Some Fun, Eh?
Canada’s most famous globe-trotter tells of his biggest thrills
As every one bums, Gordon Sinclair is the Toronto Star's globf-trotting reporter. Late in August he returned from an adventurous tour thnmgh India, Burma, Siam, the Malay Straits Settlements, China and Japan. Previous trips have taken him into so many lands that it takes ten minutes to count them. To him, Maclean's said, "Of all your experiences, what four things gave you the biggest kick?" This article supplies the answer.
UP IN INDIA’S grim gash of death called the Khyber Pass, Britain's sentries prowl rocky beats with rifles chained and locked to their wrists, chained and locked again to their waists. The big idea is to stop hairy Himalayan looters from swooping down on the boys, cutting their hearts out—a favorite method of annihilation with the Afridis—and decamping with the rifle. In spite of locks and chains the mighty men of the mountains do scream their defiance and get away with the king’s arms.
That treacherous slice of no man’s mountain which separates India. Russia and China is one of the few remaining unclaimed, unknown strongholds of tribal clansmen who live by death alone; the only place in the world where Britain’s troops have their fighting machinery locked to their hides. It is fed, ruled, and governed from Peshawar, the only forbidden city in the British Empire, which sports the only golf course on earth where machine-gun pill boxes stud the bunkers and is threaded by the only railroad in the world where evefy station is a fully armed fortress; every bridge mined and ready for instant destruction in case the tribal tough guys quit playing for lends.
Every passenger on that road of the roaring rowdies
carries a loaded rifle slung over his shoulder and when the conductor asks a fare his answer is always “Go to Hell.”
You get the idea from all this that the Khyber and its suburbs is one of the he-man tough spots of a wild and woolly land. So it is; but some of the hawk-eyed Himalayan hunters are not the sharpshooters they’re cracked up to be.
In March, when the snows had gone and the caravans ' were again crawling through Asia’s heart from Afghanistan, Turkestan and Persia, I was at Minchni Kando, last outpost of Britain’s far-flung army, writing news for the Toronto Star.
Three of us joined a group of black sheep herded by wideeyed girls and climbed a high peak overlooking Kabul Valley. It was a tough climb because the rock was corroded and soggy. As we stepped on apparently solid bits it crumbled and gave way. Sometimes we’d climb three feet and slide back six. All around the black mountainside were concrete blockhouses occupied by the Gordon Highlanders and connected by wireless, telephone, telegraph and helio light with headquarters on the India side of this alley of assassination.
Scratched about the hands and puffing for breath we finally made the peak where two tribesmen -paid thirty cents by England to be good boys that day—waved us back with a salvo of warning.
“Go down, go down. Don’t come up. Clansmen kill.” We kept sliding over the soggy stone. “Afghan man kill,” they repeated. “Last two men to stand on this spot were both shot down.”
“Where were they shot from?” a cocky young lieutenant demanded. "From the iron hills of Kabul—just yonder.”
The Khassadars pointed across a valley of shadows. It was about 500 yards to the nearest spot where any snipe could have parked himself. Even at that he’d probably need five hands and six feet to Hang on.
“Bunk,” the lieutenant scoffed. “I’m getting tired of all
this eyewash and propaganda. Your men couldn’t hit a bam at 500 yards, and I’ve got cash money right here to prove I’m right.”
The bet was on. Boy, how it was on ! If there is any one thing a Khyber killer would rather do than shoot for a cash prize then I win the cinnamon flavored floor mop. He lives to shoot and shoots to live. At once the challenge was taken up. The crack-shots of the valley solemnly agreed they’d try no monkey business like putting the judges on the spot, and the big shoot was on.
For no good reason at all I was sworn in as scorekeeper. It was a bit exciting to sit there surrounded by wolfish men of the mountains who occasionally itched to open my veins or somebody’s veins. As snipers they were hopeless. Upset all my glamorous ideas of Himalayan murderers. They tried stationary and moving targets, beer bottles, tin cans, milk jugs, live pigeons. No matter what they choose to pop off the Gordons and the Yorkshires would make them look like bush league hicks, and most of the hired troops were losing the shilling King George was paying on account of good behavior. There were deep mutterings in deeper beards.
