Adventures on an Indian Visa (week 25): Way Out West
After the chaos of Jodhpur, it really is a joy to reach the medieval city of Jaisalmer, commanding a very Italianesque vibe as its narrow streets crowd the fortified hill on which it stands. Every building is built from the same reddy-brown sandstone, so the whole city seems to blend into the desert sands around. Jaisalmere does have its down-side, however – the constant harassment of the traders wanting you to buy something; I mean its fuckin’ constant, everyone leaping out at you to buy a plethora of goods, from the Rajasthani violin to camel safaris. I was tempted to do the latter, but the thought of a sore arse & the blazing sun put me off.
I instead hired a moped for a pound for the a day & went off razzin’ around the empty desert roads. It got me musing on how being a long way away from friends, family, acquaintances & even the idiosyncratics of my native land, is that one feels a sense of ‘personality.’ That is to say, my self is pure & I do things for myself which please me & no others. The way I interact with strangers is also based purely on my personality.
Driving about, I stumbl’d across a large town called Kuvalla, deserted for two hundred years after its citizens thought the local taxes were too high. In fact, even in these modern times, only last weekend nine debt-laden farmers have committed suicide.
So, I have reach’d one of the extremities of the subcontinental triangle, which for me was Darjeeling, Kannyakamari & now here on the edge of the Thar Desert. A few hundred k across the dunes lies Pakistan – but I aint goin’ that far, they don’t sell booze.
The following sonnet was compos’d in the desert, & concerns the depiction of the Hindu god Siva as the divine cosmic dancer of the tandava dance.
One timeless night in the scorch’d wilderness,
When sands & stars ranged with immensity,
Sinew’d with the verve of youth’s loveliness,
Lord Siva, the destroyer, came to me.
He left Kailash with single, flashing stride,
Three velvet eyes a-gleam with dreamy hue,
Caphor white, clad in an ivory hide,
He had come to consecrate my Saddhu.
Nearby smoulder’d a fresh cremation pile,
Soon daub’d in ash we danced a pirouette,
Absorb’d in the Daemon Damaru drum.
His snakelike dreadlocks spun in sundry style,
His halo trail’d a blue blaze-tail’d comet,
My senses drew an esoteric numb.
Today I travell’d to Mount Abu, a great relief from the Rajasthani heat & the dust whipped up by phrenzied tourist-leeches whenever a western wallet is opened. Amidst all of that flat, sandy, tank-country, nature has happily congregated some stunning Indian peaks. I arrived here on a fifteen-hour sleeper bus, leaving behind the dusty desert for the amazingly fertile mountains about Mount Abu.
En route, the driver invited me into his cabin for some kind of religious ceremony. By his side was a box of tricks, with ten or so buttons creating a series of swirling siren noises, which he operated in the same way we would use morse code. I began to recognise one, which I think meant something like, ‘I am hurtling round this corner at eighty miles an hour on the wrong side of the road & hope there is no-one coming towards me.’ Suffice it to say, I soon headed back to my cabin & blanked the whole thing from my mind.
Woke up in paradise, yet again. Mount Abu is alive with fluttering butterflies & zip-zipping dragonflies, adding a most fluffy-bunny dreaminess to the clean, serene scene. There is a gorgeous green lake here, watched over by a ‘Toad Rock,’ which has been poised ready to leap into the water for millennia. It reminds me of the Toad Rock in Tunbridge Wells, which I used to pass on my daily walks when I was beginning Axis & Allies back in 2001. In fact, I settl’d into a similar rhythm here, with a burst of writing energy in the morning, scrambling over the smooth, thorny hills; followed by a lazy lunch & then a spot of writing led on my bed under the cool fan, watching a movie or two & the blanket coverage of the English Premier League. This was followed by a sunset walk & a last spot of writing on the starswept rooftop as I munch on an evening meal.
I have just returned from that sunset, shared by two thousand Indians, looking out over a vast fertile plain, made verdant by the recent rainy season; the sun reflecting off scattered rivers & dried up lakes. As the sun reached the hazy horizon, a great cheer rose up from the crowds about me, a moment reminiscent of our New Year’s Eve.
I set off from Mount Abu this morning, my bus sweeping me down from the hill-station on a series of serpentine roads, only a three-foot wall protecting us from a thousand-meter fall. Safely upon the level plain, we entered a country not dissimilar to England; the rolling, grassy hills reminding me of the Peak District. Eventually we came to the mystical lakes & decadent palaces of Udaipur, which viewed from either a high vantage, or from the soft waterside, endow a moment of soul-bathing serene. The place is famous for being where Octopussy film’d, & it really is a special place.
