Roy Church 1

 November 2011

Roy Church

This page is dedicated to the writings and travel stories of Roy Church

Roy Church joined Jokai in 1959 after three years in The British Army. He was posted to Joyhing T.E.  followed by postings to Tippuk, Dikom, Jamirah and Hukanpukri He left tea in 1967and read Rural Estate Management at the Royal Agriculture becoming a Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor in 1972. He joined the Valuation Office of the Inland Revenue where he specialised in compensation for compulsory purchase on which he also lectured. He is married and his eldest Son was born at Panitola Central Hospital in 1965. For the last 20 years he has travelled extensively in the Central Himalaya leading groups of friends

Roy also created the collections of memories of the 21st November 1962
Which is shown on ARTICLES under the heading Sino-Indian War 1962

Click on the story name to go to the Heading

Days on the River


Language Difficulties

Joe Lys

The Manas and Incidental Mahseer

A Character from Yester Year

.The Saga of the Inner Line Spies

Social Engineering

1998 The Great Escape

A Practical guide to trekking in the Himalayas


 February 15 2012 


                                 DAYS ON THE RIVER. 

From early November till the end of March I used to spend almost every weekend on some part of the Bramaphutra River. Fortunately this time coincided with the slack period on the tea estates; the pruning of the tea would start in October and there would be no manufacture of the next year's growth till April.

The Bramaphutra River is the dominant feature of the valley of Assam. Flying into Assam one simply follows the river eastwards from the Bangladesh border. The valley is almost totally surrounded by mountains; the Himalayas to the north and east, the Naga and Khasi Hills to the south and south west. The Bramaphutra flows westwards out of the valley through a corridor between the Khasi Hills and the Himalayas only about 60 miles wide of which the Bramaphutra riverbed occupies very nearly half. The Assam valley is about 400 miles long and there are rivers flowing down from the various ranges of mountains and hills throughout its length.

At far north eastern end of the valley, between the Burma and Chinese mountain borders, the Lohit flows down into the valley. The Lohit is joined by the Noa Dihing from the Naga Hill side and further downstream by the Kundil, Dhebong, Cissseri and Sibia Rivers all of which flow out from the Himalayas at the north eastern end of the valley. Some 40 miles from the eastern end of the valley the Lohit is joined by the Siang. The Siang is also called the Bramaphutra and rises some 600 miles to the west in Tibet. The upper reaches of the Bramaphutra are confined by the east-west folds of the Himalayas. Most of these upper reaches are virtually inaccessible as they pass through sheer cliff'd gorges for much of their length. The Bramaphutra finally emerges on to the Assam plains through a huge gorge at the town of Passighat. It flows through the plains for some 20 miles after which it joins the Lohit and becomes the Bramaphutra 'proper'. At this point the river is as much as 18 miles wide during the monsoon albeit still over 1200 miles from the Bay of Bengal. When the floods are at their highest the junction of these two massive rivers forms a huge whirlpool up to two miles wide which the local boatmen take very good care to keep clear of.


The level of the Bramaphutra drops substantially in November when the river changes from a swirling mass of brown flood water to clear water forming a labyrinth of separate channels.

All the rivers which flow in to the eastern end of the Assam valley have catchments in mountains where there is an annual rainfall often in excess of 250"/annum. All the rivers share a characteristic of fanning out their flood waters when the rivers suddenly become unconfined by the mountains. As a result much of the north eastern end of the valley is devastated each year by the floods and consequently it is impossible for people to settle in the area. There are a few river tribal's who spend part of the year in the floodplains but they do not build permanent villages, preferring to camp or live in their boats. The whole area westwards from the Siang on the north bank of the Lohit is one vast truly wild area. It provides a massive natural sanctuary for elephants, buffaloes, wild red dog, various deer, pig and still a few tigers. The rivers themselves, as well as providing a habitat for all kinds of fish, are also a stopover for many migrant waterfowl on their journey from Siberia to the warm plains of central India.

Because the area is so large, planters who fished the area used outboard motors on fast speedboats in order to cover the long distances involved. To get to the best fishing areas it was necessary to travel at least 10 miles up the river and often my colleagues would boat as much as 40 miles in a day. All the planters interested in fishing formed a club and kept their boats during the cold weather at moorings near the village of Dholla. The village is on the edge of the floodplain and is as far as one can travel up the valley by road. Highway 37 finished at the dusty village of Dholla situate atop a 45 mile bund erected to keep back the river after which there was only vast areas of sand on the banks of the Lohit river.

It was while I was working at Dikom Tea Estate that I acquired my first outboard. A green second hand Johnson 10 h.p.. I spent much of the monsoon overhauling the engine but by the time I had finished the engine despite being nearly 10 years old was as good as new.  I replaced water pump housing, impellor, points, coils, condensers and plugs as well as even finding a new propeller. It started from cold on the third pull and when warm first pull every time. Initially I borrowed boats from other planter colleagues either a dugout converted with a transom for out board use or alternatively a 8' long flat bottomed hydroplane hull. A 10 h.p. engine with two people could just get a small boat onto the plane at about 20 to 25 m.p.h.. If one took more than two people or camping kit then one had to use the dugout. The 10 h.p. could only manage about 10 to 15 m.p.h. on a dugout and therefore my camping expeditions tended to be made to the nearer angling venues. Later I bought a new 18 h.p. engine which meant that I could travel considerably faster and so to destinations further up the various rivers.

From Dikom to Dholla was about 40 miles in addition to which one had to drive another 4 miles over the sand deposited along the banks of the Lohit before reaching the club ghat. At the moorings we had a 'basha' built of elephant grass and it was all cared for by a watchman who we employed for the cold weather.

Some weekends I would camp up the river Saturday night. Other times I would just travel to some fishing area for the Sunday only. Very often I would 'camp out' with Peter Wilson in his Besakopie bungalow some 5 miles from Dholla. This involved taking down the curtains in his spare room and using them as bedclothes. We would then go up the river together on the Sunday morning. In theory staying with Peter should have ensured an early start on the river. In practice, thanks to Carew's XXX rum, we often had hangovers which necessitated a much later start!

At Dikom I would load my trusty 10 h.p outboard into the car, The engine sat in a specially made cradle in the boot. This was necessary as the road was extremely rough in parts, not to mention the necessity of having to frequently ‘descend' from the single tracked tarmac road onto the unmade part of the road. A full tank of fuel, both for car and engine. Fishing Kit. Shotgun, cartridges and a change of clothes. Tool box, including a supply of spare propeller sheer pins.

On a Sunday I would leave Dikom about 6 a.m. which would ensure I would reach the riverside by 8 to 8.30. Very often during the cold weather the mist would hang over the river till about 9 o'clock .

Exactly where one went from the ghat was dictated by whether or not one had an Inner Line Pass. The upper areas of most of the rivers were inside an area originally known under the British Administration as NEFA (The North East Frontier Agency). The area was run as a buffer zone and movement from the hills to the plains and visa versa was very restricted.  Without an Inner Line Pass one could not enter NEFA. As might be imagined, in an area where there were no accurate maps and which changed physically after each monsoon flood it was often difficult to know exactly where NEFA started. In the early 1960's it mattered little but by the 1980's the whole issue had become very sensitive to the point that some planters were arrested for allegedly entering the Restricted Area.

Most of my fishing trips from Dholla were to the Dhebong River which emerged some 30 miles upstream from the Himalayas at Roing and joined the Lohit almost opposite Dholla. Some years  the  junction could be 3 miles either way, upstream or downstream from Dholla..

For the first 3 miles above the Lohit junction the Debong meandered gently over sand. The river was up to 300 yards wide, mostly shallow and difficult to navigate. Over the next five miles the riverbed gradually became more gravelly, especially at a point where a tributary joined from the east. This junction, known as Dheopani Mukh was a fine fishing spot. The Dheopani (lit. muddy water) flowed gently into the main Dhebong where, not only was there a difference in the clarity of the water but the Dheopani was often considerably warmer as it was very shallow for much of its length. Some three miles above the Dheopani Mukh the Dhebong formed two, sometimes three, channels over large granite boulders. This was a stretch of about 10 miles, where the river was a series of pools and rapids. Two more side streams joined the main river in this area; one at Kerim Pani and the other at Dutoo Mukh. It was generally recognised that the Inner Line started at Dutoo Mukh, although it had never been officially confirmed.

At the ghat people would sort themselves out into crews. Some by prior arrangement, others on the spur of the moment. Some people preferred to boat alone or taking only a local boatman. The purpose of the boatman was that he was supposed to know how to navigate the river. The reality was that the river changed almost by the day, especially in the lower sandbar'd reaches. To navigate successfully one had to learn to 'read' the river; simply taking the route one took the previous week was no guarantee one would not run aground.

I never took a boatman (a) I could not afford one and (b) I wanted to learn how to read the river. There was no substitute for experience. I found that because I started my river boating with a small engine I soon developed a 'sixth sense' where the channel flowed. Whilst there were huge bars of sand reaching almost all the way across the river there was almost always one place where one could get over the bar. Boats that planed were of course much easier than dugout canoes. Planing boats took only about 10" of water whereas in a dugout one needed around 15" of water. Planing boats however stop as soon as they drop off the plane whereas dugouts have a much greater momentum due to their weight and will "freewheel" over shallows provided one lifts the engine out.

The worst areas to navigate were without doubt where rivers joined. The junction of the Lohit and the Dhebong was notorious. So much so that once the water level dropped in the cold weather many anglers would not even attempt it. Because I went up the Dhebong two or three times a month throughout the winter I became proficient at getting through the Mukh. That is not to say I never ran aground. I used my fair share of propeller sheer pins.

I remember taking a friend one day through the Dhebong Mukh. We were skimming over a sandbar with very little water under the prop. As the water got shallower it presented less resistance to the prop with the result that the revs on the engine rose slightly in warning. Eventually we hit the bottom and drifted back down the river while I changed the sheer pin. When the pin was changed I asked my friend to jump out and hold the boat bow upstream so that we could get started and quickly back on the plane. By now the water was about 2' deep. My friend jumped out and immediately disappeared into some 6' of water - we had just drifted over the edge of a sandbar!

Hitting the riverbed when it was sand was one thing; hitting it when it was large boulders was something else! Bent props were common and even knocking a propeller blade clean off. In my latter boating days I used to purchase really wonderful racing props made in U.S.A. by the Mitchegan Wheel Co. These were made of phosphor-bronze and had a much better performance than the standard aluminium props supplied with Johnson or Evinrude engines. When one bought a Mitchegan prop one made a plaster cast of the prop before using it. This meant that if the prop was damaged it was possible to repair it using the original cast as a template. Even if one did not hit any hard objects the amount of silica suspended in the water could wear a prop down significantly in the course of one season.

To get the best performance out of an engine it was necessary to have the correct prop for the task and for it to be in good condition. A prop that did not produce enough thrust (usually because it was worn) would allow the engine to over-rev - this would very soon burn the electrics out as well as not utilise the full power of the engine. If, on the other hand, one had a prop which was too 'heavy' for the engine then the engine would not reach its optimum revs and so be under powered. For my 18 h.p. I had a two bladed Mitchegan prop 9.5" diameter 12" pitch - this prop was superb for my planing boat with only a light load. When I carried more weight I used a three bladed prop 9.5" diameter 10" pitch. When I used the engine on a large heavy 25' dugout I used a 3 bladed 9" diameter 9" pitch. With the Mitchegan two blader, travelling by myself, my American designed speedboat would do almost 40 m.p.h. in still water, however, the same prop had a bad habit of caveating in very rough rapids in the upper reaches of the river. Cavotating meant simply that the prop drew varying quantities of air under the cavotation plate and lost thrust as a result.

Having negotiated the Dhebong Mukh I would follow the river up a long gradual right hand bend for the next four miles. This stretch of the river was bounded on the west by a huge area of elephant grass but to the east it was totally featureless sand, almost as far as the eye could see, left behind by the monsoon floods. This part of the river was about 200yards wide but quite deep on the west side. It shelved off very gently to the east so that the majority of the river was less than 2' deep. Unfortunately such channel as existed up the left side of the river was also full of huge tree trunks that had been washed down the river. Many of these tree trunks were worn smooth by the force of the water and lurked just under the surface. At 25 m.p.h. it required a very sharp eye and quick reaction to avoid hitting these underwater obstructions with the prop. To some extent it was a matter of luck.

One would be fishing at Dheopani Mukh in perfect peace and quiet. There would be the distant drone of an outboard coming up the river. All of a sudden the silence would be shattered by the roar of the engine as it was thrown out of the water by some underwater obstruction. Next followed a short silence which varied in duration depending on the proficiency of the crew to change the sheer pin. After this the engine would re-start. Very often the speed with which the pin was changed together with the frequency of the stops might indicate the owner of the boat long before it could be sighted.

Occasionally, while speeding through long shallow stretches of the river, fish would be forced to flee across the shallows in front of the boat. Most of the smaller fish remained almost invisible but occasionally one 'flushed out' a freshwater shark  or souse"( freshwater porpoise) which would dramatically career off into the shallows making a huge bow wave as it fled.

The junction at Dheopani often was very shallow where it entered the Dhebong but just beyond the sandbar that formed at the junction there was usually very deep run along the edge of the sand bar. One either fished this run from the bank, moored one's boat at some point in the run or drifted periodically through it. Fishing from the bank depended on how far into the main river the sandbar extended as to whether one could cast far enough to be effective. The chief problem of mooring in the run itself was that the current could be quite strong. It was not unknown for people to get their anchor irretrievably stuck under some tree trunk on the riverbed. Drifting through the run was only effective when the water was quite high and/or slightly coloured, otherwise one tended to scare the fish away rather than catch them.

A group of Mirri tribal's used to set up camp each year on the west bank of the Dhebong opposite the Dheopani Mukh.

As if from nowhere semi domestic birds, such as minors and sparrows, would soon populate the temporary settlement. When one took a break from fishing to lunch the mynas and sparrows would quickly fly the 100 yards width of the river and hop about waiting for scraps. One day in the middle of lunch all the sparrows suddenly fled back to the village. High above in a clear blue sky a merlin circled. A myna who had stayed behind hid under the side of one of our boats moored some 20 yards away and kept scanning the sky. Whatever side of the boat the myna took cover; the merlin moved his position high above to keep the myna in view. Finally the myna could stand the suspense no longer and set off as fast as he could fly for the shelter of the village on the far side of the river. The myna appeared to have almost made it when the merlin dropped like a stone out of the sky and hit the myna within about 5 yards of the far bank. It was a good 100 yards away but the sound of the merlin's talons hitting the myna could be clearly heard.

The first 'real' rapid was some mile above the Dheopani Mukh where the sand gave way to boulders. This rapid was about 100 yards long and about 50 yards wide. Many anglers however would not even attempt this rapid. In fact, though it was large, it was not difficult to navigate and provided one took the correct line through the rough water there was plenty of water under one's prop.

There was however always an element of danger in boating through rapids.

The big danger in'climbing' rapids in the upper Dhebong was that if one hit the bottom and the boat dropped off the plane it was quite possible for the skeg of the engine or the prop to become jammed between boulders and for the force of the water pushing the boat back down the rapid to either damage the transom of the boat or the engine itself. Dugouts, because of their weight, were especially prone to damaging the transom. In addition dugouts being so long had a bad habit of rolling over if they hit an obstruction while drifting broadside down a rapid.

The velocity of the water in some of the rapids could be as much as 20 m.p.h.. (Another reason why one needed a boat which would travel at least 25 m.p.h.) Picking one's way through a rapid required great concentration - in the case of dugouts, often for sustained periods of time. Whilst the water was rushing at speed past the boat; one's actual speed 'over the ground' could be quite slow. It was probably this phenomena that helped prevent more serious accidents than there were. As can be imagined, anyone helming a boat through rapids had to have a lightning-quick reaction when the prop hit. One also had to develop a knowledge of where the deepest water was in a rapid. While travelling up rapids required quick reaction; coming down could, on occasions, require an even quicker response. Many of the planing speedboats would 'drop off' the plane if the speed was dropped below 20 m.p.h.. This meant in effect that the combined effect of the boats water speed together with the speed of the river meant that one was travelling 'over the ground' down the river in excess of 40 m.p.h.. When one came to a point where the channel forked it required an immediate decision which channel to follow. "Getting it wrong" could mean running hard aground, damaging the boat or at best a long push to get back to navigable water. In the circumstances it was essential to thoroughly know the river. People who came up only once or twice during the cold weather usually suffered the consequences. Back at the ghat in the evening there would be bent props or damaged/broken skegs or even worse.

Although the Dhebong was undoubtedly my favourite river I also travelled widely over the rivers throughout Upper Assam.

Different rivers had different characteristics.

Parallel to the Dhebong to the west ran the Cisseri. This was a much smaller river originating from a split in the Dhebong higher upstream. It was a near impossibility to motor through its confluence with the Lohit and one had to be prepared to push the boat over soft shifting sands for some 800 yards before one could find any navigable channel. This of course had the advantage that very few people were able or prepared to make the effort and as a result the fishing in the Cisseri could be very good. As the Cisseri ran through an area that had been originally high jungle before the 1951 earthquake; the tree stumps in the river were very much worse hazard than in most other rivers.

Another 6 miles or so further west was the Sibia. Part of this river rose in the foothills but much of the flow stemmed from a split of the Siang below Passighat. The Sibia was a river of constant and difficult sandbars. To get to the higher reaches of the Sibia required more pushing than motoring.

The Inner Line crossed the Lohit at its junction with the Noa Dihing. This upper area of the valley had changed substantially following the severe earthquake in 1950. The levels of the floodplain had in places dropped as much as 20' causing the rivers to change direction by as much as 20 miles. The new channel of the Lohit adopted a route through an area previously mature jungle. In consequence the Lohit above the Noa Dihing Mukh was notorious for the masses of tree stumps in the river. Many of the tree stumps were the size of an elephant's back - hitting one at speed was to be avoided at all costs. Regulars to the upper Lohit referred to this stretch of the river as "suicide ally"

In addition to boating at the upper end of the valley I also spent much time boating in the Dibrugarh area of the river when I was posted to Jamirah Tea Estate. At this point the river was a good 15 miles wide, albeit split by numerous islands during the cold weather. Because it was subject to flooding the Jamirah Estate had its own dugout canoe in which I spent many happy days on that part of the Bramaphutra. One could motor across to the north bank of the Bramaphutra to an area almost totally uninhabited Rather like the area east of the Siang this area (referred to by planters as the "North Bank") was thick jungle and inland lakes. This area too had been affected by the 1950 earthquake and the lakes had formed where once the river had flowed. The lakes were a haven for wildfowl and many planters made regular trips across to shoot during the cold weather.

There were also two rivers which flowed out of the North Bank to join the Bramaphutra.

The upper river was the Pobo which joined the main river some 12 miles downstream from Passighat. This was a very short river which flowed through the Pobo Reserve Forest over boulder/gravel. It often stayed clean long after the main river had become dirty and provided good fishing at the junction. During WWII the Pobo Reserve was used by American pilots flying The Hump as an R & R camp.

The Pobo Mukh was however the scene of one of Assam's few boating fatalities. A party of anglers who were not frightfully experienced had travelled to Pobo Mukh in a dugout powered by a 40 h.p. As they were leaving they reversed the dugout under power out of the Pobo into the main river which was in flood. The engine hit some underwater obstruction and rolled the dugout over. Owing to the size and weight of the engine the dugout sank. [With engines less than 20 h.p. the wood in the dugout kept the craft afloat]. Unfortunately at that point the current flowed towards the middle of the main river. I believe two planters were drowned, two managed to swim to the shore and were taken downstream to Dibrugarh two days later by local boatmen The other two were never found.

Opposite Jamirah the Semmen River flowed into the Bramaphutra. The Semmen River rose in the foothills. The gorge where it emerged from the hills could clearly be seen from 20 miles away full of mist in the cold weather. The river eventually ran into a lowland area full of lakes before reaching the Bramaphutra. These lakes ensured that the water remained clean despite local rainfall or flooding. The river was deep, narrow but full of tree stumps. It was however quite easy to navigate the lower reaches as the flow was very slow. From a fishing viewpoint the Semmen provided very good sport but mahseer were few. Most of the fish caught in the Semmen were sal, tenga, walagoo attu or barsa.

Occasionally during the monsoon I would take the Jamirah dugout on the main river when it was in flood. Such trips were more of a break from the monotony of tea factory life than for any angling interest. Very few people ventured on to the river at all when it was in flood. In view of the fact that there was often a large amount of heavy debris being washed down and also it was impossible to follow the normal channels one had to be very careful. Even so, I greatly enjoyed the huge open spaces and I always found that there was much on the river to interest me. Huge flocks of pelicans and groups of Bramaphutra crocodiles. There would be great rafts of timber being floated downstream for sale to sawmills - these would often be as big as a football pitch.

