TRAVEL Articles - The Flower Raj Articles
1: The Road East.
With some things it's difficult to tell where they begin and end and that's how it is with this thing in me. This travelling thing, this feeling to escape, to feel what it's like in another place and be there for a while. Not to do anything in particular but just to be. Of course it's the newness of the places and situations that makes being there so desirable, as soon as they become familiar another road appears leading towards the horizon, to be followed at almost any cost.
This feeling is probably there from birth, brought from regions beyond the planet to be manifested here during this lifetime but because society has become civilized on certain parts of the globe, desires to wander and to roam and to not do anything in particular, are held in check until the patient is at least sixteen years old, and in my case, seventeen, because I had been out of school for nine months before I realized I could take the situation into my own hands if I wanted to, and go down the road for a while.
The facts leading up to me hitting the road had been remarkably few considering what a big effect they had on my life. First of all I had been sitting in the kitchen of some people my mother knew, and from the back page of the Observer or Guardian came the headline, "Hippies Reach Nepal". I didn't know what it meant and still didn't when I had finished reading, but it stuck in my mind. However the seed was about to be planted for no more than a few months later there was a three page article with photographs about hitch hiking from London to Istanbul in the Sunday Telegraph Colour Supplement. After leaving school I had been accepted into the Metropolitan Police Cadets and it was during my ninth month there, in November 1967, that I was sitting in the common room when I came across this magazine, and the article, and became totally absorbed away from strident boots and voices in long shiny corridors. A journalist had hitched from London to Istanbul, taking about a week, and gave a day by day account of the journey.
This article was written in a very trendy fashion and one got the impression that the writer did not hitch hike as a full time occupation. However, if the article were to be believed, some people did, and to judge by the photos, looked as if they did. This fact grabbed hold of something deep in my innards and has still, eleven years later, not let go. The fact that there were other people who felt the same about travelling, who were not satisfied with a two week cycling holiday but who just kept on the move, opened within a mighty chasm from which erupted a deep hunger that would not be ignored. The pointless desire of wanting to be with these people, pointless because it was not the people but the moving that was the attraction, swept aside all references to drugs and sickness. Nothing could stand in the way of the fact that there were people on the road while I was training to be a policeman. I had already been, by this time, hitching at weekends just for something to do, and in December hitched home for Christmas taking the carefully cut out article with me.
Over Christmas it occupied pride of place on my bedside table while on the floor an atlas lay open on the S.E. Europe pages. The way to Istanbul, I knew it by heart, and the alternative routes. Something had to crack and it cracked in the middle of one night. I said aloud to my dark bedroom that it was up to me to do what I wanted, I then went upstairs and informed my mother of this development. She took it very well saying of course it was up to me as long as I was really sure. I remember being very definite about how sure I was. If I had not have been definite the police would have talked me out of it.
A week before term was due to start I went down to Hendon to inform them of my departure and collect my things. They didn't like it at all, were on the phone to my mother and I had a couple of gruelling interviews with senior officers. My explanation that I just wished to travel abroad for a while did not go down at all well, they saw right through to the escapist within, the road runner bursting out and flinging aside all their carefully laid plans of career and promotion, pay scales and haircuts. They didn't like it, but in the end they had to let me go. And I went.
Now I have to fish deep into the turgid mire of my mind to come up with any reason why it's worth putting down on paper why I went and what happened when I did. Not easy, not easy. But for starters I happen, at the moment, to be living in a tent on the opposite side of a lake to a house owned by Jimmy Page. Strung above my head is a short length of plank and seated upon this are various parts of two different radios wired together in such a manner as to receive a couple of stations with only a little static. The other night it was announced that the most requested session from the Radio One archives during 1979 was an hours recording of Led Zepplin playing in 1969.
Now this struck me as pretty weird really, seeing as how much rock and roll has gone down during the 1970s. But there it was, apparently a lot of people are interested in Zepplin often years ago. Are there then, I thought, any people interested in that remarkably undocumented explosion of world wide travelling drop outs of the same period? I doubt it, but I'll probably enjoy writing about my journeys down the road anyway.
So I had extricated myself from any form of immediate responsibility. Nobody had any claims to my time or energy, I had a current passport, about twenty pounds, an army shoulder bag with a few bits and pieces and this insane pressure, rampaging now, to get out on the road and travel. My mother, baffled I think by the speed of events for this was the day following my resignation from the police, kissed me, told me not to lose my passport and asked where exactly it was I was going. For lack of anywhere better I said Nairobi. This may seem a slightly offhand way to treat one's mother but we did actually know someone, a friend of the family, living in Nairobi. Seemed as good a place as any and the only way to Nairobi by land is via Istanbul. That name was ringing in my head like a bell, I stepped off our doorstep, shrugged my bag into place, nonchalantly, on my shoulder, and set off down the pavement of the road that, except for the English Channel, led to Istanbul. I was at fever pitch. Warwick High Street faded into insignificance, I had a sleeping bag rolled up and banging against my right hip, desert boots stepping out, continental maps in my bag. As I walked through town I merged with a state that has long since become very familiar, a state of being completely insular, a separate unit from the rest of humanity, relying upon the hitchers thumb for power. A half seen figure slouching through the rain, five cities away by dark, just following the road and being on it, only you know where you are. As I reached the A road heading south, what power knowing the only way to go is on and forward. So in the rain the roads newest recruit put out his arm and hitched.
As I have said, I had hitched before. For the past year I had been thumbing it around and spending train fares in transport cafes. Already at dawn in the cab of a thundering articulated lorry the thought "this is the way to travel" had hit me like a sledge hammer between the eyes. But this time, the thought of the endless days stretching into a halycon, ill-defined, future where I would be my own boss filled me with a great sense of occasion.
By midnight I was in Dover and boarding the night ferry.The intense energy had burned out during the lifts down from Warwick, settling to a steady travelling throb. On the boat I gave monosyllabic answers to friendly comments from members of a motorcycle club going to Germany for a meeting and after a while dozed into a half sleep that held on until we reached Ostend and docked. The fare of £3.10 shillings had made a large hole in my money and I resolved to spend no more. Just have to go hungry.
Ostend at 4.00am on a wet January morning is pretty depressing. The freedom buzz had worn right off and it was getting down to the nitty gritty. The streets were deserted but the signs to Brussels were clear enough. Have to go south for the sun I told myself as the cars off the boat passed me in a glare of headlights and clouds of spray. The distance to the auto-route south was not far and I had just put my bag by the kerb and thought when the cars off the boat have gone I'd have a long wait, when a Volkswagen pulled up. As I ran up I saw it had American services plates and felt pleased I'd be able to talk to the guy. What a ride, he was going to Mannhiem right down in Germany and we established in the first few minutes that I could go with him, he'd be pleased of the company. About a thousand kilometres on my first foreign lift, I felt great and settled down for a good ride.
We had been going for half an hour or so on a deserted motorway. Occasionally members of the motorcycle club had overtaken us, their big machines chugging effortlessly over the tarmac, then a large car, then nothing, then something on the road ahead. "A cow" said the driver slowing rapidly "I don't know" I said, then we were upon it. It was no cow but wood and metal that hit the offside of the car. Being a Volkswagen with a sloping bonnet the object, as yet undetermined, slid up the front of the car and off to the side. We were travelling at speed and it was still dark, we skidded, bounced off the central barrier and due to a mixture of skill and good luck the driver brought us up on the hard shoulder in one piece.
"What the hell - are you okay?" from the driver.
"Yes I think so, yes thanks" from a slightly ruffled me.
We got out to investigate.
There were little chips of wood all over the road and the front of the car was somewhat bent. We were in the process of re-bending the mudguard from the wheel when the tail lights of a large car reversed into view along the hard shoulder. Swiss number plates. A man and woman got out and first in French and then English enquired after our welfare.A short conversation brought forth the fact that at approximately sixty miles an hour we had hit an antique armchair attached to a roof rack which had parted company with the man's car. As the evidence of the scattered matchwood sank in and we retrieved the buckled roof rack from further back, the man broke into lamentations, pacing the hard shoulder repeating "my armchair, my armchair". And not without good reason as he and his English wife had driven from Zurich to Birmingham especially to collect it and it was a family heirloom to boot. My driver was apologetic but doing about sixty and suddenly coming upon an unlit armchair in the middle lane - it had been beyond his powers to avoid it. The people were understanding, everyone was sorry, insurance documents were shown and we got back on our way.
We kept at it all that day, through Luxembourg into Germany and on down the busy autobahns. Finally late in the afternoon he dropped me on the road to Munich and turned off to his base. It was cold, much colder than England and just as my army anorak was beginning to feel a bit inadequate I got another lift. The first of many silent lifts. I ascertained the driver was only going a short way, he ascertained I was English and then silence fell. I didn't mind, I didn't have anything to say and was quite content to watch life on the autobahn.
Soon after he dropped me it began to get dark. Too early to think about sleeping, but getting much too cold to stand around. I had not banked on this at all. Going south it was supposed to get warmer. Stupid me had totally failed to take the Alps into account, and where in England it would have miserably rained, near Munich it heartily snowed. And got windy. And I ate one of my mothers ham sandwiches and felt cold. An hour later I was cold and beginning to feel desperate and another twenty minutes saw me down the slip road and on the hard shoulder itself, literally risking life and limb to stand half on the inside lane and flag down the cars which probably hardly saw me and certainly didn't stop. I was in the seriously worried stage when a Volkswagen slowed down, dithered for a second and then stopped. I ran like mad and was in the passenger seat before, through uncontrollably chattering teeth I said thank you. The man, wearing a Tyrolean Trilby, stopped at the first Rast Haus services, said something gutteral and went off to reappear shortly with a small bottle of Schnapps which he assured me was "Goot". I tended to agree and soon was feeling much "gooter".
By the time we reached Munich the snow was thick, covering the tracks of the vehicles ahead and I decided it was going to be Munich for the night, though what this involved I wasn't too sure. Anyway, he dropped me near the town centre and I found my way to the railway station.
Although I was in the south of Germany this was the first town I had been out and about in, and by the time I got to see the railway police at the station I was feeling rather intimidated by it all. They pulled me up for sleeping in the waiting room without a train ticket and one policeman each side I was marched off to the police office. In there it was like a hundred per cent Gestapo with shiny jackboots and cap brims touching noses. However, it was explained to me quite reasonably that I could not stay in the station without a ticket and I must go. Into the snow. With no hat and very tired. So throwing fate to the wind I went into the first petrol station I saw and by gestures alone requested permission to sleep in the back room. The guy takes me into the back room, points to the floor by the radiator and says "Schlaffen". I needed no second bidding but thanking him profusely, unrolled my sleeping bag and was out like a light.
They woke me at dawn, by sheer luck, not an ounce of forethought, I had picked on an all night station and although the shift on the pumps had changed they let me sleep through but I had to be gone before the boss arrived. So I thanked them again, they looked at me as if I was crazy and I walked out feeling great.
One of the main trials of the long distance hitch hiker is the big city trip. Getting dropped in an obscure suburb or right in the centre of town. Following the signposts often leads one on long detours through built up areas where hitching is a waste of time. Finding buses can be difficult as you don't know where you are going and in my case it was Shankses Pony because I had no German money. What I graduated to in time was getting a city map at the train station, locating the beginning of the road I wanted and taking the time to find the bus going there and riding out in comfort for a couple of bob. But in the early days I would walk and God knows how many miles of dreary suburban pavements I have covered. Must be in the hundreds.
Eventually I got out of Munich and went on south, where the snow got thicker, every other car had skis on top and my mothers sandwiches ran out. Into Austria and then through impressive mountains in a tiny Fiat and into Italy. I didn't even know they had Alps in Italy, where was that bloody sun? I hadn't seen one other hitch hiker, where was the great
fraternity of road travellers. Probably all gone home for the winter I thought, trudging through the slush in wet desert boots.
Then down into Italy and due east towards Venice and at least the sky was blue even if it was freezing. More snow and the road towards Yugoslavia. A young man and his mother picked me up along here and when we came to a junction on top of a hill they said they were going down to the town of Trieste but if I wanted the border it was straight on. I thanked them and got out.
Coming to a border, better check my passport, one look in my bag, two looks, rummage right through, its gone. Total, utter and complete tragedy, it cannot be, its impossible, but its true. How I don't know but from being tucked down the side of my bag it has most definitely gone. I stand stunned at the snow covered, sunlit and deserted crossroads.
Suddenly the fatigue of the four days, for it was the morning of the fourth day, travelling from Warwick to Trieste hit me like a lorry load of rubble. Despondency enveloped, I had never experienced such an emptiness, frustration mixed with emptiness. Methodically I went through the few possessions I carried. The cheap sleeping bag unrolled and the stuffing fingered and poked, spare jeans and pullover turned over, washing bag emptied. The maps were gone as well. While my hands did this job mechanically my feverish mind came to the realisation I would have to go to the Embassy in Triests. The thought that there would not be one never hit me, such was my subconscious faith in the establishment I was trying to get away from. Slowly I repacked the bag and started off down the hill. If a car passed I did not notice, all thoughts of hitching were gone and I was walking down a road I did not want to be on.
Trieste is a busy, bustling port at the top end of the Adriatic. I cannot clearly remember, but I imagine I made gloomy enquiries for eventually I arrived at a smart building in a tidy street that housed on its first floor the British Consulate. I went up, knocked and entered. A lady sat at a desk typing, she stopped and looked at me. It was, frankly, difficult to keep a stiff lip as I said "I've lost my passport". However, I didn't throw a complete wobbler, but at her invitation, sat down and enlarged upon the situation. She nearly threw a wobbler when I got to the part about only having £5 with me. Then she made me a coffee and told me to wait for the Consul to come in. He was a long time coming and although the secretary was friendly enough, I just sat mostly looking at the pale winter sky through the window and feeling wretched.
Eventually a large man in a three piece pinstripe and shiny shoes came in, fired off some stacatto words, glanced at me and disappeared into the inner office. After some time a buzzer went and the secretary told me to go in.
"So," he said, getting up from behind a large polished desk, "you have lost your passport." Somehow the fact that he was Italian rather than English added to my misery. I said I had, and at his request gave the circumstances. As I progressed so he seemed to swell and finally burst out,
"You were hitch hiking to Istanbul with £5 and carrying your passport in your bag!" This seemed to be the main offence. "I always carry my passport here" he pulled back his jacket to show me the inside pocket. "Always, always" he continued.
Yes, I admitted, I had been stupid. Then came the big blow.
"Well you do not have enough money to buy a new passport, you are not old enough to sign the documents, we will have to send you back. It will be expensive."
The knell of doom, black clouds descending. They can't send me back, there must be some way I can get a new passport. But there wasn't. The only procedure in my case was to prepare a document to see me back to England which I must hand in on arrival at Dover and to furnish me with a rail ticket for the journey.
After my interview with the Consul, I talked at some length to the secretary to see if I could have the cash rather than the rail ticket and hitch back. But the whole deal seemed to be up to the eyeballs in red tape and all I would get was documents. So saying she handed me my first document. A letter of introduction to the local police.
Somehow, as I stepped back out into the winter sunshine, I didn't feel quite so bad. I followed the directions and arrived at the Polizia. Going in it seemed, compared to the police in Munich, that there was some kind of party going on. My letter of introduction was studied with interest and a telephone call made during which the word "Inglis" came up a few times. Then I was shown into a back office. It really was an office day, I suppose thats what happens when you lose official papers. Anyway, here the officer spoke English. Actually he was really nice, maybe he saw me looking downcast, but anyway I had to call him by his Christian name.
The crack was that, as long as it took the Consulate to repatriate me, as long as I was in Trieste, I was to come to the police station each day and collect two meal tickets for the restaurant in the railway station and a ticket for a bed in the town doss house each night. I hadn't expected this and suddenly felt really hungry.
Without further ado the said tickets were issued and I was off like greased lightning to the station. I contacted the head waiter, as instructed, gave up my ticket and was seated in a corner table away from the throng. The head waiter served me bringing first a jug of water and two bread rolls. Great, I thought, putting paid to the rolls. Then came soup and I wished I'd saved them. Then came spaghetti with chunks of meat on top and finally coffee. The waiter never said a word, I said thank you at his every appearance.
This ritual took place twice a day, with the same food, lunch and supper, for the five days it took my documents to come through- Breakfast I looked after myself. I found a cafe that had Beatles and Rolling Stones on the juke box and sat in there drinking coffee and looking out the window at all the Vespas and Lambrettas. Sometimes I did that all morning or I went up to sit with the secretary and see how my documents were coming along. Apparently things had to be arranged through London and it all took time.
In the evenings, as soon as it was open, I would go down to the mens hostel, surrender my ticket, get a plaque with a number in return and go to find the bed with the corresponding number in the long dormitories of beds, all with crisp white sheets and freshly laundered towels on them. Nobody spoke a word to me during the four nights I spent there.
Then on the fifth morning, after half an hour of coffee and "Lady Madonna", I went to the Consulate to find I was leaving for England that afternoon.
And so it was. The humble return. A train to Paris, sleeping propped up in a corner, freezing through Switzerland when the heating broke down. Across Paris and another train, the boat train. The ticket was for Victoria, but I got off at Dover and hitch hiked down to Worthing to my Grans. I don't think she really followed my garbled tale of passports and doss houses, but she was pleased I'd come to take my motor scooter out of her back garden. So the next morning, after one of her mammoth breakfasts, I
I reached Warwick, parked outside our house and rang the bell. My sister answered and said, "Oohh" my mother came, and here we have mothers, and said "Come in, you look terrible" as if my very presence would have us banished from the street.
I said "I lost my passport in north Italy" whereupon she smiled and asked me what had been the last thing that left her lips upon my departure, "Don't lose your passport" I replied, looking round the living room as if it were an alien planet.
Mothers play an important role. Before being banished to the bathroom for life, I was sat down, whereupon I got back up to put the Rolling Stones on the record player, and I was served hot tea and sandwiches, all before it was demanded of me to explain in greater detail the recent events in my brief journey down the road.
Obviously the whole purpose of life at this stage was to be back with one foot on the kerbstone and a thumb waving freely in the air, preferably foreign air. To this end the scooter was sold and I worked a fortnight packing potatoes.
Then armed with fresh credentials and very litle money I set forth once more. With slightly better results.
Although it was nearly spring by now, a voice from deep within said it was not going near the Alps again. So it was a ferry to Dieppe and down into France. Apparently hitch hiking in France is supposed to be very bad. De Gaulle had been on the telly and said it was bad for the country. I have heard of people taking a fortnight to reach the south coast, but with beginners luck I shot through in three days. It's all long, straight roads lined with trees and signs saying "Noilly Prat" and here for the first time I was able to make some attempt at conversation, although three word sentences were about the limit.
Again no sign, even round Paris, of other hitchers, but press on regardless and before long its the south coast and turn left. Straight into the arms of the Italian border police. "Ah ha - Inglisman. Come and have your photograph taken". So I stood outside the police border control with a plain clothes man and together we had our picture taken. Then they let me in the country. Getting lifts away from border posts is generally easy as everybody has slowed right down and if the police have let you through, then you must be okay, is the general feeling. So within minutes I was speeding into Italy in the inevitable Fiat while the man explained that some English people had been caught at that border with drugs. Being a thumb traveller I was part of the same kettle of fish, hence the photography session. I gave it no more thought. I did not smoke, had never been drunk, I just happened to enjoy hitch hiking.
Before long I'm crammed in with a family, the son of which spoke excellent English. I was telling him of my proposed route across north Italy through Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and on into Turkey and Istanbul. He did not agree with this at all and by the time I got out the route was changed to down Italy to Naples, across to Brindisi, the boat to Greece and on into Turkey that way. I was easy and when the sign said right for Rome I turned right and waited twelve hours for a lift. Well, after a couple it began to get dark. Scratched on the crash barriers and the sign saying "Autostrada" were the messages of past hitchers. Places where people had scratched a digit for each hour that passed, - eighteen digits. Somebody claimed to have waited three days. General gloom and despondency issued forth from these scratched momentos to endurance, so as soon as dusk fell I slipped into the nearby barn, unrolled my bag and went to sleep. When I awoke it had been light for some time and while I was getting up I saw two men outside with a tractor. There was no way of avoiding being seen, so I packed up, walked briskly out, said "Good morning" as if I meant it and set off for the slip road. They paid not the slightest attention so I concluded the barn was a regular stop-off for hitchers heading south.
Contrary to expectations I had a lift within minutes in a fast car driven by a business man going to Rome. At the first services we stopped for coffee and then back on the road the sun was shining, the driver deep in his own thoughts and life seemed pretty agreeable.
And nothing occurred to mar that agreeability. The man dropped me on the near side of Rome and by sheer good fortune I got a lift right through and on down the Naples road. It's not as if at that time I had anything against big cities, I'm sure Rome is very interesting, but hitching in them is a waste of time and any other activity costs money which was out of the question.
On the way to Naples a scene took place that had me looking around for the movie cameras. The Autostrada was incomplete being sometimes motorway and sometimes ordinary road. I was standing at the beginning of one of the motorway sections where it branched out from the road in a T junction. Across the junction was a building that could possibly have been a cafe. There were a couple of Coco Cola signs outside. The door of this establishment swung open and out stepped this woman in the most incredible tight fitting red pullover and blue jeans, a small shoulder bag dangling, and strutted to the side of the road. My eyes were riveted but she saw the car approaching, put out her thumb and a very large white sportscar screamed to a halt in a cloud of dust. Without a word she got in and the car roared off. I glanced down at my patched, baggy jeans ending in scuffed desert boots and "Mama Mia" seemed to be the only thing left to say.
However, everything comes to he who waits and eventually the inevitable Fiat ground to a halt. A sailor who had been on the N.A.T.O. submarines and the next two hours were politics with me going yes and no every so often.
That night was spent outside Naples and by the evening of the next day I had arrived in Brindisi. It seemed as if the whole town was walking up and down the main street. The pavement cafes were full, the shops open and the stars out. It was my first taste of anything that wasn't North European and somehow I felt awkward, and out of place. Everyone seemed so relaxed as if they had time, and for the first time it was more than just one or two that turned to watch me as I walked by, sleeping bag swinging at the hip like an insomniacs sten gun. Later on I was to have whole villages turn out to see me, but Brindisi was the first place that they stopped to look. I dived for cover into the office of the shipping agency. Came back out with a ticket to Greece, an hours wait and ten quid left. I had a little Italian money, so I stocked up on bread and cheese before going down to the dock. It was 9.00pm and the town was literally humming. I imagine if you are in a position to fit in, it must be pretty groovy. The only place I fitted was somebodys empty passenger seat for a few miles. That can be okay as well.
On the boat I shared a two berth cabin with a man who ate a lot and every other mouthfull was garlic. Also there didn't apear to be any drinking water, so I slept most of the way. I forget how long it took, but it was dark when we disembarked in Southern Greece. Maybe it had been all night and the following day, I don't remember. But standing where the cars came off the boat I got a lift straight away with an American going to Athens. He had two American girl hitch hikers with him. These were the first hitchers I had met and naturally I became very excited and voluble on the ups and downs, the whole thing of hitching around, assuming I was talking to like minds and the driver would be interested. He was interested okay, he was great, stopped at a cafe and bought me a steak, but from the girls, nothing. No response. They talked of college and sight seeing, but hitching, no. So it became obvious, when I had a chance to give the matter some thought and compare with other travellers, that there are two types of people waving their thumbs at cars. Those like me, driven from within with a burning desire to follow the road, not because of where it goes, but because it goes there, and there are the others who travel the same roads but in a different world. The learning of this lesson is no easy number, there is heartbreak involved,. A hitch hiker by the side of a busy road is a solitary being, after days and weeks the universe becomes a rucksack and the road signs, your own thoughts and a friendly driver. To attempt to share this with anyone can be disasterous, just maybe in the dimly lit back room of some cheap hotel, or at some windswept junction you will meet one or two of like minds, who understand and you can laugh together at the ironies and feel some companionship. But not all hitch hikers are those sort of travellers, that was something I began to see in Southern Greece.
Up to Athens and I wonder if I should go up to the Acropolis. I stand in the street looking up and realise I'd much rather get on the road to Thessalonika. So on we go, north east up the coast. Towards evening a truck stops, the driver points on my map to a town well on the way and seems content to have me along. When we stop he buys me a meal, I point to a picture of the King and Queen on the wall and he says "Hiel Hitler" so I just eat the meal.
