National Geographic : 1960 Oct
KODACHROME() NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Night closes in on Tortuga's floating campsite near Benares. Reaching Mirzapur, the authors found the Ganges deep enough to accommodate the jeep's three-foot draft. Here, as dusk silhouettes a boatman, Helen Schreider prepares the bunks. Rubber raft has been inflated for a visit ashore. Bamboo pole is used for soundings. or holy men. Some were in a trance, their eyes rolled back in their sockets, milk white. Others slept obliviously on beds of thorns or with heads buried in the sand. One lay with his protruding tongue pierced by a long spike. But with the appalling and the bizarre, there was beauty. It sparkled in the ever present ritual flowers, in the rainbow of gossamer saris stretched to dry in the sun, in the graceful, flowing walk of the women as they went to bathe in the river and re turned, their wet garments clinging to lithe, trim figures. Ganges Too Shallow for Tortuga At Allahabad we found the Ganges wide, but mostly too shallow for the jeep's three-foot draft. Except during the rainy season, the river for nearly half its course runs in knee deep shallows, rapids, and an occasional pool. Months of driving were behind us, and we looked forward to getting our craft afloat, so we headed downstream for Mirzapur. Perhaps there we could embark in Tortuga. A hundred and fifty years ago Mirzapur 484 had the dubious distinction of being a head quarters of a sect of stranglers, the Thugs, from which our English word is derived. To day it is the center for the largest hand loomed rug industry in the world. These rugs, made in the villages by whole families of weavers, are typical of the cottage industries that are so important to India's economy (pages 486-7). We called on Wilfred J. Oakley, director of Obeetee Private Ltd., one of the firms that make Mirzapur's rugs. He was a jovial Eng lishman with a penchant for understatement: What he called his "bungalow" was a huge sprawling house set in a 10-acre garden, and the "simple food" he served was a delicious five-course dinner. At breakfast the next morning he had another guest. "This is my partner, Mr. Hakim Uddin Khan," Mr. Oakley said. "When I came to India 34 years ago, he met me at the train. He's been coming for break fast ever since." "Inshallah-if God wills," Mr. Hakim re plied.