I recall one day setting out in the dugout by myself and motoring upstream 7 miles to Dibrugarh where the river was held back by a huge bund to protect the town. There were no islands, the floodwater reached the full width of the river. The engine hummed away on full load and I made good progress. Every so often a whole tree would rear up out of the water and crash back with a huge splash. As I motored along enjoying the breeze I became aware that from time to time the pitch of the engine gradually altered as the engine imperceptibly slowed or speeded up.  I was confident there was nothing wrong with the engine and I wondered what caused the alteration in its speed: On the way back I was travelling due west with the sun setting in a great red ball in front of me. I noticed that there were shadows running across the full width of the river. Eventually it occurred to me what I was looking at: The effect of the speed of the flow and the relatively shallow water formed the river into huge rivulets like one sees on a beach in England when the tide drops - only instead of the ripple waves being a few inches apart - in the case of the Bramaphutra they were half a mile apart.


I returned to Assam in 1992 and 1995. There are no longer any members of the Lohit Fishing Club left and none of the present generation of planters keep a boat on the river. In consequence no one now fishes many of the rivers that were favourite haunts of anglers in the 1960's. New roads have been built in the area and it is however now possible to drive to the upper reaches of the Lohit. NEFA has become a sub-state of Assam and entry by foreigners is restricted as it also is to the Naga Hills. The embankment built through Dholla down the south bank of the Lohit after the 1950 earthquake was so successful that it forced the river to change course completely. Instead of the river washing against Dibrugarh it is now a five mile ride across the sands to reach the river. The area of lakes on the North Bank has been drained as well as the jungle cleared. The whole area is now uninterrupted rice cultivation. The Bramaphutra is now no longer anywhere near Jamirah Tea Estate. A road bridge has been built over the Bramaphutra at Tezpur and one is planned for below Dibrugarh. Above Dibrugarh the river has swept southwards washing away several tea gardens together with most of the Dibru Reserve Forest. It is proposed to build a bridge over the river at Dibrugarh

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 February 9 2012


Najijabhad is a small town situate on the northern edge of the plains within sight of the Himalayas. It appears on the Times Concise World Atlas some 30 miles south southeast of Haridwar where the mighty River Ganges emerges from the Hills. Najijabhad is on the Rourki to Maradabhad railway.

I have driven through Najijabhad a number of times, usually en route from Dehra Dun to fish the rivers in the Corbett Park area north of Ramnagar.

One's first impression of the town is that it is filthy and predominantly Muslim - there are numerous minarets which rise above the crowded narrow streets and the amplified calls of the mullah are often heard as one drives through the town. The level crossing in the town centre is infamous for the traffic jams caused when a train comes through with the usual Indian chaos experienced at most crossings when the barriers are lifted.

The town is near a river which floods regularly over the surrounding fertile silt lands predominantly planted with brassicas. The river often inundates almost the whole town which has no drainage system to speak of. Herds of pigs, goats, buffaloes and cattle share the narrow streets with the resultant pungent 'agricultural' odour. Many of the local farmers drive everywhere on their tractors which appear to be their sole means of transport.



One day in the middle of Najijabhad I was sitting in a jeep belonging to Jasbir, a close friend and retired Commanding Officer of the Jat Regiment. We idly watched the 18" of water and general detritus gently flowing under the chassis of the jeep. Getting a puncture here would be a serious matter I mused. We were waiting for the rail crossing to open and bearing in mind we were way back in the melee´ which had filled the entire width of the submerged road I was resigned to the fact that we were likely to be in for a long wait before the traffic and mass of humanity sorted itself out.

Looking at the seething Muslim population wading unconcernedly through the floods I asked Jasbir how the town came to be so dominated by Muslims in an area otherwise predominantly Hindu. My thoughts centred on the possibility it was maybe something to do with the 1947 Partition where displaced Muslims (as well as Hindus) were resettled throughout India [India has in fact a greater population of Muslims than Pakisthan].

Jasbir explained that he believed the Muslim connection went back to the time of the British when they ran a penal colony in the area but he really knew very little about it other than the Salvation Army might have been involved at some point in time.

I resolved to research the matter further if possible.

Some six months later I was in London. I had completed my business for the day in good time and had some four hours to spare before I had to catch the train back to Norwich. I went to the William Booth College at Denmark Hill in the hope of finding some archive of the Army's activities in India.

After being passed about the College office I was introduced to a female archivist.

Perhaps unsurprisingly she had never heard of Najijabhad. She did however know that the Salvation Army had been active throughout India in the early part of the 20th century and considered it quite likely that they may have been involved at Najijabhad. All I was able to tell her was that there was some connection with a penal colony at Najijabhad during the 20th century.

Some month later a thick A4 envelope arrived. It contained photocopies of a number of laboriously typed reports from various sources including personal reports of Salvation Army officers who had worked in the then United Provinces (subsequently U.P. now Uttarkhand). The papers of 1914 referred to the project as a "resettlement camp" rather than "penal colony" - such was political correctness - even then.

From Victorian times the British India Government had recognised that there were considerable numbers of Indians who they referred to as "Criminal Tribes". This portion of the population lived largely by theft, murder and extortion. The previous century had seen the quelling of the notorious Thuggi's but some three million professional criminals still preyed upon the remainder of the population throughout India where they represented a distinct threat to political, cultural and economic advancement.

The Government decided that action was necessary. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1908 reached the statute book. The Act required the registration of members of criminal tribes and provided powers and funds to reform such 'criminals'.

The first part of the Act (the registration of criminals) did not present any particular problem. The Government had for many years been rounding up such criminals and trying, largely unsuccessfully, to reform them. The only effect had been to expend large quantities of taxpayer's cash.

By a quirk of good fortune, shortly after the passing of the 1908 Act General Booth-Tucker of the Salvation Army happened to be in nearby Bareilly discussing the problem with the District Commissioner of the area. The D.C. was bemoaning the fact that he did not have staff who were prepared or suitable to take on the resettlement training duties. The General agreed to open the first settlement for 300 of the Dom tribe at nearby Gorukpur to be staffed by Salvation Army officers.

The Doms were the most unpromising of human material, unruly, inveterate drunkards and gamblers. It was the practice when a Dom died to put a coin in the fist of the dead so that there would be something with which to start gambling on the other side of the dark river. Domestic affairs were confusing to say the least; when a husband went to jail, as often happened, the wife would take to herself another husband 'to protect her virtue' so she would say. When the first husband was released from jail he would claim his wife back, but if the second husband objected they would fight it out between them and the victor would win the wife. The children would seldom know who their real father was.

The Doms initially had no concept of work but eventually due to the persistence of the Army officers they learned various skills including silk culture and weaving, carpet making, carpentry, irrigation, agriculture and dairy farming. Soon other settlements were opened in northern U.P. including Najijabhad.

In the early part of the 20th century Najijabhad was no easy posting. Typical of the Terai areas of that time the land was mainly covered with jungle. Malaria and other tropical diseases were endemic and life expectancy consequently short. The area was also the fiefdom of the infamous Sultana - India's equivalent of Robin Hood with the main difference that he robbed everyone and gave only to his friends and allies. He was also heavily armed unlike the Salvationists who relied only on prayer and strength of argument.

The settlement at Najijabhad was situate in the abandoned fort of Najiboula (from whom the town got its name). Najiboula was a Muslim warlord who had been sent by Akbar to defend the northern approaches to his Mogul empire in the 1600's. Using the local tribes as slave labour whom he compulsorily converted to Islam he demolished an earlier Buddist settlement nearby and built an impressive stone fort from where he dominated the surrounding countryside.

The fortunes of the Moguls waxed and waned and eventually the fort was abandoned when a Hindu family took over the ownership of the surrounding land. The Muslim population however stayed on as tenants of a largely agricultural and jungle area.

I returned the following autumn to northern India to stay with my Indian friends at Dehra Dun. None had ever heard of Najiboula or his fort. The only clue appeared to be a pair of gate posts we had often remarked on fronting the main road on the Haridwar side of Najijabhad. This pair of stone built posts had obviously once had a set of iron gates though there was no principal building in sight to which such decorative posts might have been appropriate.

I set off with two Indian friends from Dehra: Vijay, who had been born in Lahore before Partition and Mohun who was another retired Indian Army officer friend from the Garhwal Rifles. Mohun had heard there was a havelli[1] in the town but knew nothing of a fort despite his wife coming from a village less than 20 miles away.

We resolved to spend the day seeking out the fort.

Reaching the ornate stone gateposts on the outskirts of Najijabhad and turned off through a mango orchard under which grew a fine crop of cauliflowers and we were soon negotiating the very narrow streets lined with vegetable stalls of a small Muslim village. Some of the stallholders had to move their wares to allow the jeep to pass. Enquiries in the bazaar revealed there was a havelli1 further on. After about half a mile we came to a massive walled house next to a Muslim temple. We made enquiries as to whether the owner was at home and after some time an expensively dressed lady appeared and explained that she was the local Marharanee, her husband having inherited the title some years ago. The once fortified house was in effect four houses each with their own lawned and paved courtyards. Each was furnished with antique furniture and sported a huge selection of African and Indian big game trophies. She explained that the present generation used the house only as a retreat from their Delhi residences. At one time the family had been heavily engaged in arranging prestigious big game shoots both throughout India and in Africa. The original title to the land had been granted to her Great Great Grandfather when the influence of the Mogul Emperors had declined. The reason the house was sited, almost aggressively, next to the mosque was to impress the locals with the superiority of the Hindu regime.

We sat on lavishly upholstered settees drinking Darjeeling tea served by maids in fine china English made antique cups and saucers. Our host went on to explain that there was indeed a fort which had been built by Najiboula across the other side of town, She had not visited it since her childhood 20 years or more ago and was unsure of how we could find our way to it. We thanked her for her hospitality and retraced our way back to the main road and headed into Najijabhad town. After numerous enquiries at which point we were about to give up the search Mohun found someone who directed us rather vaguely to a fort. Soon we were making bumpy progress down a mud baked track outside the north east of the town. Further enquiries revealed we were going the right way.

Within a few minutes we were faced with a huge Mogul gateway set in a stone wall. The wall was some 30' high and the gateway towered above it. There were no gates although it was clear that originally the entrance had been guarded by large iron gates. We drove through the gateway into a large maidan some 400 yards by 400 yards bounded by the walls. The fort was square. There was another identical gateway opposite the one by which we had entered. The whole of the walls were intact with no vandalism other than graffiti which adorned any smooth stonework - most was written in Urdu but there were plenty of English scripts; the inevitable "Hussain loves Begum". So much for emancipation I mused.

In the centre of the maidan was a large stone built water tank in the ground which appeared to be spring fed. In the north west corner of the maidan were the remains of what had been Najiboula's large palace. The plinths of pillars and painted plaster on some remaining walls showed that it had been a building of high status.

The gatehouses had a large intricately carved stone stair access to the parapets and there was a 5 yard wide road which went all round the top of the castellated wall.

Standing on the top of the wall looking down to the south of the palace, one could pick out the rectangular patterns in the grass where presumably the Salvation Army had had their lines in which the inmates had lived.

Vijay and I sat on the top of the eastern gatehouse and watched the sun set over the town of Najijabhad from which issued the distant sounds of traffic and car horns and an approaching train. The mullah was calling the faithful to prayer. I wondered what it must have been like in the days when the Salvation Army were here when most of what we were looking at would have been primeval jungle.

We drove back towards the setting sun through more fields of cauliflowers - vegetable growing had been one of the skills taught 80 years earlier. Now all the produce is sold in Delhi where it is highly valued.

On my return to Delhi I was discussing my adventure with the wife of my host who explained to me that each year an old man from Najijabhad called regularly at her house to try and sell her very high quality silk and wool Najijabhad handmade scarves. Indeed so high was the quality that she declined incurring the £100+ cost. The scarf making skills also originate from the Salvation Army settlement.

The Salvationists might be long gone from Najijabhad but the fruits of their brave work live on. Sadly time has eroded the memory of their valiant efforts. Only the feint patterns in the grass tell of their exploits.

Nearby is a modern Catholic Church built on the site of a former place of Christian worship. One day I must return to search the gravestones for evidence of the occupants of the fort. 


 Doms are a tribe still much feared in many parts of India. They very much keep themselves to themselves. In the Garwhal Terai they have a near monopoly on conducting cremations

 The Terai is the area between the bottom of the foothills of the Himalayas and the plains proper into which the mountain rivers emerge. Extending the length of the Himalayas the Terai was originally covered with dense jungle and famed for big game hunting. Many of the Punjab refugees from the 1947 Partition were resettled in the area and given grants of jungle which they cleared and farmed. Because the land is so fertile and also has first call on water resources descending from the hills it is very good farming land.

A havelli is the Indian equivalent of the principal house on a landed estate in England.

A maidan is an open grassland area used for grazing.

I recommend a visit to the area

Roy Church

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 January 12 2012  .


During the autumn of 1940 the British Government anticipated German forces would invade England and that the landing sites were likely to be the flat sandy beaches of the coasts of Lincolnshire and Norfolk. In consequence large numbers of British troops were stationed along the east coast and numerous airfields were hurriedly built in the area.

Edwin Aubrey Patrick was aged 31, married with two small children and lived in Skegness. He had volunteered as member of the Fire Service. With the increased military activity in the area his fire fighting duties were extended to include dispatch riding.

Aubrey had always been keen on motorbikes but throughout the 'thirties he could only afford modest, usually somewhat ramshackle, machines. The prospect of riding about the Lincolnshire countryside on the latest American imported Indian bike was very exciting.

The Indian that was allocated to Aubrey's section was the very latest model, powerful and much faster than most British made bikes. Its only fault lay in the quantity of petrol it consumed.

One cold winter's night Aubrey was detailed to collect some military documents from RAF Manby and deliver the same to RAF Conningsby.

Despite being clad in waterproof leggings, a military greatcoat, leather helmet, goggles and thick gauntlet gloves the night was cold and Aubrey decided that it was essential to stop to get warmed up. It was well after closing time but he knew a pub slightly off his route that was well known to disregard pub opening hours. The Red Lion at Raithby though remote had a very genial host and kept a good pint of Bateman's beer.

As Aubrey drew up outside the pub the first flakes of snow started to fall and parking the bike he noticed that the puddles in the pub yard were frozen solid. Inside the pub was a welcome roaring fire and Aubrey soon felt better - inside and out.

After restoring his circulation and downing a couple of pints he set off down the narrow roads that cross the south of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The snow had stopped and there was a clear starlit sky. There was a biting wind blowing off the North Sea.

About two miles from the pub at a cross roads on top of a bleak hill Aubrey came across a stationary motorcyclist vainly trying to kick start an ancient AJS into life. Aubrey stopped to see if he could help. Occasionally the reluctant machine would fire; only to stop again after a few seconds. Aubrey asked the cyclist, who was well wrapped against the freezing cold whether he might have a try.

After a while Aubrey decided that it was likely that there was a fuel blockage. [Wartime petrol was notorious for not being clean.]

"I think the fuel's blocked" Aubrey said.

"I'm afraid I haven't got any tools with me" said the rider.

"Well let's have a look" said Aubrey and he produced a flashlight from the panniers of the Indian.

The AJS had a very rudimentary fuel line to the carburettor. He soon spotted a filter glass in which there was plainly water and it was also obvious the water had frozen solid in the glass bowl.

"There's the problem" said Aubrey, shining the torch on the offending filter bowl "Even if we can't get the bowl off, we could get some hot water and melt the ice to get the fuel through."

The two of them surveyed the surrounding countryside in which not a sign of a light from any habitation showed.

"God knows where we shall find any warm water at this time of night" said the cyclist.

However, Aubrey, ever a practical man, handed the torch to the rider saying

"You keep the light on the filter" whereupon he proceeded to unbutton his flies and applied the residue of two warm pints of Bateman's to the offending filter bowl.

Magically the ice disappeared before their eyes. Next kick the AJS fired up. The rider climbed aboard and roared away calling thanks into the night.

Some days later the Dispatch Group Commanding Officer called Aubrey into his office. Rarely did Aubrey see the C.O. and he hoped that there had not been a problem in the section.

His doubts were soon put to rest when the C.O. greeted him with

"Aubrey I have received a letter thanking you for your help in rescuing a stranded motorcyclist the other night. Perhaps you would like to read it."

The neat handwritten note on blue headed paper was addressed to the C.O. and simply wished that sincere thanks could be passed on to the dispatch rider involved. As Aubrey handed the note back he noticed that the signatory was a Miss  Pearce.


NOTE: Edwin Aubrey Patrick was Jim Church's Grandfather. He was still riding motorcycles when he died at the age of ninety - it's in the blood.

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 January 12 2012


As a young man I was a keen rugby player - tight head prop would you guess! Extraordinarily Assam tea planters played rugby during the height of the Indian monsoon when temperatures rarely went below 30 degree C and humidity remained in the 90% + region. A tale from those days:-


                                   Language Difficulties

Six of us were driving from Upper Assam to the hill station of Shillong to play a rugby match against a team of tea and jute planters from Sylhet in East Pakistan.

We had borrowed the Superintendent Manager's spacious Studabaker. To break the journey (some 450 miles + on pretty rudimentary roads) we had arranged to stay with planter colleagues about half way down the valley at their club situate at a remote village called Misa.

For whatever reason we were late starting from Dibrugarh and it was dark by the time we reached what we thought was the Misa area. None of us had been to Misa club before and we were lost.

I was driving and the rest were asleep apart from Gordon Smith who sat next to me on the capacious front bench seat.

We seemed to be going a long way and there was little sign of Misa or indeed any village. Eventually we came upon a small "dhubba" (roadside tea house). Outside were a few lorries and by the light of oil lamps several people were inside the crude basha taking tea and food.

I told Gordon to go and ask someone if we were in Misa or not.

Gordon, who had been in Assam less than a month, asked me what he should say.

"Just walk up to one of them and say 'Misa hi ker nay?' - that means (lit.) 'Misa is it or not?"

Gordon strode off through the darkness and I could see he was addressing a swarthy Bihari labourer who had a half empty bottle of local hooch in his hand and, I guessed, had probably already consumed several. As I watched, the Bihari let fly a straight left to Gordon's eye and Gordon finished up on the dirt floor. In the face of further gesticulations from the Bihari Gordon beat a quick retreat to the car.

"What the Hell did you tell him?" I asked.

"I did as you said" replied Gordon. "I just said 'Nisa hi ker nay?' and the bloke landed me one in the eye.

By now the other four passengers had woken and now roared with laughter. Gordon did finally see the funny side when I explained to him that 'Nisa hi ker nay' meant 'drunk are you or not?' - not something you ask a well lubricated Bihari late at night!

Fortunately we won the rugby match. Gordon explained to the spectating memsahibs how he had got the injury on the rugby field

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 January 12 2012

Joe Lys

Joe was a-larger-than-life-character who refused to come to work in trousers like his colleague Superintendents insisting that "real planters" all wore shorts (and had a well earned beer belly.)

Joe was my Superintendent when I was Factory Assistant at Tippuk in 1960. At the time Joe was "between marriages" although other than meeting his wives socially at Clubs I hardly knew either of them. It did however mean that Joe followed more of a bachelor's lifestyle than  other Superintendents did which included long drinking sessions in various planter's clubs as well as opportunity to go duck shooting and fishing which he loved.

Joe was a Catholic and had to undergo long meetings with the Nuncio which supposedly were to make Joe aware of the error of his ways before he re-married helped by a generous donation to the Catholic Church. I have to say that Joe's meeting with the Nuncio did not appear to imbue Joe with much contrition, particularly as Joe regularly referred to the Nuncio as "that bloody crook".

Joe had one eye. A glass one replaced the one that had been injured. Despite this Joe had a share in an Auster which he flew about the valley with gay abandon.  Joe was usually reluctant to talk of his past but it was well known that Joe had, apart from secondary education, been brought up in India by parents in pre-independence days.

Far from Joe being embarrassed by his disability he used to use it to his advantage: If he became the target of long diatribes from his seniors or whoever he would take out his glass eye and polish it. If that did not put people off he would tap the glass eye on the table.

On club nights earlier in his planting career when he was Manager of Bokel T.E. he would inevitably be amongst the last to leave the club and often despite his alcoholic state he would call in to inspect the factory. Joe had a characteristic walk which alcohol tended to exaggerate and before long the chung boys would take turns to copy Joe. It was quite common to see two or three chung boys lined up behind Joe aping him as he ambled through the factory. Every so often Joe would spin round to catch the boys imitating him which became a great game. Finally Joe would tell them to stop mucking about and to get on with their work to which end he would place his glass eye in a glass of water on the Rolling Babu's desk while telling the boys he would be keeping an eye on them!

Joe never discussed how he lost his eye or his childhood background and it was generally assumed that Joe had fought with the Army which recaptured Burma.

45 years later I was fishing with a close friend of mine on the Tons River, a principal tributary of the Jumuna. My friend Jasbir Singh was a retired Indian Army Officer who had been CO of the Jats. Jasbir's family had lived in Dehra Dun for several generations and we used to make regular fishing trips into the remote Central Himalaya.

It was October and although staying in a Forest Bungalow at Sandra near Mori we had lit a fire on the veranda to keep at bay the chill of the autumn evening. We were sat round the fire well into a bottle of rum and the reminiscences began to flow with the rum.

I was recounting a tale of duck shooting in Assam when I had taken Joe along.

 Jasbir interrupted.

Not the Joe Lys with one eye?"