In the back of the cab,as in many continental lorries, are two bunks and later in the night he pulls in with the obvious intention of getting some sleep. I am directed to the lower bunk and just as I've got in, he, still in the driving seat, undoes his trousers and waves his stiff penis about. Naively I imagine he is thinking of women and just grin, so he makes it clear he is thinking of me. I say "no chance mate", shake my head and look disapproving. The arms on this guy are as thick as my leg. He gives me a penetrating look, has a good laugh and swings into the top bunk. Soon randy truck driver and worried passenger are both sound asleep.
In the morning he takes me a good way further and any sour taste of the previous nights incident is not noticable. Keeping an articulated lorry rolling along the narrow Greek roads is a full time occupation. In due course I bail out with the customary thank you and wonder what the road next holds in store.
Nothing out of the ordinary, and by sunset I am arriving in Thessalonika. My driver is going to drop me off at the Youth Hostel in town and we are driving through the city streets when, suddenly, my attention is riveted to two characters on the pavement opposite. Two heads of long hair, blonde and brown, two enormous overcoats almost reaching the ground and two sleeping bags swinging at the hip. At last, after nearly a fortnight on the road I see two people who may share my approach to the road. But then we have turned a corner and they are gone. The Youth Hostel opens as I arrive and for a couple of bob I become a member on the spot. It's too early to go to sleep, so I sit alone on a bunk in the dormitory looking at a map of Turkey. The door bangs open and in walk the two heads of hair and long overcoats.
"Have you been hitch hiking" I say.
"Yes. We've been in Turkey and Syria."
"We've been a little off the beaten track" says the blonde one.
They only carry sleeping bags and dumping these on the bunks we all retire to the cafe next door.
Over coffee it transpires they would not be in the Youth Hostel at all but for their last lift giving them a little money. They told me that in Southern Turkey people would come out of the houses calling "Inglis, Inglis" and usher them inside for meals, even though there was not one word of common language between them. They weren't even English, they were Swiss and after six months on the road were returning home.
Their reason for coming to Thessalonika was that in the local hospital it was possible to sell blood. Upon hearing this my stomach screwed up into a knot and I must have looked doubtful, for they said "Yes, but you get £5 a litre." Well £5 was not to be sneezed at. Discounting boat fares I had not spent so much in coming from England. So we agreed in the morning the three of us would go to the hospital.
As we lay in the dark of the dormitory that night a Swiss accent said "Tomorrow we sell blood - and eat." followed by a gruesome laugh.
So we trooped down to the hospital. We were shown into a large waiting room full of people. Mothers, old men, even a policeman. "Do they all want to sell blood?" I asked. "No, they've come to get it."
This was definitely getting very weird. No time for musing though. Straight away we were ushered into a room with a couch, two nurses, a doctor and some glass bottles in it. This can't be true I thought. "So you want to sell blood" said the doctor in passable English. We agreed this was the general idea and checked out the prices. They took samples.
I looked out the window and gritted my teeth. Then we went back out to the waiting room where all the people stared at us and a deathly silence reigned. Quite soon a nurse came out and pointed at me and one of the others. We went in. Apparently there was something wrong with Blondies blood and he didn't make the grade. The doctor put a thick rubber band round my bared arm and was reaching for a needle, while I cringed, when he stopped and took a longer look at me.
"Passport" he said. Since my interview with the Italian Consul I had kept it in my back pocket, relying on my right buttock to warn me if anything should go wrong. "So", they always began “so”, "You are seventeen" he said peering at the passport. I agreed this was the case. "Well" he said removing the rubber band "you must be nineteen before you can sell blood. I'm sorry."
So was I. The Swiss guy whose blood was ok got paid and we all had bread, kebab and salad in a café next to the hostel, then I collected my bag from the Youth Hostel and walked out of town.
The road became bleak soon after leaving Thessalonika and the traffic sparse. Finally I reached the last town on the Greek side of the border and on a sign giving the distance to the frontier was scratched "Hikers hell" and a date long past. Looking down the road, empty except for a small child and some chickens, I could see what the guy meant.
Eventually something came along and later that day with a small but solid feeling of pleasure I crossed into Turkey. "On into Turkey in a flood of light and wine" the magazine article had read. Yeah well okay, I was arriving in worn out desert boots and my full quota of blood.
Walking through the first large town a VW bus stopped without me even thumbing it.
"Are you going to Istanbul?" I asked the solitary driver. I always assumed people spoke English and sorted out difficulties later.
"Yes, you coming?" came the reply in an indeterminate accent.
Yes, I most certainly was. I hopped in and we were off. My last lift before Istanbul.
The guy at the wheel was a South African mining engineer who had had enough of engineering mines and was going to India. "If the van packs up I'll do what you're doing" he said with a grin.
It passed in one ear and out the other. But in fact it was the first time somebody told me you could hitch hike to India.
I mean I suppose if you had asked me, I would have vaguely thought there was some sea or impassable Communist Bloc that broke the continuous line of road from northern Europe to India. The thought that there was a road that could be hitched had never hit. The import of the "Hippies reach Nepal" article had not struck. It was waiting before me, waiting for me to come around to finding out just how much further than Istanbul were the distances that could be travelled.
The Volkswagen drove on and we came to Istanbul. The driver stopped talking and began to concentrate, large 1940s American cars with chequered tape all over them shifted to and fro across the dual carriageway, lorries thundered and fumed, pavement loads of people bulged onto the streets, police whistles directed traffic, drivers hunched intently over steering wheels and the law of the jungle applied to the town became manifest on the streets of Istanbul.
Above the bustling throng towered the minarets of the mosques and presently we drew up near one. "Aiya Sophis" said the driver with a last glance at a city map. "This'll be the area where you'll get a cheap hotel." We went into a cafe and I immediately saw there were some other Westerners present. Long hair and Afghani fur coats occupied a side table. We got coffees and went over.
The two guys and a girl were English. The talk was on how to make money in Istanbul, the only satisfactory method seeming to be to allow ones passport to be used for bringing into Turkey a foreign car. This earned five or six pounds for a days drive to the border and back.
The imparter of this information, Mick, seemed to think it was a safe bet, although he had not done it himself, two of his friends were doing it that very day. If we went back to the hotel together they should be back and we could see how it went. Sounded fair enough and after a while we left the cafe.
The van driver intended to stop in a camping place and sleep in the van. As we were saying goodbye he said "You'll be alright with these people, they smoke hashish." It meant little to me, I wasn't bothered one way or the other and it looked like I'd be getting a hotel where there were other travellers. Their smoking habits were irrelevant.
So I went with Mick, his girl and the other guy down a cobbled side street. Round a couple of corners and we came to a doorway with "Otel Gulhane" signboarded above it. Immediately in the door a stairway went up. Two flights and through a door brought us up and out on to the back roof. Like many of the surrounding rooftops that could be seen, it was flat, the difference being that half of it was covered in a tarpaulin and cardboard construction.
"The tent", said Mick informatively. "It's a shilling a night to kip on the floor." My finances could come to grips with that and we went in. The cardboard door with its polythene window swung back into place with a bang leaving me standing in what Mick described as the first resting place on the road to India. A pot belly stove smoked in the middle of an area about twenty yards by ten. The walls of board were up to waist height then polythene windows and a tarpaulin roof. Most areas on the walls were painted and coloured, at various intervals along the floor against the walls were signs of habitation, sleepings bags and blankets rolled up or strewn around, some books, a couple of guitars. Several figures lay stretched out or huddled in sleep and those awake sat up in one corner passing a pipe. Mick had joined them so I picked an unoccupied space and unrolled my bag. Silence reigned, the pipe went round, I looked at the people present. Mick's girlfriend was the only woman present, of the five or six males, two looked distinctly unhealthy, pale and' drawn, the remainder looked well enough. They all had very long hair and for the most part were dressed in a variety of bright clothes.
Nothing much happened for a while, then the door banged and a Turkish boy came in followed by a traveller, who turned out to be one of Mick's friends back from car smuggling.
"How'd it go?" from Mick.
"Oh okay, we got the money and the guys bringing our passports round later. Henry went into a barbers and danced up and down between the chairs."
The boy came over to me, said "New man" which I acknowledged, upon which he departed to return with the register. Many names were just Christian names, it seemed informal to the extreme. I signed and paid for the night and then for a few pence more accepted his offer of tea.
It was my first experience of Turkish tea when it came. It is black and comes in a slightly hour shaped glass. On the side are two lumps of sugar and the idea is to put a sugar in the mouth then sip some tea and melt the sugar. A very habit forming technique, which I spent a lot of time in the Gulhane practising. There seemed to be little else to do. It was pleasant to wake up and know that it was fine to just lie in bed, nobody was going to come and turf you out for sleeping in their barn. Most of the books lying around were boring or in the wrong language and it was almost a welcome turn of events to return from a walk one afternoon to find the police had closed the place down. Only trouble was my gear was still inside.
Hanging around at the door and looking at the big wax seals with police stamps imprinted on them over the latch I glanced up to see a total mass, waist length, of curly hair fronted by National Health glasses approaching over the cobbles.
"Hallo, locked out?"
"Yes, I think I am" I reply.
"We'll go and see the pigs."
I look baffled. "Police" he enlarges.
Minutes later my forceful friend is in full swing.
"Look man" to a senior police officer in the station, "This cats gear is in that hotel. He needs it to survive."
"Yes, yes, I quite see your point" in impeccable English, "and we will reopen the Gulhane in a few days. Your equipment is quite safe where it is."
I say to the curly head of hair that that sounds okay and the policeman says to come back when necessary.
With a parting shot of "Very uncool to lock up peoples gear" we re-emerge on the street and curly head suggests I move into his hotel until the Gulhane is re-opened. So I do.
He tells me he is always a welcome guest at the Mayor of Richmonds house and sometimes works as a gravedigger.
He is recently returned from Nepal and from his conversation I begin to form some ideas of that mountainous place, although never in all my travels did I see the little men frying huge slabs of hashish that he described.
I stayed in a slightly more expensive hotel in the next street with Curly until the Gulhane re-opened. Then I collected my bag and left Istanbul.
I had been vaguely thinking about carrying on in an easterly direction but Curly had grown quite emphatic on the wisdom of going with more than £5, which was all I had.
"Sure man, sure" he would go "theres loads of guys in the East with no bread but you can die out there and no one will know the difference. You should go back to England and get some bread together then go. India isn't going to change for another hundred years, maybe never." Such was the wisdom of Curly, and I took it. I also took his walking boots and he my desert boots. He got the best of that deal, I got blisters.
Within two days I was a cripple, well virtually, limping up through Bulgaria, limping past the barricaded and closed churches of Bulgaria, lifts being few and far between. In Sophia I ask a young guy where is somewhere warm to sleep, any empty houses. He takes me home, his parents put me up in the living room of their tiny house, on the sofa, and in the morning eggs are collected from the chickens in the garden and six hard boiled for me, along with two loaves, presented with smiles and a smattering of French for my onward journey. A tram car rattles across the city taking me to the road out of town. My army jacket and Levi's out of place amongst the drab commuters raincoats.
On through the drizzle into Yugoslavia.
The first night in Yugoslavia was the coldest I have ever spent on the road. A night spent fully clothed, even to the abominable boots, crouched down within the sleeping bag, looking through the places where the cotton wool stuffing had vacated.
But I find that relating a series of incidents that took place along the roads of Europe has become monotonous and is probably boring to read. Really Istanbul was the gateway to the interesting travelling and the miles covered before I was to reach that gateway again were purely spent in burning up the first initial feelings of road madness. I shall accelerate from the hitchers rolling pace and gloss over the details. I still had about five pounds and a strong reluctance to go back to England, I decieded on having a look at Spain before going back. It was early spring, hitching along the French Riviera and into Spain was easy and comfortable, I lived on bread, cheese and fruit and discovered a pattern that if I kept moving then at least once a day somebody would stop at a restaurant or café and buy me a meal. I was completely unconcerned about this being scrounging. Somewhere near Almeria a Frenchman running a discotheque offered me a job in his kitchen. I got a bed on the back porch and prepared veg and washed up for a fortnight. It was too early for the busy season and the few clientele were mostly French and looked like gangsters and prostitutes. I was out of my depth, had no chance of keeping up with the French being spoken and after 2 weeks realised I had enough money for the ferry to Morocco, so I left.
I didn’t go down into Morocco, I knew I would have to go back to England and make the money for the India trip. I hitched along the north African shoreline, Algeria, Tunisia. Got another kitchen job in a 5 star hotel in Tunisia which provided the fare for the Tunis-Sicily ferry and hitched back up through Europe to Calais. And the ferry, for which I had no money. At the ticket desk in the Calais ferry terminal was a family buying tickets, they had a car, the man was wearing a Scottish kilt, I knew that the number of passengers in a car was irrelevant and asked if they had a spare seat for the crossing. Yes, by all means, no problem . . . and then he saw my passport . .”Good God, you’re a Fraser . . !” … yes, I said, wondering what the excitement was . . “I’m a Cameron, we’re ancient enemies “ he said, beaming at me, and whatever bloodletting and feud there may have been in the past was swept aside as I was welcomed into the fold. This wonderful family were driving back to Scotland where they owned a pub and diverted off route to drop me in back in Warwick.
And so grimy, sunburnt, and tattered I arrived once more in my mothers living room. Appeals to consider re-joining the police fell on deaf ears. I announced the next step was to reach India and commenced to do little but eat and sleep for several days.
There was in Warwick a gelatine factory where I had worked in the school holidays and back I went. Pushing trolley loads of plastic like strips of gelatine down long dark corridors. Really nasty. I saved £30, it was early summer, I hit the road again.
Then back down to the Channel and on the boat over I was given my first smoke of grass. Nothing, no flashing lights, visions, nothing. Big let down. "Oh it's good blow, but you don't always get it at first" said the American as we leaned over the boat rail watching the lights of Dover disappear.
Back down to the Riveria. It's late June and theres a gang of travellers encamped on the beach at Nice each night. The police come each night and take the French away. A Frenchman smacks me in the mouth for dropping orange peel in the gutter.. An American girl says I must see the womens toilets in the big Negro Hotel and we walk past the reception to go and have a look then into the mens. They are like Napoleons and Josephines bedrooms. There is a drift amongst the beach gang to head towards Spain for the running of the bulls in Pamplona. I hang on, sleeping at the beach, the drive to get to Istanbul and beyond has subsided.On the third or fourth evening, just after sunset, a figure silohetted against the street lights leans over the railings of the prom and calls down to our group round the fire on the beach “is anybody English down there ?” Yes I call back “I’m the only one”. He comes down, he is carrying a guitar. There is already a Swedish guy there who has been playing guitar. After introducing himself as Alan this Englishman gets his guitar out of it’s bag, chats with the Swede as he tunes it and they begin playing together. I am astounded, I have just watched these two meet for the first time and they are playing wonderfully and perfectly together. How was this possible ? It was the 12 bar blues and they were both very accomplished players, I loved it. To give you an idea of the level of musicianship I was listening to under the soft Mediterranean night sky, this was Alan Parsons who at that time was working as a sound engineer at the Abbey Road studios and later went on to form the Alan Parsons Project.
I decide to follow the drift to Pamplona but before I leave go to visit the American girls in their hotel. For the first time I smoke a lot of black hash. Coming out I confront my reflection in the full length mirror on a shop front. Suddenly the busy Nice street dissolves behind me, standing in the mirror is a figure from a desert island, patched and tattered jeans, striped T-shirt floppy Tunisian straw hat, battered baseball boots, scruffy army pack and rolled sleeping bag. How on earth will I get a lift? Perhaps it doesn't matter, after all the suns shining and Pamplona's only an excuse to stay on the road.
Two days later I am in Spain. In Pamplona the football ground has been turned into a campsite, packed with Volkswagen vans and people of all nationalities. In the volley ball court is a gathering of hard core travellers sleeping bags on the concrete.
"Yeah I always reckoned on £30 for the India trip, but every time I get back to Brighton I just start smoking again."
It sounds familiar, I settle in with the assembled company. The bulls are run at dawn each morning but the first evening there is a fiesta and I drink a bottle of rum with a Canadian guy, get very ill and miss the running of the bulls. An English guy has a small book, it’s called The Light of Asia,there is something about it that attracts me, I resolve to get one similar, a good small book for the army pack.
The festival loses its edge, I leave for Barcelona and sell a litre of blood successfully. In a small side street I see a seedy little bookshop and thinking of the Light of Asia, enter. Piles of books on the shelves, the floor up the back stairs, no room to turn around. There are many in English but nothing with the same feel to it. Just about to leave and I tackle a final pile on the floor. The very bottom book, right on the ground. "The Prophet" Kahil Gibran. Never heard of it, can't make much sense of it, but it feels right and is a slim volume, so I part with a few pesatas and stash it in the army bag.
Back on the road, leaving momentos of my passing on road signs and on a whim, back to England. The Englishman, Alan, in Nice has given me his Hampstead address and, unannounced, I arrive on his doorstep. His landlady rents me a room. I get a job on a building site off Oxford Street and prepare for India. Vaccinations are jabbed in my arm. But living in London is taking all my wages, especially when I begin taking a girl out to the pictures, the pub and and the fair on Hampstead Heath. Then after a month on the hotel construction where I've spent labourious tea breaks carving Katmandu on the tea shed table, I get a tax rebate. God bless the government. £50 in one go -1 leave for India the following day.
Funny feeling going down in the lift of Hampstead tube waving waved goodbye to Alan, knowing I'm going to the other side of the world.
Back down the good old A2 to Dover. Businessmen in fast cars and a lorry stopping, the driver leaning across the cab opening the door, “Heatwave” Martha and the Vandellas blasting out, a good omen I thought. The first ferry is to France and I'm not choosy, in the Dieppe dawn bagpipes sound from down a backstreet, strange connections to the Cameron family I thought. Down the east side of France. In the afternoon a man gives me a bottle of wine from a crate in his boot. By dark I am quite tipsy. Later on I get dropped at a junction, I have set my sights on the Swiss border that night, but there's not much traffic. Just down the road there's a bridge over a railway. A freight train is stopped at some lights. It's pointing east. I consult my map, the railway goes towards Switzerland. I scramble down the embankment and crouch down. The train is mostly coal trucks with a little ladder to a small platform at the back of compartments, travel in a coal truck is raw and exhilarating, the noise deafening, the rushing night air cold. We were going fast, about sixty, and to heighten the experience I got back on the platform with my legs dangling by the coupling. But soon I was cold and got out of the wind as much as possible in the truck. Thoughts about getting busted at the Swiss border began to arrive and I resolved to disembark while still in France.
A couple of hours later I saw the lights of a large town approaching and through the suburbs I was trying to see some distinguishing sign to say where I was. As none appeared I stuck my head over the edge as we crawled and jerked through the main station. It seemed in that instant that every head on the crowded platforms of both sides was turned my way. Having ascertained only certain discovery, I ducked back down. The train carried on and once clear of the anonymous station I saw we were approaching a large goods yard. Before reaching it we stopped and I prepared to bail out. But it seemed an anti-climax to just step demurely off and I waited for the train to move again. It did so, gaining speed rapidly and at a good fifteen miles an hour I leapt into space for the sake of romanticism. An awkward landing on the railside gravel, my bag wrapped round my leg, my head about two feet away from the grinding wheels, an agonizing pain in my back. Cursing myself for a fool, I crawled into the shrubbery at the trackside, rolled out my bag and went to sleep.
I expected to wake with either a broken back or surrounded by railway police. As neither had happened, I packed up and set out in the morning light for the nearby road.
My explanations in French to the first driver had him thinking that I worked for the railways, so I resumed my customary silence. A couple of lifts later and I was in Switzerland, here the speed of travel declined noticably and it was with relief that a day later I returned to my old friend, northern Italy. Once on the Autostradas things speeded up again and before long Venice was behind me and Yugoslavia just ahead.
Outside Belgrade sitting on my bag by the kerbside, a young girl came and gave me a bunch of flowers. It was October 1968.
In Istanbul the Gulhane looked more prosperous and the price had gone up, the Tent divided within by partitions that gave privacy, but took away the air of the nomadic tent.
I spent a day being driven to the Bulgarian border and having a Volkswagen signed in on my passport for which I was paid a fiver. I left Istanbul heading east with £35.
Smoking twenty cigarettes a day now. In Turkey they were a shilling a packet. I hitched on along the motorway to Ankara.
Then up towards the Black Sea. I got picked up by a convoy of Mercedes cars driving from Munich to Teheran. They took me at breakneck speed right across Turkey to the Iranian border. They wanted me to drive a car into Iran for them but when they saw my attempts at driving they changed their minds. I hitched alone across the wild moon landscape of Iran. Big American Mack trucks dominated the traffic on the smooth well laid road. Three days later saw me in Teheran. As usual I got dropped in the centre and wore out my boots getting back on the road. Mack trucks and Willys jeeps. It seemed that America was getting this boy down the road in good style. Up through some northern towns and the Russian border was on the left hand horizon. Traffic became sparse, gaily coloured buses roared past, children followed pointing as I walked through towns and villages. Finally, after four or five days, I arrived in Meshad. At the Afghan Embassy I discovered the visa cost a couple of quid so I went south through the great Salt Desert to Zahedan.
If the traffic from Tabriz to Meshad had been on the thin side it now became almost non-existent. That first evening out of Meshad a giant truck with exhaust fumes pumping out of an exhaust pipe sticking up from the bonnet took me out into the starlit desert. After some miles we came to a crossroads and the driver and his mate persuaded me that they were going the way I wanted to go. They thought I was a little crazy as they were going into Afghanistan and they had taken other hitchers that way, but I insisted on going south. The driver leaned over his mate till his face was a few inches from mine sillohetted in the dashboard lights and the glare of headlights on the road, dark eyes gleamed in a dark face, he pointed a grimy finger down the Afghan road and said "Friends, friends." To meet this clearcut statement I thumped my chest and said "Zahedan." This was received with the eloquent Eastern gesture of shrugging the shoulders and lifting the hands. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midnight desert. The tail lights of the truck dissappeared down the road and a mad dog Englishman got in the ruins of a solitary tumbledown building and stretched out for the night.
The following morning and the first vehicle stopped. Two English speaking Iranian engineers heading south. All morning in the back of their jeep through dramatic desert landscapes. Stunted trees and ranges of hills imported from the moon, tiny villages of mud brick buildings with turbaned tribesmen and veiled women watching us roll through in a cloud of dust.
In a larger village they stop and I walk through. On the far side of town right by the road is a water pump. I strip to the waist, off with shoes and socks and proceed to cool off. There I am dripping with water and grinning at my audience of small children, when a multi coloured bus with all faces glued to the windows in my direction passes by, stops and backs up. The driver gesticulates wildly at the dripping foreigner, the children urge me towards the bus. Pulling on my shirt and boots I trot round the side to the door. "No money " I announce, "Inglis?" "That's right." nodding madly. The driver shouts at the passsengers and a wooden box is produced, passed hand to hand down the gangway. It is placed by the gearstick, the driver pats it with his hand and I am welcomed aboard. "Inglis Zahedan" shouts the driver, which breaks the spell of silence that has hung over the entire bus and in a roar of engine and wave of chatter, we are off into the sunshine desert. Any pedestrians or animals on the road are cleared away by multiple blasts on the horn, everything gives way to the all important inter-city bus with its load of tribespeople, crumpled suited townspeople, chickens in boxes on top, and hitch-hiker with a sore bum and a free ride by the gearstick. All afternoon, the driver grinning as we flash round bends at hair raising speed, into the dusk and we pull up for a break in a small town. I am swept with the passengers into the bus stop tea shop and somebody buys me tea, cigarettes come from six directions at once. But hardly have we sat down before the driver is clamouring on his horn, anxious to be off into the night. There are only a certain number of positions that can be assumed on a wooden box in the gangway of a racing bus, I'm sure the people in the seats behind must have helped pass the weary hours by watching my attempts to relieve the searing pain. Eventually the lights of Zahedan hove into sight and before long we were in the bus station. The driver shrugged off my thanks and disappeared leaving me to find my way out of town.
This task was becoming much simpler than it had been in the complex cities of the West. The largest roads ran in and out of town, the remainder were the dead ends and back streets and as one knew which way one had arrived in town the exit was obvious. I cleared the outskirts and found some trees under which to merge, unseen, with the darkness. I always took a very serious view of the business of finding a place to sleep, just anywhere would not do. It had to have the right feel, I did it by hunch, often walking miles down night time roads looking for the right hedge to get behind or derelict building to enter. Sometimes it would take well over an hour and a hard walk at the end of a long day, on the few occasions I have travelled in company I have tried the patience of my companion. But in four years abroad and subsequent journeys around the British Isles I have never been disturbed in the night, not even once. I put this down to being able to follow the hunch about finding the right place and getting in to wherever it is, dry river bed, woods or empty building, unseen and quietly. The recipe for a good nights sleep.
