And Now, California

 

Waiting for hours in the LA airport watching as chairs are filled with interesting faces and emptied and refilled with unknowing bottoms. Unaware of who was there before them. This place may be the plastic surgery capital of the world. People all rushing trying to be somebody. So many beautiful faces, going in different directions.

Since January it’s been mostly me saying wow. Whoa. What the f?  Coming into LA it was snow topped mountains and hilly landscapes, crinkled land of trees and rocks.  Then flat. And about 10 minutes of my mouth open going whoaaaa. House after row of houses. Crenshaw. Football fields. Smog hiding the sky scrapers. And more houses. Some with yards. Some identical spirals of suburbs.

So many tans and bad tattoos. People looking confused.  I sit and watch and feel the sensation when people step on the cracks in the carpet. I was id’d for my 20$ beer.

After we board the connecting flight I fall asleep and wake up hovering 20 feet from the ground about to land in San Diego.

On the way out of Rishikesh a rickshaw took me the 20 odd kilometres out of town to the Dehredun airport. I was at least three hours early for my flight. I just wanted to get out of India and sit in an air-conditioned lobby as early as possible. I bought a book called the God Delusion and sat and read it in front of 300 Muslims and Hindus.

I was assigned seat 1/D which was at the very front on the right aisle. The flight attendees seat was facing mine and when he sat down for take off and landing we were knee to knee. The propellers looked safe and the inside was retro. The flight was easy and fast. Then I waited in Delhi airport for six hours or so and was assigned an economy class premium just for asking at no extra cost. I had a huge seat with no one behind me, my own arm rest, it was like a little pod, just a little smaller than business class. Sitting apart from each other on planes is one of the most expensive ways to travel. When I asked to upgrade my third flight from Tokyo to Vancouver they said it would be 2000 extra dollars. The airport in Tokyo was completely empty of travelers.  It was just after six thirty a.m. and we were the first flight in. I found my gate anyway, even after being told I could leave to make the 12 hour delay a little more exciting. I opted for sleep. Gate 75 is at a dead end in the crescent shaped airport. I eventually fell asleep there for hours at a time. I would wake up, put my shoes back on and go to the washroom, fill up my water bottle and check out the one convince store that sold beer and candy and soups and t-shirts. I bought a t-shirt and chocolates and funny cakes and a tea over all.

Landing in Vancouver was the easiest airport I’ve been to so far. It’s a short walk, and I was ecstatic to be back. I could see the mountains, and feel my skin not burning. Canadians get a separate line to scan our passports and answer some multiple choice questions about where we’ve been and how long. Then you show your receipt to someone, then pick up your bags, tell someone where you’ve been and how long, then you’re free to get on the sky train and go straight downtown. In my case, to Broadway, then got on a waiting bus. It took me maybe four stops and I got off walked three blocks through a beautiful perfumy park and rang the buzzer.

For the first time in a long time I took a long hot shower. Washed my air, saw my body in a mirror with light. Totally relaxed under the hot water, scraped off some skin on my feet, massaged my swollen ankles,  cleaned out my nails and scalded my skin.

After a few days I’m back on schedule. Sitting in Mount Pleasant with my green smoothy and some coffee boiling. It’s a warm sunny holiday Monday and I’m listening to the Beach Boys.

Then I spent two days with Evan and Amanda in Maple Ridge. Their 3600 square foot house had a theatre, a music room an office, three or four bathrooms, two guest rooms, a hot tub, bbq, two big trucks, garage, boat, hunting rifles, just about anything you could ask for. Plus it’s between Golden Ears park and another park where you can hike to a waterfall and see glaciers. At night there are no sounds. No lights.

There, people push strollers.  There I met his friends for bbq, one was a welder one worked at the Bay. One was an arborist and former train conductor, with his baby boy who’s head was too big.  One works with computers one wants to be a cop.

They all had cars…I learned about fixed mortgages and flex rates and websites and office politics while we sat in the hot tub in our bathing suits. We heard stories of bear break-ins and how many deer you can shoot in a day.

