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Letter From Agra

Amritzar - Delhi - Agra

From a letter home dated Thursday 25-8-1966

Agra, India

We have now been back in India for four days and are at present in Agra, city of the Taj Mahal. We landed at Amritzar in the Punjab last Monday but only spent the one day there, as we had covered it pretty thoroughly last time. Around Amritzar we could see little evidence of the Indo-Pak war of last year, though there must have been quite a few skirmishes in the area, if not more intense fighting. We revisited the magnificent Golden Temple of the Sikhs in the afternoon, then got caught in a deluge, which caused local flooding, when we visited Jallianwala Bagh, a garden where an infamous massacre took place in 1919. Took the night train to Delhi, arriving early on Tuesday morning.

During two days in Delhi we met again some American friends working for the US Aid program; their two years of service in India are just ending. They are returning home in a week or so, so they were in the last hectic days of preparation - no time for us to arrive. Anyway, we had dinner with them on both nights and enjoyed it very much. Yesterday morning we came down to Agra, only a three hour rail journey from Delhi. In the afternoon we took a bus out to the perfectly preserved Moghul city of Fatepur Sikri, an architectural marvel, and tried to get a glimpse of the Taj by moonlight last night, but we went too late and the gates were closed. We are going down again in a few minutes time, as soon as I finish this letter.

After Agra we go to Jaipur, then Jodhpur, then Ahmedabad, Bombay & Poona. We have managed to get concession rates on the trains, so fares are working out very cheaply. We have been staying in retiring rooms on the railway stations, which are cheap and comfortable. India does not seem at all strange to me the second time round, and it is almost as if I had never left.

Wednesday the 24th was exactly two years from the day I sailed from Sydney. Did you think of it?

We are both well and hope you are too,

Love to all, John (next letter from Poona)

The Red Fort in Delhi

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The Lahore Gate

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The Diwan-i-khas (private audience hall)

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Turning grass into lawn, Indian style

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The Taj Mahal, Agra

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Fatehpur Sikri

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The 54 m high "Great Gate" to Fatehpur Sikri, the Buland Darwaza

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Mariam's House and Imperial Harem Complex beyond

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The Diwan -i-khas , Akbar's private audience hall

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Posted by Ozac 03:46 Archived in India Comments (0)

Letter From Poona

Rajasthan - Gujarat - Maharashtra

From a letter home dated 11-9-1966

Poona, Maharashtra, India

We arrived in Poona 2 days ago and it was wonderful to read the great pile of letters that were waiting for me here. It is exactly 2 years today since we last arrived in this city, and our friends Ram and Nuruddin are just the same.

After leaving Agra we went to Jaipur in Rajasthan State. The people of that area are extremely colourful, all wearing turbans or saris of brilliant green, red ,orange, purple, yellow and other colours. Being a very arid region, there are also lots of camels, but the brilliant colours are definitely the thing I noticed most. There are some interesting buildings, predominantly pink , and an extraordinary observatory complex, the Jantar Mantar, built in the early 18thC. We made a brief visit to the desert city of Jodhpur, where we had a contact from a friend in London who had lived there for a number of years, and then stopped off at Abu Road, to visit the amazing, carved marble, temples of the Jains at Mount Abu, before moving on to Ahmedabad.

On the train from Ahmedabad to Bombay we met a Spanish missionary Jesuit from Baroda, who persuaded us to break our journey at his station and stay overnight. We ended up remaining for three days. This was because the day after we arrived I suddenly felt violently ill - headache, vomiting, hot flushes, then cold chills. I thought, and so did everyone else, that it was malaria. Fortunately, close by the priest’s house, there was a dispensary run by Spanish nuns, and they gave me an injection and filled me up with pills. That night I had a temperature of 103 and was delirious. However, next morning I was a good deal better and they decided it was not malaria but just bad sunstroke. We had been out in the heat much of the day visiting the Laxmi Vilas Palace and the palace zoo. It took me two more days to recover completely. I think I was very lucky that we were in a place where I could be looked after. The Jesuit’s sister was visiting from Spain and she was particularly caring, nursing me through the delirium.

The last day we were there the priest took us to visit a leper colony. If there is any place in this world that makes you realize how fortunate you are it is a leper colony - these poor creatures with dreadfully deformed faces hobbling about on footless stumps and raising fingerless hands to you in greeting. There was only one doctor to some 600 patients and they lived in wretched lean-to huts in the worst poverty imaginable. I came away feeling very depressed.

I think that the international newspaper reports about famine in India might have been exaggerating. We have seen no starvation and if anything, there are less beggars than there were two years ago. This is not to say that conditions here are good. There is certainly a rice shortage and it is rationed. Two days a week it cannot be obtained in restaurants and everyone is only allowed to buy a certain amount each week. However, we were told that if the rice grown here was being properly distributed there would have been no need to import from America. But many states which have a grain surplus have not been sending it to other states and it has been rotting in storage.

In Bombay we stayed with the family of a wealthy textile exporter that we met last time and had a very good four days there, despite the fact that the monsoons have now come in force and it was mostly pouring with rain. Needless to say, we were very grateful for their hospitality. Then we came by train down to Poona, repeating the first land leg of our original trip - much more relaxed about it this time!

Yesterday, with Nuruddin, we climbed a 3000 ft. mountain outside Poona to a fort at the top called Sinhagad. We did it last time, but thought we should do it again to get in training for our coming walk in Nepal. We found it pretty strenuous but we managed about 1000 ft. per hour. It was more a steep walk than a climb.

We are to give a talk on Monday night to about 60 members of the Foyle Club of Poona. Ade is talking on Australia and I am talking on our travels in the Middle East and North Africa. I am dreading it. This morning we were interviewed by a local magazine here. Ram said he would send us the clipping. Only trouble is that it will be in Hindi, not in English.

We leave Poona next Wednesday to go to Hyderabad in Central India, a part we have not been before. You can start using the Nepal address now which is on the back. We are both well, glad to know you are too.

Love to all, John

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Jaipur

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The Hawa Mahal - Palace of the Winds

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Street traffic, Hawa Mahal

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(above & below) Jai Singh's Observatory, The Jantar Mantar

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Mount Abu

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Carved marble ceiling in Dilwara Jain temple

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Dilwara temple interior with carved marble columns

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Some of the local langurs

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Posted by Ozac 15:01 Archived in India Comments (0)

Letter From Lucknow

Hyderabad - Allahabad - Benares - Lucknow

From a letter home dated 23-9-1966

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India

After leaving our friend Ram, an excellent dentist, in Poona and heading for Hyderabad in Central India, wouldn’t you know it, I got a toothache. I suffered it all night on the train and next day went all over Hyderabad looking for a decent dental clinic. All I could find were ones with archaic pedal drills that looked like mediaeval torture machines. One dentist who probed around for a bit gave me something called ‘Dr. Vincent’s magic toothache remedy’, a phial of yellowy green liquid with bits of insect suspended in it, and the others I found were hardly better, so I gave up any hope of getting proper treatment in Hyderabad. I suffered the toothache on and off for 5 days, mostly on, and at one point was thinking of going all the way back to Ram in Poona or all the way on to Delhi to find someone there who knew what he was doing. Anyway, it finally settled down. It wasn’t a hole, all the ‘dentists’ agreed on that, so it was probably some infection in the root or gum, as it was affecting three of my back teeth. It will probably recur eventually, but let’s hope I am home by that time. This part of India, it seems, is no place to get a toothache.

