CALCUTTA - November 22, 2004
- Slavomir Rawicz in The
I was on my way to the hospital where Rawicz and
the others might have recuperated after their trek.
Through the open window of our taxicab, the city
of Calcutta flowed into my senses. The humid air
was thick with exhaust fumes and the smell of 12
million people jammed into a city designed for
less than half that number.
In 1690, Job Charlock, a representative of the
East India Tea Company, used typical colonial-era
tactics and paid the local Mughal emperor $68 a
year to lease the land that would become Calcutta.
The city thrived economically, becoming a center
for the arts, education and the capital of India
until 1912. Renamed Kolkata in 2001 to honor its
original name, Kolkata is today one of India’s
technology centers. But the transition to the city
it is today has not been easy. An estimated 60,000
beggars roam the streets. Famine, disease and despair
have plagued the city and inspired people like
Noble Prize winner Mother Teresa to devote their
lives to helping the unfortunates.
At the hospital, I walked to the information counter
clutching a sky-blue orchid to use as a persuader
in my quest to find admission records of The Long
Walk survivors. A pleasant woman wearing heavy
black-framed glasses told me the bad news. “We
have some records from 20 years ago,” she
said, “but 1942…I am afraid that is
not possible. I am sorry there is nothing I can…”
Her words cut short when a bloodied man was dragged
into the emergency room followed by his wailing
family. I turned back to the information desk intent
on continuing my battle, but the reality of present
day struggles here in Kolkata made my quest for
information from the past seem insignificant. All
I could do was leave the orchid on the desk and
reported by David Anderson
For three months, every day of our expedition
had been consumed with constant questions and unknowns.
What track does the train arrive on? How far can
we expect to travel by camel each day? What if
a storm comes in while we’re trekking across
the Himalayas? Will a meal of fried water buffalo
pass smoothly through my digestive system?
As a group, we navigated all of these challenges
together. Our expedition was the length of a typical
NOLS Semester. Ant, Keri, Lauren and I went through
all the phases of expedition behavior. We laughed,
cried and learned about an amazing array of people
and places. Our experiences stretched out across
two continents and over 8,000 miles. The personal
impact of our journey will take months if not years
to process completely.
But for now, I am left with one final question:
Is The Long Walk true, or did Slavomir Rawicz simply
fabricate the journey with his own imagination?
Attempting to find truth in every written word
of The Long Walk dooms the book to skepticism.
But the adventure story takes on a more believable
tone when you give Rawicz some creative leeway,
and consider that English was his third or fourth
language and that he wrote the book more than 15
years after his journey ended.
The book’s tale of traveling over 4,000
miles by foot—through some of the most inhospitable
terrain on earth with no map, compass or supplies—does
not seem humanly possible. But the human spirit
is not a simple mathematic equation, and the variables
of mental and physical determination cannot be
exactly measured or quantified. In today’s
world of continued environmental, social and political
instability, where problems seem insurmountable,
we need heroes like Rawicz who persevered despite
the horrendous odds. The truth is that we all want
to believe The Long Walk is a true story. And I
for one believe.
reported by Dave Anderson
For more information about the expedition visit: