Travellers Tales

There are several stories on this page, starting at the top, and scrolling down 
you will find the stories

Please click on the story you wish to read

Historic Rail route from Badarpur  to Lumding 

Afloat in the shadows of the Himalayas

Girls go to -- Burma

Savoring India's Tea Trails

Tea Estates visited


Darjeeling-Tea at the top of the Himalayas

Travelling by Sea 1945

Assam India's little-known land

Letter to the Railways 1909

1926 - Journey to Assam

Can you please help ? by Anne De Courcy

 Voyage of TSS Simlah    

 February 9 2015

Dilip K Chnada  of  Kolkata  tells us

Dear Editor ,

Many of the old timers who spent their  early life in Assam  may not know
that the historic Rail route from Badarpur  to Lumding  has been closed down
This meter gauge line was  built during the last decade of 19th century
and opened services from year 1903 . This link connected Surmah Valley to
Assam Valley  of ASSAM  Province  and built for the purpose of bringing tea
, coal and forest products from Assam to Chittagong , the port city of Bay
of Bengal .  The owner of the rail was Assam Bengal  Railways  .. aprivate
company incorporated in Scotland . The head office was at Chittagong , Bengal

Also Dilip, kindly sent a collection of photographs from it's history and we thank him
for taking the time and trouble to remind us of this Railway started more than a
hundred years ago.






July 21 2014
This is a story written by Jane Archer  in the Sunday Telegraph of London and published Sunday  July 20

Afloat in the Shadow of the Himalayas

The Mahabaahu  above left cruises along the Brhamaputra from

                                         Nimati to Guwahati. and the tea harvest in assam above


A rare Bengal tiger in Kaziranga National Park, top:

and a fisherman of the island of Majili above .
Apologies but copying from Newspapers is not easy but Editor hopes you can read it




February 17 2014
We have to thank Alan Lane for telling us of this story from Todays

                                     Daily Mail

                            Girls go to....Burma?
Lucy Verasamy on an unusual voyage in   
the land that time forgot   


I didn't know what to expect on a boat journey through Burma. Nobody I knew had been before - or even considered it for a holiday. My brother had crossed the border from Thailand for the day when travelling, but that was about it. Even the Lonely Planet guide had limited information and a serious lack of photos.

 I loved the idea of exploring somewhere 'new', but with such a rich and varied history. I travelled with two girlfriends and we were very aware we were going somewhere remote. Usually glued to our phones, we knew there would be no internet connection and limited phone signals for almost two weeks. It would be a digital detox - the longest I'd been disconnected in years.


 Going with the flow: Lucy poses with an officer's hat on her river cruise

 The journey took us hundreds of miles north along the ChindwinRiver, the main tributary of Burma's largest river, the Irrawaddy, and back again. Our home for 11 days was the Orcaella, a new boat launched recently by Orient-Express. Orcaella's clever design means it can travel along a previously unexplored stretch of the silty, Ovaltine-coloured Chindwin. At about half a mile wide but only several feet deep in places, the river becomes too shallow to navigate in the dry season, making the trip possible only five times a year. So the journey is even more special.

We flew with Singapore Airlines to Singapore, then took its sister carrier Silk Air to Burma's capital Rangoon (now called Yangon).  On arrival, the tiredness hit us, but our spirits were lifted when we were met by our guide, Michael, who turned out to be possibly the smiliest person we'd ever encountered. We spent a night in the colonial style Governer's Residence in Rangoon, one of many hotels from Orient-Express - which until now, I had associated with trains rather than hotels and boats. After a good night's sleep, we jumped on a short-hop flight to Mandalay, where a small, traditional motor boat took us from the shore to the middle of the river and finally to Orcaella.


 Slow road: A novice monk hitches a lift on a cattle cart

 This is what I'd been waiting for! The boat was a home from home. My cabin had the comfiest bed (so much so, I ended up asking where the mattress was from) and its en suite bathroom had a rainwater shower as well as Bulgari shampoos and shower gels. There was wardrobe space for my fortnight's-worth of clothes and more. The floor-to-ceiling sliding windows overlooked the river and the lush banks. It was a perfect view at sunrise and sunset.  Orcaella has 25 cabins and wasn't what I'd expect from a cruise boat. There was plenty of space to yourself if you wanted, but if you felt the need to chat, you could easily bump into the friendly staff or other holidaymakers.There was a mixture of age groups and nationalities. Everyone kept themselves to themselves at first, but as the time passed we mingled and started dining together. Our table got bigger each evening as the number of place settings grew.

 As well as the digital detox, I was hoping for a health detox. I've been to Asia before and the heat and humidity made me lose my appetite. But this was impossible on Orcaella. The food was amazing and stood out as one of the best things about the trip.


 Alternative transport: Lucy enjoying a ride at the elephant camp

 The chef, Ban, who previously worked at the celebrity detox spa Chiva-Som in Thailand, spoilt us with a huge choice of food every day - and always beautifully presented. We felt so pampered. All meals included Western and Eastern dishes, and some days it was impossible to choose.

Nothing was too much trouble for the kitchen. On request they would rustle up delicious dishes from previous nights, and they remembered anything you disliked, too. I still dream of the after-dinner petits fours - from dark chocolate salted caramels to orange madeleines to homemade squishy marshmallows.

 I was glad there was a gym on board. It was compact but had everything needed, as well as windows looking out on the river banks and an endless supply of cold water and cold towels. If the heat got too much, the top deck had a small swimming pool surrounded by sunloungers; here, dragonflies hovered overhead, hopefully eating any lurking mosquitoes. Also on the top deck was the spa. The wafting incense oils smelt amazing. On a rare rainy afternoon, I chose the Vital Energy massage. I loved it. The pressure was just right and I couldn't believe the masseuse was only 19. She was so strong.

 As we glided along the river, Burma unfolded in front of us. The scenery was almost hypnotic - you couldn't help but stare. It was a conveyor belt of thick greenery and palm trees, cliff faces and gorges, almost like JurassicPark. Mist or smoke rose from hilltops in the distance. Now and again there would be pointy golden stuppas and pagodas punctuating the greenery, gleaming as the gold caught the sun. There were excursions pretty much every day and we visited tiny villages and bustling market towns. Each one was so different, whether in size or vibe.

 Some of the Burmese were super-shy, but most were very friendly. Some were as curious about us as we were about them. Many had not seen Westerners before and there was barely any Western influence. A few had smartphones and we took it in turns to take photos. Apart from that, all I noticed of the West was a poster of Frank Lampard and the Chelsea team and the catchy tune of a One Direction ringtone.

 Stirring for the soul:Temples in Bagan

Burma has influences from both Thailand and India. We visited temples and saw Buddhas of every shape and size, some smothered in gold leaf, others painted in traditional colours - and some decorated with flashing LEDs; a bit Vegas and very unexpected

We saw identically dressed, maroon-robed, barefoot monks quietly weaving through small towns and down dusty rural roads. In the busier towns, people on bikes and motorbikes zipped along pot-holed routes, one hand on the steering and the other cradling a small child or umbrella. In the more rural spots were white cows with skinny haunches pulling wooden carts along dirt tracks, and water buffalo ploughing the fields.

We saw men and women knee-deep in waterlogged rice paddies wearing traditional triangular bamboo hats. Several times we saw older Burmese ladies puffing away on fat home-made cigars. It was almost surreal; like stepping back in time.

Several individual trips stood out. Midway through the journey we headed inland to an elephant camp - a great experience. We got to see the animals close-up while they were bathing and being fed, and got a little snap-happy.

Going to a monastery to see a traditional ceremony was facinating and a privilege. And we visited the traditionally and colourfully dressed Naga tribe - where we joined in with singing and dancing and were offered local food wrapped in banana leaves with rice wine served in a hollowed-out cylinder of bamboo.


