When I was very young, and television was in black and white, and there were only several channels, I remember there was a show on Saturday mornings which I loved. Andy's Gang with Andy Devine ("pluck your majic twanger froggy" if that helps); this was a show I never missed. I do not remember much about it except it had a continual story of a young Indian boy (Gunga Ram) running through the Indian jungle; I suppose it had tigers, elephants and maybe even had some music. He always seemed to be running.
Fast forward to September 1967; I am at Siena College, a Franciscan college near Albany, New York; my parents wanted me to go to school and I suppose I was glad to be there. The Viet Nam War was going on and Siena was a much better place to be. That was the summer of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club. The first song on the second side of the album is George Harrison's "Within You Without You". The sound of that weird sitar and strange drums (tablas) interested me. I can remember sitting in a class-room, not really wanting to be there, and making a solemn vow with myself that I would complete college and reward myself by going to India someday.
Everything good in my life always came very slowly and after a great deal of work; my school, my career, my family, my house, my happiness, etc.... The trip to India took 4 years of planning and saving to make it happen. I did not know it then, but those were good times. The State was building a large marble office complex downtown and I was able to work as a union laborer. My father sold construction equipment, knew alot of the people and got me in. I was able to work every summer and make enough to pay for school. I always had other jobs and seemed to have enough money for cigs and gas for my little Yamaha 180. Most of my money always went into the bank to pay for school.
In 1971 I graduated from Siena, then I worked on construction and saved up about $2,500. In August I hitched out to California and back. That took 4 weeks and I proved to myself I could do what seemed difficult. In September I got on a brand new 747 at JFK and flew to London. I carried my cheap guitar, a sleeping bag and a backpack.
I went up to the small town of Burnley, near Manchester to visit some friends of my mother's mother who came from there. Tom Jones and his wife took me in, fed me and showed me a great deal of Lancashire including the house where my grandmother was born in 1900; I remember them taking me to a local museum which had some beautiful paintings which were hundreds of years old; the concept of Europe was starting to sink in. The last I saw of them was in Blackpool where they took me to catch the ferry to Ireland, the home of my father.
In Ireland I visited all of the Simpsons; and there are plenty of them. My father's father's twin sister, Bella took me in for several weeks. I will always remember the day when I got to her door; one of many in a long line of grey row houses, and she opened it. I saw myself in her wrinkled face. My days in Ireland will always be remembered. Breakfasts in bed, great bread, plenty of beer, singing, and the warmth of family. Of course I visited Northern Ireland in the height of the "troubles"; I did not take any sides, my father was raised a Protestant and my mom a Catholic.
After going over to Scotland, taking the Hovercraft over to Calais and wandering down through Germany, Italy and spending 3 months on Crete, I found myself in Istanbul. This was Asia and things really began to get interesting. By the way, every post card and letter I got from my parents always ended with the words "Do not go to India".
The trip through Turkey was a nightmare (if anybody ever saw the movie Midnight Express, they have a good idea of this country; the people are neat though). I took a train through Turkey and then went into Iran. They still had the Shah back then, and they had some nice roads. I can remember seeing some strange sites in Tabriz of a religious procession where people were actually beating themselves with chains as they walked along. We looked down on the parade of people from a hotel bacony, we were told to stay inside, but of course I was 22 and had to look at it and take pictures too. All I could say as I was going through these countries was "this is just like the bible".
Well we made it through Iran and then took buses through Afganistan. I developed my life time love of pomagranates there; but you would have to see it to believe it. Television really does not do these countries justice. Down through the Khyber Pass into the warmth of Pakistan. Now I really enjoyed being stuck in Lahore for several weeks. India and Pakastan just had a war and the border was closed. We had to take a 727 over the border to Amritsar. I can remember going down the steps in back of the plane onto the hot tarmic. I looked at my foot as it hit the ground and said to myself "mission accomplished - you made it to India".
I went to Delhi and then down to see the Taj Mahal. I first saw it at midnite under a full moon; it is beautiful. I can remember going around it and hearing real live Indian music from a village across the river from the Taj. That nite I slept in the tall grass along the road. ( I look back, with visions of cobras, and think what a fool I was).
I did get over to the Ganges and saw the river and visited some very beautiful sites. Then I took the bus ride of my life up to Katmandu, Nepal. That road is incredible and I can not believe I survived the trip. Well I got my tatoo on my right arm there and I remember sitting in a Hotel and drinking a Tuborg beer and a song came on the radio, a beautiful song; "So Far Away". Well my mind immediately thought about my family and home. I flew out of Katmandu on a DC-3 to Patna, took a train to Delhi and then got a ticket to Amsterdam. I got back to London and came home.
The whole trip took about 10 months; I used to tell everybody about it (brag actually). I went back to work as a laborer saved up money to go to South America, and just before I left I got a call for a job interview with the New York State Office of Natural Disaster and Civil Defense. I started work there on November 16, 1972 and worked there for 30 years before I retired on St. Patrick's Day 2003.