About This Blog

Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Sunday, 27 February 2011

February 27th: Rusumo in Southern Rwanda

On February 27th 1980 I was at Rusumo, where a river forms the border between Tanzania and Rwanda.  I had been informed I could get a Rwandan visa at the border, but no such luck.  I wrote this up there:
I'm actually in Rwanda even if they won't let me go beyond the village here.  The immigration people were quite friendly about it: their story is that the main chef d'immigration is in Kigali; normally he radios to Kigali if someone is at the border without a visa, but as he isn't here and the radio isn't here, the younger man in charge isn't prepared to lay his head on the line.  So Audrey has gone to Kigali with my passport to try to get me a visa, leaving me with a tin of corned beef.  However there's a shop selling things like biscuits and tinned mackerel, there's a cafe back on the Tanzanian side with chai and possibly other things, there's good sweet Rwanda beer for sixteen shillings for what must be a litre and a friendly Dutch couple working in Rulenge left me a loaf of Kigali sliced bread and an enormous carrot out of pity.  Besides this is a nice enough spot with the river and the waterfall and monkeys in the trees. 

We had taken a day and night bus from Mwanza to the town of Nzara, 16 kilometres short of the border, knowing we'd have to walk the rest of the way.  The bus journey was quite fun, the ferry at Busui, little settlements of rectangular huts mainly of wood and daub and with tin or thatch roofing and not much other than maize growing.  The bus was nearly always crowded to overflowing and nearly always friendly.  Towards evening the country began to change as we moved further from Lake Victoria, with larger hills and fewer people.  We stopped at Biharamulo in the dark and had beans and tea for supper and there was a long delay while one of the conductors sorted out a problem with the police.  Eventually we stopped for the night, at Rulenge I think, and I did manage some sleep, as the bus had more or less cleared its standing passengers.  In the morning  we crossed a big escarpment and then we walked across a new bridge while the bus took the ferry, which gave me a chance to stretch my legs.  We reached Nzara about nine, but there was little to keep us except a nice stone mission, so we had tea and andazi and began walking through pleasant rolling hills, with coffee and maize and bananas and little oblong houses and friendly people.  There were good views later on when the ever-threatening clouds pulled back a little.  But we were tired, so in the end we got a ride from a police Land-Rover carrying a Burundi refugee who had been kicked out of Rwanda two weeks previously, following the visit of a Burundi leader to the US.

View Rusumo in a larger map

Thursday, 24 February 2011

February 24th: Bodhgaya

On February 24th 1979 I was in Bodhgaya in India.  Bodhgaya was certainly the most important place in India for pilgrims and travellers interested in Buddhism.  Being a small town in rural Bihar, it provided access to the countryside which was not often easy in India.

On this day I walked past the strange temple-like structure of the State Bank and sat in the afternoon for a couple of hours on a little mound, which looked as if archaeologists might have dug in it.  This was therefore still in the town, overlooking some fields and the groups of houses behind the Burmese Vihar, where I was staying.  I recorded what I saw in my notebook: 
A woman in white and a boy with ochre cloth around his head usher two white cows and four buffaloes across fallow patches of grass.  Earlier they had talked to their friends there, and mingled with a flock of goats which have now moved away.  Beyond are little fields of something like wheat, very green, the boundaries marked by raised paths to hold in the water I'd guess.  Beyond two boys work with willow baskets pulling some green plants, two goats feed, and beyond them three men or boys in shirts and grey short lungis seem to be planting.  Then there is the row of brick houses, one or two storeys, occasionally painted.  To the left near the path are more houses: I can see people walking, women with baskets on their heads, smoke rising, green things drying on the tiled roof of one.  A little one room house is built away from the path into the field, the electric light already lit.  Two women sit in front under a matting awning, two men under a palm-tree on a charpoy a little way away.  Another house has fruit trees and dung drying on a wall; another further away is larger, has two bright red and green saris hanging drying from the roof.  Bananas grow behind adobe walls and a dense line of palm-trees follows the angle of the path and the houses.
The State Bank:  My picture taken in 1982
 In front are ponds with some grey plants growing; within one pond a rubber water pipe runs partly across one edge.  Paddy-birds sit here and only move white-winged to the edges when humans cross the green walls or other birds come too close.  Further to the right behind the trees is another pond, drained and full of some pea-plant; here a crow-pheasant feeds, reddish wings and long black tail.  The trees themselves are tall, sturdy and spreading, with long dark green leaves like mango-trees, wherein is a flock of red-vented bulbuls, mostly chattering.  Behind to the left the sun is beginning to set, a pale white, still, winter sun above the hazy plain.

A group of smallish grey-black pigs has arrived, a sow in front of me with sagging belly and teats almost touching the ground, and a solitary roaming female dog.  Little palm-trees rise eight feet high with little steps cut in, and a man has a pot hanging to collect the sap in.  As evening comes the clamour around the houses rises, the birds begin to dash about in flocks overhead, the men come to relieve themselves in the open space behind, fires are lit.  A man is cutting fish in one of the houses, the fish  held in his foot.   I can see a girl with two metal bowls on her head, a cow in a front-room byre, ducks in a pond.
I stayed at the Burmese Vihar, on the road to Gaya opposite the river.  It was the cheap place to stay for most of the foreigners, pleasant and sociable, the two monks friendly, the rooms mainly shared and left unlocked.  Upstairs was a library with a mixture of books, Indian and foreign, religious and secular, and I could always find something of interest.  The Vihar was peaceful in the day, but not always at night because it backed onto houses which often had celebrations and music and generators going on in the night.

