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The Globe

June 24th, 2009 · 7 Comments · En Route, Travel Memoir

Shelley Buck traveled overland to India by boat, bus, train, and (sometimes) taxi in 1972. The following is from her memoir of that journey.

“I don’t want to travel with a woman,” explained the beefy American from San Diego, turning me down. “You get hassled.”  We stood in the narrow lobby of Istanbul’s Hotel Güngör, in the city’s ancient Sultan Ahmet District.  Timeworn and jammed with longhaired backpackers, the Güngör served as a kind of Council Bluffs for the overland traffic to India–a place to scrutinize ticket prices, plot out routes, and forge alliances.

The Güngör fronted on a street close by the Topkapi Palace, now a museum. There the hand of John the Baptist was said to be preserved and on display.  Certainly somebody’s hand was. Touring the palace, I eyed the relic in its glass case. Its fingers curled, the hand was wizened, brown, and smaller than my own. The palace also held the Peacock Throne of India–or said it did.

In the covered bazaar, a few blocks off, I bargained for a coin bearing the face of Alexander the Great, dressed up as a god. Probably Alexander also got told he couldn’t go east, as he staged his Macedonian fighters before crossing the Hellespont into Asia.  But unlike Alexander, I lacked an army to deal with hassles. It was 1972, and I hated being told “no.”

To make this trip to India was to keep a promise made in childhood. As far back as my memory stretches, the antique globe in my parents’ living room entranced me with its mysterious names and hues. By today’s standards, this globe was odd.  On it, Oklahoma was marked “Indian Territory.”  The Russian Empire stretched from the Arctic Ocean to Cape Bering. There was a Dalmatia, but no Finland or Poland. Dotted lines traced the routes of submarine telegraph cables. On my globe, as I secretly called it, oceans were not sky-blue, but milky green, like the shallow waters in a tropical harbor.  Land was the creamy yellow of old parchment treasure maps.

In the living room, the entire family sat each evening–parents reading, children quarreling. At the furthest border of the gray wool nubbly carpet, the globe poised on its ornate brass feet. It glowed, moonlike, with reflected light from the reading lamps–like a Jules Verne rocket on a Victorian launch pad. I reached for my globe, as if drawn by an irresistible lure. With a finger, I nudged it. Creakily, the sphere started to swivel on its canted axis. I pushed again, harder. The globe began to rotate more quickly.

Half-hidden in the corner, out of my sister’s pestering reach and perhaps forgotten by my parents, I spun my private wheel of fortune. One hand braced the globe’s thimble-shaped acorn nut at the top, while I urged the sphere faster and faster with the other, like Superman in the comic book whipping the planet around in an effort to speed up time.

Soon the globe was hurtling round and round on its own without any help from me at all.  My fingertips rode the lacquered surface like a carousel, rising gently as each longitudinal seam glided by. The printed yellow ribbon that marked the International Dateline slid beneath my exploring fingers.

But merely riding was too passive.  With a forefinger, I stabbed at sea and land on the little world that I had set in motion.  “There,” I promised.  “I’ll go there and there and there.”  And with a final thump, my finger came down hard on the largest yellow landmass, halting the globe’s erratic whirl entirely.

I looked at the spot where my finger had landed. The matter was settled. I would go east.

–Excerpted from East, © Shelley Buck, 2009

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Phil Palmer

    I was intrigued by the description of Hotel Gungor. I just googled H.G. out of curiosity because I stayed there for 2 nights in 1970. It was THE place to stay for the traveller (hippy or just a traveller, like me) – many of whom were on their way to Goa. Iwas just going as far East as my money would allow. Having had my passport & travellers cheques stolen I only got as far as the Princes Islands and Bursa, a little way into Asian Turkey. It was then a choice:1-way ticket to Israel (Kibbutz) or safety – go home. Sadly, I ‘chickened out’ Looking forward to reading the book. Looks promising.

  • Helen plazibat

    I also stayed 1 week at Hotel Gungor…next to the Pudding Shop in 1971…this was filmed in the opening scene of Midnight Express, same era. Shopped at the Grand Bazaar and still have the alabaster vase here in my home that I so carefully packed back on my return home. I would love to retrace those footsteps thru the city of Istanbul but know it would never look the same as in 1971

  • Robin Sutton

    I stayed at Hotel Gungor for a week in the summer of 1970 as the end point of a motorcycle trip from the UK, in company with a schoolmate and girlfriend. As most student travel was overland back then, Istanbul was the natural funnel point for everyone heading east from Europe or arriving west from Australia/NZ or on the return leg from India and Afghanistan. I remember the Pudding Shop as the unofficial news exchange for catching up with progress of friends who were further along the trail somewhere east beyond Turkey. The Gungor was ideal for Topkapi and the Blue Mosque and not too far from the Bazaar as I recall. I have a faded b&w photo of the Hotel and Pudding Shop taken from across the road with the Mosque visible beyond. As a budget place it was nothing to look at but it held the easy dreams of a generation passing through.

  • admin

    As a woman traveling in 1972, I didn’t find my dreams there particularly easy, but the hotel certainly was the natural funnel point that you describe. I have hear the Pudding Shop is still there and that tour buses stop at it. Have you been back?

  • Arty Rems

    Hey, reading these comments brings some fond memories. I stayed at the Gungor in the summer of 1971. All kinds of WT’s(world travelers). It was there I met a Brit, Kevin, and hitched a ride to Tehran.
    The Gungor was close to everything in the old city. The bazaar, Blue Mosque, and I know there was more. To meet all the other off-beat travelers was a real treat.

  • Chris Willoughby

    I stayed at the hotel Gungor during a three month backpacking trip with a friend. We had stayed at a different low quality place before finding the Gungor as a better alternative. We were debating whether to go east to India or west to Spain and decided by flipping a coin. Spain won.
    We were at the Gungor for about a week in the fall of 1972.
    I am going to Istanbul again for the first time since 1972 and am anxious to see how it has changed.
    Does the Hotel Gungor still exist? I’d like to check it out as well as the pudding shop.

  • Shelley Buck

    Hi Chris, I’m not sure the Gungor is there anymore., but a friend who was in Istanbul a couple of years ago said the Pudding Shop was still around and that tour buses were pulling up to it.

    I hope you got there, and that the desserts were as good as ever! -Shelley

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