-star hotel for this evening prior to the tour which starts tomorrow. I can’t decide whether the western luxury is uplifting or depressing under the conditions of such great contrasts. My roommate doesn’t arrive until after midnight so maybe I can get some early and much needed rest. Dipak Varshneya, Arun’s brother, arrived at 2:00 A.M. and woke me. We discussed the multiple mess-ups with the tour.
The Tourist's View of India
Thursday, February 25, 1986
I was up at 8:00 A.M. Other tour members and their wives had arrived. There was only one other single--Elzbieta Greiner--a young woman from Poland who was studying at FSU. I had breakfast with the group, most of whom I knew from Ceramic Society activities. It is nice to be with those you know. I hoped that perhaps my hotel accommodations for the conference could be changed. We walked about one mile down to Connaught Circle and marveled at the street scenes and crazy traffic. Beautiful jewelry was to be found in the Indian emporium.
Bus trip to the Taj Mahal
We had lunch back at the Taj Mahal Hotel and boarded the bus at 2:00 P.M. to go the 210 Km. to Agra to see the Taj Mahal (the real thing, not the hotel) by the full moon. The bus ride was eye-opening and I would not have traded it for a flight. Took 4 hours due to the presence of hand drawn carts, bicycles, camel drawn carts, buggies, scooters, trucks, jeeps and every form of transportation imaginable. People, poverty and despair were rampant. Thousands of people were along the road and in tiny villages. Houses were hovels and the people were filthy. A lot of time is spent dealing with cow dung which is used for fuel. It is gathered by hand, stacked in rows like platters for drying and finally built into solid huts for final aging. Ox carts stacked 6 feet high with cow pies are frequently seen going into town for marketing. The Indian population has simply burned up all their trees and they have gone from a wood energy economy to a cow dung energy economy.
We were supposed to see the Taj Mahal by moonlight but got there after 7 PM and the gates were closed. Our tour leader spent a lot of time having the bus driver drive us around alleyways in the tour bus without gaining access to the grounds-- he even incited the wrath of the local police for being where we weren't supposed to be.
It wasn't until the next morning that we were able to visit the Taj Mahal. What a fabulous experience!! I am sure I took too many pictures and am now running low on film. I can’t believe that I brought only 4 rolls of film and left 16 rolls in Delhi at the Jain’s house. We visited the Red Fort of Shah Jahan after leaving the Taj Mahal.
We went back to another hotel (Hotel Mughal) for lunch and dancing and learned that we were being courted into complacency since the scheduled afternoon trip to Fatepur Sikri had been cancelled. We took in some shopping and returned to the Taj for sunset. We learned that our tour to Fatepur Sikri had been cancelled due to labor unrest and strikes on the roads. Unrest and demonstrations were commonplace. I spent a second night sharing a room with Elzbieta Greiner, the Polish student from FSU who studying glass science with Dave Clarke. Things worked out quite compatibly. Room sharing was the result of inadequate reservations. Other things with the tour planning continued to deteriorate. Reservations on air India back to New Delhi were not confirmed for everyone and the tour directors were asking for three people to drop out. Negotiations went on without progress until about 10:00 P.M. Plans were made to get up at 3:00 A.M. and take a four hour ride back to Delhi to catch a flight to Veranasi with the hope that confirmation would come through for everyone for the remainder of the tour.
Back to New Delhi and on to Varanasi
Thursday February 27, 1986
Everyone was up at 3:00 A.M. for breakfast and on the bus by 4:15 A.M. We actually made pretty good time since the roads were fairly untraveled at that hour. Ox carts began moving about 5:00 A.M. and people-traffic began to increase by 5:30 A.M. Around 7:00 A.M. there were many examples of people squatting to relieve themselves along the sides of the road, in ditches, in the fields and directly into every water source. No wonder you can’t drink the water. (I am too tired and hungry to write straight).
The airline reservations miraculously came through and we all left for Veranasi at 9:45 A.M. In Veranasi we stayed at the Taj Ganges. A group of us took a rickshaw ride in that crazy traffic. It is quite a different perspective to be a part of the masses with the honking cars, buses and trucks bearing down on you.
We toured Sarnath which is both the site of Buddha’s first sermon and his final resting place. The ruins of Buddhist monastery dating from the 5th century BC marks the location of Buddha's first sermon. Our tour continued with a visit to a Hindu temple in the middle of Veranasi. The temple was the residence of Rhesus monkeys and lepers. At the Hindu university at Benares, a sort of oasis in the midst of the city, we visited a Hindu temple to Shiva. The priests were anointing a lingam (a phallic symbol representing Shiva the creator and destroyer) with clarified butter. The clarified butter drains down the lingam drop by drop into a Yoni and is collected by a priest as it drains from a spout on the Yoni. The Yoni supports the vertical lingam and is a female phalic symbol. When the faithful approach the altar, the priest provides them with a portion of the collected fluid which they receive in the palm of their hand. The faithful deliver the clarified butter to their mouth and then pass their hand over the top of their head. A type of communion. Passing the hand over the head indicated purification.
Tomorrow it is up at 5:00 A.M. to leave for a boat ride on the Ganges. When will we rest??? Off to get some food now, to bed by 9:30 P.M.
Sunrise on the Ganga and the Ghats of Veranasi
Friday, February 28, 1986
Up at 4:30 A.M. for departure to the Ganges for sunrise. This has been the most fascinating of all the events. The life blood of the Hindu is truly the Ganga (the river Ganges). The bathing, washing, immersing, selling of religious artifacts and masses of people. Sunrise was marvelous. The potential for prize-winning photographs is unlimited. A walk through the alleyways was unforgettable. Cows, dogs, people, beggars, feces--what a complicated tapestry of life.
The street hawkers have their own sales code as we learned from watching them. As a new batch of tourists arrive, the hawkers unobtrusively choose one tourist each and stick with and badger that poor soul for the whole way until a boat or bus is boarded. The asking price plummets as the potential sale begins to evaporate--don’t buy until the last minute!! If you like someone else’s hawker’s prices better you are not allowed to purchase from him. There is no way to discourage these guys with their beads, bangles and junk. I actually ended up buying a number of religious bead necklaces.
The press of humanity in the six foot wide alleyways is almost claustrophobic, particularly when one has to share passage with a sacred cow or step over a man squatting to defecate. The air hangs heavy with the grey pallor of incense. Garlands of marigolds are sold and hang everywhere. There are many shrines and altars recessed in the walls. Holy men with painted foreheads and saffron robes anoint statues of Shiva with milk drawn from cows standing in the alley. Shops are recessed in the walls with the shop keepers sitting amidst their wares either yoga style or hunkering. Everybody hunkers--the hip joints must be rubber since the knees seem to end up behind the arm pits. We visited the holiest of the Hindu temples to Shiva in Benares deep in the maze of alleys. The spires of the temple are covered with almost a ton of 24K gold (about $10,000,000). That could probably relieve a lot of suffering if melted down into bullion and sold.
