Friday, 28 October 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 17: Humps, Lumps and Bumps

I awoke at 5.30am feeling like I’d survived ’nam, whilst cursing any religion that starts worship before midday, as the racket emanating from the nearby celebrations had either started up again, or failed to stop. I couldn’t tell.

We went for breakfast at a place called ‘Sun and Moon’, I could only stomach some dry toast and mango juice as I sat watching large tortoises roam around our table eating parts of plants. Following that, we strolled the local bazaars in the tiny town, which was so much more laid back than most of the other places we’d visited.

We booked our next journey, onto Udiapur via Ajmer at a local travel agent, then took a brief nap, as doing next to nothing during the hottest part of the day had still left me feeling weak. We hung outside our room a while, and Sarah got chatting to a fifty-something year old British Jew named John, who looked like a slightly decrepit 80’s Bob Dylan, and was riding his motorbike across India with his Thai bride. He was comedy gold to say the least, pretty much a real life version of Steve Coogan’s character from Saxondale, a proper ‘been there/done that’ type that clearly loved to talk about himself. He was literally that person I adore from the show; “In ’86 when I was on the road with blah blah, blah blah blah happened, not like today, things were different back then, blah blah blah”. I could hear Sarah getting bored whilst I threw on some clothes, then stepped outside just in time to defend London, which he was slagging off, explaining how much I loved my city and was looking forward to returning there after our trip. He looked at me saying, “You’ll have to join us for a toke later, you look the type”, which cracked me up, this dude was too good to be true, I couldn’t wait to write about him.

We were collected at around 4.30pm by two young boys who walked with us for a few minutes until we reached two camels who would be carrying us into the desert to see the sunset once again.

The young boy walking with me was ambling along staring at the music player on his phone, leaving me trailing Sarah by about thirty metres as I was reminded why I wasn’t that keen to ride a camel again. The Crush! I don’t think when God created man, he intended him to go riding camels, painfully ending any chance of reproduction. Sarah looked back at me uncomfortably as her teenage guide had decided to jump up with her, and called something back to me about getting ‘rubbed up’. I didn’t really dig the sight of my lover being rode from behind by this kid from my long distance viewpoint, so I got the attention of my boy, and explained that she was my girlfriend, and I didn’t want to see anyone else riding with her. He called to his friend who jumped straight down, seemingly leaving Sarah relieved.

After nearly an hours trek into the desert, we arrived at a peak which dropped down into a dune. There were a load of gorgeous, grubby little kids waiting, whom I grabbed (literally) for a few snaps, and gave some money to. There were also some musicians playing these strange handmade stringed instruments that I didn’t catch the name of. One kid tried to sell me his for 1000 rupees, but I declined due to my lack of space, and his inflated price.

Soon after watching the pinky redness of our beloved Sun drop off the edge of the Earth, we jumped back on our not-so-trusty not-so-steed’s in order to head back. The two boys were now riding one in front, whilst Sarah and I took the other and followed. I didn’t feel steady at all which wasn’t good, let alone having to endure the rushes of pain through my scrotum with every bump of the camel’s steps, so when the kid whipped the camel to ride faster, I called forward telling them to keep it slow. I didn’t enjoy seeing the camel get whipped, nor did I want to fall off, yet that is exactly what happened next.

It was getting dark as I saw that loathed whip rise up, and come down on the camel in front. Almost simultaneously our camel quick-stepped straight into a piece of barbed wire that was laying in the path, and its leg went, collapsing it sideways like a set of dominos. I could see it happening in slow motion, thinking ‘my leg is going to break’ as it’s body crashed towards me and the floor. I managed to pull away so that only my ankle took a blow, and sat up asking if Sarah was ok before shouting madly at the kids for not listening to my earlier warning. Sarah had fallen on some rocks, cutting and bruising her left thigh and my ankle was cut and swollen, but luckily we were both ok. We had to begrudgingly get back on the other camel for the remainder of the journey, and we were let down at some restaurant that was probably owned by somebody the kids knew, who asked what happened. I explained, then got up to leave, and the guy asked “What about payment?” I replied “You think I’m going to pay for this shit?” before Sarah and I put our arms around each other and hobbled off into the distance like a battered Bonnie and Clyde.

We went back to our hotel room to wash off the blood, dirt and camel hair before going back to the Rainbow Restaurant. I was still a little food weary after the previous day’s death, struggling to eat my garlic naan and chips as Sarah smashed up a whole load of falafel and hummus beside me, now laughing over our earlier ‘brush with crush’ before heading back to relax. Sarah wasn’t that keen on hanging out with John, but I really wanted to because a) smoking with strangers is the best way to make friends, and b) I love Saxondale.

He’d just finished playing some distorted number on his guitar, whilst a friend and his seemingly uninterested wife sat nearby on the balcony as we called up saying we’d come and join them. After a while of John speaking for the five of us, he rolled a shy, small skinned hash joint, then proceeded to ‘Bogart’ the hell out of it whilst relaying a number of stories all at the same time, none of which he ever finished. He covered a lot of interesting topics; Haarp and the ability to control and create weather patterns which can cause ‘natural disasters’ (seriously look it up), the on-going Chinese/Tibetan conflict, drug smuggling, our government putting fluoride in the water supply to relax and dumb-down the nation. All of these were interwoven with half-told anecdotes that left you feeling both more informed, yet knowing less than when you started. He was brimming with frustration and you could tell that the evils of the world had got the better of him, and he was ready to kill, literally, to escape the constant lies we’ve been fed from all sides from the word ‘GO’. I couldn’t blame him, and was in some ways quite fond of this broken fighter, mercenary jewel dealer who clearly wanted to tell the world to go and fuck itself.
He spoke to his friend James about ideas for riding around filming the following day, I enquired as to what they’d be shooting and John looked me straight in the eye and replied “Born To Be Wild on Sitar”. “Cool”, I answered back, chuckling inside. Truly too good to be true. He then asked James for his opinion on whether what he was playing earlier sounded good, saying “Be honest, I don’t mind”, but when James pointed out that ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’ sounded a bit funny and wrongly distorted, he replied clearly bothered, saying “Yeah, it was meant to sound like that”. Poor James, he’d have been great to talk to if it wasn’t for the more obnoxious version of himself that he was hanging out with.

After an hour or so we wished them farewell, and we retired to our pink-walled room to make love-hearts burst from all four corners as we floated together like lovebirds on St. Valentine’s Day.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Freewheelin' in India - Day 16: The Sickest Sickness

The fan wasn’t spinning, but my head was, distinct lack of drinking water making me feel instantly dehydrated in our sweltering sauna of a bedroom. I spoke to the nice manager guy who told me they’re building a direct train to Pushkar, and therefore shut off the city’s electricity for five hours EVERY DAY! Could you imagine that shit flying in England. The second Facebook becomes inaccessible there’d be more office window divers than 9/11.

I grabbed a burrito for brunch at ‘Out of the Blue’ restaurant, who explained that the power cuts also cut down their menu. I offed the first bottle of water before the waiter could even put it on the table, ordering another and left feeling satisfied but still shitty. Within about ten minutes of looking at little stores in the stifling mid-day heat, my head got weary and my stomach turned. I turned to Sarah saying I needed to shift, then shot down a street to shoot sick near my shoes. It was only a little bile at first, but after my third attempt to carry on shopping I’d completely lost my lunch to some lucky roaming cow with bad taste.

I went back to the room where my insides were all rushing to escape me, like my body was the Titanic, and any drop of fluid was a pauper without a life-raft. As I burst in towards the toilet I projectile vomited so hard that it hit the water from five feet away, and splashed back, hitting me in the face as I tried and failed to control my body, which now belonged to something else entirely.

