by Robert Paul Fasnacht
Just Getting There : The trip began so unexpectedly || Itineraries
Departure to India || Delhi WOSA banquet || Travel to Mussoorie
Exploring Mussoorie || Walking around the chukker and Oakville || Woodstock School campus || Monday - Happy Valley, Shastri Academy, Savoy Hotel, Christ Church || Tuesday - along Tehri road to Dhanolti - Kaplani school, Suakholi || Wednesday - Haunted House, Prayer Flag Hill, Hanifl Center, Hindustani Memorial Church, Debdah Hotel and Brigadier Yadav, evening BBQ || Thursday and Friday excursions - Forestry Institute, Kempty, Jummna, school loot
Woodstock School 150 : Saturday - Mela, Studio 59 dedication, dances, Bonham piano recital, banquet || Sunday - Service and farewells
Touring India : Shimla || Delhi - luggage, crafts, railway museum, snake charmer, sites || Agra and the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort, and "baby Taj" || Mathura station and train to Gujarat
South Gujarat || Ankleshwar, Rural Service Centre, orphanage || To Raj Pipla I || Sunday in Ankleshwar, Umalla, train stop, Taropa || Raja Pipla II || Bhils, Sardar Sarovar Dam, back to Raj Pipla III, Rajput rulers || Return to Ankleshwar, on to Surat, shipping walking sticks || Return to Vyara || Surat sarees
Touring India Again : The Flying Ranee to Bombay, Matheran hill station
Farewell || The End
Photos: Studio 59 || Explore Mussoorie group || Woodstock 150 Celebrating and Dedication
Just Getting There
The trip began so unexpectedly
I recall being mildly interested in a large envelope with a Woodstock School return address that I had just received in the mail. In the envelope was a pamphlet advertizing the school's plan to celebrate a 150th anniversary. Suddenly, as I stood at the backyard patio doorway looking out but not really seeing, everything fell into place. I turned to my wife, Lorene, who was standing close by and I quietly said to her, "We're going home to India."
India. That word had swirled around at the edges of my conscious mind ever since I permanently left the country in early December, 1957; keeping me eternally restless. India. The land of my birth and my childhood and adolescent years. India. The place where friends, both "foreign" and native, were made and lost through time and circumstance. India. Site of a lifelong commitment made by two dedicated and loving parents who worked tirelessly with tribal people in the Bombay Presidency (now south Gujarat State) to improve their standard of living and preach a gospel of love and salvation. India. The location of a school named Woodstock that had made indelible marks on my psyche and prepared me well for my travels along the road of life. India. The home of many people who were always remembered as being kind and generous to a fault, yet girded with a determination to make their fledgling country a success.
The decision to return to India, once made, quickly brought into sharp focus a number of concerns, problems, and questions never before considered. Would simply attending the planned Woodstock 150 (two-day) Celebration be fulfilling enough or should there be more to our trip? If a Woodstock sponsored pre-celebration activity were added, was there a need for any further travels in India? If so, what further travels? How do I plan a trip that gives a wife and soul mate of 44 years a reasonable opportunity to experience both the India I knew and the India of today? After all, she had heard endless stories about India through conversations with me, my parents, younger brother, Dean, and "old India missionaries." Would two different school boards give their employees enough leave time to go to India and, if so, how much time? How does anyone plan a trip when you have no idea whether or not you can even go? Do we incur advance costs that may or may not be refundable in the future so that some firm outline of the trip can begin to be created? And, most importantly, what would it take for me to stop being so restless? All I wanted to do was just pack my bags and go to India. Why were there now so many forks in the pathway?
Ultimately, we decided that the India trip deserved more than just a two or three-day sojourn, all the while keeping our fingers crossed that more than one year later we would have the time and opportunity to travel. We would begin our participation in the celebration with the WOSA India banquet in Delhi, join the "Explore Mussoorie" activity group, and then be at Woodstock School for all of the sesquicentennial events.
With that in mind, the reservation form provided in the pamphlet was carefully completed and posted to the Woodstock School Alumni Office by registered airmail to ensure its delivery in due course. Now all that remained was to sit back and wait. How wrong could I be? Slowly, that word India began to resurface in my consciousness as I went about my day-to-day teaching and leisure activities. Had I not finally done what was needed to permanently file that word away?
Clearly, the answer was no. Yes, Woodstock was now covered but what about the many sights and sounds of India that were about to be ignored? Didn't a trip to India justify showing my wife the Taj Mahal, touring Mogul forts, walking through native bazaars, traveling to new sites, and riding my beloved trains? Ever so slowly, as I thought about our original trip plans, it became clear there would have to be other things added. Our trip was now turning into something as agreeable as a pilgrimage. All that remained to be done now was put together an itinerary that matched my expectations and needs since my wife, understanding for many years what India meant to me, had said, "This is your trip." How prophetic.
And so with a sense of anticipation, a series of itineraries were created. Places were added, places were deleted and on and on it went for a while. Two weeks in India stretched into three weeks, which was further expanded to six weeks. It got to the point where I often thought I might just as well chuck everything and simply move to India. But that was not possible and common sense would again begin to prevail. Still, how did I condense the trip's length into something that would continue to be meaningful to both Lorene and me? Also, did I really believe I still knew India well enough, after an absence of 47 years, to fashion a satisfying itinerary? Was there a need to become re-enculturated first in familiar surroundings, or did I feel comfortable with us striking off on our own without any introduction to the India of today? Plans flip-flopped with us finally deciding familiar surroundings would be helpful. So, Woodstock School activities and celebrations would be experienced first, followed by further travels to places of interest in other parts of India. Now, finally, an itinerary could be refined that would allow some serious planning. But, once again, how wrong could I be?
Something was still missing. But what? I would reflect on our preliminary ideas and not experience any real satisfaction. Surely our trip would be a most memorable one. So why was I so uneasy with what we had already decided? The answer to this question eluded me for some time until I realized that the India trip had to concentrate on three, very disparate themes. What had been missing in all of our early plans was the most important part of the trip! I had completely ignored the emotional and psychological ties that remained as a result of the "missionary" part of my younger years. Our trip did not include any chance to visit with people who either remembered my parents or me. Our trip did not include any chance to visit remembered places when I lived on "the plains" during school vacations. Our trip did not include any chance to show my wife rural India--the villages, the churches. And, most importantly, our trip did not include an opportunity to experience the friendliness of the Gujarati people.
With the realization that a three-part trip would be most likely to fulfill each of our expectations, old itineraries were promptly discarded. We were back to square one and our study became littered with crumpled papers as we tried to second guess how much time we had to travel and whether we could squeeze in everything that now seemed to be so important to us. The length of our trip soon began to expand again and become wholly unworkable. How do we get from here to there? Is "there" where we really want to be or is there a better destination? Is there somewhere we must be on a certain date, and, if so, what does that requirement do to plans already in place? Sometimes it seemed nothing would work out right and at other times, as we struggled to put the trip together, it seemed that what we had created was perfect. Despite certain frustrations, I have only fond recollections of this part of our trip because it gave me yet another opportunity to talk to Lorene about India and what we might expect. Indeed, as many of you already know, planning a trip is nearly as much fun as actually experiencing the trip.
Christmas 2003 and New Year's came and went while we pondered what was yet to come. Soon it would be necessary to make some other commitments but there was still time to savor our forthcoming trip and consider what we planned to do. Clearly everything was shaping up nicely in our minds as the "trip of a lifetime." Woodstock School, and all of the activities associated with the 150th anniversary celebrations would come first and then we would strike off on our own for an additional three weeks. Maybe, just maybe, we would be able to pry thirty days leave out of our employers.
After the passage of the holiday season, it became time to get "serious" about our trip. No big deal. Didn't I already, through many years of experience on the internet, have the necessary tools to begin making firm reservations for travel and lodging? After all, we had done some preliminary research as we created our endless itineraries. All I needed to do was get out our credit card and get busy. It all seemed so simple and straightforward. IndiaRail has a superb web site and anyone can look up any train schedule and even "see" where a particular train is at any given moment. Hotels at most Indian destinations are easily found and could be sorted out according to their desirability. This was going to be a piece of cake.
It did not take long for me to realize that I was going to need an agreeable travel agent in India. The schedule called for too many things that were not readily available through email or a web site. Turning back to the original Woodstock School celebration pamphlet, I looked up the electronic addresses for the three travel agents that had been recommended. Would one of these agencies be interested in working with me to get everything arranged or reserved? Three, identical email requests for help were sent out and, fortunately, one responded positively--Uday Tours and Travel, Delhi. While this writing is not intended to be an endorsement of anyone or anything, I must take note of the expert assistance provided by Mr. Rajiv Mehra, Director. The eventual success of our trip is solely attributable to the many long hours Rajiv and his staff spent responding to our requests, ensuring every facet of the trip was considered, and offering invaluable advice about present-day conditions in India. Upon arriving in Delhi, Lorene and I felt obliged to go by his travel office in Karol Bagh to personally thank him and his staff for their patience (my stack of emails exceeded one inch of papers) and for their faultless assistance. Not a single email was ever "lost" and replies answered questions fully rather than engendering more.
And so, in many ways, our itinerary was dumped into Rajiv's lap and soon parts of our trip began to take real form. First, we would use the arrangements already made as part of the 150th celebration, which included train travel from Delhi to Dehradun. Lunch and bus transport to Mussoorie, overnight accommodations at a Kulri Bazaar hotel (Brentwood) for part of one week, and local excursions under the "Explore Mussoorie" activity all the while waiting for the big events to occur on Saturday and Sunday (October 30 and 31) on the school campus. After these events, my wife and I would go off together to visit Shimla, revisit Delhi, see the Taj, relive my childhood memories in south Gujarat, and then move on to Bombay for a few days. In retrospect, did this trip meet all of our expectations? Yes, as you will see as you read further. Of course, there were places necessarily left out--such as Darjeeling, Coimbatore/Ooty, Mount Abu, etc. But the distances between these destinations were too great and it would have taken months instead of weeks to satisfy our appetite to see everything. Perhaps in the future there will be time to go to these places.
In some ways, it is curious how your thinking goes as you look forward to taking a trip. Everything in your mind is greatly simplified. After all, what is really involved? You just get on an airplane and go somewhere, right? Such thinking often ignores some rather harsh realities for an overseas traveler. Our passports had expired long ago and we had no India visas. Immunizations might or might not be up-to-date. Roundtrip plane reservations had to be made and prepaid even though we had no guarantee we could even make the trip. All of these concerns kept us occupied as Rajiv worked in India to put our in-country plans together. Slowly but surely these problems began to be solved. As a former Indian citizen, I could and did successfully apply for visas that allow unrestricted entries and departures into and from India for the next ten years--I should live so long. If ever an opportunity arises for us to go back to India, we will now be able to do so on very short notice.
As the departure date approached, it came time to take a deep breath and submit our leave papers. We had made preliminary inquiries with our employers and generally received encouraging answers but no one in authority had yet put their approval stamp on our requests to be gone from our teaching jobs for thirty days. We had continued to keep our fingers crossed but it would soon be time for us to uncross them and sign leave requests. In May, some of the anxiety was relieved when I made a decision to retire as a high school social science teacher. The time had come for this move and I did so without any regrets. All that was left was for Lorene to get her approval to go and that now seemed fairly certain. Obviously, she got her leave approved without any difficulty.
Everything was ready to go, or so we thought. We had not counted on an unwelcome guest, Hurricane Ivan, which slammed into our Pensacola neighborhood in the wee hours of a mid-September morning. As winds over one hundred miles per hour buffeted our house and toppled 80-foot oak trees around us, all we could think about was survival. Would we greet a morning and, if we did, would there still be walls around us? What was the extent of our damages as we heard things go bump in the night. Could damages obviously occurring prevent us from going to India? Two-thirty in the morning is normally a low point psychologically anyway and the storm was making us even more depressed about our chances of ever leaving. We couldn't simply walk away from a destroyed home, or could we? Even though the northeastern quadrant of the hurricane's eye probably passed overhead, we escaped experiencing the kind of severe damage that would have made a trip cancellation necessary. Despite the fact that two vehicles were badly damaged and the house had taken a "hit" by part of a tree on the southwestern corner we considered ourselves very fortunate. Time was still available to temporarily tarpaper the roof, cut pathways, partially clear the driveway, and sandbag a door. The trip to India would still be on the horizon.
Departure to India
More than fourteen months had gone by as my wife and I boarded an airplane at the Pensacola, Florida airport on 19 October for the first leg of our flights to India. Try as I may, I cannot recall exactly what I was feeling as my son and daughter bid us farewell. Perhaps I was too excited. There was, of course, the anxiousness that always surfaces whenever you leave loved ones behind.
Atlanta, JFK airport, and Milan eventually receded into the distance as our last airplane ride pushed onward toward India. I remember growing impatient on the last leg. When would the lights of Delhi finally appear on the horizon? I also remember becoming overwhelmed with the realization that I would soon, once again, be standing on Mother India's soil. That could not happen soon enough. As the aircraft glided smoothly down to the runway, I remember tears running down my cheeks. Grown men can cry when they come home.
Delhi WOSA banquet
Early on, I had made the decision to book a room at the hotel hosting the WOSA India formal banquet. Years of experience attending conventions and meetings over two careers had taught me that travel/life is much simpler if you are staying at the hotel hosting the event. After learning that Claridges Hotel was to be the banquet site, I did not hesitate to make the necessary reservation. We had decided to come to India a bit early simply to overcome jet lag and do some Delhi sightseeing before going to Mussoorie. That proved to be a wise decision although jet lag did not seem to bother either one of us very much. We were much too excited about being in INDIA!
The WOSA India banquet was a marvelous event situated at a hotel well equipped to graciously handle a hungry and lively crowd of several hundred people. It was there that I became reacquainted with Norm Mundenk and some other old school mates. Robert John Bonham was at the banquet but I never seemed able to track him down in the crowd. The evening's festivities included a number of authentic deshi food dishes, followed by native dances, music, and other entertaining performances. It was my wife's first real introduction to what was yet to come in our journey. We will always be very grateful to everyone associated with the WOSA India banquet, especially for all of the time and effort it must have taken to entertain us so grandly.
Travel to Mussoorie
Early Saturday morning many of us who had attended the banquet went to the Delhi train station to catch the Delhi-Dehradun Shitabdi. The "Explore Mussoorie" activity group was formed up at this time under the expert leadership of Lela Folker and others. Seats were assigned and coolies paid off as we prepared to depart. "Shitabdi." Here was a new word to add to my Indian lexicon. I am still not really sure what the word means except that it represents a special class of train. When I left India, the fast trains were either called express or mail. Now there are two categories of trains that are even more restricted and much faster--Shitabdi and Rajdhani. My first Shitabdi train ride was an eye-opener as to the kind of travel my wife and I would later experience. I was impressed. Comfortable airline-style seats, air conditioning, and attentive railway attendants who supplied us with bottled water, gharam chai, snacks, more gharam chai, and breakfast. Never in my wildest imagination did I expect this kind of rail travel in India. Often I had been told India had changed and this was one of my first introductions to these changes. Gone were the trains I remember that looked like those portrayed in the classic movie "Gandhi."
It was not long before Saharanpur and Haridwar would be reached. Did the Shitabdi really reverse direction as I remembered the trains did in years long past? Were there still monkeys at Haridwar? I was full of questions and our escorts were patient with me as I relived earlier trips. Our up/down school parties began and ended in Bombay. During the 1940's and 50's we rode the Dehradun Express because no train changes were necessary along the way. Many in the Bombay party always looked forward to the engine changes at Saharanpur and antagonizing the Haridwar monkeys. Here was a chance to experience all of that again. Sure enough, we changed directions at Saharanpur and there were monkeys at Haridwar. Some things in India are timeless after all. As much as possible, our travels to most destinations were by my beloved Indian trains. Even though we rode them everywhere, my love for riding trains is still unrequited. I could ride them forever. Lorene, on the other hand, is no longer that interested in choo choos and probably justifiably so. Oh well...
Upon arrival at the Dehradun railway station--seemingly unchanged in my mind--the "Explore Mussoorie" group loaded up into two buses for the short drive to Hotel Badhuban for lunch. There, from the hotel gardens and through a light haze, you could see Landour-Mussoorie spread out above us awaiting our arrival. So, after eating, it was up the hill. Not to Kincraig any more but beyond to a bus stop not far from Picture Palace. How I remember getting off the bus at Kincraig after vacation wholly unaclimated to the thin air and taking off pell mell for the school. In the old days, it was first-come, first-served for choice bunks at Ridgewood or the "best" rooms at the hostel. So it behooved you to move along smartly and get ahead of the crowd. Completely out of breath, you staked out your claim and then waited for the coolies to arrive with your boxes and bedding. Those were the days.
On this trip, there was no need for haste. Rooms were reserved and everybody would have a comfortable place to stay at Hotel Brentwood. There was a brief walk from the bus stop to Picture Palace and then everyone went down a Kulri Bazaar side street to reach the hotel. Keys were handed out and coolies paid off as the "Explore Mussoorie" group began to get settled for what was to be a week's stay for most of us. That evening a deshi meal was served in the dining room and everyone began to get acquainted with each other. This gathering was no different than any of the other ones I have experienced with old Woodstock School students. It did not make any difference what class you were in or what your name was or is now. All that mattered is that you had returned to your extended family. Interrupted conversations could be resumed and past experiences shared as if no time had ever elapsed. I recall happily how quickly my wife and other spouses (both male and female) were accepted. For Lorene, it soon seemed as if she had also shared in many of the experiences being discussed. In a way she had. For most of her life, at some time or another, Woodstock School had been a topic of conversation. Now, in this rather intimate gathering, the ties and memories that brought old students together for perhaps one last time became clearly understandable to her. I will always treasure my memories of that evening.
The "Explore Mussoorie" activity was designed to give us an unfettered opportunity to revisit old haunts, see new sights, and meet with friends of the school and school officials. It is clear the planning staff at Woodstock School must have spent countless hours of thoughtful planning to make the explorations memorable. They outdid themselves as you will discover as you read on. I must pause here, however, and give the coordinators of this activity sponsors my highest praise.
Sunday morning dawned bright but unseasonably COLD! In fact, Saturday night was downright uncomfortable in an unheated room and bath. Fortunately, there were enough covers on our bed to keep us from turning into human ice cubes. During most of the stay at Hotel Brentwood, the question of who would venture out of bed first to turn on the small, electric water heater became a matter of spirited discussion between Lorene and I. I won, most of the time, and got to stay in a warm bed until the last minute. There is something positive to be said about male chauvinism, I think.