Hyderabad, capital of the largest and richest of the old princely states, seemed ironically to be overrun with beggars, particularly in the area around the famous Charminar, a monumental piece of Indo-Islamic architecture in the old city centre. We escaped the dust and chaos of the streets for a while by climbing to the galleries and mosque on the upper levels, and were afforded some spectacular views of the surrounding area. Later, we visited the vast Golconda Fort on the outskirts of the city.

Leaving Hyderabad we headed north and spent two days on various trains reaching Allahabad, one of the holy cities of the Hindus, where the sacred rivers Ganges and Jumna flow into one another. The confluence is known as Sangam, and the Hindus strew the ashes of their dead on the waters there. Then to Benares, the holiest city of the Hindus, where the Ganges riverbank is crowded with pilgrims bathing in and drinking the holy water while all kinds of polluted debris floats past and bodies are burned on their funeral pyres. This was our second visit, you have some slides from last time. A fantastic experience.

From there we came to Lucknow yesterday. Lucknow is an interesting city because it was the scene 100 years ago of the great siege during the Indian Mutiny. I read several books on that uprising while in London, so the ruins and relics of the Siege and Relief were very real to me. From here we go to Nepal which we should be entering the day after tomorrow. I have to get this letter away before then, as there won’t be another chance to write until Kathmandu, which might be another 3 weeks. The walk in the hills probably won’t take that long, but it might. Keep writing to Kathmandu up until about the 10th Oct. and then you had better start using the Bangkok address.

I know I am going to run short of money. Things are costing a bit more than expected. I have sufficient to finish India and Nepal, and I have the 30 pound plane fare from Calcutta to Bangkok. But when I arrive in Bangkok I won’t have many pounds left. Travelling in South East Asia won’t cost too much, but I want to bring home some gifts, and there is the projector to buy in Singapore and also some clothes if I can manage it. That would save me money in the long run as prices there are at least half of those in Sydney. The plane fare from Singapore to Sydney is of course paid, so if I go broke in Singapore that does not matter.

Hope you are well, I am (now) and am looking forward to our trek in the hills,

Love to you all, John

* * *

Hyderabad

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The Charminar, iconic building of Hyderabad

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Bazaar seen from Charminar

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Mecca Masjid, from Charminar

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Near Golconda Fort

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Allahabad

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The Triveni Sangam, Allahabad, confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers

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Benares

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Ghat scene, Benares

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Lucknow

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(above & below) The ruins of the Residency Lucknow, destroyed in the uprising of 1857, known as the Indian Mutiny

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Posted by Ozac 20:43 Archived in India Tagged ganges ghats hyderabad lucknow benares charminar Comments (0)

Walking to Pokhara

Through the Palpa Hills of Nepal

The climax of this overland journey back across Asia was to be our return visit to Nepal, a country we had been enthusiastic about since our original encounter with it in 1964. In London we had joined the Britain/Nepal Society, in order to meet others of like mind and further our understanding of this remote Himalayan kingdom. Some of the Society’s members were mountain climbers, or had been diplomats, or military officers commanding Gurkha regiments. Others were Nepalis working or studying in London, and meetings were sometimes held in the country’s embassy in Kensington Palace Green. These gatherings always intensified our interest in Nepal and our desire to go back there.

Our plan was to begin with a 130 km trek through the foothills of the Himalayas, from Butwal in the Terai, near the Indian border, to Pokhara, at the foot of the massive Annapurna range. In those days there was no completed road into the Pokhara Valley from outside and everything that wasn’t airlifted had to be carried on the backs of porters from village to village, along time worn trails over the steep hills, through lush valleys, and across fast flowing waterways. Pokhara was serviced by daily DC3 flights from Kathmandu, weather permitting, and it was our intention to continue on to the capital by that means and then leave the country by road from Kathmandu to Raxaul.

The full story of our adventure in Nepal is told in the book Abode of the Gods – Travels in Nepal, author: Adrian Sever, publisher: Gem Publishing Company (Oxon) Ltd., 1980. Reading it again recently, after the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, with an appalling loss of life, I realized that much of the cultural and architectural heritage the book describes must have been severely damaged in the catastrophe. Even though efforts will be made at restoration, it can never be quite the same, and the book becomes a poignant historical document in this new context, speaking as it does of a less turbulent time 50 years ago when Nepal was opening up to the world.

Ozac 2015

Nautanwa - Butwal - Tansen

Saturday night 24-9-1966

We arrived at the Indian railhead Nautanwa around 10 pm, after a hot, slow, dusty journey by the narrow-gauge train from Gorakhpur Junction. Nautanwa seemed like a forgotten outpost at the end of the line - just three trains a day. The waiting Nepalis, many probably Gurkha recruits, started swarming into the carriage even before we had got off. The station was lit by hurricane lamps, made largely ineffective by the clouds of insects around them. There appeared to be no electricity in Nautanwa, certainly not at that time of night. We talked our way into the locked waiting room, where we found a colonial era, hand-pulled punkah suspended precariously over our heads - useless, as there was no one to pull it. The immigration officer met the train and took us through the very brief exit formalities in the waiting room, writing details on a scrap of paper and sending his assistant to the office for the stamp. Suddenly a piece of the ceiling fell in with a shattering crash. We must have been disturbing all the ghosts of the past. I tried to sleep on what was left of a couch, but the room was stifling hot and I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I put on the army lotion from my pack and that seemed to work. Fell asleep at last.

Sunday 25-9-1966

Next morning a battered bus took us a couple of miles to the actual border crossing at Sonauli. We walked through the checkpoint into Nepal and over to customs and immigration in a nearby compound. There was an hour’s wait for the bus to take us on to Butwal and the beginning of our walk so we changed money and then found a bit of shade. While we waited we met Doona Pratap Singh, a Nepalese student heading home to his Chetri village near Tansen (provincial capital and on our route). He spoke reasonable English and agreed to help us find a porter. Once in Butwal we had to cross a rickety suspension bridge over a rushing river to reach Khasauli, the area on the other side and the start of the trail to Pokhara.