I was able to see life through the eyes of one of my best friends. He took a different path and one I could only imagine till now. He’s got the girl, house, truck, property by the forest and an entrepreneur. Some of it I’d like, but mostly it was a view of stuff I now know I don’t want. I like traveling. It will end but for now I like seeing how other people live.

In Metchosin things are perfect.

I look up from my book and see my 93 year old grandfather laying the ground not moving. I put the book down and lean out and look a little further. He’s laying on his side talking to his cat, feeding him treats.

We sit and read at night and one day we had a big lunch so skipped dinner. I read his grandfathers letters home from India, 100’s of them. They started the same way mine did, “I can’t believe this place, I want to go home.” Letters of famine and poverty, monsoon rain, and converting Hindus to Methodists. It went on for hours until the year 1900 when he said they treated a starving little girl whose mother could only feed her pills of crushed flies when she complained of hunger. He reads me a passage from Jane Goodalls book and I read him some from mine, then we eat cereal together and go to bed early.

People here worship the ground he walks on and so they should. They ignore me completely until they ask how I know him, and when I say I am his grandson things really get going. That happened after his birthday party. I was ignored then suddenly the centre of attention. One of his oldest friends asked what I discovered I need to change about myself in order to be happy? She was excited when I said I had more than one answer. Then we looked at every photo of India I had posted online.

The mountains here look the same as Nepal, I’ve seen these all my life but didn’t know how special they are until now. The ocean water looks psychedelic, like just another form of atoms, could be air or land but it’s liquid and we could walk across it if the atoms were arranged differently.  The ripples flow in all directions on an otherwise calm surface. As I go out in the kayak, on surface level the water closer to Victoria is flat and reflecting the city and nearby boats. I’m not sure if it’s a wave or a mirage or a tsunami but I continue to paddle out anyway. Mount Baker is looming over it all in the background, a big volcano looking thing covered in snow.

I try to watch each wave as it comes in off the ocean. Watch it roll in and keep its shape until it breaks on the shore. As the tide shifts out the rocks on land dry.

Swimming alone in an unknown area so far from any other people was magical. It could have been my end, one person dies in there every year. It could have been me. I almost jumped in without planning an exit. I biked 25 km on a trail and stopped by a river. After a long time of sitting on the edge I found a place where I could walk in and out. It was a cork screw made by millions of years of water erosion, into a cave with water reflecting on the rocks. I walked into the cold water and swam directly to the nearest rock and got out. Got warm again and jumped back in. To the next big rock and then crossed the river and wandered on the other side.

Swimming in the clear cool water I felt complete. It was something I really wanted to do. One of those things that you could either say you did or almost did and the difference means the world only to you. You got to experience it. Our bodies are made to float not sink. We have adapted to water. Our fingers prune to grab the rocks and pull ourselves up. Our shins are to a  point so we can walk through the water with no drag. Our feet  are like flippers.

The river is so zig zagged I couldn’t even see the water fall up ahead. All I could see was lava rocks cut through by rushing water shaped over the years into perfect swimming pools. The sun tanning my skin, my clothes and bag perched on the rocks somewhere. The perfect summer adventure. After kayaking on my birthday this one takes the cake. BC has it all. And I feel like I’ve taken every opportunity possible to grow. And explore and have a story to tell that isn’t full of I wish I had, it’s going to be a list of amazing sensations that I made happen because that’s living. Living isn’t biking 25 km to not swim.

One in 1,342,512,706

 

Ask me if I’ll miss India and I’d say yes. I’ll miss India because back home old people don’t double ride bicycles, people who look like the general picture of God, with a big white beard and bright white clothes don’t ride scooters with a huge smile. Old ladies here feel comfortable enough to squat on the sidewalk if they need to take a pee. Strangers greet you with their chosen name of God, and yoga is everywhere. Interacting with cows and dogs and pigs daily has given me a clearer look at being a vegetarian. I won’t miss the fact that last night it was 30 degrees at 2 a.m. Or all the ants that have walked into my keyboard and never came out, probably lost in the matrix of the mother board, the giant wasps or the horns and traffic in general.