It transpired that Jasbir and Joe had been fighting in the prep' school playground at Mussouri when the injury occurred!

So much for the image of Joe's derring-do.

Joe drove a bright blue Studebaker Commander which matched his larger-than-life image. It was a great beast of a car of which Joe was very proud.

Highway 37 was, in the 50's, little more than a single track tarmac road which for much of its length ran immediately alongside the unfenced railway line. When travelling up the valley the downgoing traffic had to descend from the tarmac on to the "kutcha" portion of the road which could in the rains be as much as 12" - 18" lower: No problem in a damn great Studebaker but something of a trial for Ambassedor's, Fiat 1100's and especially Standard Herald's.

The other major problem was Ex- United States Army Air Force 6 x 6 lorries that had been acquired by timber merchants who regularly hauled huge baulks of timber from the jungles surrounding Assam. Overtaking grossly overloaded lorries was difficult as they had to pull off on to the "kutcha". Going up the valley in daylight the Bihari "jagalis" would hang over the back of the truck and jump up and down on the baulks of timber that ran the full length of the chassis under the lorry ending under the driver's seat. Eventually contact would be made and the lorry would pull over.

The situation at night was even more hazardous: The lorries rarely had a full complement of headlights and as one often faced a single headlight coming towards one out of the darkness one had to gamble which headlight it was. "Getting it wrong" resulted in numerous collisions.

One night Joe had been invited to a drinks party at Panitola which was only a short distance from Bokel. He roared up the Chubua Straight and before long noticed a single light heading towards him on the single track highway. There was a lot of dust on the road and Joe hopefully flashed his lights but the light continued steadfastly towards him showing no sign of stopping or giving way. At the last minute Joe pulled off to the right and, to use Joe's explanation, "soon found everything in a bit of a whirr" during which he was knocked out. When he came to it soon became clear that he had rolled the car but away from a train rather than any lorry. He had been saved from serious accident by the cowcatcher on the front of the train! The Commander, yet again, was in for serious body repairs.

When I was at Dikom I had been shopping in Dibrugarh one afternoon and I had worked up a prodigious thirst so I decided to call in at Lahaul Planters Club for a beer.

The only people in the club was Joe and Dev' Bhagat both seated on stools at the bar. One guessed they might have been there some time. Dev' had originally been employed as a pilot by Jokai but latterly the company gave up running a plane and Dev' was demoted to Factory Assistant at Bokel. Dev' accepted his new role without demur but still maintained an active interest in flying.

Joe bought me a beer and it soon became clear that what they were arguing about was whether in the environment of flying in Assam it was better to have a Cesna or an Auster. Joe was an ardent enthusiast of Austers and pressed the point that Austers were low tech and thus particularly suited to Assam where servicing backup was limited. All went quiet during which time Dev' pointed a rather unsteady hand at Joe's good eye and retorted.

"Well you‘re just a single engine bastard anyway!"

During Joe's managership of Bokel in 1960 the garden imported a batch of some 200 labourers. Such practice was by then becoming rare quite simply because fewer and fewer importees opted to return home to their native Bihar or Orrisa at the end of their contract.

Many of Bokel's existing labourers were Urrias from Bihar who were renowned for their home brewing skills not to mention drunken behaviour. None-the-less they worked hard and were a valued part of the labour force.

Because home brewing was illegal it was common practice for labourers to pay a small bribe to the local Excise Sepoy who policed the area. While such a bribe was modest it came to a substantial sum over the whole garden. It was a practice that had gone on for years.

The first Joe knew there was a problem was when his office boy came running into Joe's office shouting that there was a big fight going on in the Mistry Sahib's bungalow compound.

Joe wandered across to the bungalow to find some 300 Urrias threatening to kill a chap who was bound hand and foot and also tied to the bungalow upright. He had been seriously beaten and was bleeding profusely.

Joe managed to calm matters down and to unravel the account of what had happened. It seemed that one of the ‘new' Urria imports had disguised himself as an Excise Sepoy and gone round collecting a bribe from the ‘established' Urria labour force until, after having drunk a lot he let slip what was going on. The Urrias were determined that the miscreant should be killed.

Joe gradually calmed the mob down. He phoned up the police with whom the conversation was very short and in the end the officer said it appeared to be a job for the Superintendent. Joe dispatched his driver to bring The SP at the same time sending the Factory Assistant to his own bungalow to fetch two bottles of rum.

The SP arrived and Joe poured him a generous glass full.

Glasses in hand the SP and Joe interrogated several ‘witnesses'. The pace of taking statements slowed down appreciably but not the downing of rum.

By now they had retired to the bungalow veranda and the labourers watched in awe. After a while Joe asked the SP whether he was ever called upon to use his Smith and Wesson pistol.

"No" said the SP". "I have not fired it for years". He unbuckled the weapon and handed it to Joe. Joe waved the pistol from the veranda shouting to the crowd that now they could shoot the offender which news was enthusiastically received with great cheers. More rum arrived. The SP was past caring.

Joe asked the SP whether he would mind Joe taking a few shots whereupon he put three rounds through the veranda roof which remains patched to this day.

The Urria crowd quickly decided that retreat might be the best policy and quickly disappeared. The offender and SP were loaded into the jeep. Everyone seemed happy.

There was no reoffending.

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   December 3 2011

The following article is of a mahseer fishing trip taken by Roy Church and Peter Wilson  in the early 1960's when  they worked as tea planters in Assam in north east India. The Manas is a large river which flows south on to the plains of India from its fastness high in the Bhutan Himalaya. Roy has written this article from a diary kept during the trip.





The Manas is a large river in northern India which flows south out of the mountainous tiny state of Bhutan onto the plains of Assam. Forty miles further south, it joins the mighty Bramaphutra River.

The name Manas is a Bhutanese word for strong and is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable rhyming with "can-us". (The British in India often mis-pronounced the name by putting the accent on the second syllable as in "man-arse".) It is a river with a large catchment area in the mountains of Bhutan where there is an especially high rainfall, usually well over 200" during the six months of the monsoon. It is also an area where the monsoon depression has to force its way into Assam between the Khasi Hills to the south and the Himalayas to the north. This has the physical effect that when the Manas water reaches the plains of Assam and is freed from the constricting influence of the mountains, the water fans out over a large area of the plains. Each year the river alters its course and entirely new channels are formed by the labyrinth of floodwaters over the area of plains. In consequence, it is not practicable for the local population to settle near the river and so the area is a natural game sanctuary.

During the days of British tea planting interests in Assam, the Manas was regarded as one of the finest mahseer fishing rivers. Sadly, in more recent years during the political turmoil of Assam, the area's very remoteness made it attractive as a terrorist hideout and stronghold. During the early 1990's even government officials had to take armed escorts to enter the area to protect them from ULFA [United Liberation Front of Asom] terrorist attack.

I spent approaching ten years of my early life working in Assam during which time I made two trips to the Manas, the first in February 1963. This is an account of that first expedition.

The trip was made with Peter, a close friend who was garden Assistant on Besakopie Tea Estate. I was then working some 30 miles further down the valley at Dikom Tea Estate although a year earlier I had been Peter's next-door neighbour.

Peter and I had both joined tea much about the same time. We had both done military service after a public school education. We both shared a love of the outdoors and mahseer fishing in particular. Peter however, appeared to have a far more relaxed attitude to life - maybe it was perhaps a relic of his Cornish upbringing.

A trip to Manas required a considerable amount of organisation in that it was something of a marathon journey. Quite apart from the distance of around 400 miles mostly over single track tarmac', the last part of the journey had to be made through the Manas Reserve where there were often no roads whatsoever for the last twenty miles or so. Peter and I had originally planned to make the trip during the autumn of 1962 but these plans had had to be abandoned owing to the effect of severe flooding during the monsoon on the roads in the Manas area. Also, the previous November had seen the Indo-China war reach Assam. Several of our planter colleagues had nonetheless attempted to get to Manas during the autumn but had not managed to even get as far as Barpeta Road, the nearest town in Kamrup District.

We planned to leave on the 16th: February. Drive to Gauhati. Leave my car. Travel by train to Barpeta Road and there to hire a jeep or other local transport to get us into the reserve. Our final destination was the Forest Department bungalow at Mothunguri on the first foothill on the left bank of the gorge where the Manas emerged spectacularly from the mountains. Hannan, my bearer's paniwallah, and Maroo, one of Peter's servants, had been sent ahead by train taking with them the 'heavy baggage'. The plan was to meet them at Barpeta Road. Barpeta Road was the railway station some 25 miles from the Forest Bungalow at Manas.

I owned a nearly new Fiat 1100 Millecenteur which Peter and I took turns driving non-stop to Gauhati in about eight and three quarter hours having made a start at 7 a.m. from Dikom. After searching about Gauhati we found Walfords, the Fiat main agents, we arranged for them to garage the car while we were away.

The next task was to obtain rail tickets to travel to and from Barpeta Road. Clearly the ticket office staff at Gauhati station had no experience of sahibs appearing in person before them buying rail tickets. The previous November had seen the Chinese Army reach the nearby borders of Assam and the movement of foreigners was still difficult and subject to much 'red tape'. The head ticket clerk required us to make formal written application to leave the state of Assam. Eventually we persuaded him that we were only going as far as Barpeta Road and we planned to return direct from there. Finally we managed to make the ticket purchase of two returns, first class, costing 21 Rupees. I paid. Peter got the receipt!

We stayed at the Stadium Guest House which had only been recently completed. The guest house served mainly travelling officials who were not able to be accommodated in government premises. It was basic but clean. The rooms had wooden beds with hard paillasses and the iron barred windows which looked as if they had not been cleaned since the building had been erected. The shower (cold) was interestingly situate directly over the western style seatless toilet pan. We were allocated room No. 30 which turned out to be next to the kitchen and uncomfortably warm. The room bearer was a very lazy and somewhat insolent Cachari who insisted on replying "o.k. Sir" to any request whether in English or Hindi. He was quickly christened 'OK Jack'. We arranged with him to be woken up at 3 a.m.. We had arranged a taxi to take us to the railway station.

Fortunately, I woke before 3 a.m. - more accurately I could not sleep. The taxi was outside as arranged with as is normal, the driver sound asleep on the back seat. We loaded the kit into the taxi at which point 'OK Jack' appeared for his tip. Peter in a weak moment gave him a severe bollocking and a whole one Rupee tip.

The train left on time. It stopped at every station. We were joined for part of the journey by a group of very dignified Assamese gentlemen who spoke very little but spat large quantities of chewed pan and beetle nut onto the carriage floor. We arrived on time at Barpeta Road.

Barpeta Road was a small town centred on the railway station. At first glance it looked more like something out of the Wild West film set than a very rural Indian town. It was still early morning. We found the District Forest Officer's office and were relieved to find Maroo and Hannan had arrived safely. They had slept the night on the veranda of the DFO's office. Otherwise the town appeared to be dead - there was hardly anyone to be seen.

Peter badly needed a haircut (as he often did) and I left him debating whether he should risk a ground level trim from one of the local 'nappits'. [One squatted on the floor!]

I set off to find some transport to get us to Bansbari Range Office on the edge of the Manas Reserve. Intercepting several locals on their "morning walk"; after a number of enquiries it was clear that there were no jeeps to be hired in Barpeta Road. The only vehicle in town was the local bus which was due to travel to Fatimabhad Tea Estate. It appeared that the Range Office was on the outskirts of the tea estate. The bus driver, who had a few passengers loading up, promised not to leave till I got back with Peter, the boys and our kit.

Peter had decided against a haircut for some obscure reason connected to the fact that he had recently broken his arm. Hannan and Maroo had been busy buying food and live poultry in the local bazaar and manhandled all the luggage and food supplies on to the bus.

'Bus' was probably something of an overstatement:

The vehicle had at one time been a United States military 3 ton Chevrolet truck. Of the original truck, only the chassis, wheels, engine, bonnet and windscreen remained. The bus body had been made locally out of various materials including straightened corrugated iron sheet, tea chest panels and bamboos. There was a bench next to the driver; (the "first class"), a bench that ran full width of the bus behind the driver; (the "second class"), behind which there were no more seats at all; ("economy").

Hannan and Maroo stowed all our kit into the open area at the rear of the bus and made themselves comfortable. This area was already full of sacks of rice, cages of chickens, a doubtfully trussed live piglet, a couple of kid goats, numerous sacks of rice and various bundles of vegetables. The "first class" seats being taken, Peter and I climbed onto the second class bench and sat there expectantly.

Nothing happened.

The bus driver then explained that he did not run the bus to any actual timetable but that we would set off when he had an 'economic' load. This meant another half hour wait.

Before long the bus was full. There were bundles of luggage and several passengers on top outside.

The driver and his mate then set about starting the bus.

This was a procedure more like starting a World War I aeroplane than a bus. Eventually the bus engine fired and after much revving and thick blue clouds of burning lubricating oil we set off northwards down the narrow unmade road towards Fatimabhad. Peter was sitting with a sturdy local Assamese girl on his knee with her hawk-eyed Mother next to him. I had managed to get a seat next to the 'window'. The windows were unglazed and each had a shutter made from an 18" x  24" former tea chest panel, some of which still bore the estate stamp.

We were soon out in the country and made occasional stops to pick up further passengers to the already crowded bus. Very few passengers seemed to be getting off. From conversations on the bus it was clear that there was a large Sunday bazaar at Fatimabhad Tea Estate. After a while I spotted another bus in the distance approaching from the opposite direction. It was speeding through the countryside in a huge cloud of dust.

Just before we reached the approaching bus; our bus was suddenly plunged into almost total darkness as if at some sign everyone put up their tea chest shutter over every window - everyone that is except me. The dust billowed in thick clouds past me and I was the least popular person on the bus as my fellow passengers shook the dust out of their hair and clothing, muttering and casting me accusing looks! The bus stopped frequently to pick up further passengers and at the point when I really did not think we could possibly squeeze another person on to the bus we arrived at the Fatimabhad bazaar.

Despite the fact that it was supposed to be a 'dry' area; the majority of the population were clearly well under the influence of the local brew. Our bus driver was one of the first to the booze stall and plainly sought to make up for lost time. Everyone got off - except us. After a chaotic half hour I found another bus driver who appeared marginally less drunk than ours and who was persuaded to drive the bus on to the Bansbari Forest Range Office. He asked to be paid in rum. We said we had no rum because it was a Prohibited Area. He just laughed and said simply that all sahibs had rum. In fact we had several bottles hidden in the depths of carefully packed kitbags on which I kept a firm grip. The rum 'glugged' suspiciously from deep inside the kit bags but fortunately the driver was too far gone to notice. By this time we were under way and the driver was giving demonstrations how big fish could be caught by hand in the Manas river. This involved him standing up and leaving the steering wheel to its own devices, grabbed occasionally in desperate circumstances by the driver's mate. We arrived at Bansbari Range Office. The driver demanded two hundred Rupees and was sent away with Rs. 6/-!

It was 11 o'clock but already seemed to have been a long day. The Range Officer gave us tea and said he had sent for a jeep. He said the road through the reserve to Mothunguri bungalow was bad (non-existent in fact) and only passable by jeep or contractors GMC 6 x 6 wheel drive lorry. 

At 3.30 p.m. a jeep approached across the sandy floodplain waste. It was an original ex-American Army Willys Jeep. The Range Officer signalled it to stop whereupon it drew to a halt the engine boiling furiously. The jeep was commandeered for us. A dozen or so jeep passengers were ordered to disembark and resignedly set off on foot for the Fatimabhad bazaar. The driver disappeared to drink some more of the Range Officer's tea and the driver's mate topped up the steaming radiator.

In due course the jeep was loaded with most of our kit and we set off. We had to leave Hannan and Maroo to chance a lift later on some passing GMC lorry.

For the first 8 miles all went well. There was a reasonably well defined track which avoided the worst area of the last year's flood devastation and debris. There were vast areas of soft sand over which the Nunnia labourers had laid a carpet of elephant grass. Before long however the back wheels of the jeep dropped through the elephant grass matting. The four wheel drive did not, of course, work. We unloaded everything. Rounded up another gang of Nunnias who pushed us back onto the matting. We re-loaded everything  - and repeated this procedure four times.

Eventually we got over the sand area and were confronted by a sizeable stream which obviously had to be forded. About 25 yards wide, the riverbed was strewn with rugby ball+ sized boulders. It was going to require much skill to negotiate. The driver gave the engine full revs in first gear and we roared into the stream. But not far. The rear of the jeep was hardly into the river when the engine was completely drowned and cut out. There followed the sound of boiling radiator and gently flowing stream. The drivers mate corrected me and said that it was not the sound of boiling water but boiling lubricating oil! We had apparently been out of water for some time! We wound the jeep through the stream on the starting handle - fortunately there was very little compression on the engine. Peter's recently broken arm excused him cranking handle duty.

I got the engine re-started, much to my surprise. The driver put on maximum revs again and we took the 1 in 4 climb up to the Mothunguri bungalow flat out whereupon the engine seized solid. We unloaded. It was at this stage that the jeep driver confided to me that he was not really a jeep driver at all but usually drove a tractor - I said I believed him! The jeep was turned round with much pushing and shoving and an attempt made to re-start it down the steep slope. It did not start.

The jeep remained there, bonnet up, for the duration of our stay.

The Motunguri bungalow was very pleasant, situate on a small hill overlooking the river with fine views up the gorge and downstream to where the river split into four or more channels. A traditional chung bungalow built of timber with whitewashed lath and wattle panels. Two bedrooms with bathroom en suite upstairs together with sitting room and veranda overlooking the river. A cookhouse and dining room downstairs. There was a very helpful chowkidar who made us an excellent vegetable curry.

I was pleased to notice the bungalow chowkidar had a number of good sized mahseer on a rack drying and being smoked over an open fire in the corner of the bungalow compound.

Pete and I were both whacked.

A couple of "rum-pani's" and so to bed.

After a good night's sleep I awoke to find Peter's bed empty. Fearing that he had crept away to have a crafty first cast below the bungalow, I sprang out of bed and went into the sitting room. Peter was sitting on the settee trying to sort some order in his tackle box [a job that never in the course of the years I knew Pete' ever got completed] The river looked superb. The main river went down the west side of the reserve and the Bekki River which split from the main river just below the bungalow was low enough to ford in several places. Downstream both main channels split and merged.

We assembled our kit and a day's supply of spoons. Peter practiced a very simple spoon selection procedure: He threw the usually solid tangled mass of spoons onto the bungalow floor and those that detached themselves were the ones he used! We both used Abu Ambassedeur 6000 reels on short single handed rods made in Calcutta of Bengal cane by A.E. Verona. They were 'low tech', but cheap and reliable.

Miraculously the bungalow chowkidar managed to produce a breakfast of porridge, scrambled egg chapattis and tinned sausages.

We agreed to spin a coin for first cast of the holiday.

There were no boatmen available the first day so it was to be a day's fishing on foot. We started off just below the bungalow, waded across the Bekki to the main Manas River and tossed a coin. Peter won. He spent the next five minutes wading far out into the run opposite the bungalow.

Wading into precarious situations was to be Peter's speciality of the holiday.

We continued down to the next rapid where there were obvious signs of fish jumping. We both 'flogged' the rapid for an hour without any sign of a fish. Peter got fed up and pushed off downstream. I stayed at the rapid and before very long landed a 9 lb nepera. Nepera are a very good looking fish. Very dark coloured, large fins with the underslung mouth of a bottom feeder. They seemed to shoal along the bottom edge of the rapid and aggressively chased the spoon as they would chase a fish away. They are not, as far as I am aware, carnivorous. When hooked they require to be played very gently owing to the fact that they have a soft mouth. I found that using a 2" Ritchie spoon fitted with an oversized hook (No. 2 instead of the usual no. 4) set well behind the back of the spoon worked well. I stayed and fished the rapid.

By the time Peter came back, empty handed, I had a second nepera of 10 lb. Peter had a go and caught two black nepera scales in two casts but could not manage to hook anything. Finally Peter moved back to the reach where he started the day and caught two smallish mahseer.

The next day we spent going downstream with the local boatmen. We were surprised to learn how similar their dialect was to the language used on the tea estates.

The Range Officer appeared with Hannan and Maroo and we purchased our fishing permits for the week. Rs. 5/- per head per day. That day I caught nothing other than a spoon and length of line I had lost the previous day. Peter got two beautiful golden mahseer in Phoolbari pool on the Bekki below the bungalow.

We arranged to take the boat and boatmen upstream the next day. The boats were very stable being made of heavy planks, flat bottomed, hard chine shape and pointed both ends. The boatmen either rowed or poled depending on conditions. When travelling upstream through shallow rapids the boatmen simply climbed out and pushed the boat.

Progress upstream in the gorge above the bungalow was very slow. It took us over an hour and a half to reach the first big rapid. We moored the boat at the side of the gorge at the foot of the rapid and scrambled further upstream on foot. The sides of the gorge were sheer cliff rising over 300' from the river. Just above the rapid was a small shingle and sand beach where the monsoon floods had dumped sand in what had been a slack water area during flood conditions. The rapid itself was really fearsome, powerful stoppers with a mass of white foaming water.

