Slowly Down the Ganges
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'Slowly Down the Ganges' is seen as a vintage Newby masterpiece, alongside 'A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush' and 'Love and War in the Apennines'. Told with Newby's self-deprecating humour and wry attention to detail, this is a classic of the genre and a window into an enchanting piece of history. On his forty-forth birthday, Eric Newby sets out on an incredible journey: to travel the 1,200-mile length of India's holy river. In a misguided attempt to keep him out of trouble, Wanda, his life-long travel companion and wife, is to be his fellow boatwoman. Their plan is to begin in the great plain of Hardwar and finish in the Bay of Bengal, but the journey almost immediately becomes markedly slower and more treacherous than either had imagined - running aground sixty-three times in the first six days. Travelling in a variety of unstable boats, as well as by rail, bus and bullock cart, and resting at sandbanks and remote villages, the Newbys encounter engaging characters and glorious mishaps, including the non-existence of large-scale maps of the country, a realisation that questions of pure 'logic' cause grave offense and, on one occasion, the only person in sight for miles is an old man who is himself unsure where he is. Newby's only consolation: on a river, if you go downstream, you're sure to end up somewhere...
There was a file of camels, each with a man on its back seated on a wooden saddle. There was even an elephant with a painted head, chained, all alone at the side of the road. It was chewing grass and swishing its decorated trunk up and down, curling it delicately so that it looked like the initial letter on a page of illuminated manuscript but one that was constantly changing its shape. It was a beautiful day. The plain was a sea of sprouting wheat and barley, dotted with groves of trees that
had never seen so much food. ‘I am sorry,’ he said, laying his hand on his breastbone as if he was suffering from heartburn, ‘but it is against my religion.’ ‘What about the others?’ ‘It is against their religion, too.’ ‘Just because I left out the onions.’ ‘No, no, not because of the onions. I am telling you the truth. It is against the religion.’ For what seemed hours we plugged away at the Baffat; but however much we ate we seemed to make no impression on what remained. From time to time
attention of a new comer should be more particularly directed than to moderation and simplicity in his diet. A congestive, and sometimes inflammatory diathesis, with a tendency to general or local plethora, characterises the European and his diseases, for some years at least, after his arrival between the tropics. Murray’s Handbook of the Madras Presidency, 1879 Sitting in the bus we saw little of the countryside on the way from Garhmuktesar to Moradabad. In the same way as what are now
sanction which allows cows in Hindu India to do what they like, were taking liberties with passengers’ baggage. I bought a guide book from the bookseller. ‘Caution’, it said. ‘Hardwar is a dry area, therefore do not keep with you, any intoxicative article along with meat, eggs, etc. Wine, Bhang, Charas, Ganja, Opium, etc., are not allowed here! Those who are addicted to such habits can obtain from Lahksar, Rooorkee, or Dehradun, meat and aggs from Jwalapur (Pick-pockets theives and gamblers).
out of them. Drooping over the oars, half asleep, they paddled the boat down the last few miles to Mirzapur. Here, on the western outskirts of the city, the river bank was more substantial than the constructions which stood on it. The ancient houses of the merchants, who until the middle of the last century had conducted their business with conspicuous success, now hung precariously over the river in an extremity of decay. In one place what must have been a noble flight of stone steps had led