The Mahabodhi Temple:  My picture
The main focus of attention was the Mahabodhi Temple, which is basically a stupa, with only a small sanctuary inside, but you could climb stairs and sit outside on a balcony.  At the back was the Bodhi Tree itself spreading and shedding its characteristic leaves; it was not easy to sit under because it was such a centre of attraction.  There were lots of other places to sit, by little shrines of one sort or another; there was also an adjoining garden around a tank which was peaceful if there were no groups of Hindu pilgrims visiting.  Most visitors with an interest either sat and meditated in peaceful spots around the temple or circled the temple clockwise, either close to the building, or on the raised path which formed the limit of the site. 

Shivanath:  My picture taken in 1982
The main place for food and tea was Shivanath's.  This was open long hours and served an almost unchanging menu of mixed vegetables with dhal and rice and the harder round breads called rotis.  Shivanath's was a social centre as you could meet your friends at any time of day or evening and sit and talk on the open benches outside or in the closed room beside the kitchen.  There was another place which did good puris and vegetables and there was Amala's, a Tibetan woman who did breakfasts at this time a little away from the centre of town.  After a week or so some Tibetans set up tents and you could get chang in the evening there and perhaps some food.  There was a simple bank and a little post office.  There was a Tibetan temple which had rich paintings and a Japanese temple where a Zen priest held meditation sessions in the late afternoon and beat your back or knees with a stick if your concentration lapsed.  There was a market which could get busy with people coming in from villages.  There was a bathing ghat, but the river was almost dry in this season.  The landowner, the Mohant, had a large house, the Math, between the town and the Burmese Vihar, with a temple inside and elephants kept in a tall byre near the river.  There was a tiny island in the sandy expanses of the dried up river opposite the Math with a Shiva shrine which was occasionally visited by sadhus.  This island was the most peaceful spot in Bodhgaya and I often liked to walk there in the heat of the day.  I once sat there quietly and watched a small group of stone-curlews land and sit quietly observing me as I observed them.

Another time I wrote this in my notebook as I sat by the river a little along the road to Gaya:
Late afternoon in Bihar, the sun has lost its force, it's becoming white as it falls towards the trees.  There is traffic returning to Gaya, a bus, a few tongas, an old man in white with spectacles and turban carrying a stick and a slight limp for his bare feet.  A little fellow is cutting sap from the little palms that line the road.  Kids play beneath the heavy mango trees between the road and the sand which forms the outside line of the river.  In a green field on the other side of the road two men in white squat and watch the world go past, but there is little work in the fields at this time of year; the grain is short and green.  A woman walks past slowly, she carries a little bottle with some liquid and a plant stopper, she has bare feet, a dirty white sari bordered in red and a goitrous lump hanging by her left ear.  A boy carrying another boy on a bicycle shouts noisily at me.  A buffalo stands at rest beside a building which carries an advertisement for fans, a run-down building with two doors and two windows, some grain piled up outside, some sort of wheel and old pieces of metal in a pile, white paint over bricks and a red tile roof, just a barn or maybe someone lives there.

I returned to Bodhgaya three years later, written up here.

The Patrimonium Mundi panoramas of Bodhgaya show that there have been a lot of developments around the Mahabodhi Temple since I was there.

At the Mahabodhi:  My picture taken in 1982

The Island and The River:  My picture taken in 1982

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

February 23rd: Ushuaia in Southern Argentina

On February 23rd 1976 I was in Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego in Southern Argentina.

By The Glacier, 2008:  Picture by Zhu, CC
I took an afternoon walk with a friend to the glacier up behind the town.  We found a nice spot for a picnic by the river soon after the waterfall.  Walking up the hill, we were asked for documents by police while they held rifles on us.  It was a strange place to be stopped but they allowed us to go on.  Gradually we got up to the tree-line and then the first ice: I could see the ice snaking up the mountain, shining turquoise on the glacier above the scree.  But it was getting pretty late and the weather was turning to hail and sleet.  There were lovely views back down to the Beagle Channel.  We found beautiful cold water to drink and huge mosses which we walked over.  Two austral parrots flew over, which seemed so out of place.  The descent was quick but very cold with evening arriving.  Finally it began to rain properly and we staggered bedraggled into a cafe for hot chocolate submarinos.

Ushuaia was very much on the tourist circuit so it was quite a social place with a reasonable cheap hotel (the Castellar) and decent restaurants and cafes.  Overland routes were difficult so like most people I flew in and out, but the flights were always subject to delays due to bad weather.   A steamer left on a trip to Antarctica, but the prices were cheap for locals and prohibitive for foreigners.  Argentina wanted to keep active its claim to territory in Antarctica: all Argentinean maps showed a strip of Antarctica as part of the mother country, just as they showed the Malvinas and various disputed Chilean islets to the south.  A further oddness was the constant billing of Ushuaia as the southernmost town in the world when every evening you could look out south across the Beagle Channel and see the lights in Chile in the area of Puerto Willams.

The fun in Ushuaia was walking and the birdlife, a bit like walking in northern Scotland or Norway perhaps, but different of course.  You could see geese and ducks and owls and so on anywhere near the front.  On my first day I headed east along the bay for my first sight of giant petrels and dolphin gulls, the black and white cormorants and black oyster-catchers, the kelp and upland geese; there were probably small albatrosses as well but I couldn't be sure.  The scenery was good: there was open grassland inland with windswept trees and I could walk across beaches and over rocks.

Another day I hitched a lift out to the Parque Nacional at Lapataria Bay where there is a more extensive inland area in front of the mountains.  I walked inland along the trail but the lake which is the focus was very quiet in the middle of the day.  So I walked back a different way to Lapataria Bay, past rivers and lakes all turquoise blue, under mountains, very pretty but not much wildlife to be seen except for hawks.  

The National Park:  Picture by Serge Ouachée, CC
Ushuaia, 2008:  Picture by Marko Tefani, CC

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

February 22nd: Bharatpur in Northern India

On February 22nd 1982 I was in Bharatpur in Northern India.  I was spending a quick couple of days at the bird sanctuary with Mary before she got a plane from New Delhi back to the UK.

