SECOND WORLD TOUR
We spent a couple of days exploring
Central London while we stayed in a hotel in Victoria. On the day that we checked out of our hotel
to go down to Hastings, we ran into Maria, our friend from Kovalum, when we walked
into Victoria Station to stash our backpacks. It was an amazing reunion for I can't imagine what the odds
were on running into a friend like that in the middle of London. She invited us to stay at her flat in
Westbourne Park whenever we were up in London. She had a beautiful baby boy now, Luke, the result of a quick
romance in India the previous year. As
we walked past Buckingham Palace together, we were just in time to catch a
glimpse of the Queen sweeping by in her Rolls Royce, having just opened
We made a first trip down to Rye to
see my mother who was doing well and spent a few pleasant days down there
before taking the train back up to London to stay with Maria. By this time, we could judge to the day the
optimum time to spend with my family down on the coast. We got some immunization shots for this
trip and started to look around for a good deal in round-the-world plane
tickets. At the end of our first week
in England, we took the boat train to Holland and arrived in Haarlem in the
evening. My old friend Chris met us
and whisked us off to his flat where we met his Dutch wife Ivonne for the first
time. Our lives had changed incredibly
since Chris and I had lived together at Mount Mad all those years before. But we had managed to stay in good contact
since then, seeing each other from time to time. It felt wonderful to be in Haarlem for it was a lovely old town
full of interesting buildings, canals and cobble stone streets. The central square held an ancient Cathedral,
which was surrounded by an open-air market, and most of the center of the town
was closed to cars.
The Dutch are perhaps the best that
Europe can offer. They are an educated,
highly sociable and liberal people.
Further more, they have the habit of leaving the curtains of their
windows open so that we caught continual glimpses of Dutch life. Often it seemed as if we were looking into
paintings by the Dutch masters of the eighteenth century for we could see
people eating, hanging out together at night, reading and watching
television. There really did seem to
be a close and direct link between time present and time past. We got on very well with Ivonne. She, like Chris, was a musician and sang
with him at his regular gigs at a nearby restaurant. They lead rather quiet lives and both studied music seriously
at home where they had a simple recording studio. Ivonne was studying the piano and her lessons were subsidized by
the state. Chris was working on an
original cycle of electronic pieces with the quest for the Holy Grail as his
theme. I've always been a great fan of
Chris' and have often thought that he was the most gifted of all my
friends. He had always been supremely
unambitious however and quite content to work away slowly and privately on his
various projects which rarely seemed to reach any kind of larger public.
Catherine and I made a couple of
trips into Amsterdam, which was half an hour away by bus or train. We caught a free Dvorak concert at the
Concertgbow and had a late night out at the Melkweg Club, reliving my memorable
night with Marie Luz and Phillip so long before. This time we heard Baaba Maal and his wonderful Senegalese
band. It was very exciting African
music and the performers did the most acrobatic and energetic leaps and dancing
that I'd seen in years. We heard Chris
and Ivonne sing at the Camelot Restaurant too, an appropriately named place I
thought for the last English Knight and his Lady to be performing. We loved their program of traditional and
original songs. I spent a couple of
days looking for a gallery to take my work but considering that it was the
Dutch who first introduced batik from their colonies to Europe, there didn't
seem to be much interest. Finally I
found a small gallery in Den Haag which took some of my pieces.
On the day that we arrived back in
England, Margaret Thatcher finally gave into pressure from her own party and
resigned as Prime Minister. Following a
short power struggle, John Major, an equally reactionary Conservative
politician took her place and life went on pretty much as before. I found it all very depressing and resolved
to move on as soon as possible. We
finally found inexpensive round-the-world tickets which took us to Delhi,
Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Bali, Sydney, Auckland, Hawaii, San Francisco and
finally to New York. The tickets had
to be used within a year. Our flight
to Delhi was booked for December 11th and this first step of our trip was on a
Russian Aeroflot flight via Moscow.
