The RETURN JOURNEY
JOHN AND BETTY
We shouldn't jump to conclusions
The rail journey from New Delhi to Bombay is a long way, on departing I had decided on a second class sleeper, I deserved a little luxury, so stocked with some tin food, water, and a book, I find my way to my compartment and make myself as comfortable as possible.
I claim a top bunk, two double bunks to the compartment.
The train is rocking with the friendly sounds of the clack a clack of the wheels on the track, there is a long way to go, the train will I know make many stops, I'm very, very tired and soon I'm sound asleep.
When I finally wake up its daylight I'm lying facing the wall, I hear the quiet chatter, chatter, of voices and when I roll over, I realise there are others sitting on the edge of my bunk.
The train is still moving and I know we have a long way to go, but the interesting thing was that my reserved second class sleeper built with four bunks per compartment, held twenty three others Indian passengers all sitting where ever they could fit, on the floor, on all the bunks including three of them on the end my bunk, ah well, I thought that’s India.
Trains are everything in India, always full and that means people are everywhere and anywhere.
I begin then to think of the real problems we will have for the return journey from Bombay to Delhi, and then onward to Amritsar.
How will we get twenty seven in our group on the train, for we must return in time to catch our plane flight from Amritsar to Kabul.
The new group of people arriving into Bombay on the Italian cruise ship from Australia know nothing about the borders being closed between India and Pakistan.
There is no coach to carry them from the ship to the accommodations at the Salvation Army accommodation called the Red Shield House, in Merewether road, and no coach to carry them onwards on there booked tour. not until we arrive back into Afghanistan
How to transport all those unsuspecting people with all their baggage from the ship to their accommodations, well it's not easy, twenty seven motor scooter taxi's all in on row, and help a little help from The Master of India, Mr Ru - pee.
The ships arrived, the scooters are waiting, I go on board, to meet the ships Italian purser who I knew from a previous time, I give him the passenger list, and I wait, from the driver point of view it is always interesting to see your new load of smiling passengers.
He puts a call over the speaker system for all passengers for the Sundowners Overland Tour, please report to the pursers office at once.
In no time at all they began to arrive bringing their baggage with them, one look and you know there from Australia or New Zealand, all dressed in the shorts, t shirts, sandals or thongs.
To my amazement one of the passengers I already knew, we were friends in Mildura where he was a school teacher, Moses are you on this trip I asked, good day Bob, he says, seems like I am.
I was so glad to see a friendly face, I took both my friend John (Moses) and his friend aside and told them some of the immediate problems we had, and ask for their assistance to get these people to the accommodations.
I gave them the address, and told them what we must do, and for them to watch carefully, for we were sure to loose someone. I checked off the list and found all were there, except for two, the purser put another call over and said, Urgent.
We waited and some minutes later two people arrived, I knew they were not for our group for they were some what older than that of our average passengers, closer to retirement, that was what I thought.
The male had white hair that matched his white suit, nice shirt with tie, and nice tan shoes.
The lady had her long dark hair up, and was wearing a nice long dress.
We are sorry the lady said, to no one in particular, but the hair dresser took so long, is this the Sundowner Group.
All of the others in the group looked at them and you could see the surprised looks on their faces.
I also looked, and thought, their all dressed up to go for dinner at the Sheraton Hotel.
What ever happened to the Eighteen to fortyish age group.
I stepped forward and said hello I'm Bob, are you John and Betty, they answered yes they were. I said, good, I then stepped back and said, to the new group, there is something I must tell you all.
I explained to them how we were going to travel by motor scooter taxi, to the Red Shield House, that they must watch their baggage, don’t leave anything behind, for if they do, they would never see it, ever again.
There are always beggars about, please, don’t offer anyone any money, no matter what they ask for or how sad they look, and remember, watch out for your baggage, don’t let anyone touch your baggage.
Also, I said, be prepared when we step out of this air conditioning, it's Very hot and humid out there and it will be a bit of a shock after being here on the ship.
Once were installed into the Red Shield House, I would then tell them all about their forth coming interesting and exciting overland tour to England.
The moment that I finished speaking, John the man in the white suit came forward and asked me, what do you mean motor scooters, where is our coach, we didn't book for Motor Scooters, and where is our Coach Captain.
