Adventures on an Indian Visa (week 19): North India

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Day 127

A very cool day in Varanasi. I got a boatman to row me up & down the Ganges while I skinn’d up & read about the Buddhism, the birth of which which happened under a bodhi tree Somewhere around these parts. Seven weeks of meditation without moving from the spot kind vibe. As we splash’d thro the water, I was proper immers’d in world history & having a fabulous time until we drifted past these burning ghats & the smell of flaming flesh got right up my nostrils.

Another incident reyt sticks in my mind. It began when a young monkey got struck by a car. Suddenly there was a huge kerfuffle as all his tribe turned up to rescue him, stopping the traffic for a good thirty minutes! Finally, my last night in Varanasi was spent watching DVD’s on an Amstrad green monitor – very weird indeed.

As the day progress’d, as I was reading this Buddhist text call’d the Dhammapada. ‘The ceremony of the Dhamma is timeless,’ said emperor Ashoka,& I began converting its brief scriptures into Kural, which I group’d into seven couplets, & thus sonnets. They just came out of nowhere, really – it was familiar territory, as the verses really did feel the same as the wisdom of the Thirukural. Here’s five of them, & it shows that I might be able to expand on the Thirukural, absorbing worldy wisdom from other places as I go…

WISDOM

If people were horses
Wisest run fastest

As humanity creates canals
Wisdom guides mentality

Deem life’s measured excellence
Revering worthy gurus

Transients loving ephemeral pleasures
Envy ascetics eventually

Better we conquer ourselves
Than enemies numerous

One contemplative day outweighs
Centuries of ignorance

Age born from experience
Not passing years

DESIRE

Currents of strong desire
Carry lustfulness away

Libertines pursued by lust
Deem hunted hares

Pandering to niggling desires
Imprisons us perpetually

Neither iron nor rope
Fetters mortal passion

Deem passion’s debilitating hunger
Humanity’s greatest disease

Strong-rooted trees survive chopping
Like cravings ignor’d

Passions trash protectorless minds
Like monsoons, hovels

BODY

Those who love life
Never poisons imbibe

All beings fear danger
Life’s universal fragility

If surrounded by illness
Invigorate one’s health

Want of healthy exercise
Rusts one’s beauty

Against death’s regnant power
Relations kerfuffle uselessly

As torrents flood villages
Death drowns everyone

From life’s burning fever
Metafinity brings freedom

PURITY

Along paths of perfection
Fairest flowers found

Floral scent travels metres
Virtue’s perfume miles

Discovering & disseminating virtue
Avoids painful pointlessness

Whereas bodies decay eventually
Virtue never disappears

Nobody can purify another
Purity springs within

The joy of truth
Conquers all pleasure

As silversmiths remove impurities
Improve oneself meticulously

KINGSHIP

Frequent tours of inspection
Makes monarchy accessible

Pacifying neighbouring nations peacefully
Outcharms invasion’s bloodshed

Into improving public works
Channel state resources

As your own child
Treat every citizen

Better conquering thro dhamma
Than wastrel warfare

Protecting & promoting religions
Fosters inter-mutual harmony

When humanity rewards greatness
Pacifism out-accolades war-making


Day 128

I took another massive train ride (8 hours) to Lucknow, a city as large as Paris, where I was soon book’d into a plushish hotel & wandering about the ruins of the Residency, epicentre of the great Indian Mutiny in 1857. A perfect example of the Imperial cancer can be seen in the conquest of Lucknow by the British. After the Raja of the area invited them to his city to forge trade relations, they duly built themselves a separate apartheided area call’d the Residency, from where they began their political scheming. Eventually they managed to take over the entire region, & only a year later the great mutiny broke out, with Lucknow forming a focal point for a lot of the fighting.