Stepping back into the bus was like returning to a sanctuary. As the last hawker’s hand was pushed out of the door and the bus began to move, one wondered if what we had experienced was real or unreal. Even in our glass enclosed world on wheels, the sights, sounds, odors and experiences of the last two hours continued to spin dizzily through our heads. I would like to go back for more photography.
Back at the Hotel Taj Ganges we had a buffet breakfast and continued to have fun trying to decide what is safe to eat. The rule that seems to work so far is to eat only cooked things that have not been handled cold after cooking and drink only boiled and/or treated water. No one has been sick and the food in the hotels has been very good.
Our health concern is airborne stuff. There is a lot of dust in the air and cooking fires in the evening really begin to choke things up. Head congestion and thickening of the phlegm is common in the evening.
Our time was free until noon when we were scheduled to depart for the airport. I lounged around the pool with the group. Our flight was delayed and hotel departure was postponed to 1:15 P.M. (I envisioned shades of things to come when I was to start traveling alone without someone to help me through the mire of travel glitches). Security at the airport was stiff. All carry on was thoroughly searched. Checked luggage was placed out on the tarmac and had to be reidentified at the airplane before boarding. Any luggage not identified was not placed on board and was, I assume, treated as a potential bomb.
The Erotic Temples of Khajuraho
Off to Khajuraho. From the air we could see the landscape change from the broad, flat expanse of the Gangetic flood plain to hilly out-croppings around Khajuraho south of Agra. The area around Khajuraho is not heavily populated and is quite pastoral, and relaxing--a welcome relief from the city din. The Hotel Jan Oberoi is new, only two stories high, situated in the country and surrounded by green fields.
I lost my head this evening and purchased a ring--one caret square-cut, clear emerald raised over a terrace of 14 diamonds in an 18 kt. gold setting (appraised in the U.S. later at over $2000).
Really conked out at 9:30 P.M.
Saturday, March 1, 1986
Woke at 4:40 A.M. Got up and had coffee alone in the lobby and wrote up my impressions of yesterday. Went outdoors at 6:00 A.M. to watch the day break. It was chilly. Gray clouds hung low over the hills in the north as a reminder of the downpour that swept the area clear before we arrived yesterday. The moon was suspended like a silver orb in the western sky. Dew coated the grass and roses in the formal garden. Fog hung low in the dips between the hills that framed the eastern horizon. The back lighted hedge rows and sparse trees made a restful symphony of dark vertical and horizontal traces dividing the pastures into a softly defined patchwork of light green squares. Bird sounds increased in intensity in anticipation of the arrival of a new day. Parrots flew overhead as the sun crept in radiant splendor over the low hills. It’s diverging rays trimmed the wispy clouds in silver. The deep oranges of the dawn dissolved into a riot of purple as the sun broke free of its earthly traces and a new day in India began.
The temples of Khajuraho were a delightful surprise. They date from the 8th and 10th century AD and are Hindu. The erotic carvings depict the powerful force of women and were used to teach good sexual practices and to define and discourage bad sexual practices for the illiterate masses. The five elements of life were wine, sex, wealth, meat and fish. Human desire was deemed to be limitless and must be controlled. Our guide was absolutely delightful and informative. He worked through the vast complexity of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
After touring the temples we went to the village of Khajuraho. It was clean and quiet. The houses, though very plain and simple, looked comfortable and clean. Water was well-drawn and animals seemed to be excluded from the cobblestone village streets. The cycle of cow dung as an energy source was not in strong evidence. The main difference arises from low population and living within the resource limits of the area.
Departure was delayed again about two hours due to late arrival of our flight. Security checking was done without befit of x-ray equipment and was exhaustingly tedious.
Back in New Delhi and Conference Confusion
On reaching Delhi I found that I had been booked into the Jan Path Hotel even though I had prepaid (85 Re) for the Ashok Yastri Nivas. I took the Jan Path Hotel as an upgrade and lost my deposit. The Jan Path was dirty, greasy and plain. Quite a come down from the comfortable Western oases we had become accustomed to. The stranger who was scheduled to be my roommate never showed up.
Sunday, March 2, 1986
Woke at 3 A.M. with disquieting dreams about the room. In my dream rats and cockroaches were everywhere. I finally got up at 5:30 A.M. Had breakfast and took a cab to the Hyatt Regency to join our group’s tour of Delhi. I tried for a reservation at the Hyatt with no luck. (by this time I had picked up my luggage from Veejay Jain’s home). The tour was o.k. Delhi is a legitimate city with some high rises, but on Sunday it is a restful town. Perhaps there is some hope for India with it’s growing population of >700 million in 1/3 the area of the USA.
After the tour I succeeded in wrangling a room at the Hyatt, which I looked forward to occupying the next day.
I tried to register for the conference to no avail. The Indian organizers are totally inept! They passed out numbers in the registration line. I got 79 when they were serving 22. One and a half hours later they were up to 40 with a total of 400 registrants to go. I went to the Jan Path to work on my talk. I figured that registration would be complete around the middle of March!
Monday, March 3, 1986
The International Conference on Glass was opened by the president of India, Mr. Singh. Security was incredibly tight. A picture with Mr. Singh was not possible but I got some good telephoto flash shots from about 30 feet away. His inauguration speech dealt a lot on the misuse of science for harmful purposes (war) and he pleaded for peaceful applications.
The ineptness of the conference organizers continues!! My talk was the first technical presentation and if I had not skipped lunch and had not been assertive there would have been no projection equipment for the crowded session.
Fantastic evening!! Dinner Cum Folk Mela - an Indian festival with scores of dancers, singers, street performers and unlimited buffet food. Took over 40 pictures - mostly closeups of faces and costumes. (Found later that the flash was set on manual and not automatic--OH, WOE!)
The weather has been marvelous. I have succeeded so far in avoiding TD (travelers diarrhea). Some of the new conference arrivees are sick after one day. They treated the Hyatt as if it were an American Hotel and ate salads and peeled fruits and brushed their teeth with tap water.
Thursday, March 4, 1986
Full conference day. George Scherer gave the Weyl lecture in the morning and true to Indian form there was no screen or projector. I took it upon myself again to rattle the equipment loose. The lecture started 45 min. late and 400 people were waiting. This is the way the conference has been disorganized. Lunch at Szechwan Chinese restaurant. Meetings for the rest of the day. Bus back to Hyatt, showered and joined George and Marty Scherer and a Greek and two French conferees for dinner. Szechwan again. Two minutes after finishing my hot and sour soup my stomach rebelled and I excused myself for the evening. I lost the soup and went to bed at 9:00 P.M.
Wednesday, March 5, 1986
Waked by 7:00AM call from George feeling great and well rested. Breakfasted with George and Marty Scherer and, Chuck and Dorothy Kurkjian. Afterwards we all went to the Indian Department of Tourism on the Jan Path (Public Way) to plan some side excursions. The upshot was a scheme to visit Alwar/Sariska - a tiger sanctuary about 100 Km. SW of Delhi. I won’t be able to participate but Kaziranga should be enough.
