Personal Journeys

Ruth Shennan in Peshawar, 1983/84

In response to the story about Afghanistan

Thanks for sharing this article, I enjoyed it and yes, I have been to Afghanistan, well sort of!  I did a 3 month overland truck trip in ’83/84 and thoroughly soaked up fabulous experiences along many many miles of the Grand Trunk Road in both Pakistan and India after travelling through Turkey, Syria, Israel, Jordan and across Iran.  We went as far as the Khyber Pass but at that time could not go through the Afghan border due to the war. Peshawar is the closest town to there and like the article says, at that time anyway, it’s inhabitants were conflicted on whether it truly belonged to Afghanistan or Pakistan.  I remember several days there as a truly  extraordinary experience amongst so many wonderful days throughout that trip.  It was one of my favourite towns, mainly due to the age, remoteness and strange juxtaposition. Old colonial remnants of buildings, railways, bureaucracy, social interactions and British memorabilia still found in market stalls versus the desert traders, poverty on the streets, the richness of the traders and their wares, awesome spice markets, and overwhelming presence of warfare, rag tag soldiers hoiking rifles over their shoulders as they sat sipping local brews, dusty army trucks blaring their horns to take precedence over any other foot or road traffic. 

I remember camping on the sides of mountains in those beautiful pine forests while monkeys played above and at night would toss down broken branches onto our tents, quite unnerving!  During the days we’d explore the town, some colonial buildings left as they’d been abandoned, inside English books, writings, furniture and odd things, all dusty and just left there, totally without holding any interest to the “modern” citizens of Peshawar. We’d spend hours in the bazaars and shop in the markets for food.  If we ate in a restaurant it would be goat curry, yoghurt lassi’s or very sweet black tea. Delicious baked flatbreads and milky desserts with honey and crushed nuts. 

Seeing this article set off a storm of memories and I pulled out my old diary to indulge in that and  found a newspaper clipping I’d cut out and glued in at the time, I thought I’d share it and hope it’s of interest to you;

“This is the Qissa Khawani Bazaar,” said Ziarat Gul in Peshawar. Mr Gul was a powerfully built and kindly soul who was known as Gujjar – ‘Buffalo Man’.  He was pointing at a labyrinth of alleys too narrow for anything but pony carts.  “It means ‘The Storytellers’ Bazaar’.  In the old times all the kafilas (caravans) came from Persia and Russia and Afghanistan, here to Peshawar. They told stories of their journeys.”  But Peshawar is once again a great destination.  Now the travellers are Afghan refugees and the stories in the bazaar concern the heroism of Pathans ambushing Russian convoys.  Peshawar had always struck me as the most old fashioned, the most traditional and, in many respects, one of the most unchanged towns of the British Raj.” 

The two photos attached are not great quality but are myself (on the right) and my mate Jenny in the bazaar, trying on Afghan robes, admiring carpets and brassware, lot’s of Afghan jewellery, mostly unpolished silver set with stones and having cup after cup of mint tea forced on us, all in the assumption that you would buy something of course!  I still have one of the large brass trays you can see and it’s a happy reminder of a carefree time and how fortunate I was to have that experience. 

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Annette Riches in Kimberley Country, 2007

When you are silent, the very movement of spirit, the very breath, the very light, the very illumination of your being can be perceived Kwan Yin – Angel of Divine Mother Energy.

To me, this is the Kimberley – silent and spiritual with illumination from the sky and life in the sea.

On the day Bob and I had been anticipating for six months, Sunday 13 May 2007, we boarded our vessel “Shore Thing” at Granthian Point, Broome and set sail for the 200  nautical miles long Buccaneer Archipelago and Cape Leveque.  The sailing was thrilling and scenic and toward evening the fishing rods were set up at the back of the boat with Bob on hand.  He reeled in, after quite a fight, a thirteen kilogram spanish mackerel – great excitement and great eating.