Now I don't know who in hell is reading this, I fancy my vague thoughts of publication will come to nought at the absolute refusal of the first 300 publishers I approach. However, should anyone be having the misfortune, I should bring it to your notice at this point that I was most definitely entering the East. Of course as you undoubtedly paid more attention than me in the long boring afternoon geography lessons, you will be aware of this. But it was really hittting me as hard fact by Zahedan. My army anorak spent days remaining untouched and screwed up in my pack. The solid slabs of western paving stone had given way to dusty paths by the side of potholed roads. Beeches and elms had become palm trees and the sun was too hot for Levi jeans. The transformation had begun to take place, for the first time since the eternal wet drizzle of the English winter, I felt I had really made it into the sun, Ra was going to help me keep it together and to commemorate the fact I gave my spare pullover to a woman by the roadside as I tried to get a lift out of Zahedan that morning.
Finally a jeep came and took me along to the Iranian side of the border. I checked out of Iran. Twenty miles of no-mans land before the Pakistan border control. The only thing was to wait for the bus.
There was a miserable Dutch guy at the border, he felt really sick he said and wished he was back in Holland. A nearby range of hills was really blowing me out, the whole desert thing had really got me going, seeing for miles and miles just empty desert and on the road miles from anywhere a figure walking along, turban end pulled across the face to ward off flying sand, horny feet flapping in sandals, sharp eyes glinting, maybe driving a donkey, then a tree, then nothing and always purple hills in the distance. Most of Iran had been this desert and now it was coming out of the mouth, I couldn't stop, but the Dutchman wanted to feel ill in silence and I had to wind myself down. The bus came crowded and we bumped through the heat to Pakistan. Here the frontier was a bunch of tents and a railhead. More people hanging around waiting for a bus to Iran.
I got stamped into Pakistan and met a voluble French guy heading West.
"All the time they say "where are you going?" "what is your name?" he tells me "It's a game they play, if you play with them, it's okay."
My first introduction to the school book English they speak in the East. Very often those two sentences are the only English they know and will ask them over and over, or else if one answered "I come from London" they say "That is near England?" This is interesting to build on and more than once I have been "Mr Paul of London near England" to the enthralled inmates of a roadside tea shop. Sometimes I would feel bad about taking the piss, they had many things more worthwhile than some crummy government enforced education. They knew how to live in their own deserts and mountains and even hot, crowded back street bazaars and were full of life which not knowing foreign geography did not affect.
Another bus from Iran brought another Dutchman, a friend of the sick one, who now as evening descended on the little group of tents was beginning to feel a little better.
We discussed tactics for vacating the lonely border post. The next large town was Quetta some hundred miles to the East. The road ran there but apart from the bus and army vehicles, traffic was non-existent. The railway also ran there. There was a goods train without an engine in the sidings, we walked over to have a look. The rolling stock was identical to pre-war British stock, the amazing railways of the Indian subcontinent, in my mind one of the few still remaining, still to be seen benefits of the British Raj. There they were, standing silent in the single track railway desert dusk, even the old guards van with the covered platforms, one at each end and the chimney telling of the stove within. I hopped up and opened the door, chalked on the wall, "Love, love, love". The Beatles -All you need is, I guessed some passing freak had spent the night in that guards van.
Lying in the sand by the rails we agreed on riding on the freight train should it show any signs of moving.
Having signed and stamped us in the country with a gold toothed grin and a flourish of the rubber stamp, the gentry of the army tents seemed disinterested in us. Of railway officials there were none to be seen. The full moon appeared above the horizon filling the landscape with an unreal light, British rolling stock on the moon, refugees of the inter-galactic war smoking cigarettes by the tracks.
The moon has not climbed very high into the blue black ceiling before we hear the engine coming. From whence it came who can say, it looked as if it had come from Willesden shunting yards in 1932. We lurked in the shadows as it backed down the line, clanged into the waiting line of trucks and was hitched up. A guard with a swinging lamp walked back down the line of wagons and we slipped beneath the couplings so as to be on the far side from him. Then as he passed, we climbed aboard and sat on our packs in the empty truck. Then with a snort and clouds of smoke from the engine we were off. Thirty miles an hour seemed to be the top speed, we found the next truck was full of something with a tarpaulin on top and we sat up there, the desert rolling by, the night sky above. Probably the guard could see us, but we didn't care, it was all too much. Later in the night there was a stop and I fell asleep in the empty truck to be woken with a jerk as we moved on again before dawn.
The sun had been up some time when I woke in the morning. We were still rolling and I took to waving at people in the hut villages we passed. Progress was slow with unexplained stops and about lunch time we stopped at a place with a water tower and a few buildings. The guard came along and told us to beat it. We went and bought masses of dates for a couple of pence in a little store. It was the only immediate edibles that he had. Water from the water tower by the steaming, hissing engine and then down the bank on the far side of the train. There were several sets of lines laid out here, presumably for shunting purposes and on one of these lines were several empty trucks. From behind these we watched the progress of driver, fireman and guard as they tanked up with water and talked. They knew we were around, there was nowhere to go, no road or anything, but they couldn't see us. They finished the job, the guard returned to the van and the engine started chugging. As the wheels began to roll we broke from cover behind the trucks and sprinted for the train, the guard leaned out from his platform gesticulating and shouting, the first Dutchman made the trucks, threw his bag up and scrambled up the little ladder on the side, by the time I reached the ladder the thing was moving as fast as I could run, Dutchy reached down for my bag and I pulled myself up, the sick one was lagging, I reached out my hand and he grabbed it but the impetus pulled him off his feet and he rolled in the dust. He had no hope of making it now. I looked at the other one and he wanted off so we threw our bags and leapt to roll and tumble in the track side sand. The swearing guard rolled by, a gleam of victory in his eye.
Ah ha, what a miserable group as the train disappears behind the outcrop of hill. The one who fell has twisted an ankle and broken his sandals to add to his fever misery, we all have bumps and bruises, the fact that we have been on dates and water for two days doesn't help much.
Back to the date shop for dates and information. In response to 'bus?' the guy points after the departing train. Hoping he doesn't regard the train as a bus we set off down the line. Round the bend and behind the hill, then we can see the road from the railway line. There is a crossroads and what appears to be a bus shelter, nothing in the whole landscape moves. It is a bus shelter and we lean against the wall on the shady side, the sick one dozes fitfully, we throw stones at a tin can and reckon on seeing if we can get a free bus ride if nothing else shows up.
At this stage I have £30 accompanying my passport, getting sweat soaked in my jeans back pocket, right buttock alert and on duty all the way down that road. But this money is not to take life easy with when hitching becomes boring but for an occasional hotel and meal when it feels like a really good idea. So when the bus comes to a halt in a cloud of dust we give the free ride pitch. "Okay Johnny, you come on, okay Johnny okay."
Johnny B Good I thought clambering aboard, too much. Everybody smiled and space made on the back seat. Cigarettes were offered and somebody went into the "What is your name?" routine. The Dutch seemed disinterested so I took on the role of spokesman. It passed time in the hot dusty bus that didn't seem to have any springs on the rear wheels.
We made stops and starts all along the way, villages, the men with their shirts hanging out over baggy cotton trousers, women in voluminous cotton dresses and shawls over their heads, squatting kids, get on and off. Someone even brought a goat on and it stood in the gangway looking very much at home. Then about twenty miles from Quetta there was a commotion down at the doorway. We were stopped in a village and a group of people were trying to get on. They looked like Pakistanis but "Too fuckin' much" came floating over the babble of voices and I sat up to have a look. Three guys and two girls all dressed like the villagers were not being allowed on. The leader of this group was appealing to the bus at large and a fierce discussion broke out involving just about everybody except us on the back seat and the goat. Finally the driver, very begrudgingly let the group on.
They saw us but four of them ignored us completely. However one of them came up the back and sat by us.
"You English?" he said.
"I am, they're Dutch" I indicated my sleeping companions.
"What was all the row" I asked.
"Well these four I'm with have taken up the Muslim faith and for the last three days we've been sitting by the shrine of a dead Holy Man. Usually people who make pilgrimages like that are allowed to travel free, but the driver said we weren't genuine Muslims. So we had an argument and nowthe others are chanting prayers to make the driver take us free. I'm no Muslim, but we get around and stay stoned most of the time but I'll probably split soon."
Seemed a bit strange, chanting prayers instead of hitching for a free bus ride but the guy who was in the back with us was okay. Told me not to take any notice of the leader if he came up the back.
Later on he did and started taking the piss, telling me I thought India was going to be all jungle with monkeys and parrots. When I said I liked the deserts he said he'd been in more deserts than I'd had hot dinners.
"Don't mind him" said the first one and the leader went off scowling in his dirty beard. Soon he was chanting prayers at the driver again. I'd have wanted a pretty good rate of pay to join his band, about two grand a week and I'd leave after the first week.
The Dutch slept through this interlude but when we arrived in Quetta I made sure we didn't go the same way as the "Muslims". We found a cheap hotel. Charpoys to sleep on. Wooden bed frames with a lattice work of rope fixed onto the frame instead of springs. A rupee for the night. I forget how much a Pakistani rupee was, but around a shilling. We had a veg curry supper with the flat bread called "Naan" which was pretty good by anyones standards.
Next morning the Dutch wanted to stay on in Quetta and recuperate so I was to be on my own again. First off I went for a tea in the shop opposite the hotel, just to look at the map and aclimatize a little to being alone. On the counter stood a regular glass sweet jar half filled with little blocks of brown stuff.
"Hashish?" I asked. "Charass, charass." chimed out the tea shop man.
I bought a tea and sat down to think about this one.
Since Istanbul I had known that hash was pretty much a part of the way of life. Even in Iran somebody had pointed out a field of opium poppies to me. But I had never seen hash for sale openly before and didn't think that situation existed. In Istanbul the law were stopping freaks on the street and searching their pockets for dope. But here it seemed everything was cool and the tea shops had sweet jars full of the stuff. So it must be okay to buy some and smoke it without fear of the police or anyone.
"How much?" I indicated the jar full of dope.
" Yek rupee char" he said.
"Yek rupee char" he repeats. Then with patience for the benefit of theignorant infidel foreigner he takes four of the little lumps from the jar and one rupee from his pocket. This makes sense and for one rupee I get four.
Then he waves a conical shaped piece of clay at me.
"Chillum" he goes and some men drinking tea laugh. I shrug my shoulders so he cups the thing in his hands, puts it to his lips and draws, making as if to smoke.
I buy it for half a rupee and probably got ripped off.
As that was the first hash and pipe I ever bought I was not aware of world prices but what I had just got for about two shillings would in 1968 in London have cost about £5. Still there you go, if you like dope cheap go East, in India there are government kiosks selling the stuff at the lowest of rates.
I can hear the armchair phsycologists mumbling in their chests now. Right; the changes were beginning to crystalize, the mad fountain head of first burst energy had blown itself out round Europe and it was with the rough edged doggedness of the lifetime dedicated outsider that I walked out of Quetta with a good bit of Paki black in my pocket and the sun on my head. However before I left town I wanted to lighten my load. Carried all the way from London and used only once outside Ankara, and then needlessly, was a lightweight two-man tent with poles. In the bazaar I tried to sell it as a tent. Just spreading it on the ground along with the guys selling bolts of material, squatting in the dust. Being an unusual attraction a small crowd soon gathered. Quetta is in Balachistan and the
Balachi nomads probably go back thousands of years and I was trying to sell them a tent. I think the guy bought it for to make trousers out of the cotton. He didn't want the poles. I bought a pair of thick soled Baluchi sandals with the money and dumped my desert boots.
Outside Quetta a truck stopped and I climbed in the empty back. Down the road we came to a crossroads, the sign read Quetta one way and London the other for Gods sake. Must have been for all the Pakis going to live with their brothers in Aldgate East.
On the dusty road to Lahore private cars were few and far between, not stopping when they did appear, so it was lorries all the way. Most of that day I was on top of a fully loaded truck going east. Over the drivers cab was built a low sided wooden box about the size of a double mattress. There was a mattress up there and I found that if I lay back with my head resting on the load and my feet up on the parapet along the front the wind went over the top of my head instead of in my face. In this manner I travelled at thirty miles an hour through West Pakistan. Emptying cigarettes of their tobacco and refilling them with a hash tobacco mix.
In the evening I got dropped by one of the greatest pleasures for the road traveller in the East, the roadside tea shop. These places are generally single level buildings with flat roofs. Except during the monsoon business is carried on outside in front. The heavily laden trucks come swaying in off the road and while the mechanic runs round checking the tyres, the load, the water, the driver swings down from the cab and amidst much shouting to other drivers he settles down on a charpoy out front of the teashop. Alongside the charpoy is a bare wooden table and before the driver has kicked off his sandals a boy has rushed out the shop with a pint glass, frosty with iced water and takes the order. Sometimes just tea, sometimes huge Eastern truckers meals of hot fresh chapattis, curry vegetables, curry meat for the Muslims, yoghurt, sweets, big hot greasy finger licking Grand Trunk Road meals. In the night the teashop forecourts are lit by bright electric bulbs, the small boys casting dark shadows as they dash with fresh chapattis and hot tea, half milk and so sweet. Best cups of tea in the world.
Anyway, at this, one of my first Eastern truck stops ever, in the harsh electric lights a group of men and boys were standing round a table laughing while one poked underneath with a broom, through a gap in the onlookers I saw a small puppy crouching defenceless underneath. The English in me burst out, "Bastards" I thought as I continued down the road with a young pup in my arms and a laughing teashop behind me.
Course, in the East they don't carry that whole sentimental thing about animals around with them. If an animal has a practical use it is kept alive, if not it is disregarded. Just has a stone thrown or a kick aimed if it comes too close. That night the pup and I slept over the cab of a steadily rolling truck and a stupendous dawn broke over us just outside Lahore.
Having been dropped at the trucks depot I walked carrying the face licking four foot in my arms. Hot, chaotic Lahore with yellow and black taxis dashing past lumbering red and cream single decker buses, slick youths in white shirts and grey slacks, sandalled feet, fruit sellers in the baggy pyjama trousers and shirt tails hanging out of the poorer people, all carrying out their lives beneath the weird Victorian atmosphere laid down by long gone town planners of the Raj. In front of the railway station, could it be a Fenchurch Street take off? a smiling face separates from the crowd.
"Hallo man, how you doing?"
"I'm okay thanks"
"You wanna stay in Lahore, I'm at a cheap hotel near here."
So I go with the guy to the local freak hotel, Lahores Gulhane.
He is English this guy. Hitched out from England with a girl and took a long time over it as from Turkey onwards they only took lifts in lorries they could ride in the back of. He said that since they had been in Afghanistan and Pakistan the girl had got into being a Muslim and they had separated. I told him about the people on the bus at Quetta, I couldn't describe the girls as they had shawls covering their faces but he thought that maybe she was one of them. He seemed to think she'd gone off the tracks a bit anyway.
At the hotel we shared a little room up on the roof. Rooms branched off the four sides of the roof leaving a square flat area open in the centre. Opposite was a room done out like an Arabian dope den, all Eastern drapes hanging on the walls and thin blankets lying rumpled on the charpoy. He said a Danish guy had been living there for over a year just taking junk, mainly opium, all the time. My friend reckoned if he didn't leave soon, this Danish junkie, he would die. What can you think when you look in somebody's room and hear that about them. My mind went a blank and I just wondered how he could afford to live in the hotel for a year.
"Oh he does bits of business here and there, sells some dope, but he's in debt to the manager."
Later the manager came up looking for the Dane but we hadn't seen him.
Downstairs in one of the more expensive rooms were two American guys with huge slabs of Pakistan hash. They wanted to send it back to the States but were getting scared. I smoked some with them but we could have sat in that room for weeks and smoked and there would still be enough left to be scared to go into America with. I don't know how they fared. That's how it is, so many people, just faces and names for a day, a pipe in a late night hotel room, somebody to have breakfast with in the morning and then you never see them again and yet there are thousands of them. Completely unorganized and then when you meet it is as if almost planned and completely relaxed and you're gone and thats the way it is.
My English friend and I planned to go on to Delhi together. It seems that ever since Partition of Pakistan from India relationships have been somewhat strained between the two countries. Anyway before leaving Lahore we had to go to some government offices and were both issued with sheets of paper which, if produced at the border, would allow us to leave Pakistan for India.
The forty miles to the border we caught the bus and on the way an old man told me that I would not be allowed to take the dog into India. Therefore as we walked from the bus stop to the frontier I was pleased to see a Volkswagen with German export plates and a freak at the wheel. Shortly after the pup was hidden beneath blankets in the back and we arranged to meet on the far side. If the authorities discovered the dog the driver was going to plead ignorance and as the whole vibe seemed fairly informal nobody had any qualms. I was duly stamped out of Pakistan and made my way beneath the trees to Mother India.
In the first building we laid our bags on a wooden table and a customs man looked us over.
"Where is your hashish?"
"We smoked it".
"So I don't have to look in your bags?"
"No, you needn't bother really".
"Very good, welcome to India".
We got stamped in. I looked back across the barriers, the Volkswagen was turning round and driving back towards Lahore.
I guessed they hadn't got their exit papers and as they wouldn't get them now until the following morning and I didn't intend to hang around I said goodbye to the pup.
"Maybe we'll see them in Delhi"
"Yeah, maybe" Somehow I didn't think so, and we didn't either.
"Yeah, maybe" My first words in India.
Now to appreciate the development of events from the first time I crossed the Indian border it must be realized that hashish had become an everyday habit in my life and continued to be so up until I left the country for the last time in November 1971, three years later. For one who has not smoked the stuff I will make no observations other than to say that one of its major benefits is in hieghtening the experience of now. This means that looking back over a number of years to a period spent on the other side of the world wreathed in hash smoke and with no notes to refer to is a little hazy and I will therefore move along my travels from point to point as my memory serves me. Unlike the first days and months of travelling which were unhashed and remain clear to my mind.
Travelling for the first time with another Englishman, a long haired and colourfull one, had the effect on me of loosening my purse strings. We split the cost of a ride into town, Ferozepore, between us. Not a common all garden taxi but a tonga, a small pony drawn cart with seats for four, what in Britain would have been called a trap. To the accompaniament of the bells on the pony's harness we clip clopped the two or three miles to Ferozepore railway station. Here the resemblance to British Rail a la 1929 was beyond belief. The old style signals, the station masters uniform, the English signs saying waiting room 1st class, even the tracks themselves reeked of pre-war Clapham Junction. Only the red turbanned porters and the throng of would be passengers belied the effect. Like British Rail the express to Delhi was late but, and here lies an important difference, the tea was excellent. Made with buffalo milk and loads of sugar and served in throwaway clay containers for three farthings a cup it was superb.
All up and down the platform were squatting several hundred people. Being the border, this station was the terminus and so an important main line station. They, the passengers, mostly squatted on the platform, the men dark faced under their turbans or bare headed with shiny greased black hair, in their white long tailed shirt and pyjama trousers, the women big dark eyes with the ends of their shawls drawn across their faces to fall down when they screamed at the wild kids running to and fro amongst the mountains of baggage. Each family or group squatting round its particular mountain chewing betel and spitting the red juice, smoking beedies, the cheap Indian cigarettes, waiting implaccably for the train, knowing it would come, the faith of the devout before the Godhead of Indian Railways, the surrender of the illiterate before the wonders of steam power and the timetable, even the big bundles and strong bound suitcases seemed to say "if the train doesn't come, there will be another".
Eventually it did come, backing into the station at walking speed. The platform bound throng, us included, attacked it with vigour, for those who could not secure seats would have to sit in the corridor for the whole journey. As our bags were small and most people paused in surprise to see two pale skinned young men elbowing it out with the best of them, we secured two window seats without difficulty and settled down.
Being an inter city express running through one of India's richest states, the Punjab, the carriages were of a good standard. That is to say that each carriage had a corridor running its length connecting the compartments but not the separate carriages. Later in the journey tea-boys with a kettle of tea and a stack of clay cups would swing precariously from one carriage to the next, via the end doors so that anyone sitting in the corridor with his back against the door was liable to have the window above him slam down and a head lean in demanding entry, whereupon the door would swing open and a small scruffy figure clutching steaming kettle and cups would step in and start calling "Chi wallah" down the corridor.
I witnessed this remarkable feat of agility on a visit to the toilet but admittedly we had only just left a station and had not picked up speed. However on the slower inter-village trains it took place continuously, not
only tea boys but vendors of sweets, peanuts and small snacks covering the length of the train as much outside it as within.
On the Delhi train we soon fell asleep having first put our money and passports down the front of our trousers. Always uncomfortable to sleep sitting up but travelling induces a good snore and as the first grey of dawn was creeping we entered New Delhi railway station.
My companion knew of the Delhi "Gulhane". It was, and probably still is, in Old Delhi and is called the "Crown". To get there we hired a scooter taxi. A regular Lambretta scooter but with two rear wheels so the two passengers sit on a small bench like seat behind the driver and overall is a metal roof which serves to keep off the sun more than the rain.
The journey from the railway station to the Crown ,deep in one of the big bazaars in Old Delhi, took us past an enormous mosque and between the towering minarets of this mosque the vast egg shaped red sun was rising through the city haze of another day. The sunrises of India are, without exception, spectacles of supreme beauty, both gentle and mystic, there can be no better way to start an Indian day than to contemplate the sunrise, even from the bumpy confines of a speeding scooter taxi.
At the lower end of Chandri Chowk, the main bazaar of Old Delhi, the road hits a T junction. To the right the wider shop lined, stall crammed, people packed road leads a quarter of a mile to the Old Delhi railway station. On the left the very narrow street immediately goes into a corkscrew twist leading to the behind scenes tenements of the bazaar and on into a prehistoric maze of backstreets. It is on the first turn in the street that the Crown stands and it was there we were deposited early that morning.
Up a couple of flights of stairs brought us to an open landing with a peeling wooden reception desk, a row of numbered hooks with keys hanging and nobody around.
Actually the place lookd a little ostentatious to me. A carpeted, threadbare admittedly, corridor led off the landing with brass handled doors on either side and the register on the counter and everything looked more together than a shilling a night joint. We cooled,,our heels and sat in a couple of wicker chairs but getting bored with this my friend began calling "Hello" down the corridor at all the closed doors. This had the desired effect of opening a door and a little man in white western shirt and
black slacks presented himself.
"One rupee per night on the roof he said.
We signed in. I noticed Mickey Mouse had arrived before us.
Upstairs the flat roof was surrounded by a waist high brick wall and on the roof itself were built four or five rooms of varying sizes and a wash house with a couple of sinks and a cold water tap. During our first good wash since Lahore I brushed my teeth, with the result that my gums began to bleed. It's all too easy for a toothbrush to work its way to the bottom of your bag and stay there during endless days on the road.
Two rooms were larger than the other three and I walked through the open double doors. A strange room, being almost square with windows at chest height set in three walls, the fourth wall adjoining the next door room. A large rusty fan suspended from the ceiling turned slowly and a dozen flies kept pace. Around the peeling whitewashed walls were six or seven charpoys and all these were occupied by figures huddled or stretched out in sleep.
On the centre of the floor were two chillums, a pile of ashes and a box of matches telling of the previous nights smoking.
No sleepings bags here for the sleepers. The warm sultry nights required only a sheet or a blanket or two and as everybody had their blankets over their faces to ward off the flies it was impossible to tell what the room dwellers looked like. In search of an empty bed I went next door and found only two of the five charpoys occupied, so threw down my bag and stretched out.
It seemed like only a moment but when I opened my eyes again the sun was high in the sky. From elsewhere on the roof came voices in a low hubbub of conversation and behind them the muted roar of shouts, raucous mucic and motor horns from the bazaar.
Returning my passport from down my trousers to its normal residence in my back pocket, I sallied forth to see the state of affairs during just another day at the Crown.
Sitting and lounging on the charpoys in the larger room were about ten people. On the table a battery powered tape issued some scratchy Dylan. The only female present was holding forth in a strong American accent on the price of dope. It would seem that a dealer had called with some good quality hash from Kashmir or Nepal or somewhere and this girl was the only one in the running with enough bread to buy a worthwhile amount. This was due to the fact that her Daddy, a diplomat, had stopped in to see her a few days back and now the Crown inmates were encouraging her to score.
