From Raxaul to Calcutta, the long way around.
£1 = 18 Rupees
Black market rate:
£1 = 21 to 24 Rupees
1 Rupee = 100 Paise
16 Anna pre decimal
We enquired at Raxaul ticket office about train times and prices to Bombay. There were a number of alternative routes but we decided to go via Patna where we might be able to pick up a sleeper to Bombay. The first train on the 49-hour trip was due to depart to Sagauli in 20 minutes time. We dashed to get it and made it, though we didn't manage to say goodbye to Fred. We arrived in Sagauli later that night and made out connection even though we managed to get onto the wrong train at first. We were lucky enough to get a luggage rack so that we were able to sleep well that night.
The next morning at the time we were expecting the train to arrive at Patna, we arrived at a ferry terminal. One of the Indian passengers explained that because there wasn't a bridge over the river, the train didn't go all the way to Patna and we would have to finish the journey on the ferry. The ferry was an old fashioned paddle steamer and everybody from the train got on board. It took about an hour and a half to paddle down the River Ganges to Patna. As the boat was arriving at Patna we seemed to be invaded by dozens of men all wearing red turbans. These were porters and they all jumped on when the boat was still a few feet from the jetty and spread out among the passengers looking for business. From the ferry we caught one of the many busses that had been laid on to take us to the railway station where we found that we had missed our connection to Bombay.
To try to pick up a connection to Bombay we caught a train leaving at 9 am for Allahabad. We spent the day on the train reading, sleeping, eating and just looking out of the window at the Indian countryside. It was fascinating to see the old-fashioned irrigation systems still being operated in the fields as well as watching Indian life go by. One of the passengers gave me a strange looking fruit called a guava. Not only had I never tasted one before, but also I hadn't even heard of them before. It tasted very sweet, too sweet for my liking. It was also full of large hard seeds that were quite inedible, so that there wasn't very much fruit. I decided that I didn't like guavas.
By the time the train arrived at Allahabad we found that we had once again missed the connection to Bombay, which meant that we had to spend the night there and get the next train tomorrow morning. Before leaving he station we tried to book a sleeper on the Bombay train but there were none left.
We managed to find a hotel near the station at a reasonable price, but before taking the room we decided to look around a bit more. A rickshaw driver said he would take us to a hotel that was cheaper, but when we got to the hotel we found it was actually dearer than the other one, so we refused to pay for the rickshaw. We were feeling tired by now and decided to stay at this hotel anyway. The owner made us a meal and sat and chatted to us as we ate. He gave us each a hat, which he said was a ministerial hat, the sort that government ministers wore. He also turned out to be a fortune-teller and he read my palm. One thing he didn't tell me was that the hotel was full of bed bugs and the next morning both Louis and I had been bitten all over. We both had to turn our sleeping bags inside out to find the bugs in the seams, and we managed to successfully remove them all.
Before leaving the hotel we had breakfast served in our room. The owner must have liked us because he made us both a nice omelette. We paid our bill and walked to the station to get the train to Bombay. The train left Allahabad just after 11 o'clock and it was packed to the point that there was standing room only. The carriages were full with not a seat or luggage rack to be had and people also were sitting on roof as well as hanging off the train all over. I will never complain about British Rail again. We managed to find a space in the sleeping compartment where we could sit on the luggage for the rest of the day. The conductor in the sleeping car said that we could book seats after Jabalpur for 50 paise each, so we would at least be able to sit down through the night. At one stop we bought a stick of bananas, but they mustn't have agreed with Louis because shortly after he had eaten them he was sick as a dog and had to make a dash for the toilet.
At one point somebody came onto the train taking ordered for food. Apparently he would get off at the next stop and phone the orders through to a catering unit at the next station along the line. We both ordered a meal, which as promised was brought onto the train further down the line. It tasted 'orrible and it was expensive too, what a waste of money.
As well as being able to buy the meals, every time the train stopped at a station it became surrounded by people selling all sorts of things to eat and drink. As the passengers were trying to fight their way onto the train, the windows were being besieged by hawkers of all description. Dozens of hands would thrust a wide variety of edibles into the carriage. The tea sellers calling out "chai, chai, chia" and the competing "copi, copi, copi" of the coffee sellers. Things that I could recognise like samosas, onion bajees and chapatis as well as lots of other things that I didn't. The hot drinks were sold in clay cups that slowly dissolved in the liquid if you didn't drink it quickly enough. The taste of the drink also changed with every mouthful as more and more of the cup got dissolved. This also meant that like French wines that change their flavour according to the type of soil that the grapes grow in, the tea at every station has a unique tast according to the type of clay that the cups were made from. When you finished the drink you just threw the cup out of the window and as it disintegrated it would become part of the track. When the monsoon came the clay would be washed back into the holes that it had originally been dug from, only to be recycled again the following season.
Although we had seats that night we were still not able to sleep. The carriage became flooded and we couldn't put our feet down in our sleeping bags because if we did we would get wet. Through the night I also had to run to the toilet a few times because although my stomach bug seemed to be better, I still occasionally found myself having to dash to the toilet more often than usual. Eventually somebody got off and I was able to stretch across the seat and get to sleep. Early the next morning the guy in the sleeper above got off and let me have his place. This was definitely luxury for unlike the luggage racks we had been sleeping in, this had a soft surface specially for sleeping and had some room to put the luggage.
Sunday, 1st December 1968. During the night the train had crossed into the Tropic of Cancer and the change in climate was really noticeable. The carriage became very warm and the combat jacket that I had been wearing all the time in Northern India and Nepal had to be packed away. From now on we would have to concentrate on keeping cool instead of having to dress up to keep warm. We had to wait until the train was at Bombay VT station before we could re-pack our bags as the carriage was so crowded that we had no room to move around until some of the passengers had got off.
When we got out of the station the roads were packed with crowds of people who had all come out to watch the arrival of the cars in the London to Sydney road race. The first few cars to arrive passed us as we were walking along. At one point the crowd pushed out so far into the road that the police waded in and belted them all with sticks to make them move back. Louis and I were right in the middle of that lot as the police hit everybody around us but left us alone, probably because we were foreigners.
I got talking to a guy who said that he was from Ceylon and was only visiting Bombay. He said he was in the Ceylon Air Force and would try to get us a ride to Colombo when he returned in a few days. His name was Gregory and we arrange to meet him later on after we had found a hotel.
The grapevine had recommended the Red Shield hotel, which is run by the Salvation Army. It was just behind the Taj Mahal hotel, which was the most expensive hotel in India. But even the Red Shied was to prove elusive. Apparently it is such good value that it is booked up for months in advance. We eventually found a hotel near VT station and although it was a right hole, it was the best we could find. It consisted of one large room that had been partitioned off into twin bedded cubicles by 10 foot high wooden screens. Although we had visible privacy, it was possible to hear everything that went on in all the other 'rooms'. The shower was a tiled room with a number of large oil drums full of water. An old margarine tin was supplied to scoop water out of the drums to throw over yourself. For that we had to pay 13 rupees per night, which was the most expensive hotel we had stayed in since we arrived in India. Though nothing like the probable cost of the Taj Mahal, it certainly put a dent in our 10 shillings a day living expenses budget and it was to be the first time since leaving home that we would exceed our daily budget.
We got dressed in our best clothes and went out to meet Gregory. He said he would be introducing us to his commanding officer to try to get us on board a plane. On the way we came across a BBC film crew who were covering the race. They had been following it by flying from city to city and were showing severe signs of jet-lag, having slept on aeroplanes since leaving England only 10 days earlier when the race began. They were looking forward to the few days break they would be getting in Bombay while waiting for the ship to Freemantle.
We met Gregory and he told us that he was going to take us to the airport. He borrowed my lighter to light a cigarette but didn't return it again. We headed for the station and we all boarded a train without buying a ticket. Suddenly we were starting to suspect that Gregory was not what he said he was. We got off in some slum like high rise housing estate and went up to a flat on a high floor where we were introduced to a rather improbable commanding officer who couldn't stop giggling. Gregory and the "C.O." went into another room while his wife made us something to eat. It was obvious that he was a fake and we decided to leave. We thanked them very much for the meal and managed to get my cigarette lighter back from Gregory, who I think had hoped I would forget about it, because he had been showing it off in front of all his friends by conspicuously lighting cigarettes all the time.