I’ve been bitten by ants, mosquitoes, pushed by bulls, barked at by dogs, cohabited with geckos and spiders, had a monkey land on my dinner table and now a large Gray langur has intimidated me into running from my dinner. And after I gathered my wits and tried to scare him off I was scarred mentally and physically when he jumped and scratched me with his fangs showing making growling sounds.  After that I was afraid to go out my front door, then slowly started hanging out on the roof again. But not before finding a strong bamboo stick and starting to learn some defensive moves from YouTube.

In a way I’m grateful that monkey jumped on my head, he kind of knocked some sense into me. It’s my last few days here and one of the things I was hoping to do in India was learn some self defence. I was letting the days drift away, not adhering to my own advice of ending as strong as you start. Yoga was getting kind of boring to be frank. Now I can combine my roof time with some stretching, mindfulness, pushups and bo staff training. The first day I was able to do a two hand wrist spin and now I’m getting faster at it and not dropping the staff as much.

When he jumped at my head it was a wake up call to what Nature is capable of. I assumed monkeys would be more scared of us than we are of them. And I underestimated his hunger, this guy was not cute enough to beg and probably just as tired of the heat. I saw him come down out of the tree and march along the edge of the roof, thinking maybe he was on his way somewhere but he came straight to me. He did not hesitate to bear his teeth and growl, no asking at all, then jumped, using my head like a skipping stone to land behind me causing my plate to hit the ground. And I was out of there, far enough away to watch him eat my dinner which was really just raw cauliflower with some salt and chilli powder on the side.

He made me wish I had doused the veggies with chilli powder. He made me think of revenge and how stupid that would be. He made me mistrust monkeys and see how fragile our existence is without cooperation. He gave me a scare of potentially having rabies, which is fatal! How insane is that?  It takes just two weeks to die from it, and although he probably didn’t have rabies it was not worth the risk to ignore the blood coming from my arm.

Diseases are different here, polio is still a hot topic and every year diarrhea and pneumonia kill millions of people.

After asking around it was decided that I’d get an injection right away. I walked to the only doctor I know since the hospital was closed on Sunday. This is a clinic which used to be a dog food store and is now half a dog food store, half a clinic and a little bit of a health food store. The doctor there is young and I’ve met him a few times over the last month. He suggested I get the course of five injections, they are 320 rupees each, so a fraction of what it would cost me in Canada.

I went home to debate the idea of being injected in India and after reading about the symptoms and final end to what rabies can do to a human I ran back and said lets do it. This clinic is just like any other store on the main strip, it is a big room with a garage door that opens to the road. There is a counter and behind it sits the doctor facing the street. Outside are cows and horses walking by or standing in the road, motor bikes driving on either side, dirt, garbage, things burning, people selling food, all sorts of commotion.

He takes the needle out and puts it into the container which is full of dead rabies virus and tells me to sit down, the only seat is a step ladder at the top of a stairwell…So as he is fiddling with the needle I’m looking out at the street and watching people stop and see what he’s doing, looking back at me. Also I’m texting my friend in Toronto telling him exactly whats going on and the doctor comes over to my left shoulder and as I press send he just jabs me with it, no cleaning of the surface no OK this might hurt and I look over at him like what the fuck!? And he’s saying something to me, you can hold the cotton ball here right? So I do and he goes back to his seat and starts writing out instructions and dates for me to come back. Immediately I have to put my phone away because the light from it is bugging me out and darkness is creeping in from the sides of my eyes. I sit up straight and breathe deeper and think this cannot be happening, I’m going to pass out!  No, I can control it, I won’t pass out. Nope, I look over at him and he’s saying something about me being fine but I can’t hear anything and can only see whats directly in front of me, which is one of the employees. I make eye contact with him and shake my head. Then step down from the seat and crouch on the ground and look around, sweating, deaf, wondering whats going on. After a couple minutes I’m OK to stand up and lean on the counter as he explains when I’ll have to come back for more…Then I leave, feeling slightly better that at least I’ve done something to combat any chance of rabies, just in case.

