Provans Digboi

May 8 2007

This page is the story of the Provan boys whose parents lived in Digboi on and off from 1935 until 1955, their  father worked for the Burmah Oil Co. I visited the place as a boy of 15 in 1953 along with my elder brother, and wrote a diary of the trip. 

We thank Donald for taking the time and trouble to supply the information from his diary and his brother Alec for the photographs
The photographs are at the bottom of the page and can be enlarged by clicking

May 8 2007

True Account of a Visit to Assam, India
10.12.52 - 8.1.1953

by Donald M.J. Provan

Photos by Alec Provan


Sander and I travelled from Elgin to Digboi in Assam to spend our Christmas holidays with Mum and Dad, travelling by KLM as I remember. We stopped over in Amsterdam and Basrah?, then Calcutta where I very well remember the poor living in the streets. Thereafter we flew in a DC3 up country to a small airport (?Gauhati). The following is a log I kept of the holiday - I have copied it more or less verbatim, bear in mind I was only 15! The diary is still with me, but the following (typed up some 50 years later in 2004/05) is probably easier to decipher than my handwriting. Sander took a load of pictures and I have copied the best ones from his album to illustrate the trip.

10th Dec, Saturday. Arrived at Mohambare. Came up to Digboi in car, had picnic en route. After tea went down to the Golf Club.

Went out fishing in the Namphuk? River with Jocky Gordon who caught a 2 ½ pounder
(mahseer). Sander had a small one. Saw 2 elephants and shot the rapids in canoe with the cook.

Was shown round the refinery, very interesting. (I recall dipping my hand in a bath of molten wax like an idiot and seeing the shocked faces of Dads' engineers who were taking us round).
Went down to golf in the afternoon with Mum and Dad.

Went to golf and had a swim. In the evening had an evening of Scottish Country Dancing. 
Sander taught some square dancing. Received with much enthusiasm. Went over to dinner with Jimmy Watson.

Played golf and then had Mr. and Mrs. Horne over for dinner.

Went down the coalmines at Margherita with Antony Petigrew Johnston. Very interesting but terribly hot. Visited the veneer mills in the afternoon. After coming home Sander sang in the choir while Dad and I played billiards. He beat me.

Was over at a woman's meeting with Mum at Mrs. Williams. Very boring. Also had a few shots of .22 airgun in the afternoon. Went through the refinery again with Sander.

Went along to the Forestry Office with Sander, Mum. Michael and Rory. Had a snooze in the
afternoon and then played a couple of games of tennis. Went out to a party at Ted and Rita Smith's, they have a teagarden

Went up to the Sunpura Bungalow. Had a nice trip in the ferry across the Lohit river, though it was a bit slow. Went up the Boligan river in the dugout and had an hour's fishing. Heard the jackals in the evening.

Went up the river again after a little fishing at the bungalow. No luck. When we arrived at the
right place caught a nice pounder. Had a dusty trip back, Saw some monkeys and a jackal.

Had Antony P. Johnston down for the day. Played 5 holes of golf in the morning, played tennis for a while and then went down for a swim. After that we had tea in the club and then took a photo of Santa Claus arriving on an elephant for the children's party. Went down to the club for the Scottish country dancing, Sander taught some square dancing.

Wednesday (Christmas Evening)
Spent the morning pottering around with the airgun and then decorated the house. Ann and Robbie McGregor came to visit Mum. Had a lie back in the afternoon and then played tennis
with Sander. We had Jimmy Watson and Mr. and Mrs. McGregor over for dinner and then went off to a dance. As we were very tired Jimmy and I didn't go, but went to bed ! The others arrived at 3.30 on Christmas Day.

Received presents. Had a visit from Jimmy and Mr. and Mrs. McGregor. Spent a very busy day packing for our trip up river.

Started off at 9.45 am. Found the road down to the river was only an elephant track. Drove on to the Forestry Office. He did not know much about the place but gave us 6 Naga coolies ! The path to the river was infested with leeches- Sander and Mum went off first with 2 boats, then we went up river when they came back- Nice camp site on an island in the river. Fished a little round the camp in the evening. (Note that Sander has drawn a map of the rivers in my diary; along with a note on how he calculated the weight (16.3 lb) of a junga peethia (mahseer) caught on a No. 7 spoon in the Maganton River).

Went up the Namphuk for 1 ½ hours with 2 boatmen while Mum tidied up the camp. Came to good fishing water but too shallow and water awfully clear. Went down river to where boatmen said they caught the fish they gave us on Thursday. Good place, but water too muddy.

Had Ted Reid, Mrs. Lewis, Michael and Rory and the driver up, Dad and I went down river to
meet them. I picked up a few leeches. When they arrived at 10 am we took them to the boats.  Had lunch at camp and then Sander, Michael, Rory and I went up the river in a dugout. We poled. Went up the mouth of the Carzan river. Saw a herd of wild buffalo. We passed them slowly as we were afraid they would come in after us. We then raced down the river for the cameras, but met Ted and Dad who had come up river to look for us at Mrs. Lewis's request. They went off down river with Mum and Sander at 3 pm.

Woke up at 3.30 am and heard a pattering on the roof, then a flash of lightning. Realised we were in the middle of a thunderstorm! The wind was blowing the flaps of the tent about. There were great claps of thunder. Sander went out and saved the mosquito nets which Mum had put up as an awning. Dad intended to go out but as he had dressed quickly he wasn't wanting to get soaked as he had no change of clothing. Sander came in soaking, he was in his pyjamas. Went up the Magamton River in the morning, taking a few biscuits and an orange for lunch.

I caught a 1 lb junga peethia after 2 minutes. Dad caught a nice 5 lb j. peethia and a horrid looking Guria. Had lunch when we came home at 4. Sander and I went out with the boatmen and the Jal (net). They hoped to catch wee fish for curry, but only caught two. However, they caught 3 nice pounders. Were frightened we would have another storm, but did'nt have one.

Wrote log in bed. Went up river at 9.50 am. I got a big bite which bent my hook but the fish
got away. Went up river again to look for the Kaeki Ca river but did'nt find anything. Had lunch and then had a few casts. Came down again and then fished some more. Sander hooked a big one and it went right down the rapids for about ½ mile. He had a very hard fight, up to his knees in mud and then running over the shingle. He at last landed it. It was about 16 lb. Had a few more casts and then came down river again. Measured Sander's fish. It was 36 in. long and 18 in. in circumference. He made a mask of it in the sand and asked the cook to kep the gill bones. Had dinner and then went up river a bit in the dugout with Mum and Sander to see if we could see any game. Didn't go very far. Thought we were going to have another storm but nothing came of it.

Wednesday - New Year's Eve
Our last day of fishing. Writing log in bed. Sun just rising. Went off up river again, fished morning without success. In the afternoon Dad caught a 6 pounder and I caught a ¼ pounder. The spoon was nearly as big as the fish. Sander tried to get a photo of a couple of tame elephants but they went back into the jungle. He also tried for a sambar deer but it walked back into the jungle. He also tried for a photo of a couple of wild buffalo but got chased for his life.

Thursday - New Year's Day
Sander and I went down river to meet Doc. Briers and Jimmy Donaldson. This is a miracle
because they both went to bed at 3 am and J. Donaldson comes from Glasgow. We had a few casts with the fishing net while waiting but didn't catch anything. We came up river after  meeting them and had lunch- Sander tried to catch the ground-feeding fish with dough but didn't get anything. Had a few swims. After lunch we all went up river in canoe for about an hour. Sander got a photo of a herd of wild buffalo. Had a swim coming down. Had tea and then Sander and Mum went down river with Jimmy and Doc. Briers. Got the camp tidied up while they were away.

Went down Maganton River to Namphi Mukh river and then up the Namphi river. Took two hours. When we reached Namchik river went up it to mouth of Carzan river. Had lunch there (map on back page). Fished for a while and then went down Namchik to our camp site. Tidied up camp a bit. Saw sambar deer and some buffalo on the way.

