About This Blog

Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Monday, 25 April 2011

April 25th: Tarabuco in Highland Bolivia

On April 25th 1976 I was in Tarabuco in Bolivia.  Tarabuco is a small rural town known for its Sunday market and its weaving.  In nearby Sucre I had met up with Olivier, who I'd previously met in Nebaj.  It was little surprise to find him in the centre of the region of Bolivia which had the best weaving.  I spent a few days in Sucre with him looking for good weaving.  Features we were looking for included representational figures, animal or human, and vegetable dyes. 

My Tarabuco Chuspa:  My picture
For Tarabuco we took a small truck on the Saturday, so loaded with foreigners and locals that I could see almost nothing and couldn't reach warm clothing when the sun got lower.  For the market we spent more time looking at weaving than inspecting the market, where there was little woven stuff on sale.  Olivier had a Tarabucan contact he had met in Argentina who took us to the house of a mestizo woman, where there was a more expensive collection and I bought a chuspa, decorated with horses and llamas.  A chuspa is a bag used for holding coca leaves and most of the men in the market were wearing them that day.  The market was more colourful in the afternoon, fewer gringos, more Indians.  The streets were all full of costume, like Guatemala. Particularly striking were the women's skirts, either brown with red and white designs, or black with white.  There was a wide variety of hats and some good ponchos and mantas.  As the afternoon progressed more and more aguardiente was being drunk from all sorts of tin cans and I noticed girls playing the charango.  The women were drinking as well as the men and by night-time many were laid out on the ground.

The next morning we went out into the country, through eroded sandstone and past red rocks.  After a river crossing we got away from the road and found a little plateau where it was peaceful.  As we went along I stopped from time to time to take notes:
Tarabuco Countryside 2005:  Picture by Adam Jones, CC
Greener hills on either side, stony and not very high, a vulture circling over me.  Fields of grain, barley or some sort of wheat, all over the plateau.  Stone walls and deep sunken water-courses and a few adobe houses.  There must be a village along the road as Indians keep walking past, perhaps past where there's a gap in the hills.  At first most men were coming back led by their women after the night on the town, and some of them were loaded semi-conscious on mules, now many are going in the other direction too, sober.  They wear the classic Tarabucan clothes; the men the soldier's helmet, the green/black shirt/blouse, the homespun trousers to the knee, the thick soled sandals with little straps.  A manta tied round the neck carrying the poncho and one or two other things.  A herd of donkeys, cows and pigs, tended by a woman and a girl, spinning.  Three people sitting in a cornfield by a house.  Two women passing, talking, one wears a red skirt, the other black, one of the men by the house is whistling.  The barking dog is quiet.  Two saddled donkeys on the rocky side.  You hear the silence now with these little noises.  Sparrows in the wind and the sound of charangos.  Little shrubs with red pointed leaves by the rocky track, yellow flowers by a wall. A woman with a garlanded cross in her manta.
I still have my Tarabuco chuspa hanging in my study - see picture above.  There are pictures of a more recent Tarabuco market here, and an article about Tarabuco weaving here.   And there is a picture of a Tarabuco man with donkeys here

Sunday, 24 April 2011

April 24th: Patna

On April 24th I was in Patna, the capital of Bihar.  Like most places in Bihar the city was spread out and rambling but there seemed to be no centre.

After the hills of Nepal, the summer of the plains was in full swing.  All my energy seemed to go into warding off the heat.  I spent the morning in a walk to Patna City, it was about five miles in all, mostly along main roads, but interesting all the same, the real India as much as anything.  I found a good cup of chai in a roadside place, a cucumber for refreshment as was the custom in this season, one of the best lassis ever in the lassi shop in the city.  I searched for a place to climb up onto the banks of the Ganges and when I found a spot I sat for a while but it was hardly inspiring, for I was near the new bridge they were building and beside a coal depot.  I met a student and went to sit with him in the Sikh temple which commemorates the birth of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru.  Not much was happening there.  I bought him a meal in a small restaurant and we went back to his place for the heat of the afternoon.

The next morning I went out to Kumrahar, part of the excavations of Pataliputra, but there was almost nothing to see, the pillars of a Mauryan hall, fine but much broken, and the foundations of another building.  I took a bus out on the By-Pass Road, past the squalor and diesel fumes of modern industrial India, making a contrast to the pretty park the Archaeological Survey of India had done up there.  I sat there observing what I could see, the trees and birds, a group of middle-class kids, the gangs of workmen and gardeners.  But I was disappointed not to have come away with a better  understanding of Pataliputra which was for hundreds of years the centre of powerful empires and particularly of Chandragupta and Ashoka, both of whom I admire.  I know that there have been further excavations in the years since, but I suspect the majority of the ancient capital lies under the modern city.

I took the night train to Agra but the Taj Mahal and the vibrant city area there couldn't raise my consciousness over the heat.  A few days later I was in New Delhi, my money invested in a ticket home.  I ate in the little Muslim cafes around Connaught Square and took mango shakes in Pahar Ganj while waiting for my ticket to be confirmed.

The Sikh Temple in Patna:  Picture by Neelsb,  CC

Saturday, 23 April 2011

April 23rd: New Delhi

On April 23rd 1982 I was in New Delhi.

This was the last day in New Delhi, the last day in India, the last day for this journey.  There was some business to be done, a visit to an office for Income Tax Clearance which I needed in order to leave.  I had a meal in a smarter vegetarian restaurant which didn't seem any better than the cheaper places.  I took a look around the bookshops of Connaught Place with no success.  There was a pleasant walk round Pahar Ganj, a good vegetable market and lots of activity, a buzzy place.  I looked into the air-conditioned bazaar, newly built under the centre of Connaught Circus, and got some culture shock in modern India.  I sat in a cafe for curd and chai back in Pahar Ganj and took photos until the film was ended.  That felt like the end of the trip.