The second time was much better, and we’ve become friends since then. I’ve been invited to hang out there any time, and he often asks his customers if I can photograph them. He said there is only one other guy in the area with the same camera and he charges 1000 rupees for three photos. He introduced me to his wife and some friends, it’s been a good experience overall…

Sometimes its hard to leave your house especially if you have moustache for the first time, a scarf around your head thats been soaked in cold water to keep you cool and a walking stick you’re practicing bo staff spins with.  After a long day in the heat I was lying in bed when outside became dark a few hours too early. So went to the roof and saw a sand storm kicking up, and the sky turn grey and black. After the sand settled I went down to the river to watch the show.

The clouds were the ultimate what the fuck, I’d never seen anything like it before, a hundred little flames, turned into swirls over the mountain, as the sun coloured them dark orange mixed with black. Then pushing into blue at the edge of the clearing sky were what looked like a huge row of  teeth, extending into their roots. I sat in awe for hours as the wind pushed me from all sides. At one point as lightning was striking over the mountains looking to my right, along the path by the river a sadhu stops as wind picks up his flowing fabric wrapped around his waist and he does a Marilyn Monroe, holding his skirt down in the wind.

Earlier that day I took a walk to find some upma, my favourite South Indian breakfast. Just about 2 km away from my apartment, in the direction towards the main town, far away from any tourists. As I was walking a sadhu on a motor bike offered me a ride, I talked to him and considered it but declined, two more steps and I found the Madras Cafe. The food was OK, and the bill for umpa and tea was 105, I gave him 110 and he gave me a Kit Kat bar as change.

Later I found a better staff, started twirling it and dropped it in the sewer by mistake. So I bought a bottle of water to wash it off. Then explored the alleys of the main city, took photos, and then came across a fabric shop and remembered I have two weddings to attend this summer. So I selected some material and got measured and in two days I’ll have a custom kurta.

After I ran out of money I walked home taking photos, talking to strangers, mostly sadhus. Seems like if you don’t shave and carry a stick you’re more approachable. Maybe they see a little of themselves in me. I know sometimes I envy their lifestyle. Eating from ashrams, sleeping where ever they want, what else do you need? I don’t think they have a retirement plan.

Walking through the bus stop as I always have to, a large group of people sit on the gravel hill cooking and eating their lunches. Men and women and children all dressed in amazing colours and cloths huddle in groups. A few of them are standing around the water pump washing their hands, pigs run among them. To my right on the highest gravel hill a group of men stand out in their striking white outfits with red turbans, bare feet, squatting or sitting cross legged, beards and grey moustaches, passing a chillum around. Weed smoke clouding all around them.

On the morning after my mischievous monkey mayhem I wake up early to find a stick and see the sun rise. I walk to the roofed sitting area by the river and look out, the sun has risen but not above the mountains. The green trees all around the elevation are glowing with yellows and orange. And the river rushes below, down where the bodies are burned. Sitting quietly when three people come with their cell phone playing Hindi music. I react and almost get up but decide to stay for what I came. To see the sun peak over the range. One guy starts doing push ups, elevated ones then on his knuckles then tries to get into pull up position but he’s too heavy and short. Then he gets his friend to take lots of photos of him flexing all the while dumb rap music is coming from his phone. I spot a stick and leave.

Going down into the funeral grounds was kind of creepy. There were kids playing by the river and people working in the early morning hours before the heat sets in. There are lots of old clothes and artifacts laying buried in the sand. The stick I saw was much too big and soaking in a dirty puddle. On the way back I found a bamboo staff and as I ascended the stairs the most golden light shined back behind where I was with the muscle man. This time I look up to a kaleidoscope of colours. A bus must have dropped off a bunch of Indians and they were all dressed in saris of flowing flowery colours standing straight up in the wind. All waiting for a security guard to guide a family of geese from the field to the water.

I found a strip of cloth and wrapped it around the split end of my new stick and made it into a custom handle. Took a few swings with it and started home as the 6 a.m. sun rise started to heat up the day once more.