Typically, Peter decided to wade into the main force of this rapid. He caught no fish there and had to be rescued with the assistance of both boatmen using the boat painter.

I meanwhile fished the river above the rapid and up to the next bend in the gorge. On the inside of the bend there was a deposit of sand covered with about 3 to 4 foot of gin clear water. The current had gouged out several 'holes' in the sand. Each 'hole' was about 5' wide and appeared to be about 3' deep. I cast a spoon beyond a 'hole' and retrieved it over the hole. Immediately the spoon was grabbed by a chocolate mahseer which had been lying in the bottom of the 'hole'. I caught two more fish in similar fashion.

Further upstream, the beach came to an end and the only way one could progress further was to climb precariously along narrow ledges on the cliff. I managed to get round the next corner to find that the cliff overhung a dark deep pool in which the water circulated as a backwater to the main stream. Large mahseer (up to 30 lb.) cruised lazily round the pool. The problem was how to cast - and if one hooked a fish - what did one do then? In addition, it did not appear a good place to fall in as there was no telling where the current might take me. Certainly getting washed through the rapid that Peter had fished would have been very dangerous. I had several attempts to cast, but in the end, resorted to lowering a 2" hog back spoon into the water and letting the current take it out. A fish viciously took the spoon and broke me before I could tighten the line. I almost fell in. I had meantime reached the decision that this was not a sensible place to fish when some monkeys, high above me, started throwing down stones. That decided the issue: It was time to go.

We each managed to break a rod that day.

We drifted rapidly back to the bungalow in 20 minutes.

The next day we did a circuit on foot down the Bekki and back up the Manas. Peter caught another very pretty 12 lb. golden mahseer in Phoolbari pool and yet another in his favourite place where he had first waded out opposite the bungalow. I got eight small mahseer and nepera.

We had another day up the gorge but with no more luck than the first trip.

In order to get downstream further we decided that the only practicable option was to take boatmen, Hannan and Maroo and camp overnight. We could quickly get downstream and walk back the following day. The boatmen said that there was good fishing at a place called Coppapura Bheel where a small stream from a lake flowed into a side stream of the main Manas. The lake was drying out and small fry-sized fish were evacuating into the main stream.

We had an early breakfast while the boys and boatmen loaded up the camping gear. We had no tents but borrowed two tarpaulins from the bungalow chowkidar. Our gear was remarkable only in it being so unsophisticated.

In an hour we had drifted some eight miles downstream though several very lively rapids. The boatmen announced that we had reached Coppapura Bheel area. We were still in a main channel and it was necessary to walk about one mile westwards across the flood plain through several dried up side channels before we reached the one into which the Coppapura Bheel outlet flowed.

We set out across a landscape blasted by the full force of the monsoon floods. Some sand and shingle but mostly large river boulders.

One of the boatmen had brought his 8 year old son. I was walking and chatting with this boy some way ahead of the rest of the party. Suddenly, out of some dead ground in the bottom of a dried out channel, about 100 yards in front of us, appeared a very large bull buffalo. He was clearly a lone wild bull and not pleased to see us.

I stood still.

The boatmen, quite some (safe) distance behind us, shouted that we should continue walking and that the buff' would eventually go away. We continued. The buffalo stood his ground and began pawing the ground throwing up quantities of dust and shingle. He certainly did not look as if he were about to run away.

I stopped again. The boatman's boy was excitedly explaining that during the previous trip, ten days before, they had had to run for cover and he had hidden under a tree trunk washed down by the river. Where, I wondered, if such circumstances arose, was I going to hide? There were no trees or bushes within sprinting distance.

Peter, Hannan, Maroo and the boatmen caught up. We decided that the safest thing was for us all to walk on. The buffalo (the boatmen said) could not charge us all - and they still felt the buff' would retreat. In fact they were right but it had proved a testing time.

We reached the side stream. It was no more than 15 yards wide and there was a small trickle of muddy water joining the stream on the far bank emerging through the elephant grass. Every so often in the area where the trickle met the river there was a commotion when a mahseer in the main river found another prey. We fished it for the afternoon pulling out 15 good mahseer between us. The boatmen gutted the fish as they intended to take them back home where they would dry them before selling them in the local bazaar. The tarpaulins were set up and rice, lentil and fish cooked over a camp fire. We had brought rum for both ourselves and the boatmen. Only Hannan, a Cachari Muslim did not partake. It was a really remote area of the reserve where there were no sign of people whatsoever. We slept comfortably wrapped in coarse village blankets and no one bothered about keeping watch.

The next morning we tried the area again but the fish had moved off - not a single touch. We made the long trek back to the bungalow while the boys and boatmen pushed the boat back upstream. Pete' and I each got a mahseer on the way back.

There were new occupants in the bungalow. Planters from further down the valley. They planned to stay for a week.

The next day was our last day which we spent doing another circuit on foot below the bungalow. We had carefully recorded all our catch and by that last evening we had caught a total of 254 lbs. between us, excluding anything under about 2 lb. which we did not bother to weigh.

We made an uneventful journey back to Gauhati and having sent the boys directly home decided that we should visit Shillong in the Khasi Hills.

In 1963 Shillong was a typical ex-British hill station and was still the administrative centre of Assam. Both Peter and I had visited Shillong on various rugby playing trips during the monsoon.

Shillong is some 5'000 above the plains surrounded by pines. It was approached by a single track tarmac road that wound tortuously through the Khasi Hills. The traffic was controlled on this road by a series of 'gates'. Convoys of traffic would set off simultaneously from the top and the bottom of the road. When the two convoys had all arrived at a point half way down the hill; the two convoys would be allowed to continue. If you missed the 'gate' you simply had to wait about 4 hours till the next 'gate'.

We just made it to the bottom gate for the up-bound convoy and had to drive up among the lorries. The theory was that the lorries went last because they were the slowest. The reality was that the lorries gave the private cars a head start so that the lorries could drive flat out - as I quickly discovered with a large Tata truck radiator almost permanently filling my rear view mirror.

We stayed in the Pinewood Hotel and arranged an evening out at Assam's only 'pub'.

Near Cherrapunji lived Captain Hunt (ret.), a former Ghurka officer. He had taken Indian citizenship, married a Khasi girl and had set up business making cherry brandy as well as running an open house. We found the premises and spent a couple of hours in the pleasant company of Hunt's Anglo-Khasi daughter, Kha Bee, who served us with generous measures of beer then cherry brandy. In addition we purchased two one gallon stone carboys full of best cherry brandy to take back to Upper Assam.

Quite how we got back down the mountain road to Shillong I cannot remember. I do recall Kha Bee propping Peter upright in the bright moonlight while he giggled that he was not drunk but that he simply could not get hold of the car doorhandle - because he had broken his arm [three months earlier?].

In the morning we found a policeman's bush hat in the car - to this day I have no idea from where it came.

We both had serious hangovers the following morning and as a result nearly missed the down-going 'gate'. We had to drive very fast to catch the 'gate' and because of the speed and road conditions one of the jars of cherry brandy exploded in the boot. We could not stop and simply opened all the windows to get rid of the fumes.

When we reached the bottom of the gated road there was a Excise checkpoint. The plains area at the bottom of the hill was a 'dry' area. Perfunctory searches were being conducted by a particularly slovenly Excise sepoy with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth.

Never mind whether he would find the cherry brandy; the chances were that we might all be blown up. I shut the windows and by the time we reached the front of the queue our eyes were running. I shouted through the window that we were both sick and the sepoy waved us on!


Nunnias' are a labouring class from Bihar who take on manual work all over India. They were famous for their ability to work hard in difficult and remote conditions.

In 1963 one could purchase a bait casting rod from A.E. Verona of Calcutta. They were made with porcelain rings and a screw reel fitting on ringal cane 5' length - cost forty Rupees. (Then Rs13/- = £1.)

 The language spoken on tea estates was a mixture of dialects as tea estates had imported labour from all over northern India. The boatmen spoke their own dialect and for them what they spoke to us would be a second language.

                                                                       Roy Church 2005

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December 1 2011
Character from Yester Year
now sadly no more


Steve 1
Despite being posted to Joyhing when I joined the Jokai Tea Company  in 1959, senior management soon decided that I should be transferred to Tippuk near Doom Dooma.

A flight by Indian Air was arranged for the short "hop" over the Bramaphutra to Mohunbari. The Joyhing manager had also arranged that I would be met by the garden assistant of Tippuk, Steve Ruane.

As I was the sole passenger of the plane and Steve being the only person waiting in the nissen hut which served as a terminal introductions were almost superfluous. Most of my bungalow kit was being delivered by lorry and would arrive in due course.

Steve talked non-stop and was soon pointing out other Jokai gardens: Muttuck, Dikom, Panitola, the Central Jokai Hospital and roads leading off to Nalani, Nokroi and Hukanpukri. We sped along the Chubua straight which had been laid by the USAAF flying supplies over "the hump"in WWII. It was it appeared the only piece of flat road in the district.

At Tinsukia we stopped in the town and walked over the railway lines to the premises of our local banker Chhogalal Radhakrishna who provided me with a man-sized chequebook explaining that if I ever needed credit he would be pleased to oblige supposing I met my local cash expenditure regularly with a Lloyds Bank cheque at the end of each month.

By the time we got to Steve's bungalow it was time for tea. Steve directed me to the spare bedroom where I was to ‘camp out' till repairs on the factory bungalow were completed. Steve's bungalow was a small "mutti" bungalow which Steve explained got very hot in the summer.

Jokai operated a system whereby "basic" furniture for bungalows was supplied by the company but this did not include soft furnishings such as carpets and curtains etc. Under prolonged haranguing from his "burra mem," Betty Dyer, Steve had finally got round to having curtains hung, cushions made and acquired a couple of cheap carpets  from Tinsukia bazaar. When it came to curtains Steve had fitted out every room in the bungalow with a light brown material. The bearers outfit was also made of the same material complete with "puggri". The effect was that when the bearer stood motionless in the bungalow he became at risk of becoming invisible. While I drank my tea Steve continued at length how "his" set up was ideal for a bachelor.

Steve was of Irish descent and had been schooled by strict Irish Fathers. His belief included not eating meat on Fridays but not for Steve was it simply a question of buying in some fish. Steve loved curries but always complained they were not hot enough. Some of the Friday  menus can only be described as extraordinary:- Curried eggs. Curried brains, curried liver (particularly challenging!) and even curried kidneys. Anyone who shared with Steve either lost a lot of weight or developed a cast iron constitution. Fortunately for me I had just done three years in the Army

Steve did not possess a full driving licence but ran a 150cc Royal Enfield which survived tirades of Catholic oaths when (frequently) it did not go.


It was not long before my bungalow was completed and I was able to move in.

The mali's had continued to be employed during the bungalow repairs and the garden looked well. In particular in the front garden a trellis covered with spectacular sweet pea blooms which could be seen from the nearby Highway 37.

Steve meanwhile had planted every available area of his bungalow compound with tomatoes which he consumed with chapattis and ‘Elmac' peanut butter.

One evening Steve arrived at my bungalow with couple of bottles of Golden Eagle and a large basket of surplus tomatoes. He walked with me round my compound offering snippets of advice which mainly involved planting more tomatoes. He was however very impressed with the trellis of sweet peas. I explained to him that the mali's had dug a shallow trench which they had backfilled with well rotted cow dung and kept the area well watered after planting the seeds.

Before long I noticed several tractor loads of cow dung heading for Steve's bungalow as well as numerous bamboos. I walked over one afternoon to find the mali's and a couple of garden labourers were excavating a trench big enough to mount a Vickers machine gun in! Two men in the bottom of the trench filled baskets which were passed up to two men who passed them to two more men who put the spoil into a pile. It looked more like a civil engineering work than gardening.

In due course the outline of a massive trellis appeared above the line of the compound hedge.

Meanwhile my own sweet peas had started flowering.

It became noticeable that Steve was not, as usual, bragging about his sweet peas and all went ominously quiet on the subject of gardening. Eventually the massive trellis was quietly dismantled and while passing Steve's bungalow one day I noticed that the garden had reverted to tomatoes. Steve offered an explanation that the sweet pea seeds had been no good despite buying the best seed from Suttons.

In the course of digging Steve's pea trench one of the mali's had had the temerity to suggest to Steve that digging such a trench was not necessary. The marli concerned was immediately transferred to the factory and it was from him that I found out what had happened. After much aggravation as to the depth of the hole the marlis had persuaded Steve to plant the seeds between 12" and 18" deep. They took till the end of the cold weather to surface and then immediately expired!


In due course I acquired a shotgun. It was an Indian Ordnance; heavy, unsophisticated but rugged and well suited to rough shooting in Assam. Exploring the area I soon found out that to the west of Daisajan T.E. was a vast area of bheels and flooded former jungle following the 1950 earthquake.

Wildfowl arrived in the area in early November en route for central India feeding grounds. It was a wildfowlers paradise.

Steve was keen that I take him duck shooting as soon as possible and from early October was keen to be after the ducks. I explained frequently to him that we must wait for the duck to arrive. Eventually at the beginning of November mainly to keep Steve quiet I suggested we should go and ‘have a look'.

 A day's shooting involved cycling to the bheel area some 5 miles from Tippuk and then getting the Muttuck villagers to pole us in their dugouts through the bheels. Anticipating that we would be back home before very long I did not bother with breakfast. Arriving at the Muttuck village predictably they were all asleep. Eventually my boatman emerged and explained we were too early for the duck they had not arrived. Steve however insisted on going for a look which we duly did which confirmed that there were no ducks.

We went back to the village and supped more tea from brass "caches". One of the village women gave us a large bag of locally grown oranges and we set off back to Tippuk leaving a trail of orange skins.

Reaching Tippuk bazaar area Swynn was getting his morning cigarettes and gossiping with the Kyar. He noted we had been shooting and said we would be lucky as we were too early.

Swynn suggested we go into Doom Dooma and have a beer despite it being only 10 a.m. We all got into the jeep and soon arrived in the town at Doom Dooma Club. We roused the bearer and ordered 3 beers and 3 pink gins. Swynn downed his almost before I had got started and I ordered another round. In what seemed a very short time I was looking on the bar at my two pints and two gins which seemed to be taking an unusual time to drink. Next thing I knew was being manhandled  into the back of the jeep where I was left to recuperate while Steve and Swynn  went back to finish my drinks while I lay comatose in the back of the jeep.

Lesson 1. Do not drink alcohol after eating citrus on an empty stomach.   


Tippuk was never a ‘quality' garden and some of its early planted tea was reputed to have been found locally by pioneer planters. Quality was always put at risk if the labour force, for whatever reason, got behind with the plucking which resulted in longer leaf and poorer made tea.

Towards the end of the 1961 plucking season the labour got behind on their plucking rota. In fact plucking long leaf was advantageous as the women plucked near record weight of leaf which of course was reflected in their wage packets.

Swynn however was very concerned and sent for Steve to come and look at the tea being produced. As a matter of practice "test" tea samples were put out in my factory office every hour. The liquors of the tea were very dark and tasted typically of tea that had been over fermented. Fortunately for me the over fermentation had arisen from there being so much leaf in the garden that it had heated and turned red in the women's baskets.

Swynn told Steve to arrange for the leaf to be weighed three times a day instead of the usual twice. Swynn called the supervisory staff including the Jemedar and said that things could not continue as they were. Swynn identified a particular section that the plucking women would have to get finished before they went home the following day. He made it plain that if necessary they would have to pluck until it was dark. As it happened the section "which must be plucked" was near the factory. Word soon got round the garden that the burra sahib was not a happy man and was liable to express his wrath to everyone's discomfort.

Although by 1961 Tippuk had ceased the old practice of "importing" labourers from Bihar and Orissa for 5 year terms there were still numbers of previously imported labourers who had chosen to settle at Tippuk. There was a preponderance of Orangs from Orissa and Urrias from Bihar. They were deadly enemies as well as which they required very different and careful handling. Urrias worked hard, drank hard and were generally pretty antisocial appearing regularly before Steve and even Swynn for multitudinous disciplinary matters. The Orangs were just the opposite; quiet, abstemious, highly Christianised and easy to manage albeit they did not like hard work.

I looked out of my factory office window. Not a person in sight on "the section that must be plucked". It was 5.30 p.m. Half an hour later I looked out to see women plucking the section from each end of the section. Steve was in the middle of the section exhorting the women Orangs at one end and Urrias at the other. The women were plucking the leaf like someone possessed and Steve was in his element ‘winding up' first the Orangs and then the Urrias.

Next time I looked out there was an Orang/Urria fight going on which was quite beyond Steve, the Jemedar or the Sirdars to stop. There were bloody noses, black eyes, fighting in the tea fighting on the roads.

Swynn came rushing in to the factory and ordered manufacture be stopped immediately. He loaded up the leaf trailers with male factory staff and drove his decidedly reluctant force towards the melee. Eventually order was restored and Swynn ordered that the women be paid over the odds cash for the day ("rooka poisa") and that the leaf could be taken direct to the factory. Some of Swynn's wrath was reserved for Steve who Swynn impressed with a few principles on man management in the doubtful privacy of Swynn's office.

The story passed into the annals of Tippuk legend but the memories are still resurrected when the women occasionally get behind with the plucking. Even Steve was eventually forgiven:

Wasps and hornets find tea bushes an ideal place to nest, The usual practice is for the woman in whose "pie" the nest is in to leave the row so that in due course the Sirdar will frighten the insects away and trim off the un-plucked leaf with his lathi to maintain a level plucking surface.

Steve found a row of tea that had several bushes left un-plucked. He called the woman back and she told Steve there was a nest in the tea bush she had left. Steve peered under the bush but could see no nest. Steve became annoyed with the woman and beat the top of the bush. Out came a large hoirnet and which stung him in the middle of the forehead causing Steve to collapse unceremoniously under the tea.

First I knew of the matter was when I saw two diminutive Urrias carrying something heavy in a plucking basket suspended from a stout bamboo pole on their shoulders. From the basket it soon became apparent from the feet out one side of the basket and head lolling out of the other that the "something" was in fact Steve. The hospital was a good half mile away and the women did not stop.


I took Steve duck shooting several times and we had considerable success but it soon became apparent that what Steve really wanted was to go pig shooting. There were plenty of pig in the jungle/bheel areas to the west of Daisa village and we had often put up pigs when duck shooting in that area. The problem was that the ground conditions were so bad as to make shooting on foot very dangerous Seeing pigs blindly hurtle by one while progressing very slowly through thigh deep mud could be a salutary lesson.

Steve however had friends at Margherita who shot pigs regularly in the Namchik and Namfuk area which, as well as providing food for the table had also produced magnificent tusks which Steve particularly coveted.

Eventually the arrangements were made. Swynn agreed that I could take the Tippuk jeep (Steve still only had a 150 cc motorbike licence). Steve acquired some heavy shot including spherical ball. It was arranged that we would pick up two Naga guides who would be waiting at Margherita bridge. I did not take my shotgun but looked forward to a nice shoulder of tender pork.

We picked up two exceptionally jungli looking Nagas at the bridge and drove on to Namchick River which was the start of the Inner Line. I pointed out that we had no Inner Line passes and the local District Forester's office was only 30 yards across the river ford. The older Naga said that the DFO's staff rarely left the office and in any case the DFO was a "Delli Wallah" he added contemptuously.

We set off upstream following a rough track which soon required the Nagas to clear a way through with their dhas. After about an hour we turned away from the river and began climbing in earnest arriving on the side of a natural amphitheatre. Pig footprints were everywhere. As we climbed higher we could see down to a muddy pond about half the size of a tennis court and we soon spotted several pigs, one obviously a boar, two adult females which had some six or seven piglets which looked as if they might be ideal for the pot. Steve and the elder Naga were obviously discussing which animal should be shot. While keeping under cover I made my way further on from where I had a grandstand view.

Steve fired and the boar dropped down stone dead. There followed a heated conversation between Steve and the Nagas not helped when Steve made it plain that all he wanted were the tusks. In the end we butchered the beast and it became clear that the animal was old and that the meat would be virtually inedible. By now we were a target for every fly in the valley. We took the head for Steve and one leg for the Nagas which we carried back to the river where we had a good wash. Steve ‘taken short' hurriedly disappeared into the bushes nearby and within a very short time came rushing out to throw himself into the  river with an unbroken tirade of Irish oaths. He showed no sign of moving and thinking he might have been bitten by a snake I asked the older Naga to check Steve was o.k.. The Naga returned with a broad grin on his face; it turned out that Steve had inadvertently wiped his behind on a particularly fearsome stinging leaf. I could hear the younger Naga mumbling that it served Steve right for not shooting one of the nice succulent young pigs!

For several months the head reposed on a stout bamboo at the bottom of Steve's compound subject to the ravages of bluebottles, ants, pie dogs, rats, mice, jackals and anything else that fancied a very odorous meal. Several of Steve's friends would from time to time send me a surreptitious note asking how the boar's head was progressing before accepting an invitation to dine at Steve's.

While dining with the rotting head nearby might have been something of a trial; finally the tusks could be removed from the skull and mounted. Friends soon learned not to engage Steve in conversation about the tusker as once he got started on pig shooting he became un-stoppable.