We eventually found our way back to the centre of Bombay and back to the hotel. It was after midnight and a very hot and sticky night, the warmest one of the trip so far and we felt shattered. Despite the heat we fell asleep very quickly and slept through until after 11 o'clock.
We decided to look for another hotel and spent the next few hours going around looking for one, but everywhere we went was fully booked. We even went to the Indian Government Tourist Office who had always been helpful in the past, but even they couldn't help us. We also enquired about boats to Ceylon but although there was a ferry from Dhanushkodi, near Rameshwarem in South India, it wasn't running during December because it was being refitted. The only alternative was to fly, which was expensive and a bit out of our budget. It looks as though Ceylon is not going to be on the itinerary.
At American Express I received four letters, one from my brother Ian who was at university and had managed to get me a student card. Up to now we had both been using Louis' card. Now I had one of my own.
In the afternoon we continued our search for a new hotel and eventually managed to find one near the Taj Mahal hotel called the Radio Club. It was an improvement on the other hotel, though it cost us 16 rupees for the first night and 14 rupees for subsequent nights, but it was worth it because the price also included breakfast.
We headed back to the old hotel to collect our luggage and had intended to catch the bus, but on the way we were approached by a guy offering to change money on the black market at a rate that seemed to be better than most others. We decided to go with him and walked for miles, eventually ending up in a shop just near our old hotel. Once we arrived at the shop it turned out that the rate was not so good as we had been led to believe, so we didn't change any money.
At the hotel we had some tea before leaving with our luggage to go to the new hotel. This time we did catch a bus for most of the way. The hotel was very near to the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gateway to India and was in a very posh area of Bombay. Once we had checked in we had a wash. We somehow couldn't bring ourselves to using the 'bathroom' in the other hotel.
That night we had a meal in a local restaurant where there was a jukebox. I don't know if it was in our honour or just a coincidence, but somebody kept playing the Beatles record Penny Lane. I had noticed something that day when walking around Bombay, after all the illness of the last few weeks I suddenly felt well again. It seems strange but I did noticeably feel well.
The next morning we had the novelty of having breakfast in bed. That was not expected, but it turned out to be the hotel policy to bring breakfast to the room and it was a good breakfast too, consisting of cornflakes, toast and marmalade, omelette and tea.
We went to the Taj Mahal hotel where all the race drivers were staying in the hope of trying to contact Jack Murray, who we had met in Kabul, but we couldn't get into the hotel without a room card, so we headed off to American Express. On the way we found a street called Steven's Street and had my photograph taken by the street sign. There was no more mail waiting for us and so we started visiting shipping offices to see if there were any ships sailing to Ceylon from anywhere else, but the answer was still the same, nothing until January.
We had a walk around the bazaar and bought five second hand books for 9 rupees. I took them back to the hotel while Louis went to find out about tours to Elephanta Island. We arranged to meet outside the Taj Mahal hotel and while I was waiting I met a guy who was sailing on the M.V. Chusan to Freemantle the next day. We chatted with him until 7 o'clock when we went back to the bazaar to change some money on the black market. We had now run out of cash pounds and had to change travellers' cheques, which didn't give such a good rate. We managed to get 205 rupees for a £10 cheque, which wasn't too bad. We had some cake from one of the street stalls then caught the bus back to our hotel. That evening we both did some laundry before going to bed well after midnight.
After an early morning breakfast in bed we were up and out of the hotel in time to catch the 8.15 ferry to the Elephanta Caves. The ferry was really just a small boat that held about 40 or 50 people all sitting down. It took about 45 minutes to get to the caves and when we arrived we walked up the hill and paid to go in. The caves were quite pretty but it only took a few minutes to look around before we had seen everything we needed to. We found a place where we could buy some tea and biscuits and while sitting there we go chatting to a party of Bombay children who were on a school trip. There was also a party of Russians who were part of a ballet and folk dancing group who were on a world tour. They started to feed the monkeys and we joined in using the biscuits that we had bought at the tea shop. The monkeys would come and take the bits of biscuit out of our hands and then scurry off quickly. At midday we decided that we had seen enough and went back to the boat. It was exactly 12.15 and as soon as we had climbed on board it sailed off immediately but it was almost 1.30 before we arrived back at the Gateway of India.
We then went back to the hotel to collect some mail that we wanted to post before catching the bus to the GPO. As well as letters we also posted some films back to the Kodak processing laboratory in Hemel Hempsted and as usual we arranged for the finished films to be sent to our home addresses. We also had a parcel of travel leaflets that we had collected but it would have cost 17 rupees to send so we decided not to send it.
I then went to American Express to check if there were any new letters for us while Louis went down to the docks to find out what time the Chusan was going to sail. He saw Jack Murray going in and spoke to him for a few minutes. I arrived shortly afterwards and was just in time to see him heading towards the customs. He said hello but he was in too much of a hurry to talk to us. One of the officials who had seen us talking to him told us that we would be able to get a pass to visit him on the ship. But when we went to the office they would only give a pass to one of us, probably suspecting that we were trying to sneak on board to stow away. I was the one to get the pass while Louis chatted to John (from Tehran) who had just got off the ferry from Goa.
I went aboard about 20 minutes before the ship was due to sail and headed straight for the purser's office where I managed to change £20 worth of Sterling Area travellers cheques into cash pounds. This was something that was not possible to do on shore and the cash was enough to get both of us around the rest of India if we changed it on the black market. By this time they were announcing that visitors must get off and I headed for the exit but on the way I bumped into Jack Murray. He was talking to one of the other race driver at the time and he stopped and introduced me to him. He bought me a Coca-Cola, but I had to drink it up quickly because they were making the last call for visitors to leave. I made it to the gangplank just in time because when I reached the bottom they pulled it away from the ship and got ready to sail.
When I found Louis he was still talking to John and so we all went to have a meal together. John told us how wonderful Goa was and we decided that we would head off in that direction after Bombay. After eating we said goodbye to John and started to walk back into the centre of Bombay. On the way I went into a shop to buy some shampoo but when I came out again Louis was nowhere to be seen. Thinking he had maybe gone into another shop I waited around for 20 minutes or so before giving up and heading back to the hotel on my own. Louis arrived back about an hour later and we had a big row about him walking off and leaving me without saying anything.
The next morning breakfast arrived in the wrong order. The omelette and toast arrived before the corn flakes but thinking that it would take ages to get it changed to the correct order we decided to eat it as it came, it was still food after all. After the argument we had last night we decided to go our own way that day. I started by going to the tourist office to find out some more about Goa and as we had decided to hitch hike, to find the best way to get out of Bombay. I then walked down to Marine Drive to take a photo of the Bombay sea front. On the way I came across a snake charmer and tried to take a photograph, but he immediately covered it up and asked for 2 rupees. We tried to haggle but he wouldn't come down in price because that is what the American tourists paid all the time, so I didn't bother, or so he thought. I managed to push the shutter on the camera while it was still at my side. When I eventually got to look at the photos I found that it turned out quite well. I walked along the 3 mile length of Marine Drive and then caught a train back into the City Centre to go back to American Express to check my mail. There was one letter from home that had been posted only two days beforehand and was in fact a reply to the letter I had sent on the first day in Bombay. Presumably because at that time planes couldn't fly such long distances there were a number of flights to and from London each day and mail posted one day would be on the plane the next day and delivered the day after. Not a bad service!
By now I was starting to run out of clean clothes so I decided to spend the rest of the day back at the hotel doing some laundry, which seemed to be a never ending job. As I arrived at the hotel there was an American student checking in who had only just arrived in India. He was a medical student and he was on a 10-week placement with a hospital in Bombay. His name was Mordie and he was Jewish. We chatted for about an hour until Louis returned and then the three of us went out for a meal. It was Mordie's first night in India and we showed him some of the eating places that we had discovered as well as walking around and showing him some of Bombay. We returned to the hotel just after 9 o'clock because Mordie was feeling tired from all the travelling and somebody was picking him up early the next morning to take him to the hospital. By now the washing I had done that afternoon was well and truly dry so we both packed ready for an early start on the road the next day.
Friday 6th December 1968: Mordie woke us up just after 6.30 the next morning on his way out. We ordered our breakfast hoping to get out early, but as with all best laid plans not everything goes to plan. The breakfast took over an hour to arrive and it was almost 10 o'clock before we finally set out. We had been frequenting a tea stand near the hotel where we could get a good cup of tea with a bun, so we decided to have our last cuppa before getting the bus to VT railway station. We then caught the train to Thana and as seemed to be the custom in Bombay, we didn't pay our fare. At Thana we walked across the tracks to the bus stop and caught a bus that took us out to the main Poona road.
It was nice to be hitch hiking again and it was not long before we were given a lift in a jeep. The driver bought us both a Coca Cola when he stopped in a small village and eventually dropped us about 25 miles up the road. After waiting about an hour we were picked up by a lorry and climbed into the back where there were a number of passengers already. There was a woman in the back who started to shout and create. It seems that she objected to our company and so the driver stopped again and made us get off. While waiting for our next lift a couple stopped and offered to take us home for a meal. They were caretakers at a local sanatorium and they prepared us a European style meal of meat, roast potatoes and vegetables, with not a hint of curry or other spices at all.
We spent a few hours with them, then the husband took us to a nearby lorry depot and arranged for us to be taken to Poona in the back of a lorry load of milk cans that were filthy dirty. The truck stopped at a dairy to unload when we were three miles from Poona We spent the next hour helping them to unload all the cans. We also tried to scrounge a drink of milk but without any success. When we set off again the driver offered to take us for a meal but we declined and asked him to take us to a hotel. He dropped us in a part of town where there were a lot of lodges and we managed to find a lodge for 3 rupees each but we had to share the room with two others, both Indians.
The boy at the desk was a Beatles fan and he was over the moon to have two guests from Liverpool. He spoke good English and he knew the words of all the Beatles songs except for "Hey Jude". After we had eaten in the restaurant downstairs, he asked me to listen to the record and I spent the next hour playing parts of the record over and over again while writing down the words for him. For that favour he let us put our valuables in one of the lockers free of charge.
During the night I was driven mad by mosquitoes. It was the first time we had come across them in any great numbers. All I could hear every few minutes was their whine as they flew around looking for a free meal. The next morning my face and feet were covered in bites. The desk boy gave us some tea with bread and jam as a way of saying 'thank you' for writing down the words of 'Hey Jude'
We caught a bus out of town and when we got out onto the road we soon picked up a lift in the back of a lorry for 20 miles. A car driver then stopped for us and when we told him where we were going he told us that we were heading in the wrong direction. We got he map out and he pointed to a road junction about 18 miles back where we should have turned right. We had been happily heading East to Sholapur. He said that he was going another few miles down the road and would then be heading back to Poona and if we wanted to go with him he would be happy to take us. We decided to go with him and after travelling about 10 miles he flagged down a car that was travelling in the opposite direction. It was being driven by an Egyptian friend of his and he took us back almost to the road junction that we had missed. We had to walk about a mile to the correct road and on the way we passed a number of stalls and stopped to buy bananas, ice cream and Coca-Cola. Louis was a faster walker than me and before long he was almost 100 yards ahead of me. I called for him to wait for me but he just carried on and the gap opened up even more. We had an argument about it, shouting to each other over the ever-increasing distance. The next lift was for about 30 miles in a little Fiat car, followed by a truck that was going to Korapur. The driver of the truck dropped us in a small town just before Korapur telling us that there were no hotel in Korapur and that all the hotels were in this town.It turned out that there were no hotels at all in that town so we hitched hiked in the back of a brand new pick up truck into Korapur where we managed to easily find a cheap hotel and a nearby restaruant to have our evening meal.
The next morning we got our first lift almost immediately we had started to walk away from the hotel. It was in an old 'sit up and beg' Ford Prefect that took us to Nipani. We got our next lift within 10 minutes in the back of a lorry that took us to the start of Belgaum. We had to walk through the town and managed to get a lift as we walked. He dropped us in a small village a few miles further along the road. We had some tea and put our luggage down at the side of the road while we hitched. In India it was not uncommon to see vehicles that had no doubt been rebuilt after a crash and the front wheels didn't line up with the back ones. They seemed to travel down the road in a slightly sideways, crablike way and while we waited for a lift one such lorry came along the road with it's rear wheels set off a good few feet to the left. The driver probably was probably not able to judge his peculiar clearance and his rear wheels went straight over Louis' luggage that also had his combat jacket lying on top of it. It bent the frame, burst open the suitcase and broke the bottles of medicine that he had in his jacket pocket. (Louis suffered from a fungal infection on his hand which he needed to paint on some medicine each morning to control it). We managed to get the registration number of the lorry, but we had no way of being able to report it.
Soon after that we got a lift to a small village called Landa. By now it had got dark and we could see lots of fireflys flashing on and off all around. There was very little traffic and we decided to walk to the road junction that was only 2 miles away, but by the time we had walked a hundred yards we got a lift in the back of a crowded truck that took us to the road junction. Many years later I would read in a guide book that it was unsafe to be out in the open in this area at night because this was one of the few parts of India where there were still wild tigers.
At the junction where we had to turn off the main road towards Goa and there was a police checkpost. We went in to report the lorry for damaging Louis' bag, but it seems that we had crossed a state border since then and we were now in Mysore State. To report the incident properly meant us having to go back up the road into Maharashtra. The problem with reporting the incident was compounded by the fact that as soon as we tried to speak to any of the policemen, they suddenly found that they couldn't speak any English. Despite this, the police routinely wrote down the registration number of every vehicle that passed the junction and we were able to check the list, but the offending lorry had not come this far.
The police helped us to get a lift on the back of a lorry load of grapefruits that was heading to Panjim. For the first part of the journey we sat on the top of the fruit, but as we neared the Goa border the evening got cooler and we started to feel cold. We had to catch a ferry over a river and after that the driver let us come and sit inside the cab, which was although warm was not at all comfortable. After a few more stops we eventually arrived in Panjim at 2230 and found a hotel for 6 rupees. We then walked around looking for somwhere to eat but it was too late and nothing was open so we had to settle for a Coca Cola and bed at 2345.
GOA - Paradise soon to be lostThere was no window in the room and we slept through until after 10 o'clock. We had no intention of staying in this hotel and packed our bags before going out. Panjim was a small sleepy town with very little going for it. We went to the Post Office to see if anybody had written to us and met an American who told us that the place to go was Calangute. We went to the tourist office and found that they had some week old English newspapers, which we sat and read for about half an hour. The lady there told us how to get to Calangute and so we went back to the hotel to get our bags. On the way we stopped at the police station to try to report yesterday's accident, but once again we were told that as it had happened in a different state the local police couldn't do anything about it. They did agree to give us a note for the insurance company to prove that we had reported it.
There were no local busses and so we had to walk out of town to catch a ferry to the other side of the river. We bought a bunch of bananas to eat for breakfast and munched away as we walked along. The ferry turned out to be something that looked like an old landing craft that chugged back and forth across the river. On the other side we had to wait about 10 minutes for a taxi to come along, then we had to wait another 15 minutes for it to fill up because it wouldn't set off for Calangute until it was full. We eventually arrived at Calangute at about 3.30. There wasn't very much there at all, just a petrol pump and a square where there was a small market a few times a week. We had to walk the last half mile to the beach past all the old Portuguese villas that had probably once belonged to the merchants and their staff when they used to rule Goa. It was only a few years since the Indian Army had rolled over the border and taken the state over. Calangute was at that time pronounced 'Calangutiy' which was the Portuguese pronouncement.
When we reached the beach there was a newly built Government Tourist Hotel that was all whitewashed and quite posh looking. It was a bit out of our budget so we left the road and headed down the beach to the Royal Hotel, which was where all the backpackers were staying.
The Royal Hotel was a small building, which was primarily a restaurant with a veranda that went all the way around. The roof was flat with stairs at the back of the hotel and on the roof were a number of charpoys. The guest rooms which were in a separate building at the back cost 4 rupees a night, but for just one rupee you could hire a charpoy and bring it down onto the veranda or into the restaurant for the night for shelter in case it rained. We chose to share a room so that we would have somewhere safe to put our luggage. There was no electricity in the hotel and oil lamps provided the only form of lighting. As soon as we had checked in we changed into our swimming costumes and went for a swim. After our swim we sat on the veranda and had some tea and a bite to eat. It was beautiful here with the hotel right on the beach, the sound of waves in the background, palm trees and a clear blue sky. One of the other guests was playing a guitar and was very good, which all helped to set the ambience.