We followed acquaintances made the previous evening to St. Paul's church for Sunday morning services. Actually we rode taxis to the church. Another big surprise for me. Taxis in Landour streets, you've got to be kidding me! Indeed there were taxis everywhere, along with lorries, vans, buses, motor rickshaws, and of course, mules. The mules I could have accepted but being able to ride in a motorcar nearly everywhere in Landour-Mussoories is still a source of amazement to me. Having a very strong attachment to Kellogg Church, my wife and I walked there from St. Paul's. When my brother and I were dayskies, we would go to Kellogg Church on Sunday mornings along with our parents. It was now time for me to renew that experience. Neither my wife nor I were disappointed. The service is now bilingual--Hindi and English--so anyone can easily follow along and understand the sermon. The music provided by a choir of children with musical accompaniment was some of the most beautiful I have ever heard. Before leaving the United States, we had made certain that we had a cassette recorder with us. Through oversight we attended Kellogg services without it and I am, to this day, still upset that there is no recording of the service. We would not make the same mistake ever again.
Walking around the chukker and Oakville
After church we joined some of the people who had attended St. Paul's and walked around the chukker to Childer's Lodge. It is not called Childer's Lodge anymore, I know, but old names are hard to discard. Near the lodge now rises an observation tower that you can climb for a fee to get a better view of the snows--assuming they are visible. I cannot recall that they were. I brought to India two, professional Nikon cameras--an F3 for slides/prints, and a D70 for digital files. Everywhere throughout our trip in India the cameras were placed into constant use so whenever I get around to working on pictures I can look to see if the snows were actually visible that Sunday. By making the complete circuit, we returned to St. Paul's for fellowship and an outdoor luncheon. St Paul's is a church I had never entered before so it was very interesting to go inside. This was a "military" church and the slots to hold rifles are noticeable in the pews. I was reminded that after the massacres in British cantonment churches during the Sepoy Rebellion all male worshipers were required to bring their weapons to church for protection. I have no idea how long that practice was continued but I do know I have no recollection of anyone carrying around weapons on a Sunday morning during my times at Mussoorie in the mid-to-late 1940's and beyond.
The day's activity list called for us to walk along the chukker toward the Alter house at Oakville so gradually people began to head toward Sisters Bazaar and beyond. Lorene had heard many stores about Sisters Bazaar over the years and she was full of curiosity about this place. Indeed, one of her early questions, as we got ready to leave for India was, "Will I get to see Sisters Bazaar?" I had assured her that she would. As we approached the bazaar it became apparent her expectations were not going to match reality. For years she had anticipated a pukka bazaar not a meager collection of stores mainly functioning to serve a limited number of residents at the top of a hill. It was funny to me when she said, "Is this all there is?" So much for the guidebooks. Actually, Sisters Bazaar has gotten smaller. One or two of the stores I remember are now missing or shuttered, leaving only one mercantile open along with a store selling postcards, curios, and good Tibetan shawls. Bazaar size notwithstanding here was an opportunity to finally buy some good mango chutney. Sure enough the proprietor had bottles of it on the shelf.
I had an opportunity to talk at length with the store owner and, as we compared notes, he began to remember me and brother Dean. During the summer of 1952 my mother came to Landour for a six-week vacation and we were taken out of boarding. Prospect Point, our normal vacation home, was fully booked so we took lodgings in a flat in Sisters Bazaar--right across from the mercantile. I remember that summer well because, as a loyal subject of the realm, I sat in our living room and listened to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on BBC or All-India Radio. When I mentioned this to the owner, he grabbed my arm in recognition and we began a discussion about who was where and what had happened to all of the Church of the Brethren missionaries that had lived at Prospect Point and Prospect Lodge over the years. It was a heartwarming experience.
With my chutney safely tucked under my arm, it was now time to look at shawls. Our Woodstock School guides had advised us earlier that the best shop to buy Tibetan shawls was the one located in Sisters Bazaar. It was not long before my wife selected two of them made from yak hair. I kidded her the rest of the India trip that she could now legitimately "yak," "yak" at me. There is no doubt in my mind that Lorene will always prize these shawls and one of them was immediately pressed into service as we left the shop because it was still quite chilly and the day was beginning to end.
Our explorations along the chukker would not have been complete with a stop at Prospect Point. At our meeting the previous evening at Brentwood Hotel, our hosts had stated we would be free to wander onto a number of cottage grounds to reminisce. Cottage names were read off but Prospect Point was not one of them. Apparently, title to the property is in serious dispute and there may also be a squatter problem. When I asked what I should do about visiting Prospect Point the best advice I got was, "Trudge up the hill and see what happens." Well, we trudged up the hill and were immediately confronted by a woman who wanted to know why we were there. I tried to explain but her English and my Hindi weren't getting anywhere. A male "resident" was finally summoned. After a brief introduction and explanation in English we were graciously allowed to move about and take pictures. Three suites had been combined into two and some of the verandah has now been enclosed in glass to form another sun room. In all, the building and the chokidar's quarters looked relatively unchanged. There on the verandah's edge was the spot where an ageless photograph of my mother and I was taken. She is sitting primly on a step next to me watching me play with my third or fourth year birthday gifts. There rises a small stack of alphabet blocks beside a toy airplane. But, best of all, I am admiring a toy train and a small circle of track. I could with some certainty point out that very spot to my wife sixty-one years later. The tree planted by a long gone missionary still stands in the front yard but it is now much larger than the one in my old photographs. I expressed my gratitude to the "resident" and bid him farewell as we left to catch up with the group now headed for the Oakville path near Ellcott Lodge.
Oakville is the sometime home of Reverend Bob and Ellen Alter, who spend part of the year in Mussoorie. Tea was served and Bob kindly talked about the old house and about hillside days now gone by. It was good to be reminded about how things once were. The hillside community as I remember it is now forever gone but there still remains a few who can recall how Landour was at the height of the missionary influence. Our hosts were genuinely pleased to entertain us and this opportunity to sit in one of the old cottages and drink tea with friends brought back many joyous memories.
Woodstock School campus
Transportation from Oakville to Woodstock School proper was available to those who did not want to walk Tehri Road. Perish the thought. We were going to walk. I was amazed at the amount of motorized traffic on the road sharing space with an occasional mule. This was not the Tehri Road I remembered. And yet, in other ways it was the Tehri Road of old. There were the pushtas to hold landslides at bay. There were the water courses to allow the monsoon rains to race toward the valley. There were the timeless views of Witches' Hill and dobhi ghat. And, here and there were monkeys. During our trip to India it got to where I considered it to be a red letter day if I got or experienced three things: gharam chai, a train ride, and seeing monkey-monkey. On those days when the monkey-monkey part was missing I would ask Lorene where they were. You can, I suppose, imagine her reply--the monkey-monkey was standing nearby.
Upon arriving at the school campus, more tea was served in the faculty garden and many photographs were taken of the lyre tree as more and more of the group gathered. It was my recollection that this garden was completely off limits to chuts who might decide to use the steps down to Tehri Road as a short cut. Being off limits probably only made the route more attractive to me and I remember when a bobcat was shot out of the tree that stands next to the lyre tree. I was late getting to Ridgewood and was about to be richly rewarded with demerits. My only hope was to sneak down the forbidden route and then race down the khud all the while hoping I would get to Ridgewood before that infernal roll call and supper gong was sounded. I was paying close attention to avoiding faculty and staff as I went down the beginning series of steps. Suddenly, I was confronted by two older boys. My goose was cooked! High school boys were generally contemptuous of us chuts and now I was in big trouble for being in a forbidden place. Rather than being harassed, the boys were merely trying to keep me out of harm's way. There was a large bobcat in the tree and someone (Brandon Burgoyne, I think) was about to shoot it. I became frightened and jumped when the rifle discharged. The cat fell dead on the ground but I was much too scared to go near it. Thoughts of getting to Ridgewood on time had long since vanished. I now had a story to tell and to heck with the demerits I would surely receive for being late. The bobcat is long gone but the tree survives and the steps I was hurrying down are as I remember them. Still it took some time to be at ease as an alumni guest in a garden that was only rarely "visited" in days gone by. That was not the fault of our hosts. It was simply a reaction to a deeply ingrained habit. During the week my wife and I were at Woodstock School the garden would become a favorite place to rest and reflect.
After tea, members of the faculty took time to detail the school's current educational program in general terms. Of considerable interest to me were comments regarding the adjustment problems that took place as missionary kids made their inexorable departure from the school's educational scheme. I was given to understand that Woodstock School actually fell on financial hard times. I had no idea. The school is now successfully recruiting in many Eurasian countries so the shift from a missionary based plan to a more international one has taken place. We were told that the student faces we would encounter later in the week would be a true mixture from Russian to Korean. That is as it now should be. Our briefing was upbeat and enthusiastic about future prospects for the school. I think during the briefing I was informed that enrollment applications now outstrip boarding facilities. In some ways, should Woodstock School choose to expand its enrollment, it is likely to end up between the proverbial rock and a hard spot.
During my recent stay in Mussoorie the subject of environmental restrictions arose quite frequently. These restrictions are, I think, intended to keep the Mussoorie hill station as attractive as possible and prevent hodge podge or unabated construction to meet a rising demand for residences and tourist hotels and to preserve the vast stands of trees throughout the Garhwal district. While such measures are laudable they appear to have some unintended consequences. For example, the long-awaited gymnasium project covering the old basketball court and skating rink is now in limbo because of environmental issues even though it is my understanding that the proposed construction does not necessarily violate current laws. Some knowledgeable people advised me that the project has been on hold for so long that all of the building done before the halt was called is probably no longer usable and will have to be torn down thereby causing even greater delays and expense. Sad.
I did not trudge up to the Win Mumby gymnasium site preferring instead to marvel at the many improvements in the classroom building and the Vera Marley Library adjoining Parker Hall and appreciating what had been done to make the quadrangle such an attractive place. The addition of a cuneiform "Peace" monument is a nice touch but I must admit being perplexed about why the old sundial is in disarray. It was as much a symbol of my old school days as Jacob's Ladder, the iron girders surrounding the quadrangle building and a faculty room, where Mr. Lott used to sneak into for an occasional smoke out of sight of the students.
There is a personal aside about those quadrangle girders. As a young lad--possibly Upper Kindergarten or First Standard--I was, for some reason, running down the covered walkway toward the quadrangle. With head down, I was under full steam until I collided with one of the beams. The effect was awesome. First, I was knocked nearly unconscious and second, the collision opened a large gash in my skull. Bloodied, I finally picked myself up and began to cry. As was always the case at Woodstock, caring adults were nearby and helped me to get up to the third floor where Dr. Bethel Fleming had her office. I was treated for the wound, given stitches, and then allowed to rest to make sure I was alright. To this day, among my dear classmates, there remains some doubt as to whether I ever returned to "alright." I bear this scar with some pride however, and when I went over the look at the offending girder during my Woodstock School visit, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that it was not even dented. When I pointed out the spot to my wife she expressed amazement that my hard head had not made some impression in the steel. I think Lorene was joking. She was, wasn't she?
It is obvious to me, even in the short time I spent at Woodstock School, this beloved institution continues to be staffed with highly qualified and dedicated educators and this observation was regularly reinforced throughout the week I was at Mussoorie. Later, I would feel a sense of satisfaction, deep respect, and pride in my old school as I rode a taxi down the hill toward Dehradun to begin the second part of our India sojourn.
Sunday's events were drawn to a close with a buffet dinner served in the student dining room. Principal David Jeffery and his wife warmly welcomed all of us and spoke about the school and the excitement he had about the forthcoming celebration and the directions now being taken by the school. He and his wife were always in evidence during the celebrations and it was very pleasant to pause and exchange greetings or offer a compliment. I don't know how the trustees have been so fortunate to find leaders of such high calibre for Woodstock School, but they do so consistently. That factor alone speaks volumes about the bright future facing my alma mater. As a former educator, I believe I can say with confidence that Woodstock School is in very good hands.
Either Li Chu or Lela Folker ended our supper by giving the "Explore Mussoorie" group an update on Alumni Office activities and reminding everyone that a large variety of Woodstock School memorabilia, clothing, books, artwork, and CD's would be on sale at Saturday's mela. One, obviously very warm jacket was held up for inspection. Many of us were suffering from the cold weather either because we did not bring the right outerwear or because what we did bring still did not offer enough warmth in an unheated hotel room. I asked if we could buy these jackets a week early to ward off the cold while lodged at Hotel Iceberg (Brentwood). The question brought the house down in laughter. The answer was, "No." I had to chuckle to myself. How often during my Woodstock School years had I head the word "no?" I was truly home again. Thereafter, guests staying at Brentwood became accustomed to calling it Hotel Iceberg.
Before returning to Hotel Iceberg for a night's rest, my wife and I quietly stole a final look from the faculty garden. During the afternoon tea, there had been a light rain, which had helped to clear away the haze. Now before us glittered the doon. It seemed that all we needed to do was simply reach down and pick up a handful of diamonds it was so clear. I do not ever recall the night view of the doon being so visible. Lorene had often heard about this view and now she was able to experience this wonderful sight for herself.
Arriving at Hotel Iceberg in one of the last taxis, my wife and I were confronted with a general melee. Guests had discovered Mr. Kapur, the proprietor, had electric heaters and hot water bottles for rent. The hubbub was humorous. We had just been denied essential survival gear by our beloved alma mater and here was an alternative not to be overlooked. I remember renting a heater for Rs. 100/night and then making off with it to our second floor room as if it were as valuable as a king's ransom. To this day, I am not convinced the heater really made any difference. The cold we felt was probably more the result of factors beyond our immediate control--altitude, unfamiliar surroundings, and group hysteria. Then again, it may have been bloody cold, to coin a phrase.
Monday - Happy Valley, Shastri Academy, Savoy Hotel, Christ Church
"Explore Mussorie" began in earnest after a complimentary breakfast. For the next three days we would be observing a rotating schedule. The group was too large to tromp around together so participants had been divided up into three, smaller groups of about twenty schoolmates and spouses.
Our group (#1) that Monday was scheduled to go to the Tibetan school in Happy Valley, tour the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration, view Christ Church and see the grounds and buildings of the old Savoy Hotel. We would also have time to walk from Library Bazaar along the mall toward Hotel Iceberg to do some leisurely sightseeing and shopping.
Everyone talked about Happy Valley as if I knew what it was but creation of the Tibetan Homes Foundation is something that had occurred after I was long gone from Woodstock. So this part of the day's activities provided something new for Lorene and I to enjoy. The group was warmly greeted at the Tibetan school by the administrator, seated in a conference room, and graciously offered tea and biscuits (old English term for sugar cookies). Basically, the foundation was created in 1962 after the Dalai Lama donated money to purchase three homes in Mussoorie to house 75 orphans. Over the years, the foundation, supported by worldwide organizations, has expanded to include a number of dormitories, a very large school, and a Tibetan temple. Satellite schools are now located in other places throughout India. The intent of the foundation is to preserve Tibetan culture and religion. Woodstock School has a close association with Happy Valley and, after visiting the foundation, it is easy to see why. A question and answer period was allowed after the introductions and many questions arose about the future of Happy Valley, how or why children were placed in orphanages, and what could be done to be helpful or supportive. The visit, understandably, went way overtime, but many of us in the group were keenly interested and wanted to know more. It changed our schedule for the day somewhat but we were still able to do most of what had been planned for us.
Our next stop was the Tibetan Temple--a short distance from where the briefing was given. The temple has a beautiful and serene setting. Cloud's End is not too far away. Inside are all of the accoutrements one would expect of a Buddhist temple (I've visited many in Asia) and they are obviously lovingly and respectfully maintained. We were shown where the Dalai Lama has his quarters when he makes his infrequent visits to Happy Valley. His declining health has made it necessary for the Dalai Lama to cut back on his travels. The temple is a beautiful building constructed in way that only Buddhists seem to have mastered.
By the time we were to tour the Lal Hahadur Shastri Academy of Administration, our group was seriously behind schedule. Never mind. Our hosts treated us grandly and offered tea and commentary in a garden with an absolutely fabulous view of the snows. It was to be the only time Lorene and I actually got a good glimpse of them the whole time we were at Mussoorie. The academy is actually a training institute where participants from every state of India can meet, interact, and learn from each other. I got the idea that the institute is actually a premier institution for India's future leaders.
Lunch was served to the group at the Carleton Hotel by the owners who kindly gave us the run of the place. It was once a maharaja's summer retreat that has now, for economic or political reasons, been turned into a hotel. Marvelous antique French provincial furniture is featured in the sitting room. Our hosts were congenial and some of the food that was prepared for us came from their own private recipes. I found the old hotel particularly fascinating because my conversations with the current owners eventually led to the Maharaja of Raj Pipla--a princely state in western India. In days of yore, the maharaja used to stable his polo ponies in a sub-basement below the hotel and there is even a picture of the last maharaja of Raj Pipla on the wall in one of the hotel's public rooms. Small world. Raj Pipla was the princely state my parents, brother, and I lived in before partition.
The Savoy Hotel was on the list to visit next. In retrospect, I'm not altogether certain why we went there. Perhaps it was because the group planning the "Explore Mussoorie" activity thought many of us might ask about the hotel and want to see it. I have a dim memory of this hotel. My parents, just before leaving India for furlough in 1948 went to the Savoy Hotel after church services at Kellogg. My brother and I trekked along with mom and dad to meet someone "important" at the hotel. I suspect my brother and I were probably handed over to the hotel staff to be entertained while my parents were visiting or in conference. I still recall being in awe at the grandeur of the hotel and its opulence. I'd never seen anything like it. But the days of the British Raj are now long gone and the Savoy Hotel is no more than a depressing collection of disintegrating buildings. It is hard to imagine now that anyone would have wanted to go there. During my high school days, I remember being warned that merely going to the Savoy or Hackman's alongside the mall roadway would be sufficient grounds for instant expulsion. Why? Because these hotels allowed drinking and dancing. Oh my goodness! My meager pocket money would never have been able to pay for a single service at either hotel so they might as well have been on the moon as far as I was concerned. Besides, on Saturday mornings, I was much too busy working off a staggering number of hostel demerits at Hansen Field hauling debris to ever have the time to walk all the way to Library Bazaar. There was one bright spot in our tour of the hotel though. In the Writer's Bar there is still posted the names of famous writers who had frequented the bar--John Masters, Jim Corbett, and Pearl S. Buck, among others. Over my lifetime, I've read everything these three authors have published with John Masters being my favorite.
Our final stop for the day was Christ Church, oldest of all Himalayan hill station churches. It is a work in progress. The congregation has undertaken several projects to restore the building to its former grandeur and their efforts are beginning to become noticeable. The beautiful stained glass windows are all restored and one wing of the church has now been refurbished. The interior walls of the church are lined with marble plaques and sculptures in memory of fallen comrades for Christ Church was another one of the cantonment churches that dotted India's countryside. Christ Church is now a CNI church as is St Paul's on the Landour hillside. CNI is an acronym for Church of North India and there is a very interesting history concerning this church and former Protestant churches that were active throughout northern and central India. Let me explain because readers are hereafter going to encounter this acronym frequently.