"I'm not spending my Fathers money just so's you guys can get stoned." "Okay honey" a gutteral voice, "just lend me the 12 rupees for an ounce." "You haven't paid me the 20 from last week yet and I've paid your hotel bill, I think you guys are too much, you just sit around here expecting chicks to score your dope and you never do fuck all."
For the times they are a changin' wailed Dylan.
"Yeah"said an English voice, "but this is good dope."
Finally the dealer filled so many pipes and everyone got so stoned that the price came down and the girl bought enough to keep the whole hotel wrecked for a week.
The transaction having taken place the dealer departed in search of further custom at a similar hotel just down the street. This was a situation I noticed in many Eastern cities where there was always a nucleus of people either passing through or staying indefinitely. There was a cheap hotel, usually with a cheerfully unscrupulous manager, which was well known. Funny how some grubby shilling a night joint can be known as far afield as London, Paris, Tokyo and New York. In these places the hard core would stay, the people travelling alone, hitchiking or taking free train rides, the couples who from behind, with all their long hair it was difficult to tell the guy from the girl, you could never imagine them leading a regular family life, all the older beatnicks still travelling and all the oddballs, misfits and wonderful people under the sun would turn up at the shilling a night joints. Then, just down the road, or round the corner, always within spitting distance, would be this other hotel. Half a crown a night with a clean shaven manager and separate rooms with a pitcher of ice cool water in each room and that's where the upper crust stayed. Or the financially stable anyway. The bright young couples from Toronto or Stockholm with their VW caravanettes parked round the back, the college students during their "year to see the world", the silent secretive guys from London and San Francisco who never seemed to be short of a few bob, always had a smoke and spent a lot of time arranging for parcels to go by air freight. They would come round to the Crown and its nitty gritty atmosphere, but they never actually stayed. I always think of them now as having had their spree "on the road" and now they're computer programmers or something living in a trendy semi-detached or some all mod cons cottage somewhere, driving last years Renault and having a smoke at the weekend.
But anyway, back to the no-future, armpit-scratching write-offs blowing the twelfth chillum of the morning at the Crown.
Talk was either centred around drugs, two Danish junkies held the floor on this subject, or travelling. It was here that I first heard of Goa. Apparently a palm tree, sun drenched beach type tropical paradise existed somewhere south of Bombay and naturally enough it became the next place on my agenda. Well I didn't have anywhere else to go.
During the afternoon Dylan, Traffic and the The Doors ground to a halt and the American chick could not be found so new batteries couldn't be purchased. A funny little English guy in grey flannels talked to me in educated tones of his walks in the Himalayas. Later at dusk I go with him and one of the Danes to a Sikh temple along Chandi Chowk. A large impressive building opposite the bus depot. Outside are a crowd of Sikh women in their three quarter length skirts, tight trousers and sparkly head shawls, old men with big turbans, blue for the temple priests, long white beards reaching down over their chests, every one looking a venerable sage. We join the crowd as the doors open and we go in. A huge catherdral like interior, we leave our sandals in a pile at the door and follow the people up some stairs to a balcony running right round the wall. Here we sit down cross legged, backs to the wall looking down on people to and fro-ing from the altar downstairs, priests administering and taking financial contributions, people praying. Up on the balcony turbanned men carrying huge piles of chapattis are working their way along the line of sitters.
Chapatti man eaches me. Dark eyes smile from beneath blue turban and above thriving beard.
"Do" I hold up two fingers.
He holds out two chapattis and I receive with my right hand. Left hand is for wiping the bum, not eating.
Next two men, one with a big pot and another with a ladle. I hold out a chapatti flat in my hand and a dollop of lentils and vegetables is delivered.
Using the one chapatti as a plate I scoop with the other chapatti. Nearly finished when:
Chapatti man again
The women and kids begin to leave but opposite are two old Sikhs tucking it away and the Dane, English and myself keep pace.
I ate twelve chapattis that evening with corresponding amounts of dahl and veg. and left feeling like a satisfied balloon. No one so much as batted an eyelid at our presence and I visited that temple three or four more evenings during the week I spent in Delhi and on subsequent visits to Delhi over the following three years. I always came away full up. The Sikhs may keep sharp daggers in their turbans but they don't stint on the food.
As well as carrying knives all Sikhs wear a steel bracelet on the wrist. Outside the temple was a man selling these bracelets and to show my sympathy with the religion I bought one. Fact is I was just looking and the guy slipped one on my right wrist and I couldn't get it off.
The Indian Times newspaper, the conservative one, for that day, which was my first complete day in India, carried as its leading article the contents of a speech made by Mrs Indira Ghandi in parliament. The theme was on the three main problems facing India, disease, famine and hippies.
A week passed in a haze of chillum smoke and sunshine, long afternoons lounging in the hotel roof or wandering through the narrow streets and bazaars of Old Delhi. Many such days lay ahead, stoned out amidst the thronging activity or timeless silence that is the beauty, the doorway to the mystic heart of the civilized country.
At the end of a week I felt like moving on. It was now nearing the end of November 1968. The temperatures in the south were tolerable for a newly arrived westerner and it seemed as if Goa for Christmas was as good a target as any.
So early one morning, while the Danes, the Dylan tapes and the other roof dwellers slept on, I took my leave and walked out through the suburbs to the Agra road and the way south.
There is little to be remembered of this journey. During the first afternoon on the way to Agra I got dropped near a village. The road I was on was Grand Trunk Road No. 1, an often single track ribbon of tarmac stretching from Calcutta in the east across India and Pakistan to Peshawar up near the Afghan border. At one time or another I hitched every bloody inch of it. Mad really. Anyway, on tackling it for the first time I was going from Delhi to Agra and the nature of these Grand Trunks is to by-pass small villages, so I was standing on the outskirts of this village and every available perch, be it rooftop or tree branch, held a great flopping vulture. Those that could not find a perch were hopping around or standing on the ground. They seemed to me absolutely grotesque, I could see nothing beautiful about them at all, but never the less I watched them in revulsion until a truck stopped and I climbed into the creaking wooden cab to carry on my journey. I later discovered that in the town I was near was a slaughter house, it was Mathara I think, the ancient capital of India, something like that anyway. As the next incident will show I was fast losing my capacities as a tourist.
Agra - and the Taj Mahal. I first saw it at sunrise, the sun coming up behind it in an early morning haze, a great, huge, vast red sun coming up over the earths rim and in the foreground this incredible structure, with its towering minarets and great dome, with birds flying past it and the plains stretching away behind, shouded in that morning mist, it could have been the palace of a Venusian prince, it was fantastic.
But when I got up to it and went inside it was a real drag. Maybe it was just me, but it didn't do anything for me at all and it's supposed to be one of the bloody wonders of the world. Maybe too many greedy eyes had robbed it of its intimate magic. I got off more on the shoe-shine boys at the gate. They wanted to shine my sandals, and they were serious.
From Agra I turned south and hitched for four or five days to reach Bombay. It's a big country, India.
I don't know how they describe the area between Delhi, Agra and Bombay but something like the central plains would do the trick. A truck stops at sunrise and as the driver and his boy are quite comfortable in the cab, with the windows and the numerous little air vents all open to the breeze, the hippie wanderer is subjected to shouts of "Uppera, uppera" and he scrambles up the ladder to sit in the box above the cab.
From up there the motion of the truck is similar to a boat on a calm sea, complete with creaking woodwork and this vast rolling country drifts by at 30 m.p.h. Leaning back avoids the breeze, the sun shines from a cloudless sky, stops for tea are frequent and everything is heavenly. As Beefheart was to tell me years later, "It's like heaven ah said".
In Rajastan, a large state to the south of Delhi, there are many nomadic gypsies and when I saw them I'd get really excited. They are so colourful. Embroidered dresses and head gear for the women, of fantastic bright colours with little mirrors sewn in the embroidery to reflect the light and loads of bangles and bracelets of glass and brass and stuff round their wrists and ankles, carrying water pots on their heads in stately pride, beautiful long haired, flashing eyed children driving camels and buffalo, they were a visual feast of colour and beauty, how the West got into pin stripe suits I cannot imagine, what a dark and evil evolution that was, how the spirit weeps.
Anyway, under the blazing sun and aboard multi-coloured, Sikh driven, steady rolling trucks I crossed the vast expanse of Central India and reached Bombay.
I can't remember arriving but I must have, because on the first day there I met another English guy in the street in the centre of town and he having also just arrived by jumping the train, we discussed possible accomodation.
As he was totally broke and I was trying to conserve my last few pounds we plumped for the free accomodation of the Salvation Army that he, Mike, had heard was a possibility.
It turned out to be well away from the smart fronted main streets of the city centre, off in a maze of backstreets. Obviously an institution built and maintained from the Raj days, it looked like a cross between a prison and a prep school. We had to have an interview with the English Major in charge of the show. We could have a room he said provided we made some attempt to get work and didn't be silly. He enlarged on being silly as taking drugs and told us that shortly before, somebody had gone one step beyond and climbed to the top of the flagpole in the courtyard, the fire brigade had been called and were setting up a ladder when he slid back down. We told the Major we wouldn't take drags.
Having been installed in a small white room with two iron bedsteads with mattresses we discussed money earning tactics. Again Mike proved a man well met. Very educated, Mike, definitely public school material. The grapevine reaches far and wide as I have already pointed out over the hotels business. However, due to my little jaunt through the Salt Desert in Iran I had missed out on Herat, Kabul and the other stopping off places where people are to be met and information picked up. Mike however, had kept an ear to the ground and it would seem the way to ready cash in Bombay was to get on the films as an extra.
The Indian film business is a huge concern catering for the whole of India and surrounding countries where the main languages such as Urdu, Hindi and Bengali are spoken. They export all over the world as Indian immigrants have not just restricted themselves to Kenya and Birmingham, but also make their chapattis in Singapore, Copenhagen and San Francisco. Wherever they are they love their films with all the noisy music and love affairs. In the dusty villages they sit all night under the stars as, on a portable screen the latest extravaganza from the Bombay studios brings, for a couple of hours, visions of untold wealth and leisure, painted women and huge cars. At the end when the projector is switched off and the tannoys go silent there are the bullock carts sillohetted in the starlight, and the deserted village street.
Into the outer fringes of this booming business Mike and I attempted to enter. The first requirement was to smarten up.Therefore that same evening we went out and got ourselves a pair of atrocious haircuts at the first barbers we came across.
Next morning, looking like two convicts serving life sentences in hard labour camps, we presented ourselves outside the hotel down by the Gate of India where the film people picked up their extras. Quite frankly I don't think the haircuts helped in the slightest, as just about everybody present was ushered onto a coach and driven out to the studios. A more motley crew would have been hard to imagine.
Some thirty or forty people, about half of whom were freaks of varying appearance from the American, Don, with his dark swarthy looks, hair greased back and dark shades curving across his eyes, the hit man of a hundred third rate gangster movies, through to Peter the skinny, wild haired English man always puffing on a little pipe.
Anyway, complete with a bunch of half English Indians we trucked out to the studios. We disgorged onto some lawns outside a couple of big hangars and the freaks, who had been on the set for a few days, made themselves right at home and sat round on the grass filling chillums with Bombay Black, those little balls of dope and opium mixed. After a while we were all really stoned and a guy came down and took me and Mike off the the dressing room, oh yeah, wardrobe, so as we could get some clothes. Seems like my clean jeans and T-shirt were'nt going to be good enough. No, not by a long way, they kitted me out in a black dinner suit three sizes too big, shirt and tie and black bedroom slippers, as they had no black shoes. Mike got the same treatment and we came out looking really wierd.
On the set the scene was supposed to be a bohemian cafe on the left bank of the Seine in Paris. The freaks looked the part, except me and Mike being Charlie Chaplin look alikes. At the back were tables and chairs like a cafe and the smokers just sat there smoking. But out front was a dance floor and here the Indian film stars and high grade extras were supposed to be dancing to the Blue Danube. I've never been in a left bank cafe, but I bet they don't dance to the waltz in full evening dress, sparkling diamonds and all. More likely to be freaking out to some howling jazz band with wailing negro sax.
The joints went round the tables and time really dragged. Seemed like a days work meant five minutes on film. After a while one of the directors henchmen came over and got me. They wanted me to dance with the very pretty female star of the film. Quite apart from being totally out of it, I had never danced the waltz in my life. I couldn't dance any kind of dance at all. But it seemed that my appearance fitted the bill, God love us, convicts haircut and bedroom slippers, what kind of movie was this. The girl was great, she said she'd show me how, she was done up to the nines, fantastic hair-do, low cut dress, the dope smokers grinning in the background, "Action" called the director, the chillums disappeared, the spotlights flared, the cameras rolled and I stumbled round the floor with this wisp of air in my arms going 1-2-3,1-2-3 as I stood on her feet.
"Cut". "No, no, no, you cannot dance, isn't it" said the director.
"That sums it up neatly" I replied.
"But we want you in the scene so you will dance with this lady."
The beautiful wisp of air was allocated to another man and I found myself partnering a lovely old lady who they'd let out of the morgue specially for the occasion. So I stood on her feet instead.
At the end of the day they drove us back to town and we got paid off, about two quid each, which wasn't bad for a days smoking. We did that for three days and then that particular scene came to an end and we became redundant.
In Bombay the freaks were staying in a couple of hotels round the corner from the Gate of India. The general vibe down there was that everyone was heading to Goa for the Christmas period. Those with money were taking the boat down, which sounded like a great trip, calling in at obscure little ports down that tropical coastline. For me however, it was a case of getting my thumb back on the road and before I'd spent all my film money, thats what I did.
Saying goodbye to Mike, I caught a train out of the vast suburbs of the city and got on the road south. I think my only map at this time was a map of the world which showed the air routes across India. So I was just going by the roads that people told me was the way to go. I was in this car like thousands of cars in India. They are all the same model, like giant Morris Minors, made by Morris they are and they go to make up the fleets of taxis in the towns and the company cars and they are the rare private cars that one sees on the open roads. So I was in the back of this particular giant Morris Minor when we come to this sign pointing down a small road saying "Goa - Old Road".
"You must go this way, isn't it, Mr Paul" says the business man at the wheel. It looked like it, so I got out and waited at the beginning of the B road.
After a few hours a truck came along and stopped for me. I was put on top and as night fell I went to sleep in my bag, the stars shining down, the truck growling on through the night. Morning light and we were still on the move, through rolling green hills and big timelessly ancient trees standing by the road. They left me around midday and in the complete and utter silence after they had gone off down a side road, there seemed no better thing to do than begin walking.
The road wound through the green hills, palm trees clustered round water holes and streams, the big trees with mighty roots and drooping branches lined the way, one or two sort of bungalows could be seen on the hillsides. I heard a motor approaching behind me and as I walked on I stuck out my thumb. You could have knocked me down with a feather when an open top vintage Rolls Royce drove past with what must have been some kind of Brigadier and his lady wife in it. No sign of stopping for thumbing scum, they dissappeared down the road amongst all that greenery.
I walked for miles in the blistering heat and the only other vehicle to pass me was a red and cream Corporation bus that passed at 300 miles an hour with guys hanging off the back.
Finally, foot weary, sweaty and worn out I reached another crossroads and determined to wait here come hell or high water until I got another lift. Though with two vehicles an afternoon the traffic flow seemed slightly on the slim side and I guessed correctly that I had gone off the main road to Goa. I spent the night under some trees near that crossroads, lying for hours looking up at the stars and listening to noises in the night. Nobody came by and finally I dozed off into peaceful sleep.
Next morning I ordered a truck for breakfast and after a while down the road it came. Another long distance job, they took me right down to Goa. The country got progressively more tropical the farther we went, me on top again, till finally it was all palm trees and dark skinned women wearing different kinds of saris to those up north. The people looked really different, could have been a different country altogether.
"Oh yes, Mr Paul, Mother India has so many aspects, isn't it?" they will tell you in their crazy school book English.
"S'right bub" usually sets them thinking.
"What is that you are saying please?"
"I say, yes you are quite correct."
Beaming faces all round. Fact is there are more than 200 languages in India and the visual aspect is just as variable.
Down through the variable tropics and into the old Portuguese colony of Goa. Crucifixes at crossroads, Catholic churches amongst shady trees, big fat mamas in colonial black skirts and white blouses.'' Hindus around as well, as India re-took the place some years back and I suppose Portuguese influence is on the decline.
I get dropped in a town built in what I suppose is a Portugese style. All covered side-walks and arcades and white washed flat roofed buildings.
"Hey meester, Johnnie!"
"You want see your friends?"
"You go Calangute, plenty friends"
"Thanks, where d'you learn to speak English?"
"In navy Johnnie, me bin everywhere, Calcutta, Japan, States, Australia.
"Great. Well I'll have to get to Calangute then."
"Yeah, you see many friends, smoke hashish."
Must be the doorman on the gates of paradise I thought as I tried to get a lift towards Calangute.
I got there after dark. Just a one street village, no sign of any "friends" though I did see a clean cut looking couple having a meal in one of the two restaurants in the street. I asked directions and set off for the beach. Twenty minutes walk got me there and the only obvious signs of freak habitation was a square concrete building on the sands with people lounging on the veranda and rock 'n roll blaring from inside. I went over. It seemed to be a hotel of some kind. The rock music switched to Donovan and I went in. Bare tiled floor, bright electric bulbs, bar at one end and a scattering of people at tables round the room. I got a lemonade and sat down at an empty table. Nobody seemed inclined to communicate much, I supposed new people must be coming and going all the time and I was of no consequence. Still I was tired, so I went over to a guy with long red hair whom I had heard speaking in a Scots accent and asked him where might be a good place to sleep.
"Well" he waved a hand down to beach, "there's lots of people have rented bungalows down there, you might get in there somewhere, or else people just sleep amongst the dunes and by the sea."
I opted for the latter and went back out under the stars where the breaking waves had precedence over Donovan. Nobody was out there, the beach stretched away into the dusk in both directions, I went along the waters edge in the direction the Scot had waved in and watched the lapping waves breaking in phospherescent bubbles, shining in the dark. After a while I could hear occasional music and voices from behind the dunes and guessed the bungalows must be along behind there. But as I knew nobody who might be there, I decided to leave investigating until the morning and rolled out my bag on the soft golden sand near some high prowed fishing boats and went to sleep.
Next morning I woke to find the sun high in the sky and nearby a group of some fifteen or twenty people lying on the sand and going out into the calm blue water. I got my knife out, hacked the legs of my jeans off at knee height and went for a swim.
Feeling a good bit cooler I came back out and collecting up my gear, sat down by the people. English was the spoken language, in a variety of different accents, from broad American through to Cockney. I felt rather shy, being virtually snow-white compared to these sun tanned people who all seemed completely at ease being naked and passing the chillum. However, I cheered right up when over the sand from the dunes came Don and his girlfriend, and Peter and his shoulder bag of pipes from the film making madness in Bombay. Seems they'd got the boat down and had been there a couple of days, had rented themselves a couple of bungalows and right away I had a home in Peter's place.
A real bachelors pad, Peter's place. It was one of the larger bungalows, must have been built around the turn of the century, right down there on the sand under the coconut palms, with only a dune away from the beach, a well out the back, three main rooms with red tiled floors, a mud floored shack on the side and a thatched roof, big double doors and lots of windows to let the cool breeze through, varnished woodwork throughout for less than a quid a month. The family that owned this wonder lived in a similar but smaller place over on the other side of the well, with one room over there also rented out to a couple of Scots.
I was one of about half a dozen guys staying in that bungalow. Good recipe for some mad days and nights. Peter was the striking personality, skinny as a rake, curly black hair, always loading up pipes sitting on a straw mat talking to people from up and down the beach who dropped by. He was the man who forked out for the 10 rupees rent and everybody went along when he decided to turn the place into a tea-shop. Tea and lemon drinks during the day and a rice and veg meal at night. This was all to be prepared on a couple of paraffin stoves purchased in the village.
Naturally enough the place began to hum. Common concensus put the figure at four hundred people living in shacks and bungalows or just under the palms up and down the beach. Apart from the hotel with the loud gramophone, there wasn't really anywhere to act as a focal point for a meal and a smoke, so word of the tea-shop got around and within a week we were cooking for thirty or forty a night. I got right into this and in the mornings would go with Peter or somebody into the village market place to get lemons and vegetables. The market was a riot of activity in the mornings, the Goan women spreading their fruit and veg on material laid on the ground. Fish was plentiful and we were always getting more paraffin for the growing armada of stoves in the cooking shack. Of course doing thirty meals a night was bringing in some cash, so a trip to the village always meant a stop in one of the tea-shops in the village street, where they also sold highly edible sweet cakes, then loaded with veg, paraffin, candles and tobacco we'd track back to the beach, cutting off the road and walking through the palm groves and across the back yards of the bungalows inhabited by Goans where chickens, pigs and small children reigned supreme and the women would sit in the shade combing each others long black hair.
Before long the sea showed that it had more aspects than the calm one it presented during the first few days. Although the sky remained deep blue and the sun shone brightly, the waves would get to be a good ten feet tall before crashing down amidst torrents of foam. These waves provided the endless entertainment of body surfing. Going out and paddling around until a wave of sufficient size would carry one in at great speed, bundle you up and unless you got out of it, hurl you down on the sand with a bone crunching thump, hundreds of gallons of water coming down on top of you. I used to spend hours narrowly escaping serious injury in this way. Whenever the waves were up like this there were always the same four or five guys down at the water and after a while we were becoming pretty good at it, leaving it till the very last moment before ducking out of the breaking wave. I did hear of people having to go into Pangim hospital with broken noses and collar bones through rnis-timing this.
In front of the tea-shop bungalow were two other smaller ones. One housed Don and his lady and a guy called John who used to say he was a business executive on holiday. I don't know about this,but he had the manner and appearance to fit the claim. And sometimes when I'd go down there for a cup of tea and Don's lady's fresh baked buns, this guy would be filling chillums and talking about his experiences on various select committees and board meetings and how, now that he was into dope, he would be able to lick them all with his astounding insight and logic. John used to worry about me being only eighteen and while I toked on a chillum Don would come back with: "Yeah, but look at the experience he's getting."
Don's lady would offer me another buttered bun and John would rumble on about not being at all sure, before getting back into his boardroom dramas.
I left my chillum from Quetta there one day and when I went back to get it some days later Don said, "Oh was that yours, I called it The Bear and sent it in a parcel to a friend
in New York."
It was a big chillum, it would take three and a half cigarettes of tobacco.
In front of them, and almost in the dunes, was another bungalow lived in by two girls from San Francisco. I used to go there a lot too. They'd nearly always be found on their veranda sewing or reading like a couple of old dears, but they were good for a laugh. I knew I'd seen them before but I couldn't figure it until suddenly it came back, on the autobahn outside Vienna we had met extremely briefly three or four months previously. Just on a slip road by the motorway, I had walked off looking for a grocery shop and when I returned they'd got a lift. Funny to see them on that beach. My English accent would really crack them up, they'd be in stitches over the simplest things and I gave them the still unread Kahil Gibran 'cos they seemed to think it was far out. There were so many unattached guys on the loose, walking round all suntanned and loin cloths, I think maybe their femaleness was a bit intimidated. I was having such a full time of it with the cafe and the surfing and everything that my sexual appetite was barely noticeable and I'd sit for hours on their veranda chatting, drinking tea and smoking, their bare breasts being most natural and unperturbing. Funny how a good suntan seems to make nudity somehow alright and 100% natural.
Towards evening I'd always get back to the teashop and join in the spud peeling or whatever. A more pleasurable way of earning free board and lodging would be hard to imagine. After everyone had eaten and the big pots of tea had been made we'd sit round outside or in the big room in the house. Then the music would begin in earnest, French guys thundering on tablas, the beautiful Indian drums, a guitarist or three, chanters, wailers and howlers, maybe somebody up and stomping in the sand, when the drums quietened to a steady rumble and tap, the flute could be heard and always Peter filling another chillum or lighting one. As time passed and the profits were turned into dope, all the guys who lived in the tea shop would have lumps of dope for the after supper smokings. Six chillums going round thirty people was the normal state of affairs.
By ten or eleven I'd be played out and wander off to the back veranda where I had a quiet corner and the stars peeped in beneath the eaves. The morning sun would be irresistable and before it got hot I'd be up with the breakfast crew. Those, who like me, had risen early or the all nighters still speeding or tripping or just grooving along from the night before. The regular inhabitants, the Goans, took this all in their stride. The men would go out fishing in their long wooden boats, calling and shouting when the time came to haul in the nets. To give them a hand earned a couple of fish. The women regarded the freaks suspiciously sometimes, but even though we held crazy late night music sessions all the time, they seemed to take to us who were the regulars once we had become familiar faces. When I returned the following year the family out the back remembered my name and asked after Peter with genuine interest. They were sad when I said he had returned to England.
