Thursday, 11 April 2013

Tezpur Station Club, Assam

The letter to my Great Uncle with details of his father's death was sent on headed paper from Tezpur Station Club. I'm delighted to say that this place still exists, as a club, with what looks like a great bar, and some tennis courts still in use. A very kind gentleman who runs the place (and has worked there since 1963, after time in the Air Force), showed me around.

Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Elephants, One-Horned Rhino, and a glimpse of a Tiger !

Three safaris in one day:

5:15am (yes, really), taken to Kaziranga Central Range, for an Elephant-Back safari. This was brilliant, sat on top of an elephant for an hour (with two other people who I believe we're Finnish), we saw Elephant, Rhinos, Deer & Boar in an hour.

Then, back to the resort for breakfast.

7:45am (yes, really), picked up in a Maruti Suzuki Jeep for a 2 hour safari in the Western Range. Elephant, Deer, and a close encounter with a very large Rhino. Also brilliant ! Interestingly, there's also a guard, armed with a rifle...

Then, back to the resort for lunch.

1:45pm, picked up in the same Jeep, this time for what turned out to be well over 3 hours, on the Central Range. Another armed guard. These are there to protect the visitors, hopefully by scaring any animals thinking of attacking a Jeep, rather than killing anything... This time, we obviously saw Rhino, Elephant, Eagles, Pelicans, Turtles, Kingfisher (not the beer, the bird), Boar... But also a Tiger (or at least the glimpse of a tiger) - brilliant !!

Very, very, tired now. An early night, and back to Guwahati in the morning, via Nagaon.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Trip to Kalaigaon, Assam

A potentially successful day trip to Kalaigaon, about 3 hours drive from Guwahati, led me to a potential site for my Great Grandfather's grave.

I arranged to hire a car and a driver for the day (Sunday, 7th April), and we headed for Kalaigaon. When we got there we stopped at the Police Station to get some advice/directions. This led us on a longish route out of Kalaigaon to what was believed to be the nearest British-era cemetery. It turns out that the villages around Kalaigaon are majority Christian, so there are a number of churches around, some dating back to the British era, some much later. However, none of them have cemeteries with them. Another clue led to a burial site on a tea plantation. The graves had been moved from their original site. Though these graves were the right era, none of them had the right name on. Dead end. Back to Kalaigaon.

This time, at the Police Station, instead of the guys in the "General Room", we were led to the office of the Office in Charge. Now things started to look up. Mr Habibur Rahman sat us down, game us tea, and parathas, and made some calls...

One man who turned up, Mr Jayanta Das, is a journalist who lives in Kalaigaon, who, by an amazing coincidence, had recently begun to search for British-era graves. He had found a site with 4 or 5 plots. They had been buried by mud from the Brahmaputra river flooding as recently as the early 2000's. Previously they'd had a small boundary wall which had fallen into neglect in the 1960's. it sounded promising. After some more journalists turned up and "the letter" had been read out, pictures taken, etc (all in the police station), off we all went. In my car I had the police chief, the journalist, and another very helpful man who's name I never found out.

We came to a tea estate in the town itself, and, after the police chief pulling rank to enter the tea gardens, and all of us climbing over a barbed-wire fence, we walked across a field to the likely burial site. Pictures below.

There were a few people around, who were old enough to remember the cemetery and lived practically next door, or who had worked on the tea estate for a long time. They confirmed the layout of the plot, the existence of 5 graves and the boundary wall, and the timing of the floorings which eventually buried the plots.

So, the likely location of Hamilton Charles Gordon's burial site is: 26° 34.121 N, 091° 58.777 E.

I was then asked to give an interview for the local media, and to pose for photos. I was presented with a traditional Assamese scarf, and a VERY large packet of tea, by the Tea Estate people (very very welcome, thankyou).

Then, we dropped off the police chief, and went to Jayanta's house in the town, for a drink, some food, some pictures, and some Wi-Fi (again, all very welcome, thankyou!) which enabled us to exchange emails, Facebook IDs, Blog URLs etc. and finally, back to Kalaigaon.

I discovered that I'd made it to a local newspaper. I'll post up either a URL or a picture of the article.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Guwahati, Assam

I said goodbye to Jenny at Delhi Airport, she flew home and I flew to Guwahati, the capital of the state of Assam, in North Eastern India. This is where I hope to find my Great Grandfather's grave (see earlier posts), in a village called Kalaigaon, about 3 hours' drive from here.

Because of the militants active in this area (at least, according to a guy from the local AirTel office) mobile phone roaming doesn't work here, so I'm offline except for sporadic Wi-Fi, until or unless the local SIM I've bought gets activated. This is an odd situation for me, as I've not been without a working mobile phone since about 1990! To be honest, I don't like it one bit... I wish I could have brought my satphone, but they're banned in India.

