We are in a cellar in Dacca. We know no one; we are strangers in the city. Air-raid sirens are howling. The skies echo with the drumming of approaching warplanes, and we listen for the bombs to fall. Outside, vigilantes are marching through the streets with sticks, beating on the gates. They have armed themselves to defend their sacred Pakistan, which has just gone to war with India. There is hysteria throughout the city. The people race through the streets, destroying alien property, pulling foreigners from their cars. A woman is dragged from her car and beaten. The USIS library is smashed.
We have entered the cellar by a narrow stairway from the house. Other steps lead to a door outside, but it is boarded up now and only admits the sounds from the street: “Americans are no longer our friends.” “You have armed India against us.” The walls are moist, and when we lean against them our clothes stick to the bricks. There are benches against the walls, and we sit on them, tense and disillusioned. The only light comes from a gas lantern hung from the rafters.
The cellar has become our refuge-and our prison. We cannot leave, for they know that we have come from their enemy, India. And they have seen us taking pictures inside their Defense Ministry. We have been interrogated twice already, and threatened. A car from the Pakistan secret police follows us wherever we go.
But even if we could leave, there is no place to go, for Dacca is cut off from the rest of East Pakistan, and East Pakistan is cut off from the world. No planes are flying-only warplanes-and the harbors are all blockaded. We have a car, a car that we have driven halfway around the world to Dacca, but the roads are flooded by the monsoon rains. There are no bridges across the swollen rivers of East Pakistan, only ferries, and the Army has confiscated them all. So even if we did escape the cellar and the city, we could not drive more than ten miles before being blocked by an uncrossable river. We have tried and we know. And if we could cross? There is still no escape, still no place to go, no near safe haven. To the east there is Burma, whose borders have been sealed for years; foreigners are forbidden to enter. To the south there is only the Bay of Bengal, blockaded. To the north, Red China-and Indian Assam where the border has become a battlefield. And to the west there is invading India, from which we have just come, but to which we cannot return. We can only listen to her bombers overhead as the air-raid sirens wail.
Is this, we wonder, the finish for us and our expedition that set out to challenge the world? Is this the end of the road?
Was our friend Lord Jim wrong when he said, “Who needs a road?” or was Krinski right, Krinski and the others who said it was impossible, a long time before, back when it all began ….
- Photo caption on page xiv of the printed publication.
Albert Podell, co-leader and director of photography of the Trans World Record Expedition, filming in North Africa in the early months of our adventure. Al had been a nonfiction editor for Playboy, and then picture story editor of Argosy magazine, where he edited Steve’s travel-adventure articles. He left Argosy to join Steve on this epic motor journey around the world.