Did I hear you right, did YOU say you were going to take us to England, did you say YOU, that You were our leader, he was getting red in the face now, are you saying that YOU ARE the only ONE, you, you he asked....
I smiled and said, yes that’s right I am the tour leader and driver of the tour, and yes I am on my own.
He looked at me in astonishment, and as I watched him for several moments his mouth was opening and closing but not much came out, not that I could understand anyway.
Finally in a rather loud voice, he said, my, my SON is older than you, and I wouldn't let him drive me around the block, let alone someone your age drive us all that way to England, there has to be a MISTAKE.
Well that didn't go so well, however we all got to the accommodations thanks to the assistance, provided by my friend, Moses.
The Red Shield House was a Salvation Army Hostel run by a wonderful Anglo English speaking couple who ran a tight ship so to speak, they soon had everyone in their rooms and all organised for their lunch.
When lunch was finished I explained the problems that confronted us as best I could, considering they had not much of a clue as to what we actually needed to do, though I did rewrite their itineraries as far as Kabul, and explained the schedule we must keep to, as we had to be in Amritsar and on the plane when it flew to Kabul, not that many days away, considering our rail journey, getting their visas etc.
The whole group required visas for the countries we were to be traveling through and these must be obtained in New Delhi.
Meanwhile I said, you all enjoy looking about Bombay, while I go and find twenty seven seats on the train, that will take us all to New Delhi.
It's just not possible, not at all, no matter what I asked for, there were too many people, no places available no room at all, no seats, it was just not possible they said, the trains are fully booked, always fully booked.
The first day went and the second was going fast and I then took a taxi to the department of Railways.
Where eventually, I finally got to speak to the person in control of the trains.
They listened to my story, I told them about how very helpful they were in Kabul to assist tourists like us, and how we were booked on the flight out of Amritsar, how the Pakistan Army had closed the border, and what a bother it was to all tourist like us.
I asked if it would be possible to put on a extra carriage for our group, they denied that it could be done.
I said, I had learnt that in India nothing was impossible, there was some laughter.
However it turned out to be true, the railways put on a special carriage, for our group, and a good one too, the date was set and the tickets purchased, we were ready to ride, New Delhi here we come.
The group had gathered about, and they were brought up to date with everything that had been done, we were on our way tomorrow evening.
We would meet again to run through the last minute details again, after our lunch tomorrow, which would mean just a few hours before we must all depart to go to the, Main, Bombay Railway Station our place of departure, where awaiting us I hoped was that extra carriage that would happily take us all, to New Delhi.
I explained we would all leave the Red Shield House by scooter taxi, our destination was to be The Main repeat Main Railway Station Bombay.
Leave nothing behind I said, be careful of your bags, check that you have your passports, mind all your luggage at all times.
The number of the platform where we meet is, the train departure is for New Delhi.
The man in the white suit stood up and called out, why do you treat us all like school children, were all adults here you know, you don’t have to repeat everything over and over do you.
We gathered outside the Red Shield house, the scooters were all drawn up, the Sundowner passengers all knew what they had to do.
Away we went, some passengers arrived before me, and we waited for the rest to arrive before going down to our carriage.
The one thing you learn about Indian railways, they are popular, there must have been thousands of Indian people waiting around on our platform, it was not just the people, but all their baggage piled high, even progressing along the platform was difficult, because of all their stuff.
The man in the suit, John and his wife Betty arrived, but four others didn't, the train conductor must have received special instruction for he was very good, and escorted us into our very comfortable carriage and then waited around counting the heads of our group.
In the end he informed me that four passengers were still missing.
Well I wasn't too worried they were young people, I was sure they would turn up on the next train at least the older ones were with us, John and Betty, that was something.
The train was just about ready to leave and I called into each of the compartments to speak with the passengers to make sure they had everything, and when I was asked, I said the others who still hadn't arrived would have to find their own way on another train to Delhi.
When I got to John and Bettys compartment I said, I just called to make sure that you have everything, and that you are comfortable, John said, yes were both fine, then something must have clicked.
Oh. Betty he said, where did you put the brief case, she looked at John and said, I thought you had that, John jumps up and looks up on the luggage racks and says where is my brief case Oh, Oh, Betty I thought you picked it up, no says Betty you always look after that John.
