“Omelettes on the Howrah Calcutta Express”

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Saturday, February 23rd 1991
No effort, on board the Howrah  Calcutta  Express, we had OMELETTES toast and chai on the dining car, you have to see the picture.
Calcutta Express Omelette and Toast
I decided to look at the galley where the fine cuisine was prepared, as I take a picture the guy is yelling at me to get out with that camera.
No Pictures in the galley on Calcutta express
No Pictures in the galley on Calcutta express

As we look over our Lonely Planet we decide to jump the train in Bubanewshwar and check out Puri,  we need a quiet pause before we head north into another huge city, specially Calcutta.

We got off and headed for Puri which in French means rotten.  Puri was fine, a long beach at one end a sort of semi abandoned boardwalk with some food and souvenir stalls at some point this must have been the main resort for rich people from Calcutta, a sort of deserted Atlantic city without the casinos.  Ancient lifeguards with tall conical white whicker hats will keep an eye on your stuff and you while you swim. The beach is notorious for it’s undertow and sinking sand, if you need your lifeguard there is a good chance he will be running the other way. Most Indians will not go into the water,  you might see them rolling in a foot of water but they scramble if a wave comes at them. One guy stood on the beach arm extended holding his wife, she rolled and sank in the surf wearing a full sari.  I was amazed her arm was still in it’s socket after a half hour of twisting and turning. People where coming up to us to be photographed with them at the beach. This is a picture of me with my western friends at the beach in Puri. We stayed at the Travellers Lodge, our room had a view of the Bay of Bengal but it also came with an ajacent sup pump the size of our room. To add to the charm it seemed the best spot for Indianoids chain smoking beedees  at seven in the morning and at ten oclock at night. When the sup pump kicked on the roar would make any conversation inaudible. Orissa is a drug hangout for westies, a lot of them came in the sixties, seventies and never left, they’re still on the beach smoking beedees and doing heroin or hashish. So on Monday we clear out and go to Konarak Sun Temple and chill out till Holi blows over. Basically, as describe in our travel guide, this involves a lot of drinking and coloured pigment being thrown at people. Pink orange blue silver, I had seen the heaps of it in the market and I really had no intention of having Cadmium red pigment hurled at me. Some westerners describe it as a bit of a freakout, and especially Germans have a tough time with it.

Monday, February 25th  1991

This morning we went to the train station to book the continuation of our trip and found out that our tickets were invalid because we hadn’t had it validated when we stepped down from the train a few days earlier. Now in the heat of the morning, instead of Puri and the beach we had to go back to the point where we got off in Bubaneshwar  and as the Puri Station Master said “ you must ask the Bubaneshwar Station Master to breath some life into your ticket, this he should do, for now it is of no use to you and it is invalid”

Well a three hour bus ride with seventy sweating people crammed on all sides, with the stink of gasoline we made it to the Station Master office who insisted on having chai first, and as he sat between two enormous green phones he would hold up his finger pointing in the air … pause, we waited, he answered one phone then the other. It was more a formality of waiting for the right moment, because he didn’t appear to be that busy what so ever.  The big green phone routine was very funny, but we didn’t laugh till later because we were polite and in need of living tickets. Finally he signed our tickets, to celebrate our success we decided that an air conditioned restaurant  veg meal would prepare us for the three-hour journey back to Puri. The food was great and during the meal we decided to book ourselves into a deluxe hotel in a walled compound, complete with outdoor pool, room service, the bus ride had broken us and we needed to run away from India for twenty-four hours. We could sit in our air con room and look down at the dust and heat of daily life in India. We had a swim and then ordered an incredible meal to our room, we sat in bed eating and watching one channel TV of black and white Bollywood movies.

In the late afternoon, we had noticed from our balcony, off outside the walls of our compound a small circus across the road. We ventured into the dust of India for an hour to discover “The Circus of Pathos”, never had I seen animals in such a denigrated state. Bears in chains marching on there hind legs with heads slung low in shame, depressed elephants marching in circles, dust and high weirdness, dog trick un-executed by sleepy dogs, there was six performers in the whole show, they just kept changing clothes and wigs and pretending they where other people, thinly disguising their voices and mannerisms. They really tried to make it look like a big operation, finally we came to our senses and  ran back to our hotel in a bit of a panic. I took my first bath in 6 weeks, and settled into a comfy bed with semi descent sheets. I didn’t have to slide into my black silk sack, which was like a body condom to protect me from mosquitos’ lice fleas and bedbugs.As I drifted to sleep, I thought about morning and how I would have to get back into the mystery dust of Mother India.