At some point on the so-called India mission field, it became apparent to many administrators--Church of the Brethren, Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans, and others--that foreign denominational churches might, some day, be impossible to support financially, doctrinally, and morally. There had been a good example of what was thought to be a breakdown in churches in China as Chairman Mao led a successful communist revolution. The question arose, would the churches in India survive and flourish if the government closed doors leading to foreign evangelism, foreign contributions, foreign training of pastors, and foreign oversight? The answer seemed in doubt so many church leaders came to the realization that an independent church in India must surely evolve if it was to continue and also grow. My father was one of those who became active within the Church of the Brethren in India to begin a process whereby much of the foreign influences, controls, and support were gradually withdrawn so our church could join a future church to be called "Church of North India (CNI)." The work took years to finish but on November 29, 1970, at Nagpur, the Church of North India was consecrated with the motto: "Unity-Witness-Service." Indra Gandhi, then Prime Minister, would write, "I am glad to learn of the formation of the Church of North India under which our Christian brethren belonging to different denominations will now come together. I congratulate the leaders of the Church on the success of their efforts." Until an Indian church member could be appointed, Everett Fasnacht served as the first CNI treasurer. My father retired from the mission field in 1979 and he left behind in no small way a Christian legacy that is both strong and vibrant today. CNI was evident to my wife and I everywhere we traveled in India--even to the smallest villages in Gujarat where the "church" was nothing more than a bamboo and dung hut. But it is what was inside these simple churches that mattered--the pastor and his congregation. I want to say that Dad would be proud but then if I did he would probably remind me that after pride cometh the fall. Perhaps, as I write this, I can get away with the thought that he would be pleased.
A stroll along the mall for sightseeing and shopping eventually led to the cable car station that carries people to the top of Gun Hill. Gun Hill is a site I had completely forgotten about. The cable car did not exist during my times at Woodstock School and I promised my wife we would ride it up the hill sometime during our Mussoorie stay. Lorene and I both love riding cable cars.
Supper for the "Explore Mussoorie" group was arranged at The Tavern. It is a restaurant and bar not far from Picture Palace and is owned/operated by Rajat Kaput (son of Hotel Iceberg's owner) and an alum of Woodstock. Rajat is a very pleasant fellow and I always enjoyed talking to him and his father during our Mussoorie stay. It is a very nice restaurant with the right touch according to many in our group--you can see what the cooks are doing through a glass window. As we all gathered together we were able to share our different experiences and get an idea of what lay ahead the next day since Group #1 would rotate to a new excursion. Happily we all went to bed dead tired and I don't recall a run on heaters and hot water bottles at the hotel's reception desk. After all, we were ex-Woodstock School students who could be counted upon to be hardy.
Tuesday - along Tehri road to Dhanolti - Kaplani school, Suakholi
Tuesday morning's breakfast at Hotel Iceberg allowed all of us to momentarily gather together in fellowship before the different touring groups were formed in front of Picture Palace (which is defunct now, by the way). Today we would be under the guidance of Dick Wechter, a former Woodstock educator and an enthusiastic supporter of many school programs even today. Dick is the kind of person you can instantly identify with. He is full of energy, cheerful, and has useful information at his fingertips that he will readily share. It is clear he has a deep and abiding love for the school and its outreach programs. In all of the time I was at Woodstock School, Dick always seemed to be close by. It got so you'd rely upon him for answers to the many questions that often arose. My wife and I treasure our brief acquaintance with him. Perhaps our paths will cross again some day as he is a frequent visitor to the United States (Ohio). But, clearly, his heart is in India, as is mine.
After going to school by taxi, Group #1 loaded into buses for a trip along Tehri Road as far as Dhanolti. Imagine that? Riding a bus to Dhanolti. The last time I was there, I walked. Our first stop was at the Kaplani Junior High School and we were warmly greeted by the teachers and the school children as they put on an endearing song and dance show. Woodstock School has an intimate relationship with this school and it is my understanding that Woodstock's upper classmen/women often are assigned projects to aid or support this school in some fashion. I believe there is also a lot of volunteer work also done and that is probably the result of Dick Wechter's and Bob Alter's interests. During our entire visit we were made to feel as if we were honored guests. The school presently has 36 students scattered through grades 6 through 8 with three teachers. The Uttaranchal government now recognizes the school so Kaplani graduates are qualified to continue their studies in high school. Later, on the trip back to Woodstock School, we would stop close to the school for afternoon tea but by that time we had already encountered many of the students strung out along Tehri Road on their way home. I recall being told that one student walks for more than two hours in the morning to get to school and then walks two more hours in the afternoon just to get home. Such determination! If you are interested, there is a very brief summary of how all of this got started at www.pcusa.org/health/international/profiles/mgvs/htm.
I was pleased to learn that our trip to Dhanolti would include a short walk back along Tehri Road to where a pathway from Suakholi used to lead down to the Uglar River and Mugru village on the other side. It is no longer a pathway. Instead, it is now a pukka tarmac road and you could easily drive down to the river in the valley. The old pathway has a special place in my memories and those of you who have read my contribution to Living on the Edge (page 41) will understand why. I still think there was a leopard outside our tent.
Dhanolti, our ultimate destination for the day, is still basically a one-horse, I mean one-mule, town. Oh sure, the buildings are now brick and mortar and there is even a passable hotel. We were served a delicious box lunch under the deodars before a light shower came along. Walking the main street was a real treat and Dick directed our attentions to a hand-weaving shop so that interested group members could see how rugs and garments were being fashioned. In all, it was a pleasant outing away from the hustle and bustle of the Mussoorie and Landour bazaars.
Tuesday evening all of the groups gathered at the Four Seasons restaurant for dinner. This is another fine eatery in the Kulri Bazaar and the food was very appetizing. During the meal, it was clear the entire "Explore Mussoorie" crowd had bonded into a very tightly-knit group. The companionship being experienced with old schoolmates, new friends, and the faculty put a nice finishing touch on a very gratifying day.
Wednesday - Haunted House, Prayer Flag Hill, Hanifl Center, Hindustani Memorial Church, Debdah Hotel and Brigadier Yadav, evening BBQ
Wednesday would be the last day for "Explore Mussoorie" activities. Group #1 was about to face the rigors of climbing Prayer Flag Hill. But first we all rode by taxis to a road that leads to Haunted House. The house, as one would expect, is in ruins but never mind. It is still a landmark. I remember being a frequent visitor long ago because some of the hardiest chessies could be taken from the chestnut trees that were growing in front of the old house. I did not see any chestnut trees on this visit. We were greeted by a chokidar but he really did not have much to show. I believe he must live there to keep squatters at bay. There is an interesting law (custom?) now in effect that seems to give squatters ownership of an "abandoned" property, if the squatters can establish residence for three or more years. This law has created havoc and is one of the reasons Prospect Point is in a state of ownership limbo. While the idea of squatter's rights is not unique to India--it was a source of considerable controversy in American history--I am somewhat surprised that this notion of private ownership has gained such a foothold in India. I may be mistaken but I think our guide for this excursion told us that Allen-Wynberg School had recently bought the property. What that school intends to do with haunted house is unknown to me.
The trek up Prayer Flag Hill was tedious, as I expected it would be. Unaclimated and out of shape. Some of the hardier souls in our group took off on the short cut to the top while others preferred the more sane way to the crest. In my case, huffing and puffing with stops along the way, I reached the top and was greeted by an abundance of prayer flags flapping in the breeze. It was during the climb up the hill that Li asked me to write about my thoughts, observations, and feelings regarding the entire Woodstock School experience. She wanted to be certain we had something to share with all of the absent '59 students. I promised her I would and what you are now reading is the result of that promise. As you will remember, the view from Prayer Flag Hill can be spectacular. In the distance lies Jabarkhet and its collection of buildings can be clearly seen. Turning another direction one can see the new shortcut road that rises out of the doon and connects to Tehri Road thereby bypassing all of Mussoorie's narrow streets and congestion. And then, of course, directly ahead lies Nag Tiba and beyond, the snows. While standing at the top of the hill it was easy to imagine the Uglar River flowing far below and past an unseen Peacock Village. The snows weren't visible but everything else was, including Pepper Pot and Bear (Bare) Hill. There remains to this day some controversy about whether it is Bear or Bare Hill. The answer could go either way. Once while my family was having a Sunday picnic on the flat spot at the top of Prayer Flag Hill I saw a bear on Bear Hill. In fact, while hunting game down in the valley with my father, there were several times I saw bears but they were always too far away for a decent rifle shot. So "Bear" it could be. But others correctly point out that the summit of Bare Hill is mostly "bare" of trees. Who knows? Call the hill what you want. We will all still know where you are talking about. I must admit going down the hill was much easier than going up. But that was always the way it was in the mountains.
Lunch was provided at the Hanifl Center, a reasonably new addition to Woodstock's facilities. I had difficulty trying to place where this center was located when reading about it in Woodstock School publications. Now I know. It is a modern, very attractive place for children to come for science or other projects and it supports a number of school-related activities. While we were there a number of student hikers were returning to school and they had paused at the center. It was at the Hanifl Center that I became reacquainted with Reid Blickenstaff, a Church of the Brethren missionary chut years ago. I would never have recognized him. He teaches music and his wife, June, became well known to all of us through her alumni/WS150 emails. Woodstock School had no students in residence for most of the week before the main celebration because of a holiday break. Now some were beginning to drift back.
The next destination was the Woodstock Hindustani Memorial Church situated below Tehri Road. This is the church (now CNI) that has ministered to the spiritual needs of the Indian support staff of the school and has been in existence for many years. I am still perplexed about why I have no recollection of this church although it was clearly active during the two periods I was at Woodstock School. The pastor, Reverend Eric Templeton, greeted us warmly and provided a good history of the church and its future goals. It is clear the church is quite active and they have two projects that now occupy their attention. One is putting handrails on the pathway that leads from the school down to the church so worshipers no longer have to fear stumbling in the dark and falling into a ravine--Anita, the pastor's wife, had recently fallen in the dark into the ravine prompting her husband to jump after her to render assistance. We were all amazed that neither was seriously injured because it was a 25-foot fall or jump. The other project is to reclaim the overgrown and dilapidated Hindi cemetery located below the hostel's tennis courts. Some work has already been done but there is much left to do that will inevitably cost money. The pastor is confident that, in time, both projects will be completed. Reverend Templeton and his ordained wife, Anita, are highly educated with advanced university degrees. As I recall, both came to the ministry from educational roots. Here in this simple church were two devoted servants who will always be an inspiration to me. In my travels in India after the Woodstock School celebrations I often marveled how people with talents that could have guaranteed success in any endeavor had, instead, turned their backs on wealth and fame to serve God.
Our final destination for the day was the Debdah Hotel located just above the back (second?) chukkar between Kellogg Church and Sisters Bazaar. We were scheduled to have tea with Brigadier Yadav, an old, Woodstock alum. He greeted each of us warmly and had a story to tell that was very interesting. Recently, he has published a book entitled, British Lions and the Indian Tigers: Triumph of the Sepoy Against the British Sword. Many of his remarks to the group centered around his experiences in the Indian army and his very successful military career. He was also able to explain in some detail the underlying causes for the Quit India Movement and the drive for India's independence after World War II. At one time, Brigadier Yadav served as aide- de-camp to Lord Louis Montbatten, the last Viceroy of India. Impressive. After the meeting I had an opportunity to talk privately with Brigadier Yadav. When he learned my history masters thesis had centered on the effects of British imperialism in India we instantly became kindred souls and he promptly asked me to read his book and provide a critique. I promised that, once I laid my hands on a copy, I would surely do so. Later, I was able to obtain an autographed copy and began to read what is plainly going to be a very engrossing and scholarly account. But the lure of India and the sights passing by my train window got in the way of the book on my lap. I shall have to resume my reading during the forthcoming holiday season at my "other home." It will be a treat to be savored. The brigadier's book was published by Manas Publications and bears ISBN 81-7049-140-1, with a suggested sale price of US$35.00. It is interesting to note that Brigadier Yadav, beyond the age of 80, was required to go back to university and get his history masters degree before he could write and publish the book.
The "Explore Mussoorie" handbook given to all of us the first night we
arrived at Mussoorie declares: "...our final dinner will be an outdoor BBQ
and bonfire at the Brentwood (now Iceberg) Hotel beginning at 6:30 pm. for
an evening of sharing good times and reminiscing."
The master of ceremonies for the evening had arranged for a public address system to be set up and many in the group used the system to express their appreciation for what Woodstock School had done for us and the good times had by all. Having been born in Landour (Spring View) it seemed fitting to me to remark that the old adage is not correct, "You can come home." Lorene so warmly greeted and accepted by everyone the previous Saturday at the Delhi train station, felt moved to thank everyone for their many kindnesses and friendship. As with any party, good times eventually give way to the lateness of the hour and this party was no different. Slowly and perhaps a bit reluctantly, people began to return to their hillside homes or hotel rooms. For a while I chose to sit by one of the bonfires and talk about my experiences with those who had not yet departed. As the embers died it was time to go to bed. There would be an even grander setting for a dinner party on Saturday but an evening spent informally around a bonfire with new and old friends is the one I'll remember first. Tomorrow (Thursday) would bring about changes both good and bad. New faces would arrive as their activities elsewhere in India came to an end. It would be a great opportunity to meet new people. But members of our "Explore Mussoorie" group would now begin to go separate ways for the remainder of the week and some would check out of Hotel Iceberg to move to another one.
Thursday and Friday excursions - Forestry Institute, Kempty, Jummna, school loot
There were added excursions, hosted by Dick Wechter, on Thursday and Friday. The first was to the Forestry Institute in Dehradun and the second was to Kempty Falls and the Jummna River. My wife and I still had some things we wanted to do or see so we did not take part in those excursions. Instead, we relaxed in the hotel, walked and shopped in all of the bazaars, rode the cable car up to the top of Gun Hill with some very friendly Indian tourists who insisted on taking pictures all around, posted postcards in the Mussoorie post office, joined up with friends occasionally, and generally had a good time by ourselves. I got to see Union Church, located just above Picture Palace, more closely. This church is very special to me and it is gratifying to know that it seems to be quite active still. After I made my commitment to be baptized in the Christian faith--through a good deal of stern instruction at Kellogg Church--it was discovered Kellogg did not have a baptistry to accommodate trine immersion. Union Church, it was discovered, did have a baptistry and so fifty years ago, with Brethren missionaries, my mother, and Dean as witnesses I was baptized by my father, "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." I now think it would have been interesting to have taken the time to ask the church rector to recover my baptismal record just to see it again.
More and more people arrived at Mussoorie on Thursday and Friday to take part in the anniversary celebrations. We were told that the crowd for Saturday's events might well exceed 500-600. To speed things up a bit, those who were already pre-registered were urged to go to Woodstock after 2:00 pm on Friday and pick up their registration packets. We had already received ours on Wednesday night but we went back to the school anyway because I wanted to pester Li Chu and buy some stuff that was on sale in the Alumni Office. The activity in the Alumni Office that afternoon reminded me of a Chinese fire drill. Nevertheless, after pointedly ignoring Li's commandment not to go up there, Lorene and I were able to add to the growing pile of loot we intended to take back to the States. Books, CD's, T shirts, pictures, and other memorabilia began to pile up on the showcase countertop. Caution about where we were going to pack this stuff was cast aside. When would we ever again have an opportunity to come to Woodstock School and spend our hard-earned life's savings? I never did buy one of the jackets shown to us at the beginning of the week. The price in the market for a warm jacket was much more competitive and, by now, the weather had moderated and it was not nearly so chilly; even at night.
As we departed the campus, I experienced one of the most jarring moments of the Mussoorie part of our India visit. Before me, as I rounded the curve below the Woodstock School sign, stood a yellow school bus. A yellow, Woodstock School school bus. I wasn't ready for what I saw. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine Woodstock having a school bus and yet, there it was! I could touch it and even make photographs of it but I am still not certain I wasn't hallucinating because of the altitude. If the bus is used to transport students to the Hanifl Center that is probably good since the center is located almost all the way to Jabarkhet. If the bus is used to transport students from Ridgewood to school I am forever going to feel slighted. I walked every step of the way. Oh well. I suppose walking builds character so who am I to complain now?
Woodstock School 150
Saturday - Mela, Studio 59 dedication, dances, Bonham piano recital, banquet
Saturday morning, the first day of the celebration, began with a hearty breakfast in the faculty dining room, since the student dining room was quickly being set up for use by local arts and crafts vendors. The quadrangle was gaily festooned with flags and workmen the previous day had made certain the flagstones were spotless. It was a very attractive setting which reminded me so much of the old May Sale that used to occur at Woodstock School, just before the ten-day holiday. There are no longer any American jeans and shirts or toys for sale. This mela would provide, instead, ample opportunity for participants to sample all kinds of Indian foods and to buy handmade wares-shawls, comforters, silver jewelry, and on and on. Music was provided by the students. The crowd began to get larger and larger. Soon all of the seating on the second floors around the quad was filled to capacity and people began milling about in any available space. It must have been heartwarming to the celebration committee that so many people would be willing to gather together at their old alma mater to celebrate its 150th birthday.
The festivities were officially opened with a welcoming address given by Principal David Jeffrey and then Robert John Bonham addressed the crowd and talked about the Class of '59's contribution. He also introduced Vance George. Those in the Class of '59 will remember that many had agreed to raise the money needed to create a choir rehearsal room. $50,000.00 was eventually collected or pledged. Through consensus, the room was dedicated in honor of Vance George. On an outside wall, near the entranceway, there is a brass plaque that reads, "Studio 59." "Donated by the Class of 1959 in honor of Vance George." Just inside the room is a framed photograph with a synopsis of Vance's many accomplishments in the music world. Members of the class of '59 were detailed to unfurl a banner from the third floor at the moment of dedication. Norman Mundhenk, Li Chu, Alice Sokolovoe Clague, Lindsay Fiske Hoffman, and I cut loose the ribbons at the appropriate moment and a long banner filled with confetti unfurled almost to the quadrangle floor. The banner proudly read, "Studio 59." Vance George watched the unfurling and then came to the third floor to tour the studio. He was highly appreciative and visibly moved by our tribute to him. Indeed, what a grand alum he is. I had never had the pleasure of meeting him but in a very short moment I instantly discovered what a down-to-earth and congenial person he is. I am so glad others, in the class of '59 with much more foresight than I, had the good sense to honor him in this way. I have a keepsake photograph of Vance, Robert John, Norman, and Lindsay standing together under the plaque. Across the way, Lorene was detailed to photograph the moment of unfurling with the digital camera. Soon, I must look at my digital files to see how the "photograph" turned out. It will be shared.