We took an afternoon train from Benares which took us through Uttar Pradesh during the night.  We got off at Agra Cantonment while it was still dark and took a chilly rickshaw to find a bus.  We found a fast moving local bus through flat empty country, brick and mud villages, straight roads, with voluble locals inside and lots of peacocks and other birds outside.  From the bus stand in Bharatpur we took another rickshaw which seemed interminable through country lanes, atmospheric in the early morning light, but desperately cold.  Luckily the hotel in the park gave us a room for the day and the night.

Siberian Cranes at Bharatpur:  My picture
We took a long afternoon walk, seeing all the usual waterbirds as well as the beautiful Siberian cranes, which were one of the main attractions of the park.  There were few left in the world, and the handful of birds wintering in Bharatpur were one of only two flocks surviving.  We came back through the scrubland which felt really wild and unchanged by humans, full of shrikes and partridges.  Then we saw a bull nilgai antelope which was most impressive, a herd of sambal, some jackals, and beautiful light in the water in the dying light.  This was a beautiful, long walk, but it was hard as we were tired from the journey.

Sunset at Bharatpur:  My picture
The next day we took bicycles so that we could go to the outlying areas of the park.  We were able to track some nilgai and look for birds, mammals and reptiles.  We spent time with a British bird-watcher who loaned us binoculars and explained some of the species.  Toward evening I got a puncture and so had to push home.  But the sunset was very good, the evening being almost clear, the red light reflecting on the water, through trees and reeds, while coots flew around haphazardly, swallows and drongos caught insects, and jacanas walked on the lilies.  Finally, as the darkness closed in, hundreds of ducks flew over in little flocks heading in the direction of the main road. 

Fatehpur Sikri:  My picture
In the morning we were up early for the rickshaw to the bus-stand and a local bus on to Fatehpur Sikri.  Our visit there was very rushed inevitably, with only an hour and a half or so before we had to return to get ready for Mary's train.  The ruins were splendid, with a lovely view of the great entry arch and cupolas to the Jama Masjid on the skyline from the Bharatpur entry, then a pretty path up from the town.  The main site was more compact than I'd imagined, the architecture a collection of interesting designs and shapes, some lovely screens and brickwork, even fake roof tiles, quite exquisite; and the one building with its magnificent central pillar.  As we walked back down, the bazaar was attractive and interesting below the site, we had chai and good yoghurt, and good fun generally with the locals as we took photographs.  Back at Bharatpur we concentrated on lunch, a quick walk to the water's edge, and then a long ride in a rickshaw to the railway station, which was set in remarkable slums, something that surprised me after the wildness of the park, reminding me of realities.  We had a comfortable first class ride to Delhi, partly in the company of a strange man masquerading as (or most unlikely actually being) a Kulu drug businessman.   That evening I noted two of the sights of New Delhi - three transvestites in Janpath and a beggar dressed as a langur, or Hanuman, monkey. 

Peter Matthiessen describes the plight of the Siberian Crane and a visit to the park in his 2002 book:  The Birds of Heaven

Below Fatehpur Sikri:  My picture

Monday, 21 February 2011

February 21st: Benares

On February 21st 1982 I was in Benares.  I was spending a few days in the city with Mary, returning to many places I'd visited three years earlier, see here.

Bathing at dawn:  My picture
This was our last day in Benares and we were getting a train in the afternoon.  It was a Sunday morning, we were on the river about dawn and took a tourist boat so that we could take some photographs.  We started in the centre from  Dashashwamedh where the ghats were full, busy and colourful.  We went both ways along the river first upriver to Assi and then back down towards the bridge, passing Manikarnika and the burning ghats and coming in to Scindia Ghat so that we could get off.  We took a final look at Maha Ganga, and then walked through the lanes, had an early lunch on sweet curd and masala dosa.

Manikarnika:  My picture
On an earlier day we had visited the Ramnagar Fort which is on the other side of the river a little upstream of Assi.  We crossed by the pontoon bridge and looked past the boats to the distant curve of the city.  The palace has the right air of decaying grandeur, and some nice exhibits, like the astrological clock and the impressive collection of guns and other weapons, some nice ivory carving, like miniature elephants in red peas, a procession, ordinary cows and faces, an elephant chained under a spreading tree.  We saw a fine audience room with tiger skins and a tunnel down to the bathing ghat and the little temple reminding us where the fort is situated.   Back in the city Mary had a first walk along the ghats and a long linger at the burning ghats which were very active; one body burning close to us, another distant, a body being dipped in the holy river, nearby chanting, maybe for a wedding, unloading sand for building, hammering nails on a new boat, fine black buffaloes being led home, tourists watching above, sadhus smoking round tridents below.   We also took a trip out to Sarnath, much as I remembered it, nothing of especial architectural interest, but quiet and pleasant in a garden setting; the big stupa is quite impressive, with some old Tibetans circling it with malas, and there are good sculptures in the museum.   As much as anything we enjoyed a long sit on the benches near the rickshaw rank, drinking tea and chatting with the people there.

Benares Lanes:  My Picture
When we first arrived Mary was sick, so in the afternoon, after curd and papaya, my long promised treat to myself, I went into town alone.  I spent the daylight mainly on the ghats, firstly on the main ghat among the freaks and sadhus.  I stood and watched at the burning ghats; finally I sat reading Kabir at my old favourite, Scindia Ghat, seeing all the things I knew three years ago, the sunken temple opposite the sadhus' tent, the tank where the engineer wanted to clean the water in Queen Victoria's time.  Then I returned to the centre via the the lanes behind the burning ghats which are some of the best, the eternal Benares; there was a small funeral cortege, old men in shawls sitting in minuscule shops in the bottom of a huge balconied building, chai shops and Ganesh stones painted red.  It still seemed the perfect medieval city. I had a passable chapatti thali and wandered around in the centre in the bright lights of the evening, everything so busy and colourful.  There was a ganja shop still functioning with a large man sitting behind a cage and a queue of mainly old men customers and some sitting on the bench outside.  Bhattacharya's was still there, the fine-looking Homeopathic Medicine Shop, one of several in the area.  