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November 27 2011

Here we have a series of amusing memories which Roy experienced when he was Magistrate in England Please click the item to go to the story

Emergency Call
For Clarity
Transfer Session

                                      EMERGENCY CALL

It was a lovely early summer day. I could feel the gentle warmth of the sun on my back as I baled out my garden pond with a bucket. Periodically I stopped for a 'breather' and to watch the birds in the garden. It really was a lovely day.

The lawn on to which I was emptying buckets of pond-water was covered with black strong smelling mud and from time to time when I saw a small fish I would climb out of the pond to rescue the rudd and place it in a dustbin half-filled with water. Several large frogs slopped about clumsily in the black mud at the bottom of the pond. When I removed the baskets of  water-lillies more frogs and the occasional fish appeared from under the basket.

The phone rang.

I was of a mind not to bother with the call but the bell droned persistently on.

I 'de-muddied' my hands in the fish rescue bin and wandered round to the back door.

Still the phone rang.

I lifted the receiver. It was one of the clerks from the Magistrate's Court.

Did I know I was listed to sit this after noon?


It appeared, for whatever reason, that there was a (lady) chairman in Court 3 but no wingers. The other winger it seemed was sick.

Would I come in NOW?

I explained I was 'gardening' but I would get to court as soon as I could.

I quickly showered, changed and made my way to Court.

In Court 3 sat my lady Chairman - alone.

I entered court - acknowledged the Crown and sat down.

Before the first case was called on, another winger appeared and she joined us to make a full complement for the bench.

After two or three cases had been dealt with I perceived that my two colleagues had retreated together to the far extreme end of the bench where they appeared to be animatedly discussing some point. When I attempted to join the discussion the chairman indicated she did not require my opinion.

I quietly asked the Court Clerk whether there was any point I had missed.

"Yes" he said quietly. "The pervading smell of mud coming from your hair!"

The Chairman decided, unusually, the bench might rise early!

The Women's Barbers Shop Quartet were applying for an occasional licence so that they could serve alcoholic drinks during their forthcoming performance.

A stern-looking lady explained how the bar was to be run, how she would ensure that no youngsters were sold alcohol and gave full details of the event.

My colleagues were happy to grant the licence and I announced our agreement.

As the applicant was about to leave I asked her.

" The only thing I'm not clear about is why the quartet is of lady performers - I thought barbers were men".
"Oh no" the lady replied "Nowadays they are unisex establishments".
"Not the one's I go to I mused."

"No, probably not" she muttered as she quickly left the court.

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The young man in the dock faced three charges:-

(i) Driving an agricultural tractor, a Ford 2000, other than in accordance with his Driving Licence, i.e. not adhering to the conditions required for a Provisional Licence.

(ii) Careless driving.

(iii) Having no valid insurance.

The young man dressed in green overalls and carrying a flat cap in his hand which shook with nervousness. He was weather beaten and clearly worked outdoors. He was plainly somewhat overawed by the Court surroundings and had brought what seemed likely to be his Mother along, presumably to bolster his confidence. Despite his nervousness he had not employed a solicitor to act for him.

The Crown Prosecutor was an attractive well dressed young lady just starting her legal career.

I asked the Prosecutor to outline the facts.

She commenced with the driving Licence offence explaining that the defendant was driving unaccompanied by a supervising driver. At this the defendant looked very puzzled and volunteered that he had 'L' plates front and rear. I interrupted and asked the Prosecutor whether she was aware that the vehicle involved was an agricultural tractor. She confirmed that she was and I then asked her how she proposed that a supervising driver be accommodated on a single seated tractor.

Revealing her urban upbringing she replied "Oh does it have only one seat?"

The defendant looked up to the bench with obvious gratitude that we had understood the situation.

I suggested the Prosecutor might like a minute or two to check her file. After a short consultation with the Clerk to the Court she offered to drop the case which the bench duly confirmed. The defendant looked much more confident.

The Prosecutor went on to outline the facts relating to the careless driving charge. It became obvious that the young man having only limited driving experience had pulled out on to a main road in front of a car which had collided with the tractor. No mention was made of the no insurance charge.

I asked the defendant whether he would like to explain his side of the story or make any observation on the facts put forward by the Crown.

He could only opine that the car had been travelling too fast. In cross-examination he agreed that he may have misjudged the situation. My colleagues required no further explanation.

"What do you wish to say about not having insurance?" I asked.

"I thought she was covered" he replied. I could see my colleagues and the Crown Prosecutor were mystified by the reference to 'she'.

He continued "I also have a vintage Nuffield. She is insured and I thought the insurance covered her"

I understood and explained to my colleagues that it was quite common in agricultural circles for workers to refer to tractors as female.

We decided on the appropriate fines.

When asked how the fines were to be paid he said "Mum will pay to-day".

Chang was a somewhat laid back middle aged immigrant from Hong Kong where he had successfully run a pavement food stall. He had settled in Norwich. He had leased a disused public house and had tirelessly set about to make it Norwich's prime Chinese eating establishment.

His knowledge of the British liquor licensing law was in view of his background perhaps understandably limited.

He had converted the former derelict pub into a fine eating establishment which employed a never ending succession of members of his extended family who arrived periodically from his native Hong Kong.

One evening, through no fault of Chang's, there was a fight outside his restaurant and the victim of the assault ran into the restaurant to escape from his assailant. Immediately various of Chang's cooking staff appeared all armed with large kitchen knives and the troublemaker was soon apprehended and the local police called.

The following day a formal visit was made from the police ostensively to caution the enthusiasm of Chang's kitchen staff. Chang lined up the staff and interpreted to the effect that it was not customary in Britain for the public at large to take up arms in pursuit of offenders. Everyone looked suitably contrite and the policeman was satisfied that they understood the position.

As the policeman was leaving he asked Chang to show him the Liquor Licence for the property. Chang had no immediate recollection of possessing such a document but having plied the constable with several cups of coffee he eventually found the document which was over ten years old and dated from days when the premises had been run as a pub.

The plan with the licence bore little resemblance to the present layout of the property; the original bar had gone and had been replaced by a new larger bar at the front of the property. The former smoke room and bar had been amalgamated to form a large dining area involving the demolition of several walls. For these works it appeared that Chang had neither sought planning permission nor any amendment to the Liquor Licence.

The policeman explained that he would have to report the matter to the local Magistrate's Court and that Chang would be in due course summoned to appear.

"What will happen to me?" asked a worried Chang.

"Well for certain the Magistrate will give you a serious rollicking - even before he considers where you stand with regard to breaking the law" explained the policeman.

"What does the law require I do?" asked Chang now very worried.

"You have various options. Firstly; under the law you can apply for a new licence [which is expensive and takes some time]. This would mean you would not be able to sell alcohol till the new licence was granted. Option two would be for you to put the property back to how it was before the alterations were carried out and option three would be to ask their Worships to exercise their discretion and allow you to continue and order the licence be suitably amended.

Soon Chang was in court before five Licensing Justices.

The begowned Clerk to the Licensing justices announced the options available to the Court.  However, by this time they sounded to Chang much far more ominous than when the friendly policeman had explained them over a cup of coffee.

By the time Chang was asked by the Chairman to stand up and explain himself Chang was clearly very nervous.

The Chairman, seeing Chang's plight, asked "The policeman will have explained your options Mr. Chang?"

Chang nodded and agreed that the policeman had indeed explained matters.

"So which option do you seek in the matter?" asked the Chairman.

"Sir" said Chang "I think I will have the bollocking option!"

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The case concerned a charge of careless driving to which the defendant had pleaded not guilty.The trial was proceeding and the defence solicitor was attempting to get an answer from a witness, Mrs Smith, as to whether she had had a clear view of the incident. From the solicitor's early attempts at questioning it seemed likely that Mrs. Smith was not prepared to confirm she had had such a view of the incident.The Chairman of the Court interrupted the solicitor as he tried, once again, to clarify matters."Now Mrs. Smith you must answer the questions put to you in so far as you can - you are under oath and not to answer a question could mean serious trouble for you.The Chairman continued. "Is the bench correct in assuming that the answer as to whether you clearly saw the incident - is 'No'"?"Yes Sir".
                                    TRANSFER SESSION.

On the whole monthly Transfer Sessions before the Licensing Justices Committee tend to be pretty mundane. Despite this there are often numerous applications often necessitating hearings running to two days.

A particular session had reached the afternoon of the second adjourned day when applications for occasional permissions were being heard. Such permissions are required by people organising events for various, often charity related, functions and applications are often made by secretaries or committee members of the organisations involved. As a general rule where applicants have not previously held such a licence or there is a likelihood that the Committee would require particular assurances applicants are required to attend the hearing in person. Normally permissions are granted for similar hours to normal licensing hours unless the event is of a special nature - if it is then applicants are required to attend in person to persuade the Committee why it is a special event.

A number of applicants sat at the back of the court waiting for their case to be called. There were the usual selection of middle-aged females with handbags and briefcases and several gentlemen in sports jackets. Seated with them was a very bronzed fit looking man in his mid-twenties who was dressed in T-shirt, shorts and sandals.

Very soon the lightly clad applicant was called. As he approached the bench it was plain that he was something of a keep fit enthusiast. From the agenda of applications he identified himself as making an application for several evening functions on behalf of Broadland Naturist's Club. The Chairman of the Committee quizzed the applicant as to what the functions were, how they were organised and particularly why it was necessary to have permission to sell and consume alcohol long after normal licensing hours.

It turned out that the Broadland Naturist's Club had invited a naturist's club from France for a petanc tournament that lasted several days. The event featured importantly in the naturist's national calendar. The first night, a Sunday, was planned to be a dinner which required the licence till 1 a.m.. Thursday night was the final gala/prize giving for the petanc competition following which the French club members returned home on the Friday. This however left one further application for the Friday night, also till 1.a.m.

"Why do you need a licence till 1 a.m. on the Friday?" asked the Chairman. "Surely by then everyone will have gone home?"

"Yes, of course." Replied the fit young man. "We were just covering ourselves"!!!

The Chairman, perhaps still considering the Health and Safety implications of naturist's playing petanc explained in all seriousness why the licence could not be granted on the last night while the remainder of the bench did their best to control their blood pressure and to avoid a serious contempt of court! 
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 November 17 2011 

The Saga of the Inner Line Spies

As dictated by Peter Smith March 2009

featuring agents Bill Thorne,   Vic Swales   and myself of course,
and the two Mataharis   Claire Thorne    and      Diana James.

I can't quite remember the year or the month when all this happened but all I remember it was after the 1962 India-China War because the Indian Army was still around at that time

So we headed downstream with the two boats. Bill Thorne's boat belonged to Vic Swales and we had the two girls on my flat boat and we had two boatmen, one in Bill's boat and one in mine and we told the chowkidar at the ghat that we were heading for the Sibia.

A couple of miles up the Sibia we looked across to the right hand bank and there were a few people there waving and all this business so we said all right we do not know what they want but we'll go across and have a chat and see what's up and when we got across there were blokes with rifles with bayonets fixed and so forth. I don't know whether they were the Army or they were the Police.

There was a corporal or sergeant or something who said we were in Forbidden Territory who asked what we were doing. I told him we were just off to catch some fish as we normally did on a Sunday. "Well you are in Forbidden Territory" said the sergeant "You will have to wait here until the officer comes. He is away in the village at the moment".

I personally did not like the look of all these rifles and bayonets and I said.

"O.K. if we are not supposed to be here we'll turn round and we'll go back to where we came from at Sadyia.

Up spoke the two Mataharis Diana and Claire and said this is absolutely nonsense we've been up here every week. Let's wait and sort it out with the officer when he comes. 

I said "Lets just push off shall we?" (You know what Claire and Diana were like Roy)

"No, no, no, we'll get it sorted out when this officer comes" they said.

So eventually this bloke turned up and chit chat went backwards and forwards - we always fish up here - we are in no trouble.

He replied that we were over the Inner Line and we should not be here and he had orders to take us all up to Passighat under arrest

Oh Christ Almighty I thought; if it becomes known that we have gone missing up the Sibia then to-morrow morning the whole area will be inundated with boats looking for us.

Anyhow after a bit of talk and so forth:

"We'll let the two women back - somebody can take the two women back and two men will have to come with us to Passighat."

This is when old Bill and Vic Swales got all pompous saying

"We were in the Indian Army you know and we know how to deal with these people. Its best if you take the girls back and we'll accompany these chaps to Passighat and sort it out".

(I didn't need much urging Roy) I turned the boat around and got Claire and Diana on board and the two boatmen (I think) and left our two Heroes to trek up to Passighat accompanied by the Army.

So I got Claire and Diana back to Doom Dooma. I think we went straight to the Teela Bungalow where I think Peter James had returned from a meeting he had been having with the ITA or whoever it was.

We told him all about it

"Oh you bloody fools, why did you have to go up there anyhow getting in all this bloody trouble?"

We said. "Well, if you had not been at the bloody meeting you'd have been there as well and would at this moment be trekking up to Passighat with the two Heroes."

( I later heard Roy) that on the way to Passighat the two Heroes had to spend the night in a shed with an armed guard outside - I think they slept on the floor with a couple of blankets and I couldn't help but have a wee bit of humorous satisfaction thinking of myself in the comfort of my bungalow and clean sheets and so forth while the Heroes were sleeping on the floor. So evidently the heroes trekked there; they must have crossed the Cisseri and the Sibia and then the Subansirri[1] to get to Passighat

Meanwhile Peter James had contacted an Army Colonel - I can't remember his name but he was a chum of Peter's who leapt aboard a helicopter at Sookrating to Passighat to see what the problem was He later got into quite serious trouble for using a military aircraft to help these English spies. I think the matter got to Delhi and all the rest of it. It was getting a bit hot.

Meanwhile up at Passighat, so Bill told me, they were taken before the Magistrate where it was put that they were over the Inner Line and in Forbidden Territory and the Magistrate said

"Where is the Inner Line?"

So maps were produced:

"Is it here? - Is it there?" 

They said. "No, the Inner Line was down at the point where the Sibia joins the main river".

The Magistrate said. "Where was your check point - why did you not put your check point at the mukh?"

The Magistrate realised that he was ‘siding with the enemy' so he clammed up

The end of it was that the Magistrates said we would be summoned to a court later on and that all the people involved would have to be there including the two girls.

Bill and Vic were taken back to where they had been forced to leave their boat from where they returned to Doom Dooma

Then all Hell let loose: The ITA got involved and advice arrived from Delhi (It seemed to me Roy much of a ‘set up' but for what reason who knows?) It seemed bloody stupid all round The ITA were a bit worried it would get into the papers and cause an international rumpus. I think in the end it was realised that the quieter it was kept the better which in the end is what happened until we received a summons to appear before a court in Passighat which was Vic Swales, myself , Bill Thorne,  and I think the two boatmen. Claire and Diana were absolutely bloody furious. They were in the boat and should of been included in the hearing. (Why they wanted to be included Roy - God Knows)

So on the day of the court appearance we took two boats my flat one and one of the coffins - I cannot remember who it belonged to. We ran off downstream past the Cisseri and Sibia to the Subhansirri.

I'd never been down the river that far and I'd never been up the Sunbhansirri. I was surprised how much water was coming down that river it seemed to me to be the main river Roy rather than, as lots of people said, that the Lohit was the main river- there was certainly more water coming down the Subhansirri than there was down the Lohit. And fairly deep water too along the banks of the river

So up we go till we get to the ghat which was fairly obvious where there were jeeps waiting with Army personnel. We were escorted off into a clearing where they had erected a marquee with chairs and tables outside and the Magistrate was inside with a crowd of people including officials and God know what.  All this for us!

Eventually we were taken into the marquee where there was a desk and so forth. There were magistrates behind us and the charge was read that we were trespassing over the Inner Line and in Forbidden territory and all the rest of it - and what did we  have to say?

We explained that obviously we were over the Inner Line but we did not realise we were as nobody seemed to know where the Inner Line actually was and that previously many members of the Lohit River Club fished the Sibia and must also have crossed the Inner Line.

Nobody to stop them or stop us.

We apologised for our action. Apology seemed the best thing to do

Now we know, we wont do it again.

It was all fairly amicable.

The Magistrates decided to fine us all one hundred Rupees each including the boatmen.

We had taken some money with us having anticipated there may be a fine

So we paid the fine and the Court Clerk gave us a receipt

And then the Magistrate got very friendly and chairs were brought out and we were invited to sit down and have a cup of tea. So we all sat down at the desk tea was brought and biscuits and we sat around with the Magistrate and the Clerk and chatted about various things  - about Peter James and all the rest of it. Splendid little chat for a time - all very friendly until in the end we said that it was getting a bit late and the we had better start back and that it was a long way back

"O.K." said the Magistrate so we all piled into the jeeps including the Magistrate and the Clerk, back to the ghat where the boats were and off we set back to Sadya Ghat waved away by the Magistrate , Clerk and Police all enthusiastically wishing us "cheerio".

We headed off down the Subhansirri and at the Mukh up the Lohit to the ghat

I was amazed by the amount of water coming down the Subhansirri with steep banks and deep water and very clean.

(Roy, there must be good fishing up there.)

I still wonder if they know where the Inner Line is - even to this day

[1] In fact PS went up the Western Siang not the Subhansirri.

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November 11 2011
Social Engineering 

IIn 1960 and 1961 as a young man I was a tea estate Assistant Manager in Assam in North East India. I was in charge of the agricultural operation in the tea garden of about 600 acres at Dikom Tea Estate where some 650 women and about 200 men were employed. The estate was owned by the Jokai Tea Company who held approx. 24,000 acres of tea in Assam:-

                                       SOCIAL ENGINEERING

The Indian Government had long recognised problems caused through over population. During 1961 a great new drive was publicised to promote birth control.

All the normal methods had been tried without success. Condoms, caps and IUD's had not been successful mainly for cultural or educational reasons. Female sterilisation had also been tried without success due to the high costs involved.

Finally the campaign turned to vasectomy. Much was made in the media how those volunteering would be given a free transistor radio (though not the batteries).

Though early Human Rights campaigners made the Indian government withdraw the transistor radio incentive; the promotion of vasectomy continued.

Generally British tea companies took great pains to remain above politics but after some time the Indian Tea Association was prevailed upon to require its members to actively support the government's birth control policy.

All Jokai garden Assistants received orders to attend a strategy meeting to be held at the Jokai Central Hospital at Panitola.

By the time I arrived at Panitola there were already some 40 Assistants chatting and milling about the hospital's huge verandah. Miss Eileen Smith, the English Matron (ex-QARNC) who ran the hospital with an iron hand appeared. (Hattie Jaques's role in 'Carry on Nurse' must surely have been based on the good Miss Smith). She had everyone fetch chairs so that soon all were seated and silent in an orderly fashion.

Doctor Duncan McNaught, the company's Principal Medical Officer, stood in front of the assembled Assistants and commenced to explain that as a foreign company we were required to be seen to be supporting the Indian government's policy on birth control. He went on to explain certain statistics and why, in his view, the policy had been unsuccessful to date. He explained that he considered it a complete waste of time trying to convince the men folk of the necessity for vasectomy: He thought that the only chance of success lay in convincing the women to 'volunteer' their husbands. He said that every Assistant must address their garden women labour force and try to convince them of the worthwhileness of the policy. He made it quite clear that it was a 'no options' task that, despite any reluctance at any level, had got to be done.

When I returned to Dikom, my 'Jem', who inevitably had already heard rumour of what went on at the meeting, (all Jem's had their own intelligence system) asked me what we had to do.

When I explained to him that 'we' were going to address the women on the subject of birth control he was horrified and announced straightway that it was something which his religion and caste would not allow him to do. He was not only adamant but genuinely very upset about the whole matter. I told him that I understood his distress but that he need not worry as I would personally speak to the garden women. We agreed that I would speak to the women at the next payday when they assembled in the factory compound to collect their fortnightly pay.

The due day approached. The Jem' several times asked me if I was sure I could manage. He asked me what I was going to say. He, very politely, with great tact, enquired whether my language skills were sufficient to cope with the matters of a 'more personal nature' and was quietly amused to find I had no problem with the necessary vocabulary.

Needless to say, rumour round the garden became rife as the day approached and there was great speculation and anticipation to hear what the Chhota Sahib was going to say - and also some wild rumours!

I told the Sirdars to gather the women at the factory for 3 p.m., an hour earlier than they would normally attend to receive their pay.

At about ten minutes to three I cycled to the factory to find the whole women labour force assembled. Some 700 of them dressed in their best payday clothes. The only men folk in sight were the five Sirdars who were in charge of the women. No male labourers or the Jem' or any of his supervising colleagues were in to be seen.

The senior Sirdar, highly embarrassed, announced that they should all be quiet as the Sahib had something to tell them.

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

I started off by explaining that while most of the families who lived in the Dikom labour lines had at least one member of the family working and, because they had on average more than six children per family; there was little chance that the garden would be able to employ all their children in the future.

Much nodding of heads and murmurs of "Teek bart Sahib" (Lit. - good word sir, i.e. that is true)

Heartened at the positive response, I went on to explain the costs to the estate of providing housing, creche facilities, school, hospital, tea and rice rations etc. etc.. to which there was again a positive response.