The remainder of Saturday morning was spent appreciating the native dances performed in the quadrangle. There were Tibetan dances, Rajasthani dances, and other similar performances. Eventually the program gave way to mela activities which again allowed my wife and I to do even more shopping. What the heck might as well spend the children's inheritance also. A more sobering thought was where in the world were we going to pack all of this stuff? Three more weeks of travel loomed before us with some train stops of only two minutes yet to be encountered. It seemed likely that we would be toting around one leather briefcase, two Woodstock School tallies (large burlap handbags), an oversized ladies' purse, a backpack, one large canvas suitcase, one even larger duffel bag, two Mussoorie walking sticks, and Did I miss something? Yes, the camera bag! Might as well add a partridge in a pear tree since it is almost that time of the year anyway.
At the end of the recital an appreciative packed house gave Robert John a standing ovation and we began to chant, "Encore." He generously agreed to play one additional piece.
And so with the mela drawing to a close in the quadrangle, my wife and I boarded yet another shuttle taxi for the ride back to Hotel Iceberg. It was now time to dress formally for the evening. There again was that yellow school bus parked near a pushta so apparently I was not hallucinating the day before. To me, the bus still looks out of place.
One of the highlights of the two-day celebration would be the formal banquet at the JayPee Hotel. This a fairly new, five-star hotel located in Barlowganj just below St. Georges College. It had excellent banquet facilities outdoors and well-laid tables for guests that stretched for as far as the eye could see. I would not have been surprised to learn the guest list exceeded 600 people. Entertainment was provided by a number of school people and everyone was appreciative of a humorous skit delivered by the centennial class of '54. In the skit, as expected, everyone gets into trouble with a stern, unforgiving principal of the "old missionary school." Times have thoroughly changed. I could not imagine Principal Jeffrey now being overly bothered with such trivial transgressions. But, back in those days, I am sure you will remember, there was a certain uncompromising and straitlaced quality imposed upon all of our student lives. In recognition of the many hours of work devoted to make all of the celebration activities so successful, a series of gifts were given to faculty and staff members and volunteers. They were certainly deserved. Robert John and Li each received due recognition and tokens of appreciation. It was a high moment for those of the class of '59 who were present at the banquet. The party lasted into the late evening with Nate Craft and the Woodstock Jazz Band providing dance music for those who wanted to round out the event. People were so universally cordial at the banquet and, by now, Lorene and I had many acquaintances to talk to. It was an incredible evening-one I am glad I did not miss.
Sunday - Service and farewells
October 31st dawned clear and fairly warm. Today, there would be a worship service that would surely capture the hearts and minds of everyone who attended. I was not wrong. After breakfast in the staff dining room at eight o'clock there was only a brief moment before it was time to file into Parker Hall. Would there be enough time to sneak back to the faculty garden for one last look? Knowing what my hurried schedule would be for the remainder of the day, I wanted to forever imprint a very familiar scene in my memory while there was still time. As I reached the garden railing, it occurred to me that the JayPee Hotel ought to be visible and, sure enough, there it was. I had overlooked it many times before during the past week, perhaps not recognizing what I was seeing.
I had peeked into Parker Hall on Saturday afternoon just to be reminded about how it looked. Nothing special came to mind then but, as Lorene and I were ushered to seats near the front, I immediately sensed an amazing transformation. Here were people gathered together from nearly every continent about to begin the Sesquicentennial Worship Service. Arrayed at the rear of the stage was the combined high school, staff, and alumni choir. In front was the brass choir, Nate Craft, Director, and the Mullingar String Ensemble, under the direction of Reid Blickenstaff. Closer to the worshippers would be the Woodstock Hindustani Church Choir. All had assembled to give praise to God in voice and music. Vance George would lead the choir and ensembles and Reid would later conduct the strings.
The service proper began with an invocation by Reverend Anita Templeton. After singing a hymn in unison, scripture from Joel 2:26 through 28 was read by Ugyen Tsezomia Larma, Grade 3. She was precious and I suppose at that point I began to break down emotionally. My Lord and Savior had granted me this opportunity, with good health and an agile mind, to witness a very, very special program. How could I ever give enough thanks? I was fortunate to be sitting beside my wife on one side and a faculty member on the other side--she later said she had helped design the service. Each took my hand as I trembled and quietly shed tears of joy and thanksgiving. Without a doubt, this would be the high point of my return to Mussoorie. I have a copy of the program carefully put away and I will share it with anyone who is interested. Somehow, through a very emotionally charged moment in my life, I do remember how beautiful the music was as Vance George conducted on the stage and how wonderful the Hindi song sung by the Hindustani Church Choir. Reverend Bob Alter gave the message, entitled "Flipping Switches of the Heart." His message was right on target. This service was most certainly flipping switches within my heart. For certain there will someday be a bicentennial celebration at Woodstock School--rest assured of that. I can only hope, as we depart, that those who follow in our footsteps will, on a Sunday morning in the distant future, be drawn as close to God as we were. We had not forgotten the cassette recorder this time, and my wife and I have a recording of the service that will always be treasured above anything bought or given to us during our India trip.
We did not take part in the remainder of Sunday's celebrations at Hansen Field and other places. It was time to bid farewell to new and old friends. It was time to bid farewell to old classmates, who are aging gracefully. And, it was time to bid farewell to all who had labored to make our experiences at Mussoorie and Woodstock School so perfect and rewarding. India, temptress that she is, beckoned and it was now time to move on. There was a night train to Delhi with our names posted on one of the bogies.
To say I left Woodstock School and Mussoorie without regrets would be ludicrous. No one ever, I think, leaves these two places without regrets. But the regrets can be privately tolerated. My wife and I had experienced some of the most enriching moments of our lives in very good and caring company. Who could ask for more?
The trip down the hill to Dehradun seemed must faster than the time it took to go up to Mussoorie more than a week earlier. Perhaps it was merely anticipation at work in my mind for we were on the way to what must surely be new and exciting places. Lorene and I shared a taxi with Ward and Mary Alter, who were also leaving the celebration early because of other travel plans. They would be traveling to Delhi on the same train we were going to ride. During our stay at Mussoorie, my wife and I had grown to know this couple fairly well as they were also part of Group #1. They were good company as we left the hillside and our feelings of both joy and sadness were commonly shared.
India Railways (the largest in the world) has a truly amazing system for keeping track of 2600 trains and a daily passenger load that may rival the population of the United States. Our travel agent, Rajiv, upon our first arrival in Delhi had "diarized" our entire travel schedule and attached nearly all of the train tickets we would need while in India. The tickets provided such essential information as the train's name and number, what bogie was assigned, and what seat numbers had been reserved. At the beginning of each train run, the guard (Indian word for conductor) would walk beside the empty passenger cars and post a computer printout of names and reservations on each car. Every time I saw this happen I could not get over the immensity of keeping track of so many passengers on so many trains every day. India, a Third World country? I think not. The technological development and sophistication needed to accomplish this task must be monumental. Just think, within a short span of time, the computer system would have kept track of and rightly dispatched nearly a billion people. In my preparations for travel in India, I had read many web accounts about India's railway system and, for the most part, they were quite accurate. Each article that interested me insisted that boarding the right train at the right bogie was quite a simple matter. Now I know why. Our names would always be posted on the proper coach for every train we rode and the reservations were never wrong. How much easier could that be?
And so it was, as empty Dehradun-Delhi Shitabdi passenger cars were backed onto a vacant track and platform. Reservations were posted for all classes and all of us re-examined our tickets to find out where we were to board. While our travel plans might be identical, our reservations were different from those held by Ward and Mary and one other couple from Woodstock. After quick goodbyes were exchanged Lorene and I set off to find our assigned first class AC coach. Soon the car would become partially filled with others who had participated in Woodstock School's celebrations, although I did not recognize or remember a single one of them. Nevertheless, for a while, there was plenty to talk about as dusk turned into night.
Alighting from our carriage in Delhi after a restful trip, we were immediately met by one of our travel agent's staff members who guided us to a waiting car. Coolies followed along and were paid for their services. On this visit to Delhi, we were going to stay at Park Hotel because getting from and to the railway station had to be easier. We arrived at the hotel's reception desk about 1:00 am and the hotel staff was quick to get us settled into a very nice room. We would not be in the room for long because we had another train to catch at Delhi station at six o'clock.
As our itinerary became more and more refined, it dawned on me one late night months ago that the master plan did not allow for the luggage we would most certainly be carrying with us. We were going to take rail trips on small, narrow-gauge trains and taking all of our luggage with us would simply be out of the question. Once again, another careful look was taken at the itinerary and changes implemented. We would stay at a central hotel and come and go from it. While absent on a side trip, the hotel would be asked to place our personal articles in safekeeping until our return. The idea worked out perfectly.
4:00 am came awfully early. We had to be up and about because our driver would arrive at the hotel at five o'clock to take us back to the train station we had just left. We would soon be on our way to Shimla. Why? Because there is a small, narrow-gauge train that goes up the mountain sides from Kalka that I simply had to ride. Also, I had never been to Shimla and it seemed like now was the right time to go there.
We boarded the Himalayan Queen at Delhi Station in plenty of time and the train pulled out on schedule. Breakfast was served as the train retraced some of the track we had ridden just a few hours earlier while enroute to Delhi. Eventually, the tracks led away to the west and Saharanpur was skipped. Ever so slowly mountains began to appear and by the time the train reached the railhead at Kalka they were quite visible in the noonday sunlight. It was a simple matter to get off our broad-gauge train and walk a short distance to the narrow-gauge train platform. We were early so there was plenty of time to locate our reserved seats, wander around the train station, buy snacks, and take many pictures. Finally, as departure time neared, our small railway car began to fill up with other passengers. It would soon be time to go up the mountain. As I looked up at the nearby mountain ridges, I presumed the ride would most certainly be a short one. The summits were not that far away-about like Dehradun and Mussoorie. Never mind, the small, almost toy-like carriages and a diesel locomotive that looked like it had never "growed up" would certainly offer an entertaining ride.
The trip far exceeded my expectations. What great fun! We could hang out the windows and look forward and backwards and wave at other passengers who were doing the same thing. In our compartment (actually the whole carriage), we struck up a casual conversation with a family enroute to Shimla for a ten-day vacation. The father is an environmental scientist with a PhD, who was employed in India by a Dutch firm. The mother is a school teacher. The two daughters were charming but a bit shy. One of the girls is in high school and the other is in college. Eventually these girls became quite friendly and we compared notes about schooling in India and the United States. Soon at small stations perched on the hillsides, we would get off to buy snacks and gharam chai that was shared all around. Email addresses were exchanged and photographs taken. This kind of experience would be repeated time-after-time on railway trips we took throughout India. I had expected as much. First, we were traveling in a rail class that was certain to cater to better-educated or wealthy Indians, who might be interested in or accustomed to talking to foreigners. Second, rail travel prompts spontaneous introductions because there is ample time for them. Third, my wife and I had learned long ago, from living in Japan and the Philippines for many years, not to be "Ugly Americans."
The trip lasted for over six hours so it was almost completely dark by the time we reached the Shimla train station. We had traversed 100 kilometers, gained nearly 7,000 feet elevation, passed through 103 tunnels, and pressed far more deeply into the Himalayan Mountains than I ever had at Mussoorie. After gathering our few belongings together and bidding farewell to our new-found friends we hunted down a taxi to take us to our lodging for the night, Hotel Woodville Palace.
In most cases, I had allowed Rajiv Mehra to decide what hotel would be suitable, based upon some general guidelines we provided. So it was always something of a pleasant surprise as we went from hotel to hotel to see what he had arranged. We were never disappointed in his selections. Woodville Palace Hotel was some distance from the railway station and our taxi ride provided some excellent night views of the city. Shimla is the capital city for Himachal Province, so the marketplaces were open and busy. High on a ridge, a large cathedral stood floodlighted. I resolved to go over to the cathedral the next day to satisfy my curiosity about it. By now, I was getting accustomed to people driving all over the hillsides, so I was content to just look out the window and enjoy the sights. Shimla's roads are much better than Mussoorie's but that is easily explainable when you consider that motorized traffic has almost always been a part of the landscape. Also, the city is much cleaner and tidier than Mussoorie.
Upon arrival at the hotel, it soon became apparent that we were joining only a few other guests. Our host at the reception desk got us checked in quickly and we were assigned a very pleasant room on a second floor that provided a good view even at night-it also had an electric heater! During our India trip it became customary to get settled into our room(s) quickly and then leave to look around. There was always too much to see with so little time. Downstairs we met two of the guests-sisters from the UK who were visiting relatives in India. A lively conversation began as we compared travel notes and eventually a dining room table was set up for dinner. Couples from South Africa, and India joined us and the two sisters at a table and we talked about everything for a long time before retiring for the night.
The next morning we hit the streets. After doing so much walking at Mussoorie, it seemed perfectly natural to ignore taxi driver's offers for rides, particularly since the front desk manager said the best bazaars were only about twenty minutes walk. What was offered in the various shops within Lakkar Bazaar was decidedly different than what we saw at Mussoorie. More loot (read Christmas gifts) was added to our ever-growing inventory of stuff we would somehow have to get home. In our wanderings, we discovered the walkway up to the cathedral and climbed up to see it more closely. It is another, impressive CNI church, Christ Church, set in a large plaza. The plaza seems to be the primary meeting place for Shimla residents so there were crowds, tea stalls, and vendors everywhere, along with pony rides. The morning sun was shining on the snows and it was then I realized how deeply our train ride had penetrated into the mountains. The snows were noticeably closer than Landour's. On the way down from the plaza, my wife noticed an unusual historical marker. A sign stated that during the days of the British Raj, Indians were not permitted on the plaza. Shimla was the seat of imperial government and I seem to recall that the governor-general moved most of his personal staff out of Delhi to Shimla during the hot summer months. That may explain the sign and then it may not. The English could be somewhat hoity toity when they wanted to be. Anyway, it is an interesting footnote to Indian history. Just in case Indians are still not certain where they belong, there is a towering statue of Gandhiji on the plaza to guide their way.
After lunch at the hotel, it soon became time to return to the railway station for the trip down the hill. Our train would return us to Kalka after dark so it was good we had seen everything in daylight the day before. Our compartment was only partially full and there was plenty of room to stretch out for the six-hour ride. Halfway down, the express train made a single stop to load up hot meals for first class passengers. The vegetarian food (our choice) was good and the tea hot. We arrived at the railhead in plenty of time to board the Kalka-Howrah Mail about midnight for yet another trip to Delhi. Yes, like the old saying that all roads led to Rome, all railway lines lead to Delhi.
It was becoming clear to both of us, as we boarded the broad-gauge gauge train, that all of our careful advance planning was beginning to pay huge dividends. We did not have to concern ourselves about where to stay, what to pay, and how to get the next set of train tickets. Everything was at hand--tickets, hotel vouchers-thanks to our travel agent. All we had to do is follow the itinerary.
Kalka to Delhi was to be a late night run so sleeper compartment accommodations had been arranged. I wanted a made up bunk to sleep in for a few hours. Upon boarding, we were escorted to a four-person compartment by an attendant who advised that two more people would later join us in the compartment at Chandigarh. Our upper and lower bunks were already made up with clean linen, pillows, and blankets and they looked quite inviting. Eventually, a diesel locomotive was coupled to the front of the train and we began yet another train ride. We would have a restful and comfortable trip but first, it was necessary to drive a sleepy cow out of the middle of the mainline tracks. Who said India has changed? The Chandigarh people never showed up.
Delhi - luggage, crafts, railway museum, snake charmer, sites
We were becoming quite familiar with the Delhi train station as Lorene and I left our railway carriage and stepped onto the platform. Four encounters in ten days, not bad, with one early morning departure yet to go. Standing there, somewhat bleary-eyed and looking about for our driver, I pondered what the train station might look like in bright daylight, since all of our departures and arrivals had been in the dark or the dimness of dawn. Did I really care? Where was our driver? We had a full day ahead of us and I wanted to get back to the hotel as soon as possible. No reason to get testy or impatient I reminded myself. This was India, remember? Clock times were merely advisory, except for trains, of course.
Once back at the Park Hotel, we were greeted warmly by the front desk clerks who had a room already prepared for us even though proper check-in time was hours away. Before going to Shimla, I had made advance arrangements for a car and driver to be provided by the hotel's travel desk upon our return to Delhi. There would now plenty of time to get settled in our new accommodations and consider, soberly, what in the world we were going to do about a mountain of luggage that kept getting bigger. Help was needed and I approached the front desk with an unusual request. Was the hotel staff prepared to pack a number of personal articles for us for shipment back to the States? I was overjoyed to discover they would be quite willing do so. All I needed to do was prepare an inventory list. Entering our hotel room that was now completely overtaken with our Shimla and left luggage I notified my wife that we were "saved." The hotel would soon send a bellboy up to our room and haul away some of our belongings. All we needed to do was unpack and sort out everything so that we could make a pile of stuff that needed to be shipped. Easier said than done. Would this skirt be needed later in the trip? Did I really need to carry around three volumes of Brigadier Yadav's book? What about the walking sticks? Surely they should be sent back because airline boarding clerks would view them as dreadful weapons. Stuff was piled hither, thither, and yon as we plowed through more stuff than we would ever need for the rest of our trip. Finally, a list was drawn up and the bellboy was summoned. Everything we wanted to send back early was neatly arranged on the bed. Could he just take it away for us, pack it in boxes, and give it to FEDEX? Perhaps, but how much did it weigh? What would be the cubic volume? What about shipping costs? Hmmmm. This was not going to be so easy after all and, besides, time was running out because we would soon have a car and driver waiting for us outside. After some negotiations, we were able to convince the hotel staff that we truly wanted to part with our prized possessions in one way or another and would they please make all of this stuff disappear? In a light-headed moment, I promised to pay whatever the cost might be-simply add it to the unpaid part of our hotel bill. Leaving everything still piled on the bed, we locked our door, and pushed the elevator down button to begin our day's activities, hoping when we got back later in the day that everything would be gone.