At Dawn:  My picture

Sarnath:  My picture

Crossing to Ramnagar:  My picture

On The Ghats:  My picture

Lanes:  My picture

Friday, 18 February 2011

February 18th: Seronera in Northern Tanzania

On February 18th 1980 I was at Seronera in the middle of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.  I travelled here with Audrey, an American woman from Utah.  I have described the journey from Arusha here

This was one small settlement in the middle of over 5000 square miles of the park; otherwise I believe there was only a second proper lodge at Lobo, and one or maybe two tented camps.  Seronera was the centre of the Research Institute, had an small airstrip and a petrol station, a drivers's hostel and a "Somali Hotel" which provided food for the workers.  There was also a tourist lodge built high up on a hill of boulders (kopje) which had the most wonderful views across the plains and the bluffs of the Seronera valley.  It was the season for wildebeest and at any moment you could see thousands of them spread across the plains with their attendant zebra, and hundreds of other animals.  In the end Audrey and I spent a week here, every night in a different place, negotiating deals with the manager of the lodge who rarely had many visitors and liked our trade in the bar.  We were able to go out for a wildlife drive with a group of British tourists, and made one or two other excursions.  Because Seronera was a village, you were able to walk in the immediate vicinity and this was one of the great attractions to staying there.

After a couple of days I started to look for rides out.  I wrote this in my notebook:
Sitting under an acacia on the northern road out, trying to get a ride to Musoma or Mwanza.  The hottest part of the day has already passed, and I am beginning to give up hope of a ride today, and will return to Audrey at the petrol station and the hope of a cheap hotel room tonight.  The crickets churr around me in the grass, the flies buzz around my face, a lark sings from a nearby dead tree, a starling chirps above, a flycatcher which has been here all day swoops on some insect in the road.  The breeze in the trees, a tapping which might be a woodpecker.  A distant generator, an occasional car going to the village.

View in the Serengeti:  My picture
Another day in Serengeti and I love it, I'd love to be able to spend a fortnight here with a car and money, for this country is so beautiful and hard of access.  Last night awake I saw the Southern Cross for the first time in Africa, then after dawn the light was so beautiful and the air and trees so full of birds.  Green grass plains turning yellow and occasional lines of flowers rather ordinary, flat topped acacia trees and thorn trees, one or two low hills all green, and the little kopjes of rocks and varied trees, home of lion and hyrax, from the top it seems you can see for fifty miles.  Earlier from under this shady acacia I watched a small herd of wildebeest with attendant zebra walk through the valley, buffalo and topi browsing even nearer; some giraffe ambling close, inspecting me and eating acacia tree tops, some impala peeking out of bushes; some Grant's gazelle playing; warthogs here and there including three I surprised on the road; crowned crane flying over; a big flock of sacred ibis; some lovely hawks and falcons.  You can go on and on and it's all beautiful.

Another day I was again out at the road junction and I saw what appeared to be a bus approaching.  I had heard rumours of a legendary bus which went once a week across from Arusha to Musoma on the eastern edge of Lake Victoria.  No-one knew when the bus came or would even admit to its real existence.  I rushed back to the lodge to get Audrey and my pack but when I got back the bus was already pulling away to the west having driven straight through.

Finally one evening in the bar Mr Kassam stepped out of the shadows like Peter Lorre and asked if he could be of any help to us.  He was an Ismaili trader from Mwanza delivering a shipment of meat, I think, to the lodges in his pickup.  I ended up sleeping in the pickup that night and the next day he drove us to the other lodge at Lobo in the hills towards the Kenyan border and Masai Mara.  For supper that night it was a bottle of Dodoma and a bottle of Sauternes.  But Mr Kassam got ill, perhaps malaria, and we had to wait for his driver to arrive.  We left with him lying on a mattress on the back of the pickup, and me perched on the wheel-arch in the sun for seven hours.  There was always plenty to look at as we passed, such as a lioness crouched watching a very large herd of topi, the country always beautiful, and different when we were going through the swampy black soil country which gradually gave way to the borders of Lake Victoria.   We passed by his simple home in the suburbs and visited the office which was ostensibly a stationery shop, though that was certainly not where the money came from.  His wife and daughter arranged for us to stay in the Indian-style Deluxe Hotel.  We did the local Sunday thing of visiting the zoo on an island in Lake Victoria, bizarre and sad after being a week at Seronera.  Sunday was the day of rest, Africans and Asians all out promenading, the Asian women wearing their jewels and best clothes, something I didn't see elsewhere in Africa.

Hyrax at Lobo, 2008:  Picture by bah69, CC

Picture by David d'O, 2009, CC

My picture
My picture

My picture

Thursday, 17 February 2011

February 17th: East of Raipur in Eastern India

On this day, or thereabouts, in 1973, I was driving from Hyderabad to Calcutta.  This was quite a long trip and took us the best part of four days.  We were determined to try to camp free in the forests as we went whenever possible; this had been very successful in Turkey but we had abandoned the idea for safety's sake in Iran and Afghanistan.  In India we had so far largely tried to stay at places such as PWD rest houses when we were outside the more developed cites where there were tourist bungalows and so on which were used to people who wanted to camp in their cars rather than occupying a room.  There were drawbacks to rest houses: they were well sign-posted but sometimes reluctant to let us stay and this could consume a lot of time for a brief overnight; also if car camping in a more built-up area we could have people staring at us in a circle all the time we were not actually sleeping.

