Great Things and a Great Ordeal

(sorry for the hiatus – several things in flux here)

Its our last day in Calcutta – so we head out early. Bob wakes without ill effects from the window pane and tranc dart. Ellen told me that it was the same brand of darts she uses at home and Bob’s system is accustomed to them. Yet I can tell that Bob is weakening even though he is putting on a brave face. Refusing to give in we plan a good half day of activities before we jet out of Calcutta to Bagdogbra for points North – the amazing past kingdom/present state of India — Sikkim.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

As I was perusing the city map I noticed that Calcutta has a huge botanical garden/green space across the river. The major domo calls us a cab and we are on our way. The small yellow Tata cab plows headlong into the sea of mobile flesh and metal that is the living blood of the great city. The blood ebbs and flows never seeming to hurry yet never completely stopping, inexorably moving the living city. We flow with traffic crossing the river and never see a let up to the congestion. People everywhere moving like flocks of birds with seeming telepathic coordination – how thousands of people are not killed in traffic daily at just this city is beyond me! But against all odds we arrive at the gates to the botanic gardens. The city and its endemic congestion is such an extreme contrast to the serene wilderness of the botanic gardens that the gateway to the gardens appears no less to be a teleportation gateway! This illusion is pulled off by the ingenious design of the gardens, the mature trees as well as the large size of the gardens. I estimate the garden is roughly 1.5 miles by 1/2 mile – so it is big. It allows fabulous grand wild scenic vistas. We pay our pittance for admittance and we’re teleported to the Indian Jungle wilderness. From shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe congestion to the nearly deserted wilderness in one step! Even the air changed! Cooler and fragrant with exotic floral scents. We start our walk checking the map and walk along the river toward the giant banyan tree at the other end of the garden. There it is ahead – the greatest of all water lilies Victoria regia with pads 6+ feet across.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

That Victoria person keeps cropping up! There are other tropical lilies too with beautiful fragrant blooms.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The place appears as a wilderness but the studied eye of an astute plant person such as I see that it is a garden. As we walk along seeing hundreds of birds I posit that the place must surely also house leopards!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

We got to see the langur monkey above cavorting with such great élan and joi de vive that I couldn’t help but think of Kevin as he runs on the beach at camp! Then he stopped and lounged in his favorite tree. I can’t help but think that I had just seen the happiest monkey in all of India! The next vista I got to see brought a great joy to me as well.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

This view of a tropic jungle backwater of a river is within the boundaries of Calcutta! This is a garden unlike any I have seen before and I wager that I’ll ever see again. Absolutely fabulous! As I was reveling in my botanical overdose I didn’t notice how much Bob was struggling on our walk on level ground. This is most strange as Bob’s long legs gobble up the distance and he has preternatural stamina normally. Not today though. But he was enjoying the garden as well and he was trying to push through it. We checked the time and hoofed it back to the entrance of the gardens to hail a taxi back to the Kempton to collect our bags and head to the airport and thence to Bagdogbra and beyond. It is to be a long arduous travel day!

We get to the airport with plenty of time and then we read the departure tote board to see that we’ll be delayed and it turns out that we’ll be delayed a few more times too. The up shot – Bob is stressed and there is Airport food in his stomach and we don’t get going for about 6 hours. The pleasures of domestic Indian air travel. This has manifold adverse effects down the road as when we land in Bagdogbra we’ll have a ~6 hour taxi ride yet to Gangtok. So we’ll be on the road all night! Even though Bob is keeping a stiff upper lip I know he is running on empty and I am very anxious that the window pane LSD might flash back on him any moment.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

That’s our jet in the background and it would soon take us north to the small airport. After boarding and air-born Bob was able to get some much needed rest. We land to much engine roaring and braking at the Bagdogbra airport’s short runway. We disembark after the landing and settle into our developing travel habits – I gather and shepherd the luggage as Bob secures a taxi ride to our next destination at the state controlled prepay station. His job often time is the more arduous one!

Much to my surprise our next destination wasn’t a local hotel but our lodgings in Gangtok approximately 6+ hours of cab ride away! I felt like the Blues Brothers – “its 11:30 at night, we have a quarter of a tank of gas and we’re wearing sunglasses – our lady of blessed acceleration don’t fail us now..” And so we were off into the night in a nice large Mahindra SUV to Gangtok.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

This was serious stuff. We weren’t more than 2 hours into the trip and we stopped to get soft drinks in hopes of quenching my thirst and settling Bob’s rebelling stomach. But it was to no avail, another hour on we stopped to allow bob to evacuate his stomach. I got out of the car and kept my hand on his back and handed him bottled water and napkins with my other. Later Bob was to exclaim that he had no idea how empathetic I was. I told him I was just holding onto his shirt to prevent him from dizzily listing as he retched perhaps going over the bank and down to the ditch some 15 feet below because he had our itinerary and contact list! I don’t think I convinced him. He got through the up-chucking and settled back into the SUV and I think he was able to doze as we bumped our way northward. It was a rough ride, but a rougher ride for Bob..