Passing the empty grounds with the sun rising from behind, to my left is a tarp with maybe 20 indians sitting cross legged in the centre. Next to them is a tractor with a big cage on the back with all their bags packed on top. Then a couple dogs fucking, pigs fighting over garbage, one massive pig is laying in the sun against a pile of stones while someone pees next to it. I walk a little further and there’s another big truck bus thing with Indians pilled all over the inside and outside climbing down for their day by the Ganges.

Walking up the alley as the golden hour turns into day another small kid is taking another shit into the gutter while his mother watches. She stands in the middle of the lane, dressed in purple and gold one hand on her waste the other on her head, he is shy but concentrating. I look at her briefly and then down as I pass. Then I take my stick home and my place is covered in little monkeys. I look up as one is checking out the jump from the fence across the lane onto my roof, where they drink water from one of our water tanks. I hope it’s not the one that leads to my shower but theres no one to ask…I look up as he’s peeing and pooing at the same time. He looks down at me and then away.

Namaste in bed Pt.2

 

Having so much time and so little to do I don’t feel bad if there are days I don’t go outside. I still wake up early, if I’m feeling motivated I’ll still go to the roof and stretch and sit and quiet my mind while the sun peaks over the mountains. Once I have my groceries there is a certain comfort in not leaving the building. I know outside is beautiful but also full of the usual, people staring, people trying to sell stuff you don’t want, people sleeping under tarps and pigs covered in shit. Taking a day or two off of that has been nothing but helpful.

Days and weeks can pass slowly or slide away and suddenly it’s sundown and although I haven’t done much I’m tired and ready for bed. Even when I don’t do anything I look back and see yes, I did mop the floor, which needs doing since the dust comes in daily through the screen windows. And yes I did laundry although I only had to wash a couple things since I barely wear clothes anyway, when I’m home it’s just a bathing suit or sweat pants and putting it on the line to try only takes hours if that. And yeah, eating dinner on the roof at sunset is good enough for me.

Yes I did make lunch, sometimes I’ll even go around the block for milk, cauliflower, bananas or just a walk to the end of the lane to sit under a roof by the river. Sometimes that’s as far as I want to walk in the heat, I’ll take a podcast down there and sit until it’s over then walk back.  Even that turns into a story.

Just going to the bank can be an adventure. Last week I met a woman from south Africa and helped her use an ATM while talking to a local about my tattoos.  Then I had to walk to find a tank top because even a t-shirt is too much to wear in this heat, and in walking to and from I walked with a guy from another Indian state while he practiced his English he taught me some Hindi.

Then at dinner sitting alone, talking to my friend in Tokyo via WhatsApp and listening to a podcast I see a monkey climb the fence next to me. He looks down and jumps over another table onto mine, full of food. As soon as it lands I’m eating with my right hand and instinctively shove it off with my left. It goes flying, knocks over my carrot juice and my camera and a chair and is pissed off. Lucky the waiter comes over with a stick and chases it off as I continue eating.

There is so much here I can’t bring myself to photograph. So much poverty, so many sunsets with people working, people sitting in the golden light, the moon rising over the mountains long after midnight.  Masses of colours, monkeys, massive fires I can see from the roof.

If you’re in the right mood the wind in the trees can sound like a flowing river, the birds cry encouragement and clouds will spell out your lovers name. If something is bothering you, which in India it can be easy to drown in others sorrows and your own discomforts, you may smack someone who passes too close on their scooter. And hope they turn round so you can toss them off the bridge.

You have to watch what you eat, your sleep must be sound, intoxicants at a minimum, even sugar can set you off if you’re still adjusting the a warm climate. Over population can grind under your skin as you jostle for space on the stairs amongst hundreds of people who are concentrating on buying plastic souvenirs.

The early morning clouds made it possible for me to leave the house. I worked against the wind  and crossed the bridge perilously amongst many other pilgrims. It swayed under us as each step my legs were blown off course causing a sea sickness so strong people were holding onto the sides and in the middle was a standstill.