I'd been in Delhi a number of times over the years, so it was a suitable place to finish.  I'd stayed in different places: in a camp-site near the centre in 1972, with a family in Golf Links, in a lodge behind Janpath, in a swanky hotel, and now in the Vishal in Pahar Ganj.  I'd seen the sights as well, the Qutb Minar, Humayun's Tomb, The Red Fort, Chandni Chowk , the National Museum and so on.  I'd been to the zoo, I'd been to a Sikh wedding, I'd been to the Golf Club during a prestigious tournament, I'd eaten tandoori chicken at the Moti Mahal.  This however is the only entry in this blog for New Delhi. 

This time I was truly content to fly home.  I felt I had travelled enough for the moment.  I needed to spend my time in the marketplace, as Hindus might say.  Do some work.  Do something useful for others.

Pahar Ganj:  My picture

Pahar Ganj:  My picture

Thursday, 21 April 2011

April 21st: Potosi

On March 21st 1976 I was in Potosi in the highlands of Bolivia.  Potosi is the site of the silver mine, the Cerro Rico, which provided the financial muscle for the Spanish colonies in South America.  Local people still work as miners there in desperate conditions.  A miner, I learned, was paid 22 to 24 pesos a day when I was there in 1976, a little over US$1.

Potosi is a high, cold city, over 4000 metres up.  The colonial buildings in the centre soon give way to the rough streets of brightly painted adobe houses which was where the poorer people lived.  Later in the day I found I needed to keep walking with the paseo in the centre or in these higher areas to keep warm. In the middle of the day it was sometimes warm enough to sit and observe what was happening in the middle of town.
Sitting in my favourite spot in Potosi, the Plaza Isabel la Catolica by the country part of the market, backed by a church in Byzantine style.  Some sellers of fruit and vegetables, selling them sitting on the ground out of the big woven bags or from canastas or direct from trucks in the road.  A queue of people buying kerosene, wooden stalls with tin roofs, many empty, some selling strange block sweets and condiments.  A row of furniture stalls at the back, tables and chairs and cabinets, doing no business.  Lettuce and onions and carrots and potatoes, little pears and grapes.

I think there are two groups of country people here.  One wear trapezoidal hats, the women in dark grey, black skirts, sometimes with embroidery at the edge and black mantas with fine pins.  Others wear triangular hats in light brown and similar black skirts but the mantas are brown weavings.  The women often wear thick woollen stockings and shoes, some wear sandals like the men.  Their hair plaits go into fancy black woollen tassels sometimes tied together.  A man wears rough trousers 3/4 down calf with a key pattern trim and a shirt covered by singlet tied at the front.  A felt tight hat.  A small manta tied round his waist, a coca pouch, woven, on his back, sandals.  Some women seem to have skirt and jacket in black and embroidery in one piece, fancy cuffs and collars.  I cannot see any clues to division by villages.  Some men wear ponchos, small and light coloured.  Many men and women carry brown, striped mantas.  Now I notice other male ponchos, woven, reds and browns with stripes, worn sideways and lengthwise, some woven coca pouches.  The waistcoats are sometimes velvet with silver and designs like the women's skirts.

In other stalls they sell cabbages and cauliflowers and beans and peas and chillies in many forms, bananas and oranges.  They sell chuños and oats and flour and several kinds of lentils, with sugar and pasta, some sugar-cane, also squashes and pumpkins.  Man selling pens, 2 for 10 pesos and 5 regalitos (little gifts, probably sweets), selling all he can.  Beggars with silver crosses.  Meat from unskinned animals in the market.
When I left Potosi I took a truck to Sucre to the east.  This turned out very well, as I recorded in my journal that evening:
Very fine ride in a truck.  Went pretty fast with only 5 or 6 passengers until the reasonably sized town of Betanzos where a couple of Indians persuaded the driver to go to their village.  This worked well as I saw the village and we had a better load on the truck afterwards.  The village was in a valley right up at the end, valley beautiful with steep rocky sides and well-cultivated centre.  Two or three communities, simple villages with donkeys in the pens.  Nearly all wearing costume, like old man leading donkeys or woman who came with us, Quechua-speaking.  Onion sets in terraces, peach trees and flowers.  Villagers happy, fit, well-fed.  A co-operative, harvest of wheat and so on coming in.  Leader very interested in the whole thing, spoke Castellano as well as Quechua.  It all seemed very successful.  Then we went through a plateau, all Indian, wheat mainly, some other sorts of grain.  Then into a river area with a grand descent, more barren.  Lunch of choclos (corn on the cob), corn humintas and chicha at Miralles.  Then over the Pilcomayo near a strange bridge and into the green-hilled Sucre province.  Climbed a bit, past a fine house painted red, and large barracks with a bizarre church, over a hill and into colonial, smart Sucre.  I had three white companions on the journey, all bilingual in Quechua and Castellano; a woman who was descended from English family called Reynolds; a man returning from Argentina to his small farm; a man taking wool and skins to Sucre.

Cerro Rico and Potosi (2006):  Picture by Christophe Meneboeuf, CC

Potosi in 2007:  Picture by Joachim Pietsch,  CC

View Tarija in a larger map

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

April 20th: Lamu

On April 20th 1980 I was in Lamu.

From my room:  My picture
I would take a breakfast in the cold drinks shop with the sectarian literature on the main street or in another cafe I called the yoghurt place.  I would walk the pretty up and down inland route to the beach past the shambas, liking the colours, but noticing the barbed wire so common in Kenya.  I would take a swim in the beautiful water with a strong current.  I would sunbathe.  I would shelter under the palms or in the woodland nearby and read.  Once I watched a stone-curlew on its nest only a few feet from me.  I would take a beer at Peponi's, the hotel by the beach.  In the evening I'd take supper, at Ghai's perhaps where the seafood was good, if I felt well-off or if friends were going.  Then I'd go to Petley's for evening drinks and see who was there - and heated conversation would inevitably follow.  It was a perfect place for a holiday.

After a week or so I fell in with a group of British VSO volunteers teaching  English in Kenya, along with two who had been teaching in South Sudan, and this turned my plans for the future into a new direction.  I went with them on local dhows to other spots along the coast and a nearby island.  I moved to a room in a private house in one of the old buildings high up in the old town.  We put a party on one night in another house.

Lamu was hot and quiet.  There were no active motor vehicles allowed on the island.  The Swahili culture seemed strong. The people were Muslim, the influence was middle-eastern.  Dhows still operated between Lamu and the Persian Gulf and you could see them occasionally tied up in the harbour, magnificent, traditionally built and single-sailed.  When one arrived, the next day the little shops were selling dates from the Gulf.  The old houses, such as the one I stayed in, used coral stone in the building and this gave them a quite special feeling.

There is a piece about Swahili architecture here

Patrimonium Mundi:  Panoramas of Lamu, including one of the lanes in the Centre.

Lamu:  My picture

Lamu:  My picture

Ocean-going Dhow in Lamu:  My picture

Monday, 18 April 2011

April 18th: Bhubaneswar in Eastern India

On April 18th 1982 I was in Bhubaneswar in Eastern India.  As the capital of Orissa and an interesting temple town, Bhubaneswar should have had more tourists, but I didn't see other foreigners and, although I had arrived from Konarak on a "tourist bus", there weren't that many Indian tourists or pilgrims.  It was a pleasant place with the temples, often a thousand years old, laid out in the separate, garden-like  Old Town.

As so often, the most famous temple, the Lingaraj, was closed to foreigners, but it looked spectacular and huge from a distance and there were few places in the old town where it didn't sit in the backdrop.  However there were plenty of other temples to admire.  I liked most the Vaital Deul temple, built in 800AD, finding the Chamunda image special, the misshapen outline etched in white so you saw it when you peered through the darkness into the shrine; there was also an emaciated Bhaisava, the male form of Chamunda.  After a walk the next morning I wrote this:
Bhubaneswar Temple:  My Picture
It was after 7.30am when I started walking along Lewis Road to the old town.  I went first to the Rajarani temple, had a good look at that and its fine carvings; then got a lift in a lorry to the Brahmeshvara temple which had a pretty setting on the edge of town, good architecture and a stunning lingam that is still worshipped, the priest gave me a flower offering.  Then I walked back to look again at the Muktenara temple, one of the finest, red stonework, small-sized with good sculpture, a well and a gateway arch.  Finally of the famous temples I looked at the Parasumesvara temple, the oldest and very fine, more static sculpture but remarkable compared to the old temples of Tamil Nadu.  The back lane to the tank was charming.  Then I saw the Vishnu Anantavesudeva temple which was interesting for its active kitchen and offering hall, it's supposed to be a smaller Vishnu version of the Lingaraj.  Finally I sat at the tankside having chai.  
I visited Bhubaneswar and Konarak as a side trip from Puri, but it took me a long time to get anything much out of Puri.  I stayed in a section of town which seemed to be reserved for the cheap travellers which was not what I wanted.  There was a beach for swimming which was what the cheap travellers wanted but it was a strange affair with deserted buildings, houses and temples rising out of the sand, and hustlers among the fishermen.  The waves were strong but they pushed you towards the beach. 

Finally I made a new approach to the famous Jagannath temple, finished in the twelfth century, and wandered around the surrounding streets.  I wrote this afterwards:
By Jagannath Temple:  My picture
I was taken by a talkative old man for a platform view of the temple.  The main thing I noticed was some carving on the outside of the main tower which seemed original.  He pointed out the main buildings which I don't remember, and told me a story about the foundation and raison d'etre for the temple, relating to Krishna, it's a Vaishnavite place.  We looked from the top storey of a Brahmin's house, as the "monastery" was locked upstairs.  Then I wandered through the old streets behind, which was pure old India, reminding me of Kanchee more than anywhere.  Brahmins sitting on their verandahs with colourful, mainly Jagannathy paintings on the whitewash.  People friendly, the dogs not always so.  One house had a fine carved sandstone facade, carved pigeons mingling with the real ones.  There was a festival for Hanuman, with activity around all the Hanuman shrines, especially a big one where there is a twelve foot high Hanuman beside one of the gates of the temple.  And at one of the local temples there were fairy lights and disco film music.
Bhubaneswar Temple:  My picture
Bhubaneswar:  My picture
Bhubaneswar Temple:  My picture
Beach at Puri:  My picture

Puri:  My picture

View Konarak in a larger map

Sunday, 17 April 2011

April 17th: Konarak in Eastern India

Konarak:  My picture
On April 17th 1982 I was in Konarak in Eastern India.  I was making a short tour of temple towns in Orissa and had planned to see Konarak in a couple of hours and then take the bus onwards.  But a visit to the ruined, thirteenth century temple to Surya, the sun god, made me realise that I needed more than a quick look.  Two things were especially striking at first sight: firstly the huge size and that is without the missing  gigantic tower, part of which was still standing in the early nineteenth century; and secondly the concept, as the whole thing is designed to be a huge chariot in stone - the wheels alone are the best part of four metres high.  Every face is covered with sculpture, some of it "erotic". 