We arrive in due course at the boarder of Sikkim. This border is not like other Indian provincial borders it is more of a national border. But we came armed with “Line Passes” for Sikkim – the equivalent to a visa. But there are a couple of problems! The border control station that accepts and stamps Line Passes is closed! But Bob and I rouse ourselves from our torpor and unknowingly approach the border offices. After some loud questions that we didn’t understand Bob even in his diminished state kicked into wizard mode. He fixed the official with a stage 7 (remarkably yes, a stage 7) Innocent Unknowing Deer-in-the-Headlights Stupid Harmless American Tourist with Money look. I also sensed exhausted and sick mixed with the stare too. The border official sighed frowned turned on the single 20 watt light bulb (no wonder they close the boarder after the sun goes down) and peers at our papers. I remove my small flashlight from my pocket and shed some light on the subject. Then the second problem – we have no little passport photos on our line passes!!! At this turn of events Bob dials up “the Look” to an 8 and the official totally caves! He is trembling as he shakes his head whilst stamping our line passes. He knows he has encountered a true force to be reckoned with and that he never really had a chance! Bob and I settle back into our ride and off we go on the last 2.5 hours of our traverse.

The last 2 hours in many ways was the worst. There was no traffic at this time of night but the narrow two lane road wound its way through the foot mountains of the greatest mountain range on earth. It traversed the distance with minimal bridges by not spanning any ravines instead turning into the ravine, staying level along the steep slope to the end of the ravine then turning back to the original course at mouth of the ravine. This routine was repeated countless times as well as many places with potholes being fixed. This road had more bumps and grinds than Lili Von Shtupp the Teutonic Titwillow!

But our talented and persevering driver kept us on the right track. We arrive in Gangtok and proceed with a couple small hiccups to our lodgings at the Orchid Glade guest house. Bob is completely out of it and shaking with chills and slight nausea. I exit the cab and grab some of our luggage the remains handled by our diligent driver and go up the ramp to our guesthouse. As with all the cities built on the edge of the Himalayas, they are strung out along the ridge and much of the city is often not occupying the coveted top of the ridge. Such is the case with our lodgings and its neighborhood built on a steep slope. The ramp up to the guesthouse rises approximately 40 feet from the road. Bob has stirred and is stagger shambling slowly up the ramp clutching the railing desperately. I judge that he is managing it ok so continue up the ramp with my load. Even though it is the wee hours of the morn the hotel owners/staff detect our presence before we get to the ramp top and our bags are grabbed and transported for us. I go back to Bob and see that he is flagging badly and is ashen and is trembling when I put my arm around him to help he feels like a limp noodle – I am deeply concerned, I have to get him settled in and resting ASAP. Roshan the hotel Major Domo/facilitator greeted us. I lapse into emergency direct bareknuckle Newton mode and state that Mr. Bob is sick and must get to bed immediately with extra blankets and a pot of hot tea with lots of cream and sugar. Roshan responded to my direct matter of fact demands with a strange head waggle that I later found to be ubiquitous amongst the peoples of the high Himalayan countries. The waggle is neither a western “yes” nod nor “no” head shake. The head is waggled about a point about where the nose is – with the top of the head going to the left and the chin going to the right. In “Newton Mode”  hemming hawing or equivocation is NOT brooked — there are bigger issues afoot and the Newton’s demands must be met or there will definitely be repercussions. I am tired so it makes it even worse, I grab Roshan by the arm and premptively apologize. “I am sorry I have no idea what you head shaking means – do you understand my needs and will they be met quickly?” Roshan tells me that it means agreement and compliance. I say “excellent!” and away we go. Bob is soon dressed in his warm night clothes with a sweatshirt and I have him tucked in and sipping on hot sweet milky tea. He is soon off to sleep…..

Morning comes and Bob has stepped back from the precipice of disaster yet is still weak and shaky. But just as an ailing peacock will strut and preen with the best of them even if he is in bad shape Bob awakes seemingly bright eyed and bushy tailed!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Here Bob is in our sunroom enjoying late morning tea and a hearty repast of medications. I will close with this picture – its one of my favorites of Bob – lounging and smiling gamely. It pretty much sums up Bob. Game for anything in any condition and making it look easy in a nonchalant way.

Advertisements

Calcutta – City of light, City of magic

We awake in our opulent digs in The Kempton with expectations of the days adventures in the great city of Calcutta. My expectations laced with a bit of anxiety from my dread of and big cities and congestion. Bob seemed sunny and raring to get to the days adventures. So we sauntered down to the breakfast buffet.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

We fortify ourselves for the days adventure and order up a car and driver for our days travels and travails. As I was enjoying my repast I notice a herd of goats being shepherded down the tight alley next to the hotel. Where are these cute little beasties going on hoof in the near center of this giant of a city??? Bob and I talk it over and hope that we’re not near a local abattoir! But we can think of no other reason for a herd of goats in the city. I put our needlessly speculative musings from my mind and try to finish my meal. We gather our goods and off we go to see the city.

Our first stop will be the Queen Victoria Memorial. On the way I am shocked – shocked I tell you at the huge areas of green space! We now find out where the goats were going – they were going to work cutting the grass on the massive fields of grass which host all manner of local sport.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Fields of goats and some horses. There were Calcutta Cowboys (no cows?) on horse back and many many young men and boys with long bamboo switches that were keeping the goats and other livestock from the roads and the fields that were hosting huge soccer games.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Threading through the center of the green space was a line of the local trolley system. There isn’t any coincidence  if these trolleys look like they are from the 1930s. They probably are. Bob says that the many hulking ancient masses of metal loosely called buses started life in a British city. The English then rode them hard and when they were deemed completely worn out and without the necessary skeleton for a rebuild platform they were shipped to Africa. In Africa they were taped together and patch welded and put into service for as many years as they will stay on the road without the help of jersey barriers on each side of the road. Do the “buses” then go to the scrap yards of Nairobi??? Nope! They get sold to the public transportation system of Calcutta! The origins of the trolleys are probably similar.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