Our driver was waiting patiently for us and after exchanging pleasantries with him, I asked him to take us to the national crafts emporium that is located directly across from the Imperial Hotel. Woodstock School guides had suggested this might be a good place to shop or see native wares, if Mussoorie shops failed to provide what we wanted. Our driver told us he would gladly take us to this emporium but he insisted there were better places to shop. In a weak moment, I allowed him to set the direction and off we went. We pulled into a neat compound containing a two-storey building that proved to be filled with quality goods at prices that were probably not unreasonable. Why we were even there mystified me. We were shopping again no more than thirty minutes after we had hopefully solved our luggage problem. Were we nuts? The proprietor insisted we go down to the basement and look at hand woven Kashmiri rugs. A rug! We barely had enough room in our luggage to stuff in a small handkerchief somewhere-assuming the hotel was doing its thing with our excess baggage while we were gone. I had been silently praying that they were. Not only that, I remember reading somewhere in my youth that you should beware of rug merchants above all else. If we went down into the basement would we ever again see the light of day? Actually, this rug merchant was a nice short of fellow so we dutifully followed him down into a nicely appointed sales room and were seated to await tea. Oh, oh, this was going to cost megabucks. Now the sales pitch began in earnest. With the help of assistants, rugs soon came flying off the shelves in such profusion that anything closely related to a sane selection was impossible. Bus, bus (Gujarati words for stop). "We weren't here to buy rugs, really we weren't." Somehow we must have sounded insincere and I must admit we were beginning to waver. The rugs were absolutely beautiful and superbly crafted never mind he only wanted a bit less than a king's ransom for each one of them. Such a deal! You already know what happened next, don't you? The rug was shipped by the shop and arrived home well before us. After opening the up large package and spreading the rug out on our living room floor the same night we returned home, I suddenly understood why I had allowed a dreaded rug merchant to talk me into buying it. It is simply gorgeous!
Was I now going to trust our friendly driver anymore today? No way! I had been led into a den of shopper's iniquity. From now on we would stay thousands of feet away from any shop situated with the environs of metropolitan Delhi. Lotsa' luck! The shopping frenzy was only just getting started.
During our first stay in Delhi, without any hesitation, my wife and I had gone out to the National Railroad Museum. For some reason we did not do much buying at the souvenir shop. That oversight would now be quickly put right. There were a couple of models of early Indian steam engines that absolutely, positively had to be added to our growing list of presents. So instructions were given and the driver,` now probably quite happy that he had earned a silent commission, set off in the right direction.
On our last visit to the museum, there were very few visitors in attendance. Upon our arrival the second time the parking lot was packed with school buses and children were everywhere. As we crossed the parking lot, I noticed a snake charmer sitting under a tree in full regalia beginning to play on his flute. Before him were a number of wicker baskets. We walked over, mildly interested. I certainly wanted to take photographs and this was something my wife might not see elsewhere in our travels. It's all fake of course, isn't it? As we approached, the snake charmer lifted the lids off the baskets and popped each cobra on the head to get it to rise up and hood. He had two of them, as well as a number of other kinds of snakes. He beckoned us to sit down next to him and I convinced my wife to take a seat near one of the baskets. The cobras were bored by the proceedings and had to be popped on their heads again. My wife was handed one of the baskets to hold, snake upright and hooded, so I could get a good photograph. Then it was my turn. I sat down cross-legged, Indian style and the charmer once again popped the cobras on their heads and then handed both baskets to me to hold for my own set of pictures. That was not enough. I was handed another snake and told to grip it firmly as it coiled around my neck and left arm. There I was gamely holding three snakes. Snakes have never really unnerved me so this turned out to be great fun because by this time a large crowd of curious school children and onlookers had gathered around. Bored again, the cobras sank silently back into their baskets. The snakes were put away and I paid the charmer for his troubles. This chance encounter with a snake charmer was the only one we had in India. Either they are a vanishing act or we just weren't ever in the right place at the right time. I still chuckle whenever I recall seeing the charmer pop the snakes on their heads to get some sort of reaction out of them. I have playfully tried the same tactic with my wife and, sure enough, I get a similar reaction even though I do not keep her in a wicker basket.
After making our purchases at the museum, we returned to our car. I gave our driver instructions to return to the hotel so we could eat lunch and store what we had bought in our room. Lal Quila (Red Fort) would be visited in the afternoon. Hopefully, our stuff would be gone. But, as we drove away from the railway museum, our driver suggested we stop by the Qutub Minar complex since it was not far away. Consulting my watch, I realized we were not appreciably behind in our schedule and I agreed to the side trip.
Students of Indian history will certainly remember Qutub Minar is the highest stone tower in India and is one of the finest Islamic structures ever raised. Construction of the landmark, begun in 1199 AD by Qutub-ud-Din, is either a victory tower or a minaret for a nearby mosque. It took two decades to complete. The red sandstone carvings around the lower stories are beautiful to behold and there are, inscribed in the buff and red stone, verses from the holy Quran. While at the complex we also saw the famous Iron Pillar, situated in the courtyard of the Quwwatu'l-Islam mosque. The Sanskrit inscriptions are still clearly visible even though the pillar was probably created in the fourth century AD as a standard to god Vishnu. There is speculation that a deep hole at the top of the pillar indicates something is now missing, perhaps an image of "Garuda."
As we entered our hotel room, only the walking sticks remained on the bed. Looking about our room, I mused that the sticks were probably too long to fit into a box. I began thinking out loud. "What if I was to have them carefully cut into little pieces? Then they could be made to fit into a box for shipment. When we got home, I would simply glue all of the pieces together and then--viola!--we would have our walking sticks back in one piece." My wife was not amused. These walking sticks had been given to us by Woodstock School as part of the "Explore Mussoorie" activity and, by gosh and by golly, they were going home with us one way or another. Oh well, at least 50 pounds of other stuff was on the way out of India.
I had visited the Red Fort many years ago and it was now time after lunch to see it once more and show it to my wife. "No we did not need a guide," we would reply when asked dozens of times by the hawkers outside the fort walls. I had done my homework and probably knew as much about the Moguls and their forts as any guide. After purchasing our admission tickets we were confronted by sand bagged positions at the fort's outer entrance replete with uniformed soldiers manning 50 calibre machine guns? Furthermore, metal detectors and hand bag inspectors were waiting for us to approach. What in the world was going on? This wasn't an airport, just a tourist site. Later inquiries satisfied my curiosity. India, like much of the rest of the world, has had its share of terrorists and terrorism, usually in the name of a Hindu god or the Muslim Allah. People had been massacred inside the Red Fort and other places in northern India and the government was now fully alert to the dangers terrorists might pose to innocent crowds. We were to encounter tight security inspections throughout the remainder of our travels in India in almost all of the major tourist attractions. What a sad commentary about our crazy, unforgiving world.
Lal Quila is disappointing to put it bluntly. It has become, inevitably, a major tourist attraction and it shows. The government has done little to overcome years of wear and tear and there is not much left to convince anyone that this must have been a grand place at one time. The Delhi Fort was built to accommodate a change in the seat of Mogul government from Agra. Outwardly, it looks appropriately massive and imposing. Inside though, we could hardly appreciate what had been built because our routes were severely restricted. No longer could you go up on the ramparts and imagine attacking native and British armies laying siege. They never did, by the way. The British slyly entered into treaties with the emperor that made such conquest unnecessary. The fort housed a souk and it was there we at least satisfied an urgent email request from our dear granddaughter for a "beaded purse." While I did not wholly regret going back to the Red Fort, I could not help but wonder if other sites might also be in such shoddy condition. Too late to change the itinerary now. We would just have to wait and see. As darkness began to fall, our Delhi adventures came to an end and only checkout from the Park Hotel remained.
What is this bill for Rs. 115,000, I indignantly inquired very early the next morning? The explanation on the computer printout gave no clue. Finally, a knowledgeable staff member was called and he explained that the charge was the cost associated with sending our goods home. Oh! I stood there feeling stupid. Of course, how could I have forgotten? Time to exchange more dollars since we did not nearly have enough rupees to pay our bill. Rs. 115,000! I looked at my wife and said, "I sure hope all of it gets there for this price."
Agra and the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort, and "baby Taj"
The Bhopal Shitabdi left Delhi station right on time. Another predawn departure out of what was becoming a very familiar railway station. We were on our way to Agra. It was time to show my wife a number of places I had visited years ago and to see some new ones. Despite the shortness of the ride-barely two hours-we were fed breakfast and supplied with plenty of gharam chai. Mathura Junction train station flashed past without a stop on the way to Agra and I pointed out to my wife that we would be back at that station later in the week to catch a train bound for south Gujarat. While riding along, we got acquainted with a Dutch fellow who was backpacking it through India with well thumbed railway schedules and guide books. He was headed to Jaipur and other places before returning to China for a second visit. What made our conversation so very interesting was the fact he had recently done the Trans-Siberian Railway thing. For years, I have dreamed of riding a train from London to Vladivostok. It is possible to do so using a number of different railway routes. The one I want to take someday goes something like this: London to Brussels to Hamburg to St. Petersburg to Moscow to Vladivostok. Ten or eleven days minimum but what a ride! More time is needed if you book on the Rossoyia, which allows international passengers to get off the train at a stop and reboard another train the next day. Wonder if the railway authorities in Russia will let me hang out the carriage door as I was becoming accustomed to doing on Indian trains? I've got to find out someday. This retirement business is going to be great fun.
At the railway station at Agra, things moved along smoothly. We were instantly met by a travel agent, who had a car and driver in readiness to take us to the TajView Hotel. Coolies were hired and off we went toward the station's parking lot. I tried to slow the pace through the railway station so I could look around. Did the station look like I remembered it? Couldn't tell. On my last visit to Agra, my brother and I, together with Leonard, Lynn and Rosemary Blickenstaff, were on a tight budget and we spent a night in a waiting room while waiting for our train to Bombay to arrive. This is the same "Blickenstaff" as in Reid Blickenstaff at Woodstock and Doctor Leonard was our chaperone.
We were too early for check-in at the hotel so our travel agent sat with us in the lobby and had some tea. I had a number of questions about onward travel that needed answering, anyway. Plus, the matter of getting about efficiently in Agra was troubling me. We had so little time available for sightseeing. It was soon decided that we would need a car and driver for the two days we would be in Agra. There were several good reasons to spend the money. First, we were advised by our travel agent that the train we planned to use to return to Mathura Junction from Agra was a joke and likely to be twenty-four hours late. Missing the train at Mathura Junction was unthinkable because plans for four days in Gujarat involved lots of people and places. Second, some of the sites we wanted to see-Fatehpur Sikri and "baby Taj" were somewhat distant from our hotel. A contract was drawn up and money paid in advance for the car and driver, with service to be provided shortly after we got checked in. To make best use of our time, our agent suggested we tour the Taj Mahal first, have a late lunch, and then drive the 40 kilometers out to Fatehpur Sikri. That would conclude the day's activities. On the next day, we would first go to Agra Fort and then across the Jummna River to see "baby Taj." Later in the afternoon, the same driver would take us to the Mathura Junction railway station. This arrangement worked out perfectly.
We got checked into a third floor room with a grand view of the Taj Mahal soon after our travel agent departed to take care of another tourist client. Once our luggage was delivered to the room, we immediately went down stairs to look around the hotel grounds since there was more than an hour before the car would be available. The TajView is only a short distance from the Taj Mahal and our room, by design was on the Taj side of the building. Returning to the lobby, we were greeted by the hotel manager who was somewhat apologetic about our very nice accommodations. He stated the third floor was undergoing renovation and our room might be too close to the noise. Would we consider moving? I did not even have time to think about my answer before he went on to say that he intended to make us very happy by "giving" us the best suite in the hotel at no extra charge. I would have moved anywhere he wanted and I told him it was not necessary to be quite so generous. He insisted and bellboys were summoned to reclaim our luggage and move us to the top floor of the hotel. The suite contained a dining room, complete with dishes and flatware to accommodate in-room dining, a sitting room and TV alcove, a huge bedroom, and a bathroom big enough to wash down an elephant. The suite was sumptuous and large enough to house six, Indian families. While appreciative, I couldn't help but privately wonder about the many millions of people living in shacks along India's railway lines who would probably never have a decent place to stay. Did I really deserve this sort of treatment?
Our driver for the day was a talkative fellow and we soon got well acquainted on the way to the not too distant Taj Mahal. He pulled the car into a parking lot and explained that this was all the further he could go since his car was not "pollution free." What he meant by that remark is that there is a zone around the Taj Mahal in which gasoline/diesel powered vehicles are forbidden to enter. There is even a police checkpoint complete with gate to enforce the law. The Taj was close by so we decided to walk to the amazement of dozens of tonga wallahs, electric tricycle operators, and camel drivers. How else would we really experience India? And, God forbid, there were shops along the way.
The entrance to the Taj looked like a fortress and the guards were uncompromising in their questions. Did we have any electronic equipment? Did we have any alcohol? Did we have a video camera? Did we have any tobacco products? Yes. The speaker pointed the way to where I was to surrender them and get a receipt. That done, we passed through the metal detectors and our bags were examined. Finally, we were allowed into the outer grounds. Once again, our route was restricted and guards were posted to make sure the crowds did not go to far astray. But, the grounds were immaculate and the walls and entranceways were in good repair. As we rounded a corner there was the Taj as beautiful as I remember it. It is an international treasure and is being maintained superbly. Taking her shoes off, Lorene entered the Taj proper and went down to the grave site for Mumtaz and Jehangir. I had been there before so I stayed outside with the cameras and handbags. Leisurely retracing our steps and pausing for photographs along the way, we eventually reached the tourist entrance and bid farewell to the Taj. Our conversations on the walk back to the car park were about the history and circumstances that caused this beautiful tomb to be built.
We had lunch at a delightful Rajasthani restaurant recommended by our driver. I invited him to join us for a meal but he politely declined. We were the only customers so service was rapid. It was taking time to learn how to order food in Indian restaurants. It had been our experience to order separately thinking the food would be served in one-person portions. In fact, it is much better to order Chinese style-a couple of main dishes, which are to be shared, along with rice and rotis. Not thinking we fell into the old pattern and when the food arrived our table was covered with serving dishes. The mounds of vegetable bhat set before each of us were intimidating. We had no hope of eating our way through what was served. In fact, we didn't even make much of a dent in it. I only hoped our hosts did not think we disliked the food or the way it was prepared. What I would give now for the leftovers as I write.
It was now time for the lengthly drive to Fatehpur Sikri-a site I had never been to before. The 40 kilometer ride, on roads outlined on both sides by sugar cane and banana trees, was a pleasant interlude from the smoggy and crowded streets of Agra. Along the way, we were confronted with a distressing sight. Captive bears were aligned along the roadway with their masters. The bears had been trained to "perform" for anyone willing to stop and look. Their training and the manner in which they are shackled is barbaric. In the TajView Hotel lobby, I had earlier noticed a large, glassed-in money collection box near a series of bear pictures. The pictures showed how the bears are beaten and controlled and there were captions asking for donations to aid an international organization determined to stop this brutality. There was quite a lot of money in the collection box. I did not thoroughly understand the necessity for bear publicity in a hotel lobby until we made our trip out to Fatehpur Sikri. Without comment from us, our driver politely informed us that he would not be willing to stop because he was disgusted with a practice so demeaning to animals. I am still grateful he felt that way. I too was disgusted.
Fatehpur Sikri What would we see that was interesting? Sure, I remembered it had served as the capital of the Mogul Empre for a few years and then was abandoned. Indeed, the great Akbar had been responsible for its construction as a City of Victory where a new religion, Deen-e-Elahi would fuse positive aspects of all the major religions into a composite whole. The old "city" stands on a small hill that rises abruptly from the surrounding plain. Not a high hill but certainly one that would aid defense, if it were ever needed. The location of Fatehpur Sikri, however, proved to be its undoing. Water for even the most basic needs was in short supply and not easy to obtain. Years of famine made the water supply problem so acute the city was abruptly abandoned.
I am not certain what I expected to see upon arrival at Fatehpur Sikri. Oh sure, there would be the usual Moslem architecture and laid out grounds befitting Akbar, but would Lorene and I see anything that would engender a lasting impression? There certainly was. No guards, no frisking, just ticket taking to gain entrance.
To begin with, Fatehpur Sikri is in very good condition with delightful examples of innovative architecture that bring together Hindu and Islamic styles. Tombs and monuments are everywhere with no guards to block our sightseeing. We had the run of the place. School children frequently came up to us and asked where we were from. Pictures were taken of them and the beautiful fretworks and inscriptions that are so clearly visible. Fatehpur Sikri, I had read earlier, is set out in a scheme that suggests a "neighborhood atmosphere" and I found this notion to be quite true. There is cohesiveness to the buildings that did not seem to exist at the other Mogul places we had visited. I surmised out loud to my wife that Akbar must surely have regretted having to leave his capital city. Restoration, where necessary, seems to be an ongoing endeavor and, at two places within the old city, workmen were, by hand, chiseling out the red sandstone to replace broken or worn parts of the fort. Maybe, some of the work is set up as a tourist attraction but I don't think so. The government, or tourism interests, seem determined not to let Fatehpur Sikri decline. As we departed, I remarked to our driver how nice the site was. The road leading to the city was clear of debris and the grounds we saw were immaculate. He explained that the Minister of Culture had visited Fatehpur Sikri just the day before us and there had been a big celebration for a cultural event. It explained why everything was in order but I still believe Fatehpur Sikri's maintenance and restoration must be high on many lists. The bears were still out along the roadside on the way back to our hotel. Many of them were required to hold contorted poses that must have been extraordinarily painful. In an uncharitable moment, I wondered whether it would be possible to have the trainer assume some of the same gruesome poses for a while.
The fort As everyone knows, Agra is the site of the largest of the Mogul forts. After a hearty breakfast, our driver delivered us to the entrance of the fort. Here again the usual security procedures were in evidence. To lighten the mood, monkeys scampered in and around the ramparts of the outer wall. Ah, ah! Today would surely be a red letter day. I'd had gharam chai for breakfast and now monkeys were in plain sight all over the place. Before the day ended, I would be riding another train. But, I thought, let's not get ahead of ourselves. We had two sites to tour-Agra Fort and "baby" Taj-savor the moments.
There are those who might conclude that after you've seen one Mogul fort, you've seen them all. Nothing can be further from the truth. There is massiveness and beauty associated with Agra Fort that is not duplicated anywhere else in India. Take my word for it. The disappointment felt at Lal Quila was quickly displaced by a realization that this fort was worth a leisurely examination. For certain, the royal apartments were plundered of marble hundreds of years ago to construct British soldier's barracks but the illusion of grander remains. The walls rise high above the streets of Agra and must have been a most imposing sight to anyone approaching the capital city in bygone eras. While there were blocked pathways and entrances at this fort, they did not seem particularly irksome and Lorene and I had what we thought were plenty of opportunities to see and marvel at what sights the fort had to offer. The grounds within the regal apartments and elsewhere were neat and attractive. The royal audience hall, less the throne-not Peacock-stands as a mute reminder of the emperor's power. At some distance from where the emperor might have sat are the marble benches where those seeking redress or favor could assemble at certain times and utter their complaints, voice flatteries and everlasting fealty, or simply ask for a favor. Even though Lorene and I had seen pretty much everything there was to see, both of us left the fort somewhat wistfully. Agra Fort had been a starred place on our itinerary and now, having seen it, a realization that our trip In India was getting shorter and shorter in length was inescapable.
