George Abert – Thoughts & Observations

Notes from an interesting life

A Day Trip to Agra

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A Few Words about this updated WordPress Site

Originally this site was setup to serve as the blog for what was briefly known as The Seagrove Institute for Spiritual Awareness. That initiative didn’t last very long and was replaced with stories about my life as an expat dependent growing up in Africa. After I ran out of stories from those years in Africa the blog remained dormant for several years.

But, at the request of one of my readers, I’m back. I’ve renamed the site to encompass stories from other times in my life and observations that I think worth sharing. After learning that a life-long friend’s got Stage IV throat cancer, I decided to tell some stories before I too succumbed.

This first story, one which coincides with my early years in Africa, takes place in India. Because that day trip was itself a small part of a much grander trip, accounts from the rest of the voyage have been included.

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A Day Trip to Agra.

The year was 1962. My family had been living in Africa then for almost four years where father was stationed with the US State Department. As was the custom in those days, families got home leave for three months every two years. Our first home leave brought us home in the summer. This home leave was delayed and lengthened so that we could be home for Christmas. We left in late September and returned in January. Normally we would have flown up to Rome on Ethiopian Airlines and transferred to some US airline to fly back home crossing the Atlantic. Since none of us had ever been east of Africa, father decided to take us back home the long way flying from west to east. So, after arriving in Rome, we transferred to Pan American Airlines to take us across Asia and the Pacific. Pan American had two flights which circumnavigated the globe using Douglas DC-8s that both originated and ended in New York. One took the westward route, the other the eastward route. They were designated flights “1” and “2”. I don’t remember which number designation our flight was, just that it flew from west to east.

The first stop after leaving Rome was Karachi, Pakistan. We spent a day there, long enough to learn that Karachi was hot and dusty. We drove through an area where there were a number of large government buildings that dated from the time when Pakistan was part of India and the British Empire. Beyond that I recall very little except that working class men wore especially long khaki shirts which now seem a variation of the kanduras Gulf State Arabs wear.

The second leg of our journey took us from Karachi to New Delhi, India. Although we could have, rather than hop on the Pan American flight, we used Pakistani International Airlines instead. The aircraft was a Vickers Viscount, a turboprop that featured especially large oval windows which afforded incredible views of the countryside between the two cities. The flight lasted about three hours. When we arrived in New Delhi we were met by an embassy car and the Council General’s wife. For three days we would be guests of the Council General.

On our first full day in India, the Council General’s wife took us on a tour of both New Delhi and “Old” Delhi. While in New Delhi, we saw more grand buildings that dated from the time when India was part of the British Empire. Although similar in appearance to edifices that serve the same general purpose in the UK, their design suggests a Moghul influence. Then it was on to “Old” Delhi and the bazaars where I was treated to a tailor-made shirt. Once I selected the material and “cut”, the tailors immediately set about to rough-stitch it up for an initial fitting. On our third and final day in India, we went back to pick up the finished shirt after a quick final fitting. I recall, upon our return home noticing that the tailors inserted several dozen pins into that shirt before handing over the finished product. Ii was dark blue and I may have worn it twice.

On our second full day in India we hired a taxi for the day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It was a black Hindustan Ambassador manufactured in an Indian government-owned factory. Its design was based on a 1940s English design that hadn’t the slightest hint of air conditioning. Well, not exactly true, the four windows in the doors could be rolled down, but that let in flies.

The route to Agra took us through what seemed like endless dusty crowded chaos. I doubt the taxi ever got up to cruising speed for more than a kilometer. It was stop and go while weaving through thongs of agricultural workers the entire trip. But, in accordance with tradition, we stopped at a garden inn at around 11:00 am to take tea. Quite the respite from the chaos we’d been witness to. The palatial main structure appeared to have been built by the British late in the Nineteenth Century. It had a large terraced garden that featured a series of shaded outdoor seating areas. Peacocks roamed about. We were led to an agreeable seating area where waiters, attired in heavily starched white uniforms, served us tea and biscuits.

