Time Frame - Buddhist monk Sugata aboard the MV Dara

  • Buddhist monk Sugata aboard the MV Dara is a window on to a vanished world. Courtesy the estate of Roderic Owen
  • Buddhist monk Sugata aboard the MV Dara is a window on to a vanished world. Courtesy the estate of Roderic Owen

September 2, 2012

Wedged in a metal tube for hours on end, many of us will have returned to the UAE after the summer holidays last week. This photograph, taken in the winter months of 1957-58, proves that travel was once a more interesting and stimulating affair.

It was taken off Bahrain, on a ship that had newly arrived from Abu Dhabi. The Buddhist monk is Sugata, who lived much of his life in Sweden and was returning to Europe after taking holy orders on a visit to Nepal and Everest.

Born Karl Hendrick in Germany, he had reluctantly served in the Wehrmacht but nearly paid with his life after secretly passing information about Hitlerís flying bomb project to the Norwegian resistance.

He died in 2007 at the age of 94. The photographer is Roderic Fenwick Owen, who was returning to Britain from Abu Dhabi. The author of The Golden Bubble of Arabia, Owen had befriended Sheikh Shakbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan and was the Rulerís unofficial court poet. He died last year.

Finally, the ship. This is the MV Dara, which sailed up the Arabian Gulf between Mumbai and Basra, stopping at all points along the way. Owned by the British India Line, the Dara was moored off Dubai in April 1961 when an explosion, possibly a bomb, caused her to catch fire in heavy seas. The inferno cost the lives of 238 men, women and children, mostly Arab and Indian. The Gulfís worst peacetime maritime disaster is at least a reminder that travel today, while tedious, is also generally less hazardous.

* James Langton

Explore our pictorial history of old Abu Dhabi with the interactive map below, and see all of our Time Frames here.

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