Home from home: The new cruise boat Oracaella

It wasn't until this trip that I discovered that Orient-Express funds local development. Orcaella's doctor visits the more rural spots to offer health care and the firm helps to supply, maintain and build schools. We were all struck by the impeccable behaviour of the children. During the trip I never saw any babies or children screaming or crying - not one tantrum. They were super-cute, too. If I ever adopt, I'd quite like a Burmese baby! And the adults looked so youthful. 

It turned out our guide Michael was a good ten years older than we thought. There must be something in the water...Michael couldn't have been more helpful and patient, or better at gauging how much information to give us so it wasn't overwhelming. As well as passing on his calming Buddhist philosophy, he showed us how to make a gold-leaf Buddha 'wish', helped us barter for bamboo bags and found the best places for photos - a big advantage when we reached Bagan, known as the city of 2,000 temples. 

The view from one took our breath away. As we wilted in the heat and humidity, Michael was immaculate, cool as a cucumber and unflustered in his well-pressed shirt and traditional Burmese longhi (sarong). There was not a bead of sweat on his brow. 

On hotter days, it was a relief to return to the air-conditioning of the boat. To travel so many miles and see so much of a country, but have to unpack only once and have a full laundry service, was a great luxury.

There was plenty to keep us entertained in the evenings. We dressed up for sunset cocktails on the upper deck - I had packed a few maxi-dresses, thinking this, along with Deet spray, was the best way to avoid evening mosquitoes. But the gentle breeze from the river kept biters at bay. And having learnt that the British in colonial India used the quinine in tonic water as a natural anti-malarial, enjoying G&Ts was not just decadent but practical too.

One very warm evening we transferred by tuk-tuk to a colonial-style house for dinner by candlelight where we were greeted with champagne and enjoyed a delicious three-course gourmet barbecue.

At night, in the middle of the river in the heart of rural Burma, there were inky-black skies - so when we launched paper lanterns from the top deck, the sight was stunning. 

I saw so much in two weeks, and being cut off from the rest of the world meant stresses melted away. It was relaxing but also eye-opening; an insight into another world Burma is beautifully unspoilt and remote, and I hope that it doesn't change too much. I came home with a memory bank fit to burst with beautiful images and special moments - plus two mozzie bites and a bag full of homemade marshmallows!

Travel Facts

Singapore Airlines ( offers flights from Heathrow and Manchester to Singapore. Onward connections to Rangoon are operated by both Singapore Airlines and SilkAir. Return fares from £655. When connecting through Changi airport before September 30, 2014, passengers can claim £20 of vouchers to spend in transit. 

An 11-night cruise on Orcaella exploring the ChindwinRiver starts from £4,500 and includes meals, excursions, transfers and domestic flights. For more details, visit or call 0845 077 2222.

May 20 2013

Our thanks to Willie Wood for passing this on to the web site

Savoring India’s Tea Trails



A tea plucker works on the Gatoonga Tea Estate in Jorhat in Assam, India. Assam is a must for tourists interested in tea and the lifestyle of its planters. Several colonial era bungalows and mansions are now open to visitors for overnight stays. (AP Photo/Denis Gray) ORG XMIT: BK103


              in Assam and Darjeeling

By Denis D Gray--- Associated Press
SUnday, May 19, 2013, 3:01 AM 

JORHAT, India - "This is your own home now," announces our host, welcoming us to Thengal Manor. And we wish it was, this gracious residence of one of India's great tea dynasties, which has opened the family villa, with its idyllic gardens and an impeccable staff of 15, to overnight visitors.

Thengal Manor marked the start of a two-week journey through the world's finest tea-growing areas - India's Assam and Darjeeling. We mingled with nimble-fingered women as they plucked a green sea of bushes with astounding speed; drank pink gins by the fireplace in colonial-era parlors; and were very easily seduced by the pampered lifestyle of tea planters. 
And, of course, we drank many a cup of Assamese - "bold, sultry, malty" - and Darjeeling - "the champagne of teas, the color of Himalayan sunlight" - enough to send aficionados into ecstasy.

Let me confess that I am not particularly tea-addicted. Too much tannin does funny things to my tummy. But my wife, a Scot, more than makes up for it. So that, plus our love for northeast India, sparked our interest in a travel niche that is very much a growing trend: tea tourism.

It's not a particularly well-organized pocket of the industry, but more tea estates, also called gardens, are opening their properties to guests interested not only in their product and how it comes to be, but in the unique world of tea planters, the burra sahibs, and their domain. Most estates are charmers dating to the British Raj.

Those taking to the tea trails of northeast India, regions of the south, and Sri Lanka include locals and foreigners. Among them are an increasing number of Americans, apparently because of a growing interest in the United States in the art and taste of quality teas, though my wife insists that American tea culture still consists of "hot water and a tea bag."

With two friends from France, my wife and I had Thengal Manor to ourselves, its 5 acres of lawns, a chandeliered dining room with elegant silverware, bedrooms with soaring ceilings and four-poster beds, and a gallery of portraits of the Barooah family going back to Bisturam Barooah, whose son built the manor in 1929 after becoming the richest Indian tea planter in Assam.

The family began to take in visitors in 2000, but it remains very much their personal place. In a serene enclosure behind the manor stand 19 templelike tombs, one prepared for the current patriarch.

 During our time at Thengal, ringed by rice fields, bamboo groves, and neat village homes, we visited the nearby factory of the Gatoonga Tea Estate to observe the five stages of black tea-making and tour two contrasting tea trail options: Gatoonga's Mistry Sahib's bungalow and the Burra Sahib bungalow on the Sangsua Tea Estate.

 The century-old Mistry is the ultimate getaway, almost smothered by the surrounding greenery, a classic bungalow with a wrap-around verandah shaded by an immense banyan tree. Burra Sahib has been modernized and features an 18-hole golf course meandering through the tea gardens.

 Our second stay in Assam was on the Addabarie Tea Estate near the city of Tezpur, where a tourism enterprise has leased a luxurious former residence of the tea-estate manager, the three-bedroom 1875 Heritage Bungalow, and five more modest houses.

 "The tea planter's lifestyle is this," said manager Durrez Ahmed with a wave of his hand. "Lovely bungalows, sets of servants attending to your every need. So visitors who want to enjoy this kind of lifestyle come."

 It also was and remains a hardworking, lonely lifestyle in a world unto itself. Addabarie and most other larger estates have their own clinics, schools, shops, and day-care centers. (Almost all tea pluckers are women; far less nimble-fingered males need not apply.)

 Ruling over estates is the manager, described as a benevolent despot who, like his British antecedents, still retains a large staff and observes strict protocol. His bungalow, in the words of one Indian author, "is to the garden folk what Windsor Castle is to British citizens."

"And why did tea tourism get started?" we asked Ahmed.

 Smaller, private estates began welcoming guests in the 1990s as a marketing strategy to help pull them out of a worldwide tea glut. Another slump followed in the early 2000s, when India opened its markets to cheaper imports, forcing some growers to seek alternative sources of revenue. There's been no looking back.

From the lowlands of Assam, we ascended 7,000 feet to the Olympus of tea: Darjeeling, where altitude, soil, slope, and sunlight come together to concoct magic. Among the hill stations that the British founded to flee India's blazing summers, Darjeeling's gems include the Windamere, haunt of tea people past and present and often cited as one of India's finest colonial-era hotels.

 Originally a hostel for bachelor tea planters dating to the 1880s, the hotel is owned by the Tenduf-las, a prominent Tibetan family with close ties to the Raj, who maintain the aura of those bygone days.

 There's afternoon tea with scones, served daily since 1939 in Daisy's Music Room, where family albums are stacked atop a piano lighted by candelabras. Hot-water bottles are tucked into beds each evening, and real English porridge is dispensed by white-gloved waiters at breakfast.

 Around Darjeeling are nearly 90 tea estates, including Makaibari, producer of India's first organic tea and a pioneer in tea tourism, offering 21 homestays with estate workers and an upmarket residence. Its factory has changed very little since it was erected in 1859, and barely relies on modern technology to produce high-end tea for export to the United States and Europe.

