Calcutta & Burmah Steam Nav Co

I China-Nav-British-India-Cape-of-Good-Hope

The Calcutta & Burmah Steam Navigation Company was registered in Glasgow in 1856. One of the first ships of the company  was Cape of Good Hope, built in 1853, (420 gross tons). She was a steamer, but also rigged as a brig. At 190 feet long, she still managed ninety days from Southampton to Calcutta to begin her carrier as a mail ship.

The Company had the contract from the Indian Government (nominally the East India Company, which governed India & Burmah) to run a schedule mail service between Calcutta and Rangoon. It became a success and the following year the Company was called upon to carry troops from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in support of the Government during the Indian Mutiny.

The Company could see a future in the carrying of troops, supplies and horses on behalf of the Government, so additional ships where bought.
In 1862 they changed the name of the Company to British India Steam Navigation Company.

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Over the following years the BI, as it became to be known, grew to be one of the largest shipping companies in the world. By 1922 it had grown to 158 ships, which at that time was the largest merchant fleet in the world.

At the outbreak of WW2 they had 105 ships, and lost 51 during the war including one in which my father sailed (fortunately he survived). The Company also managed a further 71 vessels, and sixteen of those were lost.

The Company celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 1956 by launching their latest troop ship Nevasa.(20,527 gt)

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Nevasa – from the painting by Robert Lloyd

In 1962 I joined the Company, and after the appropriate sea time and passing my exams I was appointed Third Mate in the Bankura (6,793 gt)

Bankura

In 1967, while serving in the Bankura we sailed from Calcutta to Rangoon – as the port was still called then, in the country of Burma (the ‘h’ had been dropped). The picture below is the front cover of the ID card issued by the Burmese authorities at that time, and at the bottom is the inside.

Burma ID card

ID Burma 2We were alongside for two days, one hundred and eleven years after the first BI ship, the Cape of Good Hope, called in to Rangoon.

I liked Rangoon, but it would be forty five years before I returned – but this time on holiday in 2012, just before the country changed and became more democratic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stayed at the Traders Hotel – the white building on the right. On the left is Scott’s Market, now called Bogyoke Market but everyone we spoke to referred to it as Scott’s.

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IMGP4392rInside the market – gold, jade, silver what ever you wished. Ground floor.

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Higher up the less expensive items were for sale.

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Near Scott’s Market is Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, built in 1894, which is the oldest colonial cathedral in Myanmar (Burma).

Our hotel was inexpensive, so we stayed on the Club Floor – I was surprised at how ‘cheap’ it was. I did check the rates recently (the hotel has changed its name) and there is no way that we could afford to stay there – never mind staying on the Club Floor!

When we came to pay they had the facility to accept credit cards, but not in the normal way – the details had to go through Singapore – I think because the Government of the time wouldn’t allow the normal procedure.

IMGP4400rThe tea room in the main foyer (ground level not the Club Floor).

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View from the Club Floor.

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Club Floor dining room.

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We asked one of the staff where could we go to experience Burmese food with the locals.

Just round the corner and the food was delicious and cheap (cheap for us). We changed money on the street as well as the banks – the bank insisted on ‘clean’ unfolded notes. At that time the Australian dollar was higher in value than the US, so we were obtaining about 876 local Kyat for one Australian dollar. Handing over $50 note we then stood there counting 43,800 Kyat . . . . . the space in my pocket was too small so it took two pockets to stow the cash!

We did go to a bank near Scott’s Market to change money – the rate was similar to the street value – a guard on the door eyed us as we entered. I did notice that he was not wearing any shoes, just flops flops .

220px-ThongsI considered that all I had to do was stamp on his toe and I would be able to rob the place. EXCEPT that when I walked in I saw the rear wall behind the tellers was a solid wall of money, and at the exchange rate that we were offered, to make a robbery worth while, I’d need a forklift to carry more than a few thousand dollars worth of Kyat!

IMGP4419rWhen I took the above picture I had my back to the bank’s main doorway, so attempting a fast get away, using a fork lift, didn’t seem all that practical.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall street always attracted me  – you didn’t know what you’d find.

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Local take-away.

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We wondered down near the river as I wanted to see if the Strand Hotel was still standing. On the way I had to take a photograph of the coloured buildings, because I recognized the area !