There are literally hundreds of acres of green space in the center of Calcutta! After this eye opening experience we arrive at the Queen Victoria Memorial and its adjoining acres of gardens adjacent to the city’s green space.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

There it is in all its obvious ostentation of a global empire’s potentate. I am in awe of the grandeur and obvious power of the British Empire. Even as it manifests itself in this attenuated time. I am accustomed to seeing the Queen’s picture in all the gov’t offices of  Canada and I cerebrally know the History of perhaps the worlds greatest global Empire, but seeing the pictures and so on in Canada doesn’t really drive the point home. But this does! (He said understatedly) Huge gardens with ponds and trees surrounding a huge domed structure rivaling the US Capital building! And you know what??? This is still a memorial to Queen Victoria housing a museum to her majesty.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

There she is in all her majesty. Flanked by the British lions.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

We pay our entrance fees and walk the grounds. Absolutely awe inspiring but even more so was my second favorite tree in India (hey this is a big deal for me!). So what could possibly top the majesty of Queen Victoria??? The worlds greatest mimosa tree! It was absolutely fabulous!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

There I am comparing my hefty trunk with a truly magnificent tree! Amazing. As you can see the parks and parklands are nearly deserted! I posit that this is a manifestation of a reverse condition to my aversion to bustle and congestion – people raised in the daily bustle of tight urban environs most surely must feel anxiety when confronted by this very minor dose of wilderness. The people seem to be like bees in a hive – they fly off on errands but always return asap to jostle shoulder to shoulder with their brethren for the comfort of normalcy. There is an obvious demarcation between the congested city and the parkland – cheek by jowl, shoulder to shoulder with beggars pulling at you dodging people here – cross the road **poof** nobody! Empty Parkland.

The next leg of our days adventures are the temples. We go to two temples – one a school as well and the other just a sacred place. Interesting and occupying real estate along the river. So I got to see boats and water plants in the river. I am not much impressed with temples – but here’s a cool picture from one of the temples.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

They apparently weren’t getting enough money from the faithful so they started collecting from the merely full.

We decide that after the morning we would adjourn to the hotel walk the area and locate a power plug for our electronic devices and locate one of the great restaurants of India for lunch and again sample the street life of this giant of a city.

We’re dropped at the hotel and the driver says he’ll hang out until we need him again for the after noon. We take off and “blend into the crowd” LOL yeah right – a fat old curmudgeon in a very stylish panama hat (looking like an overfed Hannibal Lechter) and a distinguished oddly English looking aristocrat. (What’s he doing with the ugly American???) We enjoy our walk and pause at a corner to get my obligatory shot of the amazing wiring here in India.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Standing on the corner where this shot was taken I turned and there was the small ubiquitous Indian store front and they were specializing in electronics! Moving one step I asked Bob for his phone – pointed to the charging port and asked for a charger plug. The store owner swiveled in his seat and took it off the wall and handed it to me. I handed him the money and got the change. That is so indicative of transactions in India – there isn’t any real browsing seeing things that you didn’t know you needed. You must know what you need go to the little store front carrying that item and ask for it. The little store stalls are only about 10 to 12 feet wide on average and the inventory of the store goes way into the back of the store. We then went in search of the “Barbecue” for lunch. After several missed turns and me being chased down by a toddler street urchin beggar – boy she was fast! And she stuck to me like a burdock on a collie! I might be fat and old but I slid into a group of moslem clerics did a pivot and doubled back to Bob. – we walked up to a large teak door with a small Barbecue sign on it. LOL all the best places don’t have to advertise. Low and behold this was the place. We went up the stairs and were seated by the maitre’d. Sweet! We were hot and famished and the waiter provided the expected world class service. Our menus included King Fisher Premium Lager Beer!!! And Appetizers – prawn dumplings OMG! Yum! Ice cold Indian Kingfisher Premium Lager and prawn dumplings!!!!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Observe the half lidded look of ecstasy on his countenance! This man said he is not a beer drinker! I shit you not! Show me a nonbeer drinker and I’ll place an ice cold bottle of Kingfisher in his hand and watch that moniker melt away!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

This was the first of several fine beers that met their demise at our table that day! Bob kept up pretty well too. I was a little surprised and subliminally thought that too many beers may not be good for the impending cold that Bob was sensing. I am not one to get in the way of mirth making so said nothing to put the brakes on it. After our sumptuous repast we wended our way back to the Hotel. This time via a direct route even though we’d had a few beers but I had mentally mapped the area by this time and was at home with this small area of Calcutta.