“Shore Thing” is a 52 ft. catamaran.  The cabins are in the hulls and ours was fantastic – a king size bed with an enormous hatch overhead and a rectangular porthole on the port side.  At night we left the hatch open and gazed at the sky – black with brilliant stars. The porthole was about forty centimeters above the waterline and I could almost trail my hand in the sea.  In the bulkhead was a compact en-suite bathroom. 

The salon, galley, dining area and back deck space for casual eating and drinking, were upstairs and on the front of the top deck two large trampolines were suspended between the hulls over the water –the fly bridge above was fitted with a canopy for shade. 

We hadn’t sailed on such a large catamaran before but the pleasant rocking, as the boat sailed north during the night, put us to sleep quickly.  Standing on the bed at five in the morning, with heads poking out of the hatch, we watched as a fiery ball of red rose slowly from the sea. 

After passing Cape Leveque the wind dropped and we sailed into “KIMBERLEY COUNTRY!!”  Enormous cliffs, thrown up millions of years ago, have now weathered into intricate patterns.

Early on our second day we moored off Hidden Island.  As most of the Kimberley tours are in larger boats they are unable to access many of the places we were fortunate to see – Silica Beach is the only beach in the Kimberley with white sand and NO crocodiles.  The water temperature was about 28 degrees, clear to the bottom (probably twelve metres) and the colour was pure aquamarine.  Whilst beachcombing I found a cave and, as I stood in the entrance, felt the spiritual vibrations of the indigenous tribe who inhabited this space long ago.   Reluctantly leaving Silica Beach we headed to Crocodile Creek, named because the entrance is formed by rocks that look like huge crocodiles.  Climbing from the tender onto a steel ladder we went up the rock face, finding at the top a magnificent waterfall and waterhole.  A unique place for a swim, picnic lunch and the falls afforded a great shower. 

On to Silver Gull Creek and another first.  Heading up the channel in the tinnie to a landing called “Squatters Arms” we hiked a steep track to a hermit’s “house”.  Donning a pair of undies for our visit he introduced himself as Phil.  With long grey hair, skin like tanned leather and wearing a pair of John Lennon type glasses he cut quite a sight!  He used to fetch and cart fresh water for the iron ore mines from a natural spring on his land. The mine put a 5,000 gallon concrete storage tank in for this purpose but, now redundant, Phil has turned this tank into his own private bath!  We were invited to “bathe”, although cautioned as we climbed a ladder to get to the top and another to get down into the tank, that we “would freeze our tits off”.  In actual fact the water temperature was 32 degrees. The top of the tank is covered with fine mesh and inside there are numerous plastic chairs, a Coke Cola umbrella sticking out of the middle of a round table and a large rectangular hole cut in the side of the tank to allow excess water to escape. Sitting on chairs inside a concrete tank with water up to our shoulders, viewing the sunset through the hole, was a surreal experience.  

The following day (three) we motored up the Koolum Island Passage through bright red cliffs and passed two large open cut iron ore mines.  Later, into the tinnies again for more  fishing.  I was surprised that I was not scared out of my wits but a couple of times I’d have appreciated some floaties and a bubble as a little insurance!!  What a thrill the fishing was – catching and pulling in finger mark, blue nose salmon, mangrove jack, javelin fish, bream and fork tailed catfish as fast as we could cast.  I didn’t feel the ferocious attack by the mozzies until later. The black water marks in the gorges are testament to the 13 metre tides in this area.  We moored for the night in Leadline Creek and ate our catch for dinner.  Nothing tastes quite like fresh fish out of the bucket and onto the hot plate. 

Looking up through the hatch, as we woke on day four, the sky was multi pink with the dawn and the stars were still shining.  Magic!!  This day was spent sailing, punctuated by a couple of fishing excursions and then a dash to catch up with “Shore Thing”.  We caught more than 50 fish but kept only nine for our evening feast, anchoring that evening off Raft Point. 

The fifth day dawned wet and windy.  After landing the tinnies onto the bank at Raft Point we hiked up to view ancient art in aboriginal caves. Dugongs, lots of little spirit children, fish, crocodile and cod.  This was also a very spiritual place and home of the Wandjina people.  These rock art tracings show 40,000 years of indigenous habitation.

