Archive for June, 2010

Heading north in Kumaon

June 30, 2010

It’s 6:30 am. I’m not tired but sitting up doesn’t appeal to me at all, so I clutch the pillow and bury my head into it. It’s 7:30. It’s 8:00.

river in Bageshwar or Bharari... I don't remember

I sit up, turn on the television and start packing up my crap so I can get myself out of Bageshwar. Leaving my books with the owner of the hotel, I eat and find a shared jeep to Bharari. There are no views of the jagged Himalaya due to cloud cover, but the foothills are beautiful themselves. When I get up to Bharari I’m told that thee are no shared jeeps to Jhopra and that, while my 25 km ride from Bageshwar was Rs. 30 the 30 km ride to Jhopra will be Rs. 600. I start slapping my legs and saying ‘these are very good… and free!’ and I communicate to them that I plan to walk to Jhopra rather than paying what I’ve set as my daily allowance for a ride there.

they just finished dumping cut grass

‘My brother… near Sikar,’ a man on a motorcycle says. Sikar temple is a 3 km walk beyond Jhopra and is my destination. ‘I going tomorrow,’ he adds. ‘Brother, Sikar,’ his friend adds. It keeps going like that with five guys repeating over and over about this motorcycle guy’s brother living somewhere around Sikar. You wouldn’t believe it, but there is actually very little that I can do to quell this seemingly needless repetition, because there turns out to be a reason for it. These men are excited to help me and excited to do so in whatever broken English they can speak, so I nod patiently until they are satisfied.
The man on the motorcycle says ‘brother, baba, Sikar.’ ‘Your brother is a sadhu?’ I ask. This is not the case and it starts up another round of excited repetition. In any case, I’m looking forward to spending time with another sadhu. I always feel a peaceful challenge when in the presence of a strong person of faith. Another man joins the group and I’m enthusiastically informed that he is also a teacher and he knows English. ‘There’s a taxi stand on the other side of the river,’ the teacher says. ‘You stay my house,’ the motorcycle man says. ‘He’s lying,’ the teacher says. ‘Oh, he’s lying? You mean he’s joking?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘OK, then I’ll go to the taxi stand.’
Arriving in Jhopra, it’s pouring rain and I would have to walk to Sikar right away because there are no hotels. That’s when this guy who’s riding in the jeep, Chamu, tells me to ride for another 8 km and stay at his home.

my host's house

Of course I accept his hospitality. When we reach, I meet his mother, who is a striking lady in worn traditional clothing squatting inside the mud house preparing a bit of rice, dhaal and curd for her dear son and his foreign visitor.

Chamu's family's kitchen

After the huge snack Chamu goes off to ask a friend to accompany us on a walk to view the Himalayan panorama. He can’t just call the guy because there is no network service here. While Chamu is finding his friend, I practice my headstand and meditate until he comes back. As it gets dark, he lights the oil lamp and we talk for hours.

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… and must needs have desires …

June 29, 2010

In this rented room in Hotel Nilewshwar in Bageshwar, when the power went out, a profound sense of loneliness so quickly left me. For the first time in a long time I am alone watching commercials. These commercials make me feel like I need things that I don’t have. When the power goes out I have everything that I need.

I’ve got a knife

June 28, 2010

‘Are you a crack head?’

‘Don’t be rude,’ I said. ‘Crack heads carry knives and one of these days you’re going to get yourself hurt.’

Now he really thinks I’m crazy, but I needed those pictures of the holy men and I was told that they’d be ready yesterday, not knowing that every shop in Almora was closed yesterday. My addiction isn’t to crack. I’m addicted to functional service which this guy has never experienced. Here, the customer is always the crack head.

Did I get my pictures? Damn right I did. A threat in India, even an implied threat, is always answered with action and everyone knows it’s bad news to fight a crack head.

No that I have my coffee, all is well and I can read in peace until Sanjay Singh Bisht arrives at the Bansal Espresso Bar and we can talk bansuri.

Losing mind

June 27, 2010

While looking for a bus to leave Haldwani, I had a blank mind. No worries or concerns. I got on a bus and made myself a little comfortable. After about 15 minutes, I realized that I had changed my mind without really thinking about it. Here I am riding on a bus to Almora, when I had decided this morning to get on a bus to Haridwar and go to Uttarkashi. Divine will is the guide of those who lose their minds.

Reading, making notes and writing letters while drinking coffee at Bansal Espresso Bar in Lala Bazar, Almora is a pleasant way to spend this Sunday. On Rajul Bansal’s business card is a ridiculous picture of a colonial style dining room and twenty-person tabl with white linen and fine china. Not an appropriate image for an espresso bar filled with wooden tables and benches and not what I’d expect from Rahul since he is a decent artist.

Complete thoughts on Haldwani

June 26, 2010

Today I did some yoga, went to an internet café with a terrible network and ate. People begged for my money and attention and all of the pretty females are married. I’m leaving Haldwani tomorrow and may never return.

Should I go to Nepal?

June 24, 2010

The guy pedaling me to the India-Nepal border must be about seventy years old. I’m still not sure whther they’ll let me cross into Nepal. The Himalayan foothill silhouette is magnificent and I’m intimidated by what lays beyond. I talk to the border inspector, who is young and in plain clothes, about the World Cup and he gives a big smile, opens up today’s newspaper and tells me that Argentina won against some team and some team won against Nigeria. After that, it’s all questions. I didn’t expect what came next, although the LIU inspector in Nainital had told me the same thing. I thank the border inspector and ask the rickshaw peddler to take me back to Banbasa. I’m not going to Nepal today.

Back in Banbasa I have tea and catch a bus to Haldwani where we drive through a river, which has risen, and the bus is flooded temporarily. The next direct bus to Uttarkashi is, I’m told, at 5:30am tomorrow so I walk around looking for a room for Rs. 200. I begin to get tired and a bit grumpy at too many expensive hotels that I just walk into an office building and ask a group of employees where I can find dormitory accomidation. One of the guys, dressed in a surprising clean white shirt say ‘this is an office building.’ ‘I know, but you or you or you or you or you might know where I can find a place to sleep tonight,’ I say pointing at each office worker in the room. ‘Dharamsala,’ one guy says and gives me directions. To make a long story half as long, I end up booking a Spartan but large room athe Ashok Hotel across from the Hindi dharmsala off of Rumpur Road behind Standard Sweets for Rs. 200.

When the boarder inspector had informed me that the date on my registration papers determines how long I can stay in India rather than the date on my visa, I was presented with an option. Time and effort were on my mind, effort being the action resulting from motivation divided by time. Time.

I don’t have to get it straight

June 23, 2010

Leaving the Local Intelligence Unit S.S.P. Office (I forgot to ask what S.S.P. stands for) I feel less sure about my future dealing with the Indian border police than when I entered the office. The day started with sorting, gifting really. A backpack that some store in Bangalore (maybe Adventure Worx, I can’t remember) gave me as a free gift, Herman Hesse’s Siddartha, some oils that I’ve used and treasured for months, a pair of nice sunglasses and extra hand sanitizer. Extra weight and bulk which I’m sure I still have more of.

Anyway, I retrieved my lock from the Sikh temple where I left it, picked up my dirty laundry (dude said ‘power out, no clean’), and ate lots of ice cream and chocolate at the new Cafe Coffee Day here in Nainital. After making plans to meet up for a trek in three months, I left Girish Bhatt, Director of Hilltop Tourist Point and headed to the Local Intelligence Unit. The first official; instructed me to leave for Delhi today to apply for an extension on my visa. That didn’t appeal to me, so I spoke with the lead investigator and he told me that I’d have no problems at the border. Exit papers are not needed. We’ll see…

The following recursively defined series is what I think of when I go through difficult time:

u1 ε R, ui+1 = -½ui

As the number of terms increase, the series approaches zero from the positive and negative sides, just as the most productive learning situations. The fraction can be decreased for slower learners or increased for faster learners, but it must be between 1 and zero. I have a hole in my heel. Part of it was cut out during a pilgrimage in Than. A rock in the desert. This keeps making its presence felt, just as my inability to travel smoothly without challenges. My train ticket from Hospet to Bhuj was canceled automatically since it was waitlisted (which I failed to notice when booking) and I didn’t confirm it.

Luckily, many people accommodated me in the sleeper class by letting me sit with their family or friends, and two guys slept together so that I could have a bed at night. Each time the conductor came, my neighbors would tell me to go hide in the toilet for 15 minutes and they would knock when he had passed. For my ticket from Bareilly to Kathgodam, I booked for the wrong day, bought a general ticket, waited eight hours plus four more hours since the train was late. Again, I was accommodated by kind passengers in sleeper class.

One of the Singhs at the Sikh temple aolng with Girish Bhatt informed me about the 2:30pm bus to Tanakpur from Nainital which would pass through Banbasa, the town nearest to the Nepal-India border on nthe Indian side in Uttarakhand. At 1:50pm I leave the park bench where I’m reading The Savage Detectives by Robert Bolaño and at 2:01 pm I’m told that the bus to Tanakpur left at 2:00 pm.

No problem!

I jump in a bus for Haldwani to catch a bus to Tanakpur. When at Haldwani I’m told eleven times that the Tanakpur bus will come at five. Two Indian guys take responsibility for me and take me on a bus before 5:00, which turns out to be a bus to Bareilly, but we’re getting off at Kichha. A short cut? Once we get to Kichha I find out that the Tanakpur bus left at 5:30 and it’s 5:33.

This is when I decide that the alpha man of my two ‘helpful’ Indian friends has caused me a problem and I tell him so in a loud voice so that about eight other Indian guys come stand around to closely observe the foreigner making a scene. Expectation is the mother of all of my disappointed children. The analogy is the closest I will come to admitting a space for celibacy in my life. I have to stop fucking around with expectation.

After my scene has come to a close, the two guys responsible for me (of couirse the produces another bastard) get on a bus with me and I ask, ‘Is this the bus to Tanakpur?’ and they and everyone else waggle their heads and I don’t know the answer. One of my caretkers gets a ring on his cellphone, says something about a carpenter, grabs his friend, goes out of the bus and the bus drives away with me waggliung my head with headphones on. The last stop is Khatima, where I argue with a jeep driver for a Rs. 50 ride through a river and to a Rs.200 fan room in Banbasa.

It’s nice to sit in someone else’s room and stare at a map saying, what the hell?!

June 23, 2010

Visa problems?

June 22, 2010

I have most likely made a huge oversight. I don’t have paperwork for exiting India. Who knew you need permission to leave the country? My visa expires in two days… time to make some phone calls.
Unde habeas quaerit nemo, sed oportet habere.

A view from Cafe Coffee Day in Almora

I’m talking with Bhart at the tourist information center below Cafe Coffee Day in Nainital. He tells me that two days is plenty of time to get my situation rectified. We’ll see. I go to the police station to inquire about exit requirements for the Nepal border crossing with an employment visa. They tell me to go to the Local Intelligence Office. I will have to go in the morning since it’s closed, so I can stop worrying about visa problems for the rest of the day.

It’s time now to beg for another night. Last night I stayed at Gurudwara Dharmasala, in the hall, with many Sikh devotees, for a small donation. I got a locker and a space on the floor big enough to sprawl out on. I arrive at Gurudwala, take off my shoes and cover my head with the supplied cotton handkerchief and walk in to speak to the same young man that registered me last night. He is very evasive towards me and keeps saying ‘one night only.’ I tell him that I understand that there are pilgrims who are staying at the hall to visit the temple and I will sleep outside if he’ll only let me keep my bags in the locker. He refuses. I continue to beg until I realize that I have to figure out a plan C.

I put my boots back on, return the handkerchief to its orange and maroon pile and walk to get a cigarette that I would have and tell myself ‘this too shall pass.’ The guy at the small stand speaks English, so I ask him which part of the woods is the best place to sleep. He tells the guys in the back who are playing cards what I asked them and they all laugh. He tels me about several expensive hotels, over Rs. 400. Customers keep coming and I keep stepping aside, making sure that I’m not standing in front of any chips or snacks. In my continually broken conversation with the three guys that rotate from the card game into the cashier position and then back into the card game, I finally am told that there is one place called A-von Hotel which offers dorm accommodation. I make note of the confusing directions and wind my way through the streets of Nainital until I find the hotel and ask the manager for a bed in the dormitory.

It’s not surprising that the manager tells me that they don’t have dorm accommodation and that their cheapest room is Rs. 2500; I am a foreigner… money bags. I ask him where else I can go, ‘Is there a roof that I can sleep on? I don’t mind sleeping in the woods.’ He asks, ‘Cabin OK?’ ‘Yes! Cabin!,’ I tell him, not knowing what a cabin is to him. A guy from the kitchen takes me up and shows me two cabin rooms the size of mattresses that have windows. I say ‘Perfect! How much?’ ‘I just kitchen,’ he says.On the way down I see a hall filled with mattresses. I tell the owner downstairs I want to sleep in the hall that I saw. He charged me Rs. 200, which is way too much, but foreigners traveling to Nainital in the high season get ripped off. Everything is relative anyway.

June 22, 2010

Train to Bareilly

June 20, 2010

I’m getting used to being stared at all of the time, but even though I expect to have eyes on me, the feeling that accompanies it is still discomfort with a dash of disgust. It’s really creepy to me when a guy is staring at me who’s sitting next to me. Indian men have little idea of the ‘man space’ that American men expect. I sometimes have a man pushed up against me, but on his other side, there is plenty of space for him to move over. Then there is the guy who is leaning forward a bit with his head turned so that he can stare straight at me. This happens often when I’m reading a book and even though I can see him staring right into my face, I don’t take my eyes off of the book, but keep[ reading and let him get a good look. One day it will be beautiful ladies staring at me at I’ll be an expert at playing hard to get.

The train ride from Bhuj to Bareilly keeps my skin moist with sweat. The open windows let in a hot breeze while the overhead fan blows that hot air around. The enjoyment comes only from knowing that I paid so little for this trip. If I was with a companion, I would go by A/C sleeper class, because I am in no mood to converse in this humid and stuffy train. The train car is at maximum capacity and many more men in dirty and clean white shirts and women in colorful saris glistening in sweat, yelling and pushing past each other gives me a feeling that a sanctuary is necessary for any semblance of contentment. I always have booked upper berth so that I can climb up and have privacy whenever I feel overwhelmed , but I was feeling experimental when I booked this ticket for lower berth and felt stuck. Stuck. Luckily, as the afternoon sun began to bake the inside of the train, the upper berth passengers all abandoned their seats and I jumped up before anyone could throw their luggage on the bed above.

I spend hours alternating between short sweaty naps and reading a few hundred pages of The Savage Detectives. Not being able to sit up on the upper berth bed, I lay on my right side to read the left page of the book and my left side for the right page. Having a better memory, maybe I could keep from turning continually by reading all of the left pages, then the right pages and then piecing the story together.

Getting water was another adventure. Running out of the train as it came to a halt, I had to literally push old ladies to get water after I dumped the boiling hot old water which was already in my bottle.

Bhuj

June 19, 2010

In Bhuj, The Omelet Center on Station Road is the place for breakfast if you aren’t a vegetarian. They offer free range eggs and, like everywhere else, flies.

Around the corner about two ‘blocks’ down there is a motorcyle rental shop where you an get a Hero Honda for Rs. 350 per day to explore the villages of Kutch. Make sure you either have a puncture kit or are ready to walk your bike to a village with a mechanic. I had no kit, so I walked my bike to some village that starts with a B.

Crap. I’m outside Bareilly railway station and I just realized that I booked my next ticket for this morning, which already passed. The next train is scheduled for 4:50 am. It’s the 20th of June, but I thought it would be the 19th.