We boarded our car back at the Kempton and took off for the Mother Teresa clip shop and profit center compound downtown Calcutta. We are dropped at the door as there was a good crop of foreign sheep already there to be shorn. Our driver said he’d be back at the door in about an hour +/-. Bob rushed in after he saw a chalk board with the times for mass and communion inclusive of a tasty wafer thin cracker. We apparently made it just in time for the last shearing. As with all criminal establishments pictures were not allowed so I can’t present any here – Bob may have gotten a couple in his ecumenical zeal. He was so obviously ecstatic I couldn’t bear to tell him about the reports of the wafer’s being laced with low grade generic window pane LSD! I didn’t find it seemly to enter the inner sanctum so observed from out in the foyer. After several perfunctory banal and meaningless memes the priest was dispensing the LSD laced hosts….. omg Bob is in line!!!! Shit! Shit! Shit! LSD doesn’t mix well with beer (not that I have any first hand experience mind you……) He’s approaching the priest now…. next in line… will he be fed the LSD host or take it in his hand?…. he’s infront of the priest!….. Bob is the last in line….. Bob opens his mouth like a baby swallow and the priest dumps all the remains of the small pile of LSD hosts into……. BOB’S GAPING MAW!!!!!!! OMFG!!! I’m in for a long night – I wonder how fast he is with those long legs…. he has a few years on me but I still may not be able to keep up with him if he freaks and takes off….. But he’s tall…. I should be able to track him….. Yee Gads What the hell is going to happen. I get Bob back into our waiting car hoping I can get him locked in the room before the window pane kicks in. But Bob has other ideas – he wants to purchase a Lungi or Indian sarong. Holy shit this could be bad – I envision a nearly nude wild eyed hopped up Bob in a loud multicolored floral print Lungi disappearing into the hot Calcutta night. My only hope was that he might select some colors that were a little more appropriate for a man of his age and dignitas to be wearing on a drug induced tear in the evening! As grandma Marks would have said “For pity sake!” Woe is me what am I to do???? Now you all might be thinking – how selfish of you Jack to be thinking only of your predicament and not what’s happening to Bob. But you’ve obviously not been exposed to the force of nature Bob is when he has a couple beers! Its like getting onto a roller coaster and feeling the automated safety bar come down on your thighs. As Bette Davis said, “Fasten your safety belts we’re in for a bumpy night!”

Our fine a diligent driver takes us to the market and we find our way to the lungi sales booth and the salesmen shows us his wares and realizes that these are all a little short for this freakishly tall anglo and with fear in his eye from the impending storm he senses coming runs to find some longer lungis. We can’t have an LSD crazed anglo running around in a miniskirt – er- minilungi……. The clerk returns with the goods and I see that the window pane hasn’t yet kicked in and Bob makes a very well considered choice. (I won’t spoil it for next summers camp goers by giving much detail so you can all be amazed when he’s debuts in it) I help with the change and hustle Bob back to the car. We get back to the Kempton in quick order and I herd Bob to the room – thinking that the heavy teak doors should be proof against him – and I may be home free yet. I get him to the room with few raised eyebrows and reach into my back pack for the tranc gun – pffffft and he’s hit in the left cheek, the hypo injects before he claws for it, and falls nicely onto the bed – left cheek up! Woooo close one! It was just up to me to get a few extra sheets from the staff and securely tie the somnabulent potential urban myth to the bed and get some much needed shut eye – tomorrow is a travel day after all……

A Passage to Calcutta

We’ve successfully navigated travel halfway around the globe and survived the onslaught of a determined Mama Ji but we have yet to be confronted by the vagaries of domestic India air travel. But we are well fed and rested and looking forward to passage to Calcutta as another day of our adventure. We check out of our hole in the wall hotel and make our way back to the New Delhi airport to begin our next leg – the flight to Calcutta.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The Delhi airport is spacious and efficient and I really like the elephant sculpture. Here’s Bob in the foreground after we’ve checked our bags. Since Bob knows how quickly changes occur with domestic Indian travel we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to deal with changes. Thus we had lots of time to find the correct lines, locations, gates etc. And I assure you it is all quite confusing as there were several times that Bob and I had discussions as to what signs and tote boards meant but in almost every instance of confusion Bob employed his specific super power of locating an official that knows the particular information we need and asking him the questions pertinent to our needs. It was also a little muddled as the flights to Calcutta were oddly handled from the international terminal areas. But we handled it all with calm efficiency. There was a small misunderstanding at baggage check in. We didn’t check our bottle of Gin with the normal baggage. We picked up the bottle Gin when we landed at the airport and thus had it with our carry on bags – that’s ok as long as the bottle was procured inside the security perimeter of the flight. But when bringing the bottle from outside the flight perimeter, the bottle (above the tiny carry on volume restriction) must be with the checked in baggage. I also had my tiny (~1″ swiss army) penknife on its silver chain to prevent it’s stupid owner from misplacing it on my person. I forgot about the flight restrictions when I dressed. So as we were being screened for entrance to the flight area it became obvious that the bottle of Gin wasn’t allowed and neither was my giant edged weapon. Thinking fast – Bob took one of our three carry on bags and suggested that we could put it into the check on bags. We got odd looks but mostly that its possible to do. So the Gin and my tiny knife were retrieved and put into our third carry on bag and Bob when against the flow back to baggage check in. Bob brilliantly circumvented the check in line by catching the eye of the check in agent and employing his vaunted “confused – sincere and well meaning American” look got the deed done. It worked splendidly and he had only to endure a slight  reprimand from the agent by way of scolding him for not paying close enough attention.  I remained safely in the flight security zone with our carry on bags. So in short order all was right with the world – our Gin and my small pen knife were safely ensconced in our check in baggage. We could now relax and watch the big board for gate changes, delays etc. as well as supply ourselves with food etc. I also got to stroll around the airport and soak it in. My favorite sign was one showing a direct equivalence of harmful vices.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Now we have time to take care of some loose ends. Bob decides to get an Indian SIM card for his phone to facilitate the convenience of local calls and we need to get something to eat. The SIM card is installed at a small Kiosk and Bob’s phone doesn’t seem to be digesting the new addition and we decide to see what an Indian McDonalds is like. Well there was no beef on the menu at all and several tofu or vegetable burgers were the substituted items. YUM LOL I shuddered. I had a fish sandwich, fries and a coke and Bob had the same but with a chicken sandwich. It was different but not bad.