But before then, we had other visits
to make. The first one was to Wales to
stay with our friend Richard whom we had got to know on our last trip. The train from Euston took us to Shrewsbury
where Richard picked us up and took us to the little village of Llanfyllin in
Powys where he was living with his girlfriend Jacqui. We found ourselves cooking a big curry that evening, in fact we
somehow found ourselves cooking curry almost every night that we were in
Wales. The village and the green Welsh
countryside around us were quite lovely but relations at the house were a bit
strange and strained. Richard and his
girlfriend were fighting bitterly in their room all the time. We would listen to them rowing upstairs
continually. "You bastard, how
dare you talk to me like that? You
just treat me like complete shit! Whose
house is this anyway? You rotten
bastard!" went the furious voice upstairs. Then a smiling Richard would pop his head around our door and
ask us if we'd like a cup of tea and a plate of crumpets. It was a bit too weird and we'd escape by
striding off into the Welsh countryside to take damp walks along the twisting
lanes before the cold of winter drove us back to the fireside at Jacqui's
house. But it wasn't all conflict while
we were there. We met some very nice
neighbours and Richard took us to a wonderful waterfall and lake nearby. This was the lake where the famous British
war movie "The Dambusters" was filmed in which the English pilots
dropped bombs that bounced across the water like skimmed stones to destroy
their German target.
It was good to get back to Maria's
house in Westbourne Park and to spend a few more days in London. We picked up Indian visas and hung out with
friends. Howard held a ''Blues"
at his Brixton house when he turned his house into a club for the night, sold
drinks and hired a Jamaican DJ to play incredibly loud Ragga music all
night. Catherine and I danced there
for most of the night and ended up falling asleep there at five in the morning. We made a final trip down to Hastings to
stay at Kate's flat and to spend a few days with my mother. This time we had a good visit but got back
to London just in time for winter to really arrive and snow to start to
fall. It seemed like the perfect time
to be traveling on to the East.
We had bought tickets on a Russian
Aeroflot flight to Delhi because they were the cheapest to be found on the
market. The Indian travel agent warned
us when we bought them that Aeroflot flights were pretty Spartan. "Basic" was the word she used, I
believe, but we figured that we'd be alright.
If we could handle the bus ride from Katmandu to Gorakhpur, we could
handle almost anything, I thought.
When we bought our tickets, we carefully specified that we wanted
vegetarian meals and mentioned it again when we checked our luggage at the
Aeroflot counter at Heathrow.
Somewhat obsessively, I said it again to the attendant as we surrendered
our tickets and were shown to our rather narrow seats. The flight was very full and the plane
seemed very old and battered inside.
But the flying was impeccable, we had a flawless take-off and I soon
settled into my book. There was no
movie on the flight, nor did we have headsets for music. When the first meal was finally served and
I requested the vegetarian meals that we had ordered, the steward told us that
Aeroflot didn't serve vegetarian meals.
Our meal consisted of a potato, a little sauerkraut and a bread roll.
Our short stopover in Moscow was a
real eye-opener. We couldn't leave the
Airport but had about six hours to wait there. The first thing that struck me was that the whole airport was
incredibly dark. There only seemed to
be about six lights on in the whole place.
Most of the main spaces were dimly illuminated while the edges of the
rooms and corridors were unlit. Even
more revealing, the toilets didn't look as if they had been cleaned lately and
none of them had seats to sit on. This
was an International Airport! All the
facilities were very limited; there were no choices on the menu in the
restaurant and not much for sale in the Airport shop. Poor Russia, it was obvious that the country was going through
hard times. Of course subsequent
events bore this out. And if Moscow looked
bleak, our next stop, Tashkent, in the far South East of the vast country was
almost shocking. We arrived there in
the middle of the night and were ushered into what seemed to be a large empty
aircraft hanger where we stood around numbly for hours waiting for our
connecting flight. All I can remember
was seeing a pack of semi-wild cats foraging around between our feet.