 "We need the human touch - and nose - not a robotic arm or an aromatic sensor," said production manager Sanjoy Mukherjee, inviting us to sample six of his teas, including Silver Tips Imperial, which fetched a record $455 a pound at an auction in China.

 Back at the Windamere, we dined by candlelight with music of the 1920s and '30s softly in the background. Our French friends pronounced the honey-glazed lamb and chocolate soufflé delicieux. Before dinner, Sherab Tenduf-la, the hotel's owner, offered us pink gins, the quintessential colonial drink, by the fireplace as cold mists veiled the looming Himalayan peaks.

 The gentleman, exuding the charm of another era, told us that the last of Darjeeling's British tea planters, Teddy Young, died last year. But along the subcontinent's tea routes, much of the style and substance they created remains firmly planted.




February 5 2013


Micky Massar kindly sent us this item about the beauties of Mehhalaya--please click on the coloured line

                       India's undiscovered gem: the hills of Meghalaya


Januaey 2913

Darjeeling: tea at the top of the Himalayas

Darjeeling might be synonymous with a certain beverage but, as Diana Preston reports, there is more to the region than its leaves.


Tea pickers near Darjeeling 

Four hours after I had flown from a humid Delhi, a maid in a white lace cap and apron straight out of Agatha Christie served me a cream tea before a log fire in my hotel in Darjeeling. The brew I sipped from a china cup was the eponymous “champagne of teas” of this Himalayan hill station.

Darjeeling, I discovered, wasn’t always associated with tea. In 1835 the British acquired the 7,000ft (2,134-metre) high ridge on which it perches from the rulers of Sikkim as a sanatorium to revive colonial servants drained by the heat of the plains. The retreat soon became a fashionable resort for British residents of Kolkata (Calcutta) eager to gaze on Kanchenjunga (28,169ft/8,586m), India’s highest peak. Tea arrived in the 1840s when Dr Campbell, a Scottish surgeon, planted bushes from China.

Darjeeling’s ornately gabled bungalows, bandstand and the faded photos in the Planters’ Club conjure the ghosts of those times. Yet a late afternoon stroll through Chowrasta, the main square, revealed a vibrant, cheerful place unencumbered by the past. Tibetans, Nepalese and Bhutanese mingle with the locals and Indian tourists as they promenade listening to musicians playing sarangis – stringed wooden instruments – or sit chatting on its green benches while on nearby Observatory Hill bells clang in the temple to Mahakala, worshipped by Buddhists and Hindus alike.

Until the completion in 1881 of the 51-mile Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – nicknamed “the toy train” for its 2ft-wide gauge and pulled by blue Glasgow-built steam locomotives – visitors completed the final stage of their journey in bullock carts trundling up the winding track still called Hill Cart Road.

I took the hour-long ride to Ghum, 1,000ft below – a rail journey like no

other. Whistle blowing and soot and smoke billowing, the train rattled along at 6mph on a track laid along Darjeeling’s narrow streets, passing so close to houses and market stalls that I could have easily snatched a samosa or a woolly hat. Though the train’s a familiar sight, children still run alongside and everyone, passengers and spectators alike, smile. It’s impossible not to.


From Ghum I headed north to the 150-year-old Glenburn Tea Estate. The road was rough but the scenery luscious – broadleaved teak trees, clumps of giant bamboo, neatly clipped tea bushes clinging to almost vertical slopes and waterfalls spilling down the hillside. Wild ginger and citronella scented the air.

Next morning the estate’s manager Sanjay initiated me in the complexities of tea production, from picking the leaves to drying and then “rolling” them to release enzymes that cause oxidisation and caramelise the sugar and create “the nose”. Terroir, weather and season are, I learnt, as important as for any wine.

December, January and February are the only dormant months. Leaves picked in March and April produce “the first flush”: light, crisp and springlike, “with a hint of citrus”. May and June yield “the second flush”, judged the finest by most connoisseurs: “earthy like the smell of the first rain falling on parched soil with hints of chocolate and apricot”. July to mid-October provides the stronger “monsoon flush”, which is “full and ripe, suggesting a time of plenty”. The final productive weeks furnish the “flowery” fourth or “autumn flush”.

Fortified by my new-found knowledge I sampled various flushes with names from “Silver Needle” to “Moonshine”. Always make tea with water on a rising boil and never add milk to Darjeeling was Sanjay’s parting injunction.

Later I hiked through steep tea terraces to the Rangeet River, swollen with jade-grey Himalayan melt water and perfect for rafting. Butterflies flapped in the sunlight. With the help of my naturalist guide I learnt to distinguish a large yeoman from a popinjay and a striped blue crow from a blue peacock.



Seventy miles and seven hours of bumpy roads took me to Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok, but scalloped rice terraces stretching to the misty horizon, houses of woven bamboo and flower-filled forests compensated for any discomfort. Once an independent kingdom, little Sikkim – sandwiched between Nepal to the west and Tibet and Bhutan to north and east – has been part of India since 1975. Nevertheless, foreign visitors require a permit to enter. I showed mine at the border point at Rangpo on the Teesta River before beginning the ear-popping, eye-shutting ascent around multiple hairpin bends to the 5,545ft (1,690m) Rumtek monastery. Orange and guava plantations yielded to a bleaker terrain where Buddhist prayer flags flapped ghost-pale in drifting cloud.

Rumtek was built in the Sixties to replace a Tibetan monastery destroyed by China’s Red Guards and is the worldwide centre of the Buddhist Black Hat Sect. A throne as well as the black hat – reputedly made of angel hair and kept in a box to prevent it flying heavenwards – awaits the arrival of a new spiritual leader: the succession is bitterly disputed.

In Gangtok, a Sikkimese wedding was in full flow at my hotel, once the guesthouse of the king, or chogyal of Sikkim. The groom’s uncle offered me thumba, a powerful beer of millet and yeast.

The partying went on late but I was up early to walk through the mists to the Enchey monastery above Gangtok. The red-robed monks, ranging in age from seven to 70, were at morning prayers, voices rising from a murmur to full throated song and subsiding again, accompanied by the clash of cymbals, the blare of conch shells and long brass-bound horns and the hypnotic beating of drums.

My best and most panoramic view of Kanchenjunga and its surrounding peaks came in the hill resort of Pelling, another six hours to the west and just 27 miles from the mountain. After rising at dawn (again!) to watch the first rays of the sun gilding Kanchenjunga, I followed a winding muddy track up to Sanga Choling monastery. Founded in 1642, it is not only Sikkim’s second oldest monastery but also one of its loveliest, with delicate interior murals of figures dancing within rings of fire and outside the magnificent backdrop of the Himalayas.


 From Pelling it was back through the foothills to Bagdogra for the short flight to Kolkata, where the Darjeeling tea I’d been drinking throughout my journey is auctioned. The rooms where the first tea auction was held in 1861 are long gone. Today auctions are still held every Tuesday and Wednesday in Nilhat House, a tall blue and white office building, even if much dealing is done electronically.

The tea sales continue to enrich a city that until 1911 was the capital of the Raj and where, Kipling wrote that “poverty and pride” existed “side by side”. His verdict still holds good. Day labourers gather on street corners hoping for hire and it’s one of the few places where men still pull rickshaws.

But many buildings indeed look proud from the pillared, porticoed Raj Bhavan – the former Government House – to the Taj Mahal-like Victoria memorial built of such dazzling white marble that during the Second World War it was tarred over to conceal it from Japanese bombers; and to the high court modelled so accurately on the medieval cloth hall in Ypres that, after the latter’s destruction in the First World War, Ypres’s officials studied plans of the court to reconstruct their own building

The century-old Grand Hotel still sits on busy Chowringhee, a thoroughfare that an early 19th-century grandee described as “an entire village of palaces”. Here to the strains of a string quartet, planters down from the hills drank the tea they’d grown, perhaps accompanied by a “Ladi-keni”, a sweet named after the 19th-century Vice-Reine Lady Canning and still popular in Kolkata.

