Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Freewheelin in India - Day 5: Water Floods the Freewheelin’ World

I cracked my back as I tossed and turned, my hips hurting like I’d been camping without a ground mat. “Stupid bed”, I said, to Sarah’s sleepy head, she said she thought the same, and the rain still came. It hadn’t stopped all night.

We got dressed and swiftly left, going for breakfast in Mona Lisa’s cafĂ© nearby. We overheard some fellow travellers talking about acid and our ears pricked up. We’d been hoping to score some ‘shrooms whilst here, so I sparked up a conversation by asking the guy to spark up my cigarette. It turned out he lived about five minutes from my Hackney home, and he advised us of a sandal seller in the Main Bazaar that was trying to supply them as well as a Lassi shop that makes said yoghurt based drinks mixed with weed or mushrooms. We took note, said our goodbyes and went off on our next adventure.
I didn’t realise the impact of the cyclone on the city until we walked further down the alleys, finding the floors flooded more and more as we made our way towards the main streets. By the time we got there we were knee deep in dirty brown water, consisting of a perfect mix of animal shit, garbage and floating flip-flops.
There was a real sense of community as we all struggled through the swamp-like paths together, trying not to get taken by the current currently consuming our world, cracking up constantly at the mishaps and misfortunes of ourselves and others. I kicked off a plastic bag that was binding my legs, inadvertently splashing Sarah’s smiley face with a foot full of mud soup. The locals loved it, a lesser woman wouldn’t have, but we both laughed hysterically.
We couldn’t find our desired stall, which was a shame as my lady could’ve actually done with some replacement sandals, as well as the sweet treats we were seeking, but a street dealer offered us hashish, magic mushrooms, opium and ganja, so we let him take us deeper down some different drenched alleyways, until after ten minutes through the maze, we reached their drug den. After a short and anxious wait outside, we were invited in and introduced to the main man, Marco. I always judge these situations carefully as ‘Trust your dealer’ is rule one in my book of street living, and neither of us want to get attacked or raped in our search for enlightenment, but I read eyes well, and was happy with those that I saw. I asked Sarah if she was ok, as she seemed a bit uncomfortable, and I reassured her, whispering ‘Six-foot, three’ referring to the fact that I was far bigger than any of these cats, and would crush anyone that wanted to test the strength of my love.
They said we could try before we buy but there was no way I was willing to consume random narcotics, in a stone room with strangers, whilst my woman was present, just in case they had ill intentions, so I kindly declined. I didn’t like the look of the mushroom powder on offer, but the opium was something we’d both thought of trying. He offered a selection from India, Afghanistan and China, saying the Afghan stuff was the best, so we proceeded to piss him off by offering less than a third of what he wanted. I made him get out the scales to complete the sale, and we got 1.5 grams for 1000 rupees, enough for a few cracks of the whip.
As luck would have it, the earlier walk had led us exactly where we needed to be, the Manikarnika Ghat, where they ceremoniously burn the bodies of the dead, up to two hundred and fifty of them a day. One of the guys from the den took us there as our guide, through a waiting room full of old, dying people, and up onto the rooftop where you can look down at the spot where the deceased find their final peace. He explained that they do this so that the souls aren’t reincarnated, and are instead sent to rest for eternity, and how every corpse gets the same farewell, except children under twelve years old, pregnant women, animals, those with leprosy and holy people, who are instead dropped into the middle of the Ganges with a copy of their holy book.
We saw the strong, sad faced families laying logs, then carrying the bodies down to their allocated spots where they would burn their loved one for two hours, before smashing open the scorching skulls to set their spirits free. They then take the bones they deem the strongest from the body, ribs from the men’s chest, and the hip bones from the women, as that is what bears the weight of their children, and throw them over the side, into the river.
I had to do a double-take as I spotted three people walking on water two-hundred meters away in the Ganges, but it turns out there are spots of high sand which can be walked on. Still no proof that Jesus did it.
He then took us back down to a dying woman, we told her our names and she blessed our souls. I handed her enough money to pay for a few kilos of sandal wood for her imminent death, and we walked on with our guide, who then took us right onto the platform where the bodies burn. The heat was intense as it waved in my face; every breath I took was filled with death. As we got around the edges I saw the malnourished corpse of a woman, her eyes looked maniacal and her witch-like features carved themself onto the walls of my mind forever. They covered her with butter, oil and more wood, walked around her five times, to represent earth, wind, fire, rain and ether, and set her stack alight with fire taken from the eternal flame below. The stack directly in front of me where I stood on the corner had a crippled leg protruding through the logs, being barbequed before my very eyes. More and more men kept coming past us, setting up the next spots. Women weren’t allowed to be near, as they sometimes used to throw themselves onto their husbands, to burn together. Sarah said she would do the same with me.
We left and were then taken to the Nepali Temple, a small building with karma sutra carvings adorning each pillar and post. From there we parted ways, and went for a walk down the fully flooded main street in search of the magical Lassi shop.
There was a huge gathering of people and some sense of carnage in the air, as we approached I noticed a massive crater in the road which looked like it had just caved in, and the water was gushing into the vacuous hole below. Sarah’s feet were hurting as she walked shoeless across the hard stones beneath the water. I insisted she jump on my back, and I carried her past the crowd who were giving me smiles and applause. I gestured that I was about to swing her off of me and into the gaping hole, and the one hundred strong crowd erupted in cheers and laughter. It seems a bit of domestic abuse goes a long way over here.
We couldn’t find our required destination, so we made our way back to the guesthouse, relaxed and regrouped, then went for an early dinner before going to see the Hindu’s Ganga Puga evening ceremony at the Dasasuamedh Ghat. We stopped back at Baba Handicraft so Sarah could buy a bag, and I ended up commissioning the tailor to make me three tunic shirts with my own choice of silks, cotton fabric and patterned trim. I haggled the price down to about £14 for the three of them and was told to return at twelve the following afternoon..

