Adventures on an Indian Visa (week 6): South-West India

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Day 36

Bangalore is a city very much in the vein of hectic Mumbai, but a hell of a lot cleaner. I arrived there just as the sun was rising, & honestly I’ve never seen so many trucks as they lin’d the roads for about 3 miles on the western approaches to the city. We then passed a golf course slap bang in the city centre, protecting pedestrians by these giant nets that ring its monsoon-lush greenery. Lining the route were loads of billboards & brand-new apartments, signs of Bangalore’s status as the most western city of India, growing fat on the IT industries & being the principle centre for telecommunications in India.

Nick-named ‘Silicon Valley,’ Bangalore really does paint itself as a modern western city – the Seattle of the east. I got dropp’d off into its pulsating heart at rush hour (about 8am), where many an American-clad youth was hurrying off to their call centre work. I then spent most of the morning in search of some rizlas to go with the very fine Nepalese charas I’d been tripping out on in Hampi, but to no avail. God, I would have paid ten pounds for a single fuckin’ rizla! So, ‘fuck Banglore,’ I thought, ‘I’m outta here,’ & ended up in a nearby fortress-town with the wonderful name of Sriringapattanam. It was once the capital of a king called Tipu Sultan, the ‘Tyger of Mysore,’ who was defeated by the Duke of Wellington, well before he was a duke, in the first significant victory of Wellington’s career.

Tipu stuck in the imperialist British throat like a chicken bone. It took them years to defeat him & make their first major claims on southern India. Tipu was martyred thro’ a vaguely noble death, personally defending a breach in the walls of his capital, where thro’ the smoke of battle the piss’d-up redcoats could not differentiate him from a common soldier & slew him, his body turning up next morning underneath a pile of his dead soldiers. I saw the very spot he died as I spent the evening being carried around the town in a pony-driven carriage, checking out all the sights, then later on deflecting an Indian businessman’s attempts to marry off one of his daughters!

I am beginning to get used to India & the people, if not falling head over heels in love with them. The country itself is generally quite scruffy, but the vegetation & scenery are often stunning. I’m also finding that on breaking away from the main tourist trail I am regularly encountering a non-hostile curiosity as to my country? my good name? my marital status? & my job? It;s all very cordial & it’s a case of so far so good, while somewhere south of here there’s another beach with my name on it.

In the hotel I was staying at I had a crazy conversation with this English guy. A month or so ago he had been kidnapped at gunpoint in an alleyway in Hyderabad & held captive for three days in a derelict house. He had no food or water & was forced to telephone his family in England for some cash, inventing a reason as he did so. Luckily, they didn’t understand enough English to realise he was telling his dad what was really going on & the gang was intercepted outside a bank just before they collected the money, with one ‘bandit’ being shot dead. However, instead of flying immediately home the guy has kept the two grand & is now writing a book of his experiences in the much more tranquil environs of Sriringapattanam. I mean, this country, it’s such a place of wild extremes, I love it !

Day 37

This morning I moved on to Mysore, where fate once more push’d me into the company of this old, bald Swiss guy I’d bumped into at both Goa & Hampi (weird). We agreed three random meetings is more than a coincidence & we’re thinking of hiring out a houseboat to sail the Keralian backwaters in a couple of days. I’m meeting him in a place call’d Fort Cochin tomorrow.

Mysore was the most pleasant city so far – wide European streets & a genial atmosphere, – but not enough to make me stay. I spent instead another six hours on a bus winding thro’ thick jungle. As my soul’s boatman cut thro’ Karnataka I burst once more atop the feisty Ghats, drinking in the heady views that lead to Kerala, Calicut & the Arabian Sea, drinking a £1 bottle of whisky & grooving to my tunes.

Calicut’s a big, historical city, & the site of Vasco de Gama’s 15th century arrival in India, as celebrated in the epic poem The Lusiads by Camoens. On Vasco’s first arrival, the shock’d natives carried him head high in palanquins to their king, who made the eternal error of doing trade with the White Man. So, Vasco swaps loads of gold & silver with the Indians, including 50 knives with ivory handles, for all the spices of the east & takes them back to Portugal, where he’s heap’d with praise & honour. While being lauded, a second expedition went to Calicut, but this lot clearly didn’t have Vasco’s charm & were all slaughter’d instead. Vasco the return’d to India with a mini-army & was this time full of retribution. He took captive 800 merchants trading peacefully; cut their hands ears & noses off; tied their feet together; covered them with dry mats & leaves; then set the ship on fire. European imperialism & all its evils had just arrived in India.

