Kathmandu, Mon. 26/3/73
Dear parents,

The continuing saga: it was with profound relief that we finally escaped from Calcutta, though I'm sure it could have been a whole lot worse. We were accepted more as part of the scene there, and not stared at as much (at least Indians can grow beards). We were only pestered by beggars, rickshaw men, money-changers, goods-barterers and shopkeepers. In the end I suppose our nerves were a little frayed and we tended to become exasperated. Apart from that, there are enough freaks (both local and foreign) for us to pass little noticed. I mean, you can't get much more freaky than the fellow we saw with his head stuck in the sand like an ostrich!

India didn't take long to get to us. I had always thought lassitude could be overcome by an effort of the will, but when we visited the museum on Thursday, I simply could not force myself upstairs till I'd had a rest on a bench. At the station that afternoon, a visit to the Lavatory for Gentlemen, Upper Class Only (you should have seen it) removed any lingering doubts about the state of my health. Maybe my intestines object to curry or maybe the water we drank was not boiled as was claimed. They are behaving themselves better now, though my Rhodesian companion was up in the night to bring up his entrails. That's nothing. The Indians sound like that every time they spit (which, on average, is about once in two minutes).

Steam trains may be romantic but they are very filthy. A lot of the carriages were spattered with mud and it seems this act is perpetrated by holy men along the way. Perhaps they are in ecstasy. Or perhaps they are plain crazy. In either case, it would pay to be quick with the window. It's really something to see trains getting along with bodies sitting all over the roof.

We got underway from Calcutta at 1630 Thursday and spirits rose with delicious ginger tea in disposable pottery cups, mandarins, bananas etc. Countryside was very dreary. Wooden bench for sleeper was quite good enough for the likes of me. Changed trains for different gauge early next morning and sat on wooden seats being worrited by persistent beggars and noisy vendors until arrival at Raxaul on Nepal border at 1715 that (Fri) night - a mere two hours late. We were afraid we would never be able to sit down again. But it's amazing what the old body will do when the occasion requires it. After spending the night in Raxaul we were up at 0500 Sat. to struggle through Indian and Nepalese formalities. The Indians weren't as thorough about their currency declaration forms as the Burmese. (A spooky Englishman in my dormitory in Rangoon was arrested while I was there, for being £7 out.)

We booked first-class bus seats for the trip up the mountains to Kathmandu, out of deference to our rumps. The bus was a very old Mercedes, driven by the original leader of the forty thieves. Almost before we started he lost his bugle-horn out the window and the accelerator linkages broke. Later we stopped for repairs to brakes, for roadwork (little Nepalese sit on the side of the road producing gravel by hammering large rocks) and for good (with what sounded like serious mechanical trouble). After lots of arguments (most of which we didn't understand) some of us transferred to another bus and our first-class seat turned into a cramped wooden stool in the aisle for the next 6-7 hours (12 hours in all, to do 190 Km.) I felt surer than ever that I'd never be able to sit again.

The mountains were hazy in the distance but the scenery was really spectacular, nonetheless. We went over several passes which look very like Brenner or somewhere with all their hairpin bends, reaching a max. of 8160 ft. The people have jumped straight out of National Geographic with their wide, flat faces and baskets on their backs carried by a strap around the forehead. The magnificence of the scenery was ample repayment for the torture endured. Almost sheer hillsides were tiered for thousands of unbelievable feet. The home-made brick and plaster houses, burning red in the setting sun, the waterwheels and beautiful old stone dwellings were beyond description. There were photographs all over the place just crying out to be taken, but when you're hurtling round bends in a bus with a sheer drop of, say, 3000' on one side, your hands are already in use.

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a news flash: don't write now except to Tehran. I may take a "Crazy Bus" ride to there, arriving about April 19th. Thence perhaps across the Middle East and Egypt. Will visit Delhi but probably not Islamabad. I'll explain the reasons in a later issue.

It occurs to me that I have used all my accumulated leave and I am now on leave without pay!