My journey also ended in the Grand Hotel, sipping Darjeeling beneath an antique crystal chandelier so intricate and vast that every two years a specialist is summoned from Delhi to clean it. Just as Sanjay had instructed I didn’t add milk but allowed the delicate fragrance to evoke mist-filled valleys, lonely monasteries and of course the frozen heights of Kanchenjunga.

Getting there

British Airways (0844 493 0787; flies twice daily from Heathrow to Delhi from £645 return. Jet Airways (0808 101 1199; flies daily between Delhi and Bagdogra from £110 one way; between Bagdogra and Kolkata from £57 one way; and several times daily from Kolkata to Delhi from £115 one way. If you would prefer to avoid bumpy roads, Sikkim Tourism operates a helicopter service between Bagdogra and Gangtok (£50 for the one-hour flight).

British nationals require visas for India ( and an additional permit for Sikkim. For convenience obtain your Sikkim permit in the UK at the same time as applying for your Indian visa or in Darjeeling, where it’s a painless formality. You can apply at the border but will need to provide photos and copies of your passport and visa. Additional permits are required for trekking in some areas.


I travelled with Greaves Travel (020 7487 9111;, which offers tailor-made itineraries in India. A 12-night tour to Darjeeling and Sikkim, including stays at the Glenburn Tea Estate and the Oberoi Grand Hotel in Kolkata, a return flight from the UK to Delhi on British Airways, all internal flights between Delhi, Bagdogra and Kolkata, most meals, transport and English-speaking guides, costs from £2,500 per person.

The inside track

The best times to visit are October/November for good views of the mountains and March/April for orchids and rhododendrons, though December to February can be lovely if chilly.

Temperatures rise and fall steeply depending on the altitude and time of day so dress in layers and invest in a handwoven woollen shawl from one of the handicraft centres for a modest £8 or so.

Take a good sunscreen and insect repellent – midges and mosquitoes can be a problem, especially at dusk.

If you want to ride the toy train book well in advance. There are only 45 seats and they sell fast.

Don’t waste money on expensive imported gin but sample Indian Blue Riband. Sikkim-brewed Dansberg lager is also excellent.

For books about the Indian Himalayas browse in the atmospheric Oxford Book and Stationery Co on Chowrasta in Darjeeling – a Himalayan Hatchards.

To sample and buy tea try Darjeeling Tea Corner, Chowrasta, or nearby Golden Tips.

Handicraft and curio shops are everywhere. The best are the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre on Darjeeling’s Gandhi Road and The Sikkim Handloom and Handicraft Development Corporation at Zero Point in Gangtok. In Kolkata The Weavers Studio Centre for the Arts (0091 33 2440 8926; has revived the complex art of making chintz, which requires a separate printing for each colour.

A walking tour of Kolkata ( will open your eyes to the many facets of an extraordinary city often overlooked by visitors.

The best hotels

Be ready for treats, from “bed tea” first thing in the morning to snifters of local cherry brandy on arrival in quaint hotels recalling days long past. Prices vary according to the season.


Windamere Hotel ££
An enchanting collection of Raj-era buildings on Observatory Hill; originally a guesthouse for planters, with pretty gardens. An excellent bolt-hole for Christmas if you find yourself in India and don’t want to miss out on turkey, though the Indian food is excellent too (0091 354 225 4041/225 4042;; from £125 full board per night).

Glenburn Tea Estate and Boutique Hotel £££
Near Darjeeling, accommodation is in the original Burra Bungalow – the planter’s house – or the new bungalow set among terraced gardens on the 1,600-acre estate with magnificent views of the tea terraces and the mountains (33 2288 5630;; double full board from £290 per night, including full board, chauffeur-driven car from Darjeeling, Bagdogra or Sikkim, nature walks, a tour of the tea factory and excursions).


The Nor-Khill ££
Built by the King of Sikkim in 1932 as his official guesthouse, with blue brocade sofas, gorgeous painted pillars and ceilings and views towards Kanchenjunga (3592 205637;; from £110 double full board per night).


The Elgin Mount Pandium ££
Once owned by the Sikkim royal family, facing Mount Kanchenjunga, with lovely grounds, friendly staff and a short walk from Pemayangtse monastery (3595 250756;; £100 double full board per night).


The Oberoi Grand Hotel £££
Perfect peace and teak-panelled, marble floored imperial grandeur in the heart of the city with a palm-fringed pool and atmosphere in spades (33 2249 2323;; doubles from £260 per night).

What to avoid

Never drink the tap water or even brush your teeth with it. Most hotels provide bottled mineral water in rooms.

Don’t discount what local guides say about the time it takes to travel between places. Distances are quite small but roads are narrow, winding and in poor condition and rain can cause landslides.

Don’t forget to change enough money before leaving Darjeeling. Opportunities for foreign exchange in Sikkim are limited and some hotels are reluctant to accept credit cards.

January 22 2012

Travelling by Sea  

Joan Scott tells a great story and we are privileged to be able to show on this site-the subject is the experiences of people travelling by sea to and  from India and the UK--the story of Ship Travel in 1945

Joan starts by saying:
I think I must be rather in the forefront of those multitudes who could, in modern parlance,call themselves CONFUSED.COM or, there is some truth in my conviction that I am haunted by a resident gremlin, who watches me with the cold, calculated efficiency of a cat at a promising mousehole so that when he sees I am going to fetch something (preferably from a different place )he instantly makes it invisible.

      No this is not the effect of age. My aunt Zoe (she died in 1966) used to say "Joan's middle name could be WHERE

Why I am bringing up this deficiency at this early stage is because I am in the very throes of a search... I was introduced to David, the Editor of the web site ex Assam,  who is working on a fascinating idea : the collection of as much information as possible about the experiences of people travelling to-and-fro between Britain and India, especially during the iconic days of the Raj and the birth of the word POSH

       He has certainly set himself a task as the British were in India for more than three hundred  years, and practically everyone must have made more than one or two voyages at least. Even the actual stories of the vessels is complicated , ranging from the beautiful "Clipper" ships who, once the tea industry was up and flourishing, competed to be the first back with their cargoes to seize the best market, to modern motor vessels with tall funnels keeping the smoke away from the passengers and crew.

       David would like me to recount what occurred  during my voyage back to the UK on M V Brittanic at the end of the second  world war when the ship had been refitted to accommodate anything up to 3000 troops and 600 or so civilians. Her sister ship was Georgic was similarly outfitted and between them they must have accounted for several thousand happy homecomings. They were  - in another incarnation - peaceful cruise ship as, part of the Cunard fleet.

        It may have been surmised by now that  has relevance in this little account because I have not been able to to find anything to help me. For other major events in my life I have full diaries, or details as far as whatever it is has affected me, and it is a disappointment to have drawn such a blank.
But ....nil desperandum

                             ****    ****   ****   ***

My mother and grandmother came to Kalimpong in the early part of ww2 when my uncle and aunt offered the use of a little house they had there , which was there refuge if the ‘hot weather' became really hot or if my hard-working uncle needed a brief respite .

I was there with them for a time, in between my various efforts at teaching schools what I had recently learned at school ......They must have been there for at least two years, and looking back it must have been very boring, especially for my mother .  The house was at the  end of a more or less empty rough road, and they did not have their own transport. In fact both my mother and aunt seem never to have learnt to drive.

        Eventually, of course , the war was brought to its finish and the immense return  of the troops had to be inaugurated. But by this time my mother was suffering  from yet another grave illness , SPRUE, which is tropical in origin and affects right down to the digestion. She needed she needed to be got home as soon as possible, and there was a problem with civilians  in that they were not as important as army personnel.