I persuaded Sarah to go and do her thing as I didn’t want her to miss out because of my inability to move, and by the time she’d returned I’d taken a turn for the worse. Much worse. I laid there completely delirious and unable to get comfortable, constantly tossing, turning, groaning and moaning as I fought the impossible fight to find comfort. I was dangerously dehydrated by this point, after two hours of wishing water would reach me but being unable to lean over and get it, full of fear from further flashes as the sickest sickness gripped my shaking skeleton. My fever was higher than Charlie Sheen at a Playboy Mansion new year’s party, shivering and sweating, constantly covering and uncovering my aching vessel as the now working fan both froze and cooled me. My worried woman did her best to nurse me, caringly meeting my every demand, and I felt so bad being in need but unable to give.

She went back to the Rainbow for a quick dinner, leaving me there listening to the constant fireworks that rained down outside my open window. I thought that we were in the midst of a war, visions of grenades going off as I lay in my bunker, screaming out for my dead soldiers to save me. Within a few minutes, which seemed like a lifetime, she came back with more water and half of her dinner wrapped up for me. I said I couldn’t eat, then freaked the fuck out when its smell started seeping, acting like she’d brought one of the grenades into my bunker, shouting in blind panic  “GET IT OUT, PLEASE, GET IT OUT”.

She put on Arrested Development which I drifted in and out of, frequently requesting tiny sips of water which would shoot straight out of me like Spiderman’s web. A few hours later, the grip loosened, and I regained control of my mind at least, my body still belonging to the unidentified bug. I was made to take a cold shower as Sarah was really worried about my burning body and brain, putting her hand on my head with a ‘you definitely aren’t well’ look in her eye.

She put a wet sock on my hot bed-head and I snoozed until 10pm. By this time I was feeling more with it, and stated ‘I reckon it’s only a twenty-four hour thing’, thinking positively about the negativity surrounding me. I even managed to force a few crisps down, as the continuous fireworks were now reinforced by loud drum concessions that seemed to rock the night until the Sun rose again.

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 15: Shithead Space Cookies

From stupid o’clock the inconsiderate bastards in the room next door were making a ridiculous amount of noise, kids shouting, ladies screaming at them, crashing around and general fuckoffitstooearlyness. After too long trying to block it out I got up and burst through their door, all bed-hair and boxer-shorts, saying “Ssssshhh, PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP”. There must have been at least eight startled faces staring back at me, all crammed in like a cheap tin of sardines and stinking up their window-less room. After an hour or so further sleep, packed, washed and ready we were carted to the bus station, after a brief stop-off at a travel agent who was obviously the drivers pal, trying to sell us two tickets which we could buy at the station, but for double the price. These cheeky fuckers do this kind of shit constantly, you say, “take me to A”, they take you to D, then C, then by the time you hit B, you want to hit them for wasting your time and their petrol. If global warming actually exists, I’d put the blame solely on them.

We waited half an hour then jumped on our direct bus to Pushkar, which would take five hours, at the hottest part of the day. It wasn’t so bad, as I was by the window with the breeze blowing in and my right arm hanging out as I read Screwjack, a relatively decent yet slightly lacklustre collection of shorts by Hunter S. Thompson, but the little runt in front of me kept spitting out of it, and I could feel the frequent flicker of his expelled fluid. I didn’t mention it, or react in anyway. It’s funny what I put up with when in a chilled mood, compared to what can set me off when already ‘on one’ which, to be fair, is rare. We pulled over at a stop half-way there, and Sarah jumped off to go to the toilet. After a few minutes the driver pulled out to leave, and I stopped him explaining that she wasn’t back on-board. A few more minutes passed as I sat sweating, staring out of the window worriedly looking around wondering if she’d fallen down the toilet and was gonna come running back like the little boy in Slumdog Millionaire. The driver again went to leave, and I shouted “Please wait, we can’t leave her”. He shouted something back in Hindi, but the ticket seller told me not to worry as the locals looked on at me like I was crazy, in my panicked state, however leaving my lover at the roadside was an impossibility, and I was just about ready to get our bags and get off when I saw her walking back to where we were parked. I screamed her name again and again, and she came. Relief swept over me, and she had no idea why.

Off the bus, onto a rickshaw, hotel destination given to driver, different hotel reached. He said “Bharatpur Palace” implying that what was probably his uncle’s shitty dive hostel was in fact where we wanted to go. Guess he didn’t realise I was actually a writer, not an illiterate, long-sighted invalid that couldn’t see names on building signs. I simply looked him in the eye with a knowing glare, and slowly shook my head saying “No”, and he drove on a few hundred metres to our budget abode, with its priceless view across Pushkar Lake and cosy pink rooms.

We toked on some smoke and spoke of supper, choosing the nearby Rainbow Restaurant as our next provider of Russian roulette. The food actually turned out good, great in fact, plates full of falafel, hummus, eggplant, pitta bread and fries thrown at us after a reasonable wait. Definitely one of the better, if not best meals we’d had, Sarah’s favourite so far, and after, the owner pointed to a sign saying “Space cookie for dessert”, followed by a whispered “Marijuana!” with a wink. We were in like Flynn, taking him up on one of the stronger ones, which we shared, then set off to hustle with the local jewellers for some silver rings. Gonna melt them into bullets for when the werewolves arrive.

The cookie definitely made me a bit giddy, but Sarah seemed to be galloping, having a grand old time laughing at anything and everything as I laughed at and with her. We played a few hands of Shithead which she won, and made bets playing Blackjack, which I cheated on the last hand, making myself bust so that we’d end up all square. I don’t need to win, I’ve already won.

I spent another evening writing into the night as my lady laid beside me. Always so much to say, but not enough hours in the day.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 14: Dark dreams and the Devil in disguise

Sometime shortly after drifting off I experienced another unnerving happening, not too dissimilar to the twisted trials that I’ve endured since being a child, but which happen less frequently these days, thankfully. I came to my senses within my unconscious state to realise that I was laying, looking upwards, under a foreign bed which was not the one that I’d fallen asleep in. My dream demon must have gathered that I’d clocked onto the fact that I was within another unwanted unreality, and tried to trick me into thinking otherwise, instantly warping me a level higher within a flicker of thought, so that I was now on top of that bed. This was no good now, as I knew I was being fucked with, and ever since my torturous three year plague of dark dreams from the ages of eighteen to twenty-one I’ve been well trained in escaping such occurrences, so my conscious mind fought back, trying to escape. Sometimes it’s easy and instant, other times extremely difficult and tiring, this time was in-between, but I knew I had to escape before things got bad. In these instances I usually know when to go with the flow, like when I have the ability to fly (my greatest ambition in life), am continuing a recent night out or conversation with friends, or about to fuck some magically manifested madame, there’s no pulling out of those ones. Literally. I fought the imposing control of my consciousness, but it wouldn’t release its’ grip, dragging me, limbs flailing across the bed where Sarah lay silently sleeping. With an almighty roar and one final whack, I was out. I immediately turned to Sarah, first in my role as protector, worried that I’d thumped her, but she was sound asleep, then secondly with the sadness of a scared child, saying “I just had another nightmare” and cuddling her back like a big baby.

