Trooping Off to the Caves

Playlist: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Star of India

Star of India Hotel, Dehli, India, 09:00 12th October 1940

Rather to his surprise, Joe found that the uniforms he'd sent to the hotel laundry - his own army ones and the German one from his cover identity in Italy - had come back washed and pressed. He'd half expexcted the MPs to show up, but apparently the hotel staff weren't that curious. He also receieved word that his hopeful requisition for a 50-round drum magazine for his Thompson had been approved and two drums had shown up with the rest of his equipment at the Army depot.

A set of orders had been provided by Lt. Tenison, carefully instructing the group and Joshi to travel to the Caves of Ellora, investigate rumours of an illegal group of nationalist terrorists operating there, neutralize them if necessary and sieze any cache of weapons that might be discovered. No mention of ancient artifacts or supernatural phenomena was made, leaving a comfortable loophole for the recovery of the piece of the Palladion if it should happen to be there.

Subedar Joshi had provided maps of the area around the Caves of Ellora, relics of the early days of the Raj, which the group studied in some detail. A little after ten, the word came that the Subedar's soldiers were ready and the group headed to the station to set out on the search for the Agneya Weapon of Flame.

Aurangabad, India, 19:00 13th October 1940

On arrival at the City of Gates, north-east of Bombay, the expedition was billeted at the local army base ready for the next day's truck ride. During the train journey to City of Gates, north-east of Bombay, the group had spent some time getting to know Joshi's two sections of Bombay Grenadiers. They gave a very reassuring air of competence, and seemed very keen to impress the 'Englishmen', especially Joe in his British uniform. Birapeer they regarded with similar deference to Joshi, who like the Sikh was one of the last Indian officers trained in the UK before officer training was relocated to India. There were twenty of them in total; two 10-man sections comprising eight rifles and a two-man Bren team.

Sten SMG

To avoid a risk of repeating the embarrassing incident with the yak, Joe gave Cyril some pointers on use of the Sten submachinegun; short, controlled bursts, and a solid grip to prevent the barrel climbing from the recoil. By the time the train arrived, the parapsychologist felt considerably more confident about using the weapon.

Aurangabad, India, 08:00 14th October 1940

Bedford 3-ton truck

Early the next morning, the group embarked on the two trucks that had been arranged, after tracking down where they had been erroneously delivered to. Old instincts kicked in and Anné had carefully checked both vehicles for signs of sabotage; there were none. As they boarded the trucks, Jimmy Wispa swung himself into the driver's seat of the second one. "I'll drive," he said cheerfully. Struck perhaps by a presentiment, Joe - unlike the other agents - climbed into the other truck.

For four hours the trucks bumped and bounced bone-shakingly across the hills and plains, and the soldiers laughed and joked, clearly confident that a few insurgents weren't going to be much of a threat. Everyone in the second truck was just getting used to it all when there was a hideous jolt and lurch. Catching a glimpse in the mirror, Joe saw one of the truck's round tyres collapse in a puff and scrabble of dust. Desperately, Jimmy tried to correct the lorry's course and keep it on track, but with a violent veer succeeded only in sending it into the ditch.

It was an hour before the tyre was replaced and the dents knocked out of the front wing, and when Jimmy tentaively walked up to the cab to climb back in, he found a stolid Indian soldier sitting firmly behind the wheel. Getting the message, he clambered sheepishly into the back, where Marcus had just finished bandaging Francoise's leg where the burly Grenadier she'd grabbed to steady herself had fallen on her. The trucks moved on.

Aurangabad - Ellora Road, 12:31 14th Octover 1940

Banjara Nomads

Towards the end of the long drive, the entourage came across a colourful sight: Banjara nomads herding cattle along the road on which they were travelling. The men wore white dhotis and kurtas, whilst their heads were almost swamped by gigantic, twisting orange-red turbans (pagdi). The women were arrayed in red, black, green, blue, and white. Their clothes were festooned with embroidery, cowrie shells, and tiny mirrors (the reflections from which were believed to scare off tigers and evil spirits), and their arms were covered in bangles that rattled and clinked as they walked along.