On the other side clouds of sand spread and stood in walls blocking us from going any further.

I stop for tea and sit next to some sadhu and wait, once I’m drinking, no one is around then a little girl comes up and shakes my hand and asks for a photo. Then another older one, then the mom dad grandpa grandma and aunts and uncles, about 12 people gather around with their cell phones out as each of them sits next to me. Eventually I pull out my phone and take their picture and then selfies with each of them until they are all satisfied and shake my hand again and walk away.

Midway through this a sadhu in orange robes, lots of beads and bracelets, asked me to take his photo and to see it, when he saw his face on the back of my camera he knelt down and put his head on my lap and thanked me over and over.

Without the morning rain and the cover of cloud I would never have got that far. Fleeting weather can make great photographs, people blowing away, things falling over. I had set out just to see and came to the bridge and crossed it, then decided to check a road I had been afraid to go down days before. That’s where I found some interesting people and photographed them, and then decided to try to get into the woods. I walked and walked and climbed and got way above the city, in the wind, climbed until I had a 360 view and turned on the Beatles in my headphones, and looked down and saw the ashram where they stayed, saw my apartment, the river looked tiny, the mountains mightier than ever.

Another day another walk to the Ganges. Listening to another podcast. Looking down at the path by the rocks and saw an ambulance with a covered body inside and a man consoling a crying man. Then I took a seat and stared out at the river and as always contemplated the volume of water that constantly flows down from melting glaciers in the  mountains, day and night non stop, forever. And not just a trickle, this is full heat of summer, some rivers are dry, this one is lower than the high water mark but still fierce. Still a greeny blue with white caps. Where is it coming from, how is it so eternal? Then looking down there are three or four men carrying wood out to the edge of the river and I know they are going to burn that body from the ambulance.

Soon there are 20 men carrying logs and sticks and brush to that spot. The podcast goes on, someone is talking about Hindu death rituals and how death is the last taboo in the West. It’s the worst thing you can do to someone, it’s not always ok to talk about, it’s scary because we don’t know anything about it because no one comes back, because we’re not supposed to talk about it we’re ignorant and what we don’t understand we fear. Then they carry the body under a sheet out to the river and pour some water over it and put it on the logs and cover it with more sticks and wood. They all surround it so I can’t see much. Soon there is a spark of fire and a few minutes later people are standing way back as the flame grows strong and bright. I can see the heat waves as the orange disappears into smoke into the atmosphere. It is one of the biggest fires I’ve ever seen, I’m about 50 yards away and it looks like the surface of the sun.

The man I saw crying earlier is now clearly not a man but someone around my age probably younger and he is accompanied by two other younger guys. He leaves the crowd to cry alone and people sit with their arms around him. Someone comes and gives him instructions to stoke the fire so he does and then walks away. Soon after that, two people come and shave the heads of all three brothers right down to the scalp as they do with each cremation, shave the family in mourning. Now the fire is barely there and all the wood is turned to grey ashes. Each person scoops some of the river and tosses it on the flames as they walk away and the remains crumble into the rushing water, carried off downstream.

Rishikesh

India is a land of contrast, rich and poor, hot and cold, high and low. Different sides of the same coin. This is the kind of place where kids still play with a stick and a tyre. This trip has its share of contrast as well.

In Mumbai I took a 10 day silent meditation class amidst the chaos. A 30 hour train ride third class across the continent. Stayed in the oldest living city in the world in an apartment with wi-fi. A holy place with a holy river that feeds all of Northern India, completely polluted by those who rely on it.

Then a month isolated in the mountains of Nepal only to spent two weeks in Tokyo. The first time I’ve truly felt claustrophobia. Now I’m back in India in a city where meat and alcohol are illegal. Polluting that same river is not though.

Littering and shitting in public is not, pigs lay in the muck and cows stand where ever they please. Weed is literally a weed that grows wild. Bodies are burned by the river as a naked sadhu and renunciate swim near by.