I'm writing this post from the local branch of Café Coffee Day, a little haven of peace we found everywhere we've been so far. The photo is the view from the veranda at the front of the café, over an artificial lake here in Guwahati.

Tomorrow I'm going to Kalaigaon for the day.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Visit to the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

Yesterday was our last full day in Delhi, and Jenny's last full day in India, we booked an organised trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The trip also included a guide (who was excellent) and a visit to the Red Fort in Agra, which predates the Taj Mahal and the almost identical Red Fort in Delhi.

Wikipedia entry on Taj Mahal

Here are a few of the far too many pictures I took at the Taj Mahal itself.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A recursive post - how I'm updating this blog...

I thought I'd note down the tools of the trade for keeping this blog updated.


* iPad (happens to be a 64GB iPad 3 with 3G, not that the 3G is set up but it means the GPS works)
* Canon D600 SLR
* Apple iPad camera kit (basically an SD card reader for iPad)
* the Google Blogger app (I could just use the website but this way I can write posts offline)
* the Apple iPhoto app
* iPad charger and travel adapters
* hotel or café Wi-Fi


1/ Open the Photos app, plug the camera's SD card into the camera kit card reader and plug it into the iPad's dock socket. Pick the photos to download & download them.

2/ create an album for the new photos (makes them easier to find)

3/ open iPhoto and touch up photos as required

4/ save edited photos to the "camera roll"

5/ open the Blogger app

6/ create a new post, write some stuff, add the location (if you're online). Tap the photo button (rather than the camera button), and add some photos from the camera roll, or an album.

7/ Save, then, when happy, Publish

8/ View blog

9/ Hit the Twitter link to share to twitter. The Blogger app itself only supports sharing to Google+.

10/ Bask in the glory, or, at least, order another Kingfisher from the barman (as I'm about to do now)...

Darjeeling to Delhi - harder than it should have been...

A quick update: we were picked up at 8:50 and driven to Bagdogra airport, near Siliguri, some 90km from Darjeeling, losing about 1800m in height and gaining about 25 degrees in temperature. This took until 12:00. Our flight was at 15:05. It took an hour of queuing to get our bags x-rayed and they insisted on putting the Sitar in the hold rather than in the cabin (mild panic). The plane left on time, and arrived over Delhi some 2.5 hours later. However, we didn't land, instead we gained height again and headed to Jaipur. "I abandoned our approach and we're just going to Jaipur to refuel" said the captain. Jaipur was another 30 mins flight. We landed... and... we waited... For over 4 hours. The weather was so bad over Delhi that flights were being diverted away... There was a thunderstorm at Jaipur too, and hailstones... Finally we took off back to Delhi, landed about 23:30 or so, and waited for the Sitar to come off the baggage belt. Eventually we found it dumped on the floor of the airport concourse (in the oversized baggage area, of course), fortunately in 1 piece. Then a prepaid cab to the hotel. We had to explain to the cabbie where the hotel was, naturally... Finally checked in about 01:30. Decent wifi at last :-)

Monday, 1 April 2013

Darjeeling, days 3 & 4 (Sunday 31/3/13, Monday 1/4/13)

On Sunday morning we walked to the Bhutia Busty Gompa, a Buddhist monastery in Darjeeling. It's a shortish walk down a steep hill and a long slog back up. You're not allowed to take pictures inside, which is decorated with friezes and statues of Buddha's life. An amazing and very calm place, and some of the principles of Buddhism were explained to us by a regular worshiper there, a former Gurkha soldier from the British army.

We had our evening meal in the Lunar restaurant, which the Lonely Planet rates, but we didn't.

We booked a cab for 4am the following morning to take us to Tiger Hill, to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas.

On Monday, we got up at 4 (yes, really...) and were taken on the 45 minute drive to Tiger Hill, south of Ghum. There for 5am, we saw dawn break and then bang on time (5:28) saw the sun rise over the Himalaya range, with Kanchenjunga clearly in view, not shrouded in mist as it has been since we got here.

And we finally got to go on the Toy Train, the joy ride from Darjeeling to Ghum and back. Unfortunately, the steam engine wasn't running, so we were pulled by a diesel loco. However, it's still a very scenic journey to Ghum station and back, with a 10 minute stop halfway at an Eco-garden, and 30 minutes in Ghum to look around the museum.

Packed and ready to go to Delhi tomorrow. Back in Sonam's kitchen for our last meal in Darjeeling.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Darjeeling, day 2. Observatory Hill, and the Happy Valley Tea Garden.

