Next morning Russ and I went by auto rickshaw back to the Ashoka hotel, this time to cash some travellers cheques as Russ had said that to go to the bank and change a travellers cheque would take all morning. We were in the area called Chanakyapuri where the Ashoka hotel is. This is the area where all the embassies are situated, so while we were there we also visited the Australian Embassy to read the papers. Russ was dying to know if Australia had won the fifth test match against England and how Lillee and Thomson were doing against the English batsman.
At ten o'clock we checked out of the hotel in the bazaar and moved into the youth hostel at Chanakyapuri, it was in much nicer surroundings and far more cleaner than the hotel. Later that morning Russ introduced Barry, Janet and myself to Subhash, who ran the Student Travel Information Centre. A travel agent in his mid thirties with a pleasing personality, his office was down a back lane behind the Indian coffeehouse. Everyone who called at Subash's office was automatically given a cup of tea from his charming wife or assistant. After discussing what our plans were, he worked out an airfare for us which was for us to fly from Dehli, Kathmandu, and Bangkok for £60.00, he also booked us on a tour to go to see the Taj Mahal at Agra, which is about 100 miles south of Dehli.
The afternoon was spent sightseeing at the Red Fort in Dehli; completed by Shah Jahan in 1648 it took ten years to build. Shah Jahan also built the Red Fort and Taj Mahal in Agra. To wander through it's gardens left the noise of Dehli miles away. Inside was also the Moti Masjid or Pearl Mosque, there were other buildings made of marble with intricate stone work. One of the guides informed us that this building is called the Diwa Ni Am or Hall of Public Audiences that used to house the Peacock Throne made of solid gold. It was carried to Persia in 1739 and thought to have been broken up.
Another building housed the emperor’s bazaars and this also contained emperors’ harem. That night we again went back to Red Fort to see the son et lumiere (sound and light show) which depicts events in India's history, after which we took a taxi to the Ashoka hotel. There was Barry, Janet, Steve, Russ, Helen, Damian and myself, again we drank Pelican bee and gorged ourselves on free peanuts and potato crisps.
When one arrives in India there is one place that is top priority to visit and that is the Taj Mahal, the next day we were to see it. I prepared myself; everyone creates a different imaginary picture of an unseen place. Photographs help but the mystery remains until the place is actually seen with one's own eyes, when we reached the Taj it was so different than I had imagined. It was more breath taking than anything I had ever seen was.
The Taj Mahal was built between 1632 and 1653 by the emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum to his beloved forth wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in 1629 during childbirth of their 14th child, not much television in those days. It is built of pure white marble and if Shah Jahan had had his way there would have been a second Taj built of black marble across the other side of the Jamna river.
But before this enterprise could be undertaken his son Aurangzeb deposed of his father as emperor, and he spent the rest of his life imprisoned in the Red Fort at Agra opposite the Taj, looking out across the river to the tomb that he had built for his beloved wife. They are both now buried there in the vault beneath the Taj. The Taj stands on a raised marble platform with tall white minarets at each corner, semi precious stones are inlaid into the marble but sadly many have been forced out of the stone and have been stolen. Steve took my photo in front of the reflection pool with the Taj in the background. The Taj is more than just a monument it is an experience for which I will long remember.
Our tour also included the ancient cities of Mathura, and Fatehpur Sikri. Mathura is one of the oldest cities in India; it was in ancient times a cultural centre as well as the birthplace of Lord Krishna. Mathura was one of the Seven Rishi Cities of the Rama Empire.
Fatehpur Sikri built between 1570 and 1586, during the reign of Akbar; the capital of Mughul India was situated here. Suddenly it was abandoned; it is said due to difficulties with the water supply, now it is perfectly preserved. It was late by the time we reached Dehli, all of us were tired, but a day I shall never forget.
Dehli the capital of India is split into two, New and Old Dehli; it is a fascinating city. In Chandni Chowk, the main bazaar area of Old Dehli its pavements are teeming with people, Indians hawking, eating, waiting and sleeping. In contrast New Dehli with its wide tree lined avenues and gardens is much more like a suburb in Surrey than a large city on the sub continent. Connaught Place is the junction between old and new Dehli it is lined
with crumbling facades of the old colonial buildings, their shutters left open, overhead fans stir the warm
Parked nearby were the taxis, the Ambassador car modelled on an early 1950 British Morris Oxford. This is the standard car in India. Wherever you go by taxi you can be sure that it will be an Ambassador. I passed the time by engaging in conversation to one of the old taxi drivers; he must have been about seventy. “When will the British return?” he asked me?
“Everything worked when the British were here, now its all falling apart, the electricity breaks down, there is high inflation more thieving, and people are becoming greedy.” “It must have been fine when the British were here,” I said. “It was boy, it was, do you want a taxis?” “Sorry, but no” and left him to his memories.
Yesterday Steve flew out of Dehli bound for Bangkok, that night Russell, Maureen and Val took the night train to Calcutta. It had taken Russell all yesterday afternoon to buy the train tickets to Calcutta; it was recommended by Subhash that he make a reservation as the trains get very full, and with a reservation at least they would have a seat.
He first joined a queue in front of the ticket window that said Calcutta. When he arrived at the window Russ discovered that he could not make a reservation until he had filled out the correct forms, these forms must be taken from not the booking or reservation office but from the inquiry office. So it was off to the inquiry office join another queue to collect the reservation forms.
