TITLE: Dream of a Lifetime
By Edwina Cowgill
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The Dream of a Lifetime
My grandfather was an architect by trade and an adventurer by heart, just like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him. My father was his only child, and he had died in a car crash when my sister, Ava and I were teenagers. Thus it was when our grandfather died, it fell to Ava and me to sort through all of his possessions. And quite a few possessions it was. He and my grandmother, who had died a few years before him, traveled extensively during their 62 years of marriage and had collected a myriad of objects de art. It took Ava and me several weeks to sort through the items on display throughout their home, placing them into piles to keep and items to donate to the local museum and university. When we finally finished the downstairs, we were ready to tackle the attic.
The attic was also full of objects that we placed into the separate piles. There were several boxes in the attic and upon opening them, we found our grandfather’s travel diaries. What a delight to read about his and Nana’s travels! They had gone on tours, cruises and safaris. They had traveled the continents, each time bringing home beloved reminders of their trip. On one their earliest trips, they had ventured to India. Papa had written vivid descriptions of their time there. But most amazing of all was our discovery of a map in the back of the diary. The map was very old and almost all of it had faded. In fact, only a small portion of the actual drawing still remained and the only legible writing was “sacred white elephant,” “bent spoon,” and “The Badji River is treacherous.”
“What can it mean?” Ava asked me. “I have no idea,” I replied. “But I’m certainly going to research these terms on the web to see if I can find anything out.” I laid the map and diary of their travels in India aside and we continued to clean out the attic.
A few days later, Ava and I finished the attic and carried the artifacts to the museum and university. Finally, I was able to sit down at my computer and research the phrases on the map. I was not even sure the phrases held any significance, or that the map was even real. For all I knew, Papa could have been doodling during the long flight to and from India and he drew the map to entertain himself.
I typed in the term “sacred white elephant” and found that there really is such a creature. It is a rare, white form of the Asia elephant and is often regarded with adoration in regions of Southeast Asia and India.” “Interesting,” I thought. “But what does that have to do with a map? And does that mean this map is real?”
I continued my research, looking up “Badji River” and discovered that the Badji River is located in India traversing from the northwest to the southeast, ending in the Bay of Bengal. Now I had two references to India and began to truly wonder about the map. “Was this a treasure map, and if so, how could I interpret it?”
Although I couldn’t find any specific information about “bent spoon” in relation to India, I continued researching and studying the country of India, and its history until I became convinced that the map was real and significant.
I’ve never been adventurous like my grandfather and his predecessors but I felt as if he were speaking to me, telling me to pursue the topic because it was important. I talked it over with Ava and she agreed. Unfortunately, because she had family commitments and I’m single (also unfortunately), we decided that I would be the one to go to India to try and interpret the map. With more than a little trepidation, I booked a flight to India and left my safe and secure home a week later.
With the only solid clue as to a location being the Badji River, I felt my best option would be to fly into Hyderabad, which is located in the state of Andhra Pradesh and sits on the northern banks of the Badji River. Hyderabad is an extremely advanced and modern city, known for its information technology, pharmaceuticals and entertainment industries. I found my hotel to be quite luxurious with excellent service and exquisite food. It would be quite easy to become accustomed to this lifestyle, but that was not why I was in Hyderabad. So the next morning, I left my hotel to walk the banks of the Badji River to determine if I could glean more clues.
“It is reasonable to assume the treasure, whatever it might be, is not going to be displayed on the river bank for everyone to see,” I thought. “I must keep my eyes open for other clues or anything that may relate to the map.”
I walked along the streets running parallel to the Badji River. It may have been treacherous during my Papa and Nana’s visit, but over time the river had become quite calm. I passed outdoor cafes, delis and an open air market. There were stalls with various types of food and merchandise; the vendors wanting to bargain with me. I politely thanked them but kept moving.