After watching a really beautiful sunset, Louis and I decided to take a walk into Calangute to get something to eat for our evening meal. There was some sort of fair going on and I bought a wooden flute for half a rupee. We returned to the hotel and as we walked along the beach we tried to knock a coconut off a tree. We had found a low palm tree and Louis stood on my shoulders to pick one, but when we got it into our room we couldn't get it open. It turned out that it was not ripe enough to eat yet so we ended up throwing it away. We spent the rest of the evening sitting in the restaurant drinking tea and chatting to the other backpacker guests.
The next few days we spent doing just about nothing. Swimming was out because of a shoal of Portuguese Man of War jellyfish. They just looked like a load of clear plastic bags floating on the surface about a hundred yards offshore. Even though we were told the tentacles only stretched out about ten yard, nobody was prepared to go into the water to see if they reached the shore. Even so, the place was idyllic and a good opportunity to catch up on some sunbathing, reading and writing letters. I even took the opportunity to wash my sleeping bag. I expected it to take a few days to dry, but in the 100 degrees (fahrenheit) temperature, it dried in no time at all and I was able to sleep in it that night, or should I say "on" it. It was too warm to sleep under any covers.
The first morning we were there, Louis took a walk along the beach and bumped into our old friend, Laffy. Having sold his car in Pakistan, he was not short of cash and so he had opted for the relative comfort of the Government Tourist Hotel. He often came over to the Royal Hotel for a drink or a meal, or just to sit and chat and we became quite friendly again.
The food at the Royal Hotel was good too. Lunch often consisted of fish and chips, saving the steak and chips for evening meals. One of the local delicacies in Goa was toffee peanut balls. An Indian guy used to come around to the hotel and sell them for 6 paise each. I used to eat about 15 of them every day.
Thursday 12th December 1998.
We had originally agreed to leave today, but I was enjoying the break from travelling so much, that I decided to stay a bit longer. Louis on the other hand wanted to get on with travelling around India, so we agreed to split up for the next two weeks, arranging to meet outside the G.P.O. in Calcutta on Christmas day. We both had to pack because with Louis leaving, I decided to move out of the room and sleep on a charpoy on the veranda for just one rupee a night. Louis left at about 10.30 am and I walked with him into Calangute where he got a taxi to the ferry. On the way back I got chatting to an English guy called Paul, who had just arrived and was looking for somewhere to stay. He agreed to share the room at the Royal with me. This was handy because I could now stay in the room and not have to worry about the security of my luggage.
By now the jellyfish had drifted off somewhere else and it was safe enough to go in the sea again. After the swim, I walked over to the Tourist Hotel to change a 100-rupee note for smaller change because the Royal Hotel couldn't give me any change. While there I got talking to an Indian businessman and he bought me a drink and a hamburger for lunch. We chatted for about three hours until Laffy joined us. He had left the hotel and was now renting a house near to the beach and invited us to come and visit him. I later decided to walk along the beach to his house, but I wasn't able to find it. At the North end of the beach in Baga, there was a lagoon, but no sign of the house that Laffy described, so I walked back to the hotel, which must have been almost a mile. The beach extended past the hotel for about another 10 miles or more and you could walk all day and hardly see anybody at all. Back at the hotel I found that Paul had decided to rent a house and wanted to opt out of sharing the room. The hotel manager agreed that I could stay on in the room for just two rupees a night until he needed it for somebody else.
The next morning everybody was woken up early by loud blaring music. Somebody was playing Cliff Richard "Congratulations" at full volume. It turned out to be a group of schoolchildren who had come to the beach for a party. They spent the rest of the day playing music at full volume, much to the annoyance of everybody at the hotel. One of the records they played was an Indian group singing a song that went "Down in Maharashtra " that much to everybody's amusement finished up with the words " we have 'swinging' Bombay".
Sleeping on the veranda was quite pleasant, even though I had been woken up one morning by two dogs apparently fighting to the death under my charpoy until the owner came out and hit them with a spade. At night I could watch the waves breaking on the beach and lying there in the moonlight with no street lights around there seemed to be more stars than I had ever seen before, as well as lots of shooting stars.
Over the next week I was to meet numerous backpackers from all over the world. Some were travelling to Europe, some to Australia, and many who were just travelling until they ran out of money, time or whatever. At this time of year a lot of the backpackers around India had decided to head to Goa for Christmas and more arrived every day.
Don Greer was from New York. He had a room to himself and let me to leave my luggage there. I offered to share with him, but he preferred to stay on his own. Don had a very dry sense of humour and we got on well together.
There was an Australian girl called Carry who was staying in a beach house. She was worried in case her cat had rabies because it had bitten her. She went to the hospital in Panjim for an injection, but they told her that cats didn't carry rabies. Don and I didn't agree with that, but she was happy.
There was a Danish couple who had driven out to India and were living in their motor caravan, which was parked outside the Tourist Hotel.
There was the retired American couple who had bought a house near the beach and had come to Goa to live.
A Canadian guy called Coke. I never found out his real name
A Canadian girl from Flin Flon, Man, who smuggled a load of hashish from Katmandu, inside tampax.
Jim, who had driven out from London and had to go to hospital with hepatitis. He had a three-legged dog called Tucker that everybody took pity on and kept it well fed.
A guy from Birmingham who had gone to France for a few days, but got a lift with somebody whom was heading east. His parents were quite surprised to get a letter from India. He decided he would carry on to Australia eventually.
A guy from Syria with whom I would have endless discussions about the Arab-Israeli situation.
And many, many more.
One of the people staying at the Royal had a battery-powered record player and lots of Donovan records. At night while we were all sitting around talking, eating and generally getting stoned, the records would be playing in the background. Now, whenever I hear the song "sunshine superman", I always remember the wonderful eight days spent at the Royal Hotel, Calangute.
Tuesday 17th December 1998.
I had decided to allow myself a week to get to Calcutta for Christmas Eve, and to travel there via Bangalore and Madras. I got up early that morning, said many goodbyes, before setting off on my travels again. I walked into Calangute to get the taxi to Betim. As the taxi trundled along the palm fringed, empty roads, I felt very sad that I was leaving. If I could have gotten in contact with Louis, I would have arranged for a delay in our meeting arrangements and stayed in Goa. As it was, I didn't know where he was, or how to get in touch with him before he got to Calcutta.
At Betim I caught the ferry over to Panjim, then started to walk and hitch at the same time. It would be 29 years before I would return with my wife to a very different Goa. (There is a separate section titled "Goa Revisited in 1997")
From Goa to Calcutta - via Bangalore and Madras
(Note: Madras is now called Chennai)
I soon got a lift to Ponda from an army truck full of milk churns. The next lift took me about 10 miles and dropped me in the middle of nowhere, followed quickly by a covered jeep that took me over the border out of Goa, to a village where there was a police checkpoint. I managed to tear my shirt quite badly while getting out of the back. The shirt was a write off, so I had to open my bag to get a new one out. The next lift was in an empty bus. The driver wouldn't accept any fare from me because he was taking the bus to the terminus at Londa, from where I was able to catch a train. I could have caught a train from Marmagoa in Goa, but I didn't have a timetable and decided that it was quicker to hitch out of the state and catch a train on the main line. The road to Maramgao would have required travelling on more taxis and yet another ferry.
At Londa I tried to get a student concession, but they were not able to issue them there. I was told that I could get the concession forms at Hubli, about 50 miles away. So I bought the only full fare ticket I would pay for in India, only to find that the ticket office had just been painted and I got wet paint all over my arm and watch. The "wet paint" warning signs were in fact prominently displayed, but as they were in Hindi, I hadn't been able to read them.