I left the group and walked to the building housing Pan Am to reconfirm my reservation on Pan Am flight 73, the one that was later hijacked. The computers were down as usual but I was assured that things were o.k. - yeah, right!!
Walked over to Mercury Travels and saw nesting Pariah Kites and Asian Vultures in downtown Delhi. Strange avian community. Mercury Travels still has not received my permit to enter Assam. The worst case is that I may have to fly into Jorhat and turn right around and fly out again. Uncertainties are building!!!
Walked to the center of Connaught Circle and went into the underground market. Millions of one room shops, each with one type of item. Every shop was burning an incense stick and smoke hung heavy in the labyrinth of underground hallways.
Bought a large book on Tigers with color prints for 80 Re. Books are a real bargain in India if you can afford the weight for the return flight.
Went to the ministry of Internal Affairs (open only 2-3PM) to check on my permit to visit Assam and to try to get permission to enter Nagaland. Arrived at 2:30 PM and encountered a “Q” two hours long. Forget it!! Back to the Hyatt by auto rickshaw--I was overcharged again--I guess I will never learn!
I treated myself by just spending time by the pool side and relaxing.
Thursday, March 6, 1986
Full conference day. Started with a big breakfast at the Hyatt. Skipped lunch to watch the birds and people. I have been pleased to have been sought out by Indian scientists seeking details on my earlier papers on glass. Amazing that people still read them. My name and work was also recognized by prominent glass scientists from Britain and from Germany. I was truly amazed since I have been out of the field for ten years.
Thursday evening was another spectacular event. We converged at the Ashoka Hotel and were greeted by two regally bedecked elephants and treated to a fabulous presentation of classical Indian dance-almost Siamise in nature. (Dinner was not served until 9:30-I was STARVED).
I keep fighting back occasional stomach cramps, but I believe it is only the rich curry dishes. Table manners here are not western. Indian’s clad in sarees and in tuxedos at the banquet ate entirely with their right hand-no utensils. Mango juice was being served. Whenever someone left a partly finished glass the waiters merely filled it back up and replaced it on the serving table. - and the Ashoka is a five star hotel!!
Mohandas Mahatma Ghandiji and Giant Fruit Bats
Friday, March 7, 1986
I can hardly believe that nearly two weeks have evaporated. The next two will probably go even faster. Good sessions this morning - got into some decent discussions. At noon I walked off on my own to try to locate a colony of nesting vultures and a flock of flying foxes. Got off on the wrong road and turned a 10 min. walk into a two hour jaunt. Photographing birds around VIP’s homes raised the ire of the military several times. Chanced upon the site where Mohandas Mahatma (great soul) Ghandiji was assassinated and went in for a visit. The site was packed with reverent Indian peasants wearing dirty sarees and dhotis. Miniature dioramas depicted scenes throughout the Mahatma’s life. (A few words in Hindi - Nemaste’ - greeting, Bhavan - building, as in Vigyan Bhavan, Bhagwan - god).
Finally, found my vultures and bats. Photographed them and walked back to the conference. Tonight is the sound and light display at the Red Fort. Should be interesting.
I decided not to go to the sound and light and went instead to dinner at the Indian restaurant in the Sheraton with Chuck and Dori Kurkjian and Warren and Carrol Beck. Spicy and filling. To bed by 11:00 P.M. All packed and ready to head for Kaziranga.
Off to Calcutta and Slime Pits
Saturday, March 8, 1986
Up at 5:30 P.M. Reached the airport by 7 for a 9:00 A.M. departure. Uneventful boarding and flight. Mercury Travel agent met me at the airport in Calcutta and informed me that I had no permit to visit Kaziranga. I was stunned. He showed me what he claimed were photocopies of my applications. They were in fact the originals with the passport photos attached that I had sent from the states. Mercury Travels (Delhi) had sent them to Calcutta on March 5. They had evidently done nothing toward applying through the Delhi Indian Department of Home Affairs. We spent the afternoon in a car, for which I was charged 300 Re, to try to resolve the mess the agents had created. Drove through the outskirts of Calcutta and through some of the worst stench I have ever experienced. Large lakes of Calcutta waste water colored gray and red with slime algae lined the raised road beds. Hovels of sticks, mud and plastic were built along the water’s edge. People stood waist deep in the ooze and slime facing the shore to beat out the day’s laundry. The “laundered” rags lay on the banks to dry in the sun. Incredible!! There is no sense of dignity left in a society like this. Dante’s Inferno pales in this light.
At the Assam government house we got no encouragement and the travel agents just could not get into gear. After all it was Saturday - a half work day - and it was afternoon. At my insistence, they woke, Mr. Gupta, the chief officer up and had him come down. He ended up being very pleasant but very discouraging. He could issue no permit without authorization from Delhi (which I doubted would ever come since I don’t believe the forms were ever submitted).
Drove the 20 Km. back to the airport to talk to the Mercury Travels executive (Krishnan) about alternatives - one of which was to go to Katmandu. Krishnan said all I had to do was to go to Jorhat and a permit could be issued locally. After all, Rhino Travels in Gauhati were “doing what was needful”. Mr. Gupta from the Assam government house, however, had said a permit could not be obtained locally. I didn’t want advice. I wanted a decision. I decided, against better judgement, to try for Kaziranga. One problem is that Indian Airlines may ask to see my non-existing permit. I may get to Jorhat and have to turn around again. Round trip will cost about $100 if I fail or, at worst, I may go to jail. If I can’t fly to Jorhat I will try for Katmandu in the afternoon. I am concerned about the 1/2 km walk to the airport tomorrow at 4:15 A.M. Oh yes, I am staying in the International Airport Commission Retiring Rooms for overnight passengers. The room has a private shower and john (which you flush with a bucket of water), a simple bed with mosquito netting and a ceiling fan. The floors and walls are bare concrete but clean. There is a single overhead bulb suspended from an electrical cord. There are five pieces of dark brown, early Salvation Army furniture. Clean but plain. I am not sure yet whether there is any hot water. Cost 30 Re - about $2.50. What a mess!
Flight into the Great Unknown
Sunday, March 9. 1986
There was no hot water. To bed by about 8:30 P.M. Slept reasonably comfortably but I was bothered by mosquitoes. Applied liberal amounts of Cutter insect repellant. Up at 3:30A.M. The manual rickshaw I had ordered showed up at about 4:10 A.M. for the short hop to the airport so I didn’t need to worry about the hike. Fare was 15 Re (should have only been 5, but what the heck). Now came decision time. I checked in my baggage and no mention was made about my Assam permit, but I had to go and pay excess baggage charges (75 Re). At the excess baggage window the clerk asked to see my permit to enter the restricted area. I told him my permit was waiting in Jorhat. He said no flying without a permit but took my excess baggage fee anyway. At this point I didn’t know what was happening. I was almost relieved at not flying off into uncertainty. To complicate matters I was issued a boarding pass at the ticket counter and told to proceed through security so I could reclaim my luggage at the airplane. In the lounge beyond security I noticed that my travel folder with all my tickets and travel vouchers was missing - MINOR PANIC. Back at security I found that they had fallen out in the x-ray machine and had been retrieved. With a boarding pass in hand I realized that there was nothing to keep me from boarding the plane except the uncertainty of what would happen to me on the other end of the flight. I walked out on the tarmac to identify my luggage and instead of retrieving my luggage I merely identified it for loading and boarded the plane.