At the suggestion of our Agra travel agent the day before, we had agreed to view the "baby Taj." Perhaps, earlier during my days in India, I might have remembered something about this site but it was a mystery to me now. Actually, the name given to this site is a misnomer. It is not a smaller recreation of the Taj Mahal. Indeed, "baby Taj," or Itimad-ud-Daulah, was built four years before construction of the Taj Mahal was started. Nevertheless, Itimad-ud-Daulah is of special interest because it is the first Mogul construction in marble. It is the tomb for the first minister of Emperor Jehangir. "Baby Taj" is off the tourist beaten path on the north side of the Jummna River. It was well worth the visit and we had the run of the place. As we took our shoes off to enter the tomb site, we were surrounded with school children who had taken an overnight train from Lucknow to visit various sites in Agra. Lucknow While I did not mention it to the children, Lucknow was a city that had special importance to me. After being born at Spring View, Landour, my "biological" mother, Eileen Stuart, eventually placed me in an orphanage at Bareilly. I was later moved to a Catholic orphanage at Lucknow and, at the tender age of nine months, adopted by my "real" parents, Everett and Joy Fasnacht. The children were very friendly and interested about where we were from and what we thought about India. Cameras were traded and everyone got the pictures they wanted. The chaperones were patient and they allowed the school children to follow us around. "Baby Taj" and grounds are quite small and a visitor could easily tour the place in an hour and be satisfied. Lorene and I lingered for much longer because we were having such fun with the school kids. In retrospect, as I think about our Agra experiences now, "baby Taj" may well have been the best attraction of all.
Mathura station and train to Gujarat
We returned to our hotel to check out of our palatial accommodations and wait for the time to arrive to drive to Mathura Junction Station. It was one of the few moments in our India trip when we could actually pause for a moment and catch our breath. We took up residence in the hotel's lobby until my wife mentioned that there appeared to be a very interesting shop across the street that might be worth investigation. Here we go again. Everything has been packed in readiness for our departure. There is not a square millimeter of space available in any of our traveling bags and we are preparing to cross a busy street to look at more tempting treasures. Actually, we had been much too busy touring Agra to do any window-shopping. Perhaps, after all, here was a chance to obtain something of lasting interest that would remind both of us of our Agra visit. Upon entering the shop, the proprietor took instant notice and began the usual sales pitches. We weren't displeased. The shop had quite a nice selection of goods, including real marble replicas of the Taj Mahal at prices that were much less than the shops in the hotel's shopping arcade. The proprietor, recognizing we had walked in without the help of a "guide" quickly discounted prices by 40 percent-the amount that would have been commissioned by someone who brought us there. After buying a number of articles, we returned to the hotel to await our driver's appearance-he had taken a well-deserved break. Now, we had things to remember Agra by or we had unique gifts to give to loved ones during Christmas. These articles would join the two, half-sized tublas I had purchased in a hotel shop. Everything would have to be carried by hand for the moment until a solution to our luggage arrangements could be found at our next stop.
At the appointed time, our driver reappeared and our luggage was loaded into the car. We made our way through the busy afternoon streets and eventually headed north on the Agra to Delhi highway bound for Mathura Junction railway station. It would be about a two hour trip. As we entered the highway, it dawned on me that we were riding on a roadway that American consulates have always considered to be the most dangerous in India. Countless fatalities occur each year on this highway, and serious injuries are not uncommon. Well, we had to get to our destination and, at least, I wasn't driving. Our concerns proved to be groundless. The driver knew the way and how to cope with situations that would have resulted in many cases of road rage in the United States. We were delivered safely to the train station in plenty of time to board the August Kranti Radjhani deluxe express train that would speedily take us southward toward Gujarat State
Relying on a trusty coolie to position us properly on the right platform we took off through the train station and over pedestrian bridges spanning several railway tracks. Sure enough, when we glanced up, the right train number was being flashed on LED signs positioned along the platform. It was time to explore and I walked up and down the platform taking in the sights. The Dehradun Express years ago stopped at this station going in both directions. On the trip toward Dehradun, our train would reach Mathura a bit before breakfast time and usually everyone in the Bombay party was wide awake and ready to step off the train as it stopped. While I have fond recollections of these experiences, the Mathura Junction railway station of today does not have any great attraction for me.
It would soon be time for the infamous two-minute stop. A dray with our luggage piled on it by the coolie stood in readiness. "How were we going to get everything thrown onto the train in time," my wife wondered aloud. She was getting more and more nervous about the train leaving before we got fully aboard. We would just have to wait and see. As the headlights of the locomotive came into view far down the tracks our coolie returned to assist us. Oops, this was not where our bogie was located after all. It was more to the front of the train. And so, after geldie, geldie, we hurriedly made our way along the platform as the train slowed and stopped. Two minutes is really longer than you might think it is. The luggage was quickly placed in the coach's vestibule with the help of train attendants and we paid off the coolie handsomely for his assistance. As Lorene and I boarded the train, a whistle sounded and the train began to leave the station. With a sigh of relief, we made our way to our compartment as attendants followed along with our luggage. It would be the only time with such suspense in all of our railway trips.
We had booked a private compartment on the train. This would be an overnight trip and Lorene and I wanted a good night's rest since Saturday would a full of activities. Our agent in Delhi had told us service would be superb. That was an understatement. We had earlier ridden on a train from Kalka to Delhi with similar accommodations. What we had reserved on the August Kranti proved to be even nicer. after getting settled, a dining table was brought in and placed between our seats. Soon, linens, flatware and condiments were brought to the compartment and arranged neatly on the table. Before long, Lorene and I were sitting down to a four-five course meal as the train sped through the night. I could have gotten used to that very easily. Eighteen (?) passengers and five attendants. What superb service. It got so that you couldn't do anything without an attendant wanting to know how he could be of assistance. After complimenting our attendant on the food and service, I was presented with a guest book and asked to enter some commentary. Thumbing through the book to get an idea of what other riders had said, I was impressed to discover that some very, very important people had ridden this train. Apparently they loved trains as much as I did, which showed uncommon good sense. I entered a few paragraphs of high praise in the book and buzzed for an attendant to come get the guest book. I don't know if he read my entry but, before long, there was a knock on our compartment door. There standing before me was clearly the chief attendant, or whatever you might choose to call him, complete in jacket and tie. He had the guest book in hand and seemed pleased with my remarks. But, from the gist of his request, he felt left out and would I please write further? And so I did, filling yet another page with purple prose and naming everyone. The chief attendant should, if my remarks are ever taken into serious account, become India's next Railway Minister. Eventually, all of the activity died down and my wife and I turned out the lights. India was passing by in the gloom but it was now time for sleep. Kotah Junction had come and gone with me concluding the train station did not look like the way I remembered it. There were miles and miles yet to go and while I would not see the countryside so familiar from going up/going down days, it did not really matter because I was drawing ever closer to south Gujarat. I did wake up shortly before the train pulled into the station at Baroda (now Vadodara). Not far to go now I mused. It was four o'clock in the morning and the next stop would be ours at Bharuch. No need to awaken Lorene just yet. The tea was hot and sweet as I peered out seeing my reflection more than the dark countryside that was passing by my window. After an hour the time arrived to gather our luggage in the bogie's vestibule in preparation for our arrival at Bharuch. The two-minute drill experienced the night before at Mathura Junction had taught us there would be enough time to get everything, including ourselves, offloaded onto the platform.
Ankleshwar, Rural Service Centre, orphanage
Long before we ever began our trip to India, I had decided we would spend a few days in south Gujarat, specifically in the area still known as Bharuch District. This is the part of India where my brother and I lived with our parents when we were not in boarding school. In many ways, I had always considered it to be my home-even more so than my birthplace at Landour. I knew the area like the back of my hand having traveled over and over again on the roads and footpaths that connected the villages. In those days, you first went everywhere by ox cart or bicycle. Later, after my father brought a new Dodge pickup truck into India in 1951, we traveled by motor vehicle. I seem to recall that, because of the condition of the roads, ox carts were sometimes a faster mode of travel than that pickup truck.
I may know the area well, but what about today's conditions? Surely roadways had changed. What about familiar villages? Unquestionably they would change also. Where were my Indian friends? These and other questions seemed unanswerable for quite a long time. Internet searches were not helpful even though I knew what to look for. There must be someone in south Gujarat I could contact for information and advice. But who? Thumbing through some of my father's papers late one night, I was reminded that the Church of the Brethren had retained an interest in a Rural Service Center at Ankleshwar. An address was evident. Now I was getting somewhere. Email inquiries with Indians formerly associated with church work and now living in the United States produced other leads. Through unnumbered inquiries and sheer luck, I was able to finally make contact with two exceedingly helpful people in south Gujarat. One of them was a Mr. Idrak Din, Director of the Rural Service Center and the other was CNI Bishop Malaviya of the Ahmedabad Diocese. Both expressed interest and appreciation that Lorene and I wanted to visit churches and congregations in the Raj Pipla and Vyara areas.
And so it was, as Lorene and I stepped off the train onto the Bharuch railway station platform on a Saturday morning, November 6th. Idrak and an assistant were there to greet us warmly. I had arranged for a car and driver for the four days we would be in Bharuch District and, as we departed the train station, someone approached us with a sign that read "Fasnacht."
Things were falling into place nicely. After loading our luggage into the rented station wagon, I rode with Idrak in his jeep for the short drive from Bharuch to Ankleshwar, located on the south side of the Nerbuda River. While riding together, we became acquainted and he reported that many arrangements for our visit had been made and he hoped that we would be pleased. I assured him that whatever he planned would be most agreeable to Lorene and I. We soon arrived at an old, Brethren mission compound that housed the Rural Service Center and still served as the site for the Vocational Training College, once operated by the church to train young men in a variety of occupations. Upon our arrival we were greeted by Idrak's wife, Rachel, and offered the guest house to freshen up. Breakfast would soon be served.
Rachel is a school teacher and it was not long after breakfast that she had to get ready to go to school. Lorene and I walked the grounds for a few moments and I pointed out things I remembered from countless visits to Ankleshwar in my younger days. The place had changed. Trees now blocked the view of the railway lines south of Ankleshwar station. Cheeku orchards now flourished where an open pasture used to be. A field of cotton, ready for picking occupied an unremembered open space. The field was being picked by hand each day and my wife, remembering her years on an Alabama farm, entered the field and picked a few balls for herself. I remember thinking it was good to be home. That thought would recur countless times as we traveled with dear friends and acquaintances to many places that I called home.
The Rural Service Center is a busy place and offers a variety of services to nearby farmers. The center was originally started in the late 1940's or early '50"s to aid villages and improve their standard of living through the digging of wells, providing strains of grain that would increase harvests, inoculating the children against infectious and deadly diseases, and making equipment available to level farm land, dig irrigation canals and build terraces. The work had never stopped and nearly seventy years later it was easy to see that this center had become an essential part of many people's daily lives. Through international aid-both from the Church of the Brethren and other charitable organizations-the center was able to maintain an impressive inventory of farm equipment that included three tractors, plows, discs, graders, and borers. Idrak, joining us as Rachel left for work, stated that the equipment was in constant use and we would soon see how it was being used at a local project.
Our first stop was a field not far from Ankleshwar that was being leveled so that an irrigation canal could supply water to a future crop of sugar cane or bananas. The Rural Service Center does not have any eligibility criteria. Anyone with a need for service may apply. The field being leveled was owned by a member of India's Lok Sabha so I have no doubt valuable political points were being earned. As much as anything else, India's Christians need all the political points they can garner. The government of Gujarat State is openly hostile to Christians and has often publicly stated its opposition to evangelical work in the villages. Communal violence resulting in the deaths of Christians (probably religious cleansing) was not rare in south Gujarat a few years ago and it was most likely triggered, I think, by the publicly expressed attitudes of state government officials.
A home visitation was next. There was an 80+ year old gentleman who remembered me and my parents and he keenly wanted us to stop by for gharam chai and a visit. At this home, Idrak showed off a gas generation scheme that was worked out in the early 1950's to supply villagers with fuel. Methane gas is produced and stored through a fermentation process using animal wastes. The gas can then be used for cooking or anything else. The design is very safe and requires little effort on the part of the operator. All that is really needed is a small number of oxen or water buffalo. Idrak told me there are systems that have been in use for more than 20 years. He also said the Indian government has finally taken notice and is beginning to encourage the use of these systems in rural areas so that villages stop cutting down trees for fuel. Apparently, they are quite cheap to build.
At Ankleshwar, during my younger days, there were two missionary compounds. One compound housed the Vocational Training College for boys, which is now run by the government but staffed with Christians. The other compound was the "girl's compound." This compound is still in use today even though the girl's school is long gone. It is now a Christian orphanage for boys. There were over 100 boys present when we arrived for a visit. Lorene and I were warmly received and garlanded. After tea, we were able to take part in the children's presentations and I was asked to speak. This became a typical routine in our visits to many of the churches and homes in south Gujarat.
The orphanage deserves special comment. It is being run on former Church of the Brethren properties throughout south Gujarat-Ankleshwar, Umalla, Vali, Vyara, and Bulsar. The umbrella organization is headquartered in south India and the leadership has strong links with several wealthy and powerful friends in the Netherlands and the United States. All of the children, wherever situated, are given free lodging, clothing, food, schooling, and for the youngest (age 4 years) a loving mentor and a tender adult shoulder. The children in most cases know of their parents but either the parent cannot care for them anymore, or one of the parents is no longer living. The orphanages take them in and care for them until age 25. It was not unusual to discover "children" in residence who were enrolled in advanced studies. I seem to recall that at Ankleshwar there were three young men enrolled in Masters degree programs and at least twice that many doing undergraduate studies at good universities. The college kids had come "home" because of the Diwali vacation break. Normally, the college students live in campus hostels and only come home during school breaks. The orphanage continues to pay all of their costs while at university. The coordinator of the five orphanages being operated in former Brethren sites told me that all a child needs to do is simply express a sincere desire to become educated and successful. Then the doors are always opened. As you have probably surmised, orphanages have a special place in my heart. What I saw was truly amazing. All of the programs are Christian-based and the children before commencing school spend a half hour each morning in devotions and Bible study. Then in the afternoon, after playtime, another half hour of Bible study occurs before supper is served. All of the children have chores, and the youngest children are tended by older orphans or house mothers/fathers. It is a beautiful arrangement and their commitment to Christ cannot be questioned. Over the years, I have read accounts or exposes about contributions to "save a child" in some Third World location. For the most part, upon closer inspection, you discover 90% goes to administration and advertisement and only 10% ever reaches the institution. It is obvious it is the other way around with this organization and they readily tell you that there are no administrators and that all the money is equally doled out to each orphanage based upon need.
After returning to Idrak's home, Lorene and I were met by a delegation of three church members who were to guide our way for the rest of today and Sunday. A plan had been drawn up while we were touring Brethren compounds at Ankleshwar and I was asked if their ideas were satisfactory. Everything I could have ever hoped for was on the list and I expressed my heartfelt appreciation to those who were so giving of their time and energies to make us feel welcome. Lorene and I bid Idrak farewell and promised that we would stop by his home on Tuesday morning before boarding a train for Surat.
To Raj Pipla I
After leaving Ankleshwar we began to circuitously head toward the town of Raj Pipla. Three new friends would guide our way and make introductions at all of the stops. First, a CNI church at Jhagirdia, and then on to other CNI churches at Netrang and Mandara. All of the congregations greeted us very warmly, garlanded us, and expressed surprise that Lorene and I would take the time to visit with them. It was easy to reply that it was I who was so honored. Many, many people spoke about their rememberances and the respect they had for my parent's work in India so long ago. At Mandara, Lorene finally got to see a dung and bamboo church. Until then, everything had been brick and mortar. The pastor, Vinod Gamet, was one of our guides and he introduced us to those present. We arrived at a time when most of the congregation was in the fields harvesting. Still, our welcome was so sincere. Vinod is highly educated and a converted Hindu. Actually, he is a member of the Gamet family who has provided CNI with many pastors over the years. He says his wife, through the power of prayer, caused him to return to Christianity. Here was a humble man serving a village community in a mud church. Surely his reward will be great. Vinod would ultimately guide us during our entire stay and I have developed a very close relationship with him. He gives the morning service to his parishioners on Sunday at Mandara, catches a powered tricycle to Ankleshwar and then gives the English service at that CNI church. His wife, who we did not meet on this part of our trip, was away teaching school at Dediaparda.
After our Mandara visit, two of our guides returned by taxi to Ankleshwar and Vinod rode the 40 kilometers with us to Raj Pipla. He would spend the night with a friend who was a pastor of a nearby church. Lorene and I had reservations at the Rajvant Palace Hotel. This was one of two palaces used by the maharaja during pre-independence days. The palace has now been converted into a comfortable hotel by the current owner-the maharaja apparent, if there can be such a thing in India today. Shortly after our arrival at the hotel, he came out to greet us as we stood looking around the courtyard. He asked if our accommodations were satisfactory and I assured him they were. He said the hotel was not accustomed to having "foreign tourists." Clearly, Lorene and I were off the beaten path. Never mind, I was at ease. As we stood there becoming more acquainted with each other, I recounted my days at Umalla and explained to him that I was once a loyal subject of his grandfather. I remembered out loud how mother would sometimes suddenly summon the cook and ask that gharam chai be quickly prepared and English biscuits set out because the maharaja was approaching the compound in his motorcade-you could see the dust cloud for miles. Anyway, the maharaja would take tea on the bungalow verandah and then off he would go toward his capital city, Raj Pipla. His grandson seemed pleased I would remember such events. Actually, I had lunch with his father in the early 1950's at the other palace in Raj Pipla but that's a story for another day. We were cordially invited to a private late evening supper with the owner and a few guests. After a very full and exhausting day, neither my wife nor I felt we would be very good company so we respectfully declined his kind offer.