The cows and bullocks were causing quite an impediment to the convoy’s progress; neither seemed particularly bothered by the attempts of the men and the brightly-dressed children to shepherd them out of the roadway. One gentleman, who was obviously the leader of the tanda (wandering clan) by his bearing, approached the lead truck to apologise for the delays his people were causing. Joe leaned out and gave him a smile. "Anything we can do to help?" he asked brightly. Subedar Joshi laughed. "Time for the men to get some excercise," he said.

As grenadiers clambered out of the trucks and started good-naturedly ushering cows and children off the road, the leader introduced himself as Jhadav Naik. His turban was of a richer red than that of the other men, and was heavily patterned with small dots of white, green, black, and yellow; a brightly striped blanket was wrapped around his shoulders. His luxuriant black whiskers showed more than a smattering of silver, and his weather-beaten face was lined with age. His dark eyes were watchful and wary, and he spoke very stiffly and formally at first.

He and his people seemed politely curious about their visitors, and keen to show off what English they spoke. As the road began to clear, Naik politely asked if the investigators would speak with his bhagat (magician/ priest), Namdeo Bhagat - who had told him to watch for their group as he had a message for them. When the agents - especially Marcus - agreed, he went to fetch the seer of his toli (nomad group). A few moments later he came back leading an older man.

The old seer looked frail, but there was a fierce determination in his rich brown eyes and his voice was clear and strong. His skin was spotted with age and heavily wrinkled and the lines on his face frequently multiplied thanks to the almost constant smile that played about his thin, dry lips. Although he walked with a pronounced limp, he was too proud to ask for assistance; the rest of the tanda simply found excuses to slow their own pace instead.

As he approached, Marcus realized that he was calmly singing a tune, a tune that cut through the chatter and lowing that surrounded them - a tune that he recognized instantly, a tune he'd been trying to get out of his head ever since he'd heard it. The same one the puppets had sung in Dehli. The old man walked up to him, a broad smile crumpling his face as he bowed to Marcus. He stopped singing and bobbed his head from side to side - a gesture meaning “yes” or “I hear you/I agree”, and spoke. “I am honoured to meet the bearers of the goat’s eye, and the foes of the Blue Hats”, he said clearly.

Luk Mik Dzi

Marcus' eyes narrowed. He was talking about the luk mik dzi of Tsering Lama - and the Changkopa monks!

As they spoke, it became apparent that this strange little Indian nomad knew many things about them and their quest. "The song? It is Nandi’s most cherished song; one which will open the doors to the mountain without consequence and, like all music, it soothes the savage beast." If anything could have made this stranger, an Indian holy man standing on a roadside misquoting Shakespeare to them would have been it...

When Marcus brought up the caves of Ellora, Namdeo's eyes grew serious. "Beware the spirits of ignorance and loss, for their touch is the mind’s oblivion,” he said. He also added: “If the red mother’s wives and the wolves in sheep’s clothing prove to be too much, call for the venerable blue warriors from the north. They will be listening.”

Aggravatingly, but not to anyone's great surprise, he wasn't able or willing to expand on any of this. In Birapeer's eyes, however, a light dawned and he leaned forward. "I think he's talking about the Akali," he said slowly, "the Nihang." Everyone turned to look at him quizzically, and he elaborated. "They are a sect of Sikh warriors; my own people," he said, "half-mythical; I've never met one. Strict and fearsome wandering fighters."

As he spoke, Namdeo smiled again and pressed a few cowrie shells on saffron-coloured thread into each of their hands. "This", he explained, "is a representation of Lakshmi, the goddess, and a symbol of good fortune; I hope you will not need it, but it never hurts to be prepared!"

The cows were now all off the road and the soldiers were beginning to climb back onto the lorries as the holy man started back up the road, once more singing the song and accompanied by the tanda's children. As he did, it belatedly occurred to Marcus to take a look around him with the Voorish Sign, and he did so, gazing around at the nomands, holy man, and soldiers. As he did so, and for perhaps the first time, his augmented sight passed across his companions, giving him a glimpse of their auras. He saw many things...

A little peturbed by these sights, he explained to the others what he'd seen. Most were simply interested, or unsurprised; Cyril looked baffled and a little worried. Francoise muttered in French for a moment, then; "We do not look for it; it does not look for us. Even for pilots, there are places you do not go," and she stalked off, binding the khalak Tsering lama had given her over her head like a headscarf.