Delhi was a welcome respite from the
rigors of our Aeroflot flight and we felt pretty grounded as soon as we touched
down there. I should mention that our
landings, like our take-offs were faultless and that those Russian pilots
certainly knew how to fly. Delhi was
a lot easier to deal with this time that our last arrival there. We took a taxi straight into Connaught
Place and checked into the Ringo Guest House near the very center of town. Ringo's was a much-recommended Travelers'
hotel where we were immediately made to feel very welcome by Mr. Singh at the
front desk. It was a smallish place,
up on the third floor of a building with little rooms off a central
courtyard. There was a simple kitchen
and we had access to the roof and views of the City. My only criticism of the place was that the mattresses were so
thin that it felt like we were lying on a hard stone floor to sleep. But it was worth it for the hotel was full
of interesting people. Travelers from
all over the world were staying there and we walked straight into a good social
scene. So we spent a few days getting
acclimatized to India again, did some sightseeing and looked around the Red
Fort for the first time. We even went
to another wonderful Indian circus. I
cruised the vast underground market at Connaught Place for new music and came
away with a great collection of tapes of qawwali music, Sufi inspirational
music that featured ecstatic vocals and frenzied drumming.
I had an interesting experience one
day whilst sitting in Ringo's courtyard writing letters. There was a young woman sitting near me,
all alone and a little apart from the crowd.
I intuitively knew that she was terribly unhappy and in some kind of
trouble. I sensed her pain, finally
went up to her and asked her what was up and if I could help in any way. Her name was Judy and she was from
England. She told me that she was
working as a nurse in Southern India and had just received news that her father
was terminally ill with some kind of cancer.
She had left her job and was in Delhi trying to get a flight back to
England as soon as possible. She was
obviously overjoyed to have somebody to talk to about her feelings and her
situation and we included Judy in our activities for a couple of days until she
managed to get back to England. We've
stayed in touch over the last few years and although her father died shortly
after she got back to Wales, she's since met a nice man, got married and has
had a baby. I made a good friend and
we'll run into her again some day. The
experience helped me learn to trust my intuitive senses even more.
At the end of a week, Catherine and
I took a bus out of Delhi, across the plains of Uttar Pradesh and back up the
mountains to Almora. We didn't stop
there this time but jumped into a taxi and arrived at Tara's half way up the
hill to Kasar Devi after dark. It was
great to see the Tewari Family again, as good for them as it was for us and we
found little changed at the Guesthouse.
Tara had a new son, Gudu and a young Indian woman was staying in the
room next to ours. Otherwise it was
pretty quiet up in Papersali. There
were few foreigners around and it was growing cool up there. Winter had already arrived.
Kasar Devi had haunted me since we
had been there, for I had had my best experience of India there on our last
trip. Up on the ridge, we were far
from the noise and the hassle of the city, the air was clear and smelled sweet
and the people always kind and friendly.
And there was always that view, the one that was in my head so often, of
the snow peaked Himalayas floating up there in the deep blue void of the valley
and the sky. The mountains definitely
had some strong attachment for me and going back there only rekindled my
passion for them.
As soon as we could, Catherine and I
walked back up that now familiar road to Kasar Devi up on the ridge and drank in
that unforgettable view. There seemed
to have been some new building since we had been there two years before and
there was a new cafe, a couple more houses and a few foreigners living up on
the ridge. So we made our walks along
the paths winding along the hill, drank tea and enjoyed the view. We took nearly all our meals at Tara's this
visit where Som was still running the kitchen and Lalu the store. Although we didn't meet Mukti, our
neighbour, at first, we could hear her distinctively musical voice and saw her
motorbike in the road outside.