Finally, and quite suddenly, the tribesmen began to get something on the ball. They began to splinter bottles, smash cans, flatten targets and terrify pigeons with reckless abandon. Some of the Britishers withdrew toward the bottom of a mound and talked things over. Wise guys, these British secret service men. In Germany after the war they told me Britain’s spies were the best on earth. They ought to know. Here in the last fringe of civilization the spies had found out who among the tribesmen had British rifles by the simple process of trying to get their goat by teasing their vanity. “What? You guys can’t shoot. We can lick you with one hand behind our backs.”
That’s the way it went, and then, one by one, the good stolen rifles came out. Give the British credit for being
good sports though. This was a day off from hunting prisoners and stolen army goods. They never said a word; never reclaimed a rifle, but a few nights later the Gurkhas did a dawn raid and came back covered with triumph and plunder. There’s tricks in every trade.
Gordon Peeves a Sultan
ONCE on a jaunt to North Africa I had to pull a fast but antique news-hound trick to get me out of the private jail of no less a wise guy than Sidi Mohammed Ben Moulay, Yousuff Ben Moulay El Hassan. Believe it or not, this lad is Sultan of Morocco. He’s twenty-four, has eighty-one wives, enough offspring to start a six-team hockey league, thirty-six high-powered motor cars, an electrically cooled palace, a flock of eunuchs, a brace of trained tigers to guard his harem and all sorts of glorious and exciting possessions.
Trouble with the sultan is that he’s only got about six hairs he can call a beard. This mightn’t worry you or me or Mickey Mouse, but a sultan without a beard just isn’t a sultan. He might have black panthers with golden chains guarding the jewelled door to his palace of pulchritude, but he’s just another radio crooner if he hasn’t got a beard.
Mohammed Ben Moulay is pretty sensitive about his six hairs. Guards them carefully and puts tonic on them at night. He also gives order that he’s never, under any condition to be photographed. (You know that one that says the camera never lies.)
That struck me as tough luck, because one glorious morning I was in the marble white Morocco capital of Rabat when the sultan climbed on his milk white stallion and paraded in great state across a fringe of Sahara’s sands to his private mosque. Here he kicked off his shoes and went inside to pay his deepest respects to Allah while the blind muezzin in the spikey minaret sang out the age long lament of fatalism—“What is written is written.”
I took this blind banshee of the tower at his word. If I was going to be pinched I was going to be pinched and that was that. I had a small camera so I let fly. Nobody bothered me, but I had to point the rather feeble lens into the brilliance of an African sun and felt pretty sure the picture would be a flop. It was, too. Anyhow I stuck around hoping to get a decent shot when the sultan came back from his devotions.
After a half hour, the weird throbbing stimulation of the Arab pipes rolled across the blood red square; the story tellers rose from their squatty positions, and the sultan came forth again on his milk white prancer. Nubian eunuchs with long-handled silken parasols walked beside the big chief to keep him shaded and two gorilla armed Senegalese held the great head of the prancing horse. It was a perfect picture and I let fly.
Instantly the sultan’s yes men surrounded me. I was politely but firmly relieved of the camera and hurried through the powdery red sands to the cooler. They whisked me in a gate and around a corner, through another gate and around another corner. Then a third gate clanged behind me and I was in a small white cell with a tin window high up by the roof.
A pair of aides de camp all done up like the king of diamonds brought an interpreter in with my camera; explained that I had offended Morocco’s chief defender of the Koran a n d —p o 1 i t e 1 y enough—ordered me to destroy the film in their presence.
I fumbled around with the catch, stalled, talked and did anything else I could for the sake of delay. Finally I handed them the
film, unrolled its yellow sheaves with a flourish and let the highly trained yes men watch it slowly change color. They handed back the camera and turned me loose among the sidewalk snake charmers. In my pocket was the real roll of films. I’d made a quick switch while they watched me. The big chief of the panther-guarded harem turned out pretty good in the picture.
I Hunt Tigers
AS MAN and boy I’ve always been thrilled by a good animal yam or a good animal picture.
I like my animals rough, tough and nasty, and because of this my first tiger hunt in the swamp lands of lower Bengal was a dismal disappointment—but the second one!
We swung down the Hooghly from Calcutta, crossed the reptile-infested Bengal marshlands, swung into the Ganges and dropped with the muddy current toward the sea. It was a weird and spooky ride.
Long before dark fat bats flew around our barge.
Kelly, my hawk-eyed Irish companion, said they were vampire bats ready to drain our veins, but none lit on me. Once we saw a thick python slide into soupy waters ahead of us and another time a crocodile was tossing the body of a wild pig in the air just as if he was playing ball. The crocodile'hissed when we came near and then resumed his tossing. Kelly said he was trying to crush the pig’s bones.
We landed in sultry jungle depths with enough kit and gear to establish a village. The coolies had to set up tents, a bath house, skinning room, snakeproof sleeping room and a well. With water surrounding us in all directions Kelly even made the coolies dig a well. Then we built a bamboo and banana machan up a banyan in a clearing and sent our eighty beaters yelling and screaming through the jungle as though they were chased by a million hobgoblins. They boomed and bellowed like banshees while I sat in the palm-leaf shooting hut smacking mosquitoes and hoping tigers couldn’t climb.
Perhaps an hour after the bellowing commenced away back among the banyans, Kelly hissed at me and jerked his head toward an opening in the tall elephant grass. There, sure enough, was the striped king of the jungle himself. A royal Bengal tiger. But he looked small and more or less tame. He was undecided whether to come on toward us or go back and claw those noisy beaters to pieces. He decided on discretion, loped easily along toward us and got enough steel slugs in his head to kill his whole family. Well, that was a tiger hunt and we’d bagged one.
I should have been all thrilled and excited but I wasn’t There didn’t seem to be much to a tiger hunt and I said so. Kelly got sore. “So you want a lot of noise and uproar do you?—well you’ll get it. We’ll take you out with the torches. Get some sleep. We start about sundown.”
I drank some fresh caught, fresh made turtle soup, slept for an hour or two and wakened when a grey-blue lizani fell on top of my mosquito net and bounced around like a trapeze artist. Inquisitive baboons were chattering noisily around the camp and long tailed parakeets raised a fine rumpus over some domestic disaster. The poet who wrote that rubbish about the silent jungle must have been
deaf as a post.
We drank some more hot soup, buckled on some mean looking knives and shooting irons and shouldered our way through the wavy elephant grass, looking for spoor or a kill. Once we came across a longhaired bear with a sharp white nose like a wolf hound. He stood scornfully sniffing us and I was keen to try a crack at him, but Kelly wouldn’t hear of it. The bear acted as if he was half tight. We went around him.
Some of the skinny boys ahead carried torches but it wasn’t dark yet and they weren’t lit. Others had the guns. These stopped suddenly and pointed mysteriousl y and expectantly toward a bush. Coiled into a ball, with his head tucked away under him, was a potbellied python sound asleep. He was a sly, sleepy looking cuss. Kelly lifted his hand and wffiispered, “Both
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barrels when I say three.” He counted slowly. Our shots rang out like the crack of doom and the heaving brown body uncoiled like the snap of a whip lash, hissed one sickening gasping hiss, and practically broke in two. He writhed around long afterward but there was no need to waste more shots.
The farther we got into the jungle the wetter and muddier it got. The boys kept close by with the guns, but we only carried whippy canes in case of vipers or cobras. We saw plenty of tiger marks and scared up a baby leopard. Soon afterward we forced our way through some thorny trees, found a muddy trail and traced it far enough to uncover the gashed carcass of a young water buffalo. Crows had been pecking his neck, and fat black ants swarmed over his whole hide, but it was easy to see he was fresh killed.
Kelly stood off far enough so he wouldn’t leave a smell on the carcass and stood examining the trees. It was five o’clock. “Two hours to go,” he said. “You game to stay?”
“Sure—you mean up the tree?”
“Yes,” he said, “smear this on your face.” He gave me some vile smelling oil to keep mosquitoes away; we lapped up some quinine and climbed up the overhead roots of a banyan.
By seven it was black as ebony; by 8.30 the jungle was alive with eerie ghostly sounds. Sounds of murder and plunder and the animal fight to live. I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. The blood-drinkers felt as big as airplanes, but the bland Madrasi who kept me company never complained or slapped or bothered his tiny head. I could hear Kelly smacking and swearing across the clearing.
Then came that startling, stimulating half growl of the tiger out to kill. Partly growl, partly whine. We knew he was coming slowly, deliberately, confidently. We spotted his eyes; round and roving.
The tiger yawned and came padding onward. A noisy, relaxed sort of yawrn. Certainly he wasn’t suspicious of us lurking in the trees. I got a bead on the eyes and felt sure I’d miss. A split second before I squeezed the trigger there were growls below as if in duet and I realized there were two tigers. April is the mating season and a tough time for hunters. This was April, 1932. Kelly would have some plan for this, I thought, but what plan?
Before I had a chance to think, his gun roared out. There was a spurt of flame as he pulled the trigger, a ball of fire as the lethal shell buried itself in the ground. A full miss. I looked and the eyes were gone; Kelly was swearing, some unseen monkeys were chattering like a flock of outraged sopranos.
I started to laugh and feel toward my hip for a smoke. Then the laugh almost popped out of my insides. From down below came the sound of a snarling, charging terror of darkness. The tiger twisted
his way through the jungle like a huge snake, roaring, leaping. He stopped directly beneath my tree, looked up bellowing. He was too close for me to get a bead on him and never stayed still a second. His howls echoed through the jungle like thunder. The Madrasi bearer still held the gun. I had a shotgun loaded with a lethal ball, and a supersensitive 270 rifle. Neither would do at such close quarters. I unhooked my automatic and knew that was a bughouse trick, too, because I’m a cheesy pistol shot. The tiger backed off. came charging in again as though he were going to leap. Kelly’s gun spat red. The tiger seemed to catch the shell in his backbone. He flopped and writhed like an eel. He started to choke and cough; righted himself and came on again, roaring defiance. The beaters, up various trees, lit ruby red torches and these cast dancing ghostly shadows. Kelly and I both took another shot at the shrieking maimed beast and he went out fighting, kicking, scratching.
“Up,” Kelly shouted. “Keep up.” I did. The jungle king was stiff before we came out of the tree. We had him carried back on a long pole and dumped him down in a tent. By morning white ants had eaten right through the carcass near the tail. Som fon; eh keeds?
My Biggest Thrill
r"PHE biggest surprise and the biggest thrill I ever got anywhere came on a forbidden trek through the Siamese jungles near the Burma border line. That’s where the hamadryads mate and breed, fight and kill. The fiercest, fightingest, fastest snake alive. The only snake which can outrun a horse; the only snake that will attack a man on sight. That’s the ring cobra, more properly knowm as the hamadryad. You don’t hunt the hamadryad; he hunts you. He’s sixteen feet of coiled and poisoned fury. His hood, when puffed out like the black cobra, is almost as wide as this magazine. He’s king of the serpents, roving terror of the Siamese jungle lands.
To hunt the hamadryad you wear a suit of armor. Bamboo armor closely woven, fitted at the knees so you can walk with snake boots, provided with loopholes like a fort so you can shoot. You look like an ambulating lobster pot with the weird looking cage on and when a couple of mosquitoes get inside it’s just too bad for you, a banquet for the bugs.
We tried out our incredible cages in the Burmese town of Yeh—not Oh Yeah but just ordinary Yeh—and headed straight into the deepest, blackest and dampest jungle in Asia. My pal on this jaunt was a Scot from Mysore with the goofy job of blanket salesman in a land where blankets weren’t needed; but he sure knew his jungle and his snakes.
We went in part way by motor, walked through dappled sunlight toward a river which marked the Siamese line and, crossed on a barge run by two cigar smoking
women. Every time that barge crosses the stream monkeys by the dozen come hurrying down from the cocoanut palms and banyans to sneak a ride.
We walked a slow7 and plodding mile through the jungle of the Siamese side. It was a weird feeling. We were supposed to be hunting but knew7 that if there wrere hamadryads around they w7ould do the hunting and w7e’d be the prey.
There were no birds around and I wondered why. Somehow7 I felt absurdly secure. Then “Look out! Watch her! Watch her!” A great menacing hood had reared up to the right of Scott. It wavered there just for a second then collapsed again. With her nose straight out, the rear yardage wiggling like a flag in the breeze, the female killer came for Scott. She was coming flat to the ground. If I had shot, Scott w7ould have got it. He stood calm and ready. The snake reared up again and hesitated, but Scott didn’t shoot. It came on faster and rose a third time. Bam ! The bird-shot landed true and the coiling monster collapsed in a red mess. I stood transfixed. Scott kicked the still twisting snake with his boot and then over his shoulder saw7 one coming for me. I looked, fired with an automatic jerk and missed. I can’t remember firing at all.
I just remember the lidless unblinking eyes as this snake reared up, hesitated a split second and pounced dowmvard with the fury of a fiend. She caught me at the back of my high boot and left two thin purplish streams trickling downw'ard I stepped backward and to the side. The hood rose up again. About the w7idth of an ordinary book. I pulled the trigger but hadn’t brought up the new shell and there was a dull click. The snake came crashing against the bamboo with the fury of a tigress. Wham, swash, w7ham again. The wind was up me vertical. Scott couldn’t fire without hitting me, but he was bellowing excitedly and looked like a bogey man in his wooden kimono. I gave a jerk at the gun and swung the new shell in. The snake coiled herself dowm like an accordion and I let go. The big cobra sprung at the same second I fired the shot and crumpled up like a ball.
Scott was still yelling. I don’t remember a w7ord he said. I do know that I was suddenly very, very limp and wanted to sit down, but couldn’t because of the bamboo basket. More fon; eh keeds?
And that surprise; there were really two. We w7ere up among the Malayan rubber plantations. They were weedy and unkept because rubber is hardly w7orth harvesting now. A tiny mud and bamboo village sported the familiar and welcome sign, “Canada Dry Ginger Ale,” so we stopped and had one. “Pig worshippers live here,” my companion said. “They think the hog holy; pray to hogs all the time. Come on and see.”
We reached a dilapidated and unkept lacquer temple after climbing some corroded steps. There, proud as Punch, were several women nursing baby pigs at their own breasts.
’’Pigs here much holier, much more valuable than humans,” I was told. “A woman with a baby of her own will often neglect it to nurse the hog.”
While we stayed around that pagan pump town wre came across one woman unlucky enough to be nursing a young squealer who happened to have teeth and knew how to use them. He bit and bit hard. The w7oman yipped in pain then more or less nonchalantly picked up a stone and bashed out the teeth. Pig didn’t like it a bit.
The other surprise came one time in the Caribbean. Together with another news hound and a one-legged old buccaneer of a Spaniard w7e were hunting sharks from one of Havana’s municipal garbage barges. “Shark is the most over-rated thing in the seas,” my New York pal was saying. “No shark or school of sharks will attack a human being. All bunk ! Sharks are harmless, timid, easy to terrify.”
An hour later we caught one with a triple barbed harpoon, and immediately opened him up because the long supple backbone of a shark makes a smart walking stick. Inside his ample belly were some slimy j rags, some shreds of fur and the arm and shoulder of a man. A white man. The arm had been ripped off in one bite and swallowed whole.