Word came through that at Colva Beach, some forty miles down the coast, Eight Finger Eddie had a house and a good fifteen or twenty people were having a peaceful time down there.
So after Christmas had played itself out and things generally got quieter, Peter said he was going over there and I went along with him. I wouldn't go as far as to say he was a father figure to me, but being in his thirties he had been around a bit and I really enjoyed his company finding it very relaxing. Just previous to splitting for Colva he had been on a ten day rice only diet and while I'd sit there banging down the banana chapattis with sugar on, he'd be telling me about the state of his shit on the eighth day, how it was green and he was feeling really good and clean inside.
On the bus over to Colva I started to ask him about L.S.D. It seemed to me it was very different from everything else, to go by what I had heard about it. But although I'd been regularly filling chillums before breakfast, I could formulate no idea as to what this "acid" might be like.
"It's best not to talk about it," he said "when the times right you'll take some and find out. There's a lot of bullshit talked about it" he added.
So we rode on to Colva with Peter sticking to complaining about the old Goan on the other side of him who for some reason could not sit still.
See, the problem here was total lack of education. From five to sixteen years old I had been educated to fit into a system that, at the first opportunity, I had rejected out of hand. For what was happening to me now I had no preparation other than a few adventure novels, so I had to rely entirely on myself and try to pick things up as I went along. No Cromwellian history labouriously poured over for hours in musty classrooms would help anything like a few words from an older freak in the back of a bouncing bus. You know, why didn't the careers man tell me of the opportunity. . . . . .
"Now Fraser, if you want to drop out you can stay on this state aided commune in Scotland where you will learn to live outdoors and hitch-hike and foreign languages and useful shit like that." . . . .
Instead of which it's either industry or the Army - more or less. Anyway, young freaks have to lean on the older ones, sometimes. We got to Colva and Eddies house was right where the road met the beach. It was a much smaller place than Calangute with only a couple of houses down at the beach. I met Goerge there who had also been round the tea shop a lot. He said the crack was to come to the communal supper and Eddie would probably ask me if I wanted to stay. Which is exactly what happened. He had a very striking presence, Eddie. An American man in his forties, lean and sun-tanned, he had been some years in the East. In the summer he went north to Katmandu and in winter came to
Goa. In both places he rented large houses which were open for people to stay at his discretion and there was always a supper served for everyone.
He had only eight fingers which the Hindus regarded as the sign of a holy man.
"Hallo, what's your name?" he said after supper.
"You gonna stay a few days Paul?"
"Yeah, I'd like to"
A gentle smile and he walked out onto the veranda.
I stayed, but after a couple of days George was going back to Calangute and I was missing the excitement of the noisier place and I went with him.
We took our time, walking on the beaches and coast roads, then getting tired, hitched on to Pangim and from there took one of the communal taxis to Calangute.
Back at the bungalow, the tea-shop was still in operation and I slipped back in. The two Scots from over the way had split, one of them leaving a picture of a foot with flies on it that I had admired, for me. That made way for two Finnish girls to move in. They were very soft and gentle and began to take a hand in cooking and things in the big bungalow. One of them began to spend a lot of time with Peter and would confide in me her worries about how much opium he had been eating. He certainly was thinner than ever and one evening during the after supper smoke, began howling "Everyone must get stoned" in a most uncontrolled manner, but he seemed okay and bsuiness boomed as more people seemed to be arriving all the time. New faces every day.
So it went on, long days and longer nights until by March I began getting itchy feet again and around the same time word came from Colva that Eddie was getting ready for his spring migration north. During the midday the sand was too hot for bare feet and we reckoned another month and the temperatures would be getting unbearable. George gave me a hard backed book stuffed with Kashmir dope to post to an address in Rio de Janiero in three months time and took his leave. Don and the business exec, split and then one morning I was off too.
This time I took the main road back to Bombay and did it in two days instead of four or five. Up in Bombay I met Mike who had just hitched Bombay - Madras - Calcutta - Bombay non-stop and was looking like a shadow. I did have a few rupees but to stay in the freak hotel was beyond my means and I split for territories new and the road right up the centre of India to Benares. To get out of Bombay I got a lift in a VW bus with a couple of guys going back to England. They dropped me in the middle of the night at the turn off for the Ajanta Caves. I figured I might as well take in a little culture as I was so nearby. I reached the Caves the next day in the morning and spent all day wandering around dipping into Georges Kashmiri for a smoke. But I'm going to have to say that it all left me with the same feeling as the interior of the Taj. Nothing at all really, all something of the past and somehow irrelevent, all these caves in a cliff face, with iron-railed walkways between them and in the caves phenomenal statues and frescoes of the Hindu gods and Bhudda. I remember actually, one did set me back on my heels. I'd been trailing behind this party of Indian tourists and got farther and farther behind and found myself eventually entering this cave alone. At first it was pitch black inside but then the light filtering from the entrance and there was this massive Shiva or Bhudda, one of them, lying on his side along the back wall. Must have been about thirty foot long and the huge eyes were looking right at me, and me muttering "Jesus" which was right out of place. I got off on that one alright, but generally the whole place was touristized and I left without a feeling of being monumentally moved, more than likely because I'd gone there expecting to be moved. Stupid 'in I?
Well to get on the way, I had to get to this town right in the very centre of India. Kanpur I think. I forget how it happened, I was really into the Kashmiri by now, but I ended up on this crawling, slow train to Kanpur, without a ticket.
On this twenty mile an hour, half hour stops in the middle of nowhere special, the compartments were only joined three at a time, some sections for men and some for women. Ticket inspectors were non-existent and people packed in like sardines, coming in through the windows at the stations.
At Kanpur the train terminated and the human flood carried me towards the exit gates. Two ticket collectors working nineteen to the dozen, but just before we got there, a holy man stepped in front of me and passed through unquestioned and ticketless. I was about half an inch behind him and looking steadfastly at the back of his head, straight through, no bother.
From Kanpur the road lay due north to Benares. Off I went on another three days hitching to get there.
2: the light rain had been falling
the light rain had been falling all day and now the road in front of the entrance to the spur bar was a sea of mud. it was here that more and more of the regulars were finding themselves forced to park their pick-ups. one thing a cowboy hates is wet boots,because they don't dry overnite. in the morning they are cold and clammy. all of this was because someone had written a best selling book about montana, which mentioned the spur as one of last authenic cowboy bars in the west.
now the parking was full of well waxed bmws, mercedes sls and volvo convertibles. their owner's were like some invasive species, that fell to earth, who owned 3 or 4 homes and liked to dress in expensive cowboy clothing to mingle with the locals. it was said, that one of the alligator belt with silver belt buckle was worth more,that they made in 4 months.
things were changing at the spur, the boone and crockett stuff deer head had lost in reverend place on the wall to a plasma tv with the sport channel on. absolute vodka was on the shelves and being served. it was getting harder and harder to just get a bottle of beer.
one nite, things came to a head. mabel, the owner, while helping out the waitresses ,was told by the regular group of this outsiders, who had the irritating habit of table knocking with their college rings , when they wanted another round of drinks. she asked who he was ? he told her, he was a new york lawyer and the biggest landowner in the county and if she didn't hop to with the drink order. he would have her shut down. later after closing, she made a decision.
the next day, she hung a "closed for renovation" sign on the door and called all the regulars for a meeting, many grievances were aired from wet boots to having to put up with arrogant ass-holes. someone mentioned, that the reasons for the outsiders coming here was it was an opportunity for them to wear their cowboy clothing and to rub elbow with regular folks. we were the reason for them being here. maybe, if we changed our cloths and had a dress code, they would disappear. we could go on ebay and get outfitted fairly cheaply. so a dress code was voted in and ebay search.
so when the spur reopened, a sign was posted "dress code enforced" "no jeans or cowboy boots" some of the turned away away people looked in the window, the deer head was back in it's and the plasma tv gone. there seemed to be a preppy looking crowd in blue buttoned down shirts drinking from the bottle. not the kinda of place, that a cowboy outfit would fit.
they fired up their cars and went in search for another watering hole. later one was found out by the freeway called the wagon wheel. which was good for them,because the parking lot was paved and it was frequented by truckers. who dressed just like cowboys, except for the chrome chain on their wallet. these nomads of the road, didn't mind them buying them drinks or their mindless chatter, because they knew that tomorrow or the next day they would be gone on the road.
back at the spur, the vodka bottles were gathering dust and there was parking in the lot. the regulars voted to keep the dress code. they liked the softness of oxford cloth and it breathed. the cole haan loafers were nice on their feet and fun to dance in, now that women were starting to show up.
they owned their good fortune to a change of clothes. it was the blue buttoned down shirt that saved the spur.
3: TWO MAGIC RUPEES AND A SPACE CHILLUM
(The following two stories are written by Neil Rock).
TWO MAGIC RUPEES
Strolling around Connaught Circus, New Delhi, following siesta and shower from the heat of the day. Ladies and little children under the arcades selling necklaces of Jasmine and Night Queen blossoms, roasted cashew nuts, pistachios, strong scent of incense. All together wonderful; breathe in, ahhhh, lovely.
There are thousands of walking, talking, hurrying and sleeping on sidewalk people, buzzing rickshaw scooters, truck and car horns blaring. This is a normal evening in New Delhi’s Connaught Circus.
My appetite is good and I am looking forward to curries and purees, gulab jaman, a bidi, enjoying a pleasant after dinner cool night stroll.
A middle aged smiling gentleman in a bedraggled double breasted jacket and pajama pants steps in my path and says ---
“ Excuse me sir, I am a man of God, but not being him and being just like anybody else I have to eat. For four rupees I will tell your name, your date of birth, your mothers first name and the first name of your girlfriend.”
So, I reply, “Just like you I am a man of God and just like you I am a man of few means. I have four rupees for my dinner, but I will share it with you if you think you can get my dossier from God for two rupees, I would like to hear what you say, then, we can both eat dinner.”
My money is safe. I know that at least I have him on the girlfriend bit because I don’t have one.
The magic man steps back, sizes me up and then accurately gives me my name, my date of birth, my mothers Christian name.
Just for good measure and to let me know that he really knows his way through the pearly gates he gives me the name of a young lady who I had met by accident the previous Friday afternoon in London, and who, prior to our most enjoyable weekend together in her apartment I have not seen in about three years.
I cannot speak, so I gawp, shake my head to clear it - and hand over two rupees.
A burst of laughter comes from knee high nearby. Another man, chuckling, nodding his head at me and obviously my memory readers’ guru, comes out from where he is squatting under a sidewalk table, smilingly touches my elbow and both men disappear into the crowd.
Two rupees well spent, another piece of goody I tuck into my amazement bag.
A SPACE CHILLUM
One winter day, walking in Haridwar, Northern India, along the bank of the River Ganges.
I am watching pilgrims lowering themselves into the rushing torrent while holding onto stout chains bolted into the steps of the bathing Ghat in order to safely submerge their heads while making Puja. Ganges Carp, huge, fat, glowing golden fish bigger than you or me are stretched out and basking amongst the people on the steps of the Ghat, the tops of their heads and back of their bodies out of the water while people feed them bright colored flower petals. Crowds of people lining the riverbank are sitting on cloths,, on charpoys or the ground, praying, eating, chatting together. All these people look different of course, but also they all look the same. Peace is with us.
My thoughts turn to Astrology, for why I have no idea, not at all my subject.
I find myself thinking that as we have twelve astrological sectors and signs of the cosmic orange delivering to each of us some recognizably distinct characteristics, is it possible that each season as a functioning period in the essence of the All is in any way delivering to us quarterly traits as well as those of the monthly planetary and stellar influences? Of course, this would mean us being possibly governable by the seasons also- according to our own birth dates - and would add to the forces influencing our behavior.
As I am mulling this over a hand is raised in the air by a saffron robed Saddhu beckoning to me from where he is seated on a charpoy in the crowd and amongst his friends, some fifty or sixty metres in front and over to my left.
I nod my recognition of his signal and thread my way through the throng to join him. When I arrive at his charpoy he, myself and three other people round the bed all nod to each other.
He has a goolie and a chillum. Do I have a cigarette?
When I hand him a Charminar he breaks it open, warms the goolie by rolling and squeezing it between his palms and mixes in the tobacco.
Working the mix into the chillum he gestures for a light. I pass him a lighted match.
We all smoke and reflect on good fortune while watching the people, the fish, the rushing river. We smoke some more until the chillum is empty and then sit comfortably taking in the air and the river scene for another fifteen minutes or so.
Apart from the Saddhu having asked for a cigarette none of us has spoken.
I stand to leave, make hands together and bow my thanks for the smoke.
The Saddhu nods back and says---
“There are only twelve distinct astrological changes, each according to the powers in each month.
You are on your last change now, go with God.”
So, I am feeling very comfortable with the day and my inner debate on cosmic influence is solved for me in two sentences from a stranger.
The point of these two stories is that truth is often told in humble places.
I will bet a hundred bucks you couldn’t get stuff this good, this accurate, for any amount of money from famously fancied gurus, or anybody even with a crystal ball and a ouija board.
4: Monk for a season and freak for a while
Extract from Toff Freeland’s story, a.k.a. Chidi (à la Chidananda Tirtha).
Swami Pranav Tirtha, an orthodox sannyasin (monk) in Shankara’s dashnami tradition (more about that later), was a well-educated and erudite man who had worked as a journalist when young, as private secretary to Jawaharlal Nehru in Rangoon and as Minister of Information to the Gaekwad of Baroda, but far more than that, he was a happy man. When I first met him, he was 71 years old, I buried him shortly after his 73rd birthday. His first cancer of the throat led to a tracheotomy and he died of the third carcinoma. So, his health was a permanent handicap in the time that I knew him, but he never complained, he would simply ask me to massage him or lay on hands.
When he accepted to reveal to me the science of life, I decided that it would be polite to return to the UK and inform my family of this decision, say goodbye before returning to become a monk, as that was the purpose of the exercise.
Monasticism is frequently misunderstood, some say it is escapism, an easy way out. They are, of course, right, from their point of view. As is the case so often, it depends on what you want from life. I wanted to adopt the same attitude that my guru displayed, to learn how to be and develop harmony. Assuming that desire produces a result, which most people do, irrespective of philosophy or religion, otherwise what is the point of wanting if it does not result in the object desired, the next logical step is one of trying to understand desire. When the subconscious and conscious minds set about wanting something, as a result of concerted conviction, the outcome is inevitable, of very long duration in potential form and is powerful enough to replace all other desires currently on the mind’s horizon. It would be difficult to work on such ideas in the workaday world, and one would soon discard them as not being conducive to achieving one’s desires – them again!
What other monks do or did is their problem. It is one’s karma, as the Indians put it, one has to deal with it individually because it is all of one’s own fabrication. I can think of easier ways out of this situation where one assumes full responsibility for one’s desires and actions, you could, for example, ask for instant forgiveness, but that does seem to be a remote likelihood, requiring more gullibility than I am able to conjure up after a little observation of nature during the course of my short life.
It probably takes a rather special form of thinking – perhaps just thinking – to understand what someone else is doing. We are so convinced of the reality of the material world, we have invested our belief, our hope, our trust to such an extent that we are quite incapable of knowing that the reality of our projection lies elsewhere than in the immediacy of the present. This conviction stops us from perceiving even the notion that we do not actually share this same time-space, although it is very comforting to do so, and if we all behave the same way perhaps it will happen. Materialism in all its splendour and total imbecility!
Talk of pork chops in the synagogue. Back home a few days before Christmas, not eating meat, not smoking, not drinking and not interested in sex brought me into direct conflict with everything British, and probably what any other, society stands for. It is not easy to convince a parent that devoting one’s life to meditation and contemplation is the way to go. I must give Ivan (my mother’s second husband) his due, he suggested that I was in need of psychological help, which I did not agree with but accepted if he paid the bill.
It was a rich experience meeting for six hours, two sessions, with a celebrated shrink working in London and New York. To my surprise he spoke for at least four of those hours, but I do not know what the form is in such situations, however at the end when saying goodbye. I asked him what he thought, he replied that I seemed to be a perfectly normal young man, so I asked him to report back to Ivan along those lines. Several years later, my mother told me that the telephone had rung one day after my return to Africa and she and Ivan had picked up the two telephone extensions at the same time, she listened to hear the shrink giving his professional opinion, when Ivan asked what did he think of the whole plan, the reply was “I would rather like to go with him”. She did not tell me if he ever got paid!
Back to Zambia only to find Suresh (Solanki, my benefactor) and Bapuji (Swami Pranav Tirtha) in Kenya, so I waited in Lusaka, trying the patience of an Indian couple who had been asked to take care of me. It was a rude introduction to living off other’s hospitality but taught me to be especially attentive and discreet. There was nothing I could “do” to repay the favour being rendered, so put it down on the slate, the time will come to return the service.
Basically, the exercise I was embarking on involved unlearning habits and replacing them with ones better suited. You do this by contemplation, or concentrating on what is what and how to apply it if you find it right for you. Contemplation must not be confused with meditation, a common error. Contemplation or introspection involves subject and object, I in relation to something else, the benefits in relation to the disadvantages, thinking through to find a conclusion. Meditation is witnessing observation, initially commencing with I and my thoughts, and gradually refining the process to total immersion with witness-consciousness in absolute unity of the meditator’s conscious and subconscious. There are so many baseless truisms and platitudes bandied about that through sheer force of familiarity we accept them as being the truth, my new job was sifting through all the accumulated “wealth” and replacing it, because nature doesn’t like vacuums.
If I may, a brief word about meditation because in the way of life I learned and still try to maintain, it is a state of mind that one has every interest in using. The word, meditation, is of vague origin but as a Canadian Theravadin Buddhist monk once told me, for the sake of practicality, it is similar to the word medication. A way to regain the inner peace characteristic of our essential self that, one way or another, we have managed to obscure. The simple physical position of being cross-legged, not essential but a good place to keep your legs, with your hands folded in your lap, is of great significance, although there is no mention made of this in any texts on the subject, as it allows the body to recharge its magnetic field. As an impassive witness, watch the thoughts that arise in the mind, look at them as they tumble across the screen of your mind’s eye.
Just like the movies, and it’s for free! Do not resist or fight them, just observe, let them exist, after all they have their own reality and the right to exist too and, then, when you realise that they are part of your mental make-up and nothing extraneous, rather than following after them, let them go on their way, because if you do follow along you get attached to them, carried away and removed from your inherent peace of mind.
As I said, contemplation is a different game, you focus on the individual thought, isolate it and define it, allow it the chance to “be”, which is not what one generally has the time or inclination to do. Afford a close look at those thoughts which cause suffering in ourselves and subsequently to others. When observing these thoughts (e.g. he dared take my parking space!), it would be good to learn how to investigate their nature and characteristics as precisely as possible. This is insight or right knowledge training (vipashyana in Sanskrit, vippasana in Pali) where the emphasis is on discerning investigation and analysis (did I really “own” that parking space?) while maintaining one-pointedness without distraction. As you practice and cast the net wider you observe that your obsessions only exist within yourself, in your own mind, generally due to a desire (I was set on parking there): emotions such as anger, fear, doubt, stress, greed, jealousy, etc. all causing mental suffering that can be cured by meditation. Meditation paves the way for a clearer understanding of these things, letting us look calmly at the cause of our sadness, depression, despair or whatever, where they come from and why they exist. So, once you see the cause and find the attachment you might have for it, you can do away with it or at least whittle away at it. Turn your attention inside and look at the cause, develop the understanding that it is a creation of your own ego and once the cause revealed, it will probably cease to exist. It is the nature of the mind to flow in a continuing succession of ideation. Just focus on the reality of the individual thought without any attachment to egoistic notions of “mine-ness”, “good-ness”, “bad-ness”, have no judgement. Do not try to repress the thought and so hurt yourself, concentrate on the ultimate reality of its existence and your mind will not chase after it, and then you can let it go or rather, it will go of its own accord and you will find yourself in a very pleasant state. The discursive thought processes simply arise and dissolve in the mind. Gradually, in the midst of all the chatter, you may intuit a pervasive presence, felt and interpreted when back in the “normal” world as a void or absence, this may be fleeting but can be prolonged. That is consciousness.
As the Dalai Lama says "Whether we talk of the transformation of consciousness or of the introspective empirical analysis of what occurs in the mind, the observer needs a range of skills, carefully honed through repetition and training, and applied in a rigorous and disciplined manner. All these practices assume a certain ability to direct one's mind to a chosen object and to hold the attention there for a period, however brief." I would contend that consciousness does not transform, it cannot, otherwise you would need another consciousness to recognise that the first had transformed into something else, regressus ad infinitum, it is simply your impression of it having done so, but otherwise, well said!
As a child I had a recurring dream, rather nightmare. To start with there is nothing but an infinite field of white, pure uninterrupted, velvety light and suddenly, black spots appear and spread, invasive and consuming. I used it in reverse. My mind cluttered with thought, each requiring action and jostling for attention, the black invaders. They are entitled to their existence – but elsewhere, not on my patch! Move on, nothing to see, like a policeman at a traffic accident. The whiteness of consciousness gains ground and sometimes wins.
Something else I learned at this stage also became a permanent fixture for many years in my life, a pyramid, a scale copy of Kheops’ pyramid made of light cardboard that I could fold up and slip into my bag. Hindu monks generally grow their hair or cut it off, the idea being to scare the feminine species away – well in those days! I preferred to shave, but shaving your whole head is easier said than done. I used a cut-throat razor that I kept under the pyramid, which maintained its edge and still believe it was the best investment ever (Christine – my first wife - and my two eldest kindly gave me a present of a beautifully made wooden pyramid for my 45th birthday). I recently learned that a pyramid not anchored into the ground is more of a danger than a benefit, one of the specific frequencies generated – which is probably responsible for the realignment of the metal molecules – accumulates and becomes volatile, whereas if set into the ground, assimilation of the frequency is complete.
Perhaps the hardest thing to learn is the need for no desire. Innocence or simplicity and sameness are the ideals, if you intend (read, want) to maintain equanimity, even wanting happiness is an obstacle, because you are happiness. I was taught from an early age about boredom and how to fight it with action and activity. I now learnt how to cooperate with Nature and listen to the inner voice of the subconscious or conscience. In other words, to find harmony in whatever is. It is an attitude which can be worked out quite conclusively in logical discussion with oneself. Some would say that such an approach is fatalistic. Not so, it is far from passive because you have to bring to bear all one’s faculties to detect the workings of the ego which over time has acquired the belief that it is separate and in control of its little domain. It is a hard fight, continues to this day and will probably carry on so long as the body holds! There is no point asking, as our western education would encourage us to do, why, because that would also be a circumspect view of the ego and probably reinforce the surrounding screen. There is no one answer, it is an intuitive process, unique to the individual. What I really am is no different from the Cause, which can only be one, so the dualities of cause and effect are due to erroneous understanding and conviction. Intellectually I grasped this immediately, it is the practice that is proving a little tough! Listen and have faith!
It was a period of frequent near-depression and elation, experimenting and meditation. People tell us that self-realization is what life is all about, I would agree with that but they do not tell you about the intense and constant effort. The rewards of meditation are phenomenal, the moments of unity – when there is only Consciousness – far outweigh the doubt. My monastic name, Chidananda, means the joy of consciousness, and it is definitely what I revelled in! I am sure that without the guidance of Bapuji it would have been a long, hard struggle. As it was, it was a long, hard struggle, but accomplished in gentleness and calm. He was an excellent psychologist, suggesting attitudes, alternative ways of approaching issues, reinforced with literary reference taken from the Upanisads, Gita and elsewhere. A constant process of hearing/reading, contemplation and reinforcement. All in the most easy manner, I would ask if he felt well enough to talk and if so, he would answer my questions, often showing me that the question was not quite precise or broad enough in scope and carefully prepare the mind-ground, so that I could understand, explaining when necessary but more often guiding so that I did the enquiring work which he would then check to ensure my comprehension.
Eighteen months of listening, examination, verification, clarification, concentration, contemplation, reading, consolidation and gradual conviction. He led me with immense patience, observation and firmness. Someone who suffers more or less constant pain is not in the same world as those of us lucky enough not to be, and they seem to have a capacity to feel or perceive more. He showed me so much compassion and affection, and was on the constant lookout for my spiritual and material well-being. There were often times when conversation was not necessary, a look, a touch, a smile, we were very much on the same wavelength.