When we finally did meet her after a
couple of days, we both liked Mukti immediately and I believe that the
attraction was mutual. As the days
passed and Christmas approached, we got to know each other and spent a lot of
time together. She was a little older
than Catherine and turned out to be half-French. Her mother had been an ethno-musicologist collecting field
recordings in the area when she had met Mukti's father who came from an old, rich
Brahmin family. He had to more or
less break with his family when he married Mukti's mother. The family had owned a lot of property in
Delhi and was extremely well connected in the upper echelons of the Indian
Government. So Mukti's parents had
bought an old estate at Binsar in this Kumaoni region of Uttar Pradesh and
Mukti had been born up there. She'd
gone to a posh private school in Rajasthan where her relationship with the son
of the Royal Family had had to be terminated due to Mukti's mixed nationality
and consequent lack of caste. She'd
tried a year at University in Oxford but had dropped out when she realized that
she wanted to live and work in Binsar.
The year before she had come home to become a social activist there.
Mukti was involved in a number of
projects there, had started a self-sufficient community for lepers and was
working to create a women's carpet weaving cottage industry in the villages of
the Inter-Zone area between India and Tibet.
She had succeeded in having the land around Binsar designated a
protected Sanctuary. Whilst in the
middle of this latter project, she had inadvertently been propelled into
national prominence. Mukti had lots
of high governmental connections as I said and had had an interview with the
Minister of the Interior. She had
wanted to talk to him about the local Mafiosi who were continuing to cut down
trees at Binsar. In the course of the
interview, the Minister had invited her into his back office to discuss the
matter further. As soon as they had
gone into the next room, Mukti had seen that it was a bedroom. She had been thrown onto the bed by the
Minister who told her that he was going to teach her a lesson for meddling in
the matter and had attempted to rape her.
She had escaped and run through to the front desk where she had poured
out her story to the secretary there.
Mukti had wanted to take the whole matter further and had found that
difficult at first. But eventually,
with the help of the Prime Minister, a family friend, she had brought the
Minister of the Interior to court.
When she had told her story, the Minister had been exposed as a liar
when he denied the incident and he had lost his position in the Government
after holding the position for years.
In the process, Mukti had been in all the newspapers and had come to
exemplify the new feminism in India.
She was attractive, very intelligent and a woman of action. We all became great friends and she invited
us up to Binsar on Christmas Day to see the house and the estate and the view
from up there. There was no road into
the property, which was up on the side of a mountain, and the house was
accessible only by a winding path. It
had a breathtaking view of the Tibetan border, which wasn't very far away. Mukti showed us the path that the shepherds
took when they moved their flocks down from the higher grounds in the
Winter. She had made that trip with
them and promised to help us make the journey sometime.
On Christmas Night, Tara piled us into
his ancient jeep and drove us down the hill to visit the homes of all his
Christian friends. We ate strange
sweets and got a little drunk on some unfamiliar drinks. It was a truly unique experience and served
to bond us all closer together. On New
Year's Eve, we rented a TV, a VCR and some atrocious Indian movies and watched
them with the entire Tewari family up in Mukti's room. Tara got extremely drunk and ended up with
his head on my shoulder confessing undying love for me. It felt both silly and moving.
The new year, 1991, began with us on
the move once more. Tara bought us
Himachal caps as presents, Catherine made beaded earrings for all the women of
the household and we said fond farewells.
Mukti came down to Delhi by bus with us, and Catherine and I checked
back into the Ringo Guest house. We
got to spend a couple of days with Mukti in Delhi and she took us for a
wonderful meal at the Woodland Restaurant where we met her mother before taking
them both back to Ringo's to show them my batik. I was not only traveling with my portfolio but with a bunch of
recent batiks on this trip.
There was the usual fascinating
bunch of people around Ringo's, Clive from Scotland and Titia from Amsterdam
whom we hung out with. We met a young
man called Adrian who was actually bicycling around the world. We applied for Thai visas and decided to
make a trip to Rajasthan to the west, a state that we had missed on our first
Indian visit. So we said good-bye to
Mukti once more and caught a bus for Jaipur.