As with all travel – time seems to disappear. Especially when you’re on a flight to the east! we were soon on our flight to Calcutta.

It was dark when we winged near Calcutta and the air quality was head and shoulders above Delhi’s. I was approaching Calcutta with a bit of trepidation as it is a city notorious for filth, heat, congestion, poverty, epidemic disease, and pollution. There is also a notorious Calcutta urban legend of a large Caucasian man running rife throughout the city accosting rickshaw pullers and then absconding with their rickshaws never to be seen again! The urban legend goes that the man has a head that wouldn’t fit in a bucket and he laughs riotously sweating  profusely as he ploddingly absconds with his illicitly acquired rickshaw. At other times he is reported to be singing! “Confutatus Maledictus, confutatuuuuuus……” No one has of yet discovered his alleged motivations – but there are some theories. One of the theories is that Tata heavy industry has hired him to cripple the individual decentralized system of mass transportation….. Another more widely held theory is that he is just bat-shit crazy! I am in the second camp. So the plane swings around and comes into this giant of a city, an intimidating city, a city of joy and life.

We land without fanfare or mishap and smoothly collect our bags and acquire our prepaid taxi fare chit to go to the Kempton Hotel.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Almost all of the taxis are Ambassadors. A design deemed out dated when it was put on the road during Indira Gandhi’s time in power. But look closely at the picture this is not a photo from the 50’s it was just a few short weeks ago! The design is considered to be one of the worlds great taxis! It also won the taxi race a while back between the worlds greatest taxis on Top Gear!!! Heady completion indeed. We procure our anachronistic taxi and head into the heart of the beast. As our driver is loading our bags into the boot of the Ambassador I admonish him to under no circumstances stop if a large Caucasian rickshaw puller stops in front of us – always maintain enough room to turn away from the phantasm.

It was a short drive into the city but a long drive to the center of the city. Passing thousands of congested byways populated by millions of entrepreneurs single-mindedly hustling and bustling to make a living for themselves and their families. After about 15 minutes of congested driving in slow going tight conditions we merge into a matrix of narrow narrow alley ways – that taxi turning this way and that going over curbs, clipping bicyclists, pushing cows out of the way, disturbing feral dogs snoozing on the curb, avoiding small tie ups and difficulties — could it be that the notorious Caucasian rickshaw puller was sighted???? My imagination was pushing me near panic. When ever I visit New York City – I go through this. I know that there is a high probability that I will have a devastating agoraphobic episode and there is no way in god’s hell that I could escape such a giant entity in time to avert my impending death. So that is what I am feeling as the small taxi bumps into the night squeezing into byway after alley to gap between falling buildings ducking under power wires with my anxiety mounting with the realization that the taxi driver most certainly has no idea where the Kempton Hotel is and that he will summarily dump us in front of a rat infested hole between condemned structures. The taxis slows my worst fears about to be realized……. he sounds his horn and an iron gate slides aside and the taxi drives onto a small courtyard paved with marble next to a beautiful modern glass, brass and marble Hotel….. yes the HOTEL KEMPTON! My car-door is opened by a smiling gentleman in uniform. I’m beckoned to the hotel door by a footman who is busying himself with our bags and the uniformed doorman opens the door for us.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The Hotel desk man cordially says that we’ve been expecting you, and calls us by name and a liveried waiter with a silver tray presents us with crystal stem ware glasses filled with chilled guava nectar. We should have paid someone to film our arrival so we could relive feeling like celebrities every day. Wow did my anxiety levels drop!!!! The only way they could have dropped more is if the stemware was filled with a nice single malt scotch! The Kempton is a sumptuous and well appointed hotel with 5 star service but it seemed like heaven to me when presented against the backdrop of an imagined hell.

We jointed our luggage in our comfortable rooms and unwound for a few minutes – then went down to the hotel restaurant for supper. We were one of two tables being served and the wait staff treated us like honored uncles. When Bob requested the tandoori prawns he was apologetically informed that they didn’t have any at this time. He asked if they were perhaps out of season….. and the waiter said that that didn’t matter, we will have them tomorrow if you would like them at that time. (And what’s more is that they did!)

After we dined we decided to leave our sanctuary and take a walk around Calcutta. Bob was  concerned about the preliminary symptoms of cold or flu. We were on a little quest to locate some highly touted anticold Vicks product with Asian rhino horn, ground snake penis and the yellow scat of musk melon eating pangolins. The doses that Bob bought to bring on the trip were still sitting on an end table back in western New York. I hope one of their dogs doesn’t get into it…… Needless to say we didn’t find it but we did navigate the night streets of Calcutta. Bob moving with naïve confidence and me with waning anxiety.

So our time in the City of Joy was beginning – I was as yet a bit anxious.

I leave you with a picture of the door to our rooms – it is 3.5″ of solid fucking teak! 3.5″ Inches of TEAK! This bank vault door like piece of wood could stop the Terminator and look beautiful doing it!!! This reminded me of how Pizzaro had horse shoes made of silver put on his horses in south America.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Such decadent and profligate use of wonderful material!