I went back to dreamland, once again ‘seeing’ my old pal Shawn Grout, whom I haven’t actually seen for the best part of ten years, except for when I recently wrestled him on a bowling alley whilst reciting a poem of mine, in front of a baying crowd. This time we were staring down at a steep stairwell, trying to escape something or other, and I was trying to convince him to jump first, which he did. Before I could, I woke up and realised we’d slept in until 1pm. I was shattered. I decided to get out of bed so that I could finally get some rest, and we grabbed some lunch on the roof before meeting a slick looking rickshaw driver named Sam outside our disguised dive, who agreed to take us around all day for £4.
First stop on our fantastic voyage was the Hawa Mahal, a five-storey honeycombed sandstone structure within the walls of the pink city, which Maharaja Sawaj Pratap Singh built in 1799 so ladies of the royal household could witness the life and processions of the city. We climbed all the way to the peak, staring out of tiny shuttered windows, at the goings on all around us. There was a secret space where lovers’ names were scribed into an alcove, and I pulled out my trusty pen in order to add Sarah and I to the list.
Next on our route was the Water Palace, a magnificent lake with an enormous yellow brick palace sitting in the middle, only accessible by boat. We didn’t have a boat, just legs, so we jumped back on-board with our man Sam, who told us of a famous local guru who survives without food and drink, is psychic, and can read auras. I thought he was talking about a guru I had read about in the news, who claims he hasn’t eaten in over ten years, and when tested by doctors for thirty days proved that he could actually sustain himself with his mind power alone. I was adamant that we meet this guy, and since he was en-route it seemed our luck was in. Sam told us how he often has people queuing for his readings, and that he doesn’t charge, but is supported by his family’s jewellery store.

We arrived at a plush, richly fitted store, full of various jewels enclosed in glass cabinets. Taken into a side room we were introduced to a well fed looking fellow, wearing a smart, black and purple striped shirt, with thick black hair and deep dark eyes. I could tell upon instantly reading him (he ain’t the only one in-tune with their sixth sense) that he did indeed have some power, but also a negative side that I didn’t trust at all. He took Sarah in first giving her the spiel as I sat outside, then she came out, instantly breaking his rules by talking to me about what he’d said, before inviting me in.
I sat and removed my watch, then he placed a crystal in my hand which looked like a two ounce rock of MDMA, I was about to pull out my oyster card to shave a couple of lines off, when he told me to close my eyes and free my mind. After a few minutes he started to ‘read’ me, he said my aura was 90% yellow, which represents power (Power by name, power by nature) and 10 % black, I’d have probably guessed 60/40, so this was good news, although he said three of my chakras were blocked and that I needed to open them to make my life flow better. Asking if I have heart problems in my family, I replied ‘yes’ and he said that it will be passed to me. I quietly laughed, as it is my step-mother’s side of the family with those tragic problems, so unless she secretly gave birth to me I’m pretty sure we have different genes. He also spoke knowingly about how I’m always questioning myself and wondering who I am, which I also found laughable as I’ve never been more certain about those things as I have been since returning from America. I am Dion Power, I am The Freewheelin’ Troubadour, I am happy.

He came out with some other standard observations for example ‘Back problems?’ Yes, I’m tall. Breathe air? Eat food? You sometimes walk? You have a tendency to blink? Blah blah blah. I asked him how I can improve on my ninety-ten split, becoming 100% yellow like the Golden Sun God that I’m training to be, and he said that I had to spend at least £65 on some special healing stones, and that if I didn’t the bad things could develop up to 50% quicker now that I’d seen him, notable doctors, spiritualists and physicians all agreeing the stones are the only thing that works, and how I’d end up in the hospital. ‘No shit, fat man, that’s where everyone goes. Will there be sick people and doctors in said hospital, oh wise guru?’ I thanked him for his time, and said I’d rather get stoned than buy stones.
Sam our driver claimed to have spent more than 25,000 rupees on his stones, saying it helped him go from the street to owning his own rickshaw and two cars, but the fact he wasn’t wearing any didn’t really inspire belief in the commission collecting con these guys had going. I didn’t dig how he’d used his gift as a ‘prophet for profit’, instilling doubt into the lost instead of strength and love, and pitied weaker minded people that end up leaving his store with a bunch of rubbish stones and a new religion. He told me that I couldn’t share the information with anyone except family, and I told him that I’m a writer and that was a physical impossibility, the proof of which lies in this tasty pudding you’re chomping down on.

Sarah and I broke his ‘family only’ rules of discussion by exchanging notes on his reading, he’d told her she is 80% blue, which represents energy, and 20% white due to blockages, but she didn’t even enquire on the cost of rectifying her whiteness. Positive thought is what fixes problems, his jewels inspire that positive thought in his followers, but ours comes from the good people we know and meet, not those led by money and greed. He did mention arthritis in the family, which her mother suffers from, but she is a slim little chick-a-dee, so that would be a better guess than hereditary obesity. The thing is, when they hit a few things right it makes you question the unknown claims. She was slightly perturbed how he said that ‘No one man will ever be enough for you’ which, even though she’d never even considered in her previous relationships, still made her question ‘what if?’ I should have pulled down my pants and asked if he still thought the same. Haha.

We got to the Monkey Temple at Galtar, which I’d been really looking forward to, a fifteen minute climb up a mountain filled with wild, roaming monkeys, and flew a kite with a local kid, which ended up getting caught in a tree, dragged across the floor and torn due to his over-zealous retrieval attempts. He didn’t seem too bothered, but I stuck a drumstick lolly in his little gob and he ran off smiling. There were hundreds of mad little monkeys rolling around, fighting, feeding their young and screaming at us as we passed by peacefully, finally reaching the Surya Mandir (Temple of the Sun God) which overlooked Jaipur. I paid my respects at the shrine, leaving a few rupees. All Gods love money, dontchaknow. We watched the Sun set over the smog of the polluted city, then set down for a spliff at a secret spot on the mountain top, interrupted only by a rogue pig who was obviously after a few tokes.

On the way back Sam took us to meet Handsome, who ran a co-operative in Jaipur, producing a large number of handicrafts with over four-hundred and fifty workers whom he houses, feeds and pays. He was a really fun, good guy, and we knew within minutes that we’d be buying something from him, he was worth it just for his personality, let alone the work they were doing for their community. He brought us drinks and we sat and chatted a while about our similar philosophies on happiness and love for others. He was really happy in our company, and said that I have a powerful, glowing presence, which was probably amplified by having just watched the Sun set with a big jazz cigarette and my lover beside me. He said I was like a coconut, which I loved, as I always used to ask my barber to give me “the Beatles’ mop-top, crossed with a coconut” look, but he said it wasn’t my hair, it was because I was tough on the outside, but soft and sweet inside. I loved his definition even more. Sarah spent a while choosing some amazing patchwork bed covers before leaving Handsome happy with more money for his co-op, and us with more fine findings to lumber back to Britain.

I’d seen a Pizza Hut earlier, and was dying for some relatively risk free food after two weeks of dicing with death, so I first convinced Sarah, then Sam to drop us there for supper. I was happier than a pig in shit, eating that shit food like a pig, and it was our most expensive meal to date, but you can’t put a price on not having to worry about getting a stomach infection, because the chef didn’t wash his hands after wiping his arse with them, for once.

Satisfied, tired and feeling fat, we rolled home to end up where we had started. Bedlove.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 13: Pretty pink city stink

Arriving once more in New Delhi, around 7am, we hopped on a rickshaw which took us to the train station, where we had a two hour wait before rolling on to Jaipur. We were both feeling as worn out as street beggars’ sandal, but luckily, for the first time ever since the Indian Railway started its service, the train was actually on time. Even luckier, it was a sleeper train, and we each had a pull down bed to catch up on some of the numerous hours’ sleep we’d been missing.
Five hours later we were ferried by a guy named Ali over to a hotel named Karne Niwas that Wesley had recommended but it was full, so our driver took us to this place called Vaishnavi, a palatial looking joint, that I could only compare to a double-A boob in a double-D wonderbra. The room was dogshit, dirty everywhere, stained sheets, and the closest thing we had to a window was a circular hole in the wall, leading to the outside, where a fan must have previously been fitted. There were two similar holes, but they’d been gracefully stuffed with fibreglass insulation, and had two or three pages of newspaper cellotaped over them, which had worn out and was hanging off. Regardless, we couldn’t deal with searching further, and it was marginally better than a shit-filled street, so we took a much needed shower, then hit the roof restaurant for lunch, before waiting for Ali, who was going to take us to a few places.

