Overland journey from England to India in 1970 – Part 8
This is the eighth part of an amazing overland adventure journey from England to India and back again that took place in 1970. I am really honoured to be hosting this story by Reverend Stephen Barton on Selims Raasta – off the beaten path travel interviews Have a read of the other parts and how two friends hitchhiked all over Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now in India…have a read how this incredible journey started!
In his words “The world has changed. Yugoslavia is no more, and I doubt if it’s advisable or even possible to bum a ride over the Khyber Pass these days.”
We’ve now left Delhi on our grand tour of N. India. We have a fantastic railway ticket – cost about £3 – itinerary Delhi – Jaipur – Agra – Lucknow – Benares – Calcutta – Darjeeling – Patna – Raxaul – Delhi – Ferozepur – ALL ONE TICKET – thousands of miles!
Tuesday 21 July: Jaipur
Arrived Tues 5.30 am in Jaipur. Tour of city was good – Amber was about the most breathtaking palace I’ve ever seen, for real or in pictures. Slept in pm – very tired although we got some sleep on the train. Then walked round city and ate in restaurant.
Jaipur is rather good. We took a tour of the city which also went out to a magnificent fort/palace called Amber, 7 miles away. Situated on one of several hills it was in a magnificent position to defend the old town below in the valley. And the splendour of it must have been quite incredible – impossible to imagine now. Courtyards and gardens, colonnades, pinnacles, halls decorated in marvellous paintings and mirrors. A fairy tale castle.
Gradually we are realising more fully the complexity of India’s problems. Politically she’s in a bad way as well as agriculturally. Poor Mrs Ghandi. And they don’t like us – especially our arms to South Africa and immigration policies. I do hope to learn enough in the next month to sustain an interest afterwards.
At last we’ve time to read occasionally – so I bought “Passage to India” by E M Forster! Most enjoyable and of course more than that. And we’re eating more. The railways station restaurants seem quite reasonable. The only trouble is that eating their food, especially breakfast, makes me long for home comforts. So maybe we’d best go back to the street stalls! But that’s no good here because it’s all so grotty. Heigh ho.
Wednesday 22 July: Jaipur to Agra
The climate’s about bearable now, if exhausting still. Two bad days of prickly heat in Delhi but that seems to have withdrawn for a while. We spent last night in a “Retiring Room” on Jaipur Station – an excellent service: bed and all toilet facilities for about 3/6. I expect we’ll use these quite a bit on the journey to Calcutta. We’ll be spending about 24 hrs in each place, perhaps longer at Benares. Taj Mahal today!
Arrived in Agra in eve – enjoyed reading Forster on train – and booked at hotel – after much argy-bargy. Stayed with two Indian lads. Went to cinema to see Romeo and Juliet – smoked hash on the way. Great rickshaw ride thru back streets. Superb film – wonderful dancing and music. Sorry to fall asleep in 2nd half! Slept till 9.30 am! Much bother getting reservation – mad ride on rickshaw and paid for repairs! In pm saw Fort and Taj Mahal. Wonder after wonder. To sit by the Taj as the sun went down was unbelievable. We tore ourselves away to return to hotel and thence to station for overnight train to Lucknow. Al got fever.
Thursday 23 July: Agra to Lucknow
I slept a little on train and arrived tired in Lucknow. Have reached “Charitable Institution.” Spent interesting day looking at the Imambara and the Residency, dilapidated as they were. The zoo was very entertaining if somewhat ridiculous in many respects. Beautiful tiger. Coffee house was good and so was tea later with the American guy on the station. The Sikhs were most hospitable and refused any donation.
Friday 24 July: Lucknow to Benares
On the journey to Benares we met the French lads and stayed with them at the excellent tourist bungalow. That city was fascinating. We walked downtown and around some back lanes, took a boat on the river and had first glimpse of primitive Hinduism. I went alone to the Methodist Church in the evening. Monday morning we took a tour of the city which was most interesting, tho it left us rather weary and we spent the eve looking for a cinema and finally wandered through a splendid bazaar. The last day was spent buying magnificent silk etc. We were so lucky to meet the man by the bananas.
That gentleman showed us where to buy the presents we wanted. Among other things I got a black gold-embroidered silk stole, some brass wine cups and a tankard. I still have the last two items. My mother wears the stole on special occasions!.
Saturday 25 July: Benares (Varanasi)
[letter to friend] Now that we have slowed down, thought becomes possible again and yet too much is spent in dreams, and the least romantic of dreams: food, food, food! No, not hungry, just longing for Mum’s cooking and the comforts of home. Romance has not lost its place in my heart though. How could one see the Taj Mahal at sunset and not be moved? Or hear Indian music – but “hear” is not the right word, for this music arouses the spirit and is at the same time calm and melodious. To listen passively is impossible. And to travel and watch the villages go by – and now we have reached the holy city of Benares where all come to bathe in the Ganges. A tragic land – so very rich in culture and yet so poor in other ways. Poor Alan is ill again. I think half the time so far he’s been sick. The food and the heat have played havoc with his guts. Don’t tell Mum cos she’d tell his mother! And I’ve remained OK. All of which is very wretched. Perhaps he’ll get better here as we’re staying three days before going to Calcutta. The Taj Mahal is even better than anyone ever said it was. The Sikh community that put us up for the night in Lucknow was great. And it was fantastic riding a rickshaw madly through the streets of Agra, although it cost me 2/6 in repairs! The drivers of these cycle carriages are so weak and thin that I took pity and told him to get in the back! Can you imagine asking a taxi driver if you could drive his taxi? What a country! I must take more photos, though I’m no longer struck by the mules, horses, bullocks, elephants, and camels which I see everywhere on the streets.
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