A little further north, I encountered the business district with more upscale shops and restaurants. Gazing into all of the window displays, suddenly I stopped in my tracks, startled by a display of ceramic white elephants. I stood for several minutes staring at the display. The white elephants ranged in size from very small to one that looked to weigh at least 100 pounds. Some were simple and unadorned while others’ heads were decorated with precious jewels such as rubies and diamonds. I entered the boutique to have a closer look at the elephants. Some were polished to a glossy white and others appeared to be antiques. I picked up the elephant with the rubies and diamonds and was immediately approached by the shopkeeper who asked if he could be of assistance. Reluctant to tell him the real reason for my interest, I told him I was looking for a gift to take home to my parents. “This will make an excellent gift!” he replied eagerly, sensing a possible sale. He spoke in flawless English, making his British heritage quite obvious.
I turned the elephant over to see if there was any clue as to where it was made or perhaps who made it. On the bottom was inscribed the words “Kollur” and “Gunter.” The shopkeeper explained that the elephant was rather old and had belonged to the Kollur family who had lived in the Guntur District. They had owned one of the most productive diamond mines in India. He went on to explain that it was a sign of prosperity to own a living white elephant; a ceramic white elephant represented prosperity as well.
“Diamond mines?” I thought. “Could this be a clue? Is it possible that the treasure is diamonds located in an old mine?”
After being unable to negotiate a reasonable price for the antique white elephant, I headed back to my hotel with “Kollur” and “Gunter District” firmly imprinted in my mind.
Once in my room, I booted up my laptop to research the Kollur mine and family. I discovered that the Kollur mine operated between the 16th and mid-19th centuries and produced some of the most famous diamonds in the world including the Regent Diamond and the Great Mogul.
“How intriguing,” I thought. “One of the clues on the map was a white elephant and now I have found a white elephant adorned with diamonds in a store located on the banks of the River Badji, which was another clue on the map.” I did not think it was a coincidence, so my next item of research was to find out where the Gunter District is located. I “googled” it and discovered the district was about 100 miles from my hotel. Definitely too far to walk, but it was well within a day’s drive. I printed out the map and contacted the concierge to have a car waiting for me the next morning at 7:30.
I left the next day, and following the map, I headed north out of the city and was soon out of the urban area and into the country. The further I drove the more obvious it became that not all areas of India are as wealthy and progressive as Hyderabad. I passed cotton fields and miles of sugar cane, both being harvested by hand – young and old alike picking cotton or chopping the sugar cane. I saw houses that looked as if they would collapse with the slightest breeze. The poverty in India was quite apparent in this area.
A couple of hours after leaving Hyderabad I arrived in the Gunter District. I stopped at a run-down gas station and asked the attendant for directions to the Kollur Mine. Fortunately, he could speak in broken English. “It’s been closed down for years,” he said, looking at me very suspiciously. “Why would you want to go there?” Thinking quickly, I replied, “I’m writing an article for the magazine I work for on former diamond mines in India and I thought it would be helpful to visit the site.” (I’m becoming adept at lying!)
“It is easy to find,” the attendant reluctantly said. “Go back onto the main road in front of the station. This road leads you out of town. About a kilometer from town you will see an old tree. It is very unusual because it looks like bent….how do you say…..?”
“A bent spoon?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, that’s it. How did you know?” the attendant asked, now even more suspicious.
“Oh, just a lucky guess,” I replied. “After I see the tree, then where do I go?” I asked, hoping to divert his attention back to the directions.
“Just a short distance past the tree, there is a road on the same side as the tree. It is very overgrown now from lack of use. That road leads to the mine.”
“Thanks for the info,” I said. “Gotta run!” I was anxious to get away before he asked me any more questions, or worse, called the local police because of his suspicions.
“This is too easy,” I thought as I headed out of town. Just as the attendant said, just over half a mile out of town, I see the tree. To say that it looked exactly like a bent spoon was stretching it, but I could definitely see the resemblance. The trunk was an ashy silver color and grew straight up for several feet before bending to the left. At the end of that branch were limbs covered in bright silver leaves. It was one of the most unusual trees I had ever seen. This had to be the “bent spoon” clue from the map!
I continued driving, but at a snail’s pace, looking for the road that would lead me to the mine. I drove at least half a mile and realized that I must have gone past the road. Turning around in the middle of the road, I headed back towards the tree, driving even slower.