Russ said they wanted to know our ages, sex, fathers name, number of the train, all this to buy a bloody train ticket. Then it was back to reservations office to make the booking, the clerk wrote the information down in duplicate, once in a huge leger and once on another form, behind the clerk was piled high to the ceiling piles of legers and stacks of forms this is bureaucracy gone mad. Lots of paper that revolved from one desk to the next constipating the whole system, one-day someone will have to sought it all out. Russ said, “what about our rail tickets?” “This is just a reservation slip,” said the clerk.
"The rail tickets you will be getting from the booking office."
"Take this reservation slip and they will issue your tickets."
So Russ said that he now had to go off and join his third queue to finally buy his tickets.
This became another problem as Russ said that he gave the man a fifty-rupee note that was torn and the booking clerk would not except it, in India people will not except torn notes.
Russ said, "it’s your bloody money, why wont you take it?" "Sahib, it is torn." So Russ had to dash into to a bank change the torn fifty-rupee note for a new one then dash back to the booking office to finally purchase the tickets.
"The train is fully booked", said the clerk. "What, you mean there are no places?" "Yes" the clerk, said. Russ said that he made a suggestion to the clerk that he would give him some tea money to find them a place on the train.
"How much tea money would you be requiring?" asked Russell. "What ever is your wish sahib." So Russ said that he gave him a brand new ten-rupee note, and out of knows where appeared three sleeping births on the train to Calcutta. There are hundreds of trains running each day through out India. Floods wash away the tracks, cows sit on the line, passengers sit on the roof, and monkeys change the signals. By rights the set up should fall away at the seems but in some phenomenal way the whole system seems to work, and that night at New Dehli railway station there on a carriage was Maureen's, Valerie's and Russell’s reservation.
After wishing them a safe journey, Barry, Janet and I headed back to the youth Hostel. From leaving Totteridge Tube station in North London on that wet winters night last November; here we were at New Dehli Railway station on a warm balmy Indian evening.
There was certain magic about travelling in India. The country is so vast, so complex and so over powering. A vast ancient land packed with history, art, culture and a curiosity, which can sometimes be disturbing. It is a land of striking contrasts, from bullock carts to jet planes, from the desert to the mighty forests.
We dined at the Metropolis Restaurant that evening – an excellent dinner of Buff Steak, the place was a buzz with young people. As I sat there my mind drifted, already I had fond memories from many new places and many new friends. In two days time it would be our turn to leave. I would miss this, on Saturday 11th January 1975 at 10.00am we boarded our Royal Nepal flight at Delhi Airport bound for Kathmandu. It had been an amazing journey, yet another adventure was just about to begin. India was a land of promise, something I would go back to. I was sustained by the thought that one day I would go back.
Dated November 1994.
One year after (December 1975) the beginning of the Budget Bus journey. Russell and Steve had settled back into the Australian way of life and were both back at their jobs, working at the Reserve Bank in Sydney.
Graham Cook (Kiwi) had returned to Melbourne, given up his profession as full time horticulturist and took to driving trams.
Bill the Scotsman had arrived in Australia and after a short stay decided to immigrate to South Africa.
Val, Maureen and Helen all returned to their homes in Victoria and in the course of one year were all married.
Barry and Janet Wills returned to England and were soon divorced.
English Mick immigrated to Australia and was last heard of as living in Baulkham Hills.
Damian flew on to the States, and became an executive in his fathers company.
John from Exeter, Betty and happy Jack were never heard of again, after we all departed in Dehli.
Jamie and Esua with only £50 between them were bound for Goa, in search of that perfect “joint." Whether they made it to their paradise and returned to England one can only ponder?
What of Pat & Amanda they were in the same boat as Jamie and Esau. I often wonder what could have happened to them? In 1994 Amanda would be twenty-eight now, perhaps travelling around Asia with her own daughter.
We had heard that George and Ram had done two more trips to Dehli, but never heard anything of him after that.
I visited Subash in Dehli in 1982, and he still had the travel agency, now located in the Imperial Hotel.
Its twenty years since this adventure took place, yet looking back on that trip I cannot help but ascertain that at that time there seemed a common bond in all of us, even though we were all different in a kaleidoscope of both character and personality. It was as though the spirit of adventure was meant to be, and that some mystic force brought us all together.
I now see Russell at least three times a month, Steve and his wife run backpackers hostel in Sydney. Kiwi still lives in Melbourne and is still driving trams, we always visit him when we go to Victoria, or if he comes to Sydney, he stays at Russel’s and there is always a party with times to reminisce.
What of me? One year after the trip I was working in England saving to do a similar trip back to India. The fever was now in my blood; the delights and smells of India are far away from the west, with its drabness, its quarrels, its greediness, its depressions, and its peculiar misery. It was as though I never wanted to live in the west. I tried to describe India to the people back home, but it was hard. They did not understand why I wanted to go back.
I left England in January 1976 and travelled the same overland route to Dehli, this time using public transport and going all the way through to Bali in Indonesia.
Twenty years on, I still did not discover my inner self on why I was drawn so strongly to India. I have been to India five times since that original trip, still searching. Its as though I have a score to settle with myself, but I don't know what? Maybe I had a bad time in my previous life? And now I am some reincarnated person trying to put my soul to rest? Until I discover the purpose I will always be planning my next trip.
Its now 2004 and I still have this passion for India and the sub-continent. I cannot describe what it is? The curries, the people, the traditions? I do not know, all I know is that I will keep returning because it’s in my veins.
The last time I was in India I followed the freedom trail of Mahatma Gandhi. known as the father of modern India.
But the true travellers are those who
Leave a port just to be leaving.