The first day was over the typical Deccan countryside, largely red earth, wooded plateaux and steep escarpments from one level to another, through sparsely populated parts of Andhra Pradesh and into Maharashtra where we found a quiet place for the night.  As we approached Nagpur, the land was more densely populated and the fields richer with orange plantations.  We found we didn't have to go through the centre of the city but there was a sort of ring road.  The country went back to being generally less developed as we drove east into Madhya Pradesh, and although we went past the huge Soviet-built industrial complex of Bhilai, the towns were strikingly poor and deprived.  We planned to camp after Raipur if possible and chose to find a restaurant there to eat so that we could drive on until it was nearly dark.  There was something of the Kwality sort by the main road, so we didn't have to look for the bazaar.  The map showed a fork in the road after Raipur and we chose the more direct road even though the single lane of asphalt stopped at the junction.  The country became immediately more wild, denser forest with fewer, if any, breaks, more mountainous, almost no people, no other traffic.  After an hour or so of slow driving we found an opening off the road, where there was a level clearing, set up the back of the Land-Rover for sleeping and went to bed. 

I was awakened in the night by the distant roar of a truck and a clashing of low gears; the truck took an hour to get to where we were and then another hour for the noise to dim.  Finally I woke at six and peered out to see six or so people, men and women, wearing simple undyed homespun walking slowly round the Land-Rover.  This went on for some time until they were satisfied and moved on.

The highlands lasted a bit longer and then we came to one or two small settlements where the people were mostly wearing homespun again.  At a bridge over a stream leading into another small town the Land-Rover ground to a halt, blocking the road completely.  A spring shackle had broken on the rough road and there was nothing I could do.  It was a picturesque spot but we had not seen a vehicle of any sort since before the fork in the road, apart from hearing the truck in the night.  However within a few minutes a Sikh truck driver pulled up and set to work.  Other vehicles  arrived and also a few pedestrians.  The Sikh was a cheerful sort.  He quickly removed my jack, put one of his own on to support the spring and removed the shackle.  He used the stonework of the bridge as an anvil and hammered the shackle U-bolt back into shape, so that we could secure one side properly and the other at least fitted in the slot.  He saw it as all in a day's work, especially in these remote parts, and all the other drivers were very relieved that it all got sorted easily. He said something about his family being blacksmiths.

We were able to drive very carefully on to the next town where they fitted a lightweight shackle; this lasted another day and a half on better roads on through Orissa until we got a proper one in Calcutta.  This was the only time the Land-Rover got stranded, unable to move in the 30,000 mile round trip.

This eastern part of Madhya Pradesh is now the state of Chhattisgarh, an area characterised by isolated industrialisation exploiting local minerals and tribal people living in the forests.  This area is now the focus of Naxalite attacks, although when I passed through Eastern India the movement was still mainly confined to the area around Naxalbari, near where we crossed from India into Nepal, described here.

View Raipur in a larger map

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

February 16th: Rumbek

On February 16th 1981 I was in Rumbek.  I had been invigilating the exams for first and second year students which would allow them to progress to the next year.  I was also dealing with all the papers to mark which was depressing because even the better students had felt the need to cheat.

The exams had been held early in response to events which started a couple of weeks before.   I had been teaching 3B when there was a disturbance outside, and after a minute or two the students in the class decided it was serious.  The Dinka students rushed out of the class first to join in, so everyone else trooped outside to watch.  The fight was between Dinka from the area around Yirol against Dinka from the area around Gogrial. The initial view of students hurling stones and brandishing sticks at each other and tearing across the dusty ground was impressive.  Everyone believed the Dinka wanted to get the exams abandoned and there were accusations that they had been incited by one of the teachers with allegiance to one side.  Later in the town square I saw 40 or 50 Gogrial students under police control, while the Yirol ones were in the police-station.  About 10 students were in hospital, one said to be on the operating-table.  Teachers had tried to intervene but were threatened.  We were told that 105 students had been held in prison along with one teacher, but that 35 would be let out soon, and that any students let out would be sent straight home.

Then a week later I heard about a battle to the north between Agar Dinka of the Pakam clan and the Nuer with a lot killed (maybe 36) and 100 wounded.  This was in retaliation for a fight a month or so previously when, I had been told, "at least 50 Nuer were killed";  unfortunately this time the Nuer turned up with guns bought from the Murle, who had some grievance against the Dinka as well.  A Nuer student I knew told me that there was an Agar in the school who was being very provocative and had turned up accompanied by other Agar with spears in the dormitory, and the Assistant Commissioner of Police took all 28 Nuer students to his house for the night.  The next day I heard shots in the souk; it seemed it was a family dispute between Agar over a girl and they went to sort out the wrong-doers with pistols.  The police fired in the air and closed the souk with tear-gas.  Against all this violent background, local tribal chiefs made an appeal and they decided to go ahead with the exams over the weekend and get them done with.

However the night before this day the Gogrial students were once again afraid of being attacked and had gone to the police.  The police arrived in force and found hoards of weapons, sticks and iron bars in the dormitories.  They rushed through the last couple of exams without informing me, and by the afternoon trucks had started to turn up to ship the students home.  All the first and second year students passed.  I started to turn my mind to helping my final year students to prepare for their exams.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

February 15th: Ngorongoro Crater

On February 15th 1980 I was on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania.  I was trying with a friend, Audrey, to get a lift on towards Serengeti.    

I sat much of the day at the crossroads by the Conservation Area HQ; luckily there was a Boston educated Maasai there to pass the time with along with his kinsman involved in politics who had just lost 1000 cattle to thieves.  They were trying to get to their families on the slopes of Ol Doinyo Lengai, which is an isolated volcanic mountain, effectively the sacred mountain of the Maasai.  I spent much of the time admiring the lake and the flamingos down in the crater through the binoculars, and the elephants and what else I could pick out at such a huge distance.   In the end it began to rain and when that passed we gave up.  We went back to the hotel and began the diplomacy for a ride onwards the next day.