Then I went on to explain that the 'Burra Doctor Sahib' at Panitola was able to do an operation on their husbands which would ensure they had no more children. Some of the women drawing their saris over their face in embarrassment asked me to explain the practicalities of what was involved. I managed, I thought, quite credibly to detail the necessary explanations. I could hear some of the women exclaiming in audible whispers that they had never before heard a sahib say such things - especially in public.

There were several challans (gangs) of women in the garden which were largely based on the lines in which they lived. One challan however, comprised all the older women, who, because of their age were generally employed on lighter duties. Every garden had a "burri challan" (lit. - old lady gang)

Burri challans were notorious for making the lives of Assistants difficult, usually with great humour at the Assistant's expense. My burri challan was no different. Many had been the time when I had been urgently called over to inspect a bush and fallen down the intervening open drainage channel under the tea - always to screams and guffaws of laughter.

My burri challan, although nominally led by an elderly male Sirdar was, to all practical purposes managed by a very vocal old lady called Lokhimoni Kalicharan.

Lokhomoni's husband worked as the carpenter in the tea processing factory.

Just at the point I was about to congratulate myself on the meeting being a success: From the back of the crowd came Lokhimoni's unmistakable voice [translated to English].

"Sahib, what about afterwards? Will my husband be able to keep me content or will I take to seeking other men to satisfy my 'needs?"

Much laughter but also thoughtful nodding of heads.

"It will be o.k."I responded.

But how do you know? said Lokhimoni, "you have not had the operation".

There followed further hubbub, more" teek barts" - though this time not in support of the sahib.

The crowd waited expectantly to see how I would extricate myself from this situation.

Fortunately my 'planning' discussions with the Jem' had identified precisely this situation.

I had done some homework and had discovered a lucky stroke of fortune.

About 18 months previously Ramnath the estate carpenter, Lokhimoni's husband, had had to be rushed to Panitola hospital for an emergency appendectomy. It was Company policy that anyone attending the Central Hospital had to carry his/her garden census card. This was to prevent the hospital inadvertently operating on people who had nothing whatever to do with the tea estate.

Ramnath's census card showed that he had nine children, six boys and three girls. Duncan McNaught having consulted the census card, decided that while they were doing the appendectomy they might as well include a vasectomy.

In due course Ramnath made a complete recovery from his trip to hospital and presumably thought that the initial twinges from his loins were part and parcel of having his appendix removed.

I spoke to Lokhimoni and asked her whether Ramnnath was performing his husbandly duties at the moment.

Lokhimoni gave me a lot of back-chat about being a cheeky young man and that she was old enough to be my Mother (which she probably was) but eventually replied that Ramnath was a 'good husband'. (to much cheering).

"Is it not true? " I asked Lohimoni over a background which now included a great deal of giggling, "that before Ramnath went to hospital you had a child approximately every 12 months?

After some thought Lokhimoni said that she agreed that what I said was true.

"But you haven't become pregnant since Ramnath returned from the Panitola Hospital?" I asked.

"And you are not pregnant now" I added.

"No" said Lokhimoni thoughtfully.

"That is because Ramnath had the operation" I explained.

Likhimoni had nothing more to say.

I sent the women off to be paid. Some giving serious thought to what had been said.

In fact about 100 Dikom men were subsequently 'volunteered' by their wives.


The Jemedar was the senior local supervisor on a garden equivalent as the name might imply to a senior NCO.

 Chhota Sahib lit. the small sahib: The general manager was the Burra Sahib lit. the large sahib.


 When I returned to Dikom 28 years later the birth rate had dropped very significantly and the average child number per family was down to less than three.

Whilst I might like to think that I had some small influence, I suspect that it was more to do with the general economic progress made in the area than my personal efforts.

                                                                                    R.C. 1999
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 November 9 2011 

                             1998 -THE GREAT ESCAPE

October is usually a good month to go into the Himalayas. The monsoon has cleared and the daytime temperature remains reasonable up to about 10,000'. The rivers too are clearing and usually very picturesque. The atmosphere has not had the opportunity to become polluted with the dust from the plains allowing often spectacular views of snow topped mountains along the India-China border.

I arranged to take a group of close friends towards Harkidun, a remote shrine north of Mori on the Tons River. Most of the group had travelled with me in the hills previously and I was confident they could cope with the rigours of the trip I proposed.

Having assembled the group at Dehra Dun we travelled west towards Himachal Pradesh bound for a farm owned by one of my Indian friends. We stopped on the outskirts of Dehra to victual up at the local "English Wine Shop".

After stopping en route to visit Herbertpur, a privately owned tea estate and buying vegetables and fruit in Vikhas Nagar bazaar we reached the farm known as Katta Pathar (lit. the cut stone).

The semi-derelict farmhouse, surrounded by orchards of mango and lychi, was perched on a cliff on the banks of the Tons river which flowed noisily by some 100' directly below the farmhouse. Despite its somewhat uncared for appearance the farmhouse had the essentials to be able to ‘camp out' (water supply, toilets and cooking facilities).

The farm had at one time been the home of Jhagat Bahurdur, Uncle to the former King of Nepal. The land on which the house was built had been gifted to him under the British Government's ‘divide and rule' policy. Uncle Jhagat obviously had influence and moved in the right social circles as a notice over a narrow low archway off a veranda recorded "Lady Linlithcoe slightly knockered her head here in September 1933". It was also apparent that at one time the property had been very meticulously maintained including an ornate garden with fountains and ornamental fish ponds.

The farmhouse had several rooms and my friends spread themselves out over the property some even laying out their sleeping bags in the open air on the flat roof. Uncle Jhagat had died in 1991 aged 91 and the house was unoccupied other than by a large number of very fearsome looking spiders.

A convivial evening was spent at the farm although some of the external sleepers were driven indoors by a strong wind that each night comes down from the Gorge through which the Jumuna emerges on to the plains.

In the morning we embussed to visit the Khalsi Stone across the other side of the Jumuna. This is one of several similar stones which archaeologists have found throughout India basically explaining to incoming foreigners what the rules of India society are and the penalties for not observing the same. The stones were inscribed on the instructions of the Mogul Emperor Ashok in the sixteenth century.

Next day the plan was to travel through the Jumna Gorge and follow the river upstream to Purola. From Purola we were to trek up to an old British Forest Inspection bungalow at Jhakra at about 6,000'.

As is the way of travelling in India; things did not go strictly to plan. We were late leaving and the road conditions through the gorge were atrocious. Streams running across the road and landslides over which the bus crept despite the often alarming angle. The road was cut out of the cliff side for much of the 20 mile journey through the Gorge. Often the river was hundreds of feet below - a sheer drop with no road barriers of any description. Conversation in the bus waned and for several of the passengers it was a "character building" experience not helped by the realisation that the occasional shrine we passed along the road was in memory of a bus which had gone over the edge.

We eventually reached a point in the middle of Purola Reserve Forest beyond which the bus could not go. By this time it was late afternoon and the mountain at the top of which was the Jhakra bungalow loomed over us through the forest. Plainly we were not going to make it up to the bungalow before darkness fell. The camp boys soon found a campsite which comprised a piece of reasonably level ground which had at one time been cultivated and where there was a small stream of clean water (albeit that one had to belay down a rope to get to the stream). It had been a long day. One of our members had brought with him a dose of ‘Delhi Belly' and after a meal and a couple of rums most people crawled into their sleeping bags.

The following morning dawned bright and clear. After a rudimentary breakfast (tea, boiled eggs and ‘rhoti' again!) the camp boys struck the tents and we set of uphill through the forest. Most of us were only about half way up when the boys passed us with mules loaded with the camp gear and muleteers noisily urging beasts on. We took our time and arrived at the Forest bungalow about mid-day. The bungalow looked particularly uninviting and the tents were set up in the bungalow compound. The site of the bungalow was however spectacular, across the forested valley could be seen the snow covered peak of Swangarini. The water point was some 100 yards from the bungalow where a spring emerged from a cliff. The water was good but particularly cold; any serious washing required a lot of determination.

Very soon after we arrived we were joined by some shepherds and about a thousand bleating sheep which they penned up near the bungalow compound. For those who worked on the "half a bottle per head per day" it was not a problem.

The next day was spent exploring the area but by the evening it had started to rain - really rain. It was decided to trek down off the mountain. After some delay the mules were brought back from a nearby village having previously arranged with the muleteers that we would stay several days at Jhakra. Leaving the muleteers to load up we set off back down the hill in torential rain. It mattered little what waterproofs one was wearing as before long everyone was soaked to the skin and the storm continued unabated. Where the up going path had been a gentle amble along easy paths; going down one splashed through what was in effect a small stream. Where previously one had hopped between moss covered boulders to cross small streams there were now raging torrents that required people to hang on to each other for safety to prevent getting washed away.

Miraculously the bus was waiting at the pre-arranged spot; So, cold and wet, we climbed aboard and waited for the mules and our kit to arrive. When they did it was soon discovered that tarpaulins had been put under our kit so as to keep the mules dry - All the kit was soaked through! I noted water ran out through a hole on the bottom of my rucksack in which was packed my sleeping bag.

Fortunately I knew that there was a Forest Inspection Bungalow beside the Purola - Mori road at a place called Jarmola. We had no booking but I made it clear to Sharma, our local guide, that we had to get access to the bungalow which might mean having to bribe the bungalow caretaker. We arrived at the bungalow and after surreptitiously giving the chowkidar a fifty Rupee note we were in the bungalow. Another fifty Rupees produced some dry firewood and we soon had blazing fires burning in each of the bungalow's two rooms. Kit was hung out to dry, the humidity increased and people's tempers improved. Before long there was food and hot "rum pani's" which cheered people no end.

Most of the available floor area was covered by bodies. Sleeping bags were being dried out hung from any hook available. One member of the group (a Lloyds Bank Surveyor!) was separating a papier-machέ-like wad of rupee notes and trying to dry them in front of the open fire by thr light of a Petromax kerosene lamp.

The rain pounded on the roof of the bungalow all night and the sky regularly lit with lightening but most people were so tired that they slept soundly. We woke up to find the rain continuing as before. There was nothing to do but sit it out. By mid day it suddenly ceased and the sun appeared. The camp boys immediately got all the tents in the sun and the rest of us thought a trip to Mori would be worthwhile to see what the prospects were of getting up the Harkidun Road. The Tons River was very high and full of brown water swirling water with fully grown pine trees being washed down end over end like they were sticks. We salvaged some firewood and threw it on the top of the bus

Before we had gone a mile from Mori the road was blocked by a large and fresh landslide. There was no prospect of going on. Even though the road was very narrow the driver announced that he proposed to turn the bus round in a multipoint turn - "Did anyone wish to get off?" - most people did. The bus had no handbrake other than the assistant driver who, as appropriate, jammed a small rock under the back wheels as they neared the edge of the road. With no power steering and the length of the bus being only slightly less than the width of the road, it took about 20 "shunts" to get the bus turned round.

We returned to the Jarmola bungalow.

Ominously there was no traffic on the road.

 The bungalow chowkidar was keen to be rid of us in case the District Forest Officer appeared (when, no doubt, he would have forfeited his Rs 100/- windfall)

We decided to move back to Purola and loaded the bus. Having gone no more than 2 miles the road was blocked by a large land slide. We found a water source and camped. The following day my friends walked the hills while others persuaded the bus driver to try and get to Purola which, with a bit of a struggle they did only to find that beyond Purola the road was completely blocked by many landslides and fallen trees. It was obvious that the road was not going to be passable for the bus for several days. [In fact the bus remained ‘marooned' for nearly 3 weeks].

We decided that we would trek to the other side of the landslide blocked area then try and find another bus to hire. We had no idea where the other side might be.

The following day having driven through Purola and about 2 miles down the Nowgaon road we came to a stop. The road was completely blocked. After some delay we hired some mules and set off towards Nowgoan on foot. It was 21 km and involved climbing over numerous landslides some of which were formed from huge boulders which rocked alarmingly as one walked over them.

On the outskirts of Nowgaon we found an empty school where we spent the night; some put up tents, some (unwisely due to the resident flea population) slept in the school while the wise slept on the veranda. It was an uncomfortable night which had it not been for everyone feeling so tired would have been a trial. Rum stocks were getting low.

Miraculously early in the morning our local guide Sharma appeared and announced that through the good offices of the local District Forest Officer he had managed to hire a local bus and that although we could not return the way we had come due to landslides it appeared that if we crossed over into the Bhagaratti Valley to the East we should be able to return to Dehra Dun via Tehri and Chamba.

Crossing the mountain range to get into the Alaknanda valley was at times a hair rising experience but by then people were beginning not to worry any more. Surely it must improve? We made it over the mountains and once we were on the main Uttarkhasi - Theri road everyone felt much more relaxed and we stopped for a tea break at a roadside "dhabba". We got back in the bus and were soon making good progress and people began to anticipate a cool beer and warm shower in the Madhurban Hotel in Dehra Dun. However, as we rounded a corner a large chunk of mountain crashed down on the road not 50 yards in front of us. Depressingly we had just past a bulldozer that was plainly non-operational. The locals who skipped lithely across the landslide carrying their bicycles assured us that the military Border Roads Force engineers would be along soon as it was a strategic military road. It was an Indian "soon" but eventually the welcome sound of a Caterpillar D2 could be heard coming up the road. By now it was late afternoon and it was dark by the time we very thankfully arrived in Dehra Dun.

 Older and wiser?

Two facts I much later ascertained:-

1.      While we were walking out the local muleteers had unsuccessfully tried to bribe the camp boys to abscond with our kit.

2.      The Local District Forest Officer had mounted a rescue of a party if Indian hikers (including a politician's son) and pilgrims and would have been unable to offer assistance to us.

3.      It was three weeks before the bus could get out. The driver filled the bus with sacks of potatoes which he sold in Dehra and Deli at great profit to make up for his lack of fare

                                                                           Roy Church. 1999.

Here are some wonderful photos taken by Roy during this recent trek

Katta Patta translates as cut stone referring to location next to cliff/river

trout waters of Upper Tons

Jumuna Gorge

uncontrolled felling in upper reaches


Jakra camp


is on the way up the Bhagarati River en route to Gau Mukh.

Kattapatta  on the banks of the Jumuna west of Dehra Dun just below where it emerges from the gorge

Kattapatta  on the banks of the Jumuna west of Dehra Dun just below where it emerges from the gorge

Pancheswar which forms the boundary with west Nepal

A magnificent picture

Valley of the Flowers with Hutti Parbat in the distance

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 November 2011 


There are many bits of advice and below aretnhe names of the relevant advice which you can click on to see the item

Mind and Body

Chapter 4 On Arrival
Chapter 7 Water
Chapter 8 Money
Chapter 9 Camping
Chapter 10 Eating while travelling
Chapter 11 Health
Chapter 12 The Weather

Chapter13 To the Woods
Chapter 14 Language
Chapter 15 Attitude



This guide is written to help anyone contemplating going trekking/exploring the Central India Himalaya or indeed to assist those in the throes of planning their holiday in that area. I am conscious of the fact that, while it may help some, it may put others off: To the latter I would apologise but suggest to them; better be put off than have a holiday which you do not enjoy.

The Central Indian Himalaya comprises the northern parts of the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal which was formerly Uttar Pradesh (usually known as U.P.). In the days of the British before Independence and Partition it was all part of the Punjab.

To the west is the state of Himachal Pradesh and to the east the separate kingdom of Nepal. The area is dominated by tributaries of large rivers running down to the plains; the Jumna, the Ganges and the Kali the last of which forms the India/Nepal border for much of its length. The Ganges is a busy Hindu pilgrim route to numerous shrines at the head of the river systems. Away from the pilgrim routes the countryside is remote and generally very sparsely populated. The scenery becomes increasingly spectacular as one travels northwards into the mountains towards the China/Tibet border. The lower mountain areas are often covered by forests of Himalayan pine and Doedhar cedar but above the tree line the landscape quickly becomes harsh and uncompromising.

I make no excuse for my admission to love northern India and its people. In 1959 by a quirk of circumstance, having left the Regular Army I found myself employed as a tea estate assistant manager in Assam. I spent almost 10 years as a young man in that isolated area in the far north east corner of the Indian subcontinent. During that time I learnt to greatly respect the Indian villager and labourer and to both appreciate and enjoy the company of a great social range of Indian friends.

Eventually I returned to England, qualified as a chartered surveyor and spent a (third) career in the Civil Service. When my children had all grown up and left home I tried for several years to get permission to revisit Assam. In 1992 I finally succeeded in obtaining a Restricted Area Permit to visit several of my old tea gardens. By this time many of my former Indian tea management colleagues had retired, many of them to U.P. and especially Dehra Dun. So that year as well as visiting Assam I made plans to visit the mountains in northern U.P. and to look up my retired friends. This was done partly out of curiosity but also as 'insurance' against the event that the Indian Home Office withdrew my Restricted Area Permit at the last moment as they had done in 1988 and 1989. That year I travelled to U.P. with a group of English friends and we visited many remote spots in the Garhwal and Kumaon with the help of an old Indian friend who himself was of Garhwali tribal descent. Since that time I have returned most years in the autumn with groups of friends. We hire a private bus and employ local villagers as camp helpers and cook. When we get to the higher parts of the valleys we hire mules and muleteers and walk to the high villages far beyond the metalled roads. Each year I explore new areas as well as returning to my favourite places and each year I appreciate more and more what a magic region it is. The Kumaon district (adjoining the western border of Nepal) is completely unspoilt and the population has been little influenced by the pressures of modern, supposedly civilised, lifestyle.

Chapter 2

                                HOW TO GET STARTED


There are numbers of English travel firms who offer trips to the Central Himalaya, some of whom in fact subcontract local Indian operators to actually take their clients into the hills.

Alternatively, in this day of fax', email and ‘phone it is relatively simple to deal with Indian travel operators direct - the Indian Tourist Office has lists of reputable operators most of whom will be far more willing to 'tailor' a trip to your needs than an English travel company.

I would recommend that one of the above options is the most sensible for all but the most experienced or hardy traveller. In any event you will need to have a firm idea of where you want to go and what you want to do and see. A holiday in the Garhwal or Kumoan can range from sightseeing with gentle forest walks to very arduous treks through snow up onto the many glaciers at the heads of the valleys.

The danger of organising a trip 'on the hoof' is that, having got to the area, you cannot find guides who are competent to take you to the more remote areas off the beaten track. When one goes to the distant corners of the Kumaon one is reliant upon the assistance of local villagers and mountain muleteers - such places demand that you have a guide who has good connections with the local people - in practice it usually means that the best guides are locals themselves. Many of the operators from Delhi  have no such connections ( they are as 'foreign' to the hill villagers as we are) - they run treks on a 'self contained' basis but in practice this limits where they are able to go. Guides who have the support of local villagers not only have the freedom to travel where you would wish but in addition they are able to provide interesting contact with the villagers themselves and an insight into their culture and lifestyle. Staying in a mountain village can be a very rewarding experience. It is often possible to 'camp' in the local  village school overnight
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(a) Passport.
Make sure there is at least 6 months unexpired on your passport, the India Immigration authorities have been known to refuse entry for those with less, especially independent travellers.

(b) Visa. |
You will require a Visa via the High Commission in London or the India Consulate General at Birmingham or Edinburgh. There are various visa options at differing prices - read the instructions on the reverse of the application form ( See Appendix A). You should send a s.a.e. to get any application form. I recall an occasion where one of my fellow travellers received a letter requesting a s.a.e. albeit the Commission did not include an application form with their letter. (Who taught the Indian Civil Service 'red tape' I wonder!?)

In addition to a visa there are areas in India for which special permits are required. Such permits are known as Restricted Area Permits (RAP's) or Protected Area Permits (PAP's). Such permits apply to areas that are usually politically or militarily sensitive. There is good reason why such places have been so declared and, unless there is a specific reason why one should travel there, my general advice would be not to do so. Even if one is successful in obtaining a permit there are substantial restrictions in one's ability to travel in the area. It is common practice to have to report to the local police each time one travels to a new destination - even relatively short distances. Each time one's Passport has to be endorsed. In my own case; one visit to Assam in 1992 (now no longer a Restricted Area) resulted in using up six pages of my passport in 10 days! It might seem a very severe provision but in my experience it is nonetheless prudent for the police to keep a track of foreigners especially where there is a risk of kidnapping. As far as I am aware the restricted areas are mainly in the north east of India:- Aranachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur and Megalaya all sub states of Assam. There are, of course, areas in Kashmir where border areas are sensitive and in addition there are various sites which have military significance throughout northern India, even including the Everest Museum in Dehra Dun!. As tourism develops it is becoming possible to get permits for groups but one has to employ a liaison officer In practice one is very closely chaperoned and there is no freedom to go where you wish. This especially applies to Aranachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur.

If you do want a permit, either through an agent or personally go to the FRRO in Delhi. There are agencies who will apply for visas and permits but in my experience it is as easy to do it one's self.