Especially in India, people would invite me to their house to feed me, often a great experience because I had learnt a little about cooking Indian food and could therefore make wise comments on the merits of components and combinations; but mainly because in Gujerat, where I spent much time, the food is plentiful, varied and very well prepared! Being sensitive people, they would ask me first if I ate my food spicy, not recommended in most yogic practices, to which I would reply that I preferred to eat with little chilli pepper. Sitting one day on the floor with the men folk of my host’s family – the girls would always eat separately and after the men – my dish of dal (lentils) was placed before me with rice, veggies and condiments, the colour of the dal was orangey-yellow. It was only when I had helped myself to some rice and was picking up the dal in my cupped fingers, that I knew something had to be done. My cuticles were burning and I also knew that there would be an explosion if I put it into my mouth! I asked for some milk, which was placed before me, poured it into the dal, still it was burning, so asked for a little sugar, again, it was placed before me. It was edible but horribly hot. The colour of the dal eaten by the men was red, and they were indeed, large, robust creatures. I wonder if one can ever get used to such internal heat.
The time came for my novitiate to end. On Sunday, May 20th 1973 or the third day of the month of Vaishakh 2029 of the Ashokan calendar, I was given a new name, Chidananda Tirtha, cut my sacred thread around my shoulder as well as the topknot on my head and donned the ochre-coloured cloth. A few weeks later I took off to India, by myself with ticket paid for by Suresh. My intention was to find a Sanskrit teacher and the rest would hopefully fit into place. Bapuji had given me a few addresses and written a few letters to tell monk friends that his disciple risked showing at their front doors, and please not to throw him out!
My first few days in Bombay were a rude but probably salutary awakening. You are just another stray monk, mouth to feed and asking for a place to sleep. In the Hindu tradition, a monk can ask a temple or ashrama (monastery) for, and will be given, lodging for three days, food depends on how wealthy the establishment is, sometimes you fend for yourself. I don’t know if this 3-day “rule” was left over from the British era, I suspect not, but we always say the “guests are like fish, after three days, they stink!” My first night was spent in a dark, dank hole in the wall beside the main gutter of the ashram, I took off to a temple just down the street from the very luxurious house I had stayed in the year before with Bapuji when we had been guests of the brother of Vijay Thackersey, one of India’s celebrated cricketers, a scion of the wealthy Bombay textile family. A simple abode, clean, noisy but devoid of rats! They let me stay for several weeks. From there I scouted around – to no avail, for a suitable school, visiting the Chinmayananda centre, he had been the disciple of Shivananda, a friend of Bapuji’s in Rshikesh. This was the epoch when westerners were discovering Indian philosophy and Indians were responding in their inimitable fashion. Setting up schools with all kinds of programmes but not yet charging excessive amounts of money or behaving badly, Rajneesh (later Osho) was setting up shop in Poona, the eternally sixteen year old Balyogeshwar was soon off to the US to spread the word. I lasted five days with Chinmayananda.
The next option for Sanskrit-learning was to the north, Rshikesh and Hardwar, where the Ganges spills into the immense plainland on its journey out of the mountains towards the eastern seaboard of the Indian sub-continent. So, off I headed, with a few stops in between to see what life had to offer.
My guru’s guru, Dadaji, - grandfather, had been a hatha yogi most of his life, but had come around to the intellectual approach of jnana-yoga and had been ordained by Swami Rama Tirtha. The latter was an extraordinary mathematician, who became a most renowned monk in India for a short period because he died at 32. Dadaji had an ashram on the banks of the Narmada river near Bharuch. I jumped on a train in Bombay and went to pay my respects. We got on famously and I stayed a few days, he encouraged me to stay and even found me a retired teacher who was delighted to take charge of a keen young student. But I had already made plans for the north and we agreed that if they did not work out, I would return.
Back on the train with a stop at Mount Abu in Rajasthan, a volcanic formation rising from the surrounding desert, an oasis of rare beauty, a major Jain temple site, a palace of the Maharani of Jaipur and my guru’s eleven-roomed ashrama. All the rooms were rented out and there was considerable hostility when I fronted up to see if there was anything to be done. So, I enjoyed the sunset from on top of the hill with the vast stretch of desert at my feet and the following day, kept on trucking!
So on up to Hardwar, where I drew a blank, as was the case in Rshikesh. What I found as regards Sanskrit-learning possibilities were not suited to my required way of learning. I did not need to become a scholar, all I needed was to learn how to read. In Hardwar it was, however, the opportunity for me to meet the abbot and good friend of Bapuji, who would later be my host for a year or so, and to discover the majesty of the Ganges. The water was so clear you could see fish at a depth of several metres, and they were big. I had been a vegetarian for several years now and my body had changed its texture and odour, but it could not get over the extreme cold of the water’s temperature. I think that since having frostbite on Dartmoor a few years before, I never could stand the cold. My first visit there must have been in December and I would bathe – exaggeration – I would jump in the water and of its own volition, the body would jump back straight out. It was cold! The ashram of the abbot was huge, with a stretch of the Ganges on the property. Looking up to the hills, you could see the eternal snows, so it was perhaps surprising not to find ice cubes. Come April or May the water was bearable, but more of that later.
The next stop was Benares, where I had an introduction to a delightful Bengali monk who kindly put me up in his ashram and showed me around the town. The Kashi Hindu Vishvavidyalaya, the main Sanskrit establishment only taught in Sanskrit, so that was a non-starter and the teachers were very orthodox, you learnt Panini’s Sanskrit with the memorisation of the 10,000 verses or nothing at all! Not a very flexible bunch, as I was learning slowly. The town is the epitome of India, smells, noises, sights, tumbling through a kaleidoscope of street scenes. The funeral and wedding processions, the elephants, camels, naked fakirs, garish fabrics in the tailors’ stores, all set in a tasteful style of architecture. Splendid temples that you will only discover if you follow the worshippers hurrying along with their offerings, magnificent steps reaching down to the broad, lazy river which is (or was) only built-up on the one bank.
Benares or Kashi is the town where all devout Hindus would like to die, because you are sure of a much better round next time if you are burnt there and the ashes go in to the Ganges. If you are sufficiently wealthy and can afford enough wood – as it is used up at a clipping rate and for years now it comes from many miles away – the body gets thoroughly burnt, but many people cannot afford it and the result is what you can expect, as happened to me on several occasions when I lived in Asi Ghat, the last station downstream in the town, when you are bumped by a half-burnt corpse when taking your morning bathe. I was to learn that the Ganges passes through extensive deposits of uranium in the upper reaches of its passage through the Himalayas, making it free of bugs of all kinds, for many miles. Perhaps it was my conviction that this was the case, but in any case I never caught hepatitis or any other nasty.
Some years later again at Assi Ghat, but this time staying with a delightful Indian from Hyderabad, Bhaskar, who lived just next door to Nik Douglas of Tantric Hinduism fame. Bhaskar had come up with the superb idea of a silk weaving project and had decided on the Persian Book of Kings as the inspirational source, when I met him he had a picture of two fighting camels, very much a prototype but with an incredible wealth of colour, blues, golds, browns and red. As costs were running over dramatically he was about to give the project up because it had taken six months for four weavers to produce a magnificent weaving which still had imperfections. He sold it to me for two thousand dollars in order to pay the weavers. Some months later, I gave it to my brother as a belated wedding present, I think it was one of the finest pieces of art I had ever encountered and enjoyed for a while.
Anyone who has not travelled by train in India needs the Freeland Indian Train Manual – Ten Commandments. To avoid all disappointment in not finding it at your favourite bookstall, here in its entirety is the content of this essential travel aid:
1/ To avoid not finding somewhere to sit, do not stand on the same platform as everyone else. When you know at which platform the train will stop, move over to the platform opposite. When the train pulls in, run across the tracks, having first made sure there is not another train passing, and jump in, either through the doors or, even better, throw your bag up into the luggage rack and climb in through the window up on to the luggage rack and lie down. If it is a long journey you are about to start, the luggage rack is the most comfortable as you will be able to lie down extended. This is the best way to obtain a comfortable place. If someone has already taken the luggage racks, repeat the above process and throw your bag on the seat and then climb in. Better to be seated than standing. If you do have to stand, know that physical proximity is not a problem. There might be a problem if you are tall because you are to be leaned against as a prop.
2/ Do not let appearances fool you, the floor looks clean now, wait a while. Never lie down on the floor under the seats, especially on the floor near the latrines, even though that may appear to be the ideal bed-space. I did it once and for a few hours the following day, no one came near me, I had a clearance of several feet around me, I was left in relative peace but the stench was quite overpowering! The plumbing on trains requires some revision and the jury is still out.
3/ If you are an affluent soul and are travelling in a first class compartment, not something I ever did as a monk, but did subsequently and found this to be very sound advice. Never let anyone into your compartment, even if the voice on the other side of the door says that it is the station master, do not believe them unless you can see the person in their uniform through the window, and even then, beware, he may have his family with him! If you do open the door, you will lose the entire benefit of travelling first class. For the Indian, hawking, eructation, flatulence, nose-picking, ear-cleaning, eating with the mouth open and asking the same four questions1 are all standard behaviour. Of course, should you find this harmonious, ignore my advice.
4/ Do not travel on the roof or hanging on to the windows from the outside. There are many low bridges and an untimely stretch standing up will delay your trip. There are also many wires, some of which carry high voltage.
5/ Never eat sweetmeats bought on the platform or anything fresh that has been exposed to sunlight. You are guaranteed to eat and probably acquire more than you paid for.
6/ If you are a monk, you are entitled to keep silence and people will respect that. It is definitely an advantage to be considered and not just on the railways. Touch an Indian and it bursts into noise. They are difficult to stop talking because they are genuinely interested and want to discover all they can and discretion is not a strongly held social value.
7/ Keeping your head covered when travelling by any means, except plane, would be sensible. Bed bugs, lice and fleas abound and they like the hair of the head.
8/ Do not drink the water from the lavatory basin, you do not know who has been on the roof.
9/ Know how to squat if you need to use the latrine. Do not leave valuables in the pockets of your trousers, they can slip out and away.
10/ If the train does travel fast, do not stick your head out of the window, betel juice does not travel far.
Enough nonsense, although I would seriously recommend most of the above.
Back on the road again and a return to Bharuch in Gujerat to see what could be done there. Unfortunately, Dadaji had died between times and I arrived in time for his funeral, and to meet a number of Bapuji’s family, especially two university professors from Baroda, who were most interesting and communicative. In retrospect, I think it was the welcome and encouragement given by the family members and other well-wishers to my being there and possibly staying to study that killed the chicken in the egg, so to speak.
Dadaji had introduced me to an obese sannyasin (monk) who was going to take over the ashrama and its management on his demise, which he knew was imminent. This gent had been a homeopathic doctor and he spoke of setting up a dispensary, but my gut feeling was that he was only too happy to have laid his hands on a very good deal, substantial library, many buildings, a temple and a large tin trunk full of cash. I had seen this trunk - and it was full - on my first visit, Dadaji had given me five one-hundred rupee notes before leaving for Hardwar, as well as a very valuable blanket shawl made of the hair from a Kashmiri goat (pashmina), incredibly light in weight but incredibly warm. I had really appreciated it in the Himalayas when the temperature often dropped below zero, no other cover was needed to stay warm at night.
Unaware of the approaching storm, I threw myself into my studies and was very content to have at last found a stable routine again to apply a more structured form to my daily life. For several years I had practised hatha yoga which is the natural accompaniment for what I was doing, after all, you do yoga so as to get your body in such form that it does not cause distraction when you meditate. I had learnt from many people, especially the kanphatas (split ears) in Hardwar, with whom I practised and was quite proficient. The breathing exercises I am sure are largely responsible for my good health and I had been practising breath-control since the age of eleven. Experimentation with breathing can lead to all sorts of interesting experiences, whether it is the cause or corollary, I don’t know, but levitation, cessation of mentation were some of the manifestations.
Making myself useful in the library by cataloguing all the books, of which there were several thousand, working a little in the garden. I spent most of the time by myself, the other monk rarely appeared. The day he did was my downfall. Some three months had passed and he suddenly accused me of stealing the Kashmiri shawl. Of course I could prove nothing and in order to put an end to the intense animosity, I gave it to him. Not satisfied with this, he then accused me of stealing books from the library and trying to usurp him. That is when the penny dropped and I cleared out three miles down the road to a small temple where the priest, whom I sometimes chatted with, kindly gave me a roof for a while. I should have done so three months earlier, but one lives and learns.
The two weeks spent in the temple down the road was a big step back in time. The villagers were intrigued to have a paleface monk in their midst and they would crowd round to watch me eat, meditate, doing my ablutions. Never a dull moment! I would officiate – read, sit and watch – at the temple rituals, much to the priest’s delight, so everyone was happy.
This was not a permanent solution and something called me back to Bombay, where I was just in time to meet Bapuji and Suresh coming in from Africa.
Bapuji needed treatment for his second cancer and it was to be radiation and chemo-therapy. We put up in the flat of a budding Gujerati author not far from Churchgate. A tight squeeze but most of the time was spent in hospitals and waiting rooms. When he was admitted to hospital for treatment I accompanied him to ensure his every need and run any errands or massage his aches and pains. There were quite a few visitors and one frequent one, a spinster or widow – I did not enquire too much – but it became quite clear that three was a crowd, when they would disappear into the bathroom! I would take off in complete mental disarray at how this could possibly be “normal” monkish comportment. He never spoke of it and I was too shy to broach the subject. I judged him, and not very favourably. Whatever! Sod it!
His reaction to treatment was extreme, terrible burning and pain. Once back in the author’s flat, I helped him attempt suicide by preparing capsules with codeine, however he omitted to eat before swallowing them and of course his stomach rejected them. You can imagine my surprise when he woke me up in the middle of the night, I even asked “What are you doing here?” before forcing him to drink salt water and getting him off to hospital for a stomach pump. The treatment was curtailed and he needed a good rest to try and regain some strength.
Suresh arranged a car and driver and off we went up through Gujerat, staying in some splendid princely palaces along the way, to Palitana. The home town of another guru-brother, Himatlal Trivedi, a very accomplished ayurvedic doctor, who rented a house for us so that we could be at ease and he put Bapuji on a diet of goat’s milk only. The effect was excellent, no more pain. After three weeks of goat’s milk and nothing else, Bapuji rebelled. Himatlal told him that if he stopped now, he could not remove the cancer which he believed would be possible. He refused, saying that he was going to die anyway and he did not want to die with the taste of goat’s milk in his mouth, or something to that effect. Himatlal and I were devastated. He had become a good friend during this time and I was fascinated by the workings of ayurveda. He was a very accomplished practitioner. It was enough for him to look at someone’s face to say, with precision, what they had eaten that day and the day before, his diagnosis was accurate and his knowledge of the Indian pharmacopeia extensive.
Palitana was not the right place for a Hindu monk, however, it is a Jain stronghold and just outside the town is one of the religion’s main pilgrimage sites. I was often stoned when taking walks on the outskirts of the town and took to exercising on the roof of our house to avoid bumps on the head. So, it was time to move on again.
Back again to Bombay with a stop in Cambay to say hello to several other disciples, and for me to scout around for a possible teacher, whom I found down the road from a family who was very happy to lend me their large abandoned house which I shared with the local monkey population. I soon learned to keep my things under lock and key because they must have come from a studious dynasty, Hanuman’s no doubt, they would pinch everything including books! Talking of Hanuman, a sub-hero from the Ramayana, the king of the monkey tribe that helps Rama regain his wife Sita after she is kidnapped by Ravana, the Sri Lankan demon, there would seem to be some basis that the characters in this epic are parodies. Like everyone else, the Indians are xenophobic. They say South Indians are of Dravidian origin, whatever, they are very dark-complexioned and wear their dhotis with a tail, and not much imagination is required to substitute the man for a monkey. The Aryan with his subservient tribesman.
My teacher in Cambay was an elderly Brahmin, very orthodox and not really prepared to teach me what I wanted, but we muddled along and I think progress was made. In any case, my reading was improving by leaps and bounds. I had been memorising the 702 verses of the Gita by heart and repeated them every day, all grist to the mill. Cambay was a backwater and had no libraries or university, so the occasional visit to Baroda or Ahmedabad was needed to consult or research. Although the backward way of life did have its rewards.
This is where I met a Sufi, a Muslim holyman, who introduced me to the esoteric side of Islam and the beauty of Persian poetry. We met out of view of the townspeople, although it was never possible to be totally out of sight in India. I earned quite a lot of criticism for hob-knobbing with Muslims but would explain that the only way to try and bring people around to the right way of understanding was to know the way they thought. That worked and it was only the fakir’s departure that caused our discussions to come to an end. Another bone of contention was the fact that I visited the sweepers’ quarters. The caste system in India is strong as you know, but the disdain and revulsion that they have for Mehtars (sweepers or scavengers) is intense. I used to visit them in their huts which were impeccably clean and tidy. They were so honoured that a sadhu would deign to enter their hovels, they were often in tears. Simple folk but very endearing, intensely poor but, as so often happens, with large families, very loving and happy with their lot. They were a great lesson in being content with what you get.
Word came that Suresh had died in Zambia. For Bapuji and I it was clear that he had simply stopped wanting to live, he was too enamoured of the pure state of being, why mess around and the natural outcome had arrived. Bapuji wrote to me saying that he did not have long either and would like to see me before. He also mentioned that the pain was starting again and insinuated a repeat performance of the codeine might be a suitable option. Cambay was the opium centre of western India, whole stretches of the region were given over to poppy production and I had no problem in buying a tola, 10 grammes or so, of opium.
In the Jain tradition, and perhaps others elsewhere in the world, there is a final sacrifice that can be made after very careful consideration and maybe even permission from a superior instance (preceptor). Your own life is to be used to achieve an objective, if that is accomplished, then there may be circumstances when the physical entity is no longer necessary. It is easy enough to find out whether one has the right to do so, fast for forty days, on the forty-first, the body falls. If you are not meant to die, someone or something will manifest. The Jains take a more progressive approach, cutting down on portions of food and reducing the substances eaten, until such time as the body sloughs off. A matter of conviction.
Down to Bombay and a few days with Jagdish Parikh, a friend who I had originally met on a railway station. He had been so insistent on helping me that I finally realized his intention was pure and unmotivated and despite my reticent reaction we became good friends. A retired engineer, very well read and keen on Vedanta, we had long discussions far into the night. Jagdish told me that I was crazy to take opium with me on an international flight because if caught I would go to jail, monk or no monk! I gave him the stuff and thought nothing more of it.
It was a sad time, especially as Bapuji was no longer on form, so the cohesion he had created in the family was wearing thin. He soon went into hospital and despite asking the doctor to administer an extra dose of morphine, it took several weeks for his suffering to end. He had moments of lucidity interspersed with delirium, I slept in the same room and often had to extricate him from strange hallucinations. In one of those instances of clarity, he looked me in the eyes and said, “I hope your faith will hold, my son.” I was too moved to say anything and spent a troubled night. Even now, I believe I can say in reply, “There have been ups and downs, but the conviction of there being nothing but pure consciousness is still firm. I am safe.”
Yashwant, Suresh’s brother managed to obtain permission to bury Bapuji out in the bush. A sannyasin, unlike other Hindus, is buried rather than cremated. The two of us buried him in a large hole dug by some African lads. Another poignant moment seeing the cold grey flesh disappear under the red earth. Before he died, Bapuji had given instructions for arrangements to be made to take care of my financial needs. I was only vaguely interested in these things and merely remembered the name of the person in Bombay who would provide for me should I need the wherewithals.
Back to India with Suresh’s ashes in a bronze bowl that I had been asked by the family to pour into the Ganges. I headed up to Cambay, gathered my type-writer, books and kamandalu (water pot) and trained up to Delhi and bussed on to Hardwar. Swami Atmananda, the abbot of the ashram which was to be home for the next seven months, gave me a huge room to live and work in. I took Suresh’s ashes down to the river, at the point of a spit and prayed him on his way never to return.
On the way back to the bank across a new bridge spanning a hundred yards of a finger of the river, I was roused from my reverie by a little girl screaming. I ran over to her as she was being attacked by a monkey, grabbed the wretched beast by the scruff of the neck and base of the spine, he was as big as the ten-year old girl, and threw him over the bridge into the water below. Monkeys don’t like water so hopefully he associated the biting of people with water and will give up that nasty habit.
Ashram life was stark, the food dismal and my room very cold. For months I had lived without money and did so for several years, relying on the need being fulfilled when the time was right. It worked very well and meant that you can concentrate on other matters. My immediate physical needs were gradually satisfied, someone gave me some cash one day, enough to buy a water-heating element so I could bathe in the luxury of warm water at the hole in the wall of my room. I made a habit of shaving my face and head, as I said with a cut-throat razor, in an effort to keep the bugs out. The bugs had nothing to eat, like most of India, and it took me some time to find out where they came from. It was a struggle, which I won, to stop them eating me. They lived in tiny holes in the whitewashed walls, the only way to get at them was with a matchstick, and crush them in their holes. The alternative methods of asking them to move out or eat something else apparently didn’t work, so I precipitated their evolution! The weather got warmer as the months went by, so there remained the matter of food. I took to helping out in the kitchen which served the hoi-polloi – obviously me included. The cook did not put salt in the rice or dal, so it was quite unpalatable to taste and as we rarely saw any vegetables, it was the bare essentials. Whenever anyone laid any money on me, which happened quite often, it would go into salt, veggies and fruit.
The population of the ashram was limited to myself, visiting monks and sadhus. There is a structure to Hindu monasticism, as established by Shankara in the 8th century. Shankara set up centres (pitha) in the four corners of India and ten names or insignias were attributed to the acolytes of the philosophy he so brilliantly propounded. Govardhana (Puri in eastern India), with the names Aranya and Vana; Shringeri (Karnataka) with Saraswati, Bharat? and Puri; Sharada (Dwarka in western India) with Tirtha and Ashrama and Jyotisa (Badri in northern India) with Giri, Parvata and Sagara.
The structure is quite loose and so probably quite difficult to manage with all sorts of political infighting but that was definitely out of my league and of scant interest. Historically, the monastic order’s life was complicated by the Muslims who sometimes (and vice versa) caused problems for Hindus, especially when the country was ruled by the Mughals, which led Madhusudhana Saraswati, an orthodox monk in this tradition, to strike a deal in the 17th century with the shudra (lowest caste) and the outcastes. Such people are not allowed in the Hindu system to study the Veda, so the idea was to teach them Hindu dharma and the epics in exchange for their military service to protect Hindu holymen. It still operates today, the nagas, ash-covered, hirsute and naked babas are the most flamboyant features of the large festivals where the Hindus gather. The nagas were frequent visitors to the ashram as the abbot, Swami Atmananda, was a major player in the hierarchy. Listening to their stories made you realize that the gap between imagination and reality is very narrow. They lived very bizarre lives, in the forests, on the roads, most of the time in altered mental states brought on by hashish, datura, ganja and sometimes opium. On several occasions, especially during the kumbha mela, I sat next to nagas, who told me, in all seriousness, that I could not be a sadhu if I did not smoke dope.
As already mentioned, money was something that came and went when needed. It must have been in April, when everyone had packed up after the kumbha mela. Like in most parts east, you leave your shoes outside before you enter a dwelling, my room was no exception. Out of a morning to run an errand or some such, I found only one shoe. Probably a dog had enjoyed it for breakfast, but one shoe is like three cylinders, you don’t go far! The tarmac surface of the roads was so hot at midday that it bubbled and barefoot for three weeks in the hottest time of the year in India was the time to learn a new form of physical meditation. It involved absorbing the heat through the feet that were burning, up into the legs, talking to the blood that carried its heated components up to cooler parts and back down again for a warm-up. It seemed to work well until the heat got to my intestines because sometimes I had to walk some distance as the ashram was a few miles out of town. It was agony. Whenever it was really needed, money would turn up and indeed it did, enough to buy myself a new pair of leather sandals and smile down at a happy pair of feet!
A letter arrived for me one day from Father Leon Jungblut, a Jesuit anthropologist whom I had met some years earlier in Bombay. He was planning on compiling an encyclopaedia of Hindu sects and wondered if it would be possible to come and stay with me at the forthcoming kumbha mela in the company of our mutual Kashmiri friend, Motilal. I went to see the abbot to ask if my anthropologist friend and colleague could come and stay but he said no as there would be no room in the ashram. When I told him there was plenty of “room” in my room, he said of course but you must keep on with your studies and not be disturbed by the proceedings! Matter settled. I wrote back saying welcome but no dog-collars or signs of Catholic paraphernalia. They would have hung him without any compunction, there is no love lost between Christians and Hindus. I had to get quite angry with him as it turned out, because one night he was doing his sacrament or whatever they call it, when someone entered the room thinking it was their quarters but quickly exited probably not understanding what was going on. Damned if some priest was going to spoil my show!