By this time it looked as if I would be flying off into the uncertainty of Jorhat. The plane touched down in Gauhati and then in Tezpur. Special food was on board the flight and I though we were in for a special feast. Prime ministers, however, seem to follow me around. The food was, unfortunately, for Rajiv Ghandi who arrived by helicopter shortly after we landed in Tezpur. Security was tight and our flight was held on the ground at the far end of the runway for more than an hour. The plane was not allow to taxi up to the deboarding area (there was no terminal). Finally an Indian Airforce 727 taxied by us and prepared for take off with Rajiv at the controls (he is a former airline pilot).
While on the ground I befriended the pilot and co-pilot and they said I should have no problem in Jorhat. They volunteered to have the airport manager intercede for me. That lightened my spirits somewhat. Had a good view of the Bhramaputra (the son of god) river plain from our twin engine Dehavelin. The river meanders and snakes through broad sandbars and is sometimes 10 km wide. This is the home of one horned Indian Rhino whose horn on the black market goes for 100,000 Re (about $8,000).
I meet Baba Sarma
I was met in Jorhat by Baba Sarma from Rhino Travels who had only a copy of my application. Some fast talking by him got me past the police point. A 100 km ride took us through rice fields which were interspersed with raised areas of tea plantations. The people are decidedly more Asiatic in appearance and live in bamboo huts with plastered mud walls. The mud plaster is painted and imparts the impression of more substance than exists.
On arrival at the ITDC Forrest Lodge I found that:
1) Baba was to be my shadow and guide for three days,
2) I was the sole guest in the entire 24 unit lodge and \
3) The lodge costs 265 Re per day, full American plan (about $24 per day),
4) Elephant rides into the flood plain cost 15 Re per person.
I also realized that I had contracted a deep chest congestion, probably from the Calcutta air. Baba took me on a short excursion into the flood plain by car and we saw several rhinos.
Visit to the preserve by elephant tomorrow morning at 5:30 A.M. “Bed coffee” at 4:30 A.M., then jeep tour through the hills for tigers with an armed ranger. Dinner at 7:00 - wish I had someone to share it with me.
Monday, March 10, 1986
Slept like a log. I really need more rest. Chest congestion is a little better. Sleeping with my cap on probably helped. I was waked for bed coffee 30 minutes before my digital alarm went off. The hotel help is very punctual.
Encounter With Elephants and Karbi Tribals
My guide, Baba, did not show up at 5:00 A.M. so I started out walking to the elephant point. They picked me up around 5:30. I had walked along the tea gardens and through a slowly awakening town.
At the elephant point, the gathering and saddling of the elephants was an experience in itself. We took a group of six elephants with 3 to 6 people per mount. I was the only foreigner. The others were Indian engineers and their families from Gauhati about 200 km west. The sky was very overcast and the light level was low - almost too low for photography with my f/4.5 telephoto. The ride lasted about two hours and we passed through 12 ft. high elephant grass. Saw wild buffalos. and many marsh birds - adjutant storks, egrets, snake birds, etc. My mahout’s name was Gogoijugali.
The mahout’s are almost a part of the elephant and it is a joy to watch them work together. As we moved through the flood plain the elephants would uproot small hassocks of grass with their trunks and rhythmically beat the dirt balls against their ankles to clean off the tidbits before raising their trunk containing the morsel to their mouth.
Back at the lodge by 8:30. Really exhausted. Almost slept through breakfast. (Oh, yes - I now have fleas - probably from the elephants). At 10:00 A.M. Baba showed up with a jeep and driver and we headed for the Karbi village in the hills. The Karbi are “tribals”. Every flat or terraceable slope has been turned into a rice paddy. The rattan and mud huts with straw roofs situated in pineapple gardens and banana groves looked more Vietnamese than Indian. Photographed a Karbi weaver using a crude loom with a simple hand shuttle and several family groups. Visited the home of the tribal chieftain Bapurongpi. He was not home; I offered a present of a Rambo survival knife. His wife said he would come to the lodge tomorrow in tribal dress to receive the gift. Neat coup.
Drove down the hill to Assamese village where the driver proudly pointed out the much advanced loom techniques with a foot shuttle used by the Assamese women. My camera equipment drew a lot of village attention. Continued on to a district where black pepper, coffee and latex trees were growing. Stopped at a hillside temple so that Baba could “salute his god", Ganesh the elephant god and patron of businessmen. The Nepalese priest in residence was named Kumar.
Jeeps and Tigers
Took lunch at the Lodge and Baba said he would return at 2:00 P.M. He is really keeping me jumping. What I really need is some rest. At 2 the driver showed up and spoke frantically in Assamese English about In’fant El’e’phant and tiger. It turned out that the forest rangers had rescued a baby wild elephant whose left hind leg was badly swollen and infected from a tiger bite. They will try and nurse it back to health.
We headed for the sanctuary in the jeep with a shotgun toting guard along - I think more for show than need. (Later research indicated that the armed guard was a good idea. Tourists have been carried off by tigers). We saw some wildlife and covered about 30 Km of trails. The trip was somewhat disappointing since the jeep was diesel powered and terribly rattlely and noisy. In addition, the fine dust that was sucked into the cab was suffocating and continually coated my camera and lenses. Everywhere we stopped I tried to walk ahead to look for bird life and listen to sounds from either the forest or the grass plain. I would be frantically called back under the dire fear that I would be stomped by wild elephants, gored by a rhino or mauled by a tiger. I would like to take an elephant quietly over the same terrain!
I did log a few new birds -
Great Grey Heron, Adjutant Stork,
Paddy Bird, White Necked Stork,
Brahminy Kite, Pallar’s Fish Eagle,
Kaly Phesant, Red Wattled Lapwing,
Spotted Dove, Green Pigeon,
Jungle Owlet, Common Kingfisher,
Little Green Bee-eater, Drongo Cuckoo
Hoopoe, Kashmir Roller,
Blue Throated Barbet, White Wagtail,
Tickells Flycatcher, Common Myna,
Red Jungle Fowl (ancestor of all chickens),
- actually from a bird sighting standpoint it was not a bad day - just didn’t get close enough for photography. Just as well, I am running low on film.
Lonesome Time in the Tea Fields of Assam
Back at the lodge I found that I am still their sole guest. The waiter brought me tea (it was only 5:00 P.M.) and asked for my dinner order. I realized that in one day I have exhausted their culinary talents. Eggs for breakfast; for lunch or dinner choice of corn soup or tomato soup and choice of mutton curry or chicken curry with either rice or rice pillaf - that is it and two days to go!!
