Zerky in Patna

Patna, India

December 29, 1967, Patna, India. Dear Zerky, today we drove from Varanasi (Benares) to Patna. It was our slowest going yet because of the crowded narrow roads. Now the countryside is becoming tropical and we are seeing many huts with thatched roofs, rice paddies, palm trees and green tea plantations.

This morning we pulled off the road to give Tarzan his worming medicine and as soon as we let him out of the car, he dashed off in pursuit of a little red-faced monkey. Poor Tarzan will never learn. The monkey leapt into a tree and started chewing on a stick, whereupon Zerky, taking it all in, started imitating the little monkey by chewing on a piece of sugar cane given to him by an Indian farmer. Tarzan finally lost interest in the monkey and started sniffing around elsewhere, at which point the little monkey came down out of the tree and headed up the road, whereupon Tarzan gave chase once again. This time the little monkey turned on Tarzan, who was flabbergasted. How humiliating it must be for a dog to be chased by a little monkey. I soon discovered the reason for the monkey’s display of courage: in a nearby tree were two more monkeys, each with a tiny baby. When I approached, one of the mothers popped her baby onto her back and got ready to flee. The other one held onto her baby by keeping it close to her chest and protecting it from our dumb dog.

Today in the middle of the road, we met our first elephant. Yes, elephants do get the right of way, from us at least. Later on, we saw two more of them, one of which was a baby elephant with white flowers painted on its face and ears. We also passed a slow-moving, narrow-gauge railroad train with people hanging onto the outside and to all the doors and windows.

The DAK Bungalow is full tonight, so we don’t have a john. A short while ago the chowkidar grandly proclaimed to us that “the District Director of the Subdivisional Circuit so desires that you move this conveyance from the front of the premises.” We call this “India-speak,” a combination of imitation, obfuscation and lack of expertise in the English language. Translation: “The boss says to get your damn car off his front lawn!”

We have found a hotel with a restaurant nearby for tonight’s dinner and piddle, and for tomorrow’s breakfast and shiddle. Dinner for two costs ten and a half rupees ($1.40 US).

Another flat tire. A horseshoe somehow punctured one of the rear ones and got caught inside, where it clunked around angrily and raised hell with the tube.

Since the 1962 incursion into India by the Chinese Army, the Indian government has put in place a strategic new network of roads, enabling it to defend itself better against a second attack.
Today was the first time our car has been in high gear since we left Benares three days ago. We were so excited at the prospect of making it to Katmandu in time for the New Year’s Eve celebration that we decided to drive late, still hoping to join in all the fun by spending New Year’s Eve in Katmandu. We arrived at the Nepal border crossing at about 9:30 PM and considered crossing into Nepal. The border guard told us that all travelers must be off the road and settled by 10:00 PM, so tonight we are staying at a DAK Bungalow in Raxaul, and we are still in India.

December 31, 1967. The road we are on is named the “Tribhuban Raj Path.” It is steep, spectacular and quite beautiful. Some of the trucks we seem to be continually getting behind, are as brightly decorated up in their fronts as they are in the rear. Here is a photo of one of them.

Bus in Patna

We are now quite excited because, from the top of the pass today, we had our first view of the high Himalayan Range, a vast panorama of all the major peaks including Mount Everest. Now it is downhill all the way to Katmandu. We also met an Australian on a motorcycle, whom we had met previously in Tehran.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky

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