After waiting thirty minutes with no sign of him, we let some other hustler drop us at the walls of Jaipur’s famous pink city, which was painted a salmon pink colour by Sawai Ram Singh for the Prince of Wales’ visit in 1853. Within the pink walls were an unending chain of small shops, offering all manor of goods at prices that would make Poundland seem extortionate. After a while roaming the streets we stopped into a little local joint that were making fresh chappatis on a fire as we walked past. No one could speak English, but we still managed to score some rice, three different spicy concoctions, two chappatis and two popadoms for 90 ruppees. It was a delightful bite to eat, and I enjoyed displaying my great masculinity by scoffing all of their spiciest dip, before guzzling a bottle of water to extinguish my stupidity.
We got back to our hotel around 10pm, then went back up to the roof restaurant for a bottle of pop (I decided upon arrival that I’d aim to avoid alcohol whilst out here, and have so far stayed drier than the Sahara). I got chatting to a guy named Lucky who hobbled about with a painful looking limp. I wondered if his name was tongue-in-cheek, like calling a fat guy ‘Slim’. He was a puppeteer and said how puppetry had been in his family for seven generations, but how whereas before they would perform for up to three hours, they now only get five minutes. He offered me a performance and I excitedly accepted, watching his cousin Vikky bring each doll to life and run around the rooftop as Lucky provided the beats on his bongo. Later during conversation he invited me to join his family and people in the slums for lunch the following afternoon, and we exchanged numbers, but after hearing how they’d asked Sarah crude questions in my absence I decided that they could go and fuck themselves. Back in our boiling, beautiful bedroom, we hopped over the fence, following the sheep that we’d been counting, and finally reached the green field of dreams.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 12: Misty mountain movements

It seemed like I’d been playing big spoon all night as I awoke with an arm floppier than a ninety year olds cock and rolled over, freeing my limb. We’d had a lovely long sleep together and felt revitalised as we made our way back up towards the temple, grabbed a small child to eat, then revisited our cheeky faced old friend for the final time. At the end of his teaching, he made his way back down the stairs towards where we were all knelt in respect of his presence, and he entered a waiting car. Sarah and I broke our stance to wave at him, and he waved back with a huge shining smile from his huge shining head.

I’d decided I wanted to go one step beyond my usual threads, after seeing my favoured style tops but in full length jacket format at a few places around town, returning to the place I’d bought the Kashmir shirt from the day previously. I tried on a fully embroidered, handmade jacket which he told me was 15000 rupees, I contemplated buying it until I realised that my conversion was incorrect, and it was £200, not the £20 I’d first thought. I went back a while later and tried it on again, deciding I liked it, but not for that much money. After some heavy back and forth bartering I managed to get him down to just 4500 rupees, less than a third. Nice, nice. A dark King will return to where a light Prince vacated.

We had an overly average pre-bus meal, and got a cab to take us back to the bus station with our respective loads, which are growing heavier by the day. Arriving, I spotted the same American guy we’d twice encountered earlier with a boy and girl friend. His name was Westin, and he and his friend Wesley were exchange students doing six months studying back in Delhi. We hung out and chatted until the bus beeped it’s horn and we boarded that brutal bastard for an even bumpier ride, as we’d now had to settle for seats by the wheels at the back. The same guy that tried to charge us 200 rupees previously for our baggage now told me we needed to pay 20 rupees for the same privilege. I gave Sarah our shared Shiva purse, telling her to put him out of his misery, but it turned out later that she hadn’t done so, saying ‘he doesn’t deserve anything for trying to rip people off’. I laughed at her boldness, agreeing fully.

After four hours of bumping around, whilst watching ‘A Night at the Roxbury’ one of Will Ferrell’s first films, and feeling increasing sick, we finally stopped at a diner, both heading straight for the toilet where we shared a romantic, bonding moment of both gagging our insides out into adjoining toilet bowls, me stroking Sarah’s back once I’d semi recovered. Anthony and Cleopatra, eat your heart out. We sat back with the two Wes’s, and we discussed our dreams, our thought processes, and what we do in order to try and control them. I said how I’m glad that after encountering each other a few times prior we ended up on the same bus and how those kind of synchronicities, which I’m growing increasingly accustomed to, make me believe there are reasons for such occurrences. We smoked half of our joint and Wes gave us some travel sickness tablets, we each took a valium and I moved onto a separate two seats that were unclaimed, to cram my long limbs into the foetal position for an uncomfortable sleep.
Awaking as the bus rolled in to a grand hotel’s courtyard, we got out for a toilet and food break, but were too weary to eat, so finished off our J with Wesley. Westin had given up weed in order to enhance the clarity of his mind, something that I’d consider doing if I had the strength to actually take in the mass amounts of ridiculousness that pop into my battered brain-box constantly through my every waking hour, and a fair amount of my sleepy-time too. I spotted a trampoline a few metres away, and couldn’t fight the temptation. Risking the wrath of the patrolling security guards I ran and dived on, waking myself up with a few minutes’ worth of bouncing around, trying to get higher, before re-boarding our bus for the final few hours of bumps back to Delhi.

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 11: The Dalai Lama makes the Moon appear

We awoke at 8.30am and excitedly climbed the mountain towards the temple. We were going to see our favourite little monk mate, The Dalai Lama. Now, I’ve seen some amazing artists in my time, Bob Dylan, Prince, The Doors (minus Jim obviously), but the Dalai Lama is on the next level. You can’t really get much better than that, unless Jesus Christ himself does a ‘Walking on Water: Live’ tour and I manage to score a ticket on eBay.

We worked our way through the security checks which didn’t allow phones, cameras or cigarettes (I was prepared this time) and saw our homeboy nearby where we sat amongst the monks, just before he made his way up to his speaking seat. We had radios to tune into the English translation, but became increasingly annoyed at the bad reception, and constant cutting out, catching only snippets of what was said. I thought Buddhism was meant to make you feel calm and peaceful, but the first two hour session had left me feeling more frustrated than ever before, like being on a date where you’ve moved the Earth for the one you’re trying to woo, and all they move is your wandering hands away from them. I felt like I’d been fucked, and there was no sign of an orgasm, not even a twinge. I saw the same American guy from the day before, and we stopped to ask him if his radio translation was working ok. He explained that it cuts out when his holiness speaks, then back in when he stops and that you have to just stick with the frequency throughout. That made more sense of the previously unexplained situation, and our lunch a little easier to swallow.