With 2 1/2 very lonely hours to kill I went to the room and did laundry and started writing up the day’s events. Then came the normal blackout from local power failure. The people expect it and candles are placed in the rooms. This write up is being done Abe Lincoln style by candlelight. Having a compatible travelling partner is certainly a desirable alternative to being stranded alone on the backside of nowhere with only a tree frog for company. I have such a code in the hed and all my code rabdidies are gone. The dust has my nose running like mad and nobody is here to care. For the hell of it I have dressed for dinner.
The dinner portions were much too large. The dining room was cold and vacant with the silence broken only by the light scrape of my silverware on the glazed dinner. plate. In the subdued light one could detect the evidence of some gaiety past. The high ceiling was draped with faded crepe streamers. From the darkened rattan wall in two foot high letters leapt the grand wish of “HAPPY NFW YEAR’ (sic). Dinner provided no solace. I think I have done the entire Assam scene and would like to fly south on Wednesday (a day early) but there is no way to check on air connections. There isn’t even a bookstore here. The only thing left of the day is to take my ruddy nose to bed and hope for a bright, sun-filled day. It rained torrents last night and the clouds never cleared during the day. It was gloomier than Tikal under a blanket of Guatemalan rain forest clouds with no ruins to brighten the scene.
The Goan Burah
Tuesday March 11, 1986
Up at 4:55 A.M. Bed coffee did not arrive; it showed up in the lobby at 5:20 A.M. Baba picked me up at 5:30 and we saw a troupe of Rhesus monkeys in the tea gardens on the way to the elephant point on the west end of the sanctuary at Bagouri. There was only one other tourist (an Indian woman) so we entered the sanctuary at 6:30 A.M. with only two elephants. A tiger had been at Bagouri the night before and all eyes were peeled. The guide (mahout) claimed to have seen the tiger, but I never did. We saw and approached numerous herds of large Sambar deer and about a dozen rhinos. On the return portion of the 2 hour ride the sun broke through the clouds and I got a few much needed, well illuminated shots of rhinos. After the sanctuary visit I began exploring the possibility of departing from Kaziranga a day ahead of schedule - possible in theory but perhaps impossible in reality since the phone lines to Jorhat are currently dead. The other option is to drive to Jorhat tomorrow and take potluck. I still don’t know what I have paid for but in Kaziranga there is about $125 a day over and above room and board unaccounted for. I can’t believe the car and guide costs that much.
At about 11:00 A.M. the Gaon Burah (village old man or chief) of the Karbi village of Kohora showed up with his wife to accept his gift of a Rambo survival knife. His chief’s garb was disappointingly simple and plain. He wore a scarf around his head, a faded brown jacket and a dirty dhoti. Proudly displayed on his jacket was a brass, half circular pin declaring the wearer Gaon Burah. There was much fanfare during the presentation and the entire hotel staff turned out - somewhat in envy. No one had ever seen a compass and, of course, “such a knife is here not available”. As the “this bird and that bird is not available here” as opposed to “tiger is coming, elephant is coming and rhino is coming”, quite often, “what you are wanting, we are not having”. The certainty of communication here is definitely marginal.
Talked with Baba and I decided to hike into the Karbi hills alone since Baba would never make it up the steep, tiger infested, bamboo overgrown slopes with me. Changed to 100 ASA print film (I must remember to reset the camera when I go back to 200 ASA slides). I may have already lost numerous shots by forgetting to reset when going from flash to available light including all my folk Mela pictures.
I started out along the dirt road to the Kohora Soil Conservation district, past pepper groves, the temple to Ganesh and into the paddy flats of the Karbi village. I inadvertently overtook Babu-Puram Rongpi and his wife at the edge of his village. He spoke some English and invited me into his mud plastered home to meet his entire family,.
The Karbi village of Kohora is oddly all Christian and we spent about 15 minutes singing Christian hymns from a Karbi hymnal (in Karbi, of course). I would have liked to have brought a hymnal back with me but there wasn't even a place to make a Karbi copy. I photographed Rongpi’s entire family and promised to send prints (which I did to their great pleasure). Armed with two new strengths - Rongpi’s grandson and the newly learned Karbi greeting--”Khardom”, expressionless faces of yesterday turned to smiles and giggles with my greeting in Karbi. We started up the steep slope of the Karbi hills and I soon had my young guide panting and muttering “my god, my god”. Halfway up we passed Assamese women and children gathering bamboo for rattan and paper pulp and branches for firewood. Work here is back breaking. Three quarters of the way up my young guide implored me to go no higher. There is nothing there, sir. Tigers are not available, elephants are not available-etc. Besides in the hot, dry sun we were both developing a demanding thirst.
Back at Rongpi’s home I was afraid he was going to offer me a glass of water which I would impolitely have to decline. He did not. I covered the remaining, long, hot dry and dusty 2 km unslaked. Stopped for a print photo of Bhagwan Kumar at the Ganesh temple.
A Walk Through the Village of Kaziranga
At the hotel I learned that today was a “dry day” and alcohol could not be served at the bar, but that I could have a cold beer delivered to my room - which I did and thoroughly enjoyed. My head is so stopped up now that can only breathe through my mouth. That bodes ill for diving excursions in the Maldives.
I continued my wanderings after a lunch of soup. I walked down the steep embankment to the stream winding through a sandy bed. The women who had been bathing and washing clothes before noon were now gone. The only hint of their presence was in the 1 1/2 x 4 foot long stone washing slabs elevated at an angle toward the stream bed. The stone slabs had been deeply grooved in the fashion of a washboard.
I climbed out of the draw and walked along a side street lined with mud plastered, thatched roof huts and came on the area where Baba was staying. He was staying in the Assam Government Tourist lodge for 80 Re per night, another 20 Re for meals - almost 1/3 my already reasonable rate of 265 Re per night FAP. The rooms were just as nice. No wonder the Forest Lodge is empty!!
A few more standard-of-living/cost-of-living notes. Common labor in the tea gardens and building sites get 15 Re per day for males or 12 Re per day for females. My Nepalese driver is paid 20 Re per day. Rice sells for 2-4 Re per kg. I don’t know what my guide and car are worth but I don’t think it mounts up the almost $150 per day I am paying over and above room, meals and park visits. The park costs were nominal (admission, camera fees, two elephant tours and a 62 km jeep tour cost only 200 Re).
Baba took me into the village of Kaziranga and to the Rhino Restaurant where he bought tea at 1 Re compared to 6 Re at the Forest Lodge (the extra 5 Re was worth the greater “sense” of hygiene). We walked down to the stream and watched children having some success fishing for eels. At the stream bank we were approached by a very determined column of barefoot village women in bright sarees. As they approached the water’s edge they lifted their sarees to their knees and, without missing a stride, briskly forded the crossing. So much for bridges!