“Aha! That looks like an old dirt road,” I thought, slamming on the brakes. I pulled the car off to the side of the road and hopped out. I saw an overgrown dirt road that looked more like a path. According to the attendant at the gas station, the old mine was about a quarter of a mile down this path. “Do I walk or drive?” I wonder. The weeds and brush were fairly high and not knowing what types of creatures might be lurking, I decided to drive. Praying I would not run over anything that would puncture a tire, or worse, I slowly drove down the path. It was not long before I came upon an old, rusted iron fence and gate. I got out of the car and high-stepped it over to the gate. Not that I’m afraid, but I would rather not meet any snakes! The gate was padlocked and the lock was also rusted. I didn’t see any other way of getting onto the property. Besides, I had not known what to expect when I left the hotel this morning, so I had not brought any tools with me. I decided the best option was to return to Hyderabad and purchase a shovel, pick and other tools and come back to the mine tomorrow.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I dressed more appropriately for my second trip – khakis tucked into hiking boots, long sleeved shirt and a hat to protect against the sun. When I arrived at the mine, everything appeared to be just as it was when I left yesterday. I grabbed a hammer and began hitting the padlock. Because of its age and condition it did not take long to break it. I shoved on the gate, pushing with all my might until it slowly opened. I had no plan now that I was inside and I realized how foolish it was to be out here alone. I had not seen anyone yesterday or today and I could only pray it would stay that way. I ventured further onto the Kollur property until I came upon what appeared to be a boarded up entrance to a mine shaft. “Surely this is not where the treasure is buried,” I thought to myself. “There is no way I am going down into this mine.” I wandered around the property for another hour, seeing several more boarded up entrances, before returning to my car. “This was a waste of time. These mines would have been completely excavated before closing. I really don’t think there is a treasure here,” thinking to myself as I loaded my tools in the trunk.
As I began to drive back to the Gunter District, a car approached on the horizon. As it drew closer, I realized it was the local police. “Just stay calm and act normal. You don’t even know if they are coming for you,” I told myself, vainly trying not to panic. The officer drove past me and I breathed a huge sigh of relief, much too soon as it turns out. In just a couple of minutes the police officer was behind me, with lights flashing. I quickly pull to the side of the road and roll the window down. The officer approaches and I ask, “Is there a problem, sir?” Not bothering to answer my question, he asked, “May I see your license and rental agreement?” Having seen the rental sticker on the back of the car, he knew I wasn’t a local citizen. I quickly handed them to him and he carefully inspected both documents. “Your passport, please,” he snapped. I grabbed my passport out of my pocketbook and handed it to the officer. He compared all three documents, and asked, “What are you doing out here?” I quickly wondered whether or not he had spoken to the gas attendant and decided to tell the police officer the same story, but with a slight modification. “I’m writing an article on former diamond mines in India and was looking for the old Kollur Mine. I couldn’t find it and gave up on looking for it. I’m headed back to my hotel in Hyderabad.” The officer looked at me rather suspiciously and I’m praying he doesn’t ask me to open the trunk where all the tools are stored. After what seemed to be a lengthy silence, he reluctantly handed my passport, license and rental agreement back to me and said, “Have a good trip.” Turning abruptly, he walked back to his car and I silently breathed a prayer of thanks.
When I arrived back at my hotel, I left the car keys with the concierge with instructions that I wanted a different car ready for me later that afternoon. In the back of my mind, I think I understood I would be going back to the Gunter District, and I wanted a different car in the hopes of avoiding recognition by the police officer. I went to my room, ordered a late lunch, and deliberated my next move. “What if the treasure is not at the mine or it’s not about diamonds at all? Perhaps I’ve let the discovery of the mine distract me from the original map, when the mine actually has nothing to do with the treasure.” My lunch of shrimp and rice pilaf arrived and I continued to ponder the situation as I ate. I believed I was on the right track as far as finding the white elephant in the shop located on the River Badji. I just needed to figure out how the tree that looks like a bent spoon fit into the picture. The best way to do that was to risk going back to the Gunter District.