After hauling in the anchor we set out in rough sea and wind to Doubtful Bay and a distant landmark – Red Cone Hill – a great red monolith sticking out of the sea. Everything was damp and salty, including us, but the front went through, the sun came out and, again, it was perfect.

At Scotty’s Creek we stepped off the tender onto huge rocks at a spectacular rushing waterfall.  A steep and rocky climb up the side of the falls rewarded us with a view of a breathtaking billabong which stretched two kilometres up the valley in a series of small falls and ponds.   I had a swim and “shower” under a small fall but didn’t venture into the swimming hole as it was very deep and black. When we got back to the tender, the topography was totally different.  The rocks we had stepped onto were now five metres above the water and the rocks exposed by the outgoing tide were covered in grey slimy mud and silt. Hanging onto a rope and inching down we were mindful of the crocodiles lurking below. It was extremely slippery and proved a major feat to get back into the tinnies safely, followed by a rock dodging exercise to get out of the creek and back to “Shore Thing”.

 Throughout the trip we ventured for miles in little tinnies, soaking up the Kimberley or searching for elusive barramundi – out in the open sea or into enormous deep gorges – I don’t know why I was so unafraid!!

Again up at dawn on day six, we set sail for the open sea and Montgomery Reef.  We were running with the outgoing tide and the trip back past Raft Point took us less than half the time it had taken the day before. Our skipper found a channel in the reef which was deep enough at low tide to support “Shore Thing”.  At that stage the tide was in and the entire reef was covered with water except for the islands in the centre which sustain a vast amount of bird life.   We crossed through a myriad of islands and waterways exploring and fishing with enough catch for a great lunch.  At one stage we had five sharks circling, turtles were swimming by and we saw a large sea eagle which apparently is quite rare.

We spent a couple of hours watching the tide start to turn on Montgomery Reef from “Shore Thing” then back into the tinnies for an exhilarating and extraordinary experience.  It felt like being in rapids, but we were in a channel with huge washes coming toward us; the sound was like pounding surf and the water, pouring off the reef, was racing outward at approximately ten knots.  Turtles, with shells up to 80cm in diameter, were leaving the reef as it became more exposed; once they hit the water they swim very fast.  The tide coming off the reef created horizontal waterfalls.  After coming back on board we headed out of the channel, with the tide, to the open sea en route to Deception Bay.  Running against the tide, even with the sails up and a strong wind, the logistics were six hours of sailing for a gain of only twelve nautical miles.   Mooring in Freshwater Cove for eight hours until the tide turned, we sailed through the following morning to Deception Bay and on to the Prince Regent River.

19 May was Bob’s birthday; an auspicious day from beginning to end.  Up at dawn and, after mooring at Rothsay Waters, we headed out for more fishing.  The fish were not around but the crocodiles provided great entertainment, many swimming right up to the tinnie.  The tide turned and what had been huge gorges with mangrove tree tops poking out of the water became mud flats and snags.  Barramundi like feeding around snags as the small fish feed on the lichen on the snags and the big fish feed on the small ones and we hoped the humans would feed on the big ones!!  It was a great thrill when I hauled the first catch of the day into the boat – a barramundi measuring 65 cm weighing about six kilos. “Too small” said the skipper, and threw it back – I was shell shocked!!  Then, another on the line – this time an 87 cm barra weighing eight kilos.  This one wasn’t going back!!  We had wild barramundi fillets for Bob’s birthday dinner!  As the darkness of night descended we shone torches on the water.  Surrounding the boat were red dots – crocodile eyes!  Having a ten foot “Salty” jump out of the water, less than 3 metres from where you are enjoying a glass of wine, it a little unsettling!

At sunrise we headed for St George Basin and the Prince Regent River, sailing past the very impressive massifs of Mt Waterloo and Mt Trafalgar. Twenty nautical miles up the river brought us a spectacular surprise as we slowed and turned into an inlet between the trees.  A basin emerged with the glorious Kings Cascade at the end.  This waterfall is probably the most beautiful and unique in the Kimberley.  Our skipper was able to get “Shore Thing” right under the Cascade – a good way to have a shower and wash down the decks!!