Leave Kaziranga or Die
Baba suggested taking in the Assamese live theater which he thought started at six. The performance was to be given by a professional dance group from Jorhat. It was to be a big village event. I bought two tickets (for Baba and me) in the front section at 10 Re each for the purpose of photography. When we went to sit down in the large tent filled with empty folding chairs we were informed that the performance would not start before eight.
My cough was deepening and I was beginning to feel weak and feverish so I scratched the theater outing and gave both tickets to Baba. Aspirin, a jacket and sweater and cap during a one hour rest before dinner helped. My symptoms are the same as an allergic reaction to epoxy dust. I feel I must get out of Assam. Tried earlier during the day to change my airline reservation from March 13 to March 12 but the phone lines to Jorhat were dead.
I decided to leave for Jorhat tomorrow. Baba joined me for dinner - he seemed very pleased with the 100 Re tip I had given him. We made arrangements for a 7:00 A.M. departure.
Wednesday, March 12, 1986
Bed coffee at 5:10 A.M. (I was sure I had cancelled that). It rained torrents again last night and the air was much fresher. My nose is less plugged and my cough has diminished. I am going to live after all!
Breakfast at 6:30 A.M. - depart at 6:45 A.M. Saw two overturned lories on the road. Passed through an alternating landscape of terraced rice paddies and raised tea gardens with their regularly spaced shade trees. The thatched roof huts surround by banana trees, bettle nut palms and coconut palms once again reminded me more of what I picture Vietnam to be. We reached Jorhat at 8:55 A.M. and had to wait five minutes for the Indian Airlines main office to open. An hour after cabling Calcutta my Calcutta/Madras leg was confirmed but the Jorhat/Calcutta leg was only standby. To make a long story short, after hassling with ticket clerks, airport managers and security guards I am on board and heading west again watching the top of the world poke through the clouds to the north. I leave behind Baba, Sambar deer, rhinos, tigers, elephants and a changing landscape pressured by an increasing population.
One last note about Jorhat. The traffic is predominantly bikes and pedal rickshaws. I saw a bike and rickshaw collide. The two portly women in the rickshaw were tossed head over teakettle upside down into the street. In the U.S. that would have precipitated months of lawsuits. The participants picked themselves up, checked that no serious damage had been done, brushed each other off and went merrily on their respective ways.
On board the flight was a distinguished, tall, elderly Indian with long gray hair and a grey beard. He was barefooted and wore a loose white Punjabi suit. He was Husain, the top modern artist in India.
Madras and Tamils
In Madras, I checked into Hotel Victoria at about $15 per night. If this is a three star hotel, a one star must be really bad. Actually the room is comfortable, plain, quiet and has air conditioning.
THURSDAY, MARCH 13, 1986
A day in Madras was a good move. It is late and I don’t have time for an entry. Just notes:
Confirmed Air Lanka
Breakfast with Edwin Corley from Ga.
Cancelled Mercury Travel transfers
Tour of Madras by ITDS (25 Re for 4 hours)
Dinner with three German women
Shiva Temple - shades of Indiana Jones!
Thursday Reviewed - Noticed last night on the hotel register that there was a guest from Lincolnton, Ga. - a town just north of Augusta. I stopped by the room at 10:00 P.M. (Wednesday) on arrival and Edwin Corley had already retired. He awoke and insisted that I come in. Ed is a man in his 60’s, portly, soft spoken and very fatherly. He is a Pentecostal missionary and is working in a village on the southern tip of India near Madurai and Rameswaram (almost into Sri Lanka). His roommate was the village pastor who had come to Madras to see Ed off. We had about a 20 minute conversation and agreed to meet for breakfast at the 5 star Connemara Hotel.
At 8:00 A.M. we took an auto rickshaw to the Connemara. After breakfast I requested reconfirmation of my Air Lanka flight. Went to Mercury Travels to cancel my airport transfer arrangements since I had arrived a day early and found that I could arrange my own transfers for 30 Re instead of 300 Re.
Purchased some souvenir wood carvings and stopped by ITDC to buy a ticket for a 4 hour bus tour of Madras (leaving at 1:45 P.M. - cost 25 Re (about $2). Back to Air Lanka - tickets reconfirmed!! Walked back to Hotel Victoria dripping from perspiration. Showered and hung out my clothes to dry. The room actually is clean and comfortable even though the bed sheets have holes in them.
The street scenes in Madras are a little different than those in northern India. The population, thought Caucasian, is very dark in coloration and belongs to a group called Tamils. The dhoti is worn here more like a sarong.
The oxen have horns that sweep straight-back over their heads like antelope’s horns. The owners paint the horns bright colors and cap them off with brass tips and bells.
Unusual complement of street beggars, lepers and adults with severe birth defects such as twisted limbs or no limbs at all (thalidomide, probably not). Many Tamil children run totally nude in the streets.
Back to ITDC to catch tour bus. Five Germans on board. The bus was not crowded. Highlight was the Hindu temple which had about five sanctuaries to Shiva and ornately carved and pointed steeples. Preparations were underway for a major festival (HOLI) and high services were in progress. The sights and sounds were something directly out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Deep in the bowels of the cave-like sanctuary, priests clad only in white sarongs waved oil lanterns over a flower bedecked lingam almost hidden in the thick vapors of incense. The staccato clang of double bells frantically announced the arrival of Shiva. Among the fixed-stared faithful with hands pressed together in prayerful greeting stood musicians with drums and Indian oboes (I forget the name) bleating out a weird and wailful litany. The only missing element was the outcry of a terrified sacrificial victim. Comparatively speaking, however, there are a lot of similarities with the Catholic mass (maybe a lightening rod would be a good thing to have right now).
Had dinner at the Connemara with three German women - all in German.
FRIDAY, MARCH 15, 1986
Today was a real bummer. Up at 6:00 A.M. and packed. Breakfast at the Hotel Victoria. Intended to pay my hotel bill by VISA and also change $’s to Rupees for the required departure tax. The clerk made the cash exchange and deducted the hotel charges in Rupees, then refused to go through whatever paperwork was necessary to cancel the direct payment, (I am running low on cash). Sorry Sir - a refund cancel is not available. I had to exchange more $’s for Rupees which turned out to be a necessity.
The hotel clerk gave me the wrong bus schedule and on his advice I would have missed my flight. I left the hotel an hour early and made proper connections but had to stand on the curb for 20 minutes with my luggage. In the USA that is O.K. In India you become surrounded by children (Tamil in Madras) tugging on your clothing and pulling at your hear with deep set teak-brown eyes, ash-covered faces and bare, distended bellies. They alternately tap at their stomachs and put their fingers to their mouths and utter the equivalent of “I have no food, I am hungry, please help me”.
(Elephant story from Assam - The guide book says these children have enough food and should not be encouraged in their begging - maybe so - at Jorhat, however, at the first elephant point the case seemed different. After the elephants were de-saddled and scrubbed down they were presented with a five gallon pail of rice (cooked?) to eat. The elephants would snort up a snout full of rice and blow it into their throats. Four or five children 5-7 years old were standing around with their bowls. When the mahout was not looking they would dash in as the elephant-withdrew his trunk and try to dip a morsel from the elephant drippings - that has to be hunger. At supper I was fed a quart of rice and could only eat about a half a pint. The Forest Lodge refused to package it for me for the children since it was to be used for the hotel chickens.)