From the time I started studying Sanskrit, I had been keeping notes of terms found in the books I read or referred to, where they occurred and their nuances in meaning. Bapuji had compiled a small lexicon of Sanskrit words explained in Gujerati which I used as the base for what was to become quite a large volume, in English. The traditional study of Vedanta requires substantial additional knowledge as one was expected to be able to argue one’s case in logical discussion, this required a solid basis in: Nyaya (the Indian system of logic), the rudiments of Vedic ritual, Manu Smrti (law books), the epics (Mahabharata and Ramayana), Puranas (Indian mythology), Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions, the basics of the other five Hindu philosophical systems, several schools of Buddhist thought and Jainism. Interpreting words used several thousand years ago to impart a sense in this day and age was what I was trying for.
Now that we are on the subject of Buddhism, a little grist for the mill concerning the purpose of Vedanta in comparison with that of Buddhism which is, I believe, of interest. The Buddha said “One thing I teach, suffering and the end of suffering...”, whereas Vedanta can be resumed as the search for one’s Self, “Who am I?” I personally find it hard to accept that an answer to the purpose of life can be found outside of oneself in the phenomenal world. Now, though it is debatable that suffering is caused by events occurring uniquely in the outside world, they are indisputably subject to mental interpretation – the origins of which depend on experience, therefore the external world, so that amounts to the same thing. So, how can one accept suffering or its ending, both external factors, as being a starting point for investigation? To eliminate metaphysics, as the Buddha did, is perhaps expedient but neither honest nor truthful, he says man has no soul. He is right, but not for the same reasons Buddhist exegesis proclaims. I say the soul has the man. The physical is the extension of the spiritual, not the reverse.
Hardwar exploded for a period of three months from a town of about 15,000 total population to a metropolis of 5 million people. Representatives of all the Indian religious traditions, save Buddhism and Jainism, came to the kumbha mela festival, so as to purify their souls by jumping into the Ganges at a propitious moment, this celebration occurs every three years in four different localities in India and is orchestrated according to the stars, although there are at least two accounts of the same story in the Puranas.
My host, the abbot being the head of one of the bigger gangs of sadhus, rode on an elephant in the major processions. What better way to add to his hubris than to have a white-skinned attendant on the back of his elephant. Of course, I got the toughest job, keeping the flies off His Eminence, with a solid silver, yak-tail whisk that weighed at least four kilos, no way would the other attendant, holding the parasol upright placed on the floor of the howdah, change roles. Some uncharitable thoughts went through my head after a number of hours, especially as we had fasted for at least a day before the auspicious moments determined by the astrologers. The ride would take us through miles of countryside and town, an endless line of nagas, sannyasins, carts drawn by garishly decorated bullocks, horses and elephants in their full regalia, preceded by the fiercest of the naga-soldiers, swinging their swords, one in either hand, as they danced along clearing the way through a huge mass of humanity that craned their necks to get a glimpse of what could be seen. We were showered with flowers, bank-notes, I even saw a couple of babies fly over the tops of heads, to be gingerly caught by the naked nagas. God forbid that anyone should bend over to pick up any of the cash, feet and curses would fly! The monastery was filled with sannyasins, affiliated by lineage, from all corners of the continent and numerous pilgrims.
The members of a monastery would be invited en bloc for lunch at one monastery or another, and this hospitality would be reciprocated, consequently I made the rounds of ten or so large ashrams, sitting down to lunch with five thousand or so other guests, to eat copiously as they were vying with each other to show their largesse.
This was the ideal setting for Father Jungblut to start his research into sects, beliefs, doctrines, etc. We made a cohesive team; the incognito priest spoke good Hindi and several Indian dialects, he could ask personal questions of monastics while inviting them for tea or a meal; Motilal could ask across the board questions and I would ask doctrinal, more theoretical questions. There was a natural bias from the Jesuit of which he was fully aware and he allowed Motilal and myself to add our grain of Hindu salt, so our discussions and conclusions were quite broad-minded. We all had tape-recorders, allowing us greater flexibility, although their use was sometimes refused. This was the opportunity for me to discover a number of home truths that were very disconcerting for me, the monk.
The Hindu law books clearly state that you are born a Hindu, you cannot become a Hindu. If you are born a foreigner, mleccha, you stay a foreigner, until a more fortunate birth! Some monks applied this to the letter, refused to speak to me and encouraged others not to do so. It hurt, but for the encyclopaedia it didn’t matter, we sent Father Jungblut to get the low-down! This was also when I discovered that at least 80% of my monk colleagues had taken the cloth to feed themselves. Bapuji had always told me that wearing a uniform was not necessary, it was the way of living that mattered. When in Rome...
The extremes to which the Indians go in order to see God, or achieve their ideals, is beyond the average imagination. Some examples that I encountered on my travels will better illustrate this. My first encounter with a sadhu involved in self-mortification was on my first trip to Benares as a soldier, I went to visit Sarnath, the site where the Buddha gave his first sermon, on the way a group of half naked men were walking along the road. One fellow had a rock hanging down between his knees, attached to his testicles. I was not able to question him but was informed that he was practising tapas, austerity. Someone who I got to know quite well during the Hardwar period, showed me the scar where he had cut off his own testicles, he was so proud of his determination and courage. When questioned as to why he had taken such an extreme course of action instead of overcoming his sexual drive, he told me that his guru had recommended it. Obviously, these cases are the exception but if the courage portrayed is a reflection of the degree of faith, it is a remarkable witness to man’s capacity to believe.
Two other instances at the kumbha mela were equally noteworthy. A man who decided to sacrifice his arms was sitting under a tree, raised above his head were the two bone structures that had once served as limbs, completely atrophied and a deformed mass around his shoulders. I asked him if he had seen God, and he replied “Not yet!” came the optimistic reply. Another fellow had sacrificed his legs, and he was still in the process of accomplishing the act, a sight that was not easy to look upon, as all the flesh was massed around his feet and he had tied his arms to a tree branch so as to stay standing. He was clearly suffering hard. A harsh sight.
Father Jungblut decided to restrict investigation into the modern gurus to those immediately available. When we went to visit Guru Maharaj Ji, the eternal 16-year old, we were brought around the back of his huge ashram and given immediate access to the presence, his brother replaced him when he was absent. As foreigners have more to offer, they apparently had priority over the hundreds of poor people, queuing in the sun at the front of the building. I found it difficult to condone the excessive gifts of the desperately poor hill-people, dressed in rags, giving their two-rupee notes to the factotum, not even allowed to put the money into the hands of the brother of the object of their veneration, Balyogeshwar. I know that I often told people who wanted to give me money that I had no need for the moment and would ask them if they did not have a more worthy object in mind, their daughter’s wedding, an old parent who would like to visit Benares and then ask them to make a contribution in that respect. My innate sense of injustice was sometimes hard to govern! We even went to Dehra Dun one day to meet the teacher of this particular guru, he was not very flattering concerning his academic capacity let alone his personality. It crossed my mind on a number of occasions to go with a potential flow and set up as a popular teacher, the opportunities were there. Keep on drudging was my advice to myself and I am glad I did not sell my soul like that.
The time in Hardwar was the first time I came across Sikhs as a religious entity where they were very present at the fair, moving about in large groups or in convoy. They were armed to the teeth, shotguns, swords, pistols of all sorts, .303 rifles, BREN and general purpose machine guns, very tall and well-built, proud bearing and fierce-looking. Somewhat taken aback when seeing a foreign intruder walk into their encampment asking to meet their chief, I was well received, especially when I mentioned my grand-father had served with Sikhs in the Indian army, perhaps that is what gained me access to the number three in the overall setup. A very courteous, urbane and eloquent man who was only too delighted to explain whatever we wanted to know about Guru Nanak’s message and teaching, but very oblique concerning politics – we had asked about their need for so much armament.
Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister at this time and had declared a state of emergency to calm the furore concerning the charges of electoral malpractice levelled against her. I was totally unaware of this and not in the least concerned, however, what was very alarming for all of India’s sadhus was the fact that the police were rounding up wandering monks and throwing them into labour camps, to crack rocks to make roads. There had been many reports and witnesses of this, enough to make us very wary when on the road. I wondered if there was not some relationship between the Sikh’s attitude and the prime minister’s unfeeling acts. She was doing a number of things that displeased many people in an effort to gain points, with the Chinese for example, when she invited the Dalai Lama to move with the Tibetan diaspora down to the mountains of Mysore. She forgot to mention the mountains were covered with jungle, the Tibetans died by the hundreds – perhaps thousands - from TB and respiratory problems. Whatever, she met her end some nine years later at the hands of her own Sikh bodyguards in revenge for the attack she ordered on the Amritsar temple.
I had never managed to find a Sanskrit teacher in Hardwar, so had continued learning by myself, very occupied by the compiling of my wordlist and its research, in addition to my meditation and yoga practice. So, when the time came to say goodbye to so many of the participants of the great feast of the last three months, there was seemingly little to keep me there, especially when a Canadian I had met recently invited me to accompany him to Dharmashala for a darshan (blessing) with the Dalai Lama.
What an impression the Dalai Lama made! No doubt, as for millions of other people. We had been given an audience to meet him, four Americans, my Canadian friend and a Hindu monk. Everyone in turn offered their scarf, when my turn arrived, I extended the scarf and as Hindu custom would have it, I knelt to put my head at his feet. He grabbed me by the shoulders, saying “No, not between us monks”. I was so taken aback, I was silent for once! He sat and the others asked their questions. One of the Americans said he was breaking his vow of silence after six months as a gift, whereupon the Lama asked him if his mind had kept quiet during that time, “No”, came the hesitant reply. “Then why did you do it?” An abrupt style but good lesson. Another American asked “Have the Tibetans been exiled from their country because you kept the dharma to yourselves?” a very leading question which if answered by yes or no would have put the spiritual and secular leader in a spot. With the briefest of hesitations, he replied “I don’t know, I don’t know!” and burst out laughing. It was quite infectious and we all joined in. What an astute man to have seen through the double-edged question and avoided it with the greatest of tact and gentleness. I loved him instantly.
Whilst in McLeod Ganj I met an American, Bruce Burger, a psychologist with a great heart who had given up his university-teaching activity to come to India in search for a sense to life. He invited me to join him in Goa where he was headed to spend Christmas and New Year.
Compilation of the Sanskrit-English wordlist was complete, and a friend of Father Jungblut, Professor J.Gonda from Utrecht University, kindly agreed to write a foreword, so I thought it best to finalise it as it was, rather than continue tweaking away at it. I was looking for somewhere to hide away for three weeks, to finish the typing. I mentioned this when in Bombay and Jagdish very kindly offered me his house in Poona, with a lady who would cook and care for me, and in passing said “This belongs to you” as he returned the tola of opium. The three weeks were very intense, often working through to two in the morning. Eating opium has much the same effect as smoking it, taking effect later but lasting proportionally longer. The impression of clarity and finer cerebral perception was quite specific and I found it most useful and enjoyable.
Chapter VI - A freak for a season
When I reached Goa, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to find and was quite bemused that such a large group of people could get away with such blatant sexuality, use of drugs and nudity without being taken to task. The Goans were probably reeling from the shock of the invasion, but finding themselves that much wealthier for their hospitality and perhaps more prepared to accept the strange behaviour of their Christian (aren’t all white people Christian?) brethren, they acquiesced gently and with remarkable grace.
The freaks, as the hippies liked to call themselves, came from just about everywhere in the world (primarily Caucasians, some Asians, North Africans but never saw any black Africans), from all walks of life, but all seemed to share the same hedonistic, life-for-the-instant values. Generally, a very loving and caring bunch of youngsters determined to try another lifestyle.
There were some really very fine people there, holding on against hope of maintaining the underlying value of love and harmony but like all things, at all times, change happens. The main reason was perhaps the influx of a new breed of freak (some seriously criminal elements, mules, more materialistic than spiritual) bringing in their brand of fun. The dope-dealers were not lacking, some wealthy, some poor, some crooks, some honest, mostly long-haired males, even one German girl whose body-guard was an ex-Gurkha officer, she must have been especially trusting as the man had managed to crash into a stationary junk on the sea in Penang while he wasn’t watching where he was water-skiing! Ouch!
Everyone went by a soubriquet and it was not very cool to question about past life, so things were maintained at a relatively superficial level. The drugs brought their own specific personality to the mix. Heroin and its exclusive superiority, cocaine with its paranoia, hashish with its torpor, the mellowness of cannabis, opium with its reverie, acid and its visuals, alcohol and its obliteration. Fortunately, to my way of thinking, amphetamines were rare in those days.
As in any society, certain figures emerge at the top of the general consciousness. In this group, it was generally the most-outspoken, the most colourful, the charismatic, the cool dealers. Bombay Brian, a former US Marine, had been around in India for a number of years and was the main coke man. Outspoken, short-fuse temper, cynical but a kind-hearted man if you got on the right side and amusing, insomniac and lover of cigars. Blind George, blinded by a white phosphorus grenade in the Korean War, he had a remarkable capacity for a blind man – his choice in women. I never saw an ill-favoured girl on his arm, it may have been because he could afford some expensive habits with the pension Uncle Sam was giving him, but I have good reason to think that he sometimes saw very well! Blue, Harold Friend, the gay New York hairdresser, organizer of extravaganzas, lover of the refined and exquisite. There were a few older freaks, but only one who, to my knowledge, had made it a permanent life pattern, eight-finger Eddie. Living between Kathmandu and Goa, Eddie had a good reason to have opted out from night-club life in New York, his wife had put a contract out on him and it was not healthy to stay around, so he hit the hills (I cite Eddie). He was an amusing, straight-forward soul, no delusions, the father-figure to many younger people and protector of even more young women. A good man. Mary Oberne, Mother Earth to so many. Sadhu Tom, a very gentle American coke dealer, dreadlocks and a permanent twinkle in his good-natured, blue eyes. Feni Joseph, the resident alcoholic, German and serious guilt-complex that he drowned in the locally brewed gut-rot, we all chipped in to keep him in his habit and occasionally get something solid down his throat. Many others whose names I don’t recall but who made such a colourful caste for the next three months or so.
I went with the flow accompanied by Bruce, my partner in the discovery of this latest adventure, dropping acid for the first time in four years at the full moon party, smoking a lot of grass and hash, several girl friends, a pierced ear and a fine moustache worthy of a Mexican horse bandit. Flitting between the multiple worlds of Goa was a surreal exercise for the former recluse, but I soon got into the swing of it and eagerly listened to the diverse and prevalent music, conversations till far into the night, sessions of backgammon and parties.
If there ever is a reason or cause for anything in the world, it strikes me that drugs were the cause of the demise of the most important aspect of the hippy movement. Humans strive after perfection and joy, we generally mistake the two for satisfaction and copulation. Altruism, unconditional love of fellow humans and beings, sharing of whatever one owns – the ideals of the day – are simply not compatible with the use of the majority of mind-altering substances. One loses the plot. I almost met my maker after at a party when Sadhu Tom kindly offered me a line of coke, I sniffed it into both nostrils having forgotten that my moustache was decorated with aluminium glitter, the effect on my brain was, to put it mildly, startling!
The fever lasted for ten days, delirious, drained of all substance, my weight dropped down to 39 kilos – one big smile was all that was left! An angel took care of me, Gail Szidak, she had just broken up with a rather heavy-handed English dope-dealer and being a maternal soul she took pity on me, miserable bag of bones. She nursed me back to health and one thing led to another. We were soon lovers and I allowed her to guide me into some rather strange ventures. Bapuji had bequeathed me a bank account that had been transferred to my name, for use in emergencies. That seemed to be the case because money would have to be wisely invested if we were to continue on our chosen way as both Gail and I liked our bourgeois luxury, food, good hash, comfort and music. I don’t think I would have made a good hippy! Gail took me in hand and reintroduced me to my new world, dressing me in normal clothes, because I was still in my two pieces of saffron cloth.
An initial drug deal, for that was the new line of business, with a seriously sick Dutchman ended badly. Pistol to my head with said Dutchman threatening all sorts of dire consequences, and I hadn’t even got out of bed, let alone shaved! We ended up with half of our investment, 500 grammes of heroin, which we then managed to sell in Bombay. What a farce! An English friend, the Major, finally took it all off our hands, for a song, but the damage was done. He became addicted and never recovered to my knowledge. I went totally blind for twenty minutes while walking down the road in Bombay, the result probably of smoking heroin, whereupon I stopped using it. I got off lightly, overall bad karma! Our next venture went smoothly, running opium into Europe, to be taken on to the US by someone else. Gail left for Hungary to visit her grandmother.
I took the opportunity to meet up with my family again. What a homecoming! My mother and Ivan were very gracious. Off to the tailor on Saturday morning to rent a morning suit as we were invited to a big society wedding that afternoon. Gail joined me a week later and we plunged into British society life; rounds of cocktail parties, Ascot races, visits to friends, the summer scene. The life of prodigal son did not suit me one little bit and I was only too pleased to climb aboard a plane back to Bombay, armed with cigars for Bombay Brian, gin for John Phimster, an English friend living downstairs from Brian, bacon and camembert for Father Jungblut!
I was perfectly content to be managed and directed – is that a life-trend? The next plan was to run hash into Sydney, where an Australian friend, Marie, had the necessary contacts, and rather than working for someone else, we would do it all, like big boys and girls. The Major took care of the bags, because that was his chosen specialty and he was very good. The time arrived and Mr and Mrs Clean got on the plane to fly to foreign parts once more. To Sri Lanka where we stayed at the Galle Face hotel, a splendid palace overlooking the sea south of Colombo, down to Singapore to stock up on cassettes recorded with whatever artist you wanted, the pirate industry was thriving even in 1976! Then over to Jakarta and train to the east end of Java, the trains were very civilised, timely and although crowded, orderly, a change from India. Denpasar for a few days, to acquire motor-bike driving licences and get the feel of Bali, before moving down to Sunset Beach, next to Kuta.
We waited several weeks for news from Marie but nothing came, so Gail left for San Diego to look after her thirteen-year old daughter who was starting a new school, leaving me to the very hard life of Bali. Many of the Goan crowd had moved down there as it was on the “freak-circuit”, Goa, Bali, Mykonos, Ibiza, Kathmandu, so it was a continuation of the party with some fun new friends. By that time, I was living with a Balinese family after downgrading accommodation to avoid using the capital tied up in my bags.
Kayu Aya lies at the far end of the beach which was home to Kuta and Sunset Beach. There was a resort designed, I believe, by Jorn Utzon, of Sydney Opera House fame, and built by artisans from numerous Indonesian islands. Each house had its own specific style and form, truly spectacular and luxurious. The only problem for the owners, until Oberoi bought it years later, was that there was no licence to operate, so the Minister of Tourism’s cousin was caretaking, and as he was not getting paid, he rented the villas out to freaks for an average 7 USD a day. It was one more tough day in paradise.
There was a host of things to discover in Bali, with its special form of Hinduism, the dances and rituals that were more in the domain of magic, the cock-fighting, magic mushrooms, volcanoes, the silver and wood carving, to name just a few.
My interest was taken with cock-fighting for a while. Traditionally, it was the only way for the men to earn money in Balinese society, which although slowly changing, at that time, still held true. The atmosphere at the ground was intense, the priests busy officiating, making an offering in the arena and on the specially prepared altar; the owners and handlers (not necessarily the same) wandering around the arena trying to find a match before agreeing to fights involving lengthy discussion, then talking, massaging and breathing courage into the birds, which are rearing to go, aggressive and sometimes inspired by spirits of another sort; the public, inspecting the birds, hotly discussing the merits and faults of the protagonists, money exchanging hands as the punters made the rounds just before the fight started. A specialist would gingerly tie the five to six inch long blade to the cock’s left (generally) spur, razor-sharp and pointed, a steady hand was needed. The two handlers enter the ring with the birds, hand over the central bet, agreed upon between the two owners, each matching the same amount, often with contributions made by spectators. The central bet is announced to the public, a sign of the owners’ confidence in their bird, then the secondary betting starts with yelling, gesticulating, notes being waved, a complex system of betting but involving a lot of noise and waving of hands. The chief referee, the decision-maker, enters the ring when he thinks the betting process is complete and signals that all is ready. Silence.
The referee and side judges squat down, the handlers release their birds. A flurry of feathers, the flash of steel and at the first stab, the handler asks the referee to stop the fight. Efforts to revive the bird often work, with a time limit of thirty seconds and the fight resumes. A round lasts about thirty seconds, the time is kept using coconut shells, it appeared that a half coconut shell takes ten seconds to sink in a bucket of water, with three shells being used. The time-keeper sounds the gong after thirty seconds and if the cock cannot stand, it is over. The winner taking the central bet from which he pays the handler, the fighting fee and the blade-attacher. It is often over fast. Almost inevitably, the first bird to jump in the air would win, the blade would penetrate deep enough to touch the heart and it would be on to the next fight.
Unlike in Mexico, where they use a curved steel spur, and the birds tear themselves to pieces, in Bali the fight is frequently over in just one round due to the stiletto-like blade. The dead bird is given to the winning owner, the blade leg is chopped off and blade returned to the attacher. Generally, its blood is spread around on the ground nearby to appease a certain form of ghoulish spirit. Debts are paid instantly in a shower of cash thrown into the ring. The money involved is substantial and was often the cause of ruin for some unfortunates.
One day at a fight, I had bet on a white bird that everyone took to be the outsider, I think even the owner hedged his bet against his own bird, because when the white cock won, the owner was so dismayed he asked me to take the bird in payment for my bet as he didn’t have enough cash to meet his debts and I had won against all odds. Such was his disarray that I felt sorry for him, accepted and returned home the proud owner of a cock. He lasted two more fights and earned me enough money to live comfortably for a few months, thanks to help from some local lads who thought it was fun to have a white-skinned supporter for a white cock, they taught me a lot.
Balinese dances are primarily based on incidents from the Indian epic, the Ramayana. There are tourist performances, well orchestrated but often rather stilted and pointless without the real purpose of moral instruction being fulfilled, and dances for ritual purposes which are for the Balinese. The locals knew that I was interested in their culture and would keep me informed of any events of that nature.
A village nearby had recently been troubled by some seriously mischievous spirits and the decision was taken that the best way to exorcise them would be with the kris dance. The whole village had been preparing for several days, especially the young men who were to dance, fasting to obtain maximum effect for the purification. The propitious time arrived and the village assembled around the selected area, the musicians in their corner, an open space for the men to dance and move. The music is monotonous, building up in pace and then slowing, always the same rhythm, the men dance, not very artistically, but mill around holding the long kris daggers, with the characteristic curving blade, held to various points of their abdomens. They gradually become more animated as trance takes hold, assuming different manifestations, some dance wildly, some turn on themselves in circles, and almost all put increasing pressure with their arms on the dagger, with skin glistening in the lights and veins standing out. The music builds up again and one of the men fell face down, holding the kris to his stomach at ninety degrees, as he landed on the ground, the kris rebounded out from under him and flew several metres through the air and hit the floor. The man stayed prone, the other dancers started winding down, the music abates.
Intrigued, thinking the kris may be made of something other than metal, I walked over to where it lay on the ground,, as I bent over, an old man nearby said very roughly, “Don’t touch!”, “Not to worry, tuan, I am just looking.” It had the tinge of steel, the blade was quite old with the lizard-skin spotted effect, it looked real to me but what do I know? The priest came over and started his incantations over the dagger, because that is where the village-invading spirit was now located and he could dispense of it more easily.
The religious ceremonies were extravagant and costly affairs, involving the whole village, family and all kinds of hangers-on, often lasting days so people had to be fed and housed. It was all done in a spirit of conviviality and fun. The thread of tradition runs constantly through all their daily functions, despite the throng of permanent tourists, year-in, year-out.
I cannot leave Bali without mentioning a wonderful experience of their food. Whilst attending a funeral at Ubud, I started a conversation with a Balinese man and we came round to the subject of food and that it was not easy for a foreigner to discover truly authentic Balinese cuisine. He told me that a few hundred metres away was the former cook of the King of Ubud, who would be happy to cook for a party of people, and even accommodate them in her guesthouse. After the ceremony I went there and told the lady of my encounter and interest. She said she would be happy to prepare meals but for at least ten people as there was a lot of preparation and there was much more fun to be had if it was a large party. I think I stayed with her four or five times after eating the most exquisite dinners consisting of ten or twelve different dishes at each time when she fed twenty or so hungry hippies. We paid 50 US cents each!