Doona led us down a cobblestone street to a simple hut where he arranged food, which came after a long wait. It was a vegetarian meal - piles of rice with vegetables on top and very filling. We ate from platters on grass mats on the mud floor. While we ate he arranged for a coolie to come with us to Pokhara - 5 days, 50 rupees plus wicker basket. This was not that straightforward; the porters usually don’t like to go beyond Tansen, because of the long hike back, and the first two takers, after initially agreeing, quickly had a change of heart. It was third time lucky however, and Kham Bir was our man. Agreed departure time - 5 pm. It was helluva hot in Butwal and I was looking forward to getting into the hills. We each bought a pair of plimsolls in the market, to wear as an alternative to our usual boots, when we needed a surer foothold while climbing or descending.

* * *

We set off from Khasauli on the dot, but 300 yards up the new road under construction were stopped at a barrier - they were blasting. Hundreds of coolies with loaded baskets were lolling about, chatting and smoking. When the ‘all-clear’ went and the barrier was finally raised it was like Piccadilly at peak hour. The throng gradually thinned out as we tracked along the new road for the first few miles, into a gorge with a roaring river below us – past waterfalls, rock falls and occasional huts, the road gradually getting higher. About 6pm we followed Kham Bir as he suddenly plunged off the side of the road and down to the river, then across a narrow suspension bridge that swayed violently. We had to pay a toll for the porter’s load (10 paise), and it was starting to get dark as we came to a group of huts beside the path where people were eating. We had chi, and by the time we moved on a near full moon had risen and it was now light as day. We stopped for a while at one place by a stream where a jolly old woman was sitting on a charpoy. We couldn’t understand what Kham Bir was trying to tell us about eating and sleeping arrangements. It was all confusion, so we moved a bit further along to another place where there was someone with a few words of English and finally halted for the night. These places are called ‘bhatis’ and he had been trying to tell us that if we ate a meal then a sleeping space was included. No food, no sleep. We weren’t particularly hungry after the big meal earlier, but went along with the custom and ate some rice and veg. It was a wonderful house, almost Zen in its simplicity – very orderly, clean and smoothly mudded in the two tone Nepalese manner, burnt sienna at the bottom,white at the top, and with a thatched roof. It was run by a very young couple, probably newlyweds. He seemed about 18 and his wife no more than 14. After the meal, I lay down on the grass mat provided and was quickly asleep.

Monday 26-9-1966

We were up by 6 am, to a beautiful misty morning, and after a quick wash at a pleasant creek a short distance from the house, and a welcome cup of chi, were away before 6.30. We kept close to the porter and started climbing right away. It became steeper and steeper, but we managed it alright with only a few rests. We kept climbing right to the ridge and then came a slow, precarious descent down to the river again, where we lurched across another swinging suspension bridge over raging rapids before stopping for breakfast at a bhati run by three women. It was 9am. The mud stoves in these houses are built into the fabric of the building and they use an antique pestle and mortar affair for grinding - ageless. There was a steady stream of traffic along the path while we ate and we were greeted by a number of ex-Gurkha soldiers who had a few words of English. The local children were a delight, and so were the cute little village dogs.

After breakfast we walked on the flat for a while and then came the next climb, which was much steeper than the first. It was really stiff, almost straight up at times, but again we managed it, although exhausted at the top. From the ridge we could see the way ahead for some distance, and on the farther hill, with one mountain in between, was Tansen, our destination for the day. Rising far beyond that, and peeking out of the clouds, were some of the great snow peaks, our first view. We did not dally long and plunged on down - a very steep descent - much steeper than the climb and much further down, all the way to the valley floor, at which point we met the new Indian road again and followed it for about 1 ½ miles. We stopped for a while in the hut of some Indian engineers who gave us tea and biscuits and told us something of the road, which they said was through already all the way to Pokhara, though still very rough; it is to be finished in 1968. Turning off the road a bit further along we went to the other side of the river, following the path which brought us into the valley proper, where for the next ½ mile or so we had a very pleasant walk through the paddies, which were like a beautiful green carpet on the valley floor, though of course terraced up the hillsides. We then hit the road yet again, at the base of the Tansen hill, with another hefty climb in front of us, but managed to get a lorry ride most of the way up, which was great. That left us to struggle up the last ½ mile incline into Tansen, where we arrived about 6pm, just on sunset. It wasn’t much of a sky but there was a beautiful view of two valleys. Kham Bir started complaining of stomach pains, and seemed to be indicating that he didn’t want to continue. This was of some concern to say the least. We thought we should seek medical attention right away, and a schoolboy who was tagging us, trying out his English, showed us the way to the United Mission Hospital on the other side of town, where we met a Scots couple, Mr. and Mrs. Stuart. They were the hospital’s administrators and spoke fluent Nepali. We had thought the porter might be trying a ruse to get out of going all the way to Pokhara, but on questioning him, they said he seemed a decent sort and that he wanted to honour the agreement he had made with us, but was genuinely feeling ill. They said they would have one of the doctors examine him in the morning and arranged for him to bed down in the accommodation reserved for patient’s families. They offered us the use of a guest annex for the night, which we leapt at, and invited us to dinner. In spite of our being tired from the day’s exertions, it proved to be a very stimulating evening, and the Stuarts said it was a rare pleasure for them to entertain western visitors. Considering we had unexpectedly copped a great meal, a bath, and a comfortable bed for the night, the pleasure was all ours.

Apart from the sudden problem with the porter, which we hoped would sort itself out in the morning, it had been a very satisfying day’s walk. It had been difficult at times, over some high ranges, but not beyond us, and we were on schedule. Our footwear was working out OK, though the soles of the plimsolls we bought in Butwal were proving a bit thin.

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A village on the first morning of the walk

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Breakfast stop coming up

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Fellow walkers on the trail, usually with bare feet

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Porters prop their loads on a chautara (resting place) before tackling a difficult stretch

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Magar mother and child in a hill village, Palpa Province

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Path through the paddies of the Mari Valley (note the Pokhara road under construction to the left)

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The United Mission Hospital on the outskirts of Tansen

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Looking back from the hospital in Tansen towards the ranges we had crossed on the first full day's walking

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Posted by Ozac 04:08 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains pokhara Comments (0)

Tansen to Ramdighat

Porter Problems

Tuesday 27-9-1966

By the time we rose in the morning Kham Bir had already been examined and had been given some pills to deal with what had been diagnosed as ‘wind’. He seemed to be feeling somewhat better and had agreed to go on to Pokhara with us as promised. Crisis over. The Stuarts had been very good to us and would only accept R10 from each of us to cover all the food, accommodation and medical assistance with Kham Bir. We had a look around Tansen in the morning, made our farewells after lunch, and walked off down the trail at 2pm in high spirits. Everything seemed fine – all our problems solved - the Stuarts had given us loads of information about what to expect on the trail ahead, the porter was still with us, we could see the great white peaks in the distance, and we strolled along, singing as we went. I cut myself a stick just before we began the first stiff climb, and writing now, two days later, I can honestly say I could not have got along without it.

As we approached the top of that first hill we could see Kham Bir waiting for us up ahead. Shortly afterwards our spirits were dashed - the crisis wasn’t over. Kham Bir had decided that he was still having stomach trouble and would not go on after all. Our first reaction was one of anger at this sudden reversal, but his attitude more or less convinced us that he was genuine, and we had to accept the situation and deal with it as best we could. He didn’t just abandon us; he found someone else to take the loaded basket, though the new man wanted R85 from Tansen to Pokhara. Once we had agreed on this, Kham Bir handed over his rice to the new chap and then would accept only R10 from us in payment for the work already done, plus his medicine. He then said his ‘Namaste’ and disappeared down the trail. We were very sorry to see him go.

The new porter was a strange kettle of fish - hardly said a word - never smiled. All the arrangements were made by a man who appeared to be travelling with him, and who we nicknamed Terry Thomas because of his gap toothed resemblance to that actor. He spoke about a half dozen words of English, among which ‘gwang’ (going) was the one he used most frequently during the next couple of days. We did not like the way he pushed the porter about and could not work out the relationship between them. Obviously he had some hold over him, but what it was we didn’t know. We quickly formed a distinct dislike for the fellow and his overbearing attitude, but unfortunately we seemed to be stuck with him. He did us for rupees here and there for cups of tea and so forth and would stride along, umbrella in hand and small pack on his back, being our self-appointed guide and deciding when we should stop and when we should go, where we should eat and where we should sleep. We did a good deal of walking by moonlight that first evening out from Tansen and made it to Ramdighat, on the border of the province. We ate, then slept on the verandah of a bhati and I had a hell of a night’s sleep; I sweated all night – almost in a fever. I was convinced I was being eaten alive by bedbugs, but there was no evidence of such in the morning.

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A view to make us sing as we left Tansen in high spirits

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Onwards to Pokhara - me with porter number 2

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Ade passing through a village. There must have been a porters' smoko on somewhere

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Posted by Ozac 19:34 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains villages pokhara Comments (0)

Ramdighat to Boombri

Up and down, up and down

Wednesday 28-9-1966

We were dragged out of bed in the pre-dawn darkness, quickly packed, had no time for a wash and were off at first light. We crossed a long suspension bridge over the gorge and started to climb. It was up and down, up and down, all day, so much so that I lost count of the number of climbs, though there were few that were all that long or arduous. The descents seemed steeper than the ascents. We stopped at a small village for food and I had a 3 egg omelet. Then we moved on, up and down, up and down, following the river most of the way, though from high on the hillsides. By mid-afternoon we had reached the last ridge and then came a steep descent into the superb valley of the Andhi Khola, with its beautiful rushing river. We passed through the village of Boombri as it was getting dark. My right ankle had started giving me trouble and I was eager to stop, but our pushy guide wouldn’t allow us to do this until we reached a bhati/tea shop about a kilometre further on. I was absolutely exhausted by then. After a meal, I pushed two tables together to sleep on and was in my sleeping bag, dead to the world, by 9 pm.

About 10 pm I was awoken by loud screaming and arguing. Three Nepalese drunks were noisily carrying on a few feet away from my head and I couldn’t get them to stop. It went on for hours, nearly driving me insane. And yet I was so exhausted that eventually, in spite of the racket, I managed to fall asleep again. Not so Ade - he was still awake when the drunks finally left about 1 am, after having harassed ‘Terry Thomas’ in the interim, by pushing him around and rummaging through his bag and papers. T.T. then dragged Ade out of bed and insisted he go with him to the police, telling him to report a loss of 600 rupees, which was rubbish. He was wanting to take his revenge through us. The police told them to come back in the morning, so they returned to the tea-house and Ade said he finally got to sleep about 4 am.

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Early morning, Nowakot Province

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The village Temple

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A welcome meal

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The Andhi Khola River - trail on upper left

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The infamous bhati at Boombri

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Posted by Ozac 20:01 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains villages himalayas pokhara Comments (0)

Boombri to Putlikhet

Getting our feet wet

Thursday 29-9-1966

The next morning we all trudged back into Boombri to tell our story to the District Police Commissioner, who spoke some English. T.T. was again wanting us to embellish the story and say we had been robbed, but we told the DC that we really had no complaint at all, apart from a disturbed night’s sleep. This upset T.T. no end, but we couldn’t have cared less, as we were really rather pleased that he had got his comeuppance. We got on quite well with the DC, and after checking our passports he invited us to take tea. A crowd of onlookers had gathered around the open air interview scene and hung on every word, whether they could understand or not. God knows what rumours were flying about, but evidently it was the biggest thing that had happened in Boombri in ages. Later, as we set out for our next destination, Putlikhet, T.T. was very subdued and we let him get well ahead of us on the trail, hoping to encounter him as little as possible during the day. Putlikhet was his home town so that was as far as we would have to put up with him at least.

We walked on the flat for much of the day, following the bank of the Andhi Khola as it wound its way through a valley that turned and twisted constantly. Sometimes the path became almost indistinguishable; sometimes no more than a raised paddy wall; sometimes a dry part of the river bed. We were continually trying to skirt small streams and irrigation ditches, doing our best to avoid getting our boots wet. At one point I managed to fall in - camera, passport and all, but fortunately got out before everything was totally soaked. While we waited for things to dry we took advantage of the brilliant sunshine and the sparkling river and had a great swim. The setting was so perfect that we were reluctant to move on, but we had to get to Putlikhet by nightfall.

There was no place we could find all day that would give us food, but we drank tea at every opportunity. I was getting worried about my ankle, which was still playing up, and I needed to take frequent rests. At least we were on the flat, but it was still very tiring walking in the hot sun, especially with no food to sustain us. Whenever we asked, Putlikhet was always 2ks away, always 2ks. Eventually we had to ford the river itself. We waded in up to thigh level, with me holding the camera high to avoid getting it wet again. Though the river wasn’t too deep at the ford, the current was very strong and it was about 50yds across. We had to be extremely careful because the rocks on the bottom were very slippery. Our hiking sticks helped however and we made it OK.

We plodded onwards and were starting to get a bit apprehensive as dusk approached because we knew we had another river to cross before reaching Putlikhet. We had not seen T.T. and the porter for hours and assumed they had already arrived. Just after sunset we crossed what looked like the bed of a river, but there was very little water in it. We could see Putlikhet in the distance, so we thought we had made it. But no - as it started to get dark we came to another stretch of water, not too wide, but with a very fast current. We struggled across this, only to find ourselves on a small pebbly island with even more of the river beyond. This was no wider than the first part, but in the descending darkness, up to the waist against the rapidly moving stream, it was more dangerous. Crossing Himalayan rivers in the dark is certainly no fun. Having made it safely to the other side, and with Putlikhet only 100yds away, we plonked ourselves down and had a cigarette before going into the town.

