We drove down in a plush bus (air conditioned, great leg space) from Bangkok. The highway was a manicured dream… a bit like with Lalu Yadav would have had in mind when he spoke of roads like ‘Hema Malini’s cheeks’. All of us in the bus dozed peacefully as our guide’s deep and pleasant voice lulled us to sleep. It was about a three hour drive to our destination.
Our first stop was at the War Memorial. This was a row of white tombstones in memory of the soldiers who had died in the Second World War in the vast green field. This was a tranquil haven which was in sharp contrast to the gore and suffering which would have marked their last days.
Our next stop was at the JEATH museum at Kanchenburi. JEATH stood for Japan, England, America and Thailand, the countries which were involved in the war in those parts.
This was a most sobering experience. The museum was built on the lines of the thatched huts where the Allied prisoners of war were kept. There were replicas of the bunks in which the prisoners slept. The narrow beds and the pictures and stories of the human suffering, the stories of people dying of dysentery, exhaustion and tropical diseases brought a lump to one’s throat. Most of us in the bus were in a bit of a daze as we left the place and the mood in the bus was quite still.
We next went to the river Kwai where we finally saw the famous bridge on the river Kwai. Well not quite. The actual bridge built by the allied prisoners of war was a wooden one and had been destroyed in the war. What we got to see was an iron bridge which was built later. Still walking on the bridge was an eerie feeling and brought the goose bumps out.
Nature did eventually take over and soothe us. The peaceful surroundings, the wet breeze, the still sounds of birds, the lazy river Kwai did calm us a bit as we gave in to the natural beauty around us.
The last part of the trip was in the somewhat dramatically named Death Train. This narrow train with wooden seats was a replica of trains on which the Japanese soldiers would inspect the workers in the camps. The train took us past the mines where the POWs worked to build the original bridge.
We stopped at an ‘elephant camp’ before we stopped for lunch on our way back to Bangkok. Elephant camps dot the Thai countryside where orphaned elephants are looked after. They are sort of tourist trips too as awestruck Westerners are enticed to part with dollars to go on an elephant ride. Our guide introduced us to the camp as a ‘special treat’. In our subsequent trips across Thailand we came across many such ‘special stops’ – elephant camps, snake camps and of course the gem factories. They would just eat into the main trip and was based on the hope that some gullible souls would part with their money.
The stop was not a waste though as I came across my alter ego from the elephant world! This was the greediest and hungriest elephant ever. At the camp one could buy bananas and feed the elephants. I did this while we were waiting for those who went on the elephant ride. That’s when we came across this tiny baby elephant who would bully all the grown ups aside and take the bananas from my hand without a fear in the world. And he did have quite an appetite.
This is when I remembered what one of our teachers called me when I was all chubby in junior school – baby elephant!