Wanting exercise, I walked the couple of miles to the completely deserted beach and cooled off in the water and after a siesta returned to the temple.  On the second view I realised that more of the sculpture is erotic than I'd noticed in the morning: there were the huge high ones which were inaccessible, there were the upper row ones which were mainly standing, there were the little ones tucked away in every nook and cranny, such as the scenes in the wheels.

Next morning, refreshed I went again and wrote this:
Konarak:  My picture
Once again struck by the wealth of the sculpture.  It was built at a similar time to some of the great cathedrals of Europe, although it lacks their airy loftiness and precision of symmetry.  But the sculpture makes up for any shortcomings.  Almost every inch of the exterior is carved, the closer you look the finer you realise it is; in that way it doesn't throw itself at you, it is more subtle.  But what looks like bare stonework turns out to have exquisite geometric design, and what looks like geometric design at a distance turns out to be an intricate frieze.  Fully half the figures on the main building are erotic in posture and a few on the two smaller buildings.  The two ends of the main temple seem less erotic and I noticed some stones that hadn't been carved.  The harder greenish blue stone, which is used for entrances, images, altars, is more static, better preserved.  Time has worn the carvings, especially the coarse details of the smallest efforts, but even then I was taken with an expression or with the realism of the bodies, especially the larger than life higher ones, where the lovers' bodies have the texture of a Rodin, which emphasises the torrid nature of the acts portrayed.  Obviously some of the craftsmen were consummate artists.  I fell to wondering about their plan of it all.  Did they have a master plan?  Who dreamt up the positions, some of which seem unusual?  Was there a plan for them?  Taken from a sutra?  Did the sculptor practise with his wife?  Surely experience was needed, or was it inspired by a rajah's harem?  Did the sculptor have freedom to portray what he thought up himself?  Otherwise I liked some of the courtly scenes, and the intertwining of the mermaids and mermen which for practical reasons portray caressings rather than congress.
At the bus-stand I was recommended to get a "tourist bus", and jumped on just as the rumbling thunder turned to rain with giant hailstones.  The countryside I found beautiful, houses mud-walled, unpainted except for large intricate whitewash patterns.  We stopped at a spot in the Dhauli Hills, where there were Ashokan rock-edicts.  The Indian tourists were more interested in the Nichiren Shanti Stupa which did not seem as good as the one at Rajgir, with an Indian beating the drum, and an offering box inscribed "Charity for the Japanese Sangha"; I also had to avoid an Indian pujari.  

Patrimonium Mundi:  Panoramas of the temple at Konarak.

View Konarak in a larger map

Saturday, 16 April 2011

April 16th: Tarija in Southern Bolivia

On April 16th 1976 I was in Tarija in Southern Bolivia.  It was Good Friday.

Tarija felt quite remote, a deep valley behind mountains.  I suppose there were buses, but I came in and left on trucks and the roads were all gravel or dirt.  Coming from Bermejo, on the Argentina border, we had begun in jungle and had a steep rise to real cold puna, with few people around, before descending after dark to the city at 6000 feet.  The truck had been friendly and quite full by the end, though many passengers didn't speak Castellano.   Leaving on Easter Monday and heading for Potosi, we climbed slowly out of the green valley up to the Cruz at Kilometre 40 and onto roads I'd been on before on the trip to Villazon.

This day was Good Friday and I was interested to see what there would be in the way of Easter festivities.  The day before in the late morning I caught a parade which included Hugo Banzer, the president, and the bishop, coming from the church and going round the square; then the parade of the townspeople began.  There had been another parade in the evening but these parades had seemed largely secular.  The Good Friday parade came about 5.30 in the evening, a Christ statue in a brown robe, Mary in black vestment and coffin, then two bands and the army, many people joining in the walk around.  It seemed pleasant and happy, informal.  Later as I was finishing eating in a street market, there was a second procession from the church on the hill, even less formal. A glass coffin lit by a car battery, hung with marigolds, and statue of Mary, many people, more ordinary people this time, some prayers and a little singing.  I sat in a cafe and the procession passed me.

On the Saturday with a friend I took a truck ride to San Lorenzo, a tiny colonial town nearby, to see if we could find more of the bags and other handicrafts I had seen in the market in Tarija.  The truck was very crowded so I could see little, but the Indian ladies were fun to watch in their flat cream or grey hats with a complicated flat grey bow.  San Lorenzo was actually very quiet and I didn't find the bags.  There was a pleasant bridge over a stream where we had lunch, then we walked through simple  rocky streets , with some attractive balconies and courtyards around the adobe.  Back in Tarija in the evening, everyone was drinking chicha, the Indian maize beer, straight from the gourd.  The town was busy until late.

Finally on Easter Sunday, I saw, from a distance, another small religious procession. By the evening the celebrations were secular again, with a big boxing match in the stadium, and a band and crowds of people in the plaza.

View Tarija in a larger map

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

April 12th: Amritsar

On April 12th 1973, or thereabouts, I was in Amritsar. 

We drove up the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi, which was not as difficult a drive as it had been in the less developed areas to the east where we had tried to avoid it, as we had other main roads.  We had a puncture and I remembered a friendly man on a small motorbike stopping to see if he could help us.   Amritsar was our first stopover on the journey back to Europe, we had been there before in November 1972 and we were looking forward to visiting the city again.