At the airport there was more than the usual hassle since Madras Colombo-Male is an international flight. I was in line with an elderly Swiss many who had one suitcase that weighed 34 kg (limit is 20). The same overweight as mine. He failed to give me guidance. He paid no extra baggage charges - I paid 300 Re. He explained that 20 Re to the baggage handler gets a foot under the scale. I hope that works in Male since the flight goes all the way to Bombay and extra baggage could cost about $100.
Air Lanka served sandwiches made with processed meat and lettuce. I chose not eat on both flight segments. My head was so congested that I developed severe sinus pains on both take-off and landing. My cough would not abate and I could see a diving vacation turning into a disaster. No clearing, no diving. We landed at Hulule airport at about 3:30 P.M. and stepped into 87oF/85% humidity weather. The airstrip takes up the entire island. The airport is first class. Thirty minute ride in a motorized dhoni to the Furana Resort. By this point, I am suffering a severe sugar deficiency and supper is 3 hours away. We had a complimentary drink (alcoholic, I think) on arrival that aggravated matters. Our attractive hostess assured us that the island hygiene was excellent. Rainwater is used for the room pitchers and for cooking. Chills, headache and stomach upset were intensified by an attempt at re-establishing a balance with supper. To bed at 9 wrapped in everything I could find including my cap, under the direct blast of the overhead fan to keep the mosquitoes away. The windows have no screens.
SATURDAY, MARCH 15, 1986
I woke for 5:00 A.M. and finally got out of bed at 7 fully rested and recovered and raring for breakfast. The guests here are predominantly Teutonic with a few Australians and Japanese and a small Italian colony on the west end of the resort. The dive master and crew are Germans so German is the preferred language. The Japanese are having a terrible time.
On the morning dive my ears cleared with some squeaks and whistles which I didn’t like but I got down to the bottom at 90 feet and it’s a new world for me. The Indian Ocean fish are more brightly colored (if that can be) than their Caribbean counterparts. Furthermore, these fish (probably due to the heavy dive traffic) are absolutely tame and pose for close-up photographs! Soft coral abounds as do clown fish in doormat anemones. During lunch and dinner one has to purchase something to drink - rain water is not served - with thirst a big demand problem on the island, you are hooked. The meals have been good and I have eaten everything without restrictions. No problems so far. It is good to be able to relax.
Afternoon dive went well and all my flash bulbs fired. Shutter speed was set at 1/125 instead of 1/60. I will have to remember to push the development one stop.
SUNDAY, MARCH 16, 1986
Woke up with a plugged nose and a deep chest cough. I just can’t shake this thing, even tried tetracycline. Certainly not a condition conducive to either comfortable or safe diving. By 9:00 seemed O.K. for a try.
The dive was on the outside reef and in strong current. I got down without difficulty and found some eddy currents behind large coral heads. I became separated from the dive master but we had discussed the dive course so it was O.K. Many huge fish posing completely upside down. As I came over the crest of the last wall in about 5 feet of water I was caught in a 4 kt current. Fortunately the dive boat was only 50 yards away and directly down stream. No one was upset or concerned - except me, momentarily.
Lunch and a little lying in the sun. (Lunch with Ferdinand and Effie who run a shoe store in Munchen - Germans are everywhere). Walked along the sand beaches and observed the dress code. Topless is the rule for women but all that I have seen would look better in a halter of some sort.
Dumb scene during the afternoon dive. The dive shop owner (Stolli) was away. Manni left for vacation this morning and a young, inexperienced dive leader was in charge. He tried to herd 11 divers like a Sheppard. That simply does not work. Photography was difficult. He was tugging at me and getting in the way. I had stayed shallower than the others to take advantage of a richer fish life. Under the boat I still had almost half a tank of air left. The dive leader came down and I showed him my gauge. He took it and pulled me to the surface. First of all you never grab anyone else’s equipment - ever! If I had been an inexperienced diver, panic would have ensued and an embolism, a drowning or a double drowning would have occurred. On the surface he would not let go. Somehow I kept my cool, even back on board. I asked him is he spoke English and asked him to explain his actions in my language. Why should I be at the disadvantage? A German man my age and his son had been photographing along with me and the father concurred that there had been no problem. Things ended on a peaceful note over a drink. (Dive guide Moses , partner Dieter Nammer (father) and Dietmar (son). Dieter is a metallurgist and worked on super alloy casting 10 years ago in the U.S. and had used my mold and core technology - a small world.
MONDAY, MARCH 17, 1986
Have settled into a lazy routine oddly enough. Up at 7:00. Breakfast at 8:00. Dive at 9:00. Back at 11:00. Prepare for the next dive, sun, socialize until lunch at 1:00. Sun from 1:45 to 2:30. Assemble for second dive at 3:00. Back at 5:00 and laze around until supper at 8:00.
The Maldivian help here - waiters included - make 350 Rufyas per month (about $50) plus room and board. They require a special visa to work in Male and if they want to work or travel abroad they must first work for the government for two years. There is a whole crew of Maldivians here who spend the entire day raking sea grape leaves that fell during the night. The sand remains white, free of debris and carefully manicured.
Most of the 100+ guests on the island are very cliquish and hardly smile or return a greeting. Meeting people is difficult. There are two Australian girls (Julie and Narelle) from Queensland. Jon and Jan from Perth - very nice couple. Dieter and Dietmar - divers and Fredinand and Effie - from Munchen.
This morning the flash failed halfway through the roll and halfway through the dive. Thought the problem was a bad contact at the flash bulb socket - more serious. The camera had developed a leak (probably at the maximum depth of 125 foot). Required field stripping washing and hunting down the poor internal connection. Back in service by the afternoon dive. I have switched to print film.
I had been trying to see the island doctor (a young Swiss from Bern) about my hacking cough when I realized the cause and eliminated it myself. My cough was worse in the mornings and evenings - that is when they spray pyrethrums for mosquitoes. In addition, the room boy leaves a burning mosquito spiral in the room for the night. I removed the spiral and slept under the mosquito net. Cough disappeared.
TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 1986
Six dives left. My list of acquaintances is growing. Met the owners of the Flying Swiss Ambulance Service. The pilot of the Lake Amphibian (Dan Murphy, a Canadian from North Bay) and owner’s wife Linda who has an uncle in Schenectady and two nice divers Konrad and Elsibil from Munster.
Interesting dive in the morning on the wreck of the Victory of the Maldives which sunk five years ago. A large ship (150m long) sitting upright on its keel in 40m of water. A mast rises to 10 meters. Coral is not abundant but has begun to take hold. Highlight was a large sea turtle on the mast.