Olduvai Gorge:  My picture
The day before we had made an expedition with a few others.  The ride to the Olduvai Gorge was beautiful and there were many new mammal or bird species; the gorge itself was somewhat atmospheric though there was no time for reflection there as elsewhere on this trip.  We had two young American students doing an archaeology module, so this was a highlight of their trip, looking round the Leakey camp and seeing the homo habilis footprints.  Then we drove down into the Ngorongoro Crater itself where the concentration of animals was fantastic even if the atmosphere was not so good as up on the hills with the Maasai.  It got fairly rainy and eventually the driver got us stuck on the little rise out of a stream, and we ran out of petrol.  Some other Land-Rovers came up half an hour or so later and that was lucky, though the drivers did keep an eye out for each other.  Soon after we saw a pride of 20 lions with little cubs, and last thing before driving up in the dying light we passed the lakeside with 5 rhino and the flock of flamingos.  In the morning at the top, the concentration of flamingos had given the lake a pink surround and I had refused to believe it could be birds, thinking it must be some sort of algae.

The trip from Arusha had already been dramatic.   I spent a day at the bus stand in Arusha but expected the bus did not leave.  The next morning we did manage to get away, passing mostly through barren country with thorn trees, occasional cultivation with little villages; one enormous field with tractor was presumably an Ujamaa village, a collective farm.  There were ostriches and bustards, and little groups of Maasai on the plain.  At Mto Wa Mbu we quickly found some lodging, and took a siesta in the heat of the day.  Later we walked to the park entrance for Lake Manyara which was most enjoyable as we passed vervet monkeys, blue monkeys and baboons in numbers, and a bushbaby which a boy pointed out to us in a tree. My mind was still in a state of wonder at seeing all these wild animals.  The next day we found Mr Lini at breakfast time and managed to persuade him to take us round the park after a bowl of Maasai blood soup (not nice) and fruit breakfast.  The park was lovely even if the trip was a bit of a whirlwind.  I'd have liked to have stayed longer at the lake, but we saw everything we expected, including lions in the trees, flamingos, hippos and a young giraffe.  In the afternoon after some lounging outside the park with the Maasai, we had a beautiful journey up to Ngorongoro with a woman and 5 children, fantastic views from the car, elephants at Manyara, fish eagles and buffaloes further on.

The diplomacy for a ride on to Serengeti worked.  We were up early for a big breakfast at the Crater Lodge, then onto the truck, five of us, including two German volunteer workers.  It was a beautiful ride, one of the rides of my life; there was hardly a place where you couldn't see hundreds of Thomson's Gazelle, and plenty of wildebeest and giraffes.  I had learned about truck rides in South America, and here I was getting the greatest ride you could ask for through the most wild and beautiful country.  At Seronera, the main settlement of the Serengeti, we found the drivers' hostel and the Somali Hotel and went for a walk.   I was up on a small rise watching a number of giraffe, and some buffalo and antelope, and enjoying the hugely varied birdlife, when there was a partial eclipse of the sun.  It got quite dark, at one point 60 and f8 on the camera pointing directly at the crescent sun.   The birds settled down and went quiet, the antelope sat down and rested their heads as if to go to sleep.  Then it got light again and the animals and birds got up and went back to their normal business.

More on my visit to Serengeti here.  

Our Maasai friend at Ngorongoro told us many stories including how he had been "The Man From Serengeti" in a National Geographic Film and had gone to University in Boston as a consequence of that.  He wrote of these stories and others in his autobiography "The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior," by Tepilit Ole Saitoti.

Words and photographs are poor tools to describe this region.  Peter Matthiesson's The Tree Where Man Was Born, in the edition with Eliot Porter's photographs, makes a good attempt.    

Ngorongoro Crater:  My picture

Ngorongoro in 2007:  Picture by Sachi Gahan, CC
Ngorongoro from the crater rim, 2006:  Picture by Dongyi Liu, CC

Monday, 14 February 2011

February 14th: Peulla in the Chilean Lake District

On February 14th 1976 I was in Peulla in south central Chile.  I was on my way from Puerto Varas across the Andes to Bariloche in Argentina.

There was very little in Peulla, just a hotel and some houses owned by the tourism company.  There was a road to Argentina but not back into Chile: there was only a water link across Lake Todos Los Santos to the road from Puerto Varas.  It was as quiet a place as you could imagine and it had seemed wrong to pass straight through even if it meant spending  a few nights there, until I could find transport on.  A bus went to and fro from Argentina two or three times a week and that was really the only transport onwards.  I was put up in one of the wooden company houses by a middle-aged couple, who supplemented their income in this way, although there were few tourists at this time.  The señor told me he had worked for the company for 18 years and also had a house in Puerto Montt; he gave me a little photo of Volcan Osorno, and discussed whether there would be a coup in Argentina.  The señora gave me good simple food three times a day, but on Sunday cooked a splendid roast pork for lunch.

You could not walk far away from the lake, as there were no obvious trails.  There was a famous waterfall and open grassy areas beyond where I sat and read, surrounded by wild flowers, fuchsias everywhere and cane-grass.  On paths there were foxgloves, of yellow and pink and blue, and thistles, daisies and all sorts of yellow things; there were large insects, red-bellied horse-flies and grey horse-flies, blue and yellow dragonflies and huge rich-brown bees.  At the lake I could sit on an old stone jetty and admire the snow-topped mountains, volcanoes mostly, the rocky wooded hills rising steeply with occasional pastures, but houses very rare.  Everyone went to the quay to meet two boats coming in but only 3 or 4 passengers got off.