In Tansen the Stuarts had told us there was an American Peace Corps guy named Charlie living in Putlikhet and it did not take us long to find him. He was taking a meal in a local eating house and we joined him for our first food of the day. We were ravenous. While we were eating, T.T. came in - word of our arrival had obviously got around pretty fast. Charlie was able to question him at length and we finally found out what was going on between T.T. and the porter. Apparently the porter had stolen about 250 rupees worth of grain from T.T. at one time and was now bonded to him until the debt was repaid. T.T. had thought that getting the porter to carry our load was an opportunity for him to get back some of the money owed and that was the arrangement. The drunks at Boombri must have known something of this matter and decided to hassle him. News of the incident had travelled up the trail ahead of us by word of mouth, changing as it went, and by the time the story got to Putlikhet it was about a father and son who had been beaten up and robbed by their porter. Such was the rumour mill in the hills. It seemed the porter was not going to go on to Pokhara with us (the slave master probably didn’t trust him out of his sight), but T.T. said that he would arrange for someone else to carry the stuff for us.

Charlie invited us to stay in his house and there we met his girlfriend Lyn, another Peace Corps worker, visiting from Pokhara. The house was traditional Nepalese with two storeys and an attic. The ground floor consisted of an entrance hall and two rooms, of which the front one opened out via three removable panels to a narrow portico which ran around three sides of the house and was overhung by a verandah on the upper level. This upper floor was one large room with a couple of doors opening onto the verandah. In the centre were a number of heavy posts resting on the structural wall underneath and supporting the roof. Charlie and Lyn had made this main room very comfortable. We slept in one of the rooms downstairs. I stretched out on a Tibetan rug and was soon dead to the world.

* * *

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Fishing in one of the many streams that feed the Andhi Khola river

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Drying out after slipping and falling in

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An opportunity for a swim and a sunbake

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Fording the Andhi Khola, being more careful this time.

* * *

Posted by Ozac 22:04 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Putlikhet to Pokhara

Final stage of our walk in the hills

Friday 30-9-1966

We spent all next day in Putlikhet, which gave me a chance to rest up my ankle. We didn’t rise until 11.30 am and then went and had breakfast at the place where we had eaten the previous night. Later we walked back to the river to take a photo of the point where we had crossed in the dark, and discovered that there was a much easier ford a little further up - if only we had known. Generally we did very little all day, except relax, soak up the village atmosphere and write up our journals.

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Ade recreating our 'dramatic' river crossing to reach Putlikhet the night before - it gets deeper


Saturday 1-10-1966

We never saw T.T. again, but a porter named Ujiri, who seemed a cheerful fellow, turned up as promised and we left Putlikhet at about 8 am for the final day’s walk to Pokhara. For the first 45 minutes we walked up a series of easy rises, crisscrossing a rocky stream a number of times, and then for the next 45 minutes had a very hefty climb up to the small village of Nawakot. From there we had a glimpse of the snows, but the view was very grey and hazy. The few peaks which were clearly defined were too shrouded by cloud for decent photos. From Nawakot there was a further short climb and then we began to track along the ridge for about three kilometres, which was fairly easy walking. This was followed by yet another climb, which brought us to a high point from where we had our first view of the Pokhara Valley, a long way below. The temperature had dropped considerably and we could not see the snows at all by this time as the cloud was very heavy and a storm was coming across the valley. From there it was downhill all the way, but it was a long, long descent and it started to rain heavily just after we set off. There was no shelter and we did not feel like climbing back up again, so we kept on going, being extra careful, as our plimsolls were very slippery in the mud and on the wet rocks. Ujiri was sure footed and was soon well ahead of us and out of sight. The rain had eased by the time we reached the valley floor, but then we had to ford a river which looked very pale green and limey. We had arranged to meet Ujiri at the Himalaya Tibetan Hotel, which had been recommended to us by Charlie and Lyn as a good place to stay. It was opposite the Pokhara airfield and would mark the end point of our walk. Shortly after passing a large Tibetan refugee settlement, a stationary DC3 standing in an open paddock came into view and sure enough, there was Ujiri, squatting on the verandah of a plain looking two storey building nearby - the Himalaya Tibetan, identified as such by a crudely painted sign. He was having a smoke and chatting to a couple of other porters. We checked into the hotel, and after giving Ujiri his tip and making our farewells had a real meal of noodles, egg and meat. Towards evening the clouds cleared a bit and we could see some of the mountains, including Annapurna, which seemed very close and was awe inspiring in its cold majestic silence. Some mountains further away were lit up golden in the last rays of the sun – a magnificent sight.

* * *

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We go in that direction - a chautara break with Ujiri, porter number 3, after leaving Putlikhet

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Nawakot, with the snow peaks just visible among the clouds

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We must be here

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No, I think here

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The storm approaches

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From the Pokhara Valley, looking back to the range we had descended in a downpour

* * *

Posted by Ozac 23:33 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains villages rivers Comments (0)

Pokhara

Staying at the Himalaya Tibetan

Sunday 2-10-1966

I woke early but the mountains were clouded in so I went back to bed. They stayed blanketed all day, unlike me. After breakfast, the sun came out so we decided to do a bit of local exploring and walk to the Pokhara Lake and back.

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The tranquility of Phewa Lake, Pokhara

* * *

The action on the airfield opposite is a source of constant interest. The unsealed strip is surrounded by a barbed wire fence and cows and people stray across when no planes are about. When a plane approaches a siren is sounded and all animals, human or otherwise, clear the field and allow the plane to land, right in front of the hotel. The buildings of the airport consist of a one storey control tower, like a small stone box, and another small stone box for the ticket office. There is an open, canvas roofed, bamboo shed with a couple of seats for waiting passengers, but the real terminal is a huge tree with spreading branches, under which everyone crowds in the shade and up to which all the planes taxi. There are supposed to be two morning passenger flights into Pokhara each day from Kathmandu, and when the DC3s arrive the seats are removed and the planes ply back and forth all day between Pokhara and Bairawa with freight. Mid-afternoon, the seats are put back in and the planes fly off to Kathmandu for the night. With the airfield right out front we are becoming quite attached to it, almost to the point of thinking of it as ‘our airport’.

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Pokhara Airfield from the Himalaya Tibetan Hotel

* * *

The Himalaya Tibetan

The cheap and basic hotel we are staying in is a business operated by the Tibetan refugee community. They also have two tea shops and the handicraft shop next door. The section of the hotel where we live is a long rectangular building at the back containing three rooms. The floor is mud, the roof is bamboo and thatch and the dividing walls between rooms stop at ceiling level, or where ceiling level would be if there was a ceiling. There is no glass in the single window, only bars and wire screening, and there is wire screening on the top half of the door. In the room next to us are two Tibetans involved in the freedom fighter movement.

The Tibetan Refugee Camp

At breakfast we met one of the three Cambridge graduates who run the refugee camp, under the auspices of the U.N. and the Nepalese Red Cross. Their disciplines are history, languages and biology but they clearly have diverse practical skills as well. There are presently 500 Tibetans under their care, with another 200 on their way down from the north, though the camp is already full. There are around 12000 Tibetans currently living in Nepal, mostly semi-nomadic people, and they come from all over Tibet. Many others lost their lives during the flight south during a bitter winter, and the yak herds that were a measure of their wealth were decimated. The existing settlement is temporary and is pretty ramshackle, consisting of a lot of huts made from any material available - bamboo, straw matting, canvas tarpaulins, and each has a few sheets of galvanized iron to serve as the roof. That at least looks shiny and new. In the centre is a mound of prayer stones and there are many flags on bamboo poles. The three British guys live at the camp in one of the flimsy huts, which have been known to collapse suddenly in heavy storms. Fortunately they can be put back up again almost as quickly. The Tibetans have not been permitted to lay foundations to any of the structures in this camp, as they are squatters on the land, although they have dug channels everywhere to drain away the monsoon water. The Nepalese Government does not allow any photos of the temporary camp as it is such an eyesore, and something of an embarrassment to them.

About a kilometre further down the road is the site of what is to be the new, permanent settlement. They have 14 acres there and have put down the foundations of new buildings comprising 138 housing units in blocks, plus dispensary, schoolroom and administrative and community premises. Any land not built on will be cultivated. The acres were granted to the Tibetans by the Government of Nepal and the community hopes to buy more. The plan is to have the place completed by the beginning of the next monsoon.

The Tibetans are a very jolly lot and always Namaste to you. The kids are always laughing. Many of the women, especially the older ones, and some of the older men too, wear the same amount of traditional clothing as they would up on the Tibetan plateau, and they must surely feel the heat down here in the valley. The younger ones tend to wear less clothing, though still traditional in character, and the kids of course run about practically naked. There are a few Lamas around, sent here by the Dalai Lama to act as spiritual leaders and teachers. Most of the refugees have picked up some of the Nepalese language, especially the kids. The aim is to preserve their Tibetan culture while still being flexible enough to integrate with their new Nepalese environment.

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(above and below) Tibetans in the Pokhara Valley

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* * *

Monday 3-10-1966

Up early but again the mountains were only occasionally visible. We sat around drinking tea until the first plane arrived, then went over to watch all the activity. They worked very efficiently and it soon took off again. About midday we set off to walk up to Nandara, hoping to get a closer view of the peaks. This took us through Pokhara Bazaar and on past the Shining Hospital as far as the other Tibetan camp, at which point we decided to turn back, as we were walking into another storm and it was obvious that we would see nothing no matter where we went. We made it back to the hotel just as the weather was closing in - a violent electrical storm with much thunder and lightning.

Pokhara town consists of one long, slightly twisting road lined with typical Nepalese shops and houses like those found in Kathmandu. It is about half an hour’s walk from the airport and it takes about another half an hour to walk the length of the town. It is reasonably large as towns in Nepal go and is the largest outside the Kathmandu Valley. In the way of temples it has only a few, and they are more shrines than temples - small ones with the pagoda type of roof, and in the middle of the street. On clear days Annapurna can be seen in the background at the end of the bazaar, but we were not lucky enough to see it.

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Main street Pokhara, with its mountain backdrop shrouded in cloud

* * *

From what we saw of the Shining Hospital it does not compare as a structure to the solid Mission Hospital at Tansen, though it is probably larger and certainly does as good a job. There are a lot of half cylinder, Nissen hut type buildings in a field serving as the wards.

The Tibetan camp run by the Swiss though is in much better shape than the one near the airfield and has a much more pleasant site. It is grassy and fairly tidy and the stone and thatch buildings look much more permanent. They are doing quite a lot of building up there too. The whole place looks a lot more organized, though they have probably been at it quite a bit longer. They also have their stone mound with its myriad flags, around which the people walk saying their prayers. They really are a wonderful people these Tibetans, joyous and happy, always laughing, and never fail to greet you with a Namaste. Their spirit is undaunted by their travails. If the Nepalese seem much more cheerful as a people than the Indians, the Tibetans are that much brighter again.

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Tibetans at the camp run by the Swiss

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The prayer mound

This evening’s storm was the third successive one we have had in the valley, and each day they seem to arrive about sunset. They are quite wonderful, with spectacular cloud and lighting effects. Even though we have hardly seen the great snow peaks, they still exert a dominating influence and are beginning to take on a personality - and I am beginning to hate them for not showing themselves. They certainly seem to control you from their majestic shroud of cold, grey, ominous cloud, tinged at sunset with pink and gold. Their silent, icy aloofness is almost frightening.

* * *

Posted by Ozac 21:17 Archived in Nepal Tagged lakes planes pokhara tibetans Comments (0)

Fishtail and Monkey Tale

The mountains appear

Tuesday 4-10-1966

When I got up this morning the cloud was almost gone and finally I had a superb view of the mountains. Only Annapurna itself was still clouded in, but the Lamjung Himal and Machapuchare (Fishtail) were tremendously clear in the early morning light. The great monsters had deigned to show themselves for a time and we took full advantage of it. The view was the best I have ever seen, especially of Machapuchare, which looked a perfect pyramid of a peak from where we were, being at the wrong angle to see the fishtail shape. I was not quite as dumbstruck with awe as I was on first seeing the Himalayas two years ago, but there was still this incredible power that they seem to have over you. After a few hours they were obscured by cloud once more.

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Lamjung Himal in the early morning light

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(above & below) Machapuchare finally deigns to appear

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* * *

Later we visited the new Tibetan settlement site. The building work they are doing there is progressing rapidly and looks very solid and sound. They are cultivating as much of the land as possible, and seem to be achieving results. We returned to the hotel for lunch and had the usual toupa - hot noodle soup with meat and onion. Dorka the waitress laid the table back to front as usual and spilt the tea again, all with a grin. We have become quite fond of 'Mary Lou' as we like to call her. The afternoon passed very slowly, during which time I finished reading Saul Bellow’s “Herzog”. At five, regular as clockwork, the clouds rolled up and it began to rain, followed by the daily storm a short time later. That passed, but then it rained all night.

Wednesday 5-10-1966

It was still raining this morning so no chance of seeing the mountains again before we fly out this afternoon for Kathmandu. We have been out of London for 3 months as from yesterday. I think we will probably get home early in December.