While waiting for the train to arrive I spent the time trying to wash off the paint and managed to get most of it off before the train arrived. As I was getting on to the train, I met a French girl called Monica. She was also travelling to Hubli to get a student concession. Unlike most other Indian trains, this one was not very full and we managed to find a compartment with two seats. We spent the journey trying to converse in a mixture of English and French, as well as a smattering of assorted other languages when we couldn't find a commonly understood word in one of our own tongues. My French is not very good; neither was her English, but we managed. Monica had a wonderful sense of humour and we laughed most of the way to Hubli. The journey went very quickly.
By the time we arrived in Hubli the concession office was closed and we were unable to get our student concession until the next morning. Rather than hang around we decided to hitch hike the rest of the way to Bangalore. We had a Coca-Cola in the station restaurant, then walked out of town to start hitching. As we walked a group of children started to follow us and each time we stopped more children joined them. Even though we tried to hitch hike, not surprisingly no vehicles stopped for us. They must have thought we were the Pied Pipers of Hubli heading off to the hills with all the local children following us.
Eventually while we were stopped having a drink, a Chinese man came over to us. He had watched us walk up the road with our entourage and decided to take pity on us. It turned out that he was Tibetan, there were two of them working in India and they gave us a lift in their jeep for about 20 miles to a roadside restaurant. We thanked them for rescuing us from the children and said our goodbyes. We decided to have something to eat at the restaurant that was run by Sikhs. We had a meal of chapati and daal, followed by rice pudding. This was something new for me for Indian cuisine, but the Sikhs had made it for themselves and gave us a bit. By the time we had eaten it was almost 11 o'clock. It had been a long day and we were both very tired. It must have showed because the Sikhs offered to let us sleep on some charpoys on the restaurant veranda free of charge. They took our bags inside for safekeeping and we settled down for a night under the stars.
I slept that night like a log. I must have been very tired because the next thing I knew it was morning. Monica was still fast asleep and I had to wake her up when the Sikhs brought us an egg sandwich with some tea for breakfast. The Sikhs wouldn't accept any money for the food or bed and even offered to let us stay with them for Christmas, but none the less, I decided to push on. We were packed and on the road by 7.30 and within 15 minutes we had got a lift in a truck going to Bangalore, that the Sikhs arranged for us. At first the driver asked us for money to take us to Bangalore, but when we refused to pay he said he would take us anyway.
After a few hours travelling we stopped for tea and everybody at the tea stall admired my divers watch and one man tried to buy it for 20 rupees. I decided to decline his offer. The journey was long and boring, the truck rarely exceeding 25 MPH. It was an unseasonably cold day and we were both freezing cold. I had to unpack a pullover and lend my combat jacket to Monica to keep her warm. It was a good opportunity to snuggle together. Just outside Bangalore the truck had a puncture and I helped them to lift the spare tyre down from the roof of the cab. The punctured tyre was completely bald, but the spare tyre was even worse. It had a big repair in the sidewall, which was held together with metal plates, and had bits of canvas showing through.
It was after 10 pm by the time we arrived at the truck's depot in Bangalore. We thanked the driver and took a cycle rickshaw to the station. We had been advised to stay in the railway retiring rooms, but they were too expensive, so we walked down the road and managed to find a lodge. The owner spoke good English and took us both out for a drink of tea. It was almost midnight by the time we got back to the room and we both fell asleep quickly.
The next morning the owner woke us up at 8.30 by bringing us coffee to the room. We chatted to him for a while and he told us the train times to Madras and what to see around Bangalore. We had some breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant and then headed off to the station to get the student concession. We filled in the forms, then the official who dealt with us told us to return at 4pm to collect the concession authority. There were two trains to Madras that day. One at 2 pm and an overnight train that left at 9 pm. We had hoped to get the 2 pm train, but as the concession wouldn't be ready in time we decided to catch the overnight train. We had to check out of the hotel so we took our bags to the station and put them into the left luggage. I then went off to get a haircut, while Monica went off on her own.
At 1 pm I decided to check the station to see if the concessions orders were ready, they were. Because I was using my brother's student card (slightly altered) the concession form read "Mr. Steven Abrams, foriegn student at London School of Economics, member of the British Student's Union".
This meant that we could now catch the 2 pm train to Madras, but there was one problem, I was not due to meet Monica until 3 pm. If I could find her in time we could catch the earlier train. I started to look for her by walking around, but she obviously wasn't going to the same places as me. Eventually it started to rain so I went back to the station and sat on the platform to wait for her. She turned up at 3 pm prompt and we both went to buy the tickets. My ticket right through to Calcutta cost just 23 rupees. Not a bad price for a 1500 mile journey. The man in the ticket office told us the carriage numbers and where we could find them, so we could walk out to the siding and claim a luggage rack. We walked out along the tracks to the siding and found the carriages with the numbers we had been told, but they were locked and we couldn't get on. Back in the station the same ticket office clerk then told us where the train would come in and at what time we should be on the platform to meet it.
By now it was pouring with rain outside and it looked set in for quite a while. We decided to stay in the station restaurant. Monica went to get some tea and managed to get some cake to go with it. I tried to explain the English currency to her. At the time we still used Pounds, Shillings and Pence (£sd). She had never been to England and didn't realise how complicated the money system was. While waiting we met a French couple who had been in Calangute. Monica chatted to the girl in French for a while I talked to her husband. He was telling me that they always travelled on the Indian trains in the Purdah (women only) compartment because there was plenty of room. They got on early before anybody else and got into their sleeping bags and went to sleep. I asked him what would happen if they found him and he said that once he is tucked up in his sleeping bag nobody could tell what sex he is. I wished him luck, but I dread to think what they would do to him if he were caught.
The train eventually came in just where the ticket office clerk said it would. The doors were still locked but we were able to climb through the windows and claim a pair of luggage racks to sleep for the night. I left Monica to keep our places while I went to get some tea for us both. I had to go out of the station to find somewhere open and bumped into a boy from Birmingham. He was the one I had met in Goa who had originally set out for a short holiday in France. He had just arrived in Bangalore and was intending to stay for a few days to look around. Back at the train we settled down for the night on our respective luggage racks. All the long distance Indian trains I had travelled on so far had fans mounted on the ceiling. I had yet to see any of these fans working, and the ones in this train were no exception. As I always did, I tied my shoelaces together and hung my shoes over the fan at night while I slept. In the middle of the night there was a terrible commotion in the carriage that woke me up. During the night the fans had started running and my shoes were flung across the carriage, "kicking" a number of people in their travels. The people they had hit were startled and had shouted out and everybody was trying to find out who's shoes they were. When I claimed them they were very angry and shouted at me in their own language, which I didn't understand at all. Eventually things settled down and I went back to sleep again.
The train took all night to get to Madras as it chugged slowly through the Travadi Hills. There was a brief stop at Vellore where the usual bedlam of people getting on and off the train briefly woke me up. By now I had got used to the sound of fifty yelling and shouting people all trying to battle through the same narrow door all at once and I soon went back to sleep again. In our carriage there were bars across the windows, so at least nobody was able to climb in that way.
Early the next morning we arrived in Madras. Despite the occasional disturbance I had managed to have a good night sleep on the train and felt quite refreshed, though in need of a good wash. Monica on the other hand was feeling like a rag. I think it was the first time she had travelled overnight in India and she hadn't been very happy on the luggage rack. She hadn't managed to get any sleep that night and all she wanted to do was find somewhere to flop down and close her eyes for a few hours. After I had put my luggage in the station left luggage office, I went to find a hotel for her. Although she spoke some English, her French accent was not easily understood by the Indians, so I did the talking for her. I found her a hotel not far from the station and she immediately lay on the bed and went straight to sleep. While she slept I used her bathroom to take a much-needed shower.
Feeling refreshed from the shower, I left Monica to sleep for the day and headed off to find the GPO to collect my mail. Madras post restante was my first mail collection point since Bombay and I was looking forward to hearing some news from home. It was quite a disappointment when as soon as I handed over my passport the post restante official told me that there was no mail for me. I asked him how he knew without first looking in the A box. He replied that there was nothing at all in the A box, nor for that matter in the S (for Steven) box. I leaned over the counter to have a look and saw that there was hardly any mail at all in any of the boxes in the foreign mail section except for one box, which seemed to be overloaded. I asked what box that was and was told it was the M box. Nearly all the mail was for people with a surname beginning M, which I found hard to believe. I persuaded him to let me look through some of the M mail, only to find that anything addressed to Mr. Mrs. Miss Mme. Mlle, etc had been put in M box. That meant that more than 90% of the letters were totally wrongly allocated. I pointed this error out to him and fortunately he accepted my explanation. We spent the next half-hour or more sorting out the foreign mail into the correct boxes. Apart from all the mail in the M box, there was also another box full under the counter. Lo and behold, when we had finished there were three letters for me, which made all the effort worthwhile.