I found a few shops selling my beloved embroidered tunics, and treated myself to a salmon coloured Kashmir number featuring flamboyant pink stitching and a white one with black embroidery, along with a number of unique gifts for my loved ones back home, and a ring for Sarah that she took a shining to. I told her she would get it at some point later, and we made our way back to the Temple in time for the second daily teaching. This time it was much more enjoyable, and I learned a lot of his philosophies, which I didn’t think were too far at all from my own, even though I’d never previously studied Buddhism, only life itself.
Feeling fresher we found our way to a travel agent in order to arrange our next journey, this time to enjoy some select cities in Rajasthan. We were told to our dismay that there were no trains, and we’d have to again endure that bus ride back to Delhi, before catching a five hour train to Jaipur. Whilst waiting for our booking to be completed we chatted with an Irish girl about India, and plans for returning home. She seemed unenthused by Ireland, and I gave her my usual ‘YOU MUST MOVE TO LONDON’ spiel. I fucking love the freedom of individuality that my hometown offers, despite the minor boundaries by the odd simple-minded scared soul, or idiotic government measures, it is still in my opinion the best city to live in. She recommended an oriental joint called ‘Common Ground’ for dinner, so we went there and feasted on some fresh and tasty dishes, which cost next to nothing. By far the best meal I’d had since landing in this beautiful, dirty mess of a country.
Darkness had consumed the mountain roads by the time we’d finished, and as we walked back to the main road I looked up, finally seeing the Moon for the first time in eleven days. We stopped and gazed at the small slither on show, smiling, and I produced Sarah’s ring, placing it on her little finger, and explaining that the light stone was in fact a Moon stone, sent from space just for her.
My back is always knotted, lumpier than the rock-faces around us, which I think is due to me always carrying the weight of the World, like Atlas, withdrawing the woes from others souls and accumulating them all, to bear alone, then dispel. When I saw the offer of a full body massage for £6.66 I couldn’t say no, I can never afford that kind of therapy in England and could often do with it. The trials of being tall, is that everything’s too small.

My lady in waiting offered to wait, so I walked with her to an internet café, gave her my bag and everything except 500 rupees, and said I’d meet her there in an hour. The massage rooms were full, so I was taken by the young guy on reception, named Sonu, for a five minute walk to where a nearby room was vacant. We arrived and I asked where the masseuse was, he told me he’d be doing it for me, and that you don’t get women doing men in India. No chance of a happy ending then.

I stripped to my black boxers and stretched across the table as he cracked me into place, and eased the tension in my load bearing back as we spoke about lovers and life. In my usual way of somehow inspiring strangers to open up to me, he told me the kind of things you’d only discuss with your closest companions, how he’d fallen for an English girl but it couldn’t be, how he became depressed following the unexpected death of a close girl-friend and was finding his way back to happiness, and all about the intricacies of sexual exploits amongst the youth in India. I thought it was rare for Indian girls to put out before marriage, but apparently they get the odd live-wire that isn’t too bound by religious beatings to enjoy a bit of the old in-out, in-out.

I told him how much I loved India, but how a few things bother me, like the disgusting degradation of women by a large number of perverted troglodytes, and how public affection between lovers is frowned upon. I said in my world it is unthinkable to ever question somebodies desire to wear a burkha, a short skirt or spiderman pajamas, and that I believe every individual should have the freedom to do as they please, as long as it is not immoral and doesn’t harm anyone else. If I want to hold my girlfriends hand, display my love with a cuddle or kiss, and show my appreciation for her majesty, then I will be damned if someone thinks they have the right to stop me. He said he agreed, but that sometimes it may frustrate the locals if they aren’t getting any. If they aren’t, it’s a crying shame, but I’m doing my best to get enough for everybody. Asking if he enjoyed his job massaging people, saying it must offer a lot of new people to talk to, he replied saying that he didn’t really love it, and ‘the people aren’t usually as nice to talk to as you’. Sonu explained that he didn’t have many friends he could open up to, as all guys over there are busy working and living their own lives, so I offered my services in future, giving him my contact details and assuring him that it is my job, and pleasure in life.
We walked together back to the cafe where I’d left my lover, but the shutters were down and it was closed. I rushed back to his reception, expecting her to be seated, but no sign. This worried me as it is unlike Sarah to stray from a set plan and leave me uninformed. I couldn’t even call her as she had my phone, and money. There was a big group of men all chatting around the counter, and Sonu asked if my girlfriend had been in looking for me, but they all shook their heads in synchronicity. I didn’t like this at all, bad visions entering my warped mind at warp speed, wondering where she could be. Sonu told me to return if I couldn’t find her, and I ran all the way back toward the temple, looking in every shop and café as my worries grew. ‘Where could she be?‘ I constantly asked myself, now sprinting, until a jolt from a hole in the half built, dark path down the mountain forced me to slow to a quick walking speed so I didn’t slip again. I reached the bottom, hoping I’d gone the right way, and saw the light of our hotel. I ran again, towards the building and up four flights of stairs, meeting our door with a bang. Sarah opened and I looked at her, speechless, out of breath, and massively relieved that she was ok. I asked her in disbelief how she could’ve left me clueless, and she explained that she’d left me a love-letter, and how the stupid employee had clearly failed to deliver. We embraced as I dropped to the bed about ready to have a heart-attack, our ensuing actions hardly helping.
A while later Sarah informed me that she’d rolled a joint with our remaining opium, so we sparked it up, but it was hard to smoke, and provided another uninspiring hit. She lay in my arms as we inhaled our usual a weed, and watched ‘Pineapple Express’ before ending another epic day.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 10: Monks, Men and Mountains

We rolled into Mcleod Ganj, up in the mountains of Dharamsala, at around 7am, shattered from the draining journey and in need of a place to stay. The first guy that offered a hotel with hot water and a bed within walking distance of the main Tibetan Temple was taken up on his offer, and then drove us up the mountain, through the seemingly serene main shopping streets, past the Temple, then back down a few minutes walk away.
We both felt pretty rank and worn down after thirteen hours of bumping around and little sleep, and I took a second to rest on the bed, which turned into three and a half hours by the time my eyes rolled around making me aware of my disappearance. We enjoyed our first hot shower of the trip, I didn’t even scream once, or sing in my usually stuttering shower soprano style that came with the cold bursts of cleanliness that I had become accustomed to. The mountain town is not too far from the Himalayas, and you can tell by the temperature, so a bit of warm water went a long way.There was a bath too, but unfortunately it looked dirtier the than the prolapsed arse-hole of the street cow that I witnessed shitting in Varanasi. 
Too physically drained to mission up the mountain, and a few rupees later, the short drive up the mountain side found us at the Tibetan security branch office with a few hours spare before their sign up period ended. I walked into a room full of Buddhist monks and fellow travellers, chucked 10 rupees and two passport sized photographs of my happy mug onto a table, and it magically manifested itself into a pass to join the Dalai Lama, who was doing a teaching in his Temple whilst we were there, which started the following morning.
We bumped into Jess from the bus ride who mentioned a decent place for lucheon ten minutes’ walk up the mountainside, so we went off in that direction but didn’t find it. A place called The Jungle Hut which hung off of the rock face, and looked like it was made completely out of bamboo, drew our hungry attention, and saw our starved shells served a healthy lunch. By 3pm we descended the now misty mountain, extremely light rain gracing our faces, buzzing despite our ailments as we admired the peace that India had yet been able to offer us. Everywhere and everyone seemed extremely chilled. A young American guy with dreads and a warm looking shawl returned my smile and said ‘Hi’ as we walked in the opposite direction. I greeted him back in passing, thinking to myself that this was definitely my kind of place. Just as we reached our hotel the sky fell, catching us with very few of its’ sizeable sploshes as we ran in and up the winding stairs to our room. Tummy’s now full, and the days’ mission complete, our cracked shells twisted together to reclaim some more sleep that the bus ride had robbed us of.
We awoke around 7pm, and smoked a joint on our balcony as we stared across to another mountain peak; the distant, infrequent house lights looked like lanterns layed along its face, going up to the highest light of all, near the top. I said I wanted to be the man that lives there, as he’s always really, really high, probably smoking a Jeffrey as we speak. We discussed the idea I have for my next book, ‘The Freewheelin’ Troubadour’s Book of Faith’, which chronicles a journey of love, loss, and love again in a collection of already completed poems.
We ordered room service and were delivered a ‘chicken’ curry, which was more comparable to a bunch of fingers that had been cut off at the knuckle, chopped into three and stewed for a few hours in some lemony sauce. More bones than a greedy dog. I showed Sarah one of my favourite comedies as a kid growing up, a spoof hood movie called ‘Don’t Be A Menace To South Central, While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood’, which kept us in good spirits for an hour and a half, before rubbing each other’s poorly tummies until Sarah drifted off again. I wrote and wrote, and the night disappeared.