Day 2 – We narrowly miss Sandjay MacPatel

After the eventful and lengthy flight we are tired and in need of some much needed rest to recharge and acclimate to the local time. We disembark and enter the New Delhi Airport to be welcomed by the giant graceful hand sculptures in the New Delhi International airport receiving area. We are a little worried that our E-Visas will be a liability now, costing us some delays at customs/immigration. But the Indian authorities are all over this! They have about 10 stalls set up to specifically service international E-visas. I look over at the  mile long “switchback” line that the Indians are mired in and feel so sorry for Mama Ji – I wonder if she got in line near the projectile vomit child. But the errant bit of empathy is quickly exorcised and I proceed to the E-Visa line with Bob. Bob is first to the booth in our line as he is in his “run off and join the circus” mode. One has to keep an eye on him when he’s like this. But its pretty easy as he towers above the crowd. Bob presents his papers and is electronically fingerprinted and moves on. I present my papers and pass port and my prints are processed. I am waved on — but wait — I am called back, the agent forgot to stamp one of my papers. He has to begin again and he goes a little slower this time. But he gets it done quickly. I soon am scanning for Bob but he is nearby waiting putting my earlier observation about him running off to rest! So we rejoin and collect our baggage and proceed. Next step is well planned by Bob – in order to avoid the taxi cab rush of  vultures feeding on a new carcass, we pre-purchase our taxi fare at the prepay stand avoiding the haggle hassle with several drivers vying for our business. We then take our receipt out to a designated driver and proceed to the location noted on the paper. We load up and are on our way. A while down the road there is some jabbering on the phone and it appears as though our driver doesn’t know the location of our prepaid lodgings. What you say? They can’t find The Hotel Brigadoon New Delhi???? Yes apparently the day this 100 years that its accepting guests is over and the hotel has again disappeared into the mists of the Indian moors. Perhaps its just the worsening air quality plaguing New Delhi from the inversion. Bob doesn’t know that we’ve narrowly avoided a time vortex but is as yet intent to get to our lodgings or some lodgings so he tells our driver to return us to the airport. Back we go. And back to the prepay taxi booth. The agent there calls the Hotel Brigadoon only to get a disconnected phone message! They apparently disconnected their phones before being subsumed by the century long time vortex. Yegads!!! What do we do now???? Not to worry the agent has the name of a nearby hotel at a good price – probably his brother in law’s. We get booked there and give a few more rupees to cover the difference in distance and we are off once again into the Indian night. The hotel seems far away from the airport and we drive into a pretty seedy looking area then make a sharp right into a very narrow alley probably too narrow for a full size car and then emerge into a small garden courtyard adjacent to the doors of a high end hotel! And it has no hint of Scottish character about it as the bell hops are watching cricket and we’re expected. This place will not slip away in 24 hrs time! We check in and are soon comfortably ensconced in our room. I am always amazed at the amount of marble everywhere in India. Marble floors, stairs, bathrooms, walls, table tops etc. This place is put together and the beds are soft and comfortable. We unwind and are soon sleeping comfortably.

Morning light comes early but it means little to us as we’ve slept for a good 9 hours. Bob is in the bathroom showering as I open the door to our tiny balcony— no better to say veranda…

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto! I see a wing of three ring necked plum headed parakeets, several Asian crows and a pariah kite as the neighbor’s dog is barking at a feral dog and keeping him off of his family’s turf. The lush vegetation of the back alleys of New Delhi always catches me by surprise.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The people of New Delhi like us are waking and making preparations for another day of hard work and hustling for a living.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The neighbor is showing why the air quality during an inversion gets progressively exponentially worse as the day or days go on. The neighbor pictured is drying cow patties (not the noted cow girl) on the roof abutments. They will later be burnt (smoldered?) for cooking fires. Hmm no wonder Indian cuisine is a taste I have not acquired and it is generally so heavily spiced. The black tanks are water supply tanks. The municipal water system is only on during designated days or hours and water is drawn from the system at those times and stored on the roof of each building to supply 24 hr water. It would have to be pumped to the roof for good pressure in any case.

Bob soon exits the bathroom and enjoys the view with me content in the idea that he has used every drop of hot water. LOL Not really, I kept the water heater on and there is plenty for my ablutions as well. Jim Baxter warned me about Bob’s MO with the hot water so I am vigilant to make sure that the heater stays on. After my shower and repacking we decide to have breakfast in our room before we fly off to Calcutta. Note: I like the old name for Kolkata better as I have fine Shimano casting by that name and shall continue to use that here in the blog. We opt for scrambled eggs, toast, juice and tea. We are rested and ready to brave the vagaries of dun dun dun (foreboding music) domestic Indian air travel……. So I will leave that tale to the next blog.

INDIA II – Day One…

Wherein Jack does battle with the most dangerous of India’s Mega Fauna.

Yes dear reader I’m back from my second trip to India with Bob. It was a great adventure with “ups and downs” but mostly all “ups” and the downs were merely character building and learning exercises. So it was all good going on great.

Mother India is yet an enigma to me in many ways but after the first day of this trip I came onto some basic realizations about the land. India is Under Construction and I don’t think it will ever be complete. I’m not sure that even any phase of the construction will be complete before they need to update it or expand it. Even the way they build lends itself to this mentality. They build in tiers with rebar reinforced concrete. Occupying the lower tier whilst the upper tier is being worked on and the top floor awaits a start! If I come back ten years from now there will be two more floors completed but there will still be an identical situation on the top two floors. The top floor always has rebar reaching for the sky. Another observation is that – The apparent exterior condition more often than not is diametrically opposite to the interior condition. For instance you may drive through a congested fetid hot mess of a neighborhood then drive back a narrow dark alley, park the car, then go into a fabulous marble and gold gilt super clean high end hotel! And the obverse — When closely approaching a beautiful fantasmagorical huge marble domed temple structure of fabulous architecture you begin to see how dirty, shabby and littered the interior is. You just want to step back away from the place and forget that you’ve seen the interior. But enough observations – I’ll try and save those for the end.