While we are under, three more dive boats arrived and the water become infested with humans. Glad we got there early. (I am sitting in the sun and trying to write without dripping sweat on the pad - very difficult!). Afternoon dive was totally uninteresting.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19, 1986
We dived on Banana Reef this morning. Absolutely fantastic, bellismimo, ausgezeichnet, ganzherlich, unglaublich. The bet yet!! There was a slight current and we drifted along the outside wall. What a profusion of fish - large and small. They hung off the wall like Christmas decorations. Fire fish, AKA lion and turkey fish were abundant. Groupers weighing 20 to 40 lbs. lay back in caves being cleaned by neon gobies (putz fischen). I took 36 prints and didn’t realize until halfway through the roll that the shutter speed setting had dropped to 1/60 instead of 1/125. I guess it would have paid to have gotten a modern automatic camera long ago. I should, however have one stop latitude in the printing.
WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY
No other dive equaled Banana Reef and several including Entrance Reef were downright boring. The saving grace is the camaraderie that has developed among the divers and others that I have met. Went snorkeling with Linda Paolini (wife of the owner of the Flying Swiss Ambulance Service who is away in Switzerland). Linda is an absolutely stunning blond and former airline stewardess. I have almost become accustomed to swimming and talking with good looking women clad in only half bikinis. I have even become a little self-conscious of the “conservative” Speedo bathing suit that tends to shock Ric and Andrew at the local pool. I have taken to rolling down the waistband until the sides go from 2 inches to 1/4 to 1/2” - that is making for a weird layered tan on the hips. On Thursday I had a delightful snorkel with Gabriele Kaerger - a beginning diver. We snorkeled out bout 1/4 mile from the island swim I turned over every piece of loose coral I could find and uncovered 3-5” long augers, cone shells, rooster conchs, scorpion fish and fire fish. Also encountered what I first thought was a poisonous sea snake but recognized it as a snake eel.
The painful price of the 1 1/4 hour noontime snorkel was two sets of red backs and legs. By the time Friday came around, I was sad about leaving! The Male dive was a very good way to conclude my vacation.
FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 1986
Traveling alone does impose an additional financial burden on air travel. I keep getting stuck with $30 to $40 overweight charges on every leg. The agents make allowances for groups and couples or families and even though the flight is not full the single traveler (me) gets dumped on.
I had forgotten how hot it was on Furana until I had to walk around in street clothes waiting for the boat to the airport. Inside the airport, which has no air conditioning but is nicely appointed, sweat was dripping off everyone except the Maldivian agents. I went from 95oF 85% RH into an air-conditioned airplane and I had forgotten to leave out a sweater. Nearly froze to death!!
On the Air Lanka leg from Columbo to Bombay, a Korean gentleman sat next to me and I greeted him with my only Korean expression “Ahn Young Ha Sip Ne Ga”. He was pleased as punch. Alcoholic beverages were complimentary and we got to be old friends by the time we arrived in Bombay. Mr. Lee is president of an underwater salvage company and insisted on driving me the 30 km to the Hotel Naeraj - a very kindly gesture on his part. The only thing I had been able to do was to allow him to use my duty free allowance for cigarettes and whiskey (and wild, wild women??).
Arrived at the Nateraj around 10:30 P.M. and went out to walk along the Marine Drive, which goes along the edge of the back bay, and to get a late snack. There was a young woman (non-Indian) sitting o the breakwall looking terribly distraught and near tears. I stopped and asked if there was anything I could do to help. She said she didn’t want to talk to anyone. I insisted that she looked like she needed to talk to someone and that I would be glad to listen. Still there was resistance. I walked on a ways and stopped to sit on the seawall to enjoy the ocean breeze and watch the activity in the streets that never seem to sleep. To my surprise the young woman walked up to me and apologized for being so abrupt. I invited her to sit down and slowly her story came out. She had come to Bombay to meet an Indian boyfriend who instead of taking her into his care had merely taken her by borrowing almost all the money she had brought with her. After a week he had failed to return it and she was near a nervous collapse. She had tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing and felt suicidal. Marika was from Vancouver. I had no intention of bankrolling her but continued to listen, to offer solace and advice to a young woman stranded in a male chauvinist society. I suggested treating to coffee or tea. We went to a reasonably nice coffee shop where Marika also ordered some sweets. She had not eaten all day but could not entertain the thought of something substantial. Sweet though it was, the food gave her a much needed lift ( I am writing this at 4:00 A.M. and my eyes are so glazed over that the words sometime blur). Marika was born in Algeria, lived a while in Switzerland (we switched to conversation in German) and finally moved with her parents to Canada. She was self-employed and puttered around in import trinkets. She had traveled extensively through the Near East - Turkey, Iran, Afganistan by car and train. More a free spirit than someone with any good business sense. I watched her spirit build and was grateful to see a smile sweep occasionally across her face. She was reluctant to smile fully since her front teeth were in need of dental repair.
At 1:00 A.M. I offered to see her to her hotel which was about 1 Km away. By this time our conversation had moved completely away from her immediate problem which had been shelved with plans for resolution on Monday. We walked along sidewalks filled with sleeping bodies wrapped in shawls and sheets like corpses. Rats rummaged through open garbage. Bare bottomed children under six years old wandered among the curled and twisted forms to relieve themselves in the gutter or at the base of a wall. The streets though quiet, never completely fall asleep. A small brazier burns in a dark recess heating a portion of lentil or corn. Marika found a street vendor from whom she bought 3 candles for light in her 40 Rupee room. I left her at the entrance of what looked like a darkened and abandoned warehouse. In spite of the depressing surroundings, Marika was in good spirits and appeared to have the strength to face the coming day. Feeling good about myself made the trek back to my own small cubical an easy matter.
SATURDAY MARCH 22, 1986
Up at 9:00 A.M. for a warm shower and complete removal of salt from my body for the first time in a week (the showers on Furana were brackish and reeked of rotten eggs). Had a late breakfast and decided to check out of the Hotel by noon and store my baggage in the lobby. Took a cab to the India gate and bought a steamer ticket to visit the Temple caves on Elephant Island (20 Re).
The trip was quite interesting - the colonnaded temple is completely sculptured from the volcanic rock. There are numerous intricate sculptured depictions of the life of Siva (the creator/destroyer). It is spelled Siva in Bombay but Shiva in Delhi. Siva’s wife Parvati is probably the origin of our word poverty. In completing my last roll of slide film I felt that my tour of India had truly come to an end.
Dinner back at the Nateraj, caught the 10:00 P.M. bus to the Bombay airport and am now about 20 minutes before landing in Karrachi.
Watched “Twice in a Lifetime”; a movie about the emotional trauma of family breakup at age 50. We are now flying over an unending expanse of red desert blotched with brown salt flats. There is absolutely no sign of life or habitation. What could very well be Mars is probably Afghanistan or Turkey. I have only slept about one hour. It is now 1:40 A.M. in New York and I am wide awake.
It is hard to believe that I have been away for four weeks and things are now coming to an end. Getting back into gear both mentally and physically may take time.
I will burn some more time by continuing to read “Die Rote Laterne”, a paperback I picked up on Furana.