I'm going back he says, we must have left it behind, I must get the brief case, and up he jumps calling out to Betty saying, that the bag holds all our money and passports and our valuables.
I'm going back to get it he says, now he's up and running up the corridor and out the carriage door past our conductor and onto the crowded platform.
The conductor is wondering about the strange antics going on and says loudly the train is leaving, why is that man running down the platform.
I call out, but John is pushing his way through the crowd, and I'm calling out to him.
The conductor is blowing his whistle and the train starts to move forward.
Then the conductor is calling out Mr Bob what are you doing, you can not do that, when he noticed I was pulling the Stop the Train cord.
The train shudders to a stop and he is calling out again Mr Bob what are you doing.
I was off after John, who was running, trying to get through the crowds of people, for an old man he was making good time.
John is running along the platform, he was yelling, the Indians on the platform were yelling , I am running after him calling out John wait, wait a minute, but on he goes pushing through the crowd and by the time I reach him the train is moving again, and is now halfway along the departing platform.
I catch up to John and pick him up, and the guards van is now approaching and I see the door is open and I push him in the open door of the guards van and dive in after him, seconds later the train is clear of the station.
John is lying on his back, he is purple in the face, breathing badly and is not a well man, I thought he might breath his last, right there beside me.
There are moments like this when I wished I had let him go his merry way, and I was certain the train guard did too, for he was yabbering away and wringing his hands whilst bobbing up and down.
The train guard finally did as I asked and got him some water to sip, and I undid Johns shirt and tie and loosened his belt.
Twenty minutes later he was sitting up and looking and feeling a little better I asked the guard to bring sweet black tea which he did and we sat in the guards van and sipped our tea, and waited until we stopped at another station so we could return back to our carriage.
I was able to take John back to our carriage and his compartment, wife Betty was very worried, even though the guard had called through a message to our conductor, that John was still on the train and was with me, she also was wondering she said, what will happen to us now that we have lost the brief case and are without passports and our money.
The conductor was very good, he reported the brief case missing and sent messages to the Red Shield House
back in Bombay with our forwarding address just in case.
We who were on the train reached New Delhi and our accommodations there, all in good shape.
I made further enquiries, but nothing was known about Johns brief case, John, he was devastated, and Betty was not much better, they went up to their air condition hotel room, and there he stayed, neither of them had much interested in anything except to say, it's too hot out there, and repeated, what are we going to do now .
The rest of the group were out everywhere sightseeing, enjoying the Quality restaurants and having a good time, early mornings and evenings are the best time for sightseeing and eating.
Meanwhile there were things to be done, I obtained rail tickets for our group to ride to Amritsar with the assistance of a contact, I had been to the Embassies to try to obtain the visas for the next two countries for those of us who had passports, both Afghanistan and Iran required visas, no visa no entry.
The other visas for further travel to the other countries we were to visit we would get in Teheran
Meanwhile I was a little concerned about the other four passengers and hoped they would arrive today.
Sometimes a visas took many days or a week to obtain, longer if the issuing officer was having a bad anything day, at this time John and Betty had no passport, tomorrow I would have to take them to the American Embassy to try and sort things out.
Should you mislay anything, a visit to the police is required where a detailed account of how, what and where how you lost your property must be given, passports all through these countries are of real value, and it's easy to find willing buyers, tourist people could report their passport missing to the police, get a formal receipt, apply and receive a new passport through their Embassy and then sell the original passport, so I have been told anyway.
If you find yourself visiting a police station, you are soon reminded this is a country of multitudes and that the saying, patience is a virtue, probably started right there in that police station.
John and Betty had no passports so I couldn't take them with us, I would go with them tomorrow to their Embassy, and help explain the situation, however I would have to leave them behind, no passport, no visa, no travel, its not a happy situation, but they all knew what could happen.
The rest of the group of four arrived into Delhi, and came to our accommodations, sorry they said to me, we ended up at the wrong railway station, so we caught the next train, what an experience that was.
They then said, when we left from the Red Shield House, there was a brief case sitting on the footpath it looked like one of ours so we decided to pick it up, and they then handed me the brief case belonging to John and Betty.