As there was still no news from Marie in Australia, Gail had started enquiries from San Diego and in a conversation we had on the phone she told me the sad news that Marie was dead. In fact, it transpired that she had been killed by some Sydney gangland characters unhappy at her trying to muscle into their drug territory, she had been found in the harbour, her feet set in a concrete block. Not knowing anyone else in Australia or anywhere else for that matter who might want ten kilos of hashish, I decided to fly to Europe, on the same “safe” route as before and try my luck in Switzerland and perhaps Denmark where I had a few contacts.
A stopover in Singapore was needed to catch a plane to Switzerland, I hadn’t realized that laws had become quite extreme concerning drugs since the heyday of my time in the army there. Now, it was the death penalty for possession of heroin. Fortunately there was a Swissair flight available after a few days.
On arrival in Geneva a chance encounter with an American girl led to an unexpected, unplanned stay of two weeks there. I only knew one person there who might have been able to help me offload my cargo, but he wasn’t there! So, off to Denmark, which was a non-event as my contacts were in the same business and had just returned from India. I saw a lot of Germany from a train window on the two-way trip. It is very flat.
The word had got around in my absence from Geneva that there was some good quality dope available and the queues outside the door at my American friend’s flat scared her so I moved to another friend’s house, a Corsican. Perhaps all Corsicans have a soft spot for the criminal underdog, she was no exception. A side trip to St Gall to meet a friend from India was a very strange experience, St Gall goes to bed at seven at night, perhaps to watch the box or study the Bible, but they even close the watering holes. I spent one night there without any business achieved.
To Zurich, which was an eye-opener. A very cosmopolitan city where I was treated with great hospitality and kindness. I met a Swiss dealer specialized in Indian art by the name of Ulrich von Schroeder and his wife Heidi, who gave me a bed for a few days. The highlight of my travel to Europe, Uli had just acquired an 11th century Chola bronze Nataraj statue. It was phenomenal to see and examine such a rarity at close quarters and even have it witness our games of backgammon, although I don’t think it brought me great fortune!
Another newfound friend arranged a small flat for me in the centre of town, my main customers were a visiting American basketball team, they played quite well even though very high, perhaps that was why. A Swiss friend asked me to join him driving a car, for garage delivery, down to Venice, I leapt at the offer having never visited Venice. The moon was full the night we arrived, an Italian friend from Goa who had an albergho wined and dined us and gave me some acid. Venice is a marvel, but in conditions like that, I had a Carnevale all by myself!
Time to move as all the hashish was sold, goodbyes to my Corsican and American friends in Geneva and back to Bombay. It was a natural sequence and probably the right time to start a more legal form of activity. Gail had told me that silver, ivory and silk were all the rage in Los Angeles, so a few visits to the silver bazaar in Bombay formed the stock for the next venture. The bazaars in India are often organized as elsewhere in Asia by theme, gold, silver, spices, flowers, etc. Bombay was no exception but at that time had a wealth of ethnic silver-work.
Concentrating on Rajasthani belts, bracelets and ankle bracelets made of silver, I selected some very intricate, fox weave chain work with delicate motifs. The average age of the silver in the market was a hundred years or so, but there were some amazing samples of older and monumental pieces. One day, my favourite silversmith took me upstairs in his shop and offered me a throne made of solid silver, similar to the Shah of Iran’s peacock throne in pattern, and probably copied by and for a Maharaja. My baggage allowance would not allow that so I declined! Ivory was also plentiful, bangles, chokers, bracelets, some carved, dyed and inlaid. All these artefacts were mostly the possessions of simple farmers, they loaded their womenfolk down with silver and ivory as a sign of their wealth and also to have a more readily tradeable asset.
A farewell dinner with Bombay Brian, Monika and Eight-finger Eddy and off I flew to Bangkok. A few days buying Hmong and hill-tribe fabric. Ikot work is, to my mind, the acme of achievement in the fabric field, tie-dyed thread, woven into cloth in such a way that patterns are produced, series of animals, temples, people, one inch square, requires immense precision yet made on hand-looms by girls who never quite made it to school. I had a ticket to Vientiane and Luang Prabang but a very strong intuition made me change destination for Hong Kong. On the plane the following day, 30 April 1975, I opened the first newspaper I had read in a long time, Saigon Falls. What a fiasco, all those lives wasted so Henry Kissinger could score another point on his dance list getting into bed with the Chinese, as Christopher Hitchens might have artfully put it. Not that there would have been any danger in Vientiane but a lot of likely administrative hassle and very limited chance of travel to the provinces as I had intended.
Hello Hong Kong! Hello brother! Three weeks of fun catching up with army chums, Bill Nash and Norman Marsh at the Godown Nightclub, water-skiing and backgammon to help pay my way. My brother had moved here in 1972 and was now a very busy ship-broker, with little time for play. Perhaps my outlook is warped, but I had always found Hong Kong to be full of people whose sole interest was making money, and devoid of any other grace. That impression was confirmed once more.
Money is the transferable fruit of our labour. It is clear that without all the advantages that money buys not much gets done, but is that really what is necessary for our happiness in life? As always, harmony is the key. If you do not have enough money to pay for essentials, then peace of mind is sacrificed, so the essentials are examined to find what is not essential. At the other extreme, when you start worrying about losing money or how to make more, peace of mind is lost. Similarly, devoting one’s life to making money is not the way to find peace of mind, but at the same time peace of mind can be upset by not having money. Find the balance!
The communist store on Nathan Road sold a broad range of articles from Mao’s little Red Book to thermos flasks, but of greater relevance for me, a good supply of quilted silk jackets, highly decorative, reversible and hand-made. So, a good stock of jackets went into my burgeoning bag and I was set to leave. Not that I felt any qualms about using illegal substances, there was however a change of heart concerning their commercialisation. I had seen a lot of unpleasant aspects in the whole business of dope-dealing and decided to stop. There was too much greed, envy and jealousy to be worth its while. In the short time that it had been my chosen profession I had lost two friends. Not quite the sort of simple living Bapuji had in mind when he told me that wearing a uniform was not necessary!
My last night in Hong Kong had been a short one and as I dressed hurriedly in the morning, I threw my cram (50 grammes of hash wrapped in two condoms) into my underpants and rushed to the airport. There was an unscheduled stopover in Seoul and all the passengers had to get off the plane. I had slept all the way and was woken by a hostess telling me to go and please wait in the transit lounge. Off I go, a little bleary, to find myself being frisked by a Korean security guard. He put his hand between my legs, silly man, and leapt back with his pistol out, shouting in what I presumed was Korean, but sounded more like he had a very sore throat, whereupon a police captain came over, speaking excellent American. “What have you got between your legs?” I looked at him with a look of anguish and said in a very low voice, “Captain, I have a terrible problem with my balls, you see, they swell up and become very hard as your man just discovered. I am off to the States to have an operation.” He looked pained and said “Good luck!” and waved me through the gate. When I found the lavatory, the cram went so far up my colon, it took two days to come back out!
Customs were cleared in Hawaii and again lady luck was smiling because I had learnt whilst in Hong Kong that ivory and Chinese silk had just been put on the banned import list for the USA. The customs-man picked up a towel roll consisting of ivory bangles wrapped around some silver belts, “Shoes?” he asked, “Yes, sir”. “Enjoy your stay!” And over to Los Angeles, where Gail met me and immediately took me off to a “Tupperware”-type party to sell what was in my bag. All the silk jackets went that same day.
There now started a domestication-effort on the part of Gail that took me some time to realise it was simply not my cup of tea. Living in La Mesa, an egg-box suburb of San Diego, flea-market on Sundays to sell the fabric and silver, a VW bus (reminiscent of hippy days) and one person making plans for the future. I fell in love at the first opportunity with another girl just to break out of the rut. Out of the rut, out on my ear – as I deserved, and out on my own. What a relief! I was not ready for slippers and the 8 o’clock news – yet!
1 1. What is your name? 2. What is the purpose of your visit? 3. How much money do you make? 4. What country are you coming from? Not necessarily in that order.
5: Miss rose - Chapter I
The journals of Miss rose,
Dedicated to my dear friend Bill Baker
Chapter 1 - Departures.
Miss rose was bound for the Himalayas; her essentials clasped tightly round her ample waist.
She sat in the endless lethargy of waiting with everything enacted in slow motion. Miss rose would be glad to leave 'not so jolly old England' behind; with it's 'credit crunch' and it's myriad deflations. The west was truly lost without the capacity to'spend,spend spend';consumer materialism seemingly formed the basis of the New Britain. She shook her grey curls in bewilderment like a latter-day Miss Marple. Britain's high streets offered their inducements and still many businesses were going under;but not tesco with it's billions of profit...she'd vowed never to shop there again. The confusions manifested in her local 24hour tesco were many;just recently she had managed to lose her purse whilst her grand-daughters,bless them!whizzed forbidden goods through the scanners...it still rankled. This would not be a difficult embargo; unlike giving up smoking;she itched for a cigarette and ventured out into the smoking area. Miss rose sat on an uncomfortable 21st century backless bench with the discarded coffee cartons and the other hostages to tobacco cravings. The airport environs were so artificial that even the sunset seemed unreal.
Miss rose was slightly emotionally exhausted,it was not uncommon with her. It was stressful to travel alone,no matter how many times she had done so. There was always the fear of collapse,the disorientation induced by artificial lights,by massed officialdom,by the constant need to produce travel documents....and beyond that there lurked some subconscious fear that she would not be allowed to board;that escape was somehow tenuous....that it was a risky affair;too many prisoner of war movies she supposed. The fact that she was not a p.o.w. seemed irrelevant,somehow a single lady of a certain age posed a threat to society,as subversive as any terrorist. She smothered a smile...well maybe she did.....
Miss rose shuffled through yet another queue.. suppressing a giggle as the scanners disclosed her 'essentials.'
She always made sure that the little black dress was in her bag,a homage to coco chanel. Armed with a little black dress you could blend in anywhere...you could walk into a five-star hotel..if you happened to have that strange urge.
She also carried a plain black swimming costume,"so old-fashioned"as her friend Robert had scoffed,but he had obviously never lost a bag en route and had to beg any costume from a package tourist..she still shuddered at the thought of the semi-transparent lilac suit she'd had to sport during a trip to south India,never again. Miss rose was very particular on a suitable one-piece to hide her stretch marked stomach,although it seemed now that further indignities needed concealment with the onset of the 'big sag'.Miss rose was comfortable with her age,indeed it gave some benefits to the single woman traveller...but the big sag was a new hurdle to cross;she often misquoted the bard:'ah the ills the flesh is heir to..'as she gazed at her inner thighs and arms...
Miss rose had heard the writer irma kurtz bemoan the fact that women of a certain age became invisible,but thought this statement tinged with irony as Ms kurtz had uttered it whilst standing next to a strangely garbed Casanova lookalike at the Venice carnival..it seemed to Miss rose that this invisibility required one to stand next to such remarkable flamboyance to regain attention!Miss rose had always thought invisibility no bad thing but wondered if her many trips to India could be a subconscious way of regaining such lost attentions. Within India the foreigner was always the subject of attention,of a hundred keen-eyed stares. Miss rose often considered herself but a walking cabaret for sub-continental entertainment.
Her next essential was a slender copy of Gitanjali...Tagore being her poet of the heart...plus her own journal and pen...because our poor Miss rose had been bitten by the serpent of poetry....She'd recently read a strange book by a fellow sufferer whose own curse had been instigated by the drug d.m.t. Miss rose had not come across this particular drug,her own serpent was induced by a meeting at a tube station. It was in this unlikely spot that Miss rose had met a famous actor of her youth..this transfigurating experience may well have unhinged her already delicate balance.
She wrote him a poem which he published on his web-site..it was called' the tube traveller'.Miss rose never surrendered her pen,and now the poems seemed to have a life of their own...they woke her up on nights when she was desperate for rest,like an urgent and unwanted lover. She wandered whether this d.m.t.thing might make them go away;the poetry or the lovers;she was not quite sure!
Miss rose giggled again. She liked the Miss Marple analogy...she could be a private detective taking notes rather than a tortured, and rather sleep-deprived, poet. She was a private detective;it was true in a way. She was looking for a missing person...she was in search of herself...putting the puzzle of herself together. Not like the awful number-one ladies detective agency...but dear Agatha Christie with her men problems and her pot shards in the desert. Miss rose wryly imagined numbering each shattered piece of her discarded life..laying them out painstakingly on a flat desert rooftop. What a strange pot she would make.."the rose vessel" proudly displayed within the hallowed cabinets of the British museum.
Miss rose laughed and fumbled for her boarding pass yet again......
The sun rises over Pakistan and Miss rose doesn't seem to have slept much at all. Miss rose contemplated serenely as she gazed out of the window as to why things became arduous when they were really quite easy to achieve; and
why we become trapped when possibilities are really quite endless.....She had dreamt she sat upon the green lawns of the country house,waiting for the picnic to begin. Voices moved through the still summer air while the sun shone fitfully down from a cloudscaped sky. Would it rain or not, the perennial English question,and,was it raining in her himalayan home.....?The breeze came to cool the air with maybe a promise of rain;was it time to move into shelter or to sit and listen to this vocal warm up...? multiple choice questions...!The sun played hide and seek. The picnickers assembled.....where had those earrings gone....?
Miss rose laughed remembering Sig's remark 'If you have kept both earrings you haven't had enough fun.'It was a severe handicap to Miss rose that she did not have pierced ears;she was always in danger of losing her clip-on earrings. Miss rose blamed her maternal grandmother for this misfortune. She remembered that day when her grandmother sadly regarded the bouffant-haired rebel before her...she was to promise never to tattoo her skin,never to pierce her body and to always keep her legs closed;well two out of three wasn't bad....but she'd lost an awful lot of earrings!
She'd met Sig on a beach...the usual plethora of palm trees laced to the Indian ocean. He'd asked if '...he might join her?' with his soft Euro burr. She had fallen in love....swiftly and with no respite. She gazed into his face. His cheekbones burnt their way into her consciousness and took her back to the silver-screen idols of her childhood-----to beloved Ingrid Bergman and the deliciously remote Greta Garbo......objects of much desire and veneration in her dumpy pre-teens. Miss rose looked across the café table to their present day reincarnation. He sat swinging long silken brown tresses and seemingly talking sense....a truly rare commodity on these beaches!
Miss rose sighed in her seat....remembering that first fateful meeting. Within half an hour he told her he was irredeemably gay and pensionably crazy. Miss rose gazed into his eyes transfixed..'what a deliciously unsuitable young man he was!'She was hooked. Miss rose had always frowned upon suitability; upon the 'right course.' She had always veered towards the most disastrous course possible....it seemed her life's mission....it was a lifelong habit; she was still picking up the pieces....that damn pot again! Miss rose smiled crookedly up at him with candid and undisguised adoration. It was this chance meeting that had brought her to the Himalayas.
Miss rose was not 'the chosen one',Sig invited simply everyone to the himalayan village where he was starting up a guest house. He was obsessed with his new venture,in truth, the man was obsessed with quite a lot of things. This fact she came to realize fairly quickly. Most of all,of course, he was obsessed with himself. Miss rose was delighted to meet a fellow obsessive; a soul mate; an equally over-analytical personality, She smiled, he shuffled on his specially imported beach cushion...and gazed at her with those implacable eyes.
They had many meetings, nothing arranged; he was no good at arrangements;just casual and remorseless meetings round the same table,the same spot on the beach....he was also a creature who liked habit and familiarity.
Miss rose only missed her yoga class twice. He,or perhaps what she felt for him, was far too mesmerizing. She only required small doses of him ; seeing him once every three days seemed to stop her pangs....my goodness he was like a drug...! Then,after about six weeks,she found strange words coming from her mouth:
“she could help him....”(oh no,she groaned inwardly...what was she saying!)She might be able to give him one month of her life.....one month to help set up this guest house......that's if her friends and family agreed. It was like the questions on 'who wants to be a millionaire'......Sig looked sardonically at her.........
'But rose,surely you are old enough to make your own decision...?'Miss rose gulped at this revolutionary thought and pondered.....yes,a month,not long, even though she was supposed to be managing a property for friends....even though she was involved with a fairly new project with another friend,even though she had plans and web sites to achieve....,even though she was hardly in a sound financial position....a month was harmless wasn't it?She smiled at the effrontery..but yes,she was a 'free woman',that rare creature,after so many years of children and marriage it still seemed shocking....and the earth tilted a little on it's axis...she seemed to hear the palm fronds sigh with gentle exasperation....
So that's how it all began.... Sig thought her a little eccentric, he was quite perceptive in this! He could not quite believe it when she actually turned up,true almost to the day specified,in his little mountain village of Potcheer. She had now become a Himalayan commuter,this would be her third visit. Miss rose had met many people on her travels; often they asked why she kept going back to the same places...this was a question she could not quite understand....or explain. Maybe she needed familiarity to hold onto? Maybe she had done enough 'rushing-around-sightseeing' with her last(she hoped!)husband. Again just maybe she'd found the most beautiful place where she felt at ease,at home, happy and content;although why everyone needed justifications was puzzling. Her grey curls shook again, she thought that if you cry so much on leaving a place,it must be because you have to return....''The pain she felt on leaving' …..sounded like an Irish emigre song,but it was a true statement. Every time she left this village,which some even thought ugly and nondescript,she felt a searing pain,like leaving a lover. Of course she adored Sig,but he was hardly a lover; she felt it was somehow the village that pulled her so and could not quite work it out. Miss rose seemed to have found her own Emerald City and there was no damn way she was ever going back to Kansas now!
Miss rose had never understood that girl. Why would Dorothy want to go back to dreary old sepia toned Kansas with the dreadful smells of it's barn?She was sure the Emerald City was perfumed,like India, with insense;or insensibility;to misquote Jane Austen. Miss rose was a dreamer; the land of oz; with it's colour,it's music and dancing, it's highly unsuitable men....was far more preferable. Miss rose had been brought up in the sepia toned Black Country,with the endless grey terraced houses,and, of course, the smell of industry. Maybe that's why she wore her own version of the ruby-red slippers! Miss rose had escaped many years ago;she had left those dull grey streets for the white-porticoed houses of central London, her own emerald city for a long time. Now she seemed to be on the move again......
Miss rose woke with a start....she was now on the bus; 446 Kilometres from Delhi.....149 K. away from Manali. This was a snakey road with it's convoys of buses and trucks. The road often faced some sheer unlit precipice; indeed some of it was still being constructed as they rolled merrily,and often obliviously along! This major artery connecting the plains of the south to the hills and mountains of the Himalayan plateau suffered stoically from such constant nightly pummelling and the resultant erosions. It snaked like the Lord Shiva's locks,and ,of course,the driver loves to play the overtaking game. Exhausted waggoner's stop beside the road to narrow the position even more treacherously and the driver loves to overtake once more!Miss rose crosses herself. There are numerous,much needed, shrines; and, of course,the ever hospitable and ever frequent 'chai wallahs',their crude stoves burning like nineteenth-century Black Country furnaces in the ink-night air.
As the stars came out over her beloved Himalayas Miss rose opened her window. Anyone who has travelled on an Indian bus knows this to be a patently absurd statement....rather she pulled,yanked,and broke her fingernails to jog open the glass with a screech that woke nearby passengers from their awkward slumbers. ....The frosty stares and huddled figures accused her of imbecility...it was cold. Miss rose looked up at the pollution-free sky and sighed just at the same moment as the bus slipped down the hastily night-gravelled embankment. The driver reacted with some dexterity while Miss rose... solitary witness to their peril,hastily said her 'hail Mary's'. She was not even remotely catholic,having been brought up a strict Methodist, but the incantation seemed to work. The increasing mass of accusatory stares left her unable to continue her 'sky at night' vigil;indeed they seemed to somehow hold her responsible for the off-road experience! And yes, it was cold. These stares were by no means a new occurrence to Miss rose. As a 'woman of a certain age' Miss rose was a martyr to her hot flushes. Whilst the rest of her travelling companions shivered in their 'retreat from Leningrad' woollen balaclavas...Miss rose would often be opening windows for views. Sadly she'd faced these stares many times before;her cheeks reddened with a combination of hormonal imbalance and good old-fashioned shame.
To bless weary travellers,especially those who cannot open windows,Miss rose dips into her ten-rupee biscuits for fortification! Her back is in spasm by now;only the sturdy Volvo has the suspension needed to avoid the chiropractor. These cheaper buses are so bone-shaking that you are in danger of losing teeth on the journey from the plains. Delhi was a cheerfully polluted 40 degrees plus so this bus is full of tourists craving the sweet air of the hills. The journey can only be likened to the retreat from Alamein, with abandoned vehicles, or perhaps an expedition to cross the mighty Rockies.....though her fellow pioneers are mainly Asian. Being the only 'almost-blonde' means that Miss rose never gets left behind at the frequent pit-stops, well, not yet anyway, but you never knew with all these frosty stares...Miss rose shudders at the memory of a night coach journey to the Edinburgh Festival when she was heartlessly abandoned at Keele services.
The driver's repeated Jimmy Hill on the brake pedal antics would seem much more suited to Monaco but Miss rose leans against her by now firmly closed window to assess the morning terrain. Onions are in season, so are courgettes,this land is as fertile as the Nile delta. The combination of mountain minerals washed down by copious rainfall gives multiple crops each year all grown with traditional husbandry.'We all need a bit of that' thought Miss rose wryly...she had come to the conclusion that the traditional husband raises one eye above his newspaper, whilst the 'new-man' raises two!
Manali bus station was always muddy but Miss rose was an old Glastonbury hand. She also learnt quickly and now knew never to lift her own case out of the bus. Instead she left that dubious honour to the happy winner of the tut-tut competition. This lucky man could retrieve the damn thing (that word again...she must be tired from the journey,)and carry it aloft to his panting steed,held high like a Roman legion's banner, the true spoils of war. It always amused Miss rose that taxi drivers the world over never seemed to have come across a suitcase before...what was it?it was so heavy,what was in it?extra monies required etc.etc. Miss rose smiled and clambered aboard her flimsy tin steed. She wandered idly if the 30kilo luggage allowance was heavier than her taxi? This would hopefully give more stability on the rutted unmade road that climbed up to the village,some ballast for the final push...
Miss rose looked sadly down at her swollen feet; her dusty bags; the two unbroken nights of travelling had taken their toll;when would she learn to break the journey in Delhi? When would she be sensible and not feel that urgent tug of the hills?.....Almost there,she gazed down at the river which blessed her valley and remembering her first arrival,sang softly through her gap-toothed smile.
Miss rose had always loved music,had always loved singing. She was brought up around her grandfather's sturdy upright piano. She loved musicals;and adored opera;she often tried to live them! Elaine Paige on Radio 2 was like a favourite old aunty gently knocking on her door each Sunday...'it's only me' it's E.P.'For many years her self-effacing younger sister had started her telephone calls with the same mantra..'it's only me...'Miss rose smiled to herself upon the contradictions of language. The 'me' denoted the fact that the person should be instantly recognized;the 'only' gave a diminution to this effrontery. That first time she had stood upon the roof of the Temple guest house like a parody of the famous opening helicopter shots from the Sound of Music. This latter day Julie Andrews waved her arms wide;a frequent habit with Miss rose;and revolved around the roof taking in the stupendous mountain views...scenery was much too small a concept for what lay before her. Miss rose blessed god for her sight,and her yoga teacher for his neck twists......
Miss rose wished for a moment to be an owl,to get that complete 100% swivel.'My Sig you have impeccable taste' she spoke aloud to the empty rooftop. Miss rose had 'arrived' and it really did not matter if he was here,he was the catalyst who had led her to this place.
And after all these visits she still wasn't sure...if it was him;or the majestic mountains;or the village;or her swami;or the temple itself: one of the holiest shrines in India. In India,land of such bounty,there was always more than one;much more than one divinity;much more than one path;much more than one life;more,much more creative energy than in the West..;and so much more than one reason;one explanation. As a creature of excess she was in the right place and tears of joy fell down her wrinkled cheeks. The very next morning Miss rose found her swami.....but that's another story. Let's leave her 'upon the roof'... singing from 'the sound of music' and 'the Drifters'.... spinning round to fill her travel worn tear-brimmed eyes. Let's leave her in this happy moment of arrival,when 'her cup truly runneth over.'
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