Sunday in Ankleshwar, Umalla, train stop, Taropa
On Sunday morning, we motored back to Ankleshwar after our driver had gone and picked up Vinod. Our itinerary plans had always called for my wife and I to attend Sunday services at Ankleshwar sometime during our India trip. I had been fairly certain there would continue to be regular worship services at this CNI church even though I lacked any sort of confirmation at the time our plans were made. The service was in Gujarati and the sanctuary was packed. At the end of the regular service, I was asked to address the congregation. With the help of an interpreter, I told those present that I was deeply moved by their warm welcome and that I could not explain in words what it felt like to be home. I shared with the congregation the thought that even our earliest plans had always included attending church and worshiping with our Christian brothers and sisters in the Ankleshwar chuch. I concluded my remarks by reading Psalm 100, which has always been a comfort to me. The congregation followed along with their Gujarati Bibles. I had told someone on Saturday that one of my dearest wishes was to hear the Lord's Prayer being recited in Gujarati at least once more in my lifetime. Everyone assured me that the Lord's Prayer is spoken at every service and that I would certainly have an opportunity to hear it. Sure enough, the service ended with the Lord's Prayer and a benediction. It wasn't until I began to write this account of my India trip that I discovered Psalm 100 had been a part of an earlier worship service. It was at Parker Hall. This psalm had been converted and set to music as an anthem with the congregation, choir and brass reading selected parts of the psalm. How coincidental that those who were responsible for arranging that worship session would, as I have, taken such comfort from the words, " The Lord our God is good: His mercy is forever sure; His truth at all times firmly stood, and shall from age to age endure."
The church trustees and us went to lunch at a very nice Ankleshwar restaurant. After lunch, our guides piled into the car and we were off to Umalla. I had been told by a former worker on the mission field that the bungalow I used to call home had been converted into some kind of hostel for boys. What I found was another orphanage much like the one I had visited at Ankleshwar. Here the children were assembled on the back verandah I remembered so well to greet us with garlands and songs. When asked to speak, I choked up. For years, I had often wondered what had happened to that old building I had lovingly called home for 13 years. I told the children I had many pleasant memories of their home and I fervently wished that, as they made their own way through life, they too would remember this old building with fondness. The children seemed so pleased that I had come home. It was fun pointing out to Lorene where I had my bedroom, where dad's office was located, the room where mother had her simple dispensary, and all of the other places within the bungalow that were so familiar to me. The staff and our guides from Ankleshwar were somewhat surprised that, after all of these years, I would remember so vividly what my home used to look like.
Somewhere I got word that the Umalla CNI church was defunct. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Upon our arrival at the old missionary compound, I learned the church was full of greeters and we had a wonderful "celebration of return" together. Some of my old playmates were present and we had to hold on tight to each other. Grown men can cry. Mother's cook was there and he tearfully pressed a photograph of him and his wife into my hands and asked that I show it to Joy. I promised him I would and that I would soon be with her to share everything that had happened in our old church. Eventually, after all of the picture taking and talking had concluded, the congregation began to move over to the bungalow and I had a moment to myself. I went back into the now silent church and just sat down in one of the old pews. There are no words to describe what I felt. Certainly peace and thankfulness for what I had just experienced. Also, it seemed as the afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows, that I felt my father's hand upon my shoulder. Someday, I'll have to ask him about that. I know what he will say.
As we got ready to leave Umalla, somebody shouted out, "Ghardi avi." A train was coming. Dear reader, if you have gotten this far, you know the rest of the story. Anyway, I grabbed a camera and was off to photograph the train. Many times my brother and I had stood along the tracks at the Umalla station to await the twice-daily arrival of that narrow-gauge train. We had long ago made fast friends with the engine drivers. Crossing a small ravine, I headed quickly toward the train station that is located about 200 yards from the bungalow. There was no need to rush. The train no longer stopped at the station. Instead, the train stops near a tea stall in the town of Umalla to board and discharge the few passengers that still use the railroad. The children, noting where I was headed also streamed across the ravine behind me and soon I was leading a procession of excited kids. What fun we had waiting for the train to finally pass by. As the locomotive, now diesel instead of steam, slowly approached I raised my hand to "high five" the engine driver. Instead, to my surprise, the locomotive began to slow down even more and finally stopped where I was standing. The engine driver reached down and shook my hand and allowed me to take as many photographs as I wanted. Here in the middle of rural India, I had actually stopped one of my beloved trains. What a moment. As the train started up for its run towards Ankleshwar, the children began to return to the bungalow and soon I was alone to walk along the tracks for a ways remembering how it used to be in my life.
It was not possible to remain at Umalla forever even though my mind and soul begged me not to go. After a tearful farewell, all of us went to the Vali CNI church and a school run by the same orphanage organization whereby children from the outlying areas come in daily for school and a free lunch. Books and school supplies are furnished free of charge, plus whatever costs there may be for tuition. Time after time, I was amazed at the dedication of so many people working quietly to improve the lives of others. What had I ever done in my life that would even come close to what these dear people were accomplishing?
It was already dark as we stopped along the road at a Christian home in Taropa, not far from Raj Pipla. Our schedule, thoughtfully drawn up the previous day, always seemed to be ignored and that was as it should be. There were too many people to see and greet and too many rememberances to be experienced. Besides, I did not have to be reminded that this was India once more and time was merely advisory, except for trains, of course. The home at Taropa was filled with members of the CNI congregation who had gathered to welcome us. After the traditional greetings, garlands, and chai I was asked to speak. One of my best recollections of the Taropa people centers around hot, Indian-style tea. Whenever we went to Taropa, or stopped on the way from or to Raj Pipla, people years ago would always insist we tarry long enough to enjoy a cup of tea. I remember some of the best tea I ever drank was made in Taropa. That is still true. I have no idea how they do it, but their tea is still the best. On a more serious note, I gave thanks to the Lord that our meeting together allowed four generations of Christians to join me and my wife in fellowship. The work of missionaries is so broadly apparent. The home was very nice, even by American standards, and the owners explained that missionary example, concern, assistance, and education had moved them from service-based poverty to the point where they now had good homes and bright futures. They gave my father much of the credit for their successes and a Christian way of life. Many of the people I had met are now part of India's burgeoning middle class. Four generations of dedicated and earnest Christians were in that Taropa living room that evening. Need I say more?
Raj Pipla II
Lorene and I had set Monday aside for sightseeing and shopping in Raj Pipla so our guides parted company and returned to Ankleshwar by a car that had been following us all afternoon. We would later join up with Vinod in Surat, but I'll get to that in a moment. Arriving at our hotel, we discharged our driver and thanked him for being so patient and working overtime. He had willingly followed all of our directions even to the point of going down roads that weren't really roads so his customers could see or relive past experiences in India.
The hotel courtyard was once again full of young children. They had been at the hotel before we arrived the previous night. The maharaja apparent often held "camps" so children who lived in Bombay could get away from the city for a while and experience a more rural way of life. There were a number of chaperones for about forty children and they constantly worked to keep the kids occupied with a variety of outdoor games and excursions beyond Raj Pipla. Tonight was telephone night as well as dancing to popular rock music tunes. Many of the children liked to sit on the steps that led to our rooms and we joined them for a while. Telephone calls would come in from anxious (?) parents and the proper child was summoned from the crowd. It was all great fun to watch. What a lively group this was proving to be.
A number of official cars bearing flashing lights and armed guards began to pull up in front of the hotel. "What's going on?" I asked my wife. She had no clue either. Well dressed people began to leave the cars and enter the hotel's reception hall. Ah Guests of the maharaja apparent were arriving.
In time, my wife and I wandered over to the dining room and placed our order for dinner. The moment we entered the dining room we noticed everything had been changed. Most of the tables had been arranged in a tidy row, and linen and flatware had been set out. Obviously, a dinner party would soon occur. As we sat at a single table, sure enough, the maharaja apparent entered followed by a number of adult guests and children. Not wanting to interfere, my wife and I ate silently. Before we had finished our dinner, the party began to end and the maharaja apparent came over to our table accompanied by two other men. He wanted to introduce us to the District Collector and the Supervisor of Police-very important people in the general scheme of things in India.
Returning to our perch on the steps to watch the children at play, we saw the guests begin to leave. After the last guest had been safely escorted into a police vehicle, the maharaja apparent walked over to us. He was genuinely interested in our welfare and had stopped by to ask if we would like to see his private museum. Yes, most certainly!
Keys were obtained and he opened up a series of rooms on the ground floor that contained a varied collection of items and family heirlooms. Here in this case was crystal ware. There on a wall were mounted old firearms and ceremonial swords. In one room hung hunting trophies and photographs of people who had been on royal hunts. I remarked how impressed I was that time and effort had been taken to preserve so much of the royal family's heritage. The maharaja apparent said that white ants and gotten into some of the items and did serious damage to many artifacts and papers and that eventually the museum had to be redecorated. At least some things of great interest survived. After independence little was done by most principalities to keep their heritage and past alive. Sad. At least I got to see some things that were invaluable from a historian's point of view. As we bid each other a good night, the maharaja apparent asked if we would like to join him, his daughter, and grandchildren on a trip to the Sardar Sarovar dam now being constructed not far from Raj Pipla across the Nerbuda (now renamed Narmada) River. Unbeknown to us, our host had quietly during the evening's dinner party sought permission for two "tourists" to go to the dam and see what was being constructed. Since Monday had always been set aside for touring around Raj Pipla, especially the Shoolpaneshwar Nature Park, we immediately accepted his invitation, not realizing then that we would be entering parts of the dam that are wholly off limits to most people.
Bhils, Sardar Sarovar Dam, back to Raj Pipla III, Rajput rulers
At ten o'clock, Monday morning, we set off for the dam in two vehicles. The maharaja apparent rode with us in the front and his family members followed in another large station wagon. We pressed deep into the mountains that lie to the northeast of Raj Pipla. I was now riding on roads that I had never traversed before. Eventually, we arrived at a collection of buildings that served as a museum for the Shoolpaneshwar Nature Park and offices for Indian government officials associated with the dam's construction. In one of the buildings was an office where restricted passes were issued. I was asked by our host to accompany him, just in case someone wanted to see our passports. After some conversation and what was probably a confirming telephone call with someone in Ahmedabad, passes were written for the two vehicles, two drivers, and nine spectators. Before leaving for the dam headquarters, the maharaja apparent suggested we all look at the museum as it would be closing at noon. It was a very timely suggestion. Shoolpaneshwar is now mostly underwater because of the dam and what remains has not been maintained. The museum was quite a treat and professionally done. The exhibit rooms fanned outward from a circular main room and each exhibit was different. Flora and fauna of the Raj Pipla region had been carefully photographed. These photographs in many cases were then transferred on to glass panels that were backlighted. It was easy to see details and marvel at how beautiful a nature preserve can be. There was even a 3-dimensional recreation of a tribal hut and family. I remarked that this was a fairly accurate representation of the Bhils who inhabit this part of India. Our host, surprised that I would know Bhil culture, readily agreed with me. Many years of Dad's life were spent among the Bhils so I got to know their culture fairly well and, many years ago, I could even haltingly use their dialect. Not well but well enough to get along.
Our two car caravan proceeded onward and soon the construction company headquarters came into view. We pulled into the compound and parked as our host went to look for the guide who would travel with us to the dam. It was not long before the maharaja apparent returned to lead us to one of the guesthouses where we were seated and given chilled coconut milk and cookies. Soon we were joined by our guide, who is a company engineer. He would answer any questions we might have regarding the project. Now three vehicles proceeded out of the headquarters compound enroute to the dam. Our first stop was a vantage point not far from the dam where there was an abundance of tour buses and Indian tourists. There was a good view of the dam and I began to comprehend the immensity of the project. The Sardar Sarovar Dam, once completed will be one of the largest in India. Its construction is not without controversy and major delays. Many influential politicians in India have long opposed the construction of the dam citing relocations of people and the submergence of woodlands and farmlands. Others with perhaps a little more foresight insist that the dam is needed for a variety of reasons not the least of which is irrigation water and hydroelectric power. India is starved for electricity and this dam will, someday, produce 250 megawatts of electricity. Even more importantly, dry areas of the Kutch region of Gujarat will finally have enough water to bring vast tracts of otherwise unusable land under cultivation. India is now agriculturally self-sufficient and she intends to stay that way. It is no surprise dams cause dislocations, look at the examples of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile and the just finished dam in Turkey that has virtually flooded a old, Roman town. I don't treat these concerns lightly but I do have the maturity to realize you cannot stop progress any more than you can stop a speeding locomotive by standing in between the tracks-Umalla train excepted.
The construction sight is awesome but I have no photographs. Picture taking was strictly off limits. There is a particularly good website about the dam at www.sardarsarovardam.org/default.htm. It is updated daily, I believe. If you wish, as you read this, call up the website and you will have a better idea of what I and my wife saw.
From the tourist vantage point, it is possible to look across the river and see the huge plant on the other side that supplies the concrete for the dam. It was discovered that the concrete set too fast to be usable in hot, dry weather and it is necessary to chill each batch so that it is usable when delivered. Then it was discovered dump trucks delivered loads that were too small in volume. French engineers solved the problem by erecting a 3000-foot cable way across the top of the dam so "dumpers" could quickly bring huge loads of mixed concrete to the right spot. All of the dumping is computer controlled. In front of us was the hydroelectric part of the dam with its grid of high voltage cables. The dam is not finished as there is approximately 158 feet of height to be added.
We moved to another location, which was at the base of one of the cable way towers. I asked how long it would take to disassemble the cable way, which is now about four hundred feet above the present spillway, once construction of the dam was completed. The engineer replied that the cable would not be taken down. Instead it would be converted into a tourist cable way. How I would like to ride that across to the other side someday. Eventually, the dam will be capped with a highway permitting traffic to flow freely across the river. Walking a short distance we reached a railing that permitted an elongated view of the dam. Far below, the waters of a man made lake shimmered in the sunlight and there was a ferry crossing to our side of the dam. Looking out at the lake, which currently stretches about 280 kilometers eastward into Madhya Pradesh, there appeared to be more than enough water to do just about anything one might want to do-irrigate, generate power, develop a resort area. Irrigation canals are already done and can handle the millions of acre-feet of water that flow to the Kutch part of Gujarat.
Eventually we entered a tunnel that goes below the lake and the dam to a cavern housing the turbines. The cavern was blasted out of solid rock and is approximately 1 km. in length, 185 m. high and about 148 m. wide. It is huge. Six turbines will be placed below the cavern floor and one turbine has been assembled and placed in its hole. I asked the engineer whether or not it had been put into service and he stated it would not be used until the Prime Minister dedicated the project-probably in about three more years. There is a lot of work yet to be done.
We thanked the engineer for his patience and expert replies and instructed our drivers to return everyone to the hotel. My wife would later chuckle at us-the maharaja apparent and me-as two old men peacefully dozed in an afternoon sun on the way back to Raj Pipla.
Later that afternoon Lorene and I went shopping in the bazaar. We had the driver drop us off at the old train station since we intended to walk back to the hotel. Besides, the driver was feeling poorly and I wanted him to get as much rest as possible. He had an upset stomach and Lorene gave him some chewable pills that should provide quick relief. I knew the route well. We had a ball shopping. There were cart vendors everywhere and they were shouting, "Everything panch rupee." I would walk along and yell back, "Everthing char rupee." In other words, I was reducing their prices by 1 Re. We all had a good laugh. Eventually we entered a shop that featured metal ware and we bought some stainless steel tea glasses for gifts.
After supper, the owner let us into the other part of the family museum. It is housed in a different part of the palace cum hotel. I got the impression, that visitors are rarely extended this honor. It is a private place. The old, marble throne sits in the middle of the room, covered with hand woven rugs and cushions. The maharaja apparent said he had been coronated on this throne and, at the proper time his son would also be coronated. It may have sounded silly but it wasn't. It was a family tradition and something that must surely go on, even if in many ways the coronation was now meaningless. On the walls were oil paintings of former rulers and tapestries. In one part of the museum was a Hindu shrine that our host said is used daily by the family and that a priest comes regularly to light incense. The incense was still burning as we looked about the room. On a back wall was the most delightful part of the museum. Here in considerable detail was the family tree of the rulers. You can well imagine my interest as a historian. The ruling family of Raj Pipla can trace its roots and power to 973 AD, an impressive chunk of history by anyone's standard. Two questions that have always bothered me came to mind as I looked at the family tree. First, how did the rulers of Raj Pipla hold invaders at bay? After all, Raj Pipla was a small princely state surrounded by powerful neighbors, the maharaja of Baroda in particular. Dad had always thought that the ruling family had ties or treaties of self defense with the Rajputs. The Rajputs are strong, fierce tribe somewhat located in central India from about the 10th century AD until the rise of the Mogul Empire. The maharaja apparent answered my question in detail. The princely state of Raj Pipla was not as small as one might think (1,000 square miles) when compared with other princely states in western India. It had the means to defend itself. When faced with a superior force, the ruler and his army would simply fade away into the nearby Vindhya-Saputura hills and live to fight another day. If the invasion was prolonged, the ruler had a small fort at the top of one of the hills that he could use for refuge. Of course the fort is long since gone but our host stated he knew where the old fort had been built. Guerilla warfare usually settled things causing the invader, usually armies from Baroda, to finally give up and go home. The fort is not far from the dam. I would have liked to hike up there but there wasn't enough time to arrange that. I think the maharaja apparent would have liked to show me around. After all of the fighting for many centuries, peace was arranged quite simply when the maharaja of Raj Pipla married off one his daughters to the maharaja of Baroda-just like in the movies or medieval European history. Second, the capital city has been known to me as Nandod and Raj Pipla. The two names can be used and understood interchangeably but which name is now most correct? The maharaja apparent replied that Nandod was the name given to the capital city at the time the maharaja of Baroda was being so troublesome. Once peace was restored and the maharaja came down out of the hills the capital city was renamed Raj Pipla. So Raj Pipla is, after all, the correct name for the old capital.
Return to Ankleshwar, on to Surat, shipping walking sticks
On Tuesday morning we returned to Ankleshwar and said our goodbyes to Idrak and his wife, Rachel. They had been such kind hosts to us and each had been so very helpful during our stay in Bharuch district. We also bid a fond farewell to our patient driver from Ahmedabad. He had performed every service cheerfully and I made certain he received a generous tip. We then caught the Gujarat Express for the short trip to Surat where we spent the afternoon relaxing and shopping. I went down to the lobby and out the front door after we had checked in just to see what I could see. As I looked to my left I immediately noticed that in the next building on the ground floor was a shop advertising worldwide shipping of all sorts of goods and articles. With visions of Mussoorie walking sticks dancing in my head, I immediately went over and announced myself to the owner. I asked him if he could arrange a shipment of two walking sticks to the United States. He thought so but he wanted to see the sticks first. Jubilant, I raced back to our room and told my wife that I had found someone who might ship our walking sticks back to the United States. Clutching the sticks tightly, we made our way to the shop and showed them to the proprietor. He finally agreed to box them up for us and send them off by FEDEX. Holy Toledo! Wait a minute, if he was about to make a box for the sticks maybe he would be willing to add some other articles to the box. I had the tublas and there was a good-sized marble replica of the Taj Mahal that needed to go back also. Another mad dash to our room. Where were the tublas and the Taj? This was simply too good to be true. Once everything was gathered together in the shop, the proprietor agreed to accept the articles for air shipment to our home address in Florida. Did we have our passports and visas at hand? No, we didn't but I assured him that in record time I would return to our hotel room next door and return with our passports and visas. He was amused. In fact, the owner of this shop proved to be the sort of fellow you could banter with and I was having a ball exchanging "pleasantries" with him. Later, as you will see, he did a big favor for my wife and I. Anyway, my passport and visa were photocopied to smooth the way for the articles to be shipped out of India. At last, we could stop hauling our treasured walking sticks here and there. And, hopefully, they would arrive home in one piece and be ready for use in our "golden years."