While we waited for the DC3 in the late afternoon Ade bought a baby monkey for 3 rupees, to save it from the thoughtless cruelty of a group of young boys. We named it Wellington and considered taking it with us on the plane to Kathmandu, before realizing how impractical an idea that was. During the hour or so in our charge it was quite a handful. Cute as it was, it nipped and scratched and wriggled and pissed and never stopped trying to escape – just what you would do if you were a monkey. We tried unsuccessfully to give it to anyone who seemed even vaguely sympathetic, but in the end it slipped Ade’s grasp and scooted away into the banana grove. I am sure we were relieved. As we boarded the aircraft we caught sight of Wellington back in the arms of the boy who had so readily parted from him at the smell of cash – so much for simian gratitude!

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Whether in the care of Ade (above) or me (below), Wellington looks for his chance to escape

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After a hair-raising but spectacular 45 minute flight, strapped to canvas-slung seats in the Royal Nepal Airlines DC3, we came to earth again in the Kathmandu Valley. We were back in the magical city that had such an effect on us two years before, and spent the next week joyously reacquainting ourselves with Kathmandu’s many splendours and those of the surrounding towns. The atmosphere and ethos of Kathmandu back then, from a backpacker’s perspective, is well captured in Abode of the Gods : Travels in Nepal, which is worth a read if you can find a copy. We found the only real change in two years was an increased presence of young travellers like ourselves, which of course presaged greater change to come. The honey pot of Kathmandu was being discovered, and it was only a matter of time before the swarm arrived.

Ozac 2015

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By DC3 from Pokhara to Kathmandu

* * *

Posted by Ozac 03:26 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains snow pokhara Comments (0)

Kathmandu Montage 1966

The Nepalese Capital and its surrounds

Kathmandu

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The Durbar Square with Shiva Parvati Temple

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Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple in the Durbar Square

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The Rani Pokhari (Queen's Pond)

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View to the Basantapur Tower (rear right)

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Across the rooftops and beyond

* * *

Boudhanath

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Approaching Boudhanath and its Stupa

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Dwellings encircling the sacred precinct

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* * *

Patan

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Garud atop a column in the Durbar Square, Patan

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The myriad temples of the Durbar Square in Patan

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Tago Gan - The Big Bell

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Harishankar Temple with eight storey Degu Tale Temple behind

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King Yoga Narendra Malla column

* * *

Swayambhunath

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The eyes of the Buddha on the Stupa at Swayambhunath

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View to Swayambhunath on the hill of 'sublime trees' to the west of the city.

* * *

Wednesday 12-10-1966

Last day in Nepal

The bus left Kathmandu at 7.00am for the 9 hour trip down to India, on what promised to be one of the clearest days we’d had in Nepal. If it stayed that way we were going to have a pretty good view of the mountains, but were unprepared for the incredible sight we did get. As soon as we started to climb out of the valley, there they were and they didn’t cloud in all day. Once we got up high they were in view the whole time, and it was extraordinary – all the great snow peaks, from as far as the eye could see one way to as far as it could see the other. The chain must have been 100 miles long – the greatest mountain range on Earth. The bus was winding and climbing and turning hairpin bends; it made it all the more exciting. One moment they were on one side of the bus, and then on the other, so that it seemed they were 360 degrees around us. The higher we went the better it got – truly amazing – the best ever. We crossed the pass at the highest point of the road, Shimbanjang, and thought we had seen them for the last time as we descended towards the plains, but still there was the occasional glimpse. In fact, the last view was from the railhead at Raxaul. We could actually see them from India, just peeking their heads over the horizon. Sunset turned them pink and then they were gone. What a day! Clear, perfect and a really exciting and fitting end to our visit to Nepal. An unforgettable experience!

* * *

Posted by Ozac 17:33 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Stopover Rangoon

Calcutta - Rangoon - Bangkok


View London to Sydney 1966 on Ozac's travel map.

From a letter home dated Saturday 22-10-1966

Bangkok, Thailand

We were a day and a half getting from Raxaul down to Calcutta by train and we stayed for four days in the Salvation Army hostel in Sudder St., in the same room as two years ago. I rather like Calcutta, but most people think it is one of the most depressing and overpopulated cities in India. We had a hectic day on Monday last, racing all over the city getting visas etc., as we had to have everything fixed before we flew out on Tuesday morning. We flew Union of Burma Airways and we were not even sure if we were going to take off until we were actually in the air; things were very disorganized - on their part, not ours. Anyway, we managed to get away at 9.15am Tuesday morning and had a very pleasant flight to Rangoon, Burma, as there were only 7 passengers on the plane (a Vickers Viscount) including ourselves and two other Australians, a Canadian, an Indian and a German. We flew over the Bay of Bengal, then crossed the coast and covered a vast area where they are having floods, before landing at Rangoon Airport. It was a 2½ hour flight. We had a 24 hour stopover in Rangoon, which was all our visas allowed, but time enough to see something of the place. The whole country of Burma is nationalized, and Rangoon appears to be a dying city. All the stores, banks and offices are locked and barred, closed down, and the people cannot even buy the simplest necessities. Still it is not a bad looking city, though fairly small, and there is one fabulous Buddhist temple there (Shwedagon) which is the most fantastic I have seen anywhere - everything covered in gold. We slept the night on couches in the terminal at the airport and left at 6.30am Wednesday for the 1½ hour flight to Bangkok. From Don Muang Airport in Bangkok we rang Mr. Windsor, the father of one of Ade’s friends in London, and he came out and picked us up. The Windsors are lovely people and their home is very pleasant. They took us downtown to a favourite restaurant for dinner last night. Bangkok is a really swinging city; restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, bright lights everywhere. It is very prosperous and very Americanized. Everything caters for the Yanks and there are thousands of them here, most of them soldiers on R&R from Vietnam. It’s very different from India, and we are enjoying it immensely. We are leaving tomorrow for Laos and then on to Cambodia, and we expect to be back in Bangkok about the 5th Nov. I can’t say yet exactly when we will be home. After we finally leave Thailand I guess we will spend about two to three weeks in Malaya and Singapore. Then it all depends on whether we decide to visit Indonesia or not, and we won’t know that until we reach Singapore. I have lost some weight on this trip Mum, same as last time, but I am in good health, especially after the walk in the hills, and you can fatten me up again when I get home.