(Vaccinations etc.
My non-medical observation must be that you should take proper medical advice. Diseases such as polio, cholera, typhoid, TB exist throughout India. Trekking with mules means that the risk of tetanus is greater than here in U.K.. There are parts of India where malaria is endemic although once up in the mountains one is unlikely to see mosquitoes especially in the autumn and winter. One has the choice of taking anti-malarial pills or using repellent. There is an (in)famous repellent made in India called "Eau de Moz". You can track anyone wearing it at not less than 100 yards - it keeps both mosquitoes and colleagues at bay!

Have all your 'jabs' in good time so you are over any reaction before you travel. Some vaccinations have to be given shortly before you travel however.

Go and consult your Doctor as soon as you have decided to go to India. Unless you have a one time ex-pat doc' they tend to over immunise.

(d) Maps.
It is possible to get maps from specialist map sellers like Stanfords'. Many maps printed in India show the Himalayas in only very rudimentary style. They are often not to scale and I have even known  them to show a road on the wrong side of a river which can be frustrating especially when there is no bridge!

In 1926 there was a famous and comprehensive Survey of India. Copies of that survey are available from the Royal Geographical Society in London at 4 miles to the inch and even 1" to the mile for some areas. They are superb maps although many of the place names have changed or disappeared, roads have been constructed and urban areas grown tremendously since 1926. Nonetheless, they are wonderfully accurate as regards the mountains and rivers and other 'hard' features. There are some American USAF maps which accurately show rivers, lakes, glaciers and mountains but they tend not to show roads and towns. While these maps are good for reference it is not advised to use them while in India; the Indian government is very sensitive about maps showing border areas. Similarly it is against the law to take photos of bridges on strategic mountain roads

When it comes to identifying footpaths in the mountains there is no substitute for a local guide; the terrain is constantly changing because of earthquakes, floods and landslips. Even travelling on the metalled roads in remote areas is made more complicated by the fact that the road signs are often now written in Hindi.

(e) Mind and Body.
If you are travelling to India for the first time my advice is very simple - Go with an open mind. By all means do some background reading regarding the history and geography of the area you plan to visit. However, it will not matter how much you have read you will certainly be unprepared for the extremes of opulence and poverty, a culture and outlook on life totally different to ours, the sensitivity of feeling for the British, partition, religion and above all the friendliness of the people.

Necessary physical fitness depends largely upon what you plan to do. A trip exploring the area with gentle daily walks is a very different prospect to a continuous trek for a number of days ascending to 15,000'. All visitors find the scale of the Himalayas mind boggling especially when compared to Sca Fell, Ben Nevis or Snowdon. When one reaches the upper valleys above the tree line one is already at about 10,000' and the surrounding peaks look very inviting whereas they are probably another 10,000' higher. Trekking and climbing are very distinct pursuits calling for vastly different skills and organisation. If you have not been to the Himalaya before do not be too adventurous. If you enjoy it that much you can always return for another trip.

(f) Insurance.
In view of the remote areas to which you may well be travelling, it is sensible to have medical insurance cover. Depending on the length of your stay it may be cheaper to take a policy on an annual basis. There tends to be a great range of premiums although in taking the cheapest there is always the danger that you only get what you pay for - make enquiries. Insurance for damage or theft of possessions is in practice not as foolproof as you might at first think. In order to establish a claim of theft it is usual to have to make an official report to the police. Finding a policeman in a distant mountain valley and getting a report from him is not practicable I can assure you. Even in popular tourist areas a visit to a police station to register a formal report can be both time wasting, frustrating and ineffective, not to mention spoiling one's holiday. My best advice is to take as little kit as possible that is likely to attract thieves. As a general rule the risk of theft is highest at the most popular tourist attractions; at Akbar's Tomb at Sikandra even the monkeys have been known to snatch cameras and bags. In such places it is wise to be continually vigilant, which is easier if you are in a small group rather than alone.

(g) Kit
At Appendix C I set out a suggested kit list. Experience has proved its worth to those friends of mine who come with me into the Garhwal and Kumaon on camping/exploring trips; if you are into more 'serious' trekking on to the ice then you will need more warm clothing and at the same time reducing as far as possible what you and/or the mules have to carry.

My heartfelt advice as far as clothing is concerned is to take clothes that are 'well worn in' and comfortable. Kitting yourself out at the local camping centre here in U.K. just before you leave is not a good idea. This applies in particular to footwear for those trekking. While fighting for breath at the higher end of the mountain valleys is not the time to find your shorts chafe and your boots cause excruciating blisters. In my experience the people who manage to remain the most comfortable tend to be those who give their kit to the camp followers at the end of a trek rather than face the embarrassment of having to face the dhobi! Most people on returning to "civilisation" at Nainital or Dehra Dun go down to the bazaar and re-equip themselves for a fraction of the U.K. cost - many are so impressed with Indian tailoring prices they even have suits or dresses made up. Unless you are being sponsored by a washing powder company; dark colours are preferable to whites!

Getting the right sleeping bag is paramount to your comfort when camping. If you are going up to the area where there is ice then a 4 season bag will be required by all but the most hardy. Lower in the hills most people cope with a 3 season bag and if necessary wearing their thermal vests and long johns as well. A sleeping bag liner which does up with a drawstring round the neck is an essential piece of kit (a) to keep your sleeping bag clean (b) to sleep in warmer areas, such as trains or 'dodgey' hotels where you are likely to get visitations of fleas or bedbugs. For the 'serious' trekkers you should have not only a stuff sack to put the bag in but also a waterproof bag as well. A wet sleeping bag is a certain guarantee to a miserable holiday. Lining your kit bag with a 'bivvy' bag is good practice; while you may get no rain it is quite possible that the mule may drop your kit in a stream etc..

The earplugs are for when you are camping in two man tents or staying in rest house dormitories with snoring colleagues - the latest are made of wax and are really effective.

Do not take Kendal Mint Cake as 'goodies' - much as I adore it; it melts when you are down on the plains and is near impossible to scrape off your kit - and you smell of peppermint for the whole of the trek. You can buy good boiled sweets in India.

A Thermarest type sleeping mat is also essential. They come in two thicknesses and two lengths. While the thick full length version is both the most expensive and comfortable it is also the most bulky; by the time you have got a 4  season bag and a full length mat into your kit you will find you have used up an alarming amount of your kitbag's capacity. The cheap rubber foam type mats are nothing like as effective as Thermarest mats and often take up more room. Old fashioned blow up li-lo's are out (i) because they are relatively heavy (ii) because they always, in my experience, manage to get punctured and (iii) not least because finding the breath to inflate them at above 10,000' can be injurious to one's health and wellbeing! A good sized heavy duty pneumatic pillow however is a good investment to comfort - the trendy banana shaped neck pillows available from camping shops in U.K. are just not strong enough to withstand the rigours of Indian camping. You can purchase good blow up pillows in India; branded 'Duckback', they somewhat resemble hot water bottles but nonetheless they are very comfortable.

With regard to carrying your kit; while Samsonite suitcases might claim to be proofed against nuclear attack they are not suitable for a trip to the Himalayas. Porters and baggage handlers hate them and regard them as a personal challenge to destroy. Cases are inflexible when it comes to packing them onto train racks or into buses and particularly so when trying to balance them on a mule's back. A large soft strongly zipped sports bag or ex-military kitbag is the ideal for your main storage and in addition take a rucksack of about 30 litres. When flying, the rucksack can be taken as hand baggage. It is used as a day sack in the mountains. Most airlines have a weight limit on hand baggage. So if your valuables are heavy; the secret when passing through baggage handling areas is to look nonchalant, as if the rucksack weighs practically nothing! When in the mountains it is good practice to have your rucksack with you (a) to change clothing to match any sudden changes in the weather (b) as a place to keep your camera etc. and (c) to cope with the situation where the mules do (or the one carrying your kit does) "a runner" back down to the village you spent last night at - they always return eventually but if you are sitting waiting up in the cold you will regret not having your kit with you! Pockets on the sides and top of a rucksack are very useful - do not be persuaded to buy the ones that have net pockets - true you can quickly see what is in them - unfortunately so can everyone else including pick pockets!

Have a trial go at packing before you leave. Make sure (i) you can get everything in (ii) you can reasonably carry the kit (iii) the rucksack is comfortable and the straps in particular are long/wide enough. It is helpful to mark your kit with some readily recognisable identification - gas/water board tape that they use to mark the holes they dig in the road is ideal - so long as it does not catch on too widely!    

Take a fleece jacket. Polartec 2000 weight for the lower mountains or a Polartec 3000 weight for the higher areas. In addition take light waterproofs for any time of year.

Metal water bottles, though unpopular with airport security, can be used as hot water bottles when camping in cold areas in the mountains. You boil water last thing at night on the campfire (to purify it) - put the hot water in the water bottle which you put at the bottom of your sleeping bag while you have your last 'rum pani'.

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The plane's air conditioning system will most likely let you know what the temperature is as you arrive at Delhi airport. The advantage of arriving late evening is that not only is it cooler (particularly relevant in May/June) but the airport environs are (slightly) less crowded. Stow divested clothing in your rucksack or at least attach it to the same.

You will have been given an embarkation and re-embarkation form to complete. Keep the re-embarkation portion safe to avoid having to complete another when you return to fly home. It is helpful to confirm what booking confirmation is necessary for the return journey. It can be done on the internet from any of India's many street cyber cafes. Airlines and agents would have the public at large believe that reconfirming your return flight in some way is difficult. In my experience (mainly with KLM) one simply has to phone a confirmation through to their Delhi office at least 72 hours before take off. Indian travel agents are keen to offer you a service to confirm flights for a fee greatly in excess of the cost of a phone call. You can sometimes reconfirm your return flight on arrival by completing the form supplied or by phone yourself later. Be aware however, that the date of the return flight on one's ticket has no validity till the flight confirmation has actually been accepted.

Read the ticket conditions.

There are often long queues to pass through at Immigration and Customs where your passport will be required. You will find that few of your fellow Indian travellers have developed the English custom of queuing. Do not 'be backward in coming forward'; it is definitely a case of 'he who hesitates is last'! In fact there is no great hurry as it usually takes some considerable time to get the baggage off the plane onto the luggage carousel.

When you have identified the appropriate luggage carousel, commandeer a luggage trolley and utilise the waiting time to change some traveller's cheques into Rupees at the nearby State Bank of India counter. Don't change more than you are going to want in the hills where you are unlikely to spend much. Go for 500 Rupee notes but have some smaller change in tens and fives. Make sure the notes are in reasonable order - if they are too torn then some shopkeepers and taxis will not take them. Unfortunately they tend to be fastened together in large wads with metal staples and a perfect note is very much a rarity. However, do not be fobbed off with notes in too poor a condition or taking all your Rupees in Rs.10 notes. You will need your Passport once more at the State Bank of India counter in order to change travellers cheques - keep the receipt that is issued.

Not all items of baggage may arrive via the carousel, any item that is extraordinary in weight, shape or size will be put by hand at the point the baggage emerges on the carousel e.g. skis, fishing rods and electrical gear. If a baggage handler brings it to you in person this usually warrants a Rs.10 tip.

If you appear to have lost baggage; make contact with the airline representative not the airport staff. Ultimately if the baggage cannot be readily located there is a long and tedious procedure you have to go through which involves much form filling. The airline may offer you compensation in part settlement on a provisional basis. Remarkably they often "rediscover" your baggage but usually only in time for you to return to U.K.. In fairness, being up in the hills beyond phone contact makes it unlikely that the airline will succeed in getting lost items to you before you return to Delhi at the end of your trip. In such circumstances it is possible to ‘re-kit' with the necessities in Dehra Dun, Rishikesh or Nainital. It is even possible to hire a mat and sleeping bag from camping shops in Dehra Dun's Paltan Bazaar.

When you finally clear security and arrive in the public arrival foyer, be prepared for the sudden meeting with the true impact of India. Even in the middle of the night there will be seemingly hundreds of people behind the public barrier - many waving placards of varying size and composition - many others just repeatedly shouting a name. There will be people pestering you to provide a "personal taxi" at outrageous prices. If you are being met; stand about where all can see you - do not disappear into the masses - miraculously your guide will usually find you. If you want a taxi; go to the official Delhi Police pre-payment booth - beware there are numbers of 'privateer' pre-paid taxi wallahs who charge you well over the odds. Ask your Indian fellow airline passengers which is the official booth if in doubt. At current prices the cost of a taxi to the hotel area in the southern portion of Delhi is less than 300 Rupees and even to the centre of the city it should not be in excess of Rs 350. The official pre-paid booth will give you a ticket after which you should ask the ticket clerk to direct you to the taxi rank out side the airport building. There will be 101 boys wanting to carry your bags the 30 yards to the taxi rank at enormous cost. If your baggage is such that you have to employ a porter; ask him "how much" before you allow him to pick up your bags otherwise there is likely to be a long argument when you get to the taxi.

Do not let the taxi driver put your kit on the roof rack unless it cannot possibly be avoided. Keep your rucksack containing your valuables to hand inside the taxi. It is useful to have the precise address written on the pre-paid form - it avoids both argument and misunderstanding. Most of the taxi drivers at the airport will understand English; indeed many of them will quickly tell you they want to emigrate to England and even seek your sponsorship!

The majority of Delhi's taxis are Hindusthan Ambassadors, formerly the 1955 Morris Oxford. They are now converted to LPG, very noisy but surprisingly roomy. You are expected to sit in the back. Many taxi drivers (especially at night) have an assistant [sometimes of dubious sexuality] who travels with them sharing the front bench seat. Seat belts are beginning to be used in India. Driving discipline leaves much to be desired by U.K. standards. Traffic lights appear to be largely voluntary at night! If you are a nervous passenger - just close your eyes - pretend to be asleep! Even if you are travelling on a shoestring budget I would never recommend you travel from the airport in the small three wheel taxis,

(known as "scooters"); they have little room for luggage and they are uncomfortable on a journey as long as from the airport to the centre of Delhi.

A minor disadvantage of arriving in the middle of the night is that when you get to your hotel they may not have a full complement of staff on duty, and it may require some insistence to get your room sorted out, bottled water supplied and a brew of tea made. If you are continuing your journey the following morning it is likely that the taxi driver will sleep the night in the taxi outside the hotel.   



Parts of Assam receive over 250" of rain per annum and at the other extreme there are children as old as five in Rajasthan who may never have seen rain fall. Consider this together with the fact that the population in India is unofficially approaching 1.2 billion and it is not surprising that the customary use of water in India is dramatically different from here in England. India is so often a land of opposites; here in the west water is used as part of a Christian baptism whereas in India rivers are the conveyance of the Hindu dead on their final journey.

Drinking Water: Many of the water supplies in India including mountain rivers are polluted to a greater or lesser extent. Rivers are cleaner in the autumn and dirtier in the spring. English travellers being used to potable water need to adopt a more careful attitude to drinking water - we do not have the inherent resistance to certain water born sickness that many Indians do. The water in Delhi is among the most polluted in the world - simply brushing your teeth under a running tap can have serious consequences

Bottled mineral water is available in all but the most remote areas. Strangely, it often costs more in a Delhi hotel than it does in the bazaar at some distant mountain shrine. Despite the fact that the plastic bottles carry an instruction that the bottle should be destroyed when the contents have been consumed; the refilling of bottles from uncontrolled sources has become a boom industry operated by the less scrupulous. Do not buy bottles from other than reliable sources and never buy one where the cap seal has been broken. Generally as a group it is more practical to buy water by the dozen bottle box which tends to be both more reliable and cheaper. One has to question why small boys will pay 50 paisa for the empty bottle.

Even when in the hills, while a mountain stream may look inviting and be crystal clear it does not follow that the water is necessarily drinkable. The best water will be from springs. Most hill villages have diverted springs into the village centre. When you are travelling with local people they will know where the best springs are. You must bear in mind that rivers and streams will be used for washing; clothes and bodies, watering the stock and receiving the ashes of the dead which sadly in areas where firewood is at a premium may not simply be ashes.

A cup of tea is one of the safest forms of refreshment. In country areas "dessie chai" (lit. local tea) is a drink that may take a little getting used to by English palates. The chaiwallah puts tea, sugar, milk, ginger, cumin and other spices into a saucepan and boils the brew up, it is served through a sieve into small glasses. Despite it tasting very little like the traditional English brew it is nonetheless very refreshing. The alternative is that the chaiwallah makes an "English" cup of tea which tends to be very weak and which he himself would not drink! All in all, I personally prefer the "dessie chai".

Carbonated drinks are manufactured in bewildering profusion throughout India. Coca Cola, Limka, Thumbs Up are quite acceptable either on their own or as mixers in an evening drink with gin or rum. The drinks themselves are usually safe to drink - any risk is often because the exterior can be dirty. You will note that many Indians drink from a bottle without the bottle actually touching their lips. If you are not similarly skilled it is worth carrying a stainless steel beaker in your kit rather than pour sticky drink down your front which then attracts every fly in the area! Beware of drinking straws, these may be 'recycled' like the plastic bottles.

Recently there has been a great expansion of the Indian fruit juice market; orange, apple, mango and lychee are all available and generally very good although they tend to be very sweet by English standards and although enjoyable may not be very thirst quenching.

It is important not to become dehydrated when travelling or trekking. However, do not feel you necessarily have to drink extraordinary quantities of water. My experience suggests that many people have upset digestive systems simply from drinking too much water, whereas dehydration is usually rare and relatively easily rectified. If you are in the hills in the autumn, remember the climate is not dissimilar to good English summer weather - consider what liquids you would be drinking at home. Do be aware that travelling by road or rail on the plains in hot weather will be very dehydrating. The colour of urine passed is an indication whether one is drinking enough - highly coloured; drink more  -  no colour; drink less. 

Water filters are a practical proposition although some are cumbersome and complicated. There is one used throughout India called Zero B which is available from most drug stores, it is no bigger than a pint mug and costs about Rs 250/-. I personally prefer to use iodine tablets and neutralisers which are a simple foolproof measure.

Washing: Indians, not unreasonably, regard the practice of sitting in a container of dirty hot water as totally alien to their idea of proper cleanliness. You will find that even in Delhi hotels that baths and washbasins rarely have plugs. If you discreetly watch people washing at a pump in the backstreets of a city you will see that the bather wets his body, soaps and then rinses the soap away with clean water. Likewise it is usual to wash eating utensils under running water and leave them to dry in the sun - mixing them all together in a bowl and then drying them all with a single dish towel would in traditional Indian home be totally unacceptable. Even simple things like shaving are done differently; whereas in the course of shaving we would put both the shaving brush and razor into a mug of hot water Indians would regard such habit as unnecessarily contaminating the mug - they would pour the water from the mug onto the brush or razor. Many of these traditions stem from days when most Indian people lived very simply and water carriers were a very valued item of the household - many of these traditions are very sound hygienic practices - probably better than some of ours I would suggest!

When camping, take care when washing in a stream - it could be someone's water supply further downstream. If possible use a bowl or bucket to throw the water over yourself and do it away from the stream. 



Once upon a time India was notoriously difficult when it came to matters concerning money; not only were Indians themselves restricted to what currency they could obtain but English visitors were strictly limited to using Sterling travellers cheques. Nowadays matters are greatly improved; you can go to India armed with traveller's cheques in Sterling, Dollars or almost any other commonly used currency. Alternatively you can take cash in Sterling or Dollars together with your friendly high street bank plastic card. Delhi and Dehra Dun have international ATM's. In addition many traders will accept a U.K. bank cheque or allow payment by credit card.

The only restriction still in force is that it is not permitted to take more than one thousand Rupees in cash out of India; in reality even if you do, your U.K. bank will show a total lack of enthusiasm to purchase them from you - so unless you plan to return to India and import the Rupees illegally there is no point in taking them out of India in the first place. It is theoretically possible to change any Rupees back into Sterling before you leave India at a State Bank of India. To do so you need the receipts given to you when you exchanged your western travellers cheques into Rupees. You may also require the receipts for goods and services you have purchased in India during your stay. Like most of the transactions within the State Bank of India the whole process has a great risk of being very long and tiresome. Unless you have a large sum of Rupees; my advice would be to simply convert them to presents for friends or family at home. It does however make the point that one should carefully calculate what Rupees you want before changing travellers cheques. Nonetheless do not use up all your Rupees on your final pre-embarkation shopping spree as you will require to pay your Airport Tax before you will be allowed through Immigration.  The snack bar in the Delhi Departure Lounge is your last chance to use up your illegally held Rupees which they do gladly by charging exorbitant prices!

When taking traveller's cheques, take some in Dollars and some in Sterling. There are times when, for various reasons beyond your control, a bank does not have the latest exchange rate on one or other of the currencies. Use your Dollars up first as to convert them back to Sterling in U.K. means you have to pay a further conversion charge. Follow the security instructions with your traveller's cheques and do not put them all in one place with the security numbers. Mind you, I had one friend who put one traveller's cheque in each piece of his clothing - he was still trying to find some of them while we boarded the homeward plane!

Sterling or Dollars in cash is acceptable in most places but not the bazaars or remote areas. The problem with carrying cash is of course security.