Today we had breakfast at the Frank Ross café and then walked up to Observatory Hill, where an observatory used to stand, and now houses several Buddhist & Hindu temples and lots of monkeys. Coming down off the hill we walked around the promontory and found a viewing point where, on a clear day, you can see Kanchenjunga. Today was not a clear day, though it had begun much clearer than yesterday.

After getting back to Chowrasta we went to Nathmull's to buy tea. After trying 3 sorts, gathered at different times of the year (flushes) and of different strengths, and served without milk, in whisky and wine glasses, I made an investment in some different packets of tea. Then to Glenary's café for lunch (and wifi). Whilst we were sitting down I there it began to rain, and continued to rain on and off until perhaps 4pm.

This didn't stop us getting a cab to the Happy Valley Tea Garden, where you're shown the process of drying and then grading/sorting the tea (which you're not allowed to photograph), and can then buy some of their tea (they otherwise ship it all to Harrods) and walk around the tea plants on the estate, which we did for about 45 minutes.

Back at the hotel, I finally went to the local Vodafone shop to get a local prepay SIM. This is surprisingly difficult, and requires first an argument that they actually do have such things, then that it's ok to sell it me now and it will activate in 2 days, and then the paper work, which requires a photocopy of my passport and visa, and a passport photo. Having jumped through the required hoops, I have a local prepay SIM with some credit.

Friday, 29 March 2013

First full day in Darjeeling

Awoke to the sound of traffic from the street outside, and, then, once that had died away somewhat, I could hear birds singing nearby.

We set out to book tickets for the "toy train", the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. This involved queuing to get a form to fill in to request a reservation for seats. It's full until the 1st April, so we have two seats reserved on the 10:15 steam train to Kurseong, via Ghum. To claim them we'll need photo ID.

After getting our reservation we caught a cab from the railway station to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, which is just north of Darjeeling, and also includes the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Here we saw black bear, blue sheep and red panda, and a Bengal Tiger, along with goats, deer and leopard. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute used to be run by Tenzing Norgay, and is where he was cremated.

A shared cab back to Darjeeling (Rs10 each rather than the Rs250 to get to the zoo), and then lunch in the Frank Ross café, and shopping in several places around Chowrasta, which is mercifully car-free.

In the evening we met up with Oliver, Anna and Henry, a German couple and their son, who we met in Kolkata and came to Darjeeling the day before us. We ate at Sonam's Kitchen, Lonely Planet's top choice restaurant. This is clearly the place to go for Europeans. I had "Happy Birthday" sung to me in German and Russian (yes, really). Food excellent, but takes a long time to come, and the place was getting a little chilly by the end of the meal.

Darjeeling, West Bengal

Just getting here was an adventure!

Yesterday morning (Thursday) we checked out of the Casa Fortuna Hotel in Kolkata, and got a cab to the airport, via Modal and Son (8 Rabindra Sarani, Kolkata), who sell musical instruments. Here Jenny bought a sitar. It's a lovely looking instrument, 7 played strings, 13 sympathetic strings... It's quite large. It barely fitted in the back of the cab...

At the airport, all our checked luggage was scanned and sealed. We decided the sitar should go as cabin luggage, but had it scanned and sealed anyway.

The plane was delayed somewhat, I think around 30 minutes, and there was an unannounced change of departure gate, but otherwise fine. The cabin crew were fine about the sitar and found a safe place for it for the flight.

The flight to Bagdogra was uneventful, and our luggage came off the plane quickly. Next mission, getting to Darjeeling (about 90km from Bagdogra / Siliguri). Normally, (it says in the Lonely Planet) you just get a prepaid cab, should be about Rs90 (say around £1). However, Wednesday and Thursday were Holi, so most cabs weren't operating. I was offered a jeep for $100, which I felt was a little steep. Eventually, we joined up with another 4 people going to Darjeeling and arranged a shared car for Rs5000. Much better. And thanks to Mr Mathur for negotiating.

The road journey through Kurseong and Ghum, climbing to 2100m, is brilliant fun - a narrow twisty road, with vertiginous drops off one side on occasion, and steep in places (imagine the Hardknott or Wrynose passes in Cumbria, but 90km long). Sometimes you're travelling alongside the toy train track too, though the line from Siliguri is blocked by a landslide.

Eventually into Darjeeling and to our hotel, the Hotel Mohit. Old-world compared with the hotel in Kolkata, no lift, real keys for the doors and everything. A nice room, with a balcony looking east over the town and away into the distance. No views of the mountains, though, too misty at the moment. We arrived at dusk and it quickly got dark. A decent meal in the hotel's restaurant, with a bottle of Tuborg (no Kingfisher). Then, off out to have a walk around. It seems most places close by 9pm so not much to see.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Some web references

A casual google search found this site Timbershack with the details of my family history in India. This URL links to my great grandfather, Hamilton Charles Gordon, whose death is recounted in the letter documented in an earlier blog entry, and his father, Hamilton Winkup Gordon, who served in the High Court in Calcutta.