Tuesday, February 26th 1991

This morning we slipped out of the gates and into the big din of India; dust in India takes on an incredible significance. With every nostril full you feel like you are breathing in civilizations, history, forgotten little stories, lost people, laughing people and near invisible micro-organisms. To inhale the air of India is a drug in itself.

Bubennashwar oh Bubennashwar,   the circus has gone and left an imprint of it’s pathos in the large lot, we head for the bus station for our trip to Konorak, where we will get to see the the magnificent Sun Temple at Konark the culmination of Orissan temple architecture, and one of the most stunning monuments of religious architecture in the world. Built by the King Narasimhadeva in the thirteenth century, the entire temple was designed in the shape of a colossal chariot with seven horses and twelve wheels, carrying the sun god, Surya, across the heavens. Surya has been a popular   deity in   India since the Vedic period.  The bus ride will be crammed, sweaty, gasoline stinking coffin buses. When a bus in India is boarded, this can happen from a number of perspectives. People will climb in through windows, elbow, simply clamber on top, we did try it once and the thrill of careening along a country road on the top of a bus quickly wears off. For the most part it is dusty, and exhausting hanging on for a long period of time. Best be inside by a window, away from a puking person, or pann spitting Indian. Konark is near by the Bay of Bengal.

Wednesday, February 27th 1991

Konark, Orisa

The game of document.. Every time you enter an office in India you are confronted by heaps, files and boxes of documents. Out in the open, some of them probably haven’t moved in decades all there, before you, repetitive nuances, recordings, reports, observations, schedules, notations . Documents in India are an obsession, and this has me thinking of some type of gag I can pull. We got to Konark and booked a room at the Labanya Lodge, complete with a hundred mosquitoes and a healthy tarantula. Spiders in India can get very big and actually menacing looking. They move with such confidence and I really make an effort to stay out of their way. Every time we get a room we have to do the washroom check, for large predator type insects. The room here is on the main floor with a outside enclosed porch. We rented bicycles and have been going to the sea to swim and escape.

Thursday February 28th 1991

At the Sun Temple at Kornak, I found a small plaster copy of one of the erotic relief’s on the outside of the Temple. It is a standing doggie style headless couple. The temple priest let me in on a secret, the reason we have all the sex stuff on the outside is, if this is what you are only interested in then stay outside, but if you are here to pray then please come in.

We slept by the sea last night with the full moon watching over us, got up at dawn and waited for the sunrise and went for a swim. On the way up the beach I found a turtle skull in the sand with a shell measuring thirty inches from head to tail. I took the skull and cleaned it using sand and seawater, I also cleaned four carapace segments.  The turtle species in question was an ‘Olive Green Ridley’ sea turtle. The smell was extremely gross, and the entire task took about an hour or so. As I walked around later I found two more skulls, but as the day progressed I discovered an entire turtle massacre. Later in the afternoon we sat with a Sadhu having tea, and he explained to us that bad people slaughter the turtles when they come up on the beach to lay eggs because of a certain gland in the turtles can sell them for four or five thousand rupees. That’s enough to get by for a half a year for some people.

On that beach the night before, we had trouble going to sleep with the sound of the surf and the open star lit sky, no moon was visible as we lay there. Sleeping on any beach can be tough, I remember coming out of my sleep and  Sabu asked me, what is that, as she pointed to a star cluster that was pulsing and shifting in the sky. “Oh, that’s an inter-dimensional gateway” is what I said, without hesitating.  “You have to remember how it appears from the reverse for your return journey, it might not look the same from the other side, you can train your body to automatically tap the ground with your hands, gently, when you want to return, it’s like a transponder signal”.

I was so tired I slipped back into sleep. it was around two am on march the first 1991.


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