I plan to do a number of JuicyLessons on my trips to India, life-changing events for me. There were two of them. The first was in 1971 with my Canadian girlfriend Donna, and we went overland from England. We had been living in Brighton and Hove for two years and I had just completed my Masters thesis in International Relations. My 20,000 word dissertation delved into the 1961 border war between Communist China (CCCP) and India and its implications for Indian foreign policy. I found it to be an interesting subject.
We had heard that India was hugely different from the west and that doing the trip overland allowed for a more gradual transition than taking a plane would have done. Our itinerary was as follows: England, France, Holland, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, finally, India.
It was a ten country, 5000 mile journey. Since we weren’t in a hurry, it took us about two months to get there mostly driving through country after country except for passing time in the south of France where Donna’s parents were vacationing, a week in beautiful Athens, and a month spent in Afghanistan.
The world is a very different place than it is now. Yugoslavia no longer exists having been carved up into five different countries in 2003, including Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Croatia. This change occurred directly as a result of the break-up of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism. We actually needed a visa back then to drive through that communist country which possesses some of the loveliest scenery we were privileged to see on our entire trip.
Afghanistan and Iran have also undergone a number of changes since 1971 which might make traveling through them difficult if not impossible at the present time. Iran has seen an Islamic revolution occur in the late-1970’s, highlighted by the deposition of the Shah, commonly viewed as a puppet of the United States and his replacement by a succession of Moslem clerics and one holocaust-denying maniac, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, well as by the taking of fifty-two American hostages who were held for 444 days (Chronology of the history of Iran) in the US. embassy in Teheran. The hostages were finally released in the immediate aftermath of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981, following his defeating the Democrat Jimmy Carter in a Presidential election, the latter a one-term President as it turned out. (BBC News, Profile of Iran History – Timeline)
Afghanistan has also changed significantly since 1971 when we were there. First there was the Russian invasion which lasted for eight years, this being followed by an on-going civil war in which Western powers – specifically Canada, England, and the United States are presently involved. A perfectly peaceful “head” country has been ripped apart by a series of crises which, at present, remain unresolved.
As already stated, we spent a week in Greece. At the time we were there, the country was being ruled by a military junta, something which was hard for us to believe considering that Greece, Athens to be precise, was the birthplace of democracy. Some of the most cordial and welcoming people we met on our entire trip were the Greeks and, happily, Greece has assumed a democratic system of government once again.
The second India trip I took was taken alone in late 1972. After spending a couple of weeks visiting friends in England including a trip to Scotland with my British friend, Maggie, I flew to Bombay, via Egypt.
ON THE ROAD TO THE EAST — Part 1 — Holland
We left Brighton in July of 1971, just ahead of getting busted I might add. Moved at the right time. We had purchased a Bedford van with right-hand drive and headed off intent on reaching Afghanistan. The plan was to sell the van in Kabul due to the fact that to get into Pakistan from Afghanistan with the van would have required a deposit worth three times what we had originally paid for the vehicle. This was the Pakistani government’s method of ensuring that tourists and travellers didn’t sell their vehicles in its country and we just didn’t have that much cash even though, if we had been able to come up with the bread, it would have been returned to us when we left Pakistan for India. It was simple. You have the van information stamped on your passport when you enter the country. If you leave with the van you came into the country with, you get your deposit back. If you don’t, you don’t.
Took a ferry from Dover to Calais and from there we drove to Holland to visit a guy from Montreal whom I knew and who had been busted in Amsterdam. He had purchased a half-kilo of hash intending to take it back to Canada to sell at a pretty large profit. Hash was a lot cheaper in Europe in those days than it was here, about 30% of the price. Too bad the cops got in the way.
What had happened was this: my friend purchased the hash, put it in a locker in a railway station and got busted post haste, obviously turned over by the very nice people who sold it to him. That was the reason we ended up in Holland, our first real stop on the road to the East. We went to the city of Haarlem where my friend was to spend six months of his life after which he was deported back to Canada. It is legal to smoke dope and to possess smaller quantities in Holland but not to export or import it.
The prison was grey and dreary. We had bought a carton of Gallois cigarettes for the guy. “Is it his birthday?”, was the question one of the guards or ‘meesters’ (masters) asked us. (Convicts were forced to address the screws as meesters – pronounced mysters.) When we informed the guard that no, it wasn’t his birthday, we were told that we were not allowed to give Guy the smokes we had bought for him. As a matter of fact, we were permitted to pass him one measly No. 6 straight (cigarette) when we saw him. During the visit with Guy, which must have lasted about thirty minutes, there was a screw present with the three of us the whole time. The three of us included me, Guy, Donna. It was a difficult visit, couldn’t think of anything to talk about.
Guy did say that he missed the sky. Windows in that desolate and forbidden place were painted over and the only blue that could be seen was a couple of inches where the window opened from the top. I felt sad for him. We have lost contact and hopefully he has straightened himself out and has remained on the right side of the law.
I didn’t know Guy that well, having met him a couple of times in Montreal. The last time was when we returned from England at Christmas in 1970, to visit Canadian friends and family, after having been abroad for fifteen months. Before returning to the UK to finish our Masters degrees – mine in International Relations and Donna’s in the History of Ideas (what they call Philosophy over there) – we visited Guy who was in hospital for some reason that I can’t remember right now. He told me that he was in dire straits and did I know where in England he could buy some hash which he planned to take back home on a ship. I answered in the affirmative, and he ended up coming to England where he stayed for two weeks or so while I travelled around London and other places trying, unsuccessfully as things turned out, to score a pound weight for him. It was ironic but for the duration of Guy’s stay at our place in Hove, all that was around was grass which was no good to him. This was because pot was selling for about the same price as it was going for back in Montreal, unlike hash which sold for about $250 a pound in England, compared to at least $1200 to $1500 in Quebec. Whereas a tidy profit could have been made moving a pound or two of hashish from England to Montreal, the same could not be said for pot, and, as I said, from the time Guy showed up in Hove to the time he headed off to Amsterdam, all I could find was grass. Not a gram of hash to be found…anywhere.
To say that I felt partially responsible for Guy’s incarceration would be an understatement and that was one reason we decided to make Haarlem our first stop on the road to India.