The packaging would take some time so we agreed on a shipping price and left the shop to look at the shops around the hotel. When we returned to the shop, the packing had not been finished but it was clear that the staff was trying its best to create a box that would safely get our treasures home. Gharam chai awaited us and we carried on a friendly banter. Eventually, the sealed box was presented for our inspection and approval. Looked good to me. Who knows what travails a box encounters on the way to its destination? Anyway they had tried to be most accommodating. We expressed our pleasure and they promised to ship the box to our Florida address at first opportunity. I was in no rush to leave the shop because, by now, the proprietor and I were telling jokes and carrying on as if we had known each other for years.
Return to Vyara
Returning to our hotel, I arranged for a car and driver to be made available for ten hours the next day, Wednesday. It would soon be time to motor to Vyara, a place of my youngest childhood years.
The next morning Vinod met us at the hotel to serve as a guide and to introduce us to the many people that make up the Vyara CNI congregation. Upon returning to India after furlough in 1958, my brother and parents did not return to Umalla. Instead, they were sent to Vyara to work. They had considerable knowledge of the area and had often worked or assisted other missionaries in that area. Indeed, their two years of enculturation and language training were conducted by a pundit at Vyara. The Vyara congregation was extremely glad to see Lorene and I. Never before had a "missionary kid" returned to India and taken the time to stop by and relieve old memories or make new acquaintances. I was moved to tears by their welcome. Of course the old memories at Vyara (1941-42) only existed for me in yellowing photographs in family albums of India. One picture had always fascinated my wife. I am standing half-naked in a puddle of water near the bungalow looking to see if anyone had caught me in the act. Mother always said I liked to shed my clothes and play in the water as a baby after a monsoon shower. With some certainty I pointed out to Lorene the very spot where that photograph was taken. Vinod and others, who were following us around, had a good laugh when I explained what I was doing. Vyara also has an orphanage like those I have already written about but we did not visit these children. They were in school and about to break for lunch.
Lorene and I went to Vyara more out of respect for my mother and father than anything I did or remember. Nevertheless, there were old friends to be greeted. Were they still alive? Would they remember me? It was then a very dear friend Martin Taylor-English name, Indian heritage-walked up to me. There was instant recognition and we hugged each other tightly. It was so good to see him again. The intervening years had been kind to him and he looked to be in good health. Brother Dean and I were always close to Martin and his older brother, who now lives in the United States. When Dean was in better health he always kept up a telephone conversation with Martin's brother so I sometimes learned what Martin was doing in India.
The congregation's welcome was overwhelming and there were many who said they remembered me from past visits to Vyara. Many others expressed their gratitude that a son had come home to visit. Others gave witness to the work my father and mother had done with the people of Vyara and the surrounding villages. In all, it was both a welcome and a tribute to two dedicated missionaries who gave the best years of their lives to serve the Lord and tend his flock.
We had lunch at Martin's home where I met his wife and other members of his family. He is one of India's middle class. Early in his life he was a government official and eventually moved into teaching. He is now retired from teaching and has opened a cement business. His parents were both doctors who practiced medicine at the local hospital until their retirement and death. Dad and mom always had a special place in their hearts for these doctors and I was told that when my parents prepared to leave Vyara for the final time they made a Rs. 5,000 contribution to the hospital for charitable treatment. At the time this donation was made, Rs. 5,000 was a huge sum of money. The people still remembered when that had happened and may even have benefited from that act of charity.
Before leaving Vyara, we were able to visit in the home of Vinod's in-laws. His wife had come from Dediaparda to meet us, now that the Diwali school vacation had begun. Vinod has an endearing daughter who had to sit on my knee as we visited. Vinod would remain behind at Vyara and we would return to Surat to prepare for yet another train ride the next day that would take us to Bombay. Vyara would be the final part of our "Brethren" experience and one of the most emotional. There was a deep sadness as we left on our way back to Surat. The Vyara church is having is 100th anniversary in a few years. Maybe, just maybe
We had three hours left on our contract when we arrived at our hotel in Surat. What to do with the remaining time? Well, Surat is known for its textiles, let's find a suitable marketplace and buy some native clothing. But where? Ah yes, my buddy next door in the shipping office would know. Soon we were in his shop again with a question. What instructions could I give to a driver so that he would take my wife and I to the proper shopping area in Surat to buy material or ready-made clothes? The owner didn't have a clue. Yes, he had once shipped ninety sarees to the United States for a customer having a traditional Indian wedding but he didn't have the slightest idea where the sarees were bought. That was his wife's department. So, he picked up the telephone and called his wife for advice. Eventually, he concluded that he knew "the place" from instructions she was obviously providing. After he hung up, he said that he would need to ride with us if ever we were to find the shop since it was located in a home. And so, leaving the shop to his assistants he climbed into our car and began to give instructions to our driver. Our destination was not on a main Surat street so, after multiple traffic jams, we got out of the taxi to walk, making sure the driver would know where to pick us up later. Cell telephone numbers were exchanged so the shop owner could call the driver when we were ready to return to the hotel. Away we merrily went. Up side streets, and down alleyways until we came to a tall apartment in an out-of-the-way part of Surat. I had absolutely no idea where we were. I did have confidence with our guide, having been a pretty good judge of "horse flesh" all my life. On the sixth floor of the apartment we were greeted by a husband and wife and a small child. They had the kind of wares we might be interested in buying. Soon trunks arranged high up on the walls of their apartment were opened and piles of material-chiffon and cotton-began to be scattered across a bed. It was sensory overload. Finally, my wife was able to slow the pace a bit and we made some choices for material that could later be sewn into a salwar. Matching dupatta was also included. A Rajasthani dress was brought out and my wife was urged to try it on. She disappeared into a back room for a while and when she reappeared it was an easy decision for me to buy it also. She looked absolutely glorious in that skirt and bodice. We resisted further temptations and bid farewell to our hosts. Tromping down the stairs in the dark I teased our shop owner about how much commission he had earned. I decided that his help was only worth a paltry six rupees. He was amused and we had a good laugh together. Actually, I don't think he made a paisa off our purchases. We stopped at a food vendor's cart and he bought some save because my wife had developed a fondness for it while in India. No I could not pay for it. This was a treat on our guide/shop owner. The taxi was summoned and at the hotel parking lot we bid farewell to our guide. He was such a likeable person. His generosity and willingness to be helpful were deeply appreciated.
Touring India Again
The Flying Ranee to Bombay, Matheran hill station
Bombay was the next stop. The end of our trip was drawing ever closer. Long ago, while in Bombay with just my father, I had pestered him to ride the Flying Ranee train. It ran from Bombay to Surat at speeds that once approached the world's record. That was in the days of steam when the drivers of the locomotive were taller than a grown man. Knowing that we would have to inconveniently change trains at Surat to go on to Ankleshwar, my father finally relented and we rode the Flying Ranee. That experience has always been indelibly imprinted in my mind. When it came time to figure out what train to take from Surat to Bombay during our trip, the choice was easy; the Flying Ranee, of course.
The Flying Ranee left Surat station right on time at about six o'clock in the morning. But the queen "flies" no more. It is now a lower echelon train run mainly to take care of commuters who travel back and forth from Surat to Bombay. It wasn't an unpleasant ride-riding trains in India never is. But the glorious adventure I anticipated was no more. Oh sure, we raced through many small stations but the "real" Flying Ranee ran almost nonstop from Bombay to Surat. Today's train would make several stops along the route.
Bombay Central Station. How those words conjure up old memories. I had been in that station many times before and now I was about to arrive there again. Multiple tracks everywhere with trains waiting to go somewhere in India for this station is a railhead for the Western Railway. As we rode in a taxi to our hotel, it was surprising how well I remembered the city. By design, I had insisted on reservations at any suitable hotel near Churchgate Station. I had every intention of finding the Raj Mahal, a flat that was used by the Brethren to accommodate missionaries that traveled to Bombay. Eventually, after Dean and I had long departed India, my parents became the hosts at Raj Mahal and lived there for a number of years. Low and behold the Raj Mahal was a mere two buildings down from the Ambassador Hotel where we were staying.
Many of the tourist or personal spots in Bombay were visited or seen. Marine Drive, Flora Fountain, and dad's office building, where he worked as the Church of the Brethren executive secretary in India. It was in his office that much of the Brethren work was done in preparation for creation of CNI. Other places included the Taj Mahal Hotel, Gateway to India, and, of course, Elephanta Caves in Bombay's harbor.
Elephanta Caves are reached by paying for a seat in a motor launch and then riding out to an island. The caves were hewn out of solid rock by Hindu priests many centuries before the Europeans arrived on India's west coast. Bombay, now called Mumbai, eventually became a site for a Portugese fort and the caves were eventually discovered by soldiers. Believing the many carvings of Hindu deities were sacrilegious, no respect was offered for the fine artwork that existed. According to one tourist pamphlet, pot shots were fired at many statues. I had been to Elephanta Caves earlier with my mother and brother and I wanted to show the caves to Lorene, remembering almost too kindly what they really looked like. After the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort, and "baby Taj, what we saw at Elephanta Island simply did not measure up well. Still the boat rides were pleasant and we had harbor views that would have been otherwise unavailable to us.
The time had come for our final excursion. There remained an overnight trip to yet another hill station, Matheran. We went to Victoria Terminus (old name) this time to board the Deccan Express bound for Poona. The train would take us to Neral Junction where we would board another "toy train" for a trip up a mountain to Matheran. I had seen pictures of the train station and the hill station from internet web sites so I had a good idea of what to expect. Simply ride up the hill. Well, it was not a simple as that and the ride would prove to be much more satisfying. The Deccan Express had delivered us to Neral Junction much too early so Lorene and I had time to look around and buy gharam chai. I was deeply into my train picture-taking routine when a young girl and boy approached me and asked me where I was from. I answered and one question led to another. I was beginning to return to our train, when I heard singing coming from one of the forward cars. As I approached the railway car a man greeted me and I replied, "Happy Diwali." He immediately said he was not a Hindu. Instead he was a Christian and the singing coming from the railway car was from a Sunday school class going to Matheran for a picnic. Soon there were greetings all around and I was introduced to the pastor and his wife. Everyone was from Neral Junction. I talked with them for a long time. Upon returning to our carriage I discovered the girl and boy I had been talking with earlier sitting with Lorene and getting acquainted. They too were part of the Sunday school group.
In time, a locomotive was attached to the front of the train and we began a somewhat uncomfortable ride up the mountain. Even though the compartment was arranged for eight reserved seats, several ladies and children had crammed themselves into the compartment complete with luggage. There was barely enough room for our feet. Nine adults and two children ended up in a compartment designed for eight people who would still have sit closely together. Our discomfort was allayed by the ladies' friendliness and offers of food as they began, picnic style, to fix sandwiches. There were opportunities at small stations to get off the train and stretch my legs so the trip really wasn't too bad. Besides, I was riding a train and there might be monkeys close by to make it a red letter day.
Matheran is a hill station situated at the top of a 7,000 foot mountain. It is a most unlikely place for a resort. One usually associates hill stations with the Himalayas, not the Western Ghats. The trip was full of panoramic views, which kept up our interest during the four-hour trip. This hill station is unique because no motor traffic is allowed anywhere. In fact, the car park for those who drive is a good distance from the town of Matheran. This restriction is an attempt to keep the hill station much like it always has been. There are three modes of travel: horseback, human rickshaw, or walking. Our train arrived at about two o'clock in the afternoon and we began to hike towards our hotel, Verandah in the Forest. We soon became hopelessly lost and the map we had of Matheran did not list any verandahs let alone one in the forest. After a series of inquiries, we found it better to ask for Barr House, the old name for the place we wanted to go to. A coolie, unasked, promptly began to show us the way. I told my wife that I had not asked for his assistance and I hoped he did not expect payment when we arrived at the hotel's entrance. Matheran has unmarked trails leading everywhere on the mountain top and it soon became apparent that the coolie might well earn his keep. We had already negotiated two forks in the road and, if it had been left up to me, I would have assuredly made two wrong decisions already. As we followed a curve in the rocky pathway, a sign announcing the entrance to Verandah in the Forest appeared. We had walked more than two kilometers to reach the place. I thanked the coolie in Hindi and paid him well. Had I not used him as a guide we well might still be wandering a mountaintop somewhere southeast of Bombay in search of the Verandah in the Forest. Sure enough on the way I saw monkeys. Another red letter day.
The hotel was once a grand house constructed by a British army captain named Barr of the East India Company; hence Barr House. The house was constructed a year before Woodstock School was started so that makes the hotel 151 years old. The recent name change to Verandah in the Forest is fitting. All meals were served buffet style on the verandah and they were enjoyable experiences. After my return to the United States, I sent an email to Rajiv Mehra and provided some insights into the hotels he had selected. Of the Verandah in the Forest, I wrote, " guests should know in advance that after dark there is not much to do. No lighting to the bazaar, which is at least one kilometer away. A good place to 'disappear' for a while-no telephone, no TV, just peace and quiet. A good time to read a book." But neither of us had thought to bring a book. Until now, we had always been keeping up a pretty frantic pace. Finding an incomplete set of checkers and chess pieces in the sitting room we played checkers to while away the time. I gave my wife several good lessons. When it comes to checkers or chess no quarter can be given. She complained that I was supposed to allow her to win every once in a while. Was I?
After eating a late dinner we retired to our room. Morning came quickly and as the sun rose above the horizon I was up and about taking pictures of pink-colored mountains. After breakfast we walked to Lord's Point at the end of the mountaintop to enjoy the view. Along the way we met many friendly people and we traded cameras so everyone would have a reminder of their visit to Matheran. Best of all there was a flock-is that the right word?-of monkeys near Lord's Point. Things were certainly looking up. Not too many chances left to have a red letter day.
We checked out of the hotel early so as to have enough time to walk to the bazaar and do some shopping before the train departed. Matheran is noted for its leather goods and before we left the bazaar to board the train we were well leathered. Sandals and purses were added to our inventory of loot that would, we hoped, bring joy to loved ones and acquaintances during Christmas time.
The trip down the hill on the "toy" train was just as fascinating as the one going up. This time our compartment was not so crowded and we became acquainted with a family sitting next to us. He is a chemical engineer working for Tata and she is an accountant. They had been to Matheran for a short Diwali vacation. Now it was time for them to go home. Tea and snacks were shared and as we began to get near Neral Junction they asked several times if we might go home with them for the evening. They lived in Dadar, a suburb of Bombay. They seemed so sincere in their invitation. Regretfully, we had to decline. Our hotel reservation was waiting and we needed to get a good night's rest in preparation for our long plane ride back to the United States.
At Neral Junction, we boarded our first commuter train for the ride back to Victoria Terminus. Lorene eventually found a seat while I stood by the doorless entranceway soaking up the atmosphere as the countryside slipped by. I was in my own little world for a while. How I remember standing in open doorways as a young lad watching my India pass before my eyes. This would be my final train trip and it was turning out to be something special. In two hours, we reached the terminus and we were soon in a taxi headed back to the Ambassador Hotel. This proved to be my last red letter day in India for tomorrow, our last day, there would be no train rides.
Our last full day in Bombay permitted some final sight seeing. Quite by accident we stumbled onto an imposing CNI cathedral, located about midway between the Gateway of India and Marine Drive. We heard sounds of a children's choir so we immediately decided to go in to investigate. The choir was practicing for a Founder's Day celebration to take place the next Sunday. It would have been interesting to attend but by Sunday we would be back in Florida. We were impressed by the condition of the church, particularly since it was erected in 1708. Here and there were many marble inscriptions and statuary in memory of fallen men-at-arms. This was, after all, another early cantonment church.
Inevitably, our sojourn had to end, as do all of our travels. We were scheduled to depart Bombay at 2:20 on a Wednesday morning (November 17th). While waiting for the proper time to arrive to go to the airport, I discovered we still had nearly Rs. 3,000 that could be spent. Into the hotel's store we rushed. Earlier, we had seen some books we wanted to buy. We had resisted the temptation to buy them because we might not have enough Indian money and we did not want to exchange any more U.S. dollars. Lorene bought some more jewelry and low and behold, there, previously unnoticed in the window, was a Bombay taxi horn. Wonders of wonders! I remember these horns being mounted on taxis during the wartime years. They make an incredible honking noise whenever the bulb is sharply depressed. The one in the window worked perfectly. I simply had to have it. It is one of my prized possessions and I will honk it for you now. Listen.
To say it was easy for me to leave India again would not be truthful. Shortly after the airplane lifted off the runway, I leaned across my wife to look out the window and watch the lights of Bombay recede into the distance. As I looked into her eyes, no words were necessary between us. We both understood that a magical mystery tour had drawn to a close. The thought of India had always been on the fringes of my consciousness. Earlier, it would not go away. Now I could say to myself, "You have been home, you've made the return trip." Now I am at peace. I don't know how we could have crammed anything further into our trip. All I can now say is that it was supremely satisfying to Lorene and I.
Will I ever go back? Only time, circumstance and God's plans for me will tell. I certainly do not have another 47 years to wait. Robert John Bonham said during the Woodstock School mela that it was high time to start thinking about a 50th class reunion in India. I couldn't agree more but the matter is clearly not in my hands alone. I am certainly in favor of gathering together with old classmates but 2009 seems so far away. It is much more likely that Lorene and I would go back to India to celebrate Vyara church's 100th anniversary, which will take place in 2008. Who knows? Does that mean I would not come back to India for '59's fiftieth? Of course not!
This account of our travels has probably been much too long for most readers. It started with Li's request to set down in writing what occurred at Woodstock School. Once begun, the task had to expand and become much more personal. For the Class of '59, I hope you have received full measure about the Woodstock School's 150th celebration. It is also my hope that other parts of this record, both serious and humorous, have been mildly interesting, although I will readily admit much of it was written more for my own enjoyment and benefit than for any other reason. Memories will cloud and fade in time. These words will remain unchanged and remind me well of a trip home with a faithful and loving companion always at my side.
To all readers, I bid you a fond farewell and God's speed. May we meet again, some time.
I will become silent now.
Robert Paul Fasnacht
Return to visits back. Or Class of '59.
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