The journey from Puerto Varas was unusual.  There was no normal bus service along this road, only a tourist coach owned by the company which took paying passengers as well.  There was a young woman to give us loudspeaker commentary, telling us that there was a wheat-field on the right or that the lake was so many square kilometres, and there was a young man to help the women to clamber down the two steps off the coach to the ground.  The route started along Lake Llaquihue with fine views of the perfect cone of Volcan Osorno, which Charles Darwin saw erupting from the coast on the night of 18th January 1835.  Later we stopped at the Saltos de Petrohue, very pretty in a wild wooded valley and with clear water in the waterfall; we made a good long stop for people to take photographs.  Finally we crossed Lake Todos Los Santos by boat and came to Peulla.

After a few days the bus arrived from Argentina, and I was able to continue.  We crossed the pass to Puerto Frias, an outstanding trip.  The vegetation kept thick all the way, even at the top of the pass.  It was a little road at first by a river then over the winding pass through the temperate rain-forest with views of the white peak of Tronador.  In the thick trees one type of creeper had red flowers, there was moss with red flowers, red fuchsias, and then ferns and creepers and wild flowers and cane.  On the Argentine side, Lago Frias was small and emerald  coloured like Todos Los Santos, but the banks were even steeper.  Further on, Lake Nahual Huapi was turquoise and large, steep sided and deeply wooded, but getting less wooded as we reached Bariloche.

In Bariloche there was a general strike and this  made finding a hotel difficult.  It brought me back to the political situation there.  I'd already spent a couple of weeks in Argentina, so I was used to the politics there: hyperinflation, police checks on public transport, people arrested and groups of youths strutting ominously on the streets.

Peulla:  Picture by Luciana Carpinelli, CC
Lake Todos Los Santos, Picture by Andrew Dennes, CC

The picture given to me at Peulla

View peulla in a larger map

Sunday, 13 February 2011

February 13th: Ujjain

On February 13th 1982 I was in Ujjain, one of the holy cities of India.

After Mandu I wanted to take in a couple of other places in the vicinity which I might not get another chance to see:  Ujjain and Sanchi.  Ujjain is one of the cities where the Kumbh Mela is held every twelve years; Sanchi is one of the oldest Buddhist archaeological sites in India.

After the bus journey to Ujjain, we checked into the Grand Hotel which was a wonderful faded glory affair, with a big room with all sorts of furniture.  A large glossy wedding was in progress outside and there was a soft drinks conference in the restaurant.

Ghats at Ujjain:  My picture
After a rest, we took an autorickshaw to the ghats.  They were picturesque but not a lot was going on, a few sadhus and other bathers, lingams built on the quay, shrines and palaces behind the cliff and an enormous ghat across on the other side maybe where the Kumbh Mela is held.  In the streets behind were temples and some lovely large dharmasalas.  We walked back along the main road or bazaar to the town centre, which had many old buildings, strange gateways, little shops.  We were invited into a small Vishnu temple, sat for chai in the middle and walked down a side street by a bazaar mosque,  a very Muslim area.  Then we found a large square full of gypsy women, and the Gopal Mandir, the Krishna temple with silver around the black image and silver doors and colourful paintings on plaster.  This temple effectively formed the centre of the city.  It was a fine city area, one of the best, with a good feeling, quite untouristic; it was strange to be invited into the temples. 

Outside the Mahakal Temple:  My picture
The next morning we went straight to the Mahakal temple which is off to one side between the river and the bazaar.  A young Brahmin took us down to the Mahakal lingam itself, the Jyotirlingam.  It was the first time I'd seen a really holy image, and I felt privileged and impressed, though I have no recollection of the place where it was, a lingam, a serpent and a few Brahmins.  The rest of the temple was functional and modern, a Shankar image above the Mahakal, a baba studying a book under a tree, an infant class getting instruction in a corner.  To one side was a group of shrines and a mad woman screaming eternally while she scrubbed a stainless steel bowl.

Ujjain is rare among Hindu cities in that non-Hindus are able to visit the holy places and get some idea of what darshan is about when believers "see" the object of their veneration.  William Dalrymple gives some great examples in his book Nine Lives.
Sculpture at Sanchi:  My picture

And so on to Sanchi.  The monuments were more impressive than I had expected, but they do not stand out in my memory.  The great stupa was on top of the hill, but more important were the gateways, with their unusual shape and their fantastic sculpture.  All this was from the 2nd century BC, or the best part of 900 years before Borobudur, which I found amazing, given what seemed to me to be a relation of styles.  There were realistic as well as more symbolic carvings and all in unbelievably good condition.  The stupa also had a strange wall or fence of stone.  Of the other buildings the Gupta temple which may or may not be the oldest structural temple in India (4th century) was extremely small and simple.  There was an attractive later temple on the Vidisha side with a fine Buddha image on one side and a fallen Ashoka pillar.  I enjoyed the views towards a village on the far side which stood on a small hill, and towards Vidisha with a rock in its midst.  

Patrimonium Mundi:  Panoramas of the temple at Sanchi.

Sadhu at Ujjain:  My picture

Buildings at Ujjain:  My picture

Thursday, 10 February 2011

February 10th: Mandu

On February 10th 1982 I was in Mandu in Western India, travelling with Mary after we had met up in Delhi.  

Mandu:  My picture
Mandu is a village inside a ruined fortified town, a Muslim kingdom from mainly the sixteenth century, renowned for its prince Baz Bahadur who wrote poetry for his consort Rani Rupmati.  Mandu was then fairly off the beaten track and it had neither hotels nor restaurants - there was a simple place doing puri meals in the market.  There was however a Tourist Bungalow, where we stayed, and they served us meals in the room.  When we left the manager contacted the police in the village and they arranged for the bus to call in at Mandu in the morning - it was that remote.  Going to Mandu was very much Mary's idea.  It certainly had not been on my radar before, but I loved it when I got there.