However , I was extremely lucky at that time as I had a more than good friend  with a great deal of influence and he pulled miles of heavy strings  and got the three of us onto the next voyage of the Cunard White Star liner , the Brittanic, which with its sister ship the Georgic had been converted to ferry 3,000 troops or more back to their homeland. There seemed to be sufficient space for 600 or so civilians . We found ourselves the proud occupants of three civilian berths -albeit in-cabin for one converted -to-three, in which my nose was about 3" from the cabin roof, whereupon I decided to sleep on deck as long as I could mon a deck chair

       When we arrived in Bombay we were not asked to go on board at once but were sent for a day or two to stay in the Miramar Hotel where a number of future passengers  kept us company. Many of these were forces personnel, and one could sense the excitement and relief at being away from the very dangerous war zone, and the prospect of it being close to seeing their family again at long last

There was a funny little incident during supper that evening.  As I have mentioned, we were in the throes of getting my mother back to the U.K. for special treatment, but she did not stay in her room and joined us in the restaurant.  Along came a soldier, asking her to come out with him...My mother was inclined to be a a little shy and I must say that I can still remember her haughty "No, thank you!" and turning away...a nervous reaction.  But the soldier's reaction was extremely positive as he started to shout at her, saying that that was not the way he expected to be treated having spent two or three years in the most horrible of situations, endeavouring to make life peaceful and normal for someone like her...and so on...

      It was fortunate there was an Army officer near at hand to intervene and to see that the man could be escorted out by some of his friends.  In her condition, this must have been an extremely traumatic happening for my mother.  I don't know whether my grandmother had ever seen anything like it.

     Next day was embarkation time and we had our first experience of treading the boards of the Brittanic.

     Cunard was very generous in lending two of their major cruise liners towards the massive task of rehabilitation, and they had really pulled out all the stops to make sure there was as little delay as possible in order not to disappoint their huge, anxious shiploads.

     Brittanic was a major vessel of 21,000 tons.  I remember my first sight of her looming over the big arc of Bombay harbour, tall and majectic, already gently belching puffs of smoke from her two impressive funnels.

     If she could have spoken...what had happened to all her luxurious state-rooms and costly furnishings?  I can imagine:  they would be stored away like our own furniture during the war, and every inch of ship pushed into practical use; for instance our single cabin was transformed into a cabin for three, bunks one above the other, but I can state from personal experience that this arrangement was far from ideal since the person in the top bunk could not but suffer from claustrophobia since his/her nose was a few inches below the ceiling.  Ships cannot help rolling and twisting with the waves and it if easy to picture what extra problems would be caused.  So, I decided to sleep on dick in one of the ship's canvas chairs.  It was helpful I was young.

     I cannot remember what happened as the ship traveled further north and the night were not as warm.

     My feelings were very mixed as the ship began its journey and the shores and buildings of India receded into empty sea.  I had been there for six years, a long and varied time, and I wondered if I would ever be there again.  As a dramatic gesture I went to the stern...and flung my topee into the water.... It sank instantly, and I think it could have caused a tiny bit of a sensation amongst the school of porpoises reacing alongside as they often enjoyed doing.

     (I can happily say that, in fact, I returned to India on several visits during the long following years.)

     I mentioned above that Cunard did all it could to cut down the usual length of time it then took to get back to the U.K. and we were only about a fortnight getting to Tilbury instead of three weeks or more.  There was plenty to keep us occupied:  dick games, evenings of "housey-housey", the then unsophisticated form of "bingo", exciting moments of sea life when whales would blow a misty cloud and seem to make signals with their tails.  There were flying fish skimming over the tops of the waves at amazing lengths.  It became fascinating to watch the ins and outs of the land and its jewel-like edgins of little white houses when we entered the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, culminating in the Suez Canal which was now re-opened after the long war years.

     I have always enjoyed this part of the voyage as the land grew closer and closer and one was able to see what people were doing at closer quarters, and watch them skillfully putting their little white-sailed feluccas into the way of a shoal of fish, or heading towards home.  There were parts of the Canal where ships could pass each other in opposite directions and it was quite amusing to see only the upper part apparently being driven like a four-wheeled vehicle along the tops of the trees.

     A very memorable occurrence was when no less a person than King Farouk appeared in his yacht , the boat about the size of the Queen's elegant Brittania which was laid off many years ago - with no replacement and is berthed in Leith docks as a tourist attraction.

     I believe the King wanted to honour all those who had fought their way through dreadful difficulties to triumphant victory, and I must say I thought it admirable of him...except that all of us wanted to acknowledge him and everyone who could rushed to that side of the great ship

.... almost 4,000 people.. and she started to keel over alarmingly  towards his majesty until agitated orders came from the Tanoy for us to take ourselves back at once  to status quo. I just hope the King noticed and appreciated the fact that the entire personnel had shown what they felt about his gesture...almost to extinction.

       Amongst the passengers there was a person I was particularly proud to have come across, Mr McIndoe, a brilliant surgeon who had brought  about a tremendous remedy  for severe burning. This was skinnlent. A most delicate and intricate procedure , as one can imagine. I can't describe here as I know absolutely nothing about it, but I do know that many, many people had cause to thank him. He was on route back to the UK, like us all and had a colleague with him, I was very fortunate to be able to chat with them.

       A fellow tea planter friend of my Uncle's was on his last voyage Home before retiring, but he and his wife were obviously sad about this and kept rather aloof. I had ridden over to their bungalow many times on my polo pony Mothi

       There are some blanks in my mind about this comparatively speedy trip, for instance, what happened about meals ? Was my mother able to cope  ? In fact - what did it look like at all ?  During othrer voyages this aspect loomed loud and clear . But what does come to mind is the huge planning operation for such thousands of people, the storage space necessary just for food and then ‘ out and down the hatch'.  Thinking about this now , sixty years later , I am still mlost in admiration.

        I think I probably went ashore when we got to Gibraltar as there was always much to be seen , so much British history, and all these Barbary Apes  On one previous occasion I had driven to the Spanish frontieralong the road leading to their Customs operation. Hoping, in my ignorance, to be able to cross over and have a little drive around that bit of Spain. But I was firmly returned to where I should be.

          As we know, the main reason for us to take this particularly speedy journey was because my mother was so ill. I said that we were more than lucky to have an influential friend who was able to take care we got berths in the very next homecoming  steamer.   Whether he had anything to do withb the next step  vis. A hospital in London, I cannot be quite so sure but anyway  --  it was the Greenwich Seamens hospital where, I think, she was the only female patient, because of course, many hospital beds had been lost to bombing and the whole system was clogged. She was very fortunate to find anywhere.

           Although the following part of this story does not actually refer to the sea voyage , I think it is interesting to hear how my mother fared during her illness/treatment.   As I* said above, she was afflicted with a tropical nast called SPRUE which, according to my dictionary affects mouth throat and digestion, and must also affect the appetite as my mother a very great deal of weight  -- probably eating was difficult.

          I believe she had only a week or two mto live by the time we arrived in London.

          It so happened that just at this time  a research doctor had found an extremely promising antidote to cure SPRUE . My mother was asked if she would be prepared to be a " guinea pig " and try it out, and being a feisty lady she agreed, knowing what would be far-reaching results of success. The upshot was     success   She recovered well and did not have to endure the complicated diets people had before. As far as I remember , there was a triumphant article in The Lancet, the medical magazine , together with photographs of "before" and "after"

Of course we were overjoyed at such a splendid result. Something to make a difference to many lives.

October 21 2011

NOTE  I reiterate that up to now I have written entirely by 60 year old memory because I have not been able to find anything I wrote in detail at the time.

      A few days ago some friends brought to my  notice  an amazing feat of that modern monster - the computer/internet.  Alastair Spencer heard what I was doing and decided he would undertake some googling around the subject....and came across a vast amount of detail of that very journey, which he is is so kindly going to print out for me .  I have seen one section of it to date , and it is the passenger list  -- 600 people      and there I saw my mother's name Winefrede Hermione King, and underneath my name  Joan Stella king. My grandmother is of course there  Jane Elizabeth Pymm

To allow you to view these pages as large as you want, I have converted them into Adobe Acrobat format.

Click here to view the pages and make them larger if you choose.

They are two pages of of the description of The Britannic and the Passenger list page top and then the list showing Joan's name, her mother and Grandmother

The Editor wishes to thank Alan Leonard for his help in obtaining the copies from Joan Scott and passing on to me by computer and by Snail Mail

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  December 1 2011 

Assam: India's little-known land

Trevor Fishlock explores the monsoonal tea country of Assam, a region which was until recently off limits because of ethnic tensions.