We then hit the ceremony spot thirty minutes early and got front row seats. It was beautiful watching the ritual in the rain, albeit a bit mundane after the first twenty minutes of them doing pretty much the same thing.
At the end my little friend Deepak, one of the street kids whom I’d met earlier, was waiting for me and took me to his family’s silk store where Goldie Hawn had been a regular customer for the past thirty years, her photograph proudly displayed in a gold frame on the wall of their cushioned silk room. If it’s good enough for Goldie, it’s good enough for me. I brought some magnificent hand-woven scarfs and wrote a heartfelt message in their guestbook before wishing them a fond farewell.
Sarah felt unwell, so she headed back to our room, and I went off to get her some food. I returned thirty minutes later to find her worried and upset that something bad had happened to me. “No one can hurt me”, I replied, knowing that I have my Sonic the Hedgehog style shield keeping me safe as I continue to live freely. Whilst thinking about not finding my favourite mind enhancement devices, I told Sarah “Tomorrow we’re going to find some Mushrooms”. I fed her in bed before setting down to write for the rest of the night. Three hours later, I hit the light, my head hit the pillow, and I lost my sight.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Freewheelin' in India - Day 4: Naked in the raging rain

I started stirring around 3.30am and couldn’t drift back to sleep, so I spent a while writing, before finally falling for a few more hours. I awoke to the sound of a tea seller screaming ‘Chai’ in my dozy face, I bought a cup because I was shit-scared he would come do it again if I didn’t.
We arrived in Varanasi two hours late, at 9.30am, with light rain falling on our faces. A (p)rickshaw driver dropped us about ten minutes further away from the area that our guesthouse was in, and we struggled with our heavy loads up various wrong roads, until we were put in the right direction.
After navigating many narrow alley-ways filled with un-claimed cows, stray dogs, half naked gurus, small shops and wall to wall filth, we made it to the Modern Vision Guesthouse, and chose the room which had a king-size ‘bed’ (in the loosest sense of the word, more of a wooden bench with a two-inch mat on top), a view of the Ganges from the window, and access to a roof terrace with a stunning view of the city.
We hit the local alleys in order to find a recommended clothes shop and tailor called Baba Handicraft, so I could get my new tunic taken in and buy some Ali Baba trousers. They said they couldn’t replicate some other shirts that I had intended to get made, so I found somewhere else to do it for me, and bargained a great deal on three copies of a t-shirt, and four of my favourite granddad shirt. Under £35 all in, about the amount I paid for the original shirt. BOOM!
It started raining hard. The kind of rain that the sea would run away from, to save itself spilling off the edge of the Earth. Turns out it wasn’t a monsoon as first thought, as it didn’t stop shortly after starting, this was a cyclone, and we were right in the middle of that crazy unforgiving bastard.
In nothing but lightweight clothes we ran through the streets in search of shelter, and dived into the first restaurant found, around 5pm. Just our luck, it was an outdoor joint, but they had roofed side sections with pillows to relax on. We sat there for a few hours, eating, drinking and talking conspiracy theories. I told her about my old work colleague, a black dude named Mark Brown who believed that all Chinese people were aliens, “All eye-witness descriptions of them are the same, flat faces, slanted eyes and big heads”. I think he was describing the aliens. I also told her my ‘radical’ views on the 9/11 and 7/7 ‘terrorist’ attacks, the subsequent control by fear, and the inconsistencies surrounding the government’s recollection of events. She found it hard to swallow, which is exactly what all believers and non-believers alike think, after-all, who could happily choose to accept that a government would murder its own people (unless you watch the news or read into history, and see that it actually happens all across the world)?
After growing tired of waiting for the rain to stop, we decided to make a run for it. I was hoping to stay as dry as possible, but after my foot sploshed in its first puddle all bets were off. I’ve been training myself to love the things I hate for a while now, one of which is the rain, and I’ve recently been taking off my jacket whenever I get caught out in it. I wasn’t wearing a jacket, so I pulled off my shirt and took the most liberating fifteen minute walk of my life, laughing, singing and having banter with all the interested Indians that passed by. Every cold, heavy drop that hit my back was a step away from hate and towards love, until I was so enamoured with Mother Earth’s new delivery to me that I could’ve stayed out their dancing all night. The kids loved it, and there were many men cracking smiles, in amongst the confused and concerned.  We arrived back at our room and had shower of the day, number three.
The rain wasn’t letting up, and thunder roared all around us, like anger from the belly of the beast, awoken with a flame to its face. In a moment of sexual genius, we snuck out of our room and onto the roof, pulling each other’s clothes off in frenzy and becoming one, once again. The feeling of the rain hitting my back as we writhed in ecstasy was pure bliss, every kiss bringing us closer to climax as we did the most natural action that lovers can, in the most natural habitat known to man, lightening frequently lighting the outline of her beautiful body as it danced in the darkness. She screamed in delight as I stared across the city, water washing away our sins before we could commit them, and we finished with a final kiss before floating back downstairs. Shower of the day number four saw us sleep soon after.