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 9: Tailor-made, travelling Troubadour

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, “FUCK, FUCK, FUCK”, you snooze, you lose, this time only minutes, but still enough to make me rush. I chucked the final nails into my coffin, then threw it on my back and jumped into a waiting Rickshaw which drove us in a hurry to Agra train station. We were running late and worried, which by now we should have learnt not to, since transport rarely runs on time. We got there through our panic to find our train delayed by three hours. Brilliant. We adopted a tired pose in our spot on a shaded bench as the morning sun started to bear down on the beautiful city below. Whilst waiting a young homeless kid came begging. I walked him to the food stand, and got him a couple of samosas, which he promptly devoured before laying satisfied on the platform floor, smiling at me. Sarah was snoozing on said bench, and I was constantly accosted by men pointlessly offering to shine my trainers. For the first time since I’ve been here I was forced to raise my voice. One of the shoe shining guys went to grab Sarah’s foot, as she lay blissfully unaware of everyone around me, but my Lion-from-London-like roar of “OI!” did enough to make him vacate his skin and disappear.

We arrived in Delhi with only a few hours to spare. We went and met Sunni, a guy Sarah knew that ran a hotel in the Main Bazaar. He was a really chilled, cool Sikh guy that allowed us to lighten our loads, leaving a bag of stuff we didn’t need with him until we return a week or so later. He also recommended a local tailor that could make me a few suits, and even took me there in order to overcome the language barrier. With his bi-lingual benefits, Sarah’s expertise in fashion and design and my bartering skills, I managed to arrange two three-piece suits to be awaiting my return to Delhi, working out to around £60 each. They’ll look great on me as I sit on the pavement outside some shitty East London boozer, sharing a spliff with my nearest and dearest.

After a lacklustre lunch in a café named Nirvana, we were informed that the piece of shit, cock sucker at the travel agency in Agra lied to us about the distance of the bus depot, and it was actually a forty-five minute drive away rather than the five minute walk we were told. We had thirty minutes to get there. We jumped at the first auto-rickshaw we found, agreeing to whatever inflated price they requested, saying ‘drive motherfucker, drive’. He sped through the traffic, as we panicked yet again.

We arrived late to find a group of fellow travellers who claimed they’d been waiting since 4pm. It was now nearing 7. I got chatting to this English girl named Jess, who said she lived on the Roman Road, another East Londoner. We waited at the bus stop and I went off to get some water for the journey as Sarah was feeling really unwell. As I was paying, I saw a bus, and it was ours. I jumped on, telling them to drive me to my lover, and we pulled in to see her looking surprised as I stood in the window waving.

We’d luckily made it, but unluckily we now had a thirteen hour journey ahead of us, both feeling ill, with no toilet on board. The drivers mate came along taking names and giving out sick bags. He tried to tell me that we had to pay an extra 200 rupees luggage charge for each putting a bag in the boot, but I told him there was a stone in the seat behind offering blood, and he’d be better off trying over there. He lingered a while, whilst I did my famous ‘I’m either asleep, or ignoring you’ impression until he finally fucked off. For every one good, honest person over here, and believe me there are a good few, there are two unscrupulous bastards that see a foreign face and decide to dish out Vaseline for the imminent arse-raping. Unfortunately for them, I wear a chastity belt, and only Sarah holds the worn out, old key.

After a few hours of our bumpy ride, I jumped off the bus, chucking my earlier meal all over the stony side of the road. I felt like shit and think it was the uninspiring ‘margarita’ pizza I’d eaten earlier which they, for some unknown reason, covered in dreaded onions. Yuck. I sparked up a hash joint with Sarah beside me, who had also dropped off her insides at the roadside, but with a little more grace than my weary face. We boarded the uncomfortable bus, I semi-reclined my semi-reclining seat, and took my first ever valium. I’ve always avoided sleeping pills as what with my sleep problems, usually being unable to stop thinking for hours as I stare at the clouds on my bedroom ceiling, I worry they’d become something I’d use too frequently. I’m also of the thinking that if you take uppers, you should be willing to ride back down, instead of treating your body as if it has its own on and off switches.

I awoke about four hours later, and couldn’t get comfortable, so I laid in the aisle, listening to the engine hum and trying to drift. The bus must’ve pulled to a halt, as I felt somebody climb over my corpse. The next minute I took a boot to the face from some dozy German chick who apologised profusely. I didn’t mind, it was my fault, laying there face down in all black with my hood up. I got off and had a chai, chatting to Jess and an older English guy whilst watching person after person exit a small van, passing babies out from the open roof, clambering out of the top like a circus clown car. Must’ve been at least thirty of them, all dressed in dirty white clothes. It was quite the amusing sight, and the one that ended my night.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 8: Three wishes and wisdom shared

We finally got out of bed around 1.30pm, wishing the Taj Mahal a good afternoon as we stepped out of our room for some food. We decided to visit Fatepur Sikr, a fortified, ancient city, 40km from Agra, and managed to score a driver there and back, who’d also wait for us whilst there, for only 600 rupees (£8).

Fatepur Sikr was the short lived capital of the Mugul Empire between 1571-1585, until the lack of fresh water became too much of an issue. When we arrived we were approached by a tour guide named Abdul, offering his services around the city for 1300 rupees. Sarah rather flippantly dismissed the idea right away, she’s been growing tired of being pestered by locals that see us as rich tourists, and it’s been bringing out an unseen tough side of her that I’m finding pretty amusing. She’s been here three weeks longer than I have, and it’s been pretty annoying for me since I got here. A lot of the younger people just say hello, and we’re constanly chatting to locals and representing London in a loving fashion, but it’s quite disheartening when sometimes an ulterior motive rears it’s ugly head, or a sleazy comment gets made, forcing us to cut out of the conversation quickly. However, I liked the idea of Abdul, his English was impeccable and a little history is always welcome in my constant quest for knowledge, so after he dropped his price to just 300 ruppees, with me saying ‘Please Mama can we keep him, please, please, purlease’, Sarah agreed and off we went.

He took us all around the grounds, telling the Story of Emperor Akbah who had three wives, one Christian, one Hindu, and one Muslim, and was desperate for a son. He went from place to place trying to acquire the good fortune that would see his dream fulfilled, but was unsuccessful until he met Sufi Saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted he’d soon have the child he desired. Following the birth of his firstborn son, Emporor Akbah built Fatepur Sikr in dedication to the Sufi Saint, consisting of amongst other things, a stunning mosque and three palaces on the grounds, one for each wife.

We visited the tomb of the Emporers elephant, who would deliver the final fate of any person found guilty of crime by Akbah, by stomping them into the ground in the arena-like garden. On the peak of the outer perimeter we had an amazing view of the palace, and I asked Abdul if we could smoke a joint there, and he agreed. I was slightly weary mid-way, when I saw a uniformed officer below, but Abdul said “Don’t worry, these guys are worth 20 rupees, you can buy them off with a chai, you’re with me, you’ll be fine”. We discussed our philosopies on life, all very similar, based on love and respect of all others, giving without the intention to recieve and not being consumed by ‘wealth’. I told him how I have little money, but am rich and he understood where I was coming from.