Assam grows three fifths of India's tea in vast plantations that carpet the land 

By Trevor Fishlock

Hurry Hurry Spoils The Curry, said the jingle on the truck ahead. Dilip, our ace driver, overtook anyway. And he was so swiftly past the next one I barely glimpsed the aphorism on its mudflaps: Slow Drive, Long Life.

Beeping through the Assamese dawn, jinking around cattle and goats, we came at last to the broad Brahmaputra River and ploughed the rough track to the ferry point. Here we found a team of ferry hands about to begin their morning dental care. But, seeing us, they stuck their paste-loaded toothbrushes into their mouths, like Popeye's pipe, and manhandled planks to make a ramp on to the wooden ferry.

With shouts and waves they urged Dilip aboard. He parked athwart the boat with the front and back of the Jeep overhanging the hull. The ramp team chocked the wheels with rocks. And as we chugged away from the riverbank they waved us off with one hand and brushed their teeth with the other.

The steersman swung the tiller. No charts or instruments guided his serpentine course as he felt his way through the shifting shoals and shallows. Soon we were a speck absorbed into the immense grey watercolour of the Brahmaputra. I sat entranced, watching pale sunlight and skinny fishermen casting nets on the swirling pearly stream. Waterbirds crowded the sandbank shores: ducks and dibbling herons, storks on sentry-go and fishing eagles with Alan Sugar glares, ripping their prey.

With the boat to ourselves I was interested to see another ferry heading for the mainland with a normal load: three cars, cattle penned in the bow, passengers crammed on benches beneath a corrugated iron roof, and, on the roof itself, serried motorbikes and more passengers. 

We took two and a half hours to reach our destination, the sacred island of Majuli, a gentle place of rice cultivation, pilgrimage, worship and monasteries. According to the myth of the goddess Sati, who was cut into many pieces, this is where her left breast fell to earth, giving life to the island. The monasteries date from the 16th century and there were once 65 of them. Maps proclaim Majuli as the world's largest river island, 36 miles long, but the Brahmaputra's attrition has reduced its size and shrunk the number of monasteries to 22.

"Eventually we may need a place on the mainland," Babu Ram Saikia said, "and that would be the sad end of a tradition." His parents placed him in a monastery 14 years ago, when he was five, and he is one of the island's 1,200 bachelor monks. More than 1,000 other monks have families.

We lunched in a house that, like many in Majuli, was built on stilts to survive monsoon floods. And then it was time to get the ferry. Two sounds I carried with me from Majuli: the deafening clash of temple cymbals and the tinkle and trill of the monks' mobile phones.

I savoured the long return across the Brahmaputra, one of India's astonishing rivers. More than 1,800 miles long, it runs through Tibet as the Tsangpo, makes a hairpin turn to flow as the great artery of life in Assam and, with its name changed to Jumna, descends through Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal.

South of the Himalayas and Bhutan, north of Bangladesh, Assam is a monsoon land with a strong sense of individuality. After years of being off limits because of insurgency generated by ethnic tension it is opening its doors to visitors. It's a part of India not at all well-known, so that travellers here can enjoy a feeling of pioneering.

I flew from Calcutta to the tea town of Dibrugarh and stayed nearby at Mancotta, a handsome tea estate house dating from the 1840s when the British were annexing Assam in pursuit of a tea bonanza. The first Assamese tea, 12 chests of it, was shipped to London in 1838. In the early years tea-growing here had dark chapters of exploitation, but it evolved as an industry that gave its workers better housing and medical care than most in India. Assam grows three fifths of India's tea in vast plantations - tea gardens - that carpet the land.

The estate houses are wonderful places to stay, Assam's equivalent of the Rajasthan forts and mansions converted into small hotels. Mancotta is a chang bungalow, meaning that it was built on stilts as a defence against leopards in the dawn of the tea age. I slept in a spacious room with hardwood floors and ate my breakfast omelette on the veranda with a view of dark green tea bushes planted among elegant shading acacias.

With Uday, my guide, I drove out to the oil town of Digboi and, as we did everywhere, saw hundreds of girls and boys, smart in their uniforms, walking miles to school, underlining the hunger for education. Digboi, says the local tale, takes its name from the cry of an early oil prospector: "Dig, boy, dig!"

It was not far from the Japanese advance in the 1940s. In the neatly kept war cemetery are the graves of 200 British and Indian troops. During the war a 930-mile pipeline ran from Digboi to supply oil to China.

The museum tells the story of a century of oil and is also interesting for its photographs of the Digboi sahibs relaxing at their cricket and amateur dramatics. Relics of the British Raj include the golf club lawnmower, gramophones, a lavatory chain "used by the Britishers in their bungalows", and a large steel syringe for the treatment of piles.

We pulled into the shade of forest trees to eat our picnic lunch and watched a group of gibbons enjoying theirs, nibbling the tasty red blossom of silk cotton trees.

Heading down the Brahamputra valley we turned off to see the emblem and pride of Assam. The forests and grasslands of Kaziranga national park are home to 1,200 elephants and 1,400 wild buffalo, but the iconic beast is the great Indian rhinoceros. About 2,400 of them live in Nepal, Bhutan and Assam, and the bulk of them, 1,800, are in Kaziranga.

Bulk is the right word. The first creature I saw after passing through the gates was a formidable two-tonne bull. The distinctive single horn - the African rhino sports two - persuaded early travellers that they had found the mythical unicorn. Today it is rated an endangered species and the park is hiring more armed guards to deter poachers who kill for the horn. This protuberance consists of matted hair, grows to a length of two feet and, like bits and pieces of tigers, is made into supposedly aphrodisiac potions for gullible men.

You would be lucky to see a tiger in Kaziranga. About 80 roam the forests and I saw pictures of a couple of them which had tripped a camera shutter beam at night and photographed themselves.

I stayed at Wild Grass lodge, where stag heads adorn the faux-baronial dining room, and spent two happy days on the park's trails, seeing few tourists and improving my bird spotting. I rose early to ride an elephant and look for rhino.

Mahouts are used to sitting astride elephants. I am not. Dismounting at last I found my legs to be like nutcrackers, rusted into the open position.

That afternoon, standing in a white Jeep, holding the handrail in Popemobile pose, I counted 55 rhinos, three per cent of the park's population. In a grand finale to the day a rhino crashed through the tall grass and stood, thrillingly Jurassic, on the track a few yards ahead. A quick myopic stare before lurching off like a blimpy old buffer.

Back on the road, heading for Gawuhati, Assam's capital, we stopped at a railway crossing. In business-minded India such a place is a gift of gods. Local people had planted palms nearby and they do an excellent trade selling fresh coconuts to car drivers waiting for a train to go through.

We took the road south into Meghalaya, the state carved from Assam in 1972. Its grand and rainy Khasi hills were reckoned by misty-eyed colonial Scots to resemble the Highlands. I stayed near Shillong, the capital, at Ri-Kynjai, a modern hotel of local stone, pine and bamboo, looking out over a lake to the hills. Its remarkable roof is based on the traditional houses of the Khasi people and looks like upturned boats - just what's needed in the monsoon.

Thirty-five miles south of Shillong was a curiosity of a town I had long had a hankering to see. Cherrapunji is reputedly the wettest place on earth. In July and August the south-west monsoon hits these 5,000ft hills and drenches them with rains measurable by the fathom.

The average is 428 inches. Freak rainfall of more than 950 inches, or 80 feet, has been recorded. A nearby village has measured 467 inches, but since it is only six miles away it really comes under Cherrapunji's umbrella.

Local people refer to rain as slap, for the way it drums on roofs and trees. And incessant slap was too much for a number of British soldiers posted here in Victorian times. They shot themselves.

At the end of the road is a mighty cliff with a view into the sprawling green plain of Bangladesh. Indeed, the landscape has many tremendous views - of wild red and tawny gorges, of waterfalls plunging hundreds of feet into the valleys. But I was in Cherrapunji during the dry season and the rocky hillocks looked as parched as Mars. As everyone said: "You should see us in the monsoon."