Love, John

* * *

Rangoon

Shwedagon Pagoda

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Shwedagon seen from nearby fields

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Approaches to the Pagoda complex

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Gilders at work on the Stupa

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(above & below) Shrines at the base of the Stupa

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Devotion

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A young Buddhist monk

* * *

Downtown

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The Sule Pagoda in central Rangoon

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Ade and I do the town

* * *

Posted by Ozac 02:05 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temples pagodas burma yangon myanmar rangoon buddhists stupas Comments (0)

Across the Mekong

Bangkok to Vientiane

Sunday 23-10-1966

Last night we thanked our hosts for their hospitality, said “Goodnight, see you in about two weeks” and went to bed. We were up again at 4.30am, took only our lightweight dilly bags and slipped out. The houseboy came down to the corner with us and helped us get a taxi to the station. At 6.10am the train left. The carriage was quite good - in fact the best 3rd Class we had come across except for Iran. It was an all day journey, 6.10am to 7.30pm. I was amazed at the array of food available at the stations along the way. Apart from mountains of rice and a wide variety of curries, there was all sorts of fruit, both familiar and unfamiliar, sweets, and delicious looking roast chicken splayed on bamboo skewers; after our Indian diet, a feast for the eye and the stomach, if you have the money, although prices were quite fair. The scenery was pretty monotonous, green paddies all the way, though for a distance outside Bangkok it was interesting as there were canals (klongs) everywhere, and the villages were either groups of houses on stilts above the water or built on slightly higher ground. All the traffic was water traffic, mostly canoes or small motorized longboats. People even had to reach the railway stations by boat, alighting at a landing attached to the platform. Lotus flowers abounded, along with vermilion robed monks.

At sunset we came to the big American airforce base at Udon Thani. The sunset was brilliant, a fiery red glow low on the horizon, like an enormous bushfire. Tall radar towers were silhouetted against this red background, and a supersonic jet bomber circled overhead while a Hercules transport came in to land. It is from here that the planes take off to bomb North Vietnam. The inferno like sunset, as if the bowels of the earth were on fire and erupting, plus the grey ominous clouds in the upper sky, seemed to me a fitting background for this nucleus of destructive force. Soon after, we reached Nong Khai, on the banks of the Mekong and the jumping off point for Vientiane, on the other side, a bit further upstream.

Monday 24-10-1966

POSTCARD FROM LAOS

Greetings from Vientiane, Laos. Crossed the Mekong River this morning by longboat from Thailand. Leave 26th for grueling land journey to Cambodia. At present only 300 miles from Hanoi. Love John

* * *

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Sunrise over the Mekong at Nong Khai

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Mekong river boats

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Waiting to cross from Thailand to Laos

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Looking down the main avenue in Vientiane to the Anosavari (memory) Monument, still under construction

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(above & below) Central markets, Vientiane

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* * *

Posted by Ozac 17:16 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Sudden Change of Plan

Back to Bangkok

From a letter home dated Friday 28-10-1966

Bangkok Thailand

Doubtless you have received the postcard from Laos. Just after I posted it, and the evening before we were to set off for Cambodia, we changed our plans completely and decided not to proceed, returning instead to Bangkok. We had weighed the pros and cons, and there were far more cons than pros, so we came back here. Main reason was that the floods they had in the area a month back washed out the road and it was doubtful if we would be able to get through. Even when conditions are normal you only have a 50-50 chance of making it by road, and river traffic down the Mekong from Vientiane into Cambodia is very irregular at the present time. Secondly, even if we made it into Cambodia we might not have been able to get out except by air, and we could not afford that, so all things considered we decided not to take the chance. My main regret is that we will miss Angkor Wat, reputedly one of the wonders of the world. It will have to wait until another day. Vientiane was about the dreariest capital I have been to - absolutely nothing to do. It rained most of the two days we were there and we were bored stiff. Some of the buildings seemed to have been shot up – bullet or shrapnel holes everywhere. An irate Lao general had bombed the city two days before we arrived and we were half hoping he would do it again to break the monotony. Our only consolation was the superb sunrises and sunsets over the Mekong River. The recent floods had made a terrible mess of the town as well and, with the present rain, the streets were all mud puddles the colour of tomato soup. We weren’t sorry to leave Laos and get back to Thailand, which is great.

It seems you have just finished in Sydney with President Johnson and his entourage. Well we are getting it here now. He and his wife arrived in Bangkok at 1.30 this afternoon by helicopter in the State Square. He laid a wreath at 4.30 on a memorial just near where we are staying, so Ade and I went down to have a look. I have never seen anything like it. He was there and gone by closed limo in about 10 minutes and we hardly saw him for all the secret servicemen and news photographers. It was like something out of a gangster movie. Guards fanned out everywhere, hands on revolvers, eyeing the crowd for would be assassins. We hardly dared move, let alone take a photograph.

We leave tomorrow at 4.30pm by train for Penang in Malaysia, reaching there Sunday evening at 7pm. We have cut about 10 days off the schedule by not going to Cambodia, so I might be home earlier than expected, possibly within three weeks. I think now we will almost definitely not be visiting Indonesia. However, there might be another last minute change of plan that could keep our arrival still a month away - we are considering the possibility of coming by sea rather than by air. If there is a convenient ship from Singapore with berths available we will cancel our plane tickets and take it, as it would be a saving of maybe £30 and that is not to be sneezed at. But don’t bank on anything just yet. All is up in the air for at least another week. I should be able to send you definite information in about 10 days’ time. Until then,

Love John

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(above & below) The roofs and Buddha of Wat Benchamabophit

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(above & below) Wat Pho

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Wat Arun from the Chao Phraya River

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Banana seller at the river markets

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LBJ lays a wreath at the Victory Monument in Bangkok

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Posted by Ozac 22:13 Archived in Thailand Tagged temples rivers bangkok wats stupas Comments (0)

Letter From Penang

From a letter home dated Thursday 3-11-1966

Penang, Malaysia

We will be arriving in Sydney by Qantas, Flight No. QF732, at 6.50am, on Thursday 17th Nov. So that is just two weeks from today. It is quite early in the morning, but apparently all flights on that route get in around that time, so there is no other option. We had a little trouble getting a booking as this is apparently quite a hectic time of the year and most flights coming through from Europe arrive in Singapore already full. We would have preferred to leave on the 18th, a Friday, so as to arrive on a Saturday morning, but no seats were available except on the one we finally booked. It is a 7 hour non-stop flight in a Boeing 707, and will probably be pretty exhausting.

So far we are having a great time in Malaya. We took the train from Bangkok last Saturday for the 24 hour journey and arrived at Alor Star, capital of Kedah State, the following afternoon. We got off there because the mother of one of the Malayan boys we toured the Continent with lives there. She doesn’t speak English, but the house was full of student teachers who board with her, so they showed us all over. We stayed for two nights and then took the bus on to Penang, only a short journey of two hours. We arrived at Butterworth on the mainland, where the big Australian airbase is, and then got the ferry across to Penang, which is an island. Here we are staying with another relative of our friend in England and are enjoying fine hospitality. Penang is a duty free port, like Singapore, so I have been checking into the price of slide projectors here so that I know what I can expect to pay in Singapore. If I get a good one, and there is no point in getting one at all unless I do, I expect to pay about $130 Malayan, which is about $40 Australian. I might try a little lower, as I don’t want all the automatic gadgets particularly - the lens is the important thing. Anyway, I work out that I have a top limit of about $40 to spend on it so I should be able to get a fair enough one for that.

Love to you all, John

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Penang

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George Town, Penang

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Making new friends

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Uh Oh! Look what's coming

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Between Penang and the mainland

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

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