Jack vs. the fiercest of India’s Mega-fauna

Bob and I make our way to Pearson International in Toronto for our flight out to Delhi. There are hundreds of Indians on their way home vying for position to check in baggage and secure boarding passes and there are no better line jumpers and que circumventers than Indians! Bob and I go with the flow and do our best but find our selves in a “purgatory line”. Then Bob does something brilliant…. He flags down an official looking person and asks him the 10,000 rupee question —- “Is this the line for the flight to New Delhi?” And he does it with his best “Dear father Bob – we have only the worlds best interests in mind” delivery! Ye Gads it works! The official takes us out of purgatory and takes us to the promised land (line)! We are just three people away from boarding passes and checking luggage! This is why Bob is still among the greatest world travelers of all time! We get everything we need go through security and board the plane.

Bob being a tall lanky guy requires more leg room than generally provided by airlines so he will generally purchase seats right aft of the bulkhead behind first class. That gives a lot more leg room and he usually gets the aisle seat too. For the long haul flight a big-ass plane has three seats on each window side, the two aisles, and a row of four seats in the middle. The middle seats just behind the bulkhead are DEATH! There invariably is a baby or babies here as a cradle can be affixed to the bulkhead for the baby when the plane is under way. Ok you got the picture. Now here it comes – the most fearsome of Indian mega fauna arrives —– MAMA JI (and her poor beat down husband). A Mama Ji is an aging matriarch of the family that is in charge of everything and is universally catered to. Mama Ji and hubby have the two tickets for the window seat next to me and Bob and the aisle seat for the center (DEATH) section. Mama Ji wants to consolidate her seats. She asks (read this as commands) me to move to the center section so that she and hubby may sit next to each other next to Bob. LOL that’s a good one! ha hah hah!!! Sorry Mama Ji  – No Way. My ticket says this is my seat and I ain’t movin’. I reply – “No thank you.” Hummph this is not acceptable to the exalted JI! She approaches Bob and sees if he will intercede or move. LOL Bob just looks at her like he can’t hear her and shrugs. She is at an impasse. Next move the Ji speaks Hindi to the flight attendant trying to get him to dislodge the recalcitrant intractable American philistine. The attendant checks the ticket and tells her that her seat choices are on the tickets. Ji is not amused! (Meanwhile the inevitable has occurred — a young Indian couple with a cute yet colicky baby have arrived and occupied the center section!) Next step she tells hubby to sit in the center aisle seat and she takes the seat next to the offensive non-cooperative American. Her goal is now to convince me to move using unassailable “Mama Ji-logic” . “Hello how are you? Where are you travelling to in India?” – “Delhi.” “Why don’t you want to move to that nice aisle seat in the center section??????” “I don’t want to sit near the child.” “What, that cute little baby???? Surely you like children.” (I step back here to advise the reader that all Indians have a deep and abiding love and reverence for all life and most of all their babies. Its absolute blasphemy for anyone to even hint at an oppositional view.) “Why no – I don’t like children.” Mama Ji is visibly shaken and simultaneously taken aback! How can this be the answer????? She thinks how can approach such apostasy  and blasphemy????? Hmmm….I know, I know, everyone has children… he has to love his children….. “Do you have children?” (after he says yes I’ll follow with surely you love them….ha ha ha I have him on the ropes….) “Why no, I don’t – didn’t I tell you I don’t like children?” Mama Ji blanches – I am sitting next to the devil incarnate!!!! “Everyone loves children…..” “No I don’t and that is why I’m not sitting in the center section and won’t move there…”  This cannot be! I must leave the presence of this most unwholesome alien creature…She leans forward and speaks Hindi to her husband and then switches places with him immediately. The plane takes off and the flight goes on for many hours as the baby in the center section cries and bawls and sleeps and Mama Ji advises the young mother as to what all she is doing wrong -no doubt. Nearing the end of the flight the inevitable occurs —THE PROJECTILE BABY VOMIT! Every travelling parent’s favorite! And it has the delightful aroma of sour milk baby puke. I calmly reach up and adjust my vent venturi directing fresh air directly onto my face and adjust Bob’s so he gets a little more air as well fending off the offensive stench. Mama Ji is beside herself and pulls her blouse up over her nose and lower face! The next inevitability occurs… her poor husband is summoned and must now switch seats with her yet again. Baby puke apparently trumps evil apostasy! Mama Ji to me – “I am so sensitive to bad odors!” through her blouse pulled over her nose. My calm and matter of fact reply – “Yes so am I, that is why I wouldn’t sit over there.” Mama Ji is suddenly interested in what is going on out side the window of the plane and is completely engrossed by it for the short remains of the flight.

Game-set-match! To the Evil Philistine American!

Last Dance…

Last chance for…Fuuuun.

Yes we’ve come to the end of the line for summer. Summer hasn’t realized it yet here though. After almost all the guests have deserted camp, theeeeennnn we get the best weather of the season! Clear warm to hot sunny days without a cloud in the sky! Absolutely wonderful weather! But wait, The Evil One reminds me that it may just be that there are no pain in-the-ass guests in camp and that its just allowing my naturally sunny disposition to shine through. LOL Yeah Right!