One of the features of this land is the large number of mysterious dark sandstone monoliths. Thousands of stones, a dozen feet high and more, many of them centuries old and all of them without inscriptions, stand in the hills and forests as memorials to Khasi tribal leaders.

Scrambling up a hill overlooking a church in Cherrapunji I found Christian monuments in a graveyard. Fading inscriptions evoked the struggles of early missionaries who came from Wales to struggle in this remote land.

The Rev Thomas Jones, who arrived in 1841, is honoured by the million-strong Khasi tribe as the father of their language. It had no written form when he arrived. He learnt it, rendered it into Roman script, and began writing stories and a Khasi bible, which others completed. His script lives on - and to this day Khasis sing their national song to the tune of the Welsh national anthem.

Poor Thomas Jones. His wife died and her monument is on that Cherrapunji hill. He married an English girl of 14 or 15 and became involved in commerce, transgressions for which his frowning Calvinistic Methodist masters sacked him. He died in Calcutta in 1849.

I noticed, as I travelled, several Khasi men smoking large pipes and I wondered if this were a legacy of those Welsh missionaries who, though enemies of drink, encouraged pipe-smoking as an aid to holy meditation.

The varied tribal people of the Indian north-east, of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, have an excellent showcase of their histories, customs and costume at the Don Bosco museum in Shillong. There's no messing about here: once you are in the one-hour tour is compulsory. One thing you learn is that Khasis, and other tribes, form matrilineal societies, with children taking their mother's name and family wealth held in trust by the youngest daughter; one reason, it's said, why Khasi women are confident.

Returning to Guwahati to catch the flight to Calcutta I had plenty of time, while overtaking long lines of trucks, to catch up on mudflap philosophy: No Bee, No Honey. No Worry, No Money. I thought about this at the airport where I had plenty of time to add to my prodigious intake of Assam tea, which I measured like the monsoon rain.

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Aug 1 2011

We have to thank Manzurul Haque for this amusing bit of history
Thank you Manzurul

Any guesses why this letter is of historic value?


Interesting letter written more than 100 years ago....


   1909 !!!

Okhil Babu's letter to the Railway  department:

Date: 2 - 7 - 1909
Divisional Railway Officer,

Respected Sirs,

  I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with lotaah in one hand and dhoti in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on platform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station. This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report to papers.


Your faithful Servant,
Okhil Chandra Sen

Okhil Babu wrote this letter to the Sahibganj Divisional Railway Officer in 1909. It is on display at the Railway Museum in New Delhi. It was also reproduced under the caption Travelers Tales in the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Any guesses why this letter is of historic value?

It led to the introduction of TOILETS in trains in India .....!!!!

The moral; of the story is:

So no idea is stupid and should not be

discarded.  We should always speak up


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 July 21 2011

We indebted too Fiona Scott for sending this story, written by her father John Clark about his joining Tea in 1926 and his journey out to Assam via Calcutta--thank you Fiona

1926 - Journey to Assam


It is now over half a century since I first passed through the portals of 22 West Nile Street, Glasgow C 1, the address of Finlay's Glasgow offices in those days. I think it was early 1926 I answered an advertisement in one of the Scottish papers for "Young men with engineering experience to be trained as Tea Estate Managers".

In July 1926 I was working in Birnam (the Gateway to the Highlands) and had gone down to Largo, situated on the north coast of the Firth of Forth, and the birthplace of Robinson Crusoe - to visit my parents who were there on holiday. It was a beautiful sunny day when I met my parents on Largo Pier and Father handed me a letter from Messrs. James Finlay & Co Ltd, Glasgow, requesting me to call their offices on a certain date. Little did I realise the tremendous difference this was to make of my life!

I duly called at 22 West Nile Street on the day mentioned and was interviewed by a Mr. Warrington. I have never forgotten how Mr. Warrington put me at my ease, and the great kindness with which he treated me. During all my years with Finlay's I have always been treated with unfailing kindness and consideration by all those in authority, a fact for which I have never ceased to be grateful.

Largo pier, by the way, is nothing like Brighton Pier! It is, or was, just a jetty built from solid stone, to form a harbour for fishing and other small craft between the pier and the spur of land on the other side. Many West of Scotland people went to the Fife coast for their summer holidays year after year, and many must remember Largo Pier with nostalgia.

Mr. Warrington told me he thought I would be suitable for the position in mind, but he liked Mr. Mann - who had been I understand Findlay's Visiting Agent in India - to interview applicants. Mr. Mann however lived in Edinburgh, and only came to Glasgow two or three days a week, and was not on that particular day in Glasgow. I had traveled though from Dunfermline, where my home was, and would it be convenient for me to return home via Edinburgh. Would it be convenient!! In the twenties when men with University degrees were working as door to door salesmen, anything would be convenient when applying for employment. I therefore paid my rail fare returning to Dunfermline via Edinburgh. Mr. Mann lived in a house called "Red House" in a residential district of Edinburgh. It was a beautiful house built with red sandstone. The interview with Mr. Mann was very pleasant, and he told me that I would probably be confirmed in the position offered.

However a temporary shock was about to follow! I was again called to Glasgow and informed by Mr. Worthington that the position I had been offered had been filled in India! This was a blow. Mr. Warrington did not however prolong the agony. He told me that the position had been as an engineer assistant to the Sapoi Tea Company. This company, of which Sapoi was the only estate, was what was known as a "Rupee" company, and for which Finlay's in Calcutta were the Managing Agents. Mr. Warrington told me that he had not been too happy about sending me to Sapoi, a fact that I did not fully realise at the time, and only did so after I had been a few years in Assam. He continued that he was sending me out to Calcutta where I would be employed as an assistant manager on an Assam Tea Estate in one of the Finlay Group of Companies. This was indeed a lucky break for me.

My first Agreement was duly drawn up, dated 23rd September 1926, at a starting salary of Rs.250 (18 pounds and 15shillings) per Mensem, starting from the day I first joined an estate. This Agreement was conditional in those days on the applicant being able to deposit 50 pounds with the Company. This amount was remitted to India, and the equivalent in Rupees held for the disposal of the applicant. This money was mainly for the purchase of a tropical outfit in India. Glasgow office paid me Ten pounds for my expenses during my journey to Calcutta - An account of such expenses to be presented in Calcutta.

All arrangements having been made I set off from Dunfermline by train to London on
12th October 1926. It may be of interest to know that my 3rd class fare cost 2 pounds

12 shillings and 11 pence. On the 16 October I took a train to the Albert Docks, London - railway fare one shilling and eight pence where I boarded the steam ship "Novara" for Calcutta where we arrived on 20th November 1926.

1926 was the year of the General Strike, and goodness knows what hey were firing the ship's boilers with. What I do know was that accommodated as we were in the 2nd class, aft of the funnels, we were periodically covered with black ash!! I am not a very good sailor and it generally takes me about a day before my stomach settles down. The first night on board I settled down on deck in a deck chair to read. The book I had was that excellent book by Jerome K. Jerome, "Three Men in a Boat". Unfortunately the first chapter in the book turned out to be all about sea sickness!! However the book is such good reading that I soon forgot all my troubles.

Our first port of call was Valetta in Malta. - All golden, appeared to just rise out f the ocean, bather in sunshine and history. We went ashore for a little, and had a cool drink in a restaurant. An elderly gentleman approached us and asked if we were interested in seeing the dancing girls. I was very young at the time and thought it very strange that anyone would want to look at little girls dancing on a beautiful sunny morning. Our next port of call was Port Said, where we took on coal, so no more black ash aft the funnels. I can still see in my minds eye, men with baskets of coal balanced on their heads running up a plank into the ship, then running down another plank out of the ship with their empty baskets. An elderly Anglo Indian lady asked me if she could come ashore with me. All she required was someone to escort her off the ship, and then she would leave me to my own devices. Somehow or other she never left me all the time we were ashore. However I think it was to my advantage as she introduced me to Simon Artze, a famous shop in Port Said at that time, and no doubt gave me some sound advice.