Ten minutes later I was knocking on the bedroom door belonging to John and Betty, when it was opened,
I saw that John was lying down on the bed, I said, I thought you might like have this back, handing Betty the brief case.
They couldn't believe it, we were certain they said, it was gone for ever, it would have meant for us getting more money sent over for airline tickets and flying home.
I have been sick with worry, John said, how could I possible do a stupid thing like that.
So I said, you now have it back, you had better check the contents and make sure all is as you left it.
He looked at me and hesitated, and then turned and took a key and unlocked the brief case then turned it upside down over the bed, spilling out the contents. I soon saw why he was worried, not only had he the passports and some personal items in the case but there were rolls and rolls of American dollars notes.
We started with xxx thousands of dollars he said, and we haven't spent very much.
Now you have your passports and passport photos I said, we must go first thing in the morning by taxi to try and obtain the visas you need.
It would be a good idea, I said, if you would both practise your total respect for the over worked under paid, totally misunderstood visa officer, who will not want to give you a visa and will want you to come back in a several days or maybe a week.
We don’t have those days, so whatever we need to do, we will do, but we must have those visas. It is very important, we must catch the train to Amritsar and then the flight over those hills, to Kabul.
I also said, we must get you both money belts, we'll have them made special for your needs, also another type of cloth pouches to hang around your necks to hold your passports and vaccination certificates plus some money, in this way you won't have to undo the money belt in front of anyone.
Betty said, oh no, I won't need one, John handles all the money don't you dear.
John said, perhaps Bob is right, maybe we should do as he says and share it a bit, just in case.
We finally got all our visas on the morning of the departure of our train, and we said our goodbyes to those wonderful air conditioned Quality Restaurants that we all enjoyed so much, and watched out the windows as the rural country side of India went by, we were headed for the Punjab.
The train seemed to be going so slow, we were running out of time for our flight, it turned out that the track has some troubles because of the heat they said, and they are going slow as a cautionary measure, we could be one hour behind schedule, maybe a little more who knows, the conductor said.
We finally arrived at the railway station in Amritsar and we loaded the taxis with the baggage and ourselves and headed to the hotel, only to be told on arrival, very sorry sahib, but everyone is at the airport.
I asked the man at the hotel, please, would you phone the airport, and please tell Mr Tiny we are coming now to the airport.
The arrival at the Amritsar airport was a real blow to the brains, for right away I saw they were pulling away the passenger steps, the plane was all prepared, ready for departure.
I said to the taxi driver, drive out on to the tarmac very quick, and toot-toot the horn, he didn’t want to, but went out a little way.
I saw Tiny and as I hurried towards him, I waved and I called out, and by this time we were some fifty yards from each other and I hear him say, I'm so very sorry Mr Bob, but you are so late.
The plane is already loaded full, with the borders closed, he shrugs the shoulders and waves the hands, this head is nodding from side to side, there are so many people, he says, what can we do..
Tiny my friend I said to him, thinking fast, these people are only one and one, when they go they will never return, and what is one person, when we are a group, soon to be another group, and still another group, all the time coming to your hotel to stay in your rooms, and in the future there could be many, many, more groups and all those nights to come.
By this time my passengers and their baggage were all around listening to us talk, Tiny said, but we are all loaded ready to take off.
I said, these are just tourists making there way to some where, they are unlike us, for we are a group of twenty seven and have a schedule to keep, these people are travelling in pairs and many by themselves.
May I suggest the need for a holiday here in Amritsar at your hotel, you could bill the airline maybe.
I said, we must fly today, now, on this aircraft, these people will love you for taking care of them for one week until the next flight, and who knows the border may open in a few days, who can tell.
Besides I said, I remember clearly that nothing is impossible in India, it just may take a little longer, and for those on the plane, what is just a few more days to them, they have no schedule to keep.
Not like us we have an itinerary to follow, to get back to London so we can return with more passengers, all
to come and stay at your Hotel.
Tiny called his men, and they unloaded twenty seven of the passengers and there bags off the flight. Meantime Tiny issued our airline tickets for the flight on the spot, while his men loaded our bags aboard the airline.
All much to the amusement and intrigue of my passengers, they all walked aboard the aircraft.
Having said our thank you and our farewells to our good friend Tiny, we finally took off, and flew towards them thar hills and Kabul.
