Written 2nd August 2014
There is a gap of eleven days since my previous diary entry, Letter no.4 to Sam, my son, has ‘disappeared’ and some thirty years later I cannot recall much about what I did. However, the diary entry that follows this indicates that I went through renewed ‘culture shock’.
The visa extension I’d been granted in Ladakh specifically stated that travel through the Sikh state of Punjab was forbidden. Nine months previously, Indira Gandhi, the 3rd Prime Minister of India, had been assassinated by two of her Punjabi bodyguards in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star, the Indian army’s June 1984 assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar which left the temple heavily damaged and several hundred casualties.
However, I’d noted a town called Sam* in the Rajasthan desert and that being the name of my son, I just had to make the effort to go there. The ‘approved’ route would have been to return to Delhi and thereby detour round the troubled area to Jaisalmer. But, hey, in the spirit of going where my pig was headed, I figured that I could go more directly by train from Jammu to Ferozpur in the province of Punjab, and onwards to Bikaner in Rajasthan.
And, as this map shows, the train bypassed Amritsar. I have distant but pleasant memories of the train ride, one relatively undisturbed by the few other passengers and of gazing out of the window at … farmers? … growing what? From Firozpur I moved on to Bikaner … by bus or train?
I don’t think much has changed since this documentary was made eighty years ago.
I do know that I went on a three day, two night camel trek with a couple of companions.
Our guides dug a large lizard (video) out of its burrow in the sand and cooked it for one of our meals, but the overwhelming memory is of the heat. On returning to town, I visited a chemist’s shop and had my temperature taken: I was suffering from an internal fever rather than the external heat of the sun, so I stayed for another night or two and my trekking companions moved on.
And I then headed for Jaisalmer …
* It’s only now that I realise that Sam – which rhymes with ‘gum’ (video), is an area of sand dunes adjacent to the Thar desert which straddles the border with Pakistan and was at that time a no-go area for all but the Indian army.