Our next port of call was Port Sudan - we did not call at Port Suez - which in those days was very primitive. I was interested in the Fuzzy Wuzzies. A name, I should think, derived from the hair style of the local men, which was favoured by many of the young men of today in the Western world.  Next was Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as it is now known, it is a beautiful place.

We next called at Madras and on to Calcutta.

I was met off the ship by an Indian gentleman employed by Finlay's , I suspect that he met all  raw young men from U.K. and elsewhere, and was escorted to Finlay's offices which were in what was know at the time as No. 1 Clive Street.

There I was introduced to Mr. T. C. Crawford, head of the Tea Estates department. 
Mr. Crawford greeted me with the rather disconcerting statement that he had no idea why Glasgow had sent me out, and goodness knows where he was going to send me! However he introduced me to a very pleasant young man who was instructed to arrange accommodation for me at the Great Eastern Hotel, and I was to call on him - Mr. Crawford - again the next morning. Accommodation was duly arranged, and then the young man took me to Firpo's, a justly famous restaurant in Calcutta. A bottle of whiskey was put on our table, and one could help oneself to as many "pegs" as one wished at Rs.1 per peg. A peg could be any size within reason one wished to pour. A rupee was equivalent of one shilling and six pence, and a bottle of whisky retail was nine and nine pence. I did not drink in those days.

I duly presented myself at the office next day, and was told that I was being sent to Kolony Tea Estate in the Thakurbari, Darrang district of Assam. A tailor named Christo Das Dey then appeared and I was measured for my tropical outfit. The clothes were made from beautiful strong white cotton material and were beautifully tailored. The clothes were delivered in plenty of time for me to take them up country.

On the 23rd November I took a taxi to Calcutta Sealdah station and boarded a train for Santahar. Here one changed for the train to take one to Amingoan. (Later this change was at Parbatipur). Amingoan is on the south bank of the beautiful Brahmaputra River, and here one boarded the steamer for Tezpur, on the steamers way up the Brahmaputra. Tezpur was the steamers ghat (dock) for the district in which Kolony was situated.

The first class accommodation on those river steamers was forward on the upper deck, and was one of the most pleasant modes of travel I have ever experienced. The lounge deck was right forward, and immediately behind the dining room - where one was served with really first class meals - flanked on either side by three or four cabins with a bathroom on each side. The cabins had two doors, one with direct access to the dining room and the other with access to the deck. I entered the dining room by the first door, and an elderly gentleman on board informed me that this was "not done". One was expected to leave ones cabin by the deck door, and enter the dining room by the main doors. I apologized. Later in my career my answer might have been different.

Firstly I must explain that the climate in Assam; particularly in West Assam - the Valley is approximately 400 miles long - is, during the Spring hot and windy, and not very pleasant. During the Summer and Autumn it is wet, hot and humid, ideal for the quick growth of tea, and it is during those months that he main crop is harvested. During the Winter months, November, December, January and February growth on the tea bush practically stops and no crop is harvested. This gives the planter time and labour for essential estate work, such a pruning and factory overhaul. However, during the Winter months mentioned the climate is, I would judge, the most wonderful in the world - lovely temperate sunny days, with cold night necessitating fires in the lounge, and blankets on the beds at night.

It was November when the steamer I was on sailed away up the Brahmaputra and the setting sun was turning the distant Himalayan Mountains snows red. I enquired when the steamer would reach Tezpur and was informed early tomorrow morning and I thought gracious we will be being the Himalayas by that time. However the next morning the snows appeared to be as far away as ever.

In the evening I sat out on the fore deck with my travelling rug around me. A nurse travelling on the steamer during the conversation remarked that the travelling rug was a very wise precaution. A gentleman on board, Jed More, a solicitor in Tezpur, told me that he nurse's brother was one of the most valued members of the Indian Intelligence Department.

We duly arrived at Tezpur the following morning, and an Indian messenger handed me a note from Mr. Mack, the manager of Kolony tea estate, informing me to take the Tezpur-Balipara railway to Thakurbari.  After breakfast a very kindly gentleman, named I think Erskine-Scott, thought the best thing I could do was stay at The Dak Bungalow till it was time for the train to leave at approximately 2.30pm.

Erskine-Scott was a bit of a "character". He was a bit of a "loner", and was I think manager of Chardwar estate which in those days, because of bad roads, a very isolated place. The story goes that one of his relations would leave him money provided he named himself Erskine-Scott. Then another relation would leave him money provided he name himself Scott-Erskine, and so on, so that one was never quite sure how to address him. 

Most towns in Assam have a Dak Bungalow. These Dak bungalows were rest houses, run by government, where one could obtain accommodation and meals. I remember with affection the elderly Mohammedan Khansama who ran the Dak Bungalow in Tezpur. He used to mother us assistants when we traveled from Tezpur to have teeth extracted by the travelling dentist who visited the district every cold weather.  Not for us assistants the expensive journey to Calcutta to have a dental check. We were lucky to get the length of Tezpur about twenty miles away. Any rotting teeth were just yanked out.

Anyway I had lunch at he Dak Bungalow and the Khansama arranged ports to take my luggage to the station. The Tezpur-Balipara railway was a narrow gauge railway which ran between - as might be guessed! - Tezpur and Balipara, a distance of approximately forty miles. It was built originally for carrying tea from various estates to the river steamer for shipment to Calcutta - or so I should imagine. It also had some passenger coaches. These were open bench seats. The first class carriage had sides and windows to it.

I got down from the train at Thakurbari station to be met by E. M. Bryce who was an assistant at Nahorani estate adjoining Kolony. Bryce informed me that I would be staying with him at his bungalow till the assistant's bungalow a Kolony was vacant. From the station we went to the Thakurbari Club, a lovely club, designed by Mr. Metcalfe of Bamgoan estate. It was a club day, and I later met Mr. Mack and was told to report to Kolony office at 7am the following day. Bryce had no car and we had to cadge a lift back to Nahorani. My bedroom was rather dismal, and the furniture consisted of an iron bed (fortunately I had brought a mattress with me), one dressing table, one wardrobe (which was full of overseas editions  of the "Daily Mirror") and one kerosene storm lamp.

Next morning - the 25th of November 1926 - Bryce gave me a loan of his bicycle and I set off for Kolony, about three miles away.  Thus I arrived at Kolony where I was to stay for the next five and a half years - at the end of my long journey - on a push bike!!


John Clark


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October 14 2010
Here is a request from a lovely lady,  Anne de Courcy which is self explanatory.
Anne is an author and says -" it is only by reaching out to people that one hears of possible material".



Anne says :  .I have been commissioned by my publishers, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, to write the story of the girls and women who went out to India during the time of the Raj (1858-1947) and met and married their husbands there. Some of these women were the daughters of families already resident in India, who had been sent home to be educated, and were rejoining their families aged seventeen or eighteen. Others had been asked out to stay by an aunt, cousin, sister or friend married to, say, a soldier or an ICS man; such a visit might be for six months or a year - and some of these undoubtedly went, or were sent by their families at home, with the idea of finding a husband. As marriage was the goal and destiny of practically every woman before WW2 there was nothing particularly surprising in this; indeed, it was then probably the subliminal thought at the back of most women's minds.

           I would be so grateful to be contacted by anyone with a mother, aunt, grandmother or great-grandmother who went out to India and met or married someone there, and who also kept a diary or wrote letters - contemporary documentation is what really fleshes a story out.

My email address is:



November 14 2009

Below is the story/diary of Joan King who travelled to India with her Aunt
just after the Second World War broke out in 1939. Joan typed it on a typewriter
many years ago. The Editor has done what he could to make it legible today,
We are indebted to Joan for allowing us to share her experiences of 70 years
ago and also I have to mention the great help Alan Leonard gave in collecting
the information from Joan and then scanning it and forwarding it to the Editor.


                      VISIT TO INDIA   1939


                                           JOAN KING

  September                                                October

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