As we approached, it gradually became clear that there was unusual traffic heading for the city.  Thousands upon thousands of people were arriving from every direction.  We could see all sorts of vehicles joining from every side road, mostly trucks and pickups.  The people were mainly country Sikh men with loose white clothes, long beards and straggly turbans.  In the city it looked as if they were heading for the Golden Temple.  When we finally got to visit the temple there were long queues of these people waiting to get in, while others were leaving, carrying pieces of mud in any sort of container.  We were ushered into the temple which felt quite  different from the previous visit.  The water had all been drained out of the tanks and worship was largely suspended.  Meanwhile the visitors were all taking amorphous piles of mud from the lake and carrying it away.  The lake was being cleaned.

This process is called Kar Sewa and does not happen often.  The previous one had been fifty years before in 1923.  The lake was cleaned twice in the Eighties after army operations, to clear weapons and the bodies of victims.  There was one more Kar Sewa in 2004 and some resources are available on this, pictures and words.

I would return to Amritsar in October 1978.

Monday, 11 April 2011

April 11th: Kathmandu

On April 11th 1979 I was in Kathmandu.  In the six years since my previous visit Kathmandu had grown up considerably.  There was traffic in many areas, though Durbar Square in the heart of the city was still quiet.  Freak Street had lost its hash shops but gained more freaks and pie shops.  Pig Alley was still there behind Durbar Square with its shrines and lingams, and pigs ferreting around in piles of filth and running sewage.  It did, however, feel like a real city now and I most enjoyed getting out and visiting the temples and other places around the outskirts.

On this day I walked up to the temple of Swayambhu on top of a hill to the west.  It is primarily a Buddhist site though it is revered by nearly everyone, and the devotion to its goddess is thought to protect against smallpox.  I left my shoes at the bottom of the staircase and climbed up as with one puff.  At the top I walked around the stupa and fended off small boys and a well-dressed "I am poor man, I am beggar-boy" youth.  I sat in the courtyard of the library, surrounded by filth and flies and ducks, and recorded this:
Swaymabhu 2009:  Picture by Ingmar Zahovsky, CC
The site here so colourful, dirty, smelly, mediaeval.  I'm sitting on the edge of the ground floor meeting place on the library side, there are pillars and bells and a little stupa between me and the great eyes and the gold steeple of 13 discs rising to the sky and decked with flags of five colours.  A lot of country women in bright red were going round and lighting the lamps when I was there, scarlet dresses and black hair.  Dogs lie about in the sun, monkeys steal food and pigeons peck in the piles of rubbish.  A group of beggar children cluster round me.  Grains or seeds in white, brown and red lie in front of some Buddha statues to collect the sunlight.  Little girls in rags with snotty-nosed baby sisters on their backs, eyes streaming.  A boy monk plays with a green ball.  To my left is the gold temple with the silver door - I imagine it is to the goddess of smallpox, it's so ornate, two-storey pagodas, flags and bells hanging, and a gold version of the flag of Nepal on either side of the doorway.  A black goat with a little bell looks for food and Westerners take photos.
The Square at Bodnath:  Picture by Richdrogpa, CC
Another time with a friend I took a late afternoon bus out to Bodnath, the main Buddhist site.  The stupa at first seemed a little hostile, too touristy; there were beggars as you walked around and Tibetans selling things, but it seemed better in the evening light as the Tibetans came out to pay their reverence.  We climbed up on top and looked at the square and the stupa from a grandstand point.  Then we drank chang in a very pleasant shop, a little pub atmosphere, rose-garden and good chang, and only 4 rupees to get us a bit tipsy, a Westerners' place, a group of Americans and English who talked in loud voices.  The whole square at Bodnath is surrounded by fine high buildings which could be from a mediaeval European city; the front rooms of the chang shop were made of stone with wooden benches and tables.

Best of all was Pashupatinath, the principal Shiva temple on a bend of the river.  I went with friends on rented bicycles and found the temple relaxed and not crowded.  I wrote this up in my journal that day:
Pashupatinath, 2005:  Picture by Xitus, CC
Pashupatinath very beautiful.  We sat on the other side of the river among the shrines, sometimes among the tourists and the beggars and the hustlers.  We watched a crazy young sadhu in red fine clothes, shouting "Bom" and casting his stick at various dogs and monkeys, a real exhibitionist, hurling himself frontwards and backwards in the thin stream of the river, a group of boys to watch; another quiet sadhu was a bit bemused, we were laughing out loud.  And then up the hill to the peaceful sanctuary there, a group of shrines with houses, sanctuaries for sadhus, mad women and a guy with bad elephantiasis.  Such a beautiful spot.  Then we walked over the hills, getting too close to an army camp. 
Otherwise Durbar Square, the heart of Kathmandu was always worth a visit.  I could sit high up on one of the temples, admiring the carvings, lions perhaps, and the carved windows which no one seemed to notice.  Below I could watch the movie, of freaks and tourists, and various shades of Nepalis, ordinary men in tight white trousers and colourful hats, barefoot women carrying heavy loads, whether in local dress or wearing colourful saris.  Finally I made a visit, again by bicycle, to Patan, another city but almost a suburb of Kathmandu.  It had its own Durbar Square, and with its dirty streets, high narrow town-houses and wooden pagodas, and it was not unlike Kathmandu.  