Freewheelin' in India - Day 3: Smelly Delhi and the beauty it holds

After an up and down sleep in our humid box, we finally arose at 9.30am, the first fix of that morning kiss which I’d been yearning for, for the past twenty -three days. We packed and left to go and get some breakfast.

A German couple were complaining in the restaurant at how the second attempt of their order still had rogue pieces of plastic in it. Another group of diners left their table after witnessing the row, but we stayed as we’d ordered. Besides, every Happy Meal I’ve ever ordered came with plastic in it, albeit not mixed in with the nuggets, and usually in the form of a Disney character, but still.

We jumped in a rickshaw which took us on the crazy, anything goes roads, where cars and bikes constantly cut each other up, narrowly missing impact every few seconds, and the sound of screams and never-ending horns beeping filled the void left by the absence of any radio.
We arrived in Old Delhi, so we could visit the Jama Masjid Mosque, which is the largest in India, holding up to twenty-five thousand people, and spent a few hours checking out the local goods and laying in a grassy area.
Two cute kids playing with each other in the street gave me a priceless smile when I approached handing them some biscuits and a lollypop each. My heart filled with love at their amazing faces, I stroked their little heads and strolled on.
I found a shop selling my favourite kind of Indian tunics, and paid the equivalent of £15 for their most fancy, bejewelled baby, along with some trousers to complete the outfit. We found a park and took a few minutes to lie in the shade, escaping the intense heat of the 2pm Sun, staring across at the Red Fort.
We then entered the mosque, and paid to climb the tower for an amazing 360 degree view. The powerful breath from Mother Earth’s lungs cooled me completely, and I inhaled her sweet delivery as I sat with my bare feet hanging over the edge to write a poem. After a few minutes, I looked up to see that I was surrounded by others, and decided to make space for them. We descended the narrow concrete spiral staircase, hugging the wall to avoid those going up, and made our way back outside.
I went off to the loo, stopping only to photograph a goat, and to give a small boy my last lolly. When I walked back, the same boy was standing with his older sister, and baby brother, obviously wanting their own sweeties. I had no more, but took a few snaps of them, and produced a 50 rupee note, which the boy snatched from my hand and scarpered, chased by his screaming sister
I found Sarah, took a rickshaw back to New Delhi, ate a masala dosa, haggled for some hashish from a guy on the street, then went to get our bags and have a joint before boarding our thirteen hour train ride to Varanasi at 6.45pm. After a few hours reading, talking to Sarah about life and death and cuddling up on my sleeper bed, we laid in our separate spaces around 10.30pm, and let the train tracks rock us to sleep.

Freewheelin' in India - Day 2: Even when i'm late, i'm always on time

We spent an hour in an awful ‘Irish’ pub at the airport, leaving just before the repetitive dirge on the radio fully took a hold of me, we boarded the last plane and were informed by our Sikh friend, Charanjit that our bags might have actually made it.

I rode out the last three hours unable to sleep, as usual, watched a film called ‘The Beaver’ starring Hitler’s favourite Australian, and wrote an ode to skinny air stewardesses (do they ever hire the short or stumpy?). Finally I had landed in India, fingers crossed that my bag was there with me.

We got through customs to find our bags almost instantly on the conveyor belt. I said goodbye to Hugh and Charanjit, spotted an Indian cabbie holding a sign which read ‘Dion Power’ (obviously a fan), and got him to deliver me to the overdue death of my day.

‘It was hot, it was baking, fandabidozy’, I thought as the madness of India first showed its face on the free-for-all roads, my driver, a somewhat peaceful fellow, driving like he had been drinking too much Lucozade.

I arrived in my cell-like room to receive a kiss from my favourite Miss, which re-energized my tired eyes. We pushed three weeks’ worth of love into two hours, and by 1pm I was finally asleep.

I awoke with Sarah’s return, took a shower and hit the streets of New Delhi’s main bazaar, where we strolled around the beautiful, dirty town, stopping off for a drink before searching a few shops for things I could wear (I’d purposefully not packed anything except a few worn out items I wanted to have reproduced). I paid 450 rupees (£6) for two pairs of comfortable trousers and a linen shirt so I had clothes for the next day, then we went for dinner in a roof-top restaurant. We returned home for another shower, and by 11pm, I was asleep.

Freewheelin' in India - Day 1: Lucy in the Sky with Delays

I was driven to the airport by Johnny Tricks after he dragged me, sleepless and stressed from my mess of a room at 5.30am. I finally had the chance to chill and smoke a jazz cigarette on the short journey after skipping the night’s sleep to sort my shit.

I jumped from the van, hugged him goodbye and walked into the airport, before remembering in a panic that I had a tab of acid in my pocket (which I thought would be an interesting test of my penmanship, and nerve, on a 13 hour journey), and doing a 180. I sat at a bus stop sucking Lucy’s love-note, then checked in, and boarded an hour later, after being made to stand up, sit back down, and stand up again. I’ve always loved musical chairs, but it wasn’t as good without the music.

I was humoured by the thought of my actions as I sat waiting to fly, and then the pilot announced that we’d be delayed by an hour as there was a fault and we needed to get a different plane. Everyone sighed, annoyed at our situation, I sat there laughing to myself and smiled at the limp-wristed air steward that seemed to be vibing me. I’ve always wanted to join the mile-high club, but not with a guy, whilst the plane is still grounded.
We were made to stand up, sit back down, and stand up once again, a running theme with KLM airlines, obviously trying to instil some kind of youthful exuberance into usually annoying situations. I asked the air steward if this delay would affect my on-going flight to India, and his answer of “Yes” finally broke my silly spaceface smile. SHIT. This is going to interrupt my scheduled ‘trip’.
Off one plane, and onto another, I sat trying not to laugh as the brightness of the yellow lifejacket lit up the same steward’s handsome Spanish face during the safety instructions. ‘If there is an emergency, I will be fucking useless’ I thought, probably trying to inflate the life jacket fully by the straw, just to test the capacity of my iron lungs (which is larger than any other human being, and most elephants, after years of holding it down).
Feeling the effects of my earlier intake, I turned to my little black book and wrote a poem, a few pages of prose detailing my outlook on my existence and some quotes which popped up in my high spot I call a head. Some forty-five minutes later I was in Amsterdam, being told that I could either stick with my bag, fly to Dubai  four hours later, wait a further three, then fly to Delhi, or I could fly bag-less on my original flight and make a claim when there. I was advised by a nice Sikh guy that I should stick with my bag, as it would probably get lost forever in Delhi, so I did that.
I was massively confused by the instructions of airport staff and also tempted to head into Amsterdam, so I befriended a guy named Hugh who was in the same situation, and suggested the excursion. We decided together to be sensible, and went off for a beer instead.
After a while I told him that I was on acid, that his face was unusually bright, and how I was fighting back the urge to crawl under our table and make dinosaur noises, which he found extremely amusing.

We blagged emergency exit seats on both of our Emirates flights, good news for my lanky limbs, and got on board to be informed that our baggage hadn’t made it (the whole reason I had taken on the extra ten hours travelling). By this time my brain was too tired to write and I was sad at my missed opportunity. I managed about ninety minutes sleep, spread over three power naps and arrived in Dubai still shattered.