The siege lasted for many months, until a successful relief by the British, the aftermath of which was the British Crown’s taking over from the East India Company, & Queen Victoria becoming the first Empress of India. Completely intrigu’d by the story, I pick’d up a copy of ‘My Diary In India’ by William Howard Russell from a local bookshop, in which I read;

Why are we in India at all? ‘Because Heaven wishes it,’ says some gentleman, who meantime thinks that Heaven’s sole design with regard to himself is, that he shall make as many rupees as he can, get his pension or his debentures, & at once leave the ‘confounded country’ for ever

Russell was a Times correspondent, who’d earn’d his plumes in the Crimean War, & was sent to cover Mutiny, witnessing its recapture in 1858. As I read thro his excellent prose tonight, I was inspir’d to write a few sonnets, the first of which I have just penn’d;

WHILE PLAY’D THE CANNONADE

General – My how hot a day this is

Reverend – I cannot agree with you sir
There was a lovely breeze this morning
The hour was three I think
& if you ever had visited Stuffcote
You wouldn’t dream of calling this hot

General – Stuffcote! Why, I have been there sir
Was there, in fact, for three years sir
It is one of the coolest stations in India

Reverend – Poppycock – in august – what nonsense

General – Yes, sir, especially & most particularly In August
I have felt positively chilly all thro the month

Reverend – Chilly? In stuffcote? In August…

Servant – More champagne, Sahib?


Day 129

Yesterday, after one last potter round the Residency, reading Russel & writing sonnets, I turn’d hard right & caught a sleeper train to the mountains. The gauge is narrower in the north, meaning less space in the carriages, & we were proper pack’d up like sardines in tin! My favorite sonnet of today reads;

POOJAH

Morning devotions as pure as the Chutrak
Who drinks only raindrops, takes up his brass pot
Strolling turblanless into the peasoup hue
Rinses his mouth in the steaming stream
Pours & rubs libations, crown & chest,
Squinting with satisfaction
Squatting in the waters to his very neck
He utters forth his low-noted song of joy
Then returns, full of awe, to the shore
Smears mud across his quivering torso
To kiss the earth repeatedly, invoking RAM
He turns his misty eyes up the heavens
& with one last taste of Goomtee spring
Leaves, mud hardening into thick yellow paste


Day 130

This morning I had to travel by cycle rickshaw & jeep to Naini Tal. It was cool entering the Himalayas, when all of a sudden the plains gave way to lofty peaks – a mixture of English fells & Alpine heights. After another 45K we arrived in Naini Tal; it feels like being inside an ancyent volcano, with a lovely lake & the everything surrounded by lush, uprushing forest. I’m not gonna be too active tho’, no treks or anything, on account of my injuries, but I’m gonna go on a something of a sighteeing trip to gain a better glimpse of the Himalayas at a place called Almora. By coincidence, the guy who had liquid acid on the Andaman boat, Phil, is gonna be there. Now that is interesting…


Day 131

Got to Almora today, but no sign of the acid, which is probably a good thing. The bus from Naini Tal wound me further & further into the Himalayas, & after a couple of hours I won a proper glimpse of the mountains, rising out of the foothills & reaching for the heavens – a sight to wonder at.

It is off-season in Almora now – it gets busy in the summer when the rest of India tops 40 degrees – so I’ve got an entire hotel to myself, & the room’s cheap. The state of Uttarakhand, where I am now, has generally been cheaper than the rest of India. For 150 rupees I’ve got a double bed, colour TV, my first towels since England & a great view of the mountains – perfect poetic conditions.

There is a 1000 year old temple in Almora dedicated to the nearby mountain, Nanda Devi, whose name means ‘Bliss-Giving Goddess.’ It’s not the most spectacular building in the world, but there is an establish’d solemnity to its antiquity which certainly puts me in my place. I might be on the edges of Humanity up here, but I’m definitely not the first. In the centre of the temple is a huge stone idol of the goddess Nanda, who may have been a real woman, a daughter of the ancient king of Garhwal Dakshyaprajapati. The whole experience reminds me of a wee passage in the ‘Stray Birsd’ by Rabindranath Tagore – whose poetry I pick’d up in Calcutta;

I think of other ages that floated upon the stream of life & love & death & are forgotten, & I feel the freedom of passing away.

I am also finding being among the Himalayas is pretty weird, in India traveller terms. As soon as the sun drops behind a cloud or mountain the temperature plummets. By night it reaches as low as 13 degrees! I’ve had to shell out for a jumper, but it’s OK as I’ll be home soon & I’ll need it.


Day 132

So, I found Phil today. Didn’t take any of his liquid acid, tho,’ I wasn’t feeling the vibes of losing control in the middle of my healing, so stay’d canny. Turns out he was a few k from Almora at a place call’d Kasa Devi, holing up a wee while before going to teach paragliding in at Pakhora in Nepal.

So, nine kilometers above Almora on a ridge nestles the hamlet of Kasa Devi, a true poetic paradise. I trawl’d up there on an expedition in a jeep & came across a hideaway for serious Western smokers. Some guys have been here for years! It turns out this is where the geezer who became the Beatles Guru is from, & he used to bring them up here back in ‘66. There’s one good reason why – marijuana grows in the street. It’s true! I’m just walking around checking out the view & stumbling across ten thousand pounds worth of ganja crop. It’s crazy! The Females aren’t cultivated so they are not full of bud, but it’s still an awesome sight. No wonder this baba sold me a bag for 10 rupees back in Naini Tal.

So, I decided to stay a night, at a spare room in Phil’s pad; hired an Agatha Christie book for 10 rupees, bought 10 grams of charas for 2-pound-fifty & chill’d out in the sun. It’s all very chillin’, surrounded by breathtaking views, especially that of the resplendent, towering, snow-capp’d, five-peak’d Nanda Devi range, which you can only see early in the day actually, before the valley mist claims the skies. Nanda Devi, whose name means “Bliss-Giving Goddess,” is the second-highest mountain in India, after Kangchenjunga, and the highest located entirely within the country (Kangchenjunga is on the border of India and Nepal). The experience of seeing her inspir’d the following sonnet;

NANDA DEVI

Up to the world’s rooftop I slowly rose;
Checking upon the progress of the soul
Appears a mountain prospect a la snows
Of Austria, New Zealand & Nepal.

I left Almora for the Kashyap Hill,
High commune of fairest tranquility,
Fresh dawntint drew me to the lofty chill
Of this monolithic Axis Mundi.

It seems for me the lips of Laksmi smile,
No sweeter place on earth to greet the sun,
Here summon’d by the lyrical lifestyle,
I whisper a gentle dedication;

“Until my feet have circuited the globe
My thought & life with poesy I shall robe.”

The one drawback was the chilly nights. My housemates had all the gear, including thermal socks, where all I had were sandals & a hammock for a blanket. Luckily, some sound guy magics up a reyt cool parker green jacket his mate left behind, saying to give it to someone in need like myself – result!


Day 133

My new jacket!

Nanda Devi was once the biggest mountain in the British Empire. Turns out Sikkim, where Kanchenzonga is situated, was once an independent kingdom & only a protectorate of British India, a status the little enation maintain’d until 1975, when it finally joined the Republic of India. It was nice to see it one more before I left & the mist roll’d up the deep-bottom’d valley slopes. Then it was a few joints & coffees, a farewell to Phil & off I went.

Went back down to Almora for the night, a young lad call’d Gary from Kasa Devi with me. Turns out he wanted a wee change from getting stoned all day. Despite me heading off that night on a sleeper bus, I book’d into the same hotel as before & we had a real lad’s day. Beer, weed, two Champions League matches & pool. There is a cool snooker place in town with two swish baize tables & our playing pool on a full-sized snooker table led to quite a crowd watchin’ the games. Despite my fuck’d shoulder (the exercise actually did it some good – 60% heal’d) I won 2-0, the third game being abandon’d because we were too stoned.

So, leaving Gary to the room, I went & bought some tasty food from a roadside shack, corrugated on all sides, & then into town roll’d the sleeper bus, which I hopp’d inside & off we went to Delhi. The road was bumpy as fuck & on several occasions I was flung into the air, bucking-bronco style, disturbing the nest of mosquitoes that made its home on the bus.

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