Caves of Ellora, India, 16:30 14th October 1940

Late in the afternoon, the trucks pulled up opposite a barely-visible track which led off into the trees of scrubby woodland. According to the map, a mile's hike though this would bring them to the escapment, along which they had to go to reach the caves.

Pi Dog

Joe, Anné and Joshi, accompanied by two of the Grenadiers who were similarly skilled in fieldcraft, set out to do a reconnaissance. After following the trail through the woodlands, and listening to the yips of the local pi dogs, they followed the zigzag trail up the escarpment and onto the top, then along for another mile or so until they reached a point where the escarpment curved off to the north, forming the side of a seasonal river, currently dry.

The Rope Bridge

A similar escarpment across the river formed the other bank, and set into it were several dark openings - the caves of Ellora. Between the two was a rope-and-plank bridge of native manufacture, swaying gently in the wind above the 300-foot drop but looking reasonably robust. After some consideration, they crossed cautiously and explored the ledge on the far side. The caves ran along and around a corner, to where one could be seen with a carven arch and a large balcony carved into the rock over it. As they approached this, the statue in Joe's pocket twitched, and on examination it could be seen raising its' articulated arm to point at the cave. A piece of the Palladion was definitely within!

Manasa - Goddess of Snakes

The scouts, who had excercised the most enormous care over the entire trip to keep alert for any sign of the Brides of Durga or Nachtwölfe forces they confidently expected to run into, settled in and watched the site for a good hour before concluding that there were no hostiles to be seen. The lesser cave entrances turned out to be carved with reprepsentations of various Indian gods, and the first cave picked bore carvings of Manasa, the Goddess of Snakes. Joe and Anné peered into the dimness. "I don't know much about snakes," said Anné, "but that one has a large flat head..."

Sure enough, Joe's eyes caught a glimpse of serpentine forms moving further back in the cave, disturbed by their presence. They moved to another cave.

Then they sent the two soldiers back along the trail to collect the rest of the expedition.

Caves of Ellora, India, 18:03 14th October 1940

The return journey was uneventful until the main group reached the bridge. Although not overtly afraid of heights, Marcus became nervous on the swaying rope bridge, and suddenly his brain started telling him that the boards and ropes were swarming with spiders. He began frantically swatting at them, then drew his pistol and started waving it around wildly.

Back at the ledge, Anné, already laid down with her rifle to guard the crossing, narrowed her eyes and started looking for a target. Glancing at Joe, she nodded at Marcus, her meaning clear; has he lost it enough that I need to take him out? Joe shrugged, uncertain.

Spiders? Only for Marcus

Cyril struggled to reach the professor, but there were too many people in between, so he shouted advice to Francoise who was next to the disturbed academic. With Cyril's advice, and possibly assisted by the 8" difference in their heights, the French pilot was able to calm Marcus down, persaude him to put up his weapon, and get him off the bridge to where he could recover.

There was some debate as to whether to tackle the caves immediately, as it was getting dark, but someone pointed out that underground, it was going to be dark no matter what, and Francoise expressed a distinct preference for not camping overnight in the caves - cobras might be the least of their problems. So the party headed for the main arched cavern immediately.

Kailasantha Temple - click it for larger image!

Red Ethereal Figure

Four Grenadiers had been left to guard the trucks, and another two were stationed at the cave entrance, leaving fourteen soldiers to accompany the agents as they descended through the dry, dusty entrance tunnel. Beyond, the path split, taking the investigators to either side of the central, massive (sealed) temple building (B). The walls of the surrounding enclosure contained raised, carved galleries (C) and everywhere there were stone elephants keeping a careful eye on all who entered (including two very large ones at the entrance; D).

An odd sight greeted the expedition once they were inside the compound. The area contained several befuddled-looking people, two Indian women in red saris and four formally dressed Westerners. Some were lying on the ground, barely conscious; others were sitting on the steps around the site, obviously very confused but not apparently distressed. None of them appeared hostile or even particularly aware of the arrival of the party at all.

For all the strangeness of the scene around them, the investigators had little time to appreciate what was going on before they came under attack. Red, ethereal figures glided out of the surrounding carvings and begin to move towards them, emitting screams most reminiscent of enraged elephants. Although at first the spectres appeared to be beautiful Indians, their visages soon changed to those of anger, and their lips curled into furious snarls...

Session Date: 4th September 2018