Patrimonium Mundi has many panoramas of Kathmandu.  These include Durbar Square, Pashupatinath, Bodnath, Swaymabhu and Patan

Kathmandu, Durbar Square, 2009:  Picture by Shoestring, CC

Sunday, 10 April 2011

April 10th: Resistencia in Northern Argentina

On 10th April 1976 I was in Resistencia in northern Argentina, being held in a police station.  I had decided to try to get from Iguassu up into the Andes in Bolivia for Easter, seeing Asuncion in Paraguay on the way.  It would have been too slow and difficult to go directly across the Chaco, but there was obviously a risk involved in going back into Argentina in the wake of the coup at the end of March.

I took a bus from Asuncion to the River Paraguay, got the ferry across into Argentina and a bus to Formosa through flat watery countryside.  In Formosa I changed buses and pulled into Resistencia in the late afternoon.  I checked into a hotel at the bus station and went back downstairs and immediately got arrested.  I was stopped by a man carrying one of those trays hanging from his neck selling lottery tickets or chewing gum, things of that sort.  They were rounding up people who seemed to be not local, but one of those they rounded up was a popular local coach driver.  The officer in charge appeared drunk.  I was taken to the police station and held in a room with others.  At first this included a young New Zealand couple I had met before; the woman was fairly distressed and I think they were soon allowed to go to a room on their own and I heard later that they had been released quickly.  I was taken upstairs for questioning but I had nothing to hide.  I was lucky that I had a book to read in my bag and I managed to get some sleep on the floor when I was given my turn of one of the communal sheets. 

In the morning, a Sunday morning, we were taken across the plaza for finger-printing; we spent much of this time standing or sitting in a small alley but the atmosphere was not threatening.  This was when I felt confident that nothing serious was afoot; the coach driver had waved at lots of his friends as were taken around town in our line and he just shrugged his shoulders and laughed and we all felt better.  We were driven back to the police station on the back of a Willys after midday.  In the afternoon I felt confident enough to write in my notebook: 
Been with the police now for 22 hours.  I'm writing with everyone around watching, making me slightly afraid that the self-styled bastard guarding us will take this book away and tear it up.  But I have something of a need to write.  There's about thirty people here, maybe half are around twenty and a couple are older and very responsive to any orders, "yes sir", certainly sir."  Radio playing, football match earlier, now English music, maybe Rod Stewart.

The bastard is smallish, well dressed like many of the cops, smart trousers and blazer jacket, key chain of course, aged 32 he said, carries his list of names and worries that we are all present here.  Moves between attempted jocularity and barking orders, he keeps us sweeping the floor, feet off the beds, he stood one guy in the corner for reading a discarded police paper, and two of the kids for looking at a photograph.  The girls herded upstairs were made to wash the six or so sheets we have.  The window from this room looks at the stairs, so when the girls come down everyone looks up their skirts, "Rico" they say.  Two guys seem to live here.  I don't know their exact status, cops surely, but they lie on the beds all the time.  I've been suspicious of informers.  It looks like we're heading for the second day, and my chances of making it somewhere interesting by Easter are receding.  The people here are decent by and large, poor for the most part, most had their documents in order as far as I know.
I was let out after almost exactly twenty-four hours and I suspect that was the maximum I could be held for.  I went back to the hotel and explained things to the landlady who had been concerned at my absence but was probably used to such goings on.  I went out into town and had a large gin and tonic, sitting outside with relief, not wanting to be in any sort of room. 

The next day I had to hang around waiting for a night bus across to Salta in the west, rather than trying to take a train from Corrientes across the river, which I thought might be more risky.  In fact I got stopped three more times by the police before I left; one policeman recognised me and tried to shake my hand in some sort of apology.  I spent much of the time in the huge square, reading and jotting this in my notebook, to make a contrast from the police station:
I'm in the town still, and in the great big plaza, where you can't see across to the other side, but can wander almost lost, without direction, amongst the palms and pea-trees and flowering bottle-brush trees.  It's a well-planned park and it is taken care of, a bit, but much of the grass has given way to dusty chaos.  I'm waiting for a student who said he'd like to talk but it looks like he won't show.

Plaza in Resistencia, 2006:  Picture by Fernando Pacullo, CC
It's definitely Argentina this town.  There's a flashy street called Tucuman but not too much of it, the style doesn't overwhelm.  The streets around the plaza are not for much, offices, little usual cafes, shuttered shops.  An old Mercedes bus drives around, and groups of old men sit in the dust, opposite rows of American taxis and beige buildings.  There are gypsies in the square, in their colourful clothes and platform shoes and scarlet kerchiefs, whistling and shouting, half-begging.  Shoeshine kids.  A pair of young lovers, tight clothes almost bursting as they snatch a furtive kiss.  But mostly just people, tired and grey, walking slowly, not doing much. 
In the end I got off the bus before Salta at Guemes, where I went north via Oran to the border crossing into Bolivia at Bermejo.  I thought it better to stick to the smaller towns and less travelled roads until I finally got out of Argentina.

View Resistencia in a larger map

Thursday, 7 April 2011

April 7th: Rajgir in Bihar, India

On April 7th 1982 I was in Rajgir in Northern India.  I remember the few days I stayed there as some of the hottest I have experienced. 

Rajgir is a little Bihar town partially surrounded by a number of hills.  The old end of town is historical, mostly ruins and it is one of India's most ancient settlements.  It contains the "Vulture's Peak" where Buddha is said to have preached.  There are Jain temples and Mahavira too passed many years there.  There also is a Hindu bathing place with hot springs.  All in all it is a pilgrimage place for many different religions.   On the hills were even more ancient walls and a new Nichiren stupa.  The modern town extends into the plain but seemed very unmodernised except for a collection of decaying hotels which were empty in that season; it was too hot. 