After tea, our trip to Agra resumed and after a brief drive, we arrived in Agra.

While in Agra we made three stops. The first was to the Taj Mahal. Upon entering the grounds, we were obliged to pay a nominal entry fee. From there we walked to one of the entry doors where we were obliged to remove our shoes and don a pair of sandals. The building was magnificent! It was clad in cut white stone that had been decorated with countless smaller brightly colored stones. Samples were on sale at the curio shops that surrounded the grounds. Pictured are a pair of drink coasters made in the same manner as was the Taj Mahal’s cladding by descendants of the original craftsmen.

Our second stop was to the curio shop that may, if memory serves, have been located in the main entry building. While there we purchased the photo album pictured above and the two drink coasters pictures below.

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I’m not sure but I think our third stop was to the Jahangiri Mahal, known as Agra’s main fort. From there we climbed back into the trusty Hindustan Ambassador for the return trip to New Delhi. Along the way we stopped briefly for a light lunch and refreshments.

On our final day in India, we returned to “Old” Delhi to pick up my tailored shirt and to purchase some brass furniture that was packaged and sent to our home in Africa. That night we flew from India on Pan American Airlines to Bangkok.

We stopped briefly in Bangkok, long enough to leave the aircraft for about an hour so the ground crew could tidy things up. While on the ground we were confined to an open pavilion surrounded by an open paddock. It was hot, perhaps as high as 45 degrees Celsius. There large aggressive ants. We were served refreshments. Then it was back on the plane for the next leg of our journey to Hong Kong.

We stayed in Hong Kong three days. Our hotel, the Merlin Palace was located in Kowloon within a few blocks of the Tong City. Since Hong Kong’s return to the PRC, both the Merlin and the Tong City have been demolished. While there my father and I walked over to the entry to the Tong City. It was guarded by two soldiers of the Queens Gurkha Guard and a British officer. The other thing my father and I did was get fitted for tailor made suits. Although it’s possible to get these stitched up in as little as 24 hours, ours took a little longer. My suit was cur in a blue surge. On our last day there we hired a custom-made junk ordered by some rich guy in California to take us to a floating restaurant on the far side of the island. Except for that junk trip, it rained the entire time we were in Hon Kong. One day, I don’t remember which, we took the ferry over to the main island and hired a taxi to take us up to Victoria Peak.

Our next stop, again for three days, was Tokyo where we were guests of the US Council General and his wife. I remember Tokyo as being cold, gray and crowded. At one point the Council General’s wife took us to Tokyo Tower where we were afforded panoramic views from the main observation deck. As we were walking about on that deck, a kimono clad grandmother offered her unexpired pay binoculars to look through. The Council General’s wife helped ne say “Thank you” in Japanese.

The next leg of our journey took us to Honolulu where we went through customs. Our stay there was brief, perhaps no longer than an hour. From there it was on to Los Angeles where we were to have stayed for just long enough to visit Disney Land. Shortly after we awoke the next morning we hired a cab to take us out to Disney Land, I don’t remember much. I was excited to drive the go-carts. At one point we went into a restaurant/store that was chuck fill of Disney Parks Merchandise. I ordered a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. And, as if on cue, I succumbed to a head cold. The hotel called a doctor to check me out. He asked my dad to keep us in Los Angeles for an additional day so that my head cold would pass fearing that additional air travel so soon might aggravate things.

The final leg of our flight took us to Appleton, Wisconsin. We were to have landed in Green Bay but an early snow obliged the pilots to divert to Appleton. We had to hire a taxi to take us to Green Bay. We gave a ride to one of the other passengers, an Indian engineer that had never been the US before. He’d also never seen snow before.

Upon our return to our US home town, we rented a cottage by the lake and I was enrolled in school with the same kids I’d been with in kindergarten. I got to and from school by bus and recall thinking during the Cuban Missile Crisis that we might all die. Christmas with the extended family was grand.

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Written by GW Abert

December 27, 2018 at 08:21

Posted in Uncategorized

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