On Vasco’s first visit, he was piloted to the Keralian shore by two Thomas Christians, a subsect of Christianity that hold the apostle, Saint Thomas, extremely high in their religious esteem. Some even think he was the twin brother of Jesus. Anyway, about the year 52 AD, he is said to have landed on the Keralian coast & establish’d seven church communities. Apparently, he went on to die near Chennai in Tamil Nadu, where I will be heading at some point. But back in today, by the late afternoon I was taking a wee walk thro’ a proper jungley suburb of the city, where I pass’d a large group of village lads playing footy. I was soon barefooted & joining in, playing in defence with an occasional Highland charge into the goal-scoring area. My fellow defenders were three coconut trees, seeing as the rest of my team all seem’d to be strikers, & we did well to shut out the other side despite our goalie also being a striker, & went on to win the match 3-0. Afterwards, I shook about thirty pairs of hands & went home in my merry old way.

Day 38

This morning I delved deeper south into Kerala, which unfortunately is an alcohol-free state. I am currently nestled amidst the rooftops of Fort Cochin, an old Portuguese enclave & very pleasant indeed. It’s all rather charming, & it seems very much like a typical English Sunday; reading the Hindu times, drinking tea & watching cricket in my hotel. I have just enjoyed an excellent meal watching the end of the latest one-dayer between England & India, which we won, much to the waiter’s chagrin! I’m glad I got my food before the English won! I’ve totally discover’d now that the Indians – all Indians – take their cricket so seriously, so passionately, because here cricket is one of the actual Gods, it seems, with Sachin Tendulkar the messiah & Sehwag the second coming.

Beyond my little enclave, Cochin is a bit touristy, but a pleasant place where you lounge on the rooftops among the Portuguese buildings, or lazily stroll along the sea-front, admiring the Chinese fisher nets & checking out the catch of the day. Also in Cochin is the Swiss guy, who has pick’d up some quality weed back & we were sharing it on the hotel rooftop terrace, the both of us suitably stoned & swaying, when not so long ago he nearly lost two fingers in a fan above us – it sounded fucking painful. Because of the accident he says he’d rather stay in Cochin & heal his wounds, so looks like I’m doing the backwaters on my own.

Elsewhere in India-land I am winning the battle of the Mosquitoes. The Nazi bastards & their droning whines have had the upper hand up until now, but I have recently been developing some new techniques. At first, I would set up a safe defensive position under my net, only venturing out for some ‘zapping’ with my heaviest book. It is very dispiriting to look at their ‘splats’ & see your own crimson life-force sprayed across the wall. However, I have started to use the net as, well, a net, & catching the fuckers in it & then crush them to bits – it’s been a very effective strategy.

I have just penn’d the following sonnet while enjoying the evening ambience;

Come share a second with serenity
Up in this lake of European rooves,
This crescent lamp’d oer th’Arabian sea
Lulls me thither, I hear the sound of hooves…

At once a sacred chime grows on the breeze,
Some teller of a thousand ancyent tayles,
Some from the world’s crop-fellers overseas,
Some cross the Karakoram’s lofty trails,
Some were seekers of immortal glory,
Some content to be husbands, to be wives…

Tho’ the vision all clutter’d & hoary,
With me a single memory survives,
Being extras in the global story
We are stars in the movies of our lives.

Day 39

Left Cochin, got myself to Aleppy, then went on an 8-hour boat trip along the gorgeous Keralian Backwaters. It was serene as fuck, passing pretty little villages, some of the menfolk fishing with spears as they dodging the steady flow of humming boats. Cue exotic birdlife, waving kids, & a ten-mile an hour cruise on what has to be one of the most beautiful ‘bus rides’ in the world.

I’d bought some brandy for the voyage, which the captain soon noticed, on which he immediately invited me into his cabin for a drink (of my brandy). Coming in towards Kollam I, & all my soul, paid witness to one of the golden treasures of Kerala… the narrow backwaters suddenly fanning out into an awesome, horizon filling scene… 360 degrees of palm tipp’d coastline. I was literally hauled onto my feet in one of those intrepid explorer moments. Many others had seen the scene before me, but I genuinely felt I was the first to ever see it!

A wee while after this wonder of travel the sun set, it got dark & I found myself finally nestl’d in beach-hugging Varkala, of which I shall describe in more detail tomorrow. It’s definitely nice to be by the sea again, however, my spirits are soaring.

Day 40

Ah, the beach!

Varkala is well chill’d out. Dark, golden sands hugging the bottom of volcanic red cliffs, on which sit a number of restaurants. Life basically consists of lying on the beach interspersed with refreshment breaks (those steps up the cliff are a killer). I have never been this close to the equator before, & it’s hot! We’re also close to the Indian Ocean & I can sense as much from the waves – they are mean fuckers. Already I have lost some beads, a pair of shorts & got a nasty graze on my arm from being flung onto the sea-bed & for I while convinced I had broken my neck!