He told us how the couple he’d guided earlier in the morning, were not respectful, good people like us, how they’d agreed a few of 1800 rupees and at the end the guy gave him an extra 1000, telling Abdul to get himself some boxes. Abdul then handed him back 1100 rupees, telling him to get some boxes. He said that money was not important as he has good enough clothes, food, and family behind him, but the way people speak says a lot about what kind of person they are. He then said, “You, you have a voice like a flower” and gestured a flower in bloom, saying he could tell that I was full of love. I liked that, and Sarah laughed at me being called a flowery fellow. She turned away, Abdul pointed at her and whispered “Good!” giving me the thumbs up. I smiled and nodded. He said we were a good couple as she is also full of love and beauty, and that I should make her my wife. A running theme, it now seems, Freddie Mercury popping out from a under a rock to sing ‘Under Pressure’. Bom-bom-bom, ba-ba, bom-bom.

Stepping into the mosque, walking past tombs of the dead, we were told of their tradition, whereby you get three wishes. We bought a large piece of coloured cloth, and they gave us three pink pieces of string each and a bag of petals. We took the cloth into the tomb of the Sufi Saint, and laid it across the top, spreading the petals across our offering, along with a few others doing the same. The cloth is later used to make clothes for the poor. We took our three pieces of string and then tied them one by one to a carved, marble wall, as we each individually made our wishes. Unfortunately we were told we cannot share them until they come true, so apologies for that, but in the nature of fun, let’s just say that I wished for a three packs for 99p sweets like you get in any good London corner shop, a cuddle from everyone in the world (that would’ve actually been a good wish) and some new sunglasses to wear on the back of my head, making everyone behind me think Teen Wolf was bowling backwards around India.

We ended the tour and were taken on the hour long drive back to the Shanti Lodge by our driver, before eating once again at our favoured roof restaurant. It’s a slight shame to not have tried anywhere else nearby, but the food over here is pretty samey in each restaurant and generally leaves a lot to be desired, namely a lack of constant bowel movements, so when/if you find somewhere half decent it’s advisable to stick with it.

We packed our bags in order to leave for Dharamsala early the next morning, then decided to sample the opium we’d acquired earlier. I didn’t fancy smoking it off of foil like the guy proposed, as that is a bit too near doing smack for my liking, and smack is whack, so we tried the other way suggested, smearing a thick line of the brown, tar like substance down the side of a cigarette before climbing onto the upper roof in order to enjoy. Halfway through Sarah asked if you’re meant to feel anything right away, I said that I didn’t know, but that I could definitely feel something, which she was pleased to hear, agreeing that she could too. It was nothing that exciting to be honest, I felt a little sick for a few minutes as my gut rolled around wondering what I was doing, and my legs felt a little wobbly as I descended the staircase, bidding farewell to the shadow of the Taj Mahal.

I’d say my first impression was underwhelming, kind of like waiting for a bus to take you to a party, then getting off and realising the party was the day before. I laid within the net that surrounded our bed, feeling a bit mellow and spaced out, whispering kisses and pillow talk until the Sandman kidnapped my consciousness. Kiss kiss.

Freewheelin in India - Day 7: Two planks of wood and one ‘Wonder of the World’

After some more weirdness courtesy of my stupid subconscious I rose to realise we still had a few more hours before reaching Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. “Motherfuckers” I exclaimed looking down at my half eaten arm. Some bastard mozzis had clearly had a three-course meal, wining and dining at my expense.

I stared out of the window at the rolling world, constant snapshots stored in my tired mind, for me to draw upon later in life. Probably when I’m most in need of a decent sleep, and instead imagine running through those great glowing fields in a frenzy, chased by every rabid school-teacher that told me I could be so great if I’d only gave half a shit, holding all the homework I never did, and the detention slips I always skipped.

We arrived in Agra, aggravated, unwashed and much later than planned. We were ferried to our hotel Shanti Lodge by a rickshaw man who seemed to think that if he hung around for us all day he might become a millionaire. The hotel was by far the best I’d stayed in since my arrival, and we chose a room on the top floor which had a view of the Taj Mahal from our window, and a decent roof terrace restaurant right outside our door.

We showered and had a brief lay down on our king-size bed before a much needed breakfast, excitement building as we looked upon the majestic white marble manor merely meters from our room. After rolling a J for our journey later to Fatepur Sikr and stuffing our ‘shrooms in a photo film case, we walked to the South Gate of the Taj Mahal and paid for our tickets. A guide was adamant we take him with us, and after much declining he offered his services for next to nothing, so we put him out of both our misery’s by saying yes.

We didn’t realise that there were bag searches on the gate, or that cigarettes and lighters were not allowed, so I stood there shitting myself as they pulled my battered Marlboro box with the spliff sticking out of the torn top, from my bag and tossing it face down on the table. Luckily a kid who was with our guide took the box and my lighter and ran them back to their nearby shop. I was still worried about the ‘shrooms, but there was no sign of them, and it was only when we were through the other side that Sarah explained how she’d just gone through the exact same stress, and that they were with her all along. We laughed at our stupid luck and entered the grand, green gardens.

Our guide told us the story of how and why the building was built, as a memorial of Shah Jahan’s late wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died during the birth of their fourteenth child in 1631, and took twenty-two years to complete. After the Taj was completed, his son Aurangzeb, ended up imprisoning him in Agra Fort, after he had planned to spend the wealth of his country building an exact replica of the Taj Mahal, but in black. Now I don’t know about you, but I’d have built the black one first. After his death in 1666 he was buried next to his wife, Mumtaz, in the underground of the building.

The only plan that Sarah and I had set in stone for our journey together was to ‘plank’ (lay in a suitable spot and pretend that you’re a plank of wood) in front of this famous landmark, so when we saw two stone benches next to each other with the building behind we took a minute to lay on the blistering blocks of brick to claim our place in history as (probably) the first ever people to plank in this location. Our guide clearly thought we were weird, but we found it hilarious. We admired the multitude of stones from around the world that were flawlessly set into the marble walls, before venturing inside.

We spent a while witnessing the remarkable marble carvings which, like the entire building when you look at it from any direction, were entirely symmetrical and all made with one single piece, no joinings at all. We came to the rear exit and sat on the bright, white floor with our guide to have a rest. The sun shone strongly on our glowing souls, heating our tired heads to near boiling point, and someone struck up a conversation with me about cricket. They love that shit out here, and he told me that England recently beat India, with a dose of sadness attached to his sentence. I explained that I don’t follow it, but hoped India would win next time. He didn’t believe me, to the point where I decided to remove my shades, revealing the honesty in my eyes as I repeated my good wishes. England aren’t my team, when the world wins, I will be happy.

We returned to the Shanti Lodge and again ate on our roof, deciding to have some of our mushroom chocolates for desert a few hours later, once dinner had digested. I sat surfing and chatting to some kid that ran the internet café whilst checking in with the real world, in its digital disguise, before heading back for our special snack. It was Sarah’s first time trying them, and she gagged as we chewed on the strange tasting treats. I told her to count herself lucky, as the fresh ones taste so much worse, kind of like having to walk through hell to reach heaven. We only took a small dose, just testing the water so she didn’t drown. I personally love looking at the bottom of that ocean, but didn’t want her fighting the frightening fun of the darkside on her first ride.

We smoked a joint in our room, then perched in our favoured position on the restaurant’s roof terrace, waiting willingly for the waves to arrive. A thirty-something waiter with glasses and worn out eyes, named Rowry, who was finishing work and closing up for the night started speaking to us. Out of nowhere he asked if we smoked hashish, which we denied, and said ‘only cigarettes’, offering him one from my now nearly destroyed packet. He declined, asking why our eyes were red, and we passed it off as tiredness, explaining that the constant travels were taking their toll. In hindsight, it’s not beyond belief that by then we could have been looking pretty spacefaced and goofy as we giggled in each other’s company at the constant jokes we were delivering to one another.