Anyway, I was primarily here to buy weed, the desert being dry in several senses, & began to find myself on the backs of bikes & rickshaws, being whisked to quiet streets & people’s houses. There, the obligatory bartering began, including many a sample which befuddled my sharp shopping instincts, as these ‘merchants’ very much intended. Buying weed in India is a case of damage limitation – you know you are being ripped off, but it’s a case of how much. However, in the end I got a very good deal, & am writing this lovely & ston’d.
I’ve notic’d my journal entries are becoming a little brief, less ‘investigative’ or keen-eye’d, observation-wise. But, I guess that’s because I’ve been doing them for six months nearly, & in a way its gonna be nice to not have to do this every night. And get a decent bottle of wine. And a decent Chinese chips & curry. And have a lovely bubble bath. There is a capability, of course, to enjoy these three pillars of western civilisation at the same time!
Next stop, five hours & 200k down the line, was Chittorgarh. It has to be one of the dirtiest hell-holes anyone would choose to live in. But I wasn’t there to see the oily sludge in the street, nor be run over by the constant stream of trucks that whizzes thro’ this one road dungheap, but was there for the ancyent fortress city that sleeps on a tabletop plateau above the town.
The fortress of Chittorgarh has been witness three times to the same gruesome event. Three times has an invading army laid siege to the place & three times, after a long siege & when the food has run out, would the outnumber’d defenders ride forth to face the swords of their besiegers & to die a bloody, yet noble death. While the men were doing this, the women & children would be busy jumping into a huge fire prepared for the occasion & joining the men in heaven. Crazy!
My hotel wasn’t much better than the town, but I did manage to pull off one of my favorite sonnets of the tour, collating my experiences of the roads of Rajasthan;
Two saddus stood by the side of the road
Staring at a truck that had spill’d it’s load;
By that, an old wreck that just would not start,
Laugh’d at by a man in an ox-drawn cart,
& faster still; first a cycle rickshaw,
A dirt-green tractor from the days of yore,
Auto-rickshaw belching smoggy black smoke,
Mud-red moped missing many-a-spoke,
This lorry’s weird siren psychedelics,
Busses driven by mad alcoholics,
These, by breezy motorcycles bypass’d,
Then… an Ambassador of Rajput caste!
While gangs of robbers lawless highways stalk,
Y’know, it’s a nice day, I think I’ll walk.
Went for a walk beneath the fortress of Chittogarh this morning, just as the sun peep’d above the battlements. It felt like one of the last trulu poetic moment of the tour & I blew it a kiss as I turn’d my back on history & thought, ‘lets go home.’
A few hours later, the first hint of Bundi was the shadowy profile of a distant range of hills that swept the full-length of the horizon. Bundi station is about 6k from the town itself, so I found myself along with six others, all crammed into a little rickshaw, like we were trying to break some kinda record or something. The town is a joy, far from the tourist trails with a great goblin-built fort clinging to the steep slopes of the hill that overlooks it. It was been beautiful at sunset, stood on the Jump-London rooves with the monkeys, simply staring at its beauty. After yesterday’s sonnet, & with the end rapidly approaching, I seem to be in some kind of swansong flourish, & got another wicked poem today, inspir’d by Rudyard Kipling’s own visit to the town;
If India can make a man a man,
More than the veshyalay of Amsterdam,
If thro the chaos he can make a plan,
Respecting Hinduism & Islam,
If he can give the beggar his rupee
& tip the tout that charges o’er the odds,
If he can read his Rajput history
& choose a god but still bless other gods,
If he can sleep upon the railway run,
Find fresh, clean waterfalls amid the dirt,
If he can wonder how the Raj was won,
Then pause upon the horrors & the hurt,
If he can haggle down & know his daal,
Then does he need to see the Taj Mahal?
I thought I’d stay one more day in Bundi, its so nice here. I am staying with a very friendly family who have thrown open their house to the outsiders – including the very noisy kids. My hosts even threw in a free motorbike, which I sped off this morning on toward this waterfall I had heard about. Unfortunately, I kinda soon crashed into another bike, carrying four big pots of water. After a bit of hammering down at some garage I got the bike back into shape, apart from one of the brakes didn’t work. The falls themselves were gorgeous, & I had my first chance in weeks to fully immerse my whole body in the emerald waters.
Revitalised, I returned to Bundi, stopping in a village halfway to dress the small wound I had received in the crash. It was a right Wild West moment, slowly cruising down the main street, all eyes upon me. After parking I was soon surrounded by a crowd of children, each staring blankly at me in confused wonder. I felt like a total alien, & it is here, away from the rickshaws, touts, tourists & internet shops of the tourist trail, that I found the real India.
The market in Bundi is busy, but the ginger-dyed shopkeepers begrudge you the right price – thinking it is a Westerner’s duty to pay more. They may be right, for it takes a week in India to spend what I would in one day in England – & it takes a week for an Indian to earn what I would spend in one day in India.
In the afternoon I went to buy a train ticket & somehow ended up on the back of a guy’s bike, who drove me 35k to Kota. En route, I actually got out my notebook & tossed off a sonnet – surprisingly legible considering the bumpy roads – something that Byron, Dante & Shakespeare never achieved in the poetic spheres. It reads;
POVERTY & WEALTH
Two goddesses bicker about beauty,
Content to start a second Trojan war,
Srinava’s wisdom thunders crore on crore,
“My Jyesthadevi, my Laksmidevi,
There is a young carpenter of Bundi
Who is so very honest to his core,”
Supreme goddesses stand soon at his door,
“Who is the most beautiful, she or me?”
Most humble cobbler thought a mortal while,
Then says, “Laksmi most lovely on arriving,
Yet Jyestha gorgeous more when she departs;”
This answer made each goddess equal smile,
& he – celestial wrath surviving –
Learns flattery woos e’en immortal hearts.
This morning, just before I was about to set off for Kota & the start of my journey to Mumbai, I got robb’d. I’d drawn 3000 rupees out, 1000 rof which went missing from my room. I think it was the innocent acting ‘momma’ who runs it, who had spent a couple of days lulling me into a false sense of security, & then blaming it on the monkeys. The daughter also made some right sly comment about going shopping with it – I were like, fucks sake. But then I remember’d my antics in Pushkar, & I’m like, well that’s just karma, innit ! There’s also the drinking the munawwar piyala, or ‘cup of request,’ in which Rajput kings drown’d ancient enmities – lets hope my Pushkar guilt, which was gnawing at me a little bit actually, has gone forever now.
So, my last week in India began by journeying to a standard busy Indian city call’d Ujjain. In my train carriage I enjoy’d the pleasant company of a Swedish woman called Fidili. A few hours later we hit Ujjain – one of the Hindu pilgrimage centres famous for the Kumbh Mela held there every 12 years -, & after eventually finding ourselves a room each, I dragged her on one of my Jesus missions. En route, we stopped off for a bite to eat, a ‘superdeluxe thali’. It was tasty as hell, actually, a multi-dished taste sensation, & the only ‘superdeluxe’ thing I’ve ever had for less than a quid!
So… Ujjain has this temple, right, famous for being the place where Krishna (i.e. Jesus) was taught the Vedas. Now Krishna is a god, & is supposed to know all that stuff. However, the Hindus are adamant about this, & the temple is administered to this day by the descendants of Krishna’a teacher, a certain guru called Samdipani. I even met one of them, a lovely large lad who gave me a wee lecture on the mythology. Thing is, he doesn’t know what I know, & the legend of Krishna’s being here obviously means that Jesus was also here a couple of millennia back. Support for this comes from an ancient Kashmiri document, the 12th century Rajatarangini of Kalhana, which states that Issana (i.e Jesus) was the teacher of a sage known as Samdhimati.
The names are similar, & although reversed, the teacher-pupil relationship suggests that Issana & Krishna were the same person. Indeed, the Ratarangini gives us what seems to be nothing but a garbled account of the crucifixion;
Samhdimati’s guru, Isana, came to perform funeral rites, found Sam’s skeleton still attached to the stake, and noticed an inscription on the skull which predicted: “He will have a life of poverty, ten years’ imprisonment, death on the stake, and still thereafter a throne.” Isana wondered about this, but later, in the middle of the night, smelled incense, heard bells ringing and drums beating, and saw witches outside on the burial ground. Isana pulled out his sword and went outside, and saw the witches rebuilding the body with their own limbs and flesh, then calling Samhdmati’s spirit back to the body. Thereafter, they covered him with ointments and “enjoyed themselves with him…to their full desire.
Food for thought !!