It was late afternoon by the time I left the hotel to return to the site of the bent spoon tree, as I had begun to call it. By the time I arrived in the District, the sun had begun to set and I was grateful I had purchased a flashlight along with the other tools. I made it through the small town undetected, as far as I knew, and soon arrived at the site of the tree. Parking my car off of the road behind some brush so it could not be seen immediately from the road, I retrieved the flashlight from the trunk. Walking around the edge of the tree, not sure of what I’m looking for, I don’t see anything that would indicate a buried treasure. The tree is located in a fairly small field of dried grass, so I decided to expand my search outwards. By now, it is dark, and turning the flashlight on, but shielding the light from the road, I began to move in ever-widening circles. I continued to slowly walk and was ready to give up on the search when near the very far edge of the field I stepped into a sunken area that I had not seen due to the weeds and brush, and immediately landed on my backside. Not sensing any broken bones, I gingerly got up and wondered if I had stumbled upon the site of the buried treasure. Deciding it could not hurt to dig a little, I hurried back to the car and retrieved the shovel. I walked carefully but quickly back to the sunken area. Propping the flashlight on a fallen branch close by I began to dig. After about twenty minutes of digging, I contemplated giving up and decided to dig just a little longer. If I didn’t find anything, I decided I would declare this entire trip a wild goose chase and go home as soon as I could get a flight. I continued to dig, berating myself for even thinking that the map could be real. “What a waste of time and money,” I thought, exasperated and tired. “Just one more scoop of dirt…..” Suddenly, the shovel hit something hard and unmovable. Excitedly, I fell to my knees and began digging with my hands until I had uncovered a box in the ground. “Oh, my god, could this be it?” I grabbed at the box, which was quite heavy, and pulled it out of the hole and onto the ground in front of me. Grabbing the flashlight, I looked at the lock on the box and realized I would need something to pick the lock open. I went back to the car, carrying the box and flashlight. Opening the trunk, I selected a small pick from the tools, closed the trunk and got into the car. I locked the door and sat perfectly still for several minutes, breathing hard from the exertion of digging and then carrying the heavy box to my car. “I need to decide whether to open the box here, risking getting caught again by the police or go back to the hotel and try to get the box upstairs to my room without being seen,” thinking out loud. Knowing that if the police came again, I would certainly be arrested for trespassing, or some trumped-up charge, I decided the hotel was my best option. I turned the car around and headed back for Hyderabad. Making it safely through the Gunter District, I speeded up once I was out of the District and made it back to Hyderabad in record time.
Amazingly, there was no one in the lobby of the usually busy hotel and the desk clerk was occupied with paperwork, so I managed to get to my room without being seen. Sitting the box down on the desk, I took the pick and began to work on the lock. It took several minutes of maneuvering, but I managed to get the box unlocked. Anxiously, I opened the lid and immediately clamped my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming out loud. Inside the box was the most gorgeous array of jewels I had ever seen! There were rubies, pearls, amethysts and yes, diamonds! I scooped a handful of jewels out of the box and let them fall through my fingertips, watching the light illuminate the facets in the jewels. I am stunned to realize that the map was true – the evidence being in my hands. “What’s that – a paper in the box?” I had seen something besides jewels and pulled it out. I opened the paper to discover that it was a note from my grandfather to his only son, my dad.
If you are reading this note, then obviously you found the map in my diary and have followed its directions to discover this treasure. I buried this treasure just for you, in hopes that you would develop a sense of adventure like I and your grandfather and great-grandfather always had. There is so much to be discovered in the world and this was my way of trying to get you to explore the world. (“I guess Papa never realized that my dad would not find the map himself,” I thought, continuing to read.) Just so you will know, these jewels belonged to me and are now yours to do with as you wish.”
I reached for the phone to call Ava and share my discovery only to realize that it is the middle of the night back home. Unless her house is on fire, Ava does not at all appreciate being wakened in the middle of the night – not even to be told that she has just become a millionaire.
While I waited, I decided to shower and afterwards, I laid down to rest. The next thing I realized, there was a constant beeping in my ear and I shot straight up in bed. Confused, I didn’t know where I was for a few seconds, but after looking around the room, I realized I was in my own bed, in my own bedroom at home and had just had the dream of a lifetime!
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