I stayed at a Nature Cure ashram, where they followed a Gandhian style; there was a Krishna feel with mantras recited by individuals and also played over loudspeakers.  They did a good meal at lunch which I tried to attend, but apart from that I stayed in my room during the heat of the day.  I tried to explore early in the morning while it was not overbearingly hot. The electricity in the town kept failing and that led to water failures, which made the hot springs attractive.

This day it was cloudy, there was thunder, and it even rained a little on a few occasions which kept the day a very little bit cooler.  In the morning after a dawn hot bath I walked up to the Nichiren Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda).  I looked at all the various ancient monuments and walked through some pleasant forest on the old road.  I sat up at the top among all the ancient walls and on the way down I looked into Vulture's Peak, where Buddha preached, atmospheric but shadeless in the emerging sun.  At the top I wrote in my notebook:
Rajgir, 2007:  Picture by Chandan, CC
I'm at the top of Chhatha Hill, sitting on a rocky pinnacle looking out over the plain to the east.  The plain is dull green or brown, a few scattered houses, you have to go some distance to find a proper village.  A big thunderstorm has moved off in that direction away to my right, the wind still swirls around me and the sun tries to come through.  I hear the beating of the drum in the temple and the endless chanting of the mantra like a moan.  I'm not tempted to join in, though the monk had a sweet smile.  Excited voices of Indian tourists going round the stupa.  The stupa is most impressive in its nobility and concept.  These hills wooded, good trees, some look autumnal with yellow leaves falling away, while new shoots appear on others.  At my feet a tree is in flower, a beautiful yellow flower with a golden centre and a bright green leaf.  What I take to be a euphorbia beside it, and then one of those prehistoric looking trees with bare red bark, no leaves and bunches of flowers at the tips.  Bulbuls and warblers all around.

The pinnacle I am on may be part of these old walls which roam all across these hills, at least 6th Century BC.  Certainly other nearby stones are part of the walls but this big one might naturally sit here.  This is one of the finest features of Rajgir, and supposed to be the oldest piece of architecture in India outside the Indus Civilisation.
Nalanda Temple:  My picture
The day before I had been to the baths and then on an excursion to the ancient Buddhist university at Nalanda.   I staggered up at 5 to walk to the hot spring in the dawning light.  The bath was good and it was interesting to watch the people at such close quarters doing their washing pujas, bowing to four quarters, tossing water at the images.  No one took much notice of me, and if they did it was friendly.  My only scruples lay in an insignificant sign "Non-Hindus not allowed" which probably referred to the baths keeping untouchables out. They seemed to make an exception for foreigners here, but didn't allow in those dark skinned miserables who occupied the mud houses near the road outside.  After a puri breakfast I got on a bus to Nalanda, a good excursion.  At first in the ruins I felt the sun, but the initial impression was very good, for instance the big temple with the Gupta stuccoes, and sitting under the shade of a big tree in the pretty grounds.  Around the site temple 2 and Monastery 1 - really big - were the most impressive, but the museum was disappointing: I think I had seen all the best stuff in Delhi.  Afterwards I walked into the nearby village of Baragaon to look at the Surya temple there, giving me an excuse to see the village.  I saw another little temple first, which had marble fittings, and then an old man showed me round the Surya temple which had a good atmosphere, and fine images including an Avalokitesvara and a Parvati, presumably Pala.  It was situated in a picturesque little back street, with harmonium music coming from next door. 

The Saptaparni Caves, 2007:  Picture by BPG, CC
Before I left I walked over the Vaibara Hill, seeing the old Jain temple and the Mahadevi Shiva temple, and got caught by a pujari at the Jain temple.  I sat awhile looking over the town at the Saptaparni caves, where the first Buddhist Council was held after Buddha's death.  Finally I ascended to the highest Jain temple.  There I found perfect peace, above even the woodcutters and with beautiful views in the hot sun, just the birds, a few butterflies and me.  On my way down there was the  surprising sight of people being taken up in litters, little wooden and rope affairs with 2 porters each, maybe 10 altogether and one or two quite young women amongst the passengers.

Nalanda Monastery:  My picture

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

April 6th: Khartoum

On April 6th 1981 I was In Khartoum, making final preparations for returning home.

Khartoum at Sunset:  My picture
Mary and I spent only a little over a week in Khartoum.  Getting my papers right turned out to be quite easy: I suppose I had put in all the hard work in Juba.  We toyed with coming back via Egypt but decided against it for one reason or another.  We stayed in the Grand Hotel as it cost only a little more than the dump we started out in.  The Grand was the turn of the century hotel built for Thomas Cook's early Nile Cruises.  It still had its lovely lines but was getting a little seedy; everything was there but nothing worked quite right.  One attraction was the swimming pool, one of the few in Khartoum, but they started emptying it within an hour of our checking in and it never got refilled.  Still the river views were good.  I carried on with the process of trying to fatten up; this included the giant, everything imported from France, eat all you like buffet at the Meridien Hotel; fine for me but Mary wasn't getting filled on the salads which passed as the vegetarian options.

I made a quick farewell trip over to Tuti Island and enjoyed once again the country in the middle of the city.  We did a trip over into Omdurman and walked around the souk, but my heart was not in it.  I was ready to go home.

I ran into many old friends as the teachers started to come back after the teaching was over.  The teachers in the north seemed more satisfied than those in the south and there was plenty of talk of coming back.  My friend Richard had done a great trek with a horse called Huxley out near the Chad border.  Some people from the far north had been starting camel journeys.  Indeed I'd heard of one teacher who had been doing real desert journeys: Michael Asher's book "In Search of the Forty Days Road" would be published in 1984, providing great evidence that Sudan was at that time one place in the world where ways of life remained which were unconnected to the modern world.  He may have made some of the last great journeys that remained to be made by Europeans.

Omdurman Souk:  My Picture

Monday, 4 April 2011

April 4th: Lake Naivasha in Kenya

On April 4th 1980 I was at Lake Naivasha in Kenya.

Hell's Gate:  My picture
Hell's Gate was a small valley formed out of some dried up prehistoric Rift Valley river.  It lay just over the hill behind the SULMAC flower farm, which has always been controversial internationally, but attracted workers from all over Kenya and gave its name to the village on the west side of the lake.  I had been to the mouth of the valley a couple of days before with a larger party and a Pokot guard from the flower farm.

This time I went to see what birds we could record with one of my friends and a more experienced Danish birdwatcher - (in 2 days around Naivasha we recorded 125 species.)  After passing the flower farm, we found a way to walk over the hillside and through a little pass.  Here we disturbed an eland which tried to come down a steep path the way we were going up.  It was exciting to be so close to such a large antelope, and no doubt dangerous as well.  We sat up on the cliffs for much of the middle of the day looking down on the valley which forms the gate.  At this height we were level with the lammergeyers when they were settling or taking off on their long sorties for prey.  Sometimes animals like giraffe and zebra would come by.  More typical and more interesting were the small antelope and hyrax which lived around the rocks.  To be out on foot in what was to all intents and purposes wild Africa was wonderful; we saw no other humans during those hours, but the wildlife was all around us.

The next day we went out again, this time by the lakeside down by the Safariland Hotel where there was a good range of water and garden birds.  This was a much more humanised environment.  As I came out of the hotel grounds I got swept away by the excitement of the Safari Rally which was passing at that time.  I took a matatu back to the Sulmac village and we were overtaken by a couple of the faster cars which seemed exciting.

I returned to Hell's Gate at the end of 1984 and it had become a National Park. You could still walk about but there were already more people around.  Maasai were driving their cattle through the valley and the lammergeyers were not to be seen.

Safari Rally at Naivasha:  My picture
Sulmac Village at Naivasha:  My picture

Garden of Safariland Hotel.  My picture from 1984

Hell's Gate in 1984:  My picture

View Naivasha in a larger map

Sunday, 3 April 2011

April 3rd: Bodhgaya

On April 3rd 1982 I was still in Bodhgaya.  I have already recorded this, from a couple of weeks earlier.

The Bodhgaya Math:  My picture
One thing I always enjoyed in Bodhgaya was that it was a little Hindu town for all its Buddhist sites.  Vaishnavites visited the Mohabodhi temple as part of pilgrimage tours, but the soul of the town always seemed to be to be Shiva.  There was the Shiva shrine on the island on the river.  Opposite the island were lots of little shrines and lingams, so small you could easily miss them.  And next to these as you first entered from Gaya, stretching from the road down to the river bank near the bathing ghat was the Math.  I had long been interested to find out more about it, but no-one could tell me much.  The gates on the road side were usually open; occasionally I'd seen a car coming or going, but this time I decided to have a look in for myself.  I found the temple hot and white with red Saivite statues and a lovely huge eternal duni (fireplace) at the far end.  The area around, still within the walls, was interesting with cows and the people were friendly towards me.  I sat and read for a while in the garden which was atmospheric and overgrown; I was surrounded by trees and had a black-headed oriole for company.  Finally I walked out through the river gates where they kept the elephants and sat in the shade of the overhanging tree, talking with my Thai friend.

Earlier I'd talked with an English couple who were volunteering at an ashram nearby where local untouchable youths were receiving some education.  I'm not sure where the ashram was but it must have been sufficiently far from Bodhgaya not to have come into conflict with the Math.  The Math was something between a Saivite monastery and a feudal palace.  It was the seat of religious power in the town and the seat of political power in the area; it was also the seat of social power and directly or indirectly responsible for the bondage of many low caste people in the area.  Throughout the Nineties I probably read more about Bodhgaya as a centre of caste war than as a centre of Buddhism.  Eventually the power of the Mohant of the Math was overthrown.  I think the Math also controlled the Mahabodhi temple and was perhaps responsible for all the Saivite statues in the grounds.

David Geary relates the history of the Math and the struggle for free labour in his academic thesis; he also describes the development of tourism and the conflicts engendered.

In the Shiva temple:  My picture
Some days before I had walked to the further branch of the river, at the point where Buddha is reputed to have sat.  Buddha's Seat was rather taken over by the Hindu temples around but the river was pleasant to sit by and the country was lovely there, big trees, including sopme with big red flowers.  I looked in at the Tibetan temple there.  I also visited the Hindu temple along the path which was interesting, the typical plaster and white paint style, and I got a guided tour.  There were some fine images:  Sujata who gave Buddha the bowl of curd was worshipped there as a Parvati incarnation alongside Shiva; this reminded me how Buddhist lore had mingled here with the Hindu folk tradition.  There was also a lingam with a Shiva face built in on the outside which seemed unusual.  The village on the way to the river still looked fine, but the people there were clearly more used to tourists than on my previous visit.

I spent a full month in Bodhgaya this time, staying until the weather was really hot and only a few foreigners remained.  I was content sitting in the temple grounds, especially around the tank where a pied kingfisher was often fishing, or talking to people in Shivanath's, or trying to sit in the Zen temple, or hanging out in the market or around the river, preparing myself in my way to return to England.

The Bodhgaya Math from the river:  My picture

Market Day in Bodhgaya:  My picture

The temple at the river:  My Picture

Bodhgaya:  My picture