Outside the GPO I met an Indian gentleman who had been in the same compartment on the train the night before. He asked me to join him for breakfast and when I agreed he called a taxi to take us to the sea front, where we had a large breakfast in one of the beach front cafes. Parked outside the cafe was a Volkswagen camper van bearing the usual oval German Z number plates. Part way through the breakfast the two occupants of the van came into the cafe for their breakfast and sat at the next table. They were from New Zealand and were driving home and were in Madras to get the ferry across to Penang. We all chatted for about half an hour, then went down to the beach for a paddle. Considering that we were well inside the Tropic of Cancer and only about 750 miles from the equator, I was quite surprised to find that the water was cold. We had a short walk along the beach before saying goodbye and thank you to the Indian gentleman.
Prohibition was in force in a lot of Indian states, and Madras was one
such "dry" state. In most of these states it was possible for
foreigners to register as alcoholics and receive a permit to buy up to
two bottles of liquor per day from specially licensed shops. The Government
of India Tourist Office issued the liquor permits, which was my next call.
In exchange for one passport photograph I was declared an alcoholic and
received my permit. I had been given the address of a shop near the YMCA
where the owner would pay to use my permit, which is where I went to straight
from the tourist office. The shop owner took me to the liquor shop and
bought two bottles of whiskey on my permit, for which he paid me 16 rupees.
After making some money I decided to celebrate by buying myself a bar of Cadbury's chocolate for 50 paise. It was the first chocolate bar I had eaten since leaving England and it was a disappointment. Although it was Cadbury's chocolate, it tasted nothing like the chocolate in England. It was later explained to me that it had to be made to a different recipe to prevent it from melting in the heat of the Indian climate. If they used the same recipe as in England, it would just turn to liquid. Many years later I would be able to prove this theory when I was given a bar of Cadbury's chocolate with an airline meal on the way to Goa. I didn't eat it at the time but kept it for later. When I removed the bar from my hand luggage in the hotel in Goa it would have been possible to drink the contents.
I then caught the bus to the railway station to arrange for a student concession permit for the train to Calcutta that night. Even though I already had a ticket to Calcutta, I figured that I may be able to sell the concession to somebody. While I was there I met a New Zealander (Kiwi) called Charles who with his wife Jenny, was also hoping to get the same train. The concession permit would not be ready for a few hours, so we decided to use the time to go and have a meal together. When we went back to collect the concessions I noticed that my concession was made out to Mr and Mrs Abrams. The official issuing them seeing that the Kiwi was asking for permits for him and his wife must have also assumed that I also had a wife travelling with me. When I pointed out the mistake he told me that although the concession was for two, there wouldn't be any problems buying a ticket for only one person.
I then went back to the hotel to say goodbye to Monica. She was heading off to Pondicherry, a former French colony some 50 miles south of Madras. Like the Portuguese in Goa, the French had now gone away, but all the French travellers seemed to head that way though it didn't seem to hold the same attraction to other nationalities. When I got to the hotel, Monica had gone out to get something to eat after having slept all day. I left a goodbye note for her and went back to the station to get my luggage and catch the train to Calcutta.
At the ticket office there was an Australian guy also wanting to travel to Calcutta. He didn't have a concession form so I offered to buy his ticket on my form, thus saving him 50% of the fare. In exchange he agreed to buy me some food and drinks on the train up to the value of the saving. We then went to the platform for the train and met Monica. She had read the note and had hurried to the station to say goodbye. She was all dressed in frills and ribbons and looked totally out of place. Even the Indians, who were used to seeing hippies dressed in strange clothes, turned to stare at her. The Kiwi couple were also there and we all found a carriage together. Although there were people sitting in the seats already, they were squatters who had claimed the seats earlier in the day so as to be able to sell them to travellers. I had been warned about them in advance and was told that the going rate was 50 paise per seat. The initial asking price was twenty time that amount, and being foreigners the price didn't drop very much at all until the five of us physically removed the squatters from the seats. At first we refused to pay them anything and they hung around us almost until departure time, when they were glad to receive the 50 paise going rate. Monica stayed with us until the train left. As the train pulled out at the start of its 50-hour journey, she walked alongside waving to me until the train gathered speed and she was left behind. I do hope she made it safely to Pondicherry.
The train was packed and that night we all had to sleep sitting upright, which is something I have never been able to do for long. The other three seemed to be happy sleeping upright and slept for most of the night. It was also freezing cold. The window was jammed open and nothing I could do would shift it. As I had the window seat facing direction of travel, the slipstream blew in on me all night. Even with a pullover on I couldn't get warm. Jenny and Charles snuggled up to each other to keep warm, but although the Aussie guy was sitting next to me, somehow I didn't feel like snuggling up to him at all. The next morning the Indian guy in the luggage rack above got down and let me sleep in it for the day. In fact I slept right through until almost 4 pm when a man got on carrying loads of parcels and proceed to hold an auction sale right in the middle of the carriage. I don't know what on earth he was selling, but business was certainly brisk.
As the train was slowing down on the approach to Vishakhapatnam everybody seemed to come to life. Somebody shouted something out and suddenly people were jumping down from the roof of the moving train. Passengers were throwing luggage out of the window and climbing out after it. All hell seemed to be breaking loose. Everybody was shouting in their own language and I was beginning to think that maybe I should also be considering abandoning train. The only reason I didn't was because some other people were sitting it out and seemed to be laughing themselves silly. When the train finally pulled into the station the reason became obvious. The platform was lined with ticket inspectors. It was a raid. I have already said that most passengers in India don't bother to buy a ticket. These were the ones that had jumped off. The train now seemed quite empty as the inspectors moved through the carriages checking the tickets of the remaining passengers. They did remove a few protesting people who were either deaf, blind, or too infirm to jump from a moving train. Afterwards, as the train pulled out of the station to continue the journey, it slowed down briefly to allow all the evacuees to climb back on. Having walked around the station they were waiting en mass at the trackside to re-board.
Sunday 22nd December 1968
As the journey progressed and people got off there was a little more room to be able to stretch out on the second night and get a bit of sleep. It was still not ideal though and I was glad when we eventually arrived a mere two hours late at 11.15 am into Calcutta's Howrah station. I said goodbye to Jenny and Charles and went to find some transport into Calcutta. Howrah station is on the other side of the Hooghly River to Calcutta just the other side of a large metal bridge called the Howrah Bridge. It was a bit further than I would want to walk after a not too good night's sleep. A rickshaw driver offered to take me over the bridge into Calcutta for 1 rupee and I accepted, thinking it would be one of the usual cycle rickshaws that I had seen everywhere else in India. The rickshaw turned out to be one of those that are pulled by the driver. The poor man struggled through the traffic, almost coming to a stop trying to pull the thing up the sligh hill leading to the brow of the bridge, and struggling just as hard on the other side to stop the rickshaw from running him over. Eventually my conscience got the better of me and I called him to a stop at Chitpoor Road, near the Nakhoda Mosque, and paid him his rupee. After a short walk I found the Rajastan Guest House where I was able to get a dormitory bed for just 3 rupees a night
Having hardly slept for the last few days, I immediately lay down and slept for a few hours. The other people in the dormitory were all travellers like myself, and later in the day I got chatting to a Jewish boy from Paris. Together with two German guys, we went out to find somewhere to have a bite for lunch. One of the Germans had to leave early to go to Howrah station to catch a train, so we decided to go to the station to eat. While seeing the German off we met a group of Americans who had been working in Malaysia for the last two years. We all chatted for a few hours before catching the tram back to the hotel. That evening I went out with the remaining German and the French guy to eat. I showed them the way to make rice pudding by ordering a plate of rice and a glass of hot milk, then adding sugar. It made for a cheap meal and was a welcome break from some of the spicy Indian food I had been eating lately.
