Adventures on an India Visa (week 17): Gorkhaland
My Himalayan odyssey began with a jeep-taxi from Siliguri, the furthermost city of the Gangeatic plains. At one point there were 16 people in it & on it, but it was all good fun, & as we rose up among deliciously wooded hills, the rush of India faded away like hairs on a moulting Cat. As we snaked up the road-slopes, our taxi-driver mention’d his family had a guest house, & after him dropping packages & people around Mirik for an hour, we were on the drive to his pad when lo & behold Andy & Tereza were chugging thro’ town with their backpacks.
‘Jump in,’ I said, & picking up another English guy called Pete en route, we’d set up home in this proper buzzing guest house, with immaculate rooftop views of the lakes, a stunning, gold-gilded Buddhist monastery right next to us, giant tumuli-tea estates all surrounding, & India’s highest peak, Mount Kangchezonga, in all its glory, the sight of which inspir’d the following sonnet
I came on Pemagangtse in the night
A leopard passing slowly in the snow
Awaiting precious pinch of silver light
Announcing phoenix day in foetal glow
I gazed across the Kabrus unaware
That to these climes had Calliope come
Slopes glooming greys, as sunbeams fill the air
They turn the burnish’d burgondy of rum
Savitri’s spell impells the Sun to strength
Red turns to orange, orange burns to gold
& as all shadows shorten in their length
What summit sparkles white, where, very cold,
My muse sits, singing, wisest of the nine
“On Nanda Devi waits my sister’s sign!”
Mirik is yet another India, with everywhere the Asiatic faces of the Nepalese & their language – there’s not a sari or a wobble of the head to be seen. It is a part of West Bengal, but there are massive efforts to give the area state status – it makes proper sense really. This was highlighted by us joining in a cricket match with some young lads & I declared it an India– England world cup match. ‘WE ARE GHOKARLAND!’ they insisted, & went on to stuff us. It’s a cool pitch, with a six scor’d from a hit into the lake. The next day we went back for more, & getting a few locals on our side we went down to the last couple of balls – we’re gonna win soon, I can tell. After the match we had a drinking session at the house, fill’d out with the delicious home cooking of our hosts – with salads & veg fresh from their garden. This food was rival’d earlier in town, however, by the best puri in India, & the white lumps of lard that are call’d momos. You get these great large dumpling types full of veg, or these mini ones with unadulterated beef. Tasty as fuck!
It was in the momo shack, with papers & books spread all before me, with several pairs of narrow Gorkha eyes staring at me, that I loved just being a poet abroad. Amazing moments of actualisation that verify that day on the Cliffs over Portovenere where I truly dedicated myself to poetry. This is the sonnet I compos’d in those moments;
I march on different minds in different ways,
A force beyond all knowledges combined,
But let it now be known to each on Earth
I have a single name & that be God,
Tho’ splintered by the tangl’d knot of tongues,
For as a man in Orchaa calls me Ram,
In Qadian as Allah am I prais’d.
Now reconciling all these diffírences,
To every race a prophet have I sent,
To fill them with the milk of mine intent,
A source of common good, a common source
From which this well-font of my message springs,
A clear soul-song for all who wish to hear,
Thro’ Me find Heaven & in Heaven, Love!
Ah… what a glory it is to be in Darjeeling, an epic sprawl of a place that clings to the hills like the houses of Sheffield & Rome. Unlike those cities, however, beneath them the hills just keep on dropping. Then you have wonderful hills rising across the valleys in splendid majesty; on one side, the snow peaks of Kangchendzonga & its attendant mountains remind me most of all of the glory of nature. India’s highest peak lies before me, & only a few hundred meters shy of Everest – I think its number three in the world. I’ve been admiring it, sipping the celestial golden nectar of unmilked, unsugared Oolong tea, slowly wandering the narrow streets & sharp steps of Darjeeling. Thro’ the main road runs the tracks of the train that heaves itself up from the plains on a narrow gauge. The Indian sun is hot, but the skin is cool’d by the mountain air, a perfect sensorary experience. I’m here with Andy, who has just had a successful mission buying two Ghorka WW2 war medals from a cool curio shop, to replace the ones his grandfather had stolen a few years ago in Britain – a sentimental gift for his auntie & his mum.
This morning I went on a walk & got chatting to this beautiful guy, who suddenly points out a hill about two hundred meters away, with a wee village perch’d upon it, was Nepal! I could veritably touch it, & would have gone there & then, but I thought I’d research the geopolitics it first. This led me to discover that the Indian government has introduc’d this new rule that says if you leave the country, you cannot come back for two months. Off the record, however, if you do a Colditz-style mission over the border (with a joint’s worth in the pocket of course) – what can they do? Indian rupees are valid over there – in fact there are no restrictions for Indians crossing the border at all. Its been a long time since I’d gone on a memorable adventure, & its about time I saw another country, so I’m off in a few days on a wee madcap. Kathmandu’s 20 hours away by bus, but I reckon I’ll just fanny about the east of the country. Besides, I dont think I’ll get that far up Everest in mi flip-flops! Here’s what m’ mates Phil & Steve – regular Nepal visitors – had to say on the matter:
Nepal is havin free entry to get the tourists back year .. free one month visa .. otherwise its a porous border – a paraglider I know flew across the border and back after 6 months .. you can walk through if you can do a minor invisibility thing at Sinauli (have someone take yer pack) – and the same out as long as yr indian visas in order, also the 2 months out thing was a reaction to a someone on a British passport going in and out of Pakistan on the 6 month thing – an so theyre trying to check people more, this is as of last year, and then you could do it legaly into nepal, and then go to indian embassy an show ‘em your ticket out of india and get a new indian visa for a month or 2 week transit .. so its negotiable sort of thing, but sure you can slip through and back
Sneaking into nepal, hhmmmm, its actually quite easy to do at the border crossings, when stuck on india border for the night its easy to just walk across the border and get a nice nepali beer. The majority of hotels do check your visa, especially in the small towns, and if you did get caught it would be big trouble in a sub-continental sort of way, probably end up a few days at least in prison cell, with lots of flapping and accusations of spying. And worst of all a heap big fine, or donation to local police christmas fund. but my advice is stay longer and by a ticket back from nepal with air arabia (arab ryan air) to Istanbul. It was about 100 quid couple of years ago.
Today we busted into Nepal! It was only a brief foray, but funny as fuck.So I led Charlie to the brim of the valley, pointed out Nepal, then plunged down the 100 metres or so, then back up the other side, to find ourselves in a little narrow village. Finding a shack, we proceeded to grab some excuisite noodles in beef soup, wash’d down by bottles of brandy about half the price than in India. The friendly, vaguely astonish’d seem’d to enjoy our company, & accepting rupees, gave us our change in Nepalese money. On them was printed Mount Everest, & so I can now say with some honesty I have been to Nepal & seen Everest. At that I said to Charlie maybe its better we left before we got lumber’d, so off we went back down into the valley & back into Mirik. A few hours later we were then back on our way to Calcutta & a sleeper train.
Last night was entertaining, when a sudden bout of dysentery struck Charlie who was soon pathetically hanging off his sleep bed with his undies round his ankles & an Indian man hovering above him menacingly wanting to chuck him off the train. The dysentry had floored him – literally, pinning him to the skanky train toilet while his entire body gush’d fluids. Just like me on the boat to Andaman. He was so weak & confused that he sat down on the wrong sleeper bed – stinking of shit in his undies remember – right on top of a menacing guys wife. I sooth’d the situation & once we got to Calcutta got him the same tablets I’d had.
This got him right enough to get to the airport for his flight home & suddenly I was alone – well, apart from the guys at the Modern Lodge to where I’d return’d. Also there were three Australian bonnie lasses with a bottle of ketamine, & cook’d it up for them while they went out for some food. On returning, we chopp’d the lines out & I ended the day barechested in their room, drinking rum, all three of them led silently in a k-hole, in & around my legs. A much better scenario than sharing a room with Charlie!
Today was the World Cup semi-final – with India playing arch-rivals Pakistan. An extremely exciting day – the match was on everywhere & the tension was palpable. Towards the end of the day, in the dark, I was watching the final overs in this mad wee political party office for the vibes, & after they won the ‘war,’ the streets of Calcutta exploded into ecstasy; five guys on a single bike streaming past, the flag of India fluttering behind them; groups of young lads running down every street cheering their head off; the massive jam of people & cars & people on cars down Park Street, screaming & singing & all sorts. A proper awesome display of euphoria, like a squat party without the drugs. It was a wonder to witness & be an actual part of!
Tomorrow I’ve decided to leave Calcutta, heading back to Plassey & then Murshidibad, before finally facing the sunset & heading west. I think I’ll be heading to the supposedly amazing Varansi, then on to Delhi before heading north to see the Himalayas on the other side of Nepal. It is there, in Kashmir, that the tomb of ‘Yuz Asaf’, a suitable destination for my investigation into the Indian Jesus.
I am writing this on the evening of Day 121, because of the following rather harrowing & extremely narrow escape…
With poesis brimming from every fibre, I felt compell’d to take that trip to Plassey, 150K north of Calcutta, to check out the battlefield where Clive won Britain her first important slice of Raj cake. The events surrounding that 1757 battle are a microcosm of the British Empire in India. Despite having just 3,000 troops against 50,000, Clive of India somehow pull’d off the win. By promising the leader of part of his opposition’s army leadership of the region, he managed to sow discord & the guy buggar’d off from the field with all his men. What was left to fight was soon defeated with accurate volleys of rifle fire. Thus, by playing off prince against prince, like at Plassey, the British slowly conquer’d the sub-continent & held down a country of 300 million souls with just British 40,000 soldiers.
Reaching the battlefield’s nearest station, I hired a cycle rickshaw to show me what was left of any features of the field, all spent underneath a hot & shimmering sun. I’ve hit the Gangeatic plane now, & all one can see is alluvial flatlands at every turn. After a couple of hours pottering & musing on the dark dragonflies that darted hither & thither, my guide dropp’d me off at the bus stop where I hopp’d on a bus to Murshidabad, the capital of Clive’s opponent in 1757, the Nawab of Bengal. I noticed the driver was a bit reckless, but this didn’t phase me as I’ve gotten used to the crazy roads & nothing has happen’d… until now. I was happily cruising along in the middle of one of those days that makes life worthwhile when I black’d out. Regaining consciousness several hours later I found myself in a hospital ward, cover’d in blood & surrounded by my fellow passengers – some hook’d up to drips, moaning & in a pretty bad way. The fuckin’ bus had smash’d head on into a truck!
I took stock of my wounds… a face cover’d in minor scratches from flying glass (even my pockets had glass in them), two deep cuts to the temple (which still throbs painfully) & a completely fuck’d right shoulder. The hospital was pretty dire, & of course I have no insurance, so after blagging a sling I snook out the back (a burly security guard wouldn’t let me leave by the front) & caught a train to historical Murshidabad. My first attempt at finding a hotel room failed – I was so tatty & torn & bloody they wouldn’t let me in. I was luckier the second time – a grotty pad in run-down place, I found a room & went straight into a concussion-fuell’d, very deep, very heavy sleep…