We took a bus from Indore, a slow and bumpy hundred kilometres in three weary hours, past the military looking town of Mhow at first.  Soon however we were in a much more rural Madhya Pradesh, a bone-rattling ride through villages and little towns.  We saw a camel train coming over a hill-rise, maybe as many as 40 or 50 animals, and nearby some of those women with red saris, white blouses, arms of bone bangles and lots of silver jewellery, gypsies I believe.  Later we saw more of the women with unusual low carts and, in a different spot, an isolated field of opium poppies.

I wrote this up that evening:
Bhil at Mandu:  My picture
Mandu is delightful, a mountain completely fortified with some fairly early Muslim mosques and palaces and tombs within.  We took a crowded tempo (a type of autorickshaw) to the Tourist Bungalow; it will do nicely, a large comfortable room, adequate home-cooking served very slowly, and intermittent water and electricity.  We took a stroll through the main central monuments in the late afternoon; a big mausoleum with Hindu-style pillared hall wing, a high narrow structure with pavilions which overlooks a pretty tank and has nice views over domes and ruined walls towards more distant walls and precipices.  I really liked the site of the Lohani caves which date back to the 10th Century, pre-Muslim, in a lovely spot, complete with cowherds and a sadhu cooking curry and chapattis.  Sat looking at sunbirds and falcons and the plains below, all looking pale and dry and washed out in this winter season.

There's a rural atmosphere, it's really a village with a fort around it, and only a few tourists around, only one apart from us not Indian.  People friendly, everyone says hello and smiles "namaste", "namaskar", "goodbye" or very occasionally "one rupee. "  We met a man with a bow of bamboo and iron-tipped feathered arrows; he wore a bright yellow turban with tassels inside, his woman had big silver anklets.  Local house architecture is interesting, mainly unpainted thick mud-walls, tiles, thin wood support if there are verandas, some have second stories, or semi-second stories with windows; the main street is all banked up above the road.  One house on the far side was built in the ruins of something older and was a rambling affair with colourful garden and a big statue without arms, of Mahavir I think, a Jain temple?

I was reading Robert Byron and noted him asserting that other simpler structures were superior to the Taj; I understand this and I empathise with some of his travel hassles.

During the following two days we walked around the various monuments which cover quite a wide area, once even renting bicycles.  In the evenings we returned to the Lohani caves which gave a lovely sunset spot, as the hills faced predominantly to the west over the Narmuda valley beneath.  Here are some of the notes I wrote up in the evenings: 
We took a long slow walk up to the Rewa Kund area through the heat of the day.  Beautifully rural and for the most part peaceful.  Trees and autumnal grass, birds of all sorts at every turning, little houses and cows, cows, cows, smiling children and friendly adults.  First we side-tracked to a tomb/house, Dai-Kai Mahal, with a pond beside, then the long country walk, metallic water at a pump, puja at the Rewa Kund tank and Mary was lectured at in Hindi by a celebrant woman.  Ash-covered sadhu and a woman who sold us guavas.  At Baz Bahadur's palace we found a pavilion with a beautiful view over a pastoral scene, a ploughed field, a cart by a hay-stack, a woman in red with an earthen pot on her head.  Finally the ramparts and Rupmati's Palace and Pavilions, where we sat in much needed shade up on the top gazing out over the Narmada valley, seemingly infinite.
The Lohani Caves:  My picture
In the evening we did little else but sit above the Lohani caves and watch the sun go down.  It was no especial sunset, too much haze, and the features in the valley below only came into focus as the sun went below the horizon.  The villages looked beautiful in the reddish tint of evening.  We glanced into the temple with the big elephant gate and were shown around.  It's a Jain temple with several shrines, one to the Seventh thirthankar  (Suparshvanath) is a famous and ancient point of pilgrimage.  There were a couple of venerated white robed ascetics of good education, like Buddhist monks.  There were rooms around for visiting pilgrims.
We visited the large Friday Mosque, with its two large and many smaller domes, its pillared hall and its latticed windows, its niches on the prayer wall lined in polished black stone.  Then we looked at the Ram Mandir, the courtyards made of dwelling houses, with another set almost completely surrounding the outer courtyard, two-storied white-washed with wooden fittings, old looking and completely unchanged or converted, perfect really, the sort of architecture I love here, demotic architecture.
We cycled to Nil Kanth though the distance was not that great.  There were good steps leading down, the Moghul palace built around a spring which has been turned back into a Shiva shrine, complete with sadhu and duni with bell and pujas in the central room and tridents and lingam to left and right.  We sat on the rocks above admiring the wooded valley beneath.  Then to the edge of Songarh and the Sunpur Dahwaz where a couple of lookouts over the arched entrance gave us a wonderful atmospheric view over the same side.  This was Maratha work, complete with paint and plasterwork that was probably only 180 years or so old.  A quick view on the south side where a road goes down, and then to the Tarapur gate on the same side which is in quite good condition.  Inside is a tank with villagers' houses flanked by mosque and shrine, most picturesque.  The people here gathered around us, sure sign of their unfamiliarity with foreigners.  In fact the village atmosphere was real.  Later we went back to town to return the bikes, have a chai and barfi and spiced puris, look over the ruined Madrassa and have sunset by the Lohani Caves. The town was full of colourful tribals, colourful turbans and bows and arrows, Bhils I believe.  Coming back after sunset, the light was lovely, silhouetting domes and baobabs.

Saurab Saxena has a detailed recent account of Mandu in his blog and an album of photos.  I find it amusing that he calls Mandu a very commercialised tourist location - it was anything but that when I visited.  I also like these photos by Ramesh Lalwani.

These pictures are by Mary or myself: