On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
We Took the TukTuk
When you are thinking of taking a cruise you can readily imagine what the major mode of conveyance is going to be and perhaps even know in advance what it will look like. The cruise ship may even have a name you already know. Getting to your destination is a large part of the fun, indeed may be the most anticipated aspect of the trip. What the destinations are may or may not even be as important. And what you do at those destinations is not nearly as predictable and may not even be possible. The mysteries and the allure of the unknown are like icing on the cake.
Going on a pilgrimage, however; implies taking a trip wherein much of the allure and mystery are wrapped up in the anticipation. Choices of conveyance are secondary considerations; it is the destination that is the focus.
Making a pilgrimage, first and foremost, implies that reaching that destination is the goal. The mode or modes of transportation are not necessarily known in advance because getting there may be a large part of the crusade to mount a pilgrimage. When the general locale of the destination is known and that crusade is to return to the place where you were born, it may involve crossing an ocean. In the case of the pilgrimage of the Bengal Tiger to visit the town where she spent some of her growing up years, it would involve travel by cars, buses, jet airplanes, taxis, ferry boats and a few tuktuks. To get to her final destination in northern Cambodia, we took a TukTuk.
A TukTuk is the modern version of a Cambodian rickshaw that is powered by a motorcycle. An open carriage capable of seating up to six people, TukTuks used as taxis are two-wheeled affairs that are mounted by means of a trailer hitch behind a lightweight motorcycle, most of which are powered by a single engine in the 125-150cc range.
air conditioned TukTuk
Our rented TukTuk took us to the places we wanted to go, for the negotiated period of time we contracted for. It was the final leg of the pilgrimage to Stung Treng, Cambodia, the place where Bengal Tiger fished from the banks of the Mekong River when she was an adventurous little girl.
Finding the exact spot along the river where we would look for the homestead of her grandpa was not going to be easy because in the many decades since, the Mekong River had eroded long stretches of the banks; but most importantly, her grandfather’s house had been torn down (along with several others) when a large patch of land was expropriated by a man named Norodom Sihanouk. Yes, that Norodom Sihanouk, Prince Sihanouk, then King Sihanouk.
The despotic but revered man who ruled Cambodia as a young King Sihanouk in 1941-45 and again as King in 1993-2004 when the Cambodian National Assembly voted to restore the monarchy, at some point decided to build a summer palace on the banks of the Mekong in Stung Treng. He expropriated the land he wanted and it included the land of her grandfather. He razed the existing homes there and built his walled summer palace in their place. At some future time, his enemies burned down his summer palace (local people said it was guerilla forces loyal to Pol Pot). Today all that remains are the charred and blackened walls of his palace.
There is a belief in some circles that destiny includes the improbable meeting of people who were pre-ordained to become part of our lives. The concept of such a karmic meeting has been described as a “sacred contract” as the manifestation of one facet of individual destiny. In Stung Treng, Cambodia in March 2017, that sacred contract between Thu Pellek and a man named Pham Huynh was manifest.
Kim Oanh, Pham Huynh, and Thu Pellek
As an old man who knew her father and her uncle, Pham Huynh showed us the site where her grandfather lived. He even remembers the little child named Thu who went fishing alone on the banks of the river near where his house was. A first person witness to the past made the long-anticipated pilgrimage to Stung Treng a very rewarding one.