Norway is famed the world over for dramatic scenery, with high mountains alongside a sometimes surprisingly blue sea. In the span of humankind, most of the region was beneath an ice sheet, kilometres thick, which sliced the tops from mountains, then carried the debris along in rivers of ice to the sea. Some areas in the far north and offshore islands like the Lofotens escaped glaciation, leaving a coastal landscape of jagged peaks.
Over the years I travelled many thousands of miles through India by rail, mostly hauled by diesel engines, but when I first went there, a lot of venerable steam engines were still in daily service, a honeypot for rail enthusiasts and history buffs alike. As is often said, the ‘Golden Age’ is never the present one; would one see the age of steam as being a golden age for India, or is that just for the hard bitten nostalgic ?
‘Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink’, as the Ancient Mariner bemoaned. Of course he was surrounded by seawater, but for a large number of the world’s people the same issue of lack or inability to use water dogs their lives. Simple bonds of hydrogen and oxygen (H2O), create one of nature’s most incredible substances. With properties so constant in some ways that our metric system of weights and volume is based on it; one litre of water weighs a kilogram, one cubic metre of water weighs a tonne.
Do not be mistaken here; it is not begging as a western-bred assumption might conclude. This is Zaqat, one of the principal duties of all Muslims, to behave charitably toward those in need. It requires a person to give directly to those in need and is a mainstay for elderly people of the community who may find themselves in leaner times. The older man is not a beggar, he is aware of that, and is aware that it is his right to expect support. For his side, the shopkeeper is aware that his obligations include giving a percentage of his income directly to those in need, and that he receives blessings for his act.
Appearing much like a sprite, Durga Das was a willing helper and camel driver on a trip I took through the villages of Northern Rajasthan. We were following the old desert tracks from near to Bikaner the seat of a Princely State, to Jaisalmer, another fairytale turreted fortress town on the edge of India’s Thar desert.
I saw an ad in The Guardian saying “Tour guide / driver wanted urgently.” This was like a nugget to an Alaska goldpanner.
“Texas always seemed so big, but you know you’re in the largest state in the Union when you’re anchored down in Anchorage”
(song by Michelle Shocked, theme to this summer, sung by Mary McCarthy)
Lumpy air buffeted the plane as we coasted over a choppy looking sea and threaded between snowy peaks toward our landing. This was the land that Jack London had brought alive for generations of armchair adventurers; land that offered promise, a sanctuary, a new start for so many, and literally a dead-end for as many more.