He invited us to see the rooftop, which we were unaware even existed. There was a complete 360 degree view of Agra, as far back as it went. We spoke for a while and he took my last cigarette now that he wasn’t in view of the hotel security cameras. He was a Muslim man and any talk of the history between England and India saw him get aggravated. I explained how I thought that there were both positive and negative moments, but he wasn’t having any of it, seemingly cutting of the conversation as he looked off into the distance. His wife was pregnant and nearly due, and he told us of his anxiousness. I told him that now was the time to really stand up, be a great father forever and look after his wife. He agreed, then requested a quiet word without Sarah’s audience, so I leant in, and he whispered “My wife…baby is near, but we still have the sex…is this good?” I had to get him to confirm what I heard, before offering that ‘as long as she is ok, you’re careful and it doesn’t hurt her, then it’s fine’, and how not to worry about harming the baby as it won’t disturb it. Bless him, I thought it was sweet how he chose to find solace in me, a stranger, with his secret worries. I could understand it though as perhaps he doesn’t have a close friend to call upon, or the necessary resources to enquire about these things within his community. He seemed hugely relieved, like a weight had been lifted, and showed us photos of her on his phone that she’d taken herself, doing the ‘Myspace pose’. He asked why we weren’t married, saying that we were both good, beautiful, lovely people, and I explained that while I agree that we make an amazing couple, we have years to enjoy such magical moments and shouldn’t do it all right away. He bid us farewell, leaving us to gaze at the thousands of stars on offer in the sky
 I realised that I hadn’t howled since I’d been here, the Moon absent from her usual spot every time my eyes have tried to pay her a visit. I have no idea where she has gone, perhaps the Sun has finally won, and now they are together in love. I decided to take Sarah on a date, so we could enjoy the four corners of the roof with each other. It was only about three by four metres wide, but each spot offered a different vantage point, and goings on in the lives of others. We noticed that our mild trip was underway as we pointed out the multitude of faces around us, each building looking like a different coloured angry Lego brick head with the windows, doors and shadows creating eyes, noses, mouths and frowning eyebrows. I always say seeing is believing, and when you both see the same thing, it is definitely there, be it only for that moment, or forever when seen with those newly open and now trained eyes.

We made our way back to our room to embrace faces, under the coolness of our shaky fan, as a speaker, from what I can only guess was the mosque or the Hindu’s temple, blared across the city and into our window, bang on 1.30am, for over half an hour.

We discussed what it is that can make a man evil, which I’ve currently been stewing on for the past month, and I came up with some delightfully dark ideas for The Bow-Tie Killer, my forthcoming poetry/music/theatre/ film masterpiece that I’m looking to start work on with my fellow Freewheeler, Guy Trinder, when I return to my favourite city.

Freewheelin' in India - Day 6: Feeling sick, and looking slick.

After a night struggling to switch off, and listening to Joanna Newsom’s usually soothing ‘Y’s’ album on repeat, I was woken by my jigsaw puzzle piece around 8am, only three and a half hours later than I’d finally drifted.

Sarah felt even worse than the previous night, so we slowly packed the pains in our back after an hour of pillow talk and checked out, leaving our bags there to collect later. The Sun had finally shown it’s scorching supremacy, burning down and changing the town, but unfortunately we were off on a train to Agra in a few hours.

We grabbed some breakfast in a nearby café and spoke to the proprietor about yesterday’s mayhem. The Indian Times newspaper stated that thirty people had died due to the storm and that a few buildings collapsed, injuring even more.

We went to collect our train tickets, then visited Baba’s again to collect the Emperor’s new clothes. The fit wasn’t quite up to scratch, so they took all three in, there and then, whilst we laid on the padded floor, under a cool fan. After an hour there, we left in order to collect the other shirts I’d had copied for me in the Main Bazaar.

Before we could get anywhere near we were offered Bong Lassi’s by some weathered faced old man on the street. I didn’t know what they were, but Sarah explained that they were the yoghurt-like milkshakes, with a load of weed mixed in. I asked if he had mushrooms and he said yes, so we followed him down more amazing mazes, towards where the crater was yesterday. After asking him of his location, I realised that he was actually the seller that we had been looking for the previous day. I said that we’d find him, but I didn’t think he would find us. Yet another sign that shows me that I’m on the right path, right place, right time and can create whatever I wish for with positive thought.

It took us ten or fifteen minutes to get back to his workplace, via more cow-filled back-alleys full of various colours, mainly brown on the floor and smelling deliciously disgusting.

Upon entry he gave me my first ever plain Lassi for free, whilst we discussed quantities and price. It was really tasty, sweet and cooling after our march through the melting mid-day heat. He came back to us with fifty grams of Mushroom chocolates and ten grams of weed for around £20, which I added to our collection of good, clean fun that we’d acquired.
We found our way back to my tailor and collected my seven new tops which I was really happy with. We then got lost in yet another back-alley mission, before finding our way with little time to spare, and grabbing our bags from Modern Vision Guesthouse. After a few days using only toilets, I had to crap in my first hole. ‘nuff said. Dropping our heavy loads in-front of a waiting auto rickshaw, we hopped on stating Varanasi train station as our required destination.

It occurred to me that I should stash our supplements better before boarding the train, so I took a sock from my backpack, and the weed and mushrooms out of my bag to hide. No sooner had I had my hands full of fun, did a uniformed copper jump on-board in order to hitch a ride. He turned back to check me out, and I coolly smiled and pretended I was looking for something uninteresting in my bag, pulling out my malaria tablets with an ‘Oh, there they are’ look on my face. He turned back, and I breathed a silent sigh of relief before slyly stuffing my sock with our secret stash.

We were in a rush, and although we never mentioned this to the driver, he drove like his wife was about to give birth to triplets and he needed one final fare before he could get there. He beeped constantly, nearly crashed every minute or two, and at one point forced a cyclist to swerve to safely after navigating a blind junction like a demon bull in a shop full of red china.

With a few minutes spare we were there, and ran with our heavy loads, up and down each platform with no clue as to where our incoming train would stop, and no one to help us. At the ninth platform with both of us ready to cry or combust, we were approached by the Japanese speaking Indian guide who was on our train to Varanasi. On that train he had seemed a slight nuisance, sitting on our sleepers chatting to the old Asian lady he was guiding and hanging around like a bad smell when we needed to lay in our bed, however this time his face brought with it a completely different feeling. Relief. Crazy how he found us when we were most in need, right time, right place once again. It turned out we were on the same train, but it was delayed. The old Japanese lady seemed happy to see me, even though on our last journey together I had whacked her arm after seeing it digging through our curtain in the dark carriage, thinking it was a thief poking around where our bags were. Turns out she’d climbed down from her top bunk and was just looking for her shoes.

We sat on the shit smeared platform floor with hundreds of waiting Indians. I wrote a few new poems into my book, one about finding comfort on the ground, which I was doing at the time, the other about shitting yourself, which I was hoping not to do, and following a few hours of waiting our locomotive rolled in.

We put our beds down, ready to rest right away, but I was feeling wiggy, what with the constant creepy crawlies that were congregating in our carriage. I’ve never been a fan of insects, except flies, as I’m the lord of them, but it seems they are a fan of me, my arms and feet tattooed with bulging bite marks that I can’t help but scratch the shit out of. I complained to Sarah that no humans ever  give me grief as they can tell that I’m a good person, whereas mosquitos don’t have the same skills of judgement, and seem to love the taste of my Mediterranean blood (kind of like the women in London).

After a while talking, having a snuggle on the narrow beds, and working out a plan of action for the following day, Sarah hopped into her sleeper to snooze. I spent a while scrolling through snaps of my beautiful friends, who are the greatest wealth I could ever have acquired, then sat with my feet hanging from the train’s side door smoking a Marlboro and looking across at the vast, dark landscape we were sadly leaving behind.