As we arrived back at the hotel there was a black South African family just checking in. The two daughters were beautiful and the Frenchman started to chat them up straight away.
Although I had arranged to meet Louis outside the GPO in Calcutta at noon on Christmas day, I had arrived a few days early, but just in case Louis had also arrived early I decided to make the first rendezvous at noon on Monday 23rd December. Louis wasn't there, so I decided to leave a letter for him both at the GPO post restante and at American Express to tell him where I was staying, in case he arrived at any other time and checked his mail first.
I then went to various airlines to check the flights out of Calcutta. We had effectively reached the end of the road here. Although it was possible to travel up to East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh) it was very difficult to get the permits to do so. Even if we did go that way, the road through Burma was not passable and anyway, the border was closed. It was just not possible to visit Burma as a tourist at that time. The only exception was if were to fly to Bangkok with Union of Burma Airways (UBA). They didn't have a direct flight and we would have to make a connection in Rangoon. If we flew out on the Tuesday or Sunday flight, the connection was the next day and the airline would put us in a Rangoon hotel overnight as long as we had a transit visa. UBA would also give a 25% student discount, but instead of the hotel you would have to sleep in the airline office or pay for a hotel yourself.
With that in mind I went to the UBA office in Chowringi. It was well hidden, down an alley and up some stairs, but they confirmed the information I had been given. To get a student discount though, I would need a letter from my college or university, or get the British High Commission to issue a letter confirming my student card was genuine. Unfortunately the British High Commission in Calcutta had been inundated with travellers asking for such letters and had a notice outside the consular office saying they would make a two pounds charge for the letters and payment had to be made in sterling. If we wanted to pay in rupees we would have to provide a bank receipt to prove that they had not been bought on the black market. Airlines also wanted payment for international flights in a similar way. Needless to say, I hadn't changed any rupees officially the whole time I was in India.
In Lou's absence I decided that UBA was going to be the way out of Calcutta. The fare was US$84, or $63 with student discount. I provisionally booked 2 seats on the flight for the following Sunday. We could buy the tickets as late as the day before. I then went to the Burma Embassy to apply for a visa. The visa cost 15.75 rupees, and required two passport photos. I filled in the form was told to come back to collect it in two hours time because the consul was at lunch.
Somewhere on my travels I had lost the flashgun from my camera. It was quite an expensive unit and it was insured. To be able to claim I would have to get a police report to prove that I had reported its loss. While waiting for the visa I visited the Calcutta police. They gave me a receipt to prove that I had reported it. Now all I needed to do is find a Prudential Insurance Company office to make the claim. I decided to leave it until either Singapore or Australia. If I claimed in India I would probably be paid out in rupees that I wouldn't be able to exchange for foreign currency. And speaking of currency, I changed £1 for 21.5 rupees with a man standing on a corner in Chowringe.
I went back to the hotel and tried to write a letter home. The German I had been speaking to yesterday was just leaving to catch his flight to Bangkok. He was going with Thai International, who also gave a student discount, and stopped in Rangoon, but you couldn't leave the airport if you flew with them. They did give all their passengers a nice flight bag and a pair of slippers to wear on the plane. In the 1960's it was not uncommon for airlines to give free flight bags and gifts to passengers.
There was a new guy in the dormitory that spoke with a broad Birmingham accent. Strangely enough he turned out to be an Australian who had been working in Birmingham for a while and managed to pick up the accent. He was going shopping for a mosquito net, so I decided to abandon the letter writing and join him. We went to the marked where I managed to get a good net for just 6.75 rupees. It was like a tent made from net curtains, with a tag to fasten a string at each corner so it went around the bed in a rectangle, not the circular type that hangs from a single hook. Apart from when I was in Poona, mosquitoes hadn't effected me much until Calcutta, where I had been bitten a few times during the previous night. That situation was soon to change and the mozzy net was probably to be one of the most important pieces of kit that I carried. On the way back from the market I bought a bag of crisps to eat. I think they must have been chilli flavour or something like that, for they were red hot and by the time I had eaten a few of them I felt as though steam was coming out of my ears. Needless to say I didn't finish the pack.
Back at the hotel I met Fred, the Australian owner. He had been living in Calcutta for more than 30 years. I had found that hotel by accident, but it was one of the hotels that were recommended on the "grapevine". He had a list of places to stay all along the route, some of them I had stayed in already. He gave me a card for hotel to stay in Bangkok and I took details from him for other places along the proposed route. In the dormitory I erected the mosquito net for the first time. It felt strange sleeping in it. I must have looked like an animal in a cage and it did keep the mozzys off me that night, but it also had the effect of keeping the bed bugs in. It seems that the bed I was sleeping in was one that was infested with them. During the night I found a few of them on the inside of the net and decided to move to another empty bed in the middle of the night.
The next day a few of us carried the offending bed bug ridden bed to one of the empty rooms that was open and swapped it for a bug free bed. A number of guests had left early to catch the Bangkok plane. I sat around and read until it was time to go to the GPO to see if Lou had arrived. He wasn't there, but I managed to find a piece of chalk and scrawled a message for him on the wall in case he arrived later. I tried to phone Ashok Agarwal, the Indian boy we had met in Salzburg and travelled with to Zagreb. I couldn't get through at first, and then I got a wrong number - twice, before giving up. I had a long walk around Calcutta before returning to the hotel. That night I slept under the net and the mozzys stayed outside, and there were no bed bugs inside.
Christmas Day 1968.
There was a new guy in the dorm, a Liverpudlian no less. His name was John. There was also two more Scousers, Alex and Mike, staying in one of the rooms upstairs. (Scouser is another name for people from Liverpool). Alex and Mike had found a bakery that was open where they made fresh bread that tasted delicious. They had managed to find some Irish butter and some cheese. I had not come across any of these things since leaving England and it made a strange but enjoyable Christmas dinner. As soon as we had finished the loaf, Mike and Alex headed off to the airport to catch the plane to Bangkok. I would come across these two many times over the coming years. I even worked with Mike for many months in Darwin, Australia, and visit him and his new wife in Tokyo. Alex I would meet in Darwin, Sydney and eventually bump into a number of times back in Liverpool.
John was going to the Indonesian Embassy and he walked with me to the GPO, and this time Lou was there. Even though he was standing right in front of the chalked message, he had not noticed it on the wall. John went on to the Embassy, and Lou came back to the hotel with me. We spent the afternoon washing our dirty clothes, which in Lou's case was just about everything. In the evening we went out with John for a Tibetan curry, which was much nicer than an Indian curry. On the way back to the hotel we saw a fight, and joined the crowds that stood around watching it. We bought a large fruit cake and back at the hotel we ordered some tea and invited Fred to join us.
Early the next morning a lorry came down the street, but it was no ordinary lorry. In Calcutta and all over India there are people who live on the streets. In fact you can sometimes see whole families living on the street. At least they don't have the cold weather of Europe to deal with. Occasionally I would see somebody who I thought was asleep with their blanket pulled up over their heads and tucked in tight, with a begging bowl beside them. I often wondered how they managed to tuck themselves in so well before going to sleep, but dismissed any further thought because India is a truly wondrous country and people do many strange things. What I hadn't realised was that these were street people who had died. They were wrapped up and a bowl place beside them to collect for their cremation. One of these had appeared outside the hotel the day before and this lorry had come to collect him. Two of the men from the lorry lifted the body into the back while the driver collected the begging bowl. At this moment somebody ran down the street and snatched the bowl with the collected money out of the driver's hands, then ran away. The three men from the lorry got into a huddle to discuss what to do. They then climbed into the back of the lorry and lifted the body down again. Another bowl was place beside him and the lorry drove off. At this moment Fred came running out of the hotel and chased the lorry down the street. Because there are people teeming all over the road, traffic moves very slowly in the side roads and he was able to catch them up without too much difficulty. He then had a heated discussion with them. He was concerned that if the body were left much longer in the heat of the day it would start to smell. Eventually a price was agreed so Fred paid for the cremation and the lorry came back to collect the body again.