Struck camp Went down river in two boats. Left Namchik alley at 11 am. Got to Digboi at 12 o'clock. Got things off lorry. Had lunch, watered the lawn. Had bath and then tea. Went down for some messages and then had dinner.

Took fishing reel to bits and got all the kit dried out. Had a few shots of airgun, hit a pigeon. Had snooze in the afternoon and then had a drive round the oilfield with the shotgun and .22 rife. Left the car and had a walk down a jungle path but did not see anything. Had bath and got dressed for dinner at Sinclair's when we got home.

We were supposed to be going to Kazarunga Reserve Forest at 6 am, but the Inspection
Bungalow was booked up. I played golf in the morning with Sander. Had lunch and then had word from Chunilall's (who were fixing up the arrangements for Kazarunga for us) that the I.Bungalow was booked up by a Government party on Tuesday, but they could fix up an I.  Bungalow at Bagari for us tonight if we left at 2 pm. They phoned us at 1 pm. Phoned
Jeremy Westwood's mother to tell Jeremy that we were going tha t day. Had an awful rush for food and so on and got away at 2.10 pm. Arrived at 11.30 pm after a tiring 189 miles. Had a few biscuits and went to bed.

Were called at 4 am. Had a meal then drove down to Kazarunga. Went down a rough track and found the elephants we should ride on. Left at 5 am and went all over the place for about 4 miles. Very bumpy, through swamps and tiger grass. Back at 10 am. Saw 4 rhinos, 9 wild buffalo, 1 swamp deer, 11 wild pig, many barking- and other deer. Returned to Inspection Bungalow and had meal before driving back to Digboi . Stopped at Tinsukia to see PaddyFinlayson and J. Bandeem. Had a drink. Saw a leopard 26 miles past Dibrugarh. Saw a few jackals, got back at 10.45 pm.

Up at 10.30 am and had breakfast in bed. Pottered around in the morning. Had a rest in the
afternoon and then had Jimmy Donaldson with his amophone and records for the party. Had dinner at the McGregors.

Spent most of the day pottering around, putting up fairy lights etc. for the party. After lunch had a shooting match with Dad, Sander and Mum, with the gramophone records as targets. Dad won. After tea bathed and changed for the party. It started at 7.30 and lasted until 12.30. Very good with plenty to eat.

Went over to Smith's tea garden in the morning with Sander. He drove. Ted Smith took us all
round the factory and gardens for an hour. We had a date with Doc. Clark who was coming up to our house for coffee so had to leave. Very interesting tour. When e got back Doc. Clark had just left. In the afternoon played tennis with Jeremy Westwood. Good game. Got my hair cut in  the club afterwards. Came back and after tea got ready to go to Lewis' for dinner. Eddie Corps and Doc. Briers were there. Went to bed at 11 pm.

Saturday, 10th January
Last day, got packed up.


Victoria Memorial, Calcutta

KLM aircraft which brought us to India

Mum & Dad’s bungalow

Ann, Robbie McGregor, garden gnome and me

Christmas party at the Club – Santa’s arrival

Christmas party – Ann, Robbie, Sander and me

Jimmie Watson and Ann McGregor

Ferry crossing on our camping trip, with Standard Vanguard

Vanguard bogged down. Mum supervising

10. Vanguard bogged down. Mum supervising

At path down to the river, Dad’s driver, me, Mum and Dad

Our boatmen with dugout canoes, Sander and me

Michael & Rory, Sander and me - homemade raft

Family group, with the cook in the background

Sander and Mum with 16 lb Junga peethia

Mum and baggage (part of)

The cook with our dinner

Mum, me and Dad - note my catch

Our campsite on sandbank by the river


Tame elephants

Dad in dugout canoe

Visit to Kazarunga game reserve, Jeremy Westwood, Sander and minder

Rear end of the rare Indian rhinocerous at Kazarunga