Yes dear reader I realize that I have once more deserted you for most of the summer and have obviously abandoned my spring resolution to blog every Sunday. But you have to understand I am weak and easily taken in by schemes to force me to have fun by going fishing and/or drinking – not my fault you see – not on me at all! If you want more blogs you’ll have to come to camp and intercede to prevent my friends from derailing my noble intentions. Yeah – yeah that’s the ticket – noble intentions hmmmmm I wonder what other crap I can float on this vessel of obvious obfuscation. And I have spent vast amounts of time training my pup – Kevin.

This has been a pretty busy summer with dismantling the old left dock and building the new one as well as all the other changes around camp – and the poor summer weather often interfered with getting things done too. But it has been a delightful summer in-spite of it. As I age I have come into some deep wisdom that I will share with you now. As you know we’ve lost our beloved Baxter and have gone through some dark times. Bart was in a very dark place and would barely even get out of bed – so it was imperative to his health and welfare that he get some puppy therapy. Enter crazy Kevin. Training him has been very easy as he is very closely attached to his Daddy. We’ve also lost a young friend that I always enjoyed the pleasure of his company. Brian Ward worked hard, played hard always had a mischievous smile and knowing wink – I miss his presence.   I have come to the realization that the most wondrous and beautiful sight in the world is not the fleetingly subtle smile of a winsome ingénue but the unbridled joy of a young puppy running full bore to come to his daddy when he is called. Another truth is that if you want to have a great fishing trip – don’t worry or dwell on catching fish just go fishing with people you love and enjoy. If you enjoy the company the fish will bite – and if they don’t you’ll still have a fantastic time. Don’t waste your recreational time on any goal other than enjoying your friends and loved ones and having fun- you will never regret it.

The last few weeks here have indeed been beautiful and Bill has been here at camp helping out making closing the camp very easy physically but harder from a psychological standpoint. When Bill and I went out to retrieve the shoal markers we caught fish like crazy! No really large fish but getting a bite on nearly every cast! All bass. Janet was to go out with us but she wasn’t feeling it so she opted out and missed the great time. So given Janet’s non participation Bill and me conspired to get Janet out fishing one last time (Gee we’d get to go too). So after most everything for camp closing was completed The five of us – Bart, Kevin, Janet, Bill and Me went out fishing one last time. The day was sunny and warm (70’sF in Oct!) but there was a stiff southerly. Janet was trepidacious, but we convinced her to go by promising to go slow and fish only in the south end of the lake. We fished only Sawmill (Deadhead) bay and the big Weed-bed Bay. The wind was still whipping up respectable waves even in areas with fetch of only a hundred yards! We only got a few bites and boated two medium size pike and had a fantastic time. Quaffing a few cold brews and laughing our asses off about the events of the summer or the antics of  Kevin in the boat. What a delightful day – no pressure – totally comfortable – totally entertained. I can not imagine being anywhere else and being as happy.

Yet all summers come to an end and this one is no different. The weather is holding and I have all the heavy lifting done with the closing (thanks again to Bill for the invaluable assistance) and all that remains for me is the heartbreak of final closing and driving away. Its about 62F out and drizzling with a little breeze. So me and Kevin went for a walk and cleaned up some small closing tasks. Kevin really enjoyed running around and chasing the squirrels but when we got back to the lodge he was more than ready to run inside and jump onto mommy’s lap. Last night we had a fabulous full moon that rose like a mystical light orange great pumpkin only to later transform into a smiling bright white beacon in the night. I didn’t even have to take a flashlight when I took the boys out to do their business. I always marvel when I look down and see the ultra crisp moonlit outline of my shadow on the drive. Albeit the shadow appears completely distorted – its the shadow of some old fat guy!???? What the hell – Kevin loves his daddy and is going to have new adventures with us for years to come.

I still don’t want to leave – where’s the goddamn snow when you need motivation?

Is this heaven? No, its Sportsmen’s Camp.

Something Completely …

Different. This short post is to announce a new activity here at Sportsmen’s Camp – the first (possibly annual) Invitational Golf Tournament! Yes you read it properly – a GOLF TOURNAMENT here at Camp. When it was leaked that we would have a golf tournament  we were immediately contacted by an unnamed operative of the Russian Oligarchs, (Jared Kushner) and offered vast quantities of rubles to secure the naming rights for this most prestigious of tournaments! Imagine it …. The TRUMP Golf Tournament! But we couldn’t stomach being associated with a batshit crazy lying traitorous douchebag so we turned down the offer. So the prize for the tourney will be meager but it at least we will maintain our integrity. But wait, there’s more we just got a package in the mail today – apparently the trump organization sent out the trophy cups prior to finalizing the deal!!! With a little alteration I will present them as the prizes.

This is how it will go – I don’t have any golf clubs or golf balls but there will be a series of three holes set up for the contestants and each group of three players will play them and the team with the lowest aggregate strokes will be the winning team and the single player with the best score will also be recognized. Each hole will be about a par 5 + and three clubs should be used, a pitching wedge of your choice, a sand wedge and a putter. So bring your clubs, tees, (we’ll provide defunct Canadian pennies for ball markers between shots) and golf balls. Be prepared for some rough course conditions. (Of course all the rules and conditions of play can and probably will be changed prior to play due to weather, time constraints, number of contestants and whims of the Evil One)

This could shape up to something fun assuming we don’t break any windows (I am looking at a severe stroke penalty) and I am guessing that the galleries will be drunk boisterous and ducking for cover!

Sign up ASAP as we may have to cut the field (The Evil One has the mower!)