Camp Creek was the next stop – a long and rough ride in the tinnie to get there but we were rewarded with a walk to the creek, a swim in a billabong, and a shower under the falls.  Bud (skipper) sailed “Shore Thing” back down the Prince Regent River on the outgoing tide and met us at the mouth of the creek which saved the long and rough ride back.

Sailing into Rothsay Inlet and seeing the tides swirling, like huge whirlpools, the black tide mark alternatively appearing and disappearing from the majestic Kimberley walls, was fascinating.

The anchor was hauled at three a.m. on day nine with a  pre-breakfast stop at Careening Bay to view the Mermaid Tree.  In 1820 His Majesty’s Cutter, the Mermaid, was careened for repairs as there was access to fresh water and a level camping spot.  Two enormous Boab trees stand in the clearing. The crew carved “HMC Mermaid 1820” into the trunks and this is still clearly visible today. 

It was bliss for the next five hours – lying on the trampoline watching the inspiring Kimberley scenery as we crossed Prince Frederick Harbour and into the Hunter River where we had a quick swim to cool off with 2 “croc spotters” for the safety of those in the water. 

Dawn, on our last day, was heralded by another beautiful sunrise.   Our last trip in the tinnie was to the beach where we were met by a helicopter to take us over the Mitchell Falls and on to Mitchell Plateau to board our light plane back to Broome.  Flying over the area we had sailed, during the past ten days, was a truly fitting end to an extraordinary adventure and experience.

Annette in Kimberely Country 2007!

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On the Road into Agra, January 2013

Judith Salmon

Cultural Tours, Small Group Travel, Small Group Tours, Judith Salmon Travel, Salmon Plus, World Art Tours

It happened on the road to Agra. We were on our way into the onetime capital of the Mughal Empire and location of the Taj Mahal. As our bus crawled through chaotic traffic our heads echoed with stories of Akbar the Great and the wonders of his red sandstone palace at Fatiphur Sikri.

For a week now we had been immersed in the history, art, music and literary culture of the sub-continent. At the Jaipur Literature Festival we heard Indian, English, Pakistani, Canadian and American writers, diplomats and film producers debate significant issues around India’s past and present and her future role in the new world order. We had listened attentively as our guide escorted us around the historical sites of Jaipur’s Amber Fort, City Palace and Observatory. When he mentioned the names of Jai Singh and Bhawani Singh are heads nodded in recognition. Some of us had even danced at an Indian wedding – so far our ‘art & cultural’ experience was colourful, illuminating and joyous.

When the crane smashed through the window of our bus, another India announced herself. As travellers leapt across seats and shattered glass sprayed through air and fell into hair, we encountered the culture of the Everyday. “It never occurred to me it wasn’t going to stop,” more than one of us said. In a country where compliance with traffic regulations appears to be entirely optional, how could we have been so naive? “Expect the unexpected”, I was warned more than once, and here it was.

Through the now gaping hole in our luxury bus window, we watched the post-accident culture of India unfold. The crane driver and his traffic controller fled the scene, hotly pursued by Akash, our bus driver’s young assistant. Within minutes, a group of noisy witnesses materialised and we were surrounded on one side by a highly excitable ever-growing crowd of locals, all men, and on the other, by an even noisier mass of frustrated and honking vehicles.

The police arrived, our bus was inspected and negotiations began. Eventually the crane driver was intercepted and arrested. Akash was also led away, ‘to make a report’ we were told. I was greatly relieved to see a thick wad of notes pass between our driver and Akash as the young man joined the procession heading to the police station. A short time later, the wedged crane was removed from our window and we resumed our journey into Agra.

A few days later in Varanasi, Mary leant over the side of our boat and dropped a lighted floral offering into the sacred waters of Mother Ganges. Together, we gave thanks for the return of Akash and for our group’s safe passage through a genuine Indian cultural immersion.

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