We flew over those mountains and finally landed safely into Kabul, and as with the previous passengers these too were all for blessing the earth and willing to kiss the ground once we had landed.
The coach was still parked where I left it, the hotel manager was very happy to see us, and informed me that he had guards watching over the yellow bus at all times, to keep it safe from any potential thieves.
The group all went out that night to explore a little of Kabul and that included John and Betty, they were mixing in now and you could see they were beginning to relax little more, the tie was gone, and shirt sleeves rolled up.
The next night in Kabul I went out to the coach and retrieved a bottle of scotch that was always carried for medicinal purposes, I got two long glasses from the hotel and filled them with ice, then filled the glasses to the top with scotch, put them on a tray with a white napkin and knocked on John and Bettys door.
Betty opened the door, John was lying down on the bed feeling a little tired, I suppose.
I walked in and said, I thought you might like a drink, John sat up and said, how did you do that, boy I would just love a drink, would I ever, wouldn't we Betty, but how did you, ah well, don't answer that.
They both took their glass and they sipped their drink and a look of surprise came to their faces, John said, hey, this is real Scotch Whisky, then said well, wonders will never cease, and he thanked me, I thought I saw a smile on Johns and Betty's face just before I left them to sip and enjoy their drinks.
The next morning we were ready to drive out of Kabul, all the suit cases were loaded into the coach and everyone except John and Betty were ready and waiting to climb aboard.
At last out they came from the hotel to be welcomed with loud cheers and clapping from everyone.
Betty had her hair down and hanging loose, and was wearing a dress from the street market.
John he had cut off his pants at knee level and cut out the sleeves of his shirt, and for the first time since we all had known him he had forgotten to have a shave.
John and betty were most interesting people, John sat up the front a lot and asked lots of questions and we talked a lot about all sorts of things.
On a tour like ours we sometimes have difficult times and circumstances, where brick walls can be created and block the way, and then like magic disappear, all of these things along with the never ending experience of travelling through these different countries with their peoples and history, and when seeing with your own eye is an ever learning and memorable experience in itself.
I learned from John that they owned and ran a very successful accounting business in a city in California.
At the end of some twelve weeks of touring we finally arrived into London and our final destination where we all said, fond farewells and our goodbyes.
But that wasn't the last I was to hear of our John and Betty, after having some time around London, they
returned to California and sold their business, and then bought a motorhome and toured Mexico and South America for nearly two years.
I then had the pleasure once again of meeting them when they had a stopover in London, and they called in to say hello.
We were sitting chatting away when John said, Bob, there is something we want to say to you.
He said, I remember very clearly the first two weeks of our tour, and I well remember the very first words that I ever spoke to you he said, back on the ship, and in Bombay.
I want to say we loved the countries we travelled through, they were all lovely in their own way, very educational and full of historical interest and we both enjoyed it all so much and in our opinion its something everyone should do.
But not so educational as the person sitting here with us now.
We consider ourselves to have been so fortunate to have done that overland journey, and how you were able to achieve those things that you did for all of us, we still don't know.
What we do know is that we came to realise so much, especially about the things we learned that really mattered in our life, and that was about ourselves.
Something so important we should all consider, but most of us often don't.
It's an awareness, like an awakening, that remains waiting to be discovered, I suppose that is within us all.
Its the truly the most wonderful learning thing.
Somehow he said, all those weeks and months travelling with you on that tour has certainly changed our lives and for the better too, like it's almost to incredible to believe.
That is the reason why Betty and I are here he said, we have come in person to say thank you, and you should know, he said, with a little laugh, that whenever we see our son now, we allow him to drive us any where he wishes.
Perhaps that man in India may just have been right when he said,
Nothing is impossible, it may just take a little longer, that’s all.
To all those Drivers and Couriers, who along with all the passengers who participated
In what was,
The Journey of a LIFETIME, may we remember and be grateful to All Those who made,
IT ALL COME TRUE.
Robert ( Bob Wilko) Wilkinson.
Limestone coast Sth Australia.
July 1964------Nov 1977
Another great read. I think there is at least 1 story from every tour we did. Love the detail you put into your stories. Memories come flooding back as I read names and places. Cheers Bob
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