Cyber Museum Navigation Bar
Featured Exhibit

Journal of a Seaplane Cruise Around The World
Part Three: Asia

Friday, November 9

Cocanada to Calcutta The flight from Cocanada to Calcutta held much interest at first - for hundreds of miles not a 50 yard stretch of beach but had its group of people fishing. The nets are dragged out in boats, and then pulled in by the shore crowd. -- Each drag probably takes an hour. The people presumably live farther inland in the thatched huts of the paddy country. Many pictures made. Vizagapatam and Puri were the only towns of consequence; Chilka Lake looked big, gray muddy colored, and had we wanted to spend the night, it would have been difficult to locate the palace of the Rajah whose hospitality to fliers was reported by the R.A.F. Puri was odd; it had no streets except sand stretches between houses, placed at all angles, designed as a gold rush architect of 1819 would have erected a cabaret-hall. Bob picked off a weather report to steamers: "cyclonic storm apparently centered about one hundred fifty miles southwest of Akyab. . . .", so I knew we would have a steadily increasing N.W. and then N. wind to face. It was extremely rough, hot, and hotter still when I opened up to 1650 to overcome the wind handicap. It looked for a time like a race with the gas supply, but we got through with hour reserve. There was an hour across a big gulf -- a rather welcome hour for the air smoothed out a little, and then we started up the Hoogli. We followed all its windings, diverting occasionally for pictures. The delta of course was inhabited, and cultivated to its last inch. Calcutta surprisingly white and built up, not the black hole I had expected. Ichapur a long ways above, and the river mile wide there. Two buoys were visible and we landed in-to a 20-25 mile wind. The wind was one thing, and the suddenly discovered tide another, and I certainly learned a new seaplane trick here. Didn't see the current until nearly upon the buoy, turning to come upwind! - Bob hooked and unhooked the ring so fast it was like touch football. We drifted past the buoy as fast as the current, the wind doing nothing except make the plane unmanageable. A long boat put out from shore, but I waved them back. Turned around, and taxied downwind and partly cross-current to bring Bob (on the left float) into reaching distance of the buoy. Cut the switches as he touched it. Exciting moment: His boathook picked up the ring, but he could not possibly have held ship for more than a moment. Realizing this, he reached out with the rope (its other end was tied to a strut) and passed it thru the ring. In this brief instant, the ship had drifted so far away that he was half and half on each and was squirming to got back, so I yelled "You're all right, hang on to the rope" - I could think of nothing else! He was in the act of falling in, and if he kept the end of the rope he had the ship moored, and if he kept the middle he could at least pull himself back on board. --- I was still at the engine controls. Well, he fell in good and plenty, but grabbed everything: the buoy, the rope, the boathook, and I think his trousers! and succeeded in tying the ship fast. Funny sight: the buoy did 2 quick revolutions as the rope came taut, and Robert did a double shuffle as he spun. Even yet, the troubles were not over -- he came back on the rope, only to let go half way and start swimming, which nearly cost him his own mooring, for he drifted downstream and only just got aboard the tail. Meanwhile the ship, tugged by the stream and puffed by the wind, had no intention of heading into the current, and stood cross-wise to the buoy. No pulling of ours could budge the rope, which was taut almost to breaking. Finally it was necessary to let out the drogue (sea anchor) behind, on another makeshift bridle, before it came under the control of the current, and steered properly away from the buoy.

Hugo Walford, of Burmah-Shell, was on hand and we soon arranged for the plane's protection: a continuous police guard of Bengal constables until our return, whenever that might be. The river is mile wide here, but the sampans, loaded with jute, bamboo, etc. coast along anywhere, and need shooing away. It was a lovely shore on the left bank, and we threaded our way out through charming estates of business men, rajahs, etc. until reaching the main road. This too was beautiful, buried in the foliage of tall betel nuts, banyans, bamboo, etc. which might have led one to believe he was passing down one of the charming English lanes, especially as most of the construction here is done with a dull red brick, down which the mortar streaks in the heavy rains, the walls being covered with fast growing ivys, etc. Ichapur is 15 miles from Calcutta; we were soon in the cantonments at Barrackpore, and sometime later reached the outskirts of the city. We had not wanted to come to Calcutta; it is said to be an artificial city, built to serve the British traders who opened up the Ganges valley for their commerce and, moreover, it lies 60 miles off course. It was the School of Tropical Medicine - which was strongly recommended at Bombay - that settled the question, and Robert, always agreeable and in no hurry to take up work at G.E., stopped willingly, and learned as much in his explorations as I did in mine.

The city is artificial, lying far out on the delta, and partly on reclaimed land. The approach from the west is through dreadful bazaars full of insanitary people. The English built the big city, but they cannot force the Bangalese to live as people must live when huddled together - there must be 1,000,000 or more. Cows walk the main sidewalks, goats roam unguided along the streets and walks. The slowest traffic has the right of way; streetcar bells clang incessantly, yet no one budges from the tracks. Beggars are common, as they are throughout India (begging being an hereditary profession); I saw several cripples, mostly with ankylosed knees and ankles, and then saw a youngster of 7 or 8, without any atrophy of his leg muscles, walking on knees (padded) and hands (holding wooden blocks), obviously practicing the position until ankylosis sets in!

Our rooms at the Great Eastern Hotel are most pleasant, in the bachelor quarters on the roof. There are perhaps 10 rooms, placed on either side of an unroofed garden, which is airy, done in nice colors, and lined with potted plants. The Indian servants are superb, and do everything; even at 4:30 A.M. there are 2 or 3 to help the Sahib dress.

Previous Page Next Page