After the excitement, Lou and I went to Amex to check mail. Lou had asked his father to post him some of the anti fungal medicine he used to paint on his finger. At Amex there was a demand for Lou to pay a huge sum in customs duty. We then had to go to the customs department at the GPO to sort it all out. Eventually we managed to persuade them to cancel the duty as it was essential medicine and that we were taking it out of India again in a few days. We got the necessary form to give to Amex so they could release it. On opening the parcel we found that Lou's dad had transferred the medicine from a glass bottle to a plastic on that was lighter and wouldn't get damaged in the post. What he hadn't realised was that the medicine would dissolve the plastic bottle, rendering the contents of the parcel into a solid blob of plastic goo. Lou was distraught. He suffered badly from this fungal infection and the medicine was the only thing that seemed to keep it under control. In fact once he stopped using the medicine, within a short time the finger flared up quite badly, then got better again and never gave any more trouble.
Next we started to head to the Burmese Embassy to get Lou's visa. On the way we saw the Land Rover boys from Lahore. They gave us a lift to the embassy, explaining on the way that they were headed back to Kathmandu to sell the Land Rover. The high cost of shipping it on from India had proved too much and they decided to sell up, share the proceeds and split up once the Land Rover had been sold. When they were in Kathmandu a few weeks before there was no shortage of buyers for Land Rovers and they felt confident of getting a fair price.
After Lou applied for his visa, we went back to the hotel. It was too late to get one the same day and he was told to come back the next day. Now we had to find a letter for UBA, and we didn't want to pay the price asked by the British High Commission. We asked Fred at the hotel for advice and he took me around to a local printer. In no time we had designed a letterhead for the Liverpool College of Art (I had attended there a few years earlier) and agreed a price of 8 rupees. We returned later that day to collect 20 beautifully thermographed letterheads and when the owner found out that I was a printer; he gave me a guided tour of his print shop. He also gave me a 2 rupee "trade" discount, so we only had to pay 6 rupees. Fred then lent us a typewriter that must have come out of the ark, and I typed a letter each for Lou and I saying that we were both students.
When we left England we had been told that Indonesia did not issue tourist visas and that we would either have to sail or fly once we got to Singapore. John had told us that Indonesia were shortly to start issuing visas for tourists, which meant that the overland route could be taken to within 400 miles of Australia. If we could get across to Indonesia we could island hop down the archipelago to Timor and fly the last bit into Darwin. We tried to phone the Indonesian Embassy to enquire, but as soon as I asked about a visa the person at the other end rudely just put the phone down without saying a word.
We had become friendly with the South Africans upstairs, and they were leaving the next day. The two girls asked to take our photographs and we went outside. We also took their photos and while I was taking the photograph of them, a bullock cart came along the road and sent me flying. The girl's father took a photo of me being knocked over, but I have never seen it. There was no damage or injuries caused.
Later that evening we went back to the Tibetan restaurant for a meal. John and I decided to go to the pictures to see Hurry Sundown, while Lou went off to do his own thing. We bought a loaf of bread to eat during the film. It was after midnight before we got back to the hotel, but Lou didn't get in until much later. I don't know where he had been. Calcutta tends to sleep at night. It is not a city renowned for its nightlife.
The next morning Lou had diarrhoea. I went to the Burmese embassy to collect his passport, but they wouldn't give it to me without a letter of authority from Lou. So back to the hotel where Lou wrote me the letter. He also signed over a £25 traveller's cheque to pay for the UBA plane fare. The Burmese embassy gave me the passport and I went to UBA to buy the tickets. They wouldn't accept the traveller's cheque, but insisted on rupees and a bank receipt. So off I toddle to Amex to change the traveller's cheques. At Amex they asked what I wanted to cash the cheques for and when I told them they issued a banker's draft in rupees to UBA and a foreign exchange bank receipt. I then took this back to UBA who were not at all happy because Amex had deducted travel agents commission from the cheque. They still issued the tickets and accepted the letters from the College.
When I got back to the hotel Fred was waiting for me. He had some Jewish friends in Calcutta and they had asked Lou and I to come and visit them. He took us for miles on the tram and we had a wonderful evening. Being Friday night they had lit candles for the Sabbath. We suggested that it would be nice if we went to the Synagogue the next morning, but apparently the service starts at first light. By the time we had got up it would have all been over. As we didn't know where the Synagogue was and nor did we feel like getting up so early, we decided to give it a miss. The trams had stopped running when we left them so we had a one hour walk back to the hotel. On the way we walked up Chowringi and saw some busses going along empty. During the day there are so many people hanging on to the left side of the bus that they all travel along permanently leaning to the left. The same busses travelling empty at night lean to the right because of the strengthened springs on the left. Back at the hotel Fred found that he had forgotten his key and the door had been locked. We banged on the door and John let us in. There had also been two new arrivals while we had been out. Doug from Australia, and Colin from London.
In the morning we made one final check of Amex, but there was no mail for us. We then went around a number of pharmacies to see if Lou could get his medicine, but it was not available in India. Somebody had told us that we needed a permit to enter Australia and that it was free in India because it was a Commonwealth country, but that if we applied in Thailand it would cost $20. We were looking for the Australian High Commission when an Indian in a chauffeur driven car stopped and asked us where we were looking for. He gave us a lift to the Australian High Commission, but it was closed. He then went into a shop and made a number of phone calls to try to find out for us, but being a Saturday he couldn't get any information.
We then tried to look up Ashok and managed to find his home, but he was not in. His mother said he would be home in half an hour so we walked around the area for a while before going back again. He was still not in when we returned but his mother invited us in for to wait. After waiting for nearly an hour we decided to give up.
We went to the market to buy Lou a mozzy net and at the same time I bought two shirts for 6.5 rupees. We each changed £6 on the black market, getting 22.5 rupees to the pound. We had heard that at the airport we could change up to $12 worth of rupees back without a bank receipt. I then left Lou to shop for a sari to send to his girl friend in England, while I returned to the hotel.
When Lou returned at 8.30, John, Colin, Doug, Lou and myself all went out for our final meal at the Tibetan restaurant. Afterwards when we went back to the hotel, Colin got out his guitar and played for us. I joined in some tunes with my flageolet and Lou managed to find a chamber pot which he played like a drum. Doug got out his mouth organd and before we knew it, we had a band. We decided to go outside in our bathing costumes and entertain the locals and although we attracted a large crowd, when we handed the hat around we didn't collect a thing. A group of Sikhs invited us to come and play in their cafe and we got a good round of applause. It was after 2 am before we finally went to bed.
Sunday 29th December 1968.
After the night before I don't know how we managed it, but at 6 am we got up and packed. We paid our bill and said goodbye to Fred. Louis left just before 7 because he wanted to walk to the UBA office. I didn't leave until 7.20 and caught the tram. We both arrived at the UBA office at the same time from opposite directions. We both checked in and then went to get some breakfast, returning at 8 to catch the bus to the airport.
Dum Dum is Calcutta International Airport. At the time is was about the same size and a similar design to Liverpool Speke Airport. As we had already checked in at the airline office we were able to go straight through into the departure lounge where we could change our remaining rupees back to dollars at the official bank rate. As a result I made a $4 profit, having bought them on the black market. I did have a bit of trouble at passport control because I had grown a beard since my passport was issued and the photo didn't show a beard.
Our travelling companions for the flight were a group from England who had travelled out to Calcutta on an organised tour in a converted army truck and they seemed very friendly. They had paid the full fare and were spending the night in the Orient hotel in Rangoon. One of them had a short wave radio and we were able to listen to the BBC World service news. The news was all about Britain being swept by blizzards. Because of the time difference most people at home were still in bed (5.30 am) and didn't yet know about the weather that they were going to wake up to. I couldn't help feeling that here I was sitting in Calcutta airport and I knew about the snow before my parents. I could just imagine my father in the morning digging out his car before setting off to work, and the usual problem of having to also dig out the neighbours cars that would get stuck in the middle of the road so he could get passed. Ho hum!
The plane was a Vickers Viscount, a turbo prop, and it took off about half an hour late. We had a good view of mouths of the Ganges as the plane headed out across the Bay of Bengal en-route to Rangoon, passing close to Chittagong and Cox's Bazaar in East Pakistan.
Soon after take off we were served a meal which could either be a late breakfast or early lunch. It was an omelette with all sorts of vegetables. We also had an English language newspaper to read all about the snow back home. I spent the rest of the flight writing a letter home.
Goa to Calcutta