When you change travellers cheques at a government bank there is a procedure to be followed: You obtain an application form, complete it and hand it over to the appropriate clerk together with your signed travellers cheque(s) and your passport. In return you are given a large brass token with an identity number. At this stage, if you are lucky, you get a seat in a waiting area while your application and documents pass alarmingly from clerk to clerk round the bank. Eventually the cashier will call your token number and dispense the required cash. If your passport has a colourful protective plastic cover it is easier to spot it when it arrives at the cashier's desk - this is a good time to prominently present yourself at the front of the queue! [India did not inherit the practice of queuing from the British Raj!] You can also change travellers cheques at government registered tourist hotels and gift emporiums.

Getting Rupees is always something of a lottery in that the notes tend to be in such a deplorable condition that many vendors will not accept them from you. Traditionally the notes are fastened together into large wads with iron staples which are practically impossible to remove without damaging the notes. Notes come in Rs. 1,000, 500/-, 100/-, 50/-, 50/-, 10/-, 5/-, 2/- and 1/-. If you are going to the bazaar in a rickshaw it is no good proffering a Rs. 500/- note; this will be more than the rickshaw wallah earns in a fortnight - conversely trying to carry any substantial amount of money in Rs.5/-, 2/- or one Rupee notes is not only very inconvenient but also something of a health hazard. Never lick your fingers while counting money. There are coins of Rs. 5/-, 2/- and one Rupee. When it comes to the other side of the decimal place, coins in use have been reduced to 50p and the very occasional 25p. There were once 10p, 5p, 2p and the single paise but I suspect that these have long since ceased to be used. Even in India there is very little that one could buy for a six hundred and fiftieth of a £!

While in theory most of the plastic cards in use in U.K. can be used in India there is some difficulty in getting the newer cards accepted. American Express, Delta and Visa are however accepted without question throughout India. Most shops and hotels will display cards which they will accept there is usually a charge - make enquiries before completing the transaction.

It is sensible to take the Fax number of your U.K. bank for any emergency. Remember the 5 hour time difference when Faxing.

ATM's have now arrived in India's main cities and can be operated by a standard UK Visa debit or credit card to produce pristine new Rupee notes.

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There are very few 'official' camp sites in India that would compare with those usually expected in Europe and certainly none in the mountains of the Central Himalaya. If you plan to trek and camp as you go; then that is literally what you do. If you are in areas that are cultivated or near villages it is customary to ask permission to pitch camp - in the more remote areas, on the banks of rivers, in the forests or on the upland meadows of the mountains you camp wherever it is practicable to do so. As previously mentioned it is very often the availability of water that dictates where you camp. Hillside terraces make good campsites provided the crop has been harvested and there is some water - usually there is a spring nearby as this is used in the course of cultivating the land.

When pitching your tent, find the best level site you can. If there is any slope sleep "head up". In smaller one or two man tents it is best to sleep with one's head at the entrance.

Comfortable camping relies on getting yourself organised. It is best to adopt exactly the same layout in the tent each time you camp - always have your spectacles, torch, water bottle, toilet paper, shoes etc.  in the same place so that even in the pitch black darkness you can find what you want.

When you are camping by rivers or in high meadows in the hills; even if you can find a good level site the chances are that there is often not enough soil to drive in the tent pegs. Use boulders to tie the tent guys to and/or drive the pegs in at a very shallow angle using a rock as a hammer if necessary. Then hope you are not going to be subject to high winds!

With regard to actually stowing your kit; the same general principles apply. Always put the more important/frequently used items in the same place in your kit. This is where pockets on your rucksack or kitbag are so useful. There are certain items that experience will show that you want pretty frequently and it causes total chaos if you have to completely turn out your kitbag on each occasion. Camera, films, water bottle, hat, sun cream, medical kit and cash all need to be readily available.

If you are trekking during the monsoon or when rain is expected, it is useful to have different coloured plastic bags to keep your kit in inside your kit bag. At all costs keep your sleeping bag and mat dry.

It is always preferable, though not always practicable, to set up camp before the sun sets. Especially so, as when trekking continuously day after day, it may be necessary to strike camp in the morning before the sun has had time to drive off the dew. By having an hour's sun in the evening it gives an opportunity to dry off the tents. While the proper folding of tents will prevent them getting uncomfortably wet, nonetheless, if you can give them a good airing before the dew descends in the evening then so much the better. Sleeping bags too benefit from an hour in the sun when there is opportunity - air them off the ground.

If you have a local guide, he will know whether it is permissible to use local forest wood for a campfire - remember in some areas firewood is itself a relatively precious commodity and you will not endear yourself to the local population by having a campfire so big that you have to stand 5 yards back from it. I recall a roadside teahouse in a distant corner of Kumaon, where, after the tea had been made, the chaiwallah took the larger pieces of timber out of the fire, poured water on them and put the timber by the fire for a future brew up. 

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MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken have arrived in Delhi and Bombay but are regarded more as fashion statements than serious eating establishments. As yet, the likes of Little Chef have made no appearance on the roadsides of the rural hinterland. On some main routes there are some very successful restaurants/snack bars which have become established. Notably at Chital, approximately midway between Delhi and Dehra Dun The Chital Grand is such a facility that serves really first class food. The menu ranges from traditional pukhuras and tea to French fries and Coca Cola.

Such establishments are relatively few; it is however commonplace to see numerous roadside restaurants advertising all manner of western food and drink; very often with a noticeable absence of patrons - these are places to avoid.

There is the equivalent of the English lorry drivers roadside cafe. These are known as "dhubbas". You can always tell the good ones, because, not only do they have a fleet of lorries parked outside in the shade but closer inspection will reveal many other travellers. Most dhubbas are built very simply of local materials; thatched roof, mud walls and oven. There is often a group of several dhubbas at one site. They have a variety of chairs and tables and always a number of charpoys (a traditional country bed comprising a timber frame strung with woven jute netting). There is always water available to wash away the dust of the road. After ablutions; you order your food. Tea and chapattis are the simplest fare but if you require something more substantial go and ask the dhubba wallah to show you the contents of the row of covered cooking pots that will be sitting on the edge of the earthen stove - most dhubba wallahs are usually only too keen to oblige, including offering you trial tastings. Dishes are normally vegetarian. If you chose to eat on one of the charpoys; one of the dhubba wallah's boys will bring the food and drink and set it on a plank that rests across the bed frame where you sit cross-legged to eat. After the meal is cleared away (and the plank of wood); it is accepted practice to have a quick snooze on the charpoy. If you do so, make sure any valuables are safe.

For most English visitors I would recommend not drinking the water at a dhubba unless it is one you know well and have visited frequently. There is always tea available and usually a selection of carbonated drinks and/or fruit juice - nowadays some even sell cold beer. If you have a water filter then it is sensible to use it at most dhubbas.

You can buy fruit at the roadside. Bananas and roasted peanuts are available 12 month of the year. You traditionally purchase bananas at so many Rupees for 12 bananas whereas you buy peanuts by the 100 grams wrapped in a cone of newspaper. Metrication is far from universal! Apples, guavas, pears, leeches, oranges and mangoes are all available in due season - leeches and mangoes in the summer (for which the Dehra Dun area is famous); the remainder in the autumn. The 'rules' for eating fruit are the same as anywhere in the world; make sure the fruit is clean,  has unbroken skin and is not over ripe. Oranges and bananas are the 'safest' and are vastly superior flavour to those sold in England.

Many shops sell traditional handmade Indian sweets which are delicious. You usually see them stacked in a glass showcase and they come in various shapes and colours. Many of them are made from milk. Have a care that you are purchasing fresh produce - usually this means purchasing them at the shop where they are actually made. In the Kumaon, Almora is famous for its 'bhal', a sort of fudge covered with prilled sugar. In Dehra Dun there is, near the clock tower, a sweet shop called Kumars which is famous throughout the city and surrounding area. Indian sweets are very acceptable as presents to one's Indian host as an expression of gratitude as well as for birthdays and other festive occasions.

Many Hindus take alcohol. Bottled beer is widely available. Despite having the recommended price printed on the bottle the charge will vary enormously - the extra is the "service charge" of course! Brands such as Kingfisher, Eagle, Castle, Cobra and Gymkana are very similar to western largar, indeed some are imported into U.K.. Many Punjabi's in particular like stronger beer and there are several brands on the market with as much as 9% alcohol - not recommended for  trekkers. There is a great selection of spirits; gin, rum whisky, brandy and vodka are all available under many labels and at a great range of price and quality. The most expensive is about Rs.300/- a bottle and the cheapest Rs.75/-. You get what you pay for! Off licences which are hidden away in most towns, even in the mountains, are known as "English Wine Shops". Wine production has started commercially in India and is becoming more widely available - by comparison to other alcoholic beverages it is still very expensive in comparison to other alcoholic drinks. When you get near to the main Hindu shrines it is unlikely that there will be any alcohol available - indeed, ditto meat and even eggs.

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India has earned a fearful reputation among visitors through horrific stories of "Delhi Belly". While it is undoubtedly true that visitors do get sick; my experience is, that provided one takes sensible precautions - then an upset digestive system is not an inevitability. Most foreigners who get sickness in India do so by eating western style food which is not only itself foreign to those preparing it but is also not eaten by those preparing the food.

The best advice is to eat what the locals eat.

The age of the food freezer and microwave oven is just dawning in India but it will be many years (if ever) before it reaches the rural hinterland.

Upset stomachs: Not the prerogative of foreigners visiting India; many of my Indian friends have had similar experiences at some point in their life  - but all agree that prevention is better than cure.

In the event that you get a problem it will usually take the form of diarrhoea  - Above all do not panic. The probability is that your digestive system is having to cope with a dramatic change of diet and it may be that you are drinking far more than usual. People commonly take Imodium, Lomotil or Ciprofloxacin (the last is an antibiotic which you need a friendly GP or pharmacist to prescribe) which in the vast majority of cases provides the necessary relief. A visit to a chemist will provide other remedies which may be taken with appropriate advice. You can buy most drugs at a chemist in India without a formal prescription but they tend to be lower doses.

Give the medicine a chance to work, do not continue to eat lots of spicy curries. You can survive quite adequately on a diet of tea, chapattis, rice and lentil; indeed, probably 500 million Indians regard such as a normal diet.

Dust: When travelling by road in the winter across the plains dust can be a problem for those with sensitive eyes. An eyebath will be a good item to take for those with sensitive eyes, but do make sure you have access to clean water before attempting any treatment.

Some of the unmade mountain roads receive no rain for as much as 5 months during the winter - you can usually spot the cloud of dust following an approaching bus long before the vehicle is in sight.

Money: Yes, money is a health hazard! Rupee notes, especially the smaller denominations are filthy. If you keep the notes in your wallet; the odour is guaranteed to remind you of your holiday long after you have returned to England! Never lick your fingers when counting money and always wash your hands after doing so.

Altitude sickness: This is an ailment which seems to me to defy all logic; I have experience where the seemingly fittest members of a group suffer, while others less fit (including one who smoked at least 40 cigarettes a day) are totally unaffected. The disability affects different people in different ways and at differing altitude. The answer would appear to be to acclimatise yourself as you climb - some people seem to acclimatise far faster than others. Similarly, it is most important when ascending in a group that everyone goes at their own pace - it is better to arrive last, than to be first and be sick. Do not be concerned that you are some way behind others in your group. It is therefore necessary that everyone is properly briefed before setting out as to what the route is then there need be no worries for anyone 'at the back of the queue'.

Altitude sickness has many symptoms: The first, breathless is obviously common, particularly if your working environment at home involves driving a desk all week - walk at the pace at which you feel comfortable - if you want to stop and rest - do so. Dizziness, loss of balance and lack of appetite are all likely to be symptoms of the affect of altitude. Even when lying in one's sleeping bag at night altitude can have the effect of feeling that one has forgotten to breathe, often necessitating a huge lung full of breath akin to a sigh or yawn.

The best advice must be to ascend any climb at your own individual pace at which you feel comfortable and to Hell with the rest of the group.

Anyone with asthma should take proper medical advice and have a good idea of the heights involved before setting out for such a holiday.

If the altitude makes you sick and you feel your body is not adjusting to the height then the best solution is simply to descend the mountain.

Creepy-crawlies: Fleas are endemic in many hill village houses. A sleeping bag liner that ties up round the neck with a drawstring (from inside) is the best protection together with a good airing and shaking of your sleeping bag in the morning sunshine. Bedbugs are a more painful problem which are liable to occur at some of the less select rest houses, in trains and on overnight buses. If you get bitten, apply the usual insect antihistamine creams after a good wash down with carbolic type soap. Old fashioned red carbolic Lifebuoy is still sold in India and is ideal.

Leeches: only appear in relatively wet and warm conditions. My years in Assam where leeches were extremely common made me familiar with this pest to the point I no longer noticed them. Despite the fact that an engorged leech stuck to your leg looks gruesome, it very rarely hurts, indeed, very often the first you know about the presence of leeches is to notice the bleeding after the creature has dropped off. When they are' attached' by suction and their microscopic 'teeth' you can either pull them off (not medically recommended) or touch them with salt, any solvent, paraffin or a cigarette. However, in a badly leech infested area it is not recommended to stop and take the leeches off as they have a habit of climbing on you faster that you will be removing them! A full grown common leech is about an inch and a half long - there is a buffalo leech that is much bigger with a more serious bite but fortunately it is relatively rare, inhabiting mainly stagnant water and buffalo wallows.

Snakes: are fortunately pretty rare in the mountains - initially take advice from locals if you get bitten and get proper medical treatment as soon as possible. It is not practicable to carry various anti-venom treatments for all the snakes one might meet. Lowland forest areas have the highest risk - stick to the paths and watch for snakes warming themselves in the morning sun.

Spiders, wasps, bees, hornets and sundry other biting insects: Usually one of the modern ammonia based 'sting pens' is very effective when applied immediately after being bitten. There are several species of very innocuous looking flies that bite severely.

Mosquitoes: Put on long sleeved shirts and trousers when there are mosquitoes about. Do not be bashful about using repellent - there are hundreds of makes available - many of my Indian friends use "O de Moz" which smells dreadful but does the job.

I give the views above based on my experience rather than professional medical knowledge which I do not have. Anyone who has particular worries or feels they may be especially at risk should clearly take proper medical advice.
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Many would-be travellers to India appear to overlook the fact that Northern India is on the same side of the Equator as England. Indeed Nanda Devi, India's highest mountain and situate in the Garhwal hills is just over 30 degrees north of the Equator, similar to, say, the Canary Islands or New Orleans. Our winter is thus their winter etc. etc..

Learned volumes have been written elsewhere on the technicalities of the monsoon, but in simplest terms what it really amounts to is that the weather gradually heats up until eventually a period of heavy rain arrives. In the plains of northern India the end of May and early June is the time when it becomes uncomfortably hot and the rain arrives from late June. Delhi reaches well over 40 degrees centigrade which is dramatic when you step out of an air conditioned plane at Delhi airport.

The significance to the trekker is that while it may be unpleasantly hot on the plains, many of the high passes are clear of snow and passable. To be in the hills when the monsoon is actually in progress is however to be there not only with the rain but the consequent floods, landslides and washed out bridges and other similar obstacles. The monsoon clears from the west from the middle of September. By mid November many of the high passes are closed by snow for the winter. June/July is the time not to be in the Central Himalaya mountains because of the monsoon; mid November to mid February is the time to avoid the higher hills because of the cold.

Generally the cessation of the monsoon in the autumn happens far more suddenly that its start in the early summer. Another advantage for travellers in the hills in the autumn is that the mountains are clear for long periods providing spectacular views; because there is very little rain in northern India during the winter the dust gradually builds up so that the clarity is lost.

The "best" weather for you depends on what you want to do.

Climbing expeditions set out before or just after the monsoon. 'Serious' trekkers going up to say 15,000' will need to be in the hills from August to no later than mid October in the autumn. In the Spring April and May will have similar temperatures but trekkers at this time are likely to experience some pre-monsoon rain.

For less energetic travellers and 'explorers' going up to about 10,000' the best time is without doubt October and the first two weeks of November - rain is almost unheard of during this period and the snow peaks of the northern mountains are spectacularly clear. In the spring March /April is similar, albeit the weather may be becoming a little unsettled by the end of April. A further advantage of visiting the Central Himalaya in the autumn is that the crops have been cleared from the mountain terraces and good campsites are much easier to find.
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CHAPTER 13:               

One of the rigours of camping in India for many English visitors is having to cope without a lavatory.

I observe that our western inhibitions make us the butt of both ridicule and amazement from Indian country dwellers. We criticise them for deforestating the landscape for essential fuel; then we (totally needlessly in their view) use the very same resource to wipe our bottoms! In addition, soiled toilet paper can itself become a problem - as on the infamous "Andrex Trail" on the approaches to Everest. I would suggest that any logic tends to favour their viewpoint in preference to ours.

If you are unaccustomed to the use of western bidets so you can 'convert' to Indian custom, the least you can do is to ensure you adversely affect the countryside as little as possible. It is a particular problem for large groups or on very popular trails.

Ladies; in an open landscape: an opened umbrella can afford necessary privacy in an emergency.

Where population levels are relatively sparse I would suggest that the Indian custom of leaving faeces in the open to the effects of sun, weather and dung beetles is very effective. In urban areas the same system does not work and becomes a distinct health hazard, as a walk round the outskirts of many Indian towns will quickly reveal.

When you see villagers disappearing early in the morning into the countryside carrying a receptacle full of water you are unlikely to be approached. It is not a time to attempt to be sociable. Likewise, if you are carrying a beer bottle full of water; they will know where you are going - if however, you have a toilet roll stuffed out of sight in your pocket; they will not - to your subsequent possible embarrassment!

Squatting on the ground to perform one's bodily functions does not come naturally to many of us. I even had one fellow traveller who would disappear each morning into the forest and construct his 'de-lux' western lavatory from rocks lying on the mountainside. This worked well till we visited an area infested with scorpions!

Taking a toilet tent might at first seem the obvious answer to the problem - however, like many things that might seem obvious; in India, it turns out to be far more complicated. Unless you propose to empty and maintain the toilet pail yourself you will find that the Hindu caste system prevents all but the lowest caste of being of assistance. This means that you will have to take someone along of the particular caste to do the job - then because of his low caste the remainder of the villagers who are working as tent boys, porters, muleteers etc. will neither prepare food for him or eat with him; so you finish up taking a further cook to look after the toilet tent assistant! All in all it is more trouble than it is worth.

The answer is:-

(a) realistically acknowledge the problem,

(b) take a spade or Indian trowel ("kurpi") and keep the area clean and tidy, or,

(c) convert to 'native custom'.

Do not be unnecessarily put off - there is life without Mr. Thomas Crapper's invention!
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English is the teaching medium in most Indian private schools where children start using the language as early as 5 years of age. In consequence, in much of India, even if the person to whom you are trying to talk to does not understand, there is likely to be someone in the vicinity who does. Of course, in remote hill villages it is more probable that there will be no one who will speak English, other than possibly the local schoolmaster. The hill men are already bilingual in that Hindi is a second language to their local dialect.

Many people make the mistake of taking great trouble to learn enough Hindi to conduct a conversation only to find that the tribal people with whom they are trekking speak even less Hindi than they do! Even on the plains, your Hindi may not be 'heard' initially as the listener will not expect you to be able to speak it.

Indians are generally great conversationalists and enjoy talking to strangers. Beware however of any who are seeking merely to practice their English on you!

In the popular tourist areas there will be many people who can competently communicate in English - even including some of the beggars!

It is perhaps worth learning a few words: The greeting "Namusti" is used universally throughout northern India accompanied by a nod of the head and the joining of hands as if in prayer. In some areas a less formal greeting of "Namuska" is used.

If you are meeting villagers who, for whatever reason, hold you in special reverence, then it is traditional that they will come forward and touch your feet; this is a sign of great respect and should never be rejected - to do so is a very great insult.

Only people who have had contact with westernised society will seek to shake hands.

The word for "thank you" is "sukria" (sook - ree - a). It use, however, is far less than in western society. Villagers helping you on a trek do not expect to be thanked all the time as it is their job for which they are in any case very thankful. Thanks tend to be reserved for more formal occasions or as part of a "goodbye" in gratitude at the end of a trek.

"Jow" (rhyming with cow) means "go" and "bug jow" is the near equivalent of "bugger off", which phrase may be urgently needed when you are surrounded by hoards of beggars demanding "buckshees" in tourist 'hot spots'. Unfortunately, it is usually ineffective to tell beggars to "bug jow" however well and confidently you say it; beggars are very astute at spotting you as an appropriate target and unless you have more fluent Hindi to respond to their backchat you will remain a target for their begging.

It may be useful to learn a few nouns for essential items.

If you want to promote conversation, as explained the best way is to produce some photos of your life in England.

When bargaining to purchase goods, if you do not understand the price being asked, signal the vendor to write the sum on a piece of paper which he will probably be able to do in English.
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CHAPTER 15:                         

My final piece of advice is this: If you go to India, go with an open mind. Try and avoid adopting too many preconceptions of what you think it ought to be like. If you have never been before, the one thing that I can guarantee is that it will be different from what you were originally expecting.

You are likely to meet extremes of wealth and poverty, culture and religions totally different from ours but above all a friendliness that our western society has long since lost in the pursuit of material progress.

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