Strand

This is what the Strand looks like today, but in 2012 it was tired and not a patch on its glory days. It was built in 1901 and acquired by the Starkies brothers of Raffles, Singapore & Eastern & Oriental in Penang fame. In 2016 it was refurbished to be once again one of the finest hotels East of Suez.

4m6bcnd5-1404183075In 2012 we had a drink in this bar, and sat at the far end – the staff were indifferent to us, and the service extremely slow, I only hope they have lifted their game since the refurbishment.

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The Strand Café today – the above three photographs have been downloaded off the net.

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The Irrawaddy River or as Kipling said The Road to Mandalay – the Road to Mandalay for Kipling, was the river – listen to the words.

I stood on the river bank and remembered my first visit, while breathing in the smells of salt water, the river and the ever present smell of Asia, something of which  I never get tired. To complete the memories, we decided to cross the river by ferry.

IMGP4426The ferry terminal and the ferry on the river approaching.

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One or two other people had the same idea.

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Hot & cold food sellers spend all day floating back and forth trying to sell their wares.

IMGP4435Looking back at the ferry terminal

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A houseboat, not a bit like the modern holiday river cruisers.

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Memories . . . .

IMGP4443rApproaching the other side of the river.

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Once ashore we each hired a tri-Shaw, which also had room for a ‘pusher’ – if the trishaw was bogged or on a hill the pusher jumped off and pushed the bike & passenger.

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IMGP4456rA touch of the old Raj . . .for Rangoon railway station.

While I was in Burma – in 1967 and 2012 I never felt afraid or threatened. I found the Burmese to very friendly people, and perhaps one day I’ll return.

Books that influenced my travels

Have you noticed that travelers write about travels, and the main people who read about those who travel, are those who are travelling?
Even foodie blogs write about travels – because many have pictures of food from various countries through which the writer has traveled – not a complaint, because I love to read about other people’s food & travels. My wife’s hobby is cooking, so she collects recipes from around the world, and my hobby is eating, and this makes for a perfect combination!
The seed of travel for me was sown when I was a boy after the war listening to my father’s travels during WW 2. I followed him to sea; he was Royal Navy, I joined the merchant navy.
Combining a love of the sea, with the love of books in my youth, my favourite authors, were C.S Forester, the Hornblower series,
HappyReturn
First Edition Cover – 1937

Somerset Maugham short stories of life in the Far East –

Cas tree
The Casuarina Tree
Gent in Parlour
The Gentleman in the Parlour

 

Eric Newby travel writer, describing his voyage at 18 years of age in 1938.
TheLastGrainRace
Joseph Conrad’s novels – such as
Lord Jim,
Lord Jim
Rudyard Kipling’s stories & poems of Burma and India.
Who can forget
 or
– Rudyard is the name of a man-made lake in Staffordshire, UK, and Rudyard Kipling was named after this lake because his parents met there in 1863. Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai).
I first went to Burma (as it was then) in 1965 /6 and it hadn’t changed that much when I visited for a holiday in 2012.
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Street cafes in Rangoon 2012

I never did make it to Mandalay!

In my late teens I moved on to Jack Kerouac’s – On The Road – a must read for many a teenager.
JK
As one grows older travel books still have a fascination, but for me I seem to be looking back over my shoulder thanks to Gavin Young’s two books
Slow Boat to China (Pub 1984)

 

Slow boat
Slow Boat to China

A great book to read while my memories of China where still sharp &  Slow Boats Home (Pub 1986) when ships where still ships, and not floating warehouses.

Slow boat home
Slow Boat Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two books below are travel books, but they’re not . . . they are about a boy living in Singapore and going to school in England – it is the author’s memoirs. For me, they are real memories of traveling fifty years ago.

One for the road   Eastern.jpg

Both books bring back ‘yesterday’ of life in Singapore & Malaya.
Davison’s memories are not so far back that they are history for for me, because I can remember much of this author’s life experiences in Singapore & Malaya (for me it was Malaysia, but it hadn’t changed that much ).

You can always combine cooking and travel if you try. I bought my wife a Christmas present in 2014

French eating

mainly as a present for her, but also for me, because I also wanted to read this book.

The author Ann Mah, travels around France for a year cooking and eating . . . what more could you want?