I’ve got great accommodation, pleasant rooms by a pond (so the fish eat all the mosquitoes), with my own private eating hut set out in the water. Tonight, I was sat down smoking with a woman, who works in a Milanese publishing house, with whom I was practicing my own limited, but relatively proficient apprenticeship of the Ausonian lingua franca. Meanwhile, my tantric landlord has just leant me a guitar so I’m gonna sit down & write me some kind of psychedelic ‘Eastern’ number – I’ve bought some Indian tunes & a big bag of grass so wish me luck…

Day 41


A very shanti day. Shanti means peaceful I think. Nothing happen’d of note, tho’ I did complete the song. This is what I came up with, the main impulse of which seems to be some kind of desire for neo-imperialism. I’m not quite sure where it came from, but the tune’s bangin!


I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna plant me my standard there
I’m gonna claim it for my country
As I build my country there

I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna build me my palace there
I’m gonna fill the pool with diamonds
Fountain rosemilk everywhere

Following the eastern star
Sailing to the shores of Shangri-La
You don’t have to travel far
To find out the star you are

I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna build me my prison there
I’m gonna chain the native wisemen up
In mucky dungeon’s air

I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna build me my harem there
I’m gonna bed the native beauties
Scatter rubies thro’ the air

Following the eastern star
Sailing to the shores of Shangri-La
You don’t have to travel far
To find out the star you are

I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna build me a harbour there
I’m gonna send a boat for all my friends
This paradise to share….

Day 42

After a lovely full day on the beach, I left Varkala; one song & two bags of weed to the good. I was soon heading into a new state call’d Tamil Nadu, where up & over the Ghats I found myself in a place call’d Ambassamudram. The electricity was only on for a few hours at a time, but you don’t need electricity if you’re exploring amazing forestry with a driver & guides, wandering about the gorgeously green uplands of the Western Ghats, on the trail of an Indian saint call’d Agastya.

I’d read about him online yesterday in Varkala, studying the area where I was going & all that, & he sounds a very interesting fellow. According to this one guy (Dr. Mandayam Kumar of the Siddha Medical Research Institute in Bangalore), ‘Jesus Christ had his training under Sage Agasthya and spent nearly twelve years at Paradesi Kundai of Courtalam Hills, undertaking Yogic training.’ I mean, Jesus Christ, studying in south India, that’d be a turn up for the books. Unless it’s in one of the 50-odd books kept secret by the Vatican City that are thought would be devastating for Christianity at once if they ever saw the light of day.

It kinda makes sense, y’know. Agastya was said to be able to render his body into a state of suspended animation at will, a meditative state known as samadhi. Yogic masters slow their breathing and heart rate down to such an extent that they would appear dead to the onlooker. This is surely the most important connection between Agastya and Jesus, for it tells us the exact way in which the latter survived the Crucifixion. There’s also a fascinating connection between the ‘miracles’ of Jesus & the medical system known as Sidha, whose home is in the hills near Ambassamudram. One of Agastya’s preparations, for example, Boopathi Kuligai, could bring the dead back to life, just like Jesus did with Lazarus. There’s also Choondu Varma (mesmerism) and Kirikai Chikisai (psychiatry), which were the same disciplines on which Jesus drew in order to cure daemonic possession (Mark 1:23-27).


I found quite a lot on the internet, actually. There’s another Siddha-Jesus connection comes thro’ the curing of ophthalmological disorders, which we may discern from Dr PJ Thottham’s, ‘certain oils believed to have a cooling effect are applied to the head. They keep the nervous system active and healthy. Among other types of medicine are the ones instilled into the eye, such as mais or kattus which are rubbed on a stone, along with the juice of a plant, milk, coconut water or rose water. The resultant paste is applied into the eyes with the help of a stick. Similarly, there are certain medicines in a paste form, which are applied externally on the eyelids of the patient.’ This method, of creating a paste to rub into the eyes of the afflicted, has an intimate resonant tone with the curing, by Jesus, of a blind man;

When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with clay. And said unto him, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam. He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.’ (John 9:7)

Agastya was suppos’d to have lived upon the Potiyil hill, which I witness’d towering over the locality like the Tamil Mount Doom, a cone-shaped edifice erupting out of its less aesthetic shadowy cousins of this portion of the Western Ghats. On arriving in Ambassamudram, however, I discovered that to visit the mountain I had to go in from the Kerala side, gaining permission from Trivandrum forestry commission en route. I’m not going back for Kerala, fuck that, so my new plan was to get as close as to the Potiyil as I could, which involved travelling with a couple of local guides who helped us cruise through the security checks & avoid the Ring-Wraiths (Forestry Commissioners). I had a splendid old time, including a dip in a powerful waterfall at the Agastya Falls. Another highlight was a boat-trip across a man-mad dam, whose surrounding scenery was more beautiful than anything I’ve seen in Britain – it was so epic! But this was as close as I was gonna get to the Potiyil Hill, for as I’ve already, said the trekking paths up it actually started on the other side of the Ghats, back in Kerala. I didn’t mind, however, for the day had been a majestic one, & I slept the soundest of sleeps back in Ambassamudram.


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