It was a rather long tiring ride but
I managed to sleep most of the way, only waking up to take a bicycle rickshaw
to the Evergreen Hotel which must have been quite splendid at one time but was
looking pretty funky by 1991. Jaipur
seemed to be a dusty, noisy, typically Indian city with rather more hustlers
But it had its good points. The old city, which was surrounded by a
fortified wall, had a very impressive broad main street full of interesting
shops and we visited the famed Palace of the Winds there. The Palace was basically an interesting
facade full of little windows which could be reached by a myriad little
passages and steps from behind. It had
been the women of the Palace's viewpoint on the world. We explored all the backstreets of the
Johari Bazaar and the next day, took a bus out to Amber Fort which was quite
fascinating. One began to get a sense
of the days when such forts guarded the outer reaches of the Empire. Nowadays the enclosed courtyard of the fort
contained monkeys and elephants instead of soldiers.
Actually the high point of Jaipur
for me was probably a night out at the fabulous art deco Cinema, one of the
biggest and most opulently decorated movie houses that I've ever seen. We went there with a group of friends to
see the latest smash hit masala movie called "Thanedaar"-"The
Inspector". It was a predictable
tale of two brothers, one who went bad while the other became a fearless agent
of truth and justice, a policeman. By the end of the film, the bad one redeemed
himself and the two brothers were finally reunited. It was very colourful with lots of beautiful women, lots of
action, a song and a dance or two or even five - and the heroine was killed at
the end, of course. This movie had
India's first digitally recorded soundtrack music and I was amused that the
principal song was a highly discofied version of an African dance hit called
"Tama" by Guinea's Mory Kante.
During those two months in India, it was hard to get away from that song
which seemed to be playing wherever we went.
Jaisalmir, out on the edge of the
Western desert which lay between India and Pakistan, was our next
destination. It was a beautiful
medieval town, which had been a major stop-off point on the old Silk Route long
ago before the transport systems changed.
The town itself, which was walled and heavily fortified, was raised up
on a little hill and a small town had sprung up on the flat desert floor, which
lay all around it. As we approached by
bus, it could be seen from miles away and the high walls reflected pink light
in the setting sun. We quickly checked
into the Swastika Hotel just inside the Manin Gate and set off to explore the
town. All the cobbled streets lead us
upward towards the top of the walls where we found more shops, restaurants and
hotels. We went round the big Jain
Temple at the top of the Fort and discovered that there were real-as opposed to
Tourist- restaurants just outside the walls of the town. From then on we ate all our meals out
there. On our second day, we were
taken out to the edge of the desert for a short camel ride over the dunes. It was a terribly commercial scene with
Indians trying to sell us everything under the sun and we both felt pretty uncomfortable
about it. But the camel ride was fun,
I could indulge my Lawrence of Arabia fantasy and we resolved to make another
trip to the desert soon.
Against the backdrop of the desert
and this lovely old town, the crisis in Kuwait suddenly exploded. Sadam Hussein's occupancy of the Kuwaiti
oil producing area had provoked the UN retaliatory forces into action and when
the deadline for Hussein's withdrawal passed in mid-January, George Bush
ordered bombing raids on Iraq. I
vividly remember when the first news of the Gulf War came through, for Indian
fighter planes screamed backwards and forwards across the desert sky all that
day. We watched groups of Indians
collecting around radios in the streets to catch the first reports of the
war. In the hotel that night, a tense
and sad audience gathered in front of the small black and white TV to watch the
first broadcasts about the conflict.
The Indians didn't take sides in the war but universally mourned the
outbreak of such heavy violence in the nearby countries. Unlike America, which we later learned was
treated to a blow by blow filmed reportage of the war from CNN News, we were
half-starved for information about the progress of the war. Being in another part of the world, we saw
the conflict from a very different viewpoint.
There were no American heroes nor was there a media barrage attacking
the monster Hussein. Rather there was
a general feeling of pain and fear that the Near East was involved in yet
another devastating war. Delhi Airport
was reported to be closed and all flights out of the country were cut 25%.
As is common in all big cities in
India, we found a Bhang Stall right in the center of Jaisalmir. Hashish was illegal in India but the hemp
plant with similar properties was fairly freely available. We soon realized after watching the action
around the stall, that many of the town's inhabitants were high all the
time. We watched the hemp plant being
ground into a green goo by a family of young men and then being cooked and
served up in the form of different candies, in drinks, with hot chilis and even
fried in batter as tempura. The old
men of the town popped by regularly to take a moist green ball of the bhang and
swallow it straight before going back to work.
We tried it in a drink like an
evening cocktail and climbed dreamily up to the top of the fortress' walls to
watch the sun float downwards like a great pink football and slowly flatten out
and disappear out there in the desert.
Our camel trek was short, sweet and
sore and I walked stiffly and bowlegged for days afterwards. We eventually decided only to make a
one-day trip. That turned out to be
perfect and quite long enough. We
left early in the morning with a small group including Mark and Bridget from
our hotel and two small boys who came along to help out with the camels. My camel was a grotesquely ugly beast
called Lalu. She smelt very bad,
farted and belched continually and would turn her neck around to leer
suggestively at me from time to time as we swung along on little tracks across
the desert. It was pleasant to be so
high up from the ground and to be able to see so far from that position
although there wasn't that much to see in the desert. Mostly I seemed to be plodding along a little track looking at
Catherine's back and the swinging rear end of her camel. We came to an old temple complex and looked
around there for awhile. We weren't
really surprised when a bunch of Indians came out of the shadows to offer us
bottles of Limca, a truly awful lemon drink, biscuits and even toilet
paper. One of the few changes that
we'd noted between our first and second trips to Indian was that toilet paper
was now for sale everywhere. Whereas
the Indians continued to wash themselves in the infinitely more ecologically
sound and practical way using water and their left hand, there was a growing
market in India now for toilet paper.
We refused all offers of bargain supplies and continued our odyssey
across the desert, stopping only for a packed lunch in the shadow of some old
ruins. Even there, we were assaulted
by cries of Limca! Biscuits!
Cigarettes! and Toilet Paper!
As the sun began to sink once more
over that painted desert, Lalu seemed to come back to life. She had dragged behind the other camels
quite noticeably all day and suddenly took off in the direction of the
fort. Straining to get back home as
fast as possible, leering and grunting and slobbering over her huge dripping cud
which hung out of her mouth half the time, she lead the group in a large circle
and soon we could see the walls of Jaisalmir to the east. As we got even nearer, Lalu picked up more
speed and was soon almost cantering towards her home, her stable and presumably
her supper. By the time we arrived
back at the fort, I was tired and my legs and thighs ached but I had grown
strangely fond of my camel and her unsubtle ways.
The long eighteen hour bus ride back
to Delhi via Jodhpur passed quickly.
With the help of half a Valium pill, I slept almost all the way. It was probably just as well because
whenever I awoke, the bus seemed to be traveling at a dizzying speed across the
desert. The driver obviously took pleasure
in overtaking other vehicles on terrifyingly tight corners and reminded me how
dangerously most bus drivers drove in India.
We were always reading and hearing about massive accidents in which
buses turned over and fell into gorges killing all their passengers. But our good luck looked like holding once
Back at Ringo's we found ourselves
once more part of a group of fascinating fellow travelers from all over the
globe and were thrilled when Mukti showed up once more looking for us. So we spent one more wonderful night with
that fascinating young woman with whom Catherine and I were both half in
love. It was actually a mutual
admiration society and we've stayed in touch with her ever since. Mukti has offered us work in India. I could work on one of her cottage
industry projects and could help to start up a batik business near Binsar. Catherine might work to set up a Youth
Center for Indian teenagers, something which could go far to bridging the gulf
between the sexes in India. Mukti has
told us to consider her house as hers and to come back there whenever we
could. Recently she got married to the
Indian Army's 800 meters running champion and has had a baby. I think often of Kasar Devi and that view
of the Himalayas and can't wait to get back to see Mukti and our friends in the