Change of plan...

There are no free seats on the sleeper to Siliguri Junction on Wednesday or Thursday, so we'll fly to Bagdogra on Thursday and take it from there.

First morning in Kolkata

We took a cab to the Victoria Memorial, and then another (by somewhat circuitous route) to St. Paul's Cathedral, on the recommendation of a German family staying at the same hotel (and also going on to Darjeeling next). The memorial building holds a large pictorial and photographic exhibition of the history of Calcutta and India's role in the British Empire (or is it the British Empire's role in India...).

St. Paul's Cathedral has many memorial plaques to British soldiers who fell in India in support of the Raj. One, in particular, caught my attention. It names Hamilton Thomas Gordon, who with a name like that is quite likely to be related to the Hamilton Gordons from whom my family is descended. See pictures from an earlier blog entry.

Back to the hotel for coffee and a cool down (it's 36 degrees here, somewhat different to the snowy UK we left behind).

This afternoon, the High Court, and then perhaps a ferry ride across the river.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Day 1, arrived Kolkata via Delhi

Sunday evening, 21:50 flight from Heathrow T3 to Delhi (also T3), Virgin Atlantic (definitely would fly with them again, really good), and a seat move to an exit seat (to accommodate a family) meant slightly more legroom. Though we left about 30 minutes late we arrived about 30 minutes early, thus leaving several hours to kill in Delhi (Indira Gandhi) International Airport before carrying on to Kolkata. A shower in the Plaza lounge helped freshen up and kill some time.

The Indian Airlines flight to Kolkata left and landed on time, and the security check at Delhi was much less intrusive than that at Heathrow. Then, into a prepaid cab to Sealdah station to attempt to book sleeper train tickets to Darjeeling via Siliguri Junction. If this doesn't work we'll need to fly up.

Another taxi to the hotel (Casa Fortuna, AJC Bose Road), and then out to a bar, pretty much next door, for Budweiser (Jenny) and Kingfisher (me), and a live band.

Back to the hotel for a meal, and a chat to the German family at the next table, also on to Darjeeling next.

We planned tomorrow's excursions, let's see how they play out !


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Setting off

And it's heavy snow in Ipswich. Fortunately, trains to London are running fine.

Friday, 22 March 2013

A letter from India

Tezpur Station Club, Tezpur, 30/5/17

Dear Mr Gordon [my Great Uncle, Stewart, an officer in the Indian Army, see here], many thanks for your letter of 25/5/17. I enclose a Registrars certificate of your Fathers [my Great Grandfather, see here] death. I have not been able to write you, as I did not know your address. Mr Jackson was to have sent me it, but evidently you have not been able to give him a permanent address. Your Father & I were very old friends. I was with your Father from the

day he was struck on the 23/1/17 until he died on the 3/2/17. Colonel Levantine & Major McCoy were there also & everything it was possible to do was done. The most of the time your Father was quite conscious and understood what I said to him but - could not speak. He passed away quite peacefully about 3.a.m on the 3/2/17 and we buried him in a pretty little cemetery at Kalaigaon. Colonel Levantine, Major McCoy, Captain ?, George Bridge (a Tea Planter) & I attended the funeral. When Mr Jackson left here he handed over the file of your Fathers estate to me & asked

me to wind everything up. This I am doing, and when finished will send all the papers to Mr Gill who is the only surviving ? of your Fathers. I have had a letter from Miss Gordon your sister [my Grandmother, see here] & one from Miss Blewitt Browne your Aunt. I have ? both of these Ladies. Your Father was a very popular officer to ? here & he had many friends both here & in Nowgong, & I request your permission to allow me to arrange to allow his many friends to erect a stone over his

grave at Kalaigaon. I hope you will grant me this request, as I am sure his many friends here will be greatly pleased if you do. Should you decide to grant me this request I will be pleased if you let me know what inscription you would like put on the stone & if you don't care to give any inscription, I will be pleased to send you a copy of the inscription I think should be put on the stone, for your approval & sanction. Should you at any time get leave, I hope you will come & see me. I will be delighted if you can so this, & I am sure your Father would be glad could he know that you had come to see me. As far so I know from your Father you have no relations in India now & I hope you will always look

upon my Bungalow as you looked upon your Fathers, open to you at all times. You have my sincere sympathy in your sudden and sad loss. Hoping you will find time to come and see me. 

Yours sincerely.