Sunrise and sunset are the only times of the day bearable to be outside.  Around noon I’ll do hot yoga on the roof and take a cold shower after. And several times a day I can sit in meditation. Once a day I’ll take a dunk in the Ganges and break the ice with strangers with my camera.

It’s too hot to do much other than wade into the river. Just putting your feet in is enough. Or come home and shower and do yoga on the roof, meditate in the trapped heat of your room with fans going, stirring up the hot air. Once on the roof after sitting I opened my eyes to see a monkey sitting next to me.

Last week I rented a rickety old bike and rode 11 km to the Neem Karoli Baba ashram, sat there for an hour or so and came back without any water, only prasad.

Now it’s after dark, I’ve made dinner and cleaned up a bit, sitting on the roof in the slight breeze listening to blues from the 30’s and typing, uploading the days photos and playing chess against the computer.

A few nights ago I fell asleep early and woke at 2 a.m. Unable to sleep in the heat I came to the roof and lied down on a blanket fooling myself into thinking that could work. Then I went downstairs and turned on all the lights and fans and made breakfast, cereal and coffee and started my day. I think I have adjusted to the heat now and my routine is much healthier.

I sit and drink tea by the side of the walkway and a cow is now looking over my shoulder. Resting its head on my shoulder trying to have some of my sweet milk tea. I lovingly shove it away and it comes again on the other side to rest its heavy head and beg a little.

Later on the ghats, hanging with the kids a white cow wanders up to us and they all shoo it away but it stays, looking for food, maybe eating some flowers they are trying to sell. Then it spots a white plastic bag tied with some garbage in it and starts chewing it. I grab the bag from its mouth but it won’t let go, I get it away and the cow somehow gets it back from my hands and we wrestle with it before I throw it away. The cow chases it down and someone has to bait it away with flowers.

The temperature passed 42 degrees so I went to the barber to have my hair shaved off and my face shaved again. Together they cost the same as a litre of milk…

A big thunder and lightning storm woke me early one morning. Bringing relief across the city. I opened all my windows wide and ran to the roof to watch the lightning. Cows moo’d, doors slammed, the sounds coming from the sky were demonic. The rolling thunder and heat lightning made the early morning mountains into orange and green.

At sunset I’m sitting under the bridge.  People look so small from down here.  Compared to the surrounding mountains the whole city could be swallowed whole. The bridge and everyone on it dwarfed by clouds.

Swimming in the Ganges

I got used to living in Japan. The bakery up the street. The shrines and temples all around. The friends dropping by. The insane things on TV. The bikes. The beers. The night life. The sushi and 7/11. The laundry mat downstairs.

The trains the crowds, sleeping on the floor, the morning coffee, reading in the kitchen, days spent alone while everyone else worked. I got used to walking on the sidewalks and having a vending machine every 20 feet in case I get thirsty or hungry.  I got used to the Japanese sounds and being lost in translation.

The weather, always able to wear pants and a t-shirt, keep a sweater for night-time. Being able to walk down the street and keep my shoes clean. People being over the top respectful. No garbage on the street, nothing to trip over, and all the lights. Tokyo loves lights. Tokyo loves smoking in restaurants but not on sidewalks. Tokyo loves public transport and not private vehicles.

It was only two weeks. The culture shock from Kathmandu to Tokyo was not that much. The real eye opener, even though I’ve already been here, is coming from the land of the future back to India. Landing in Delhi it’s 4:30 a.m in Tokyo and I’ve just been flying for the last nine hours, watching three movies in a row, including Lion, which was a tear jerker.

I leave the airport in my sweater and pants and immediately feel the humidity and heat and the smell of burning in the air. 100’s of people stand with signs and rush you asking if you need a cab. I take one offer and ask to be driven to a medium range hotel.

The guys working the midnight shift don’t speak much English, and I’m so close to the airport that planes landing and taking off shake my window. They show me to my room and I lock the door and take a shower. The nozzle comes off in my hand, the toilet seat is just placed there for looks, unhinged. It’s a standard Indian hotel room with two small beds a T.V. and wi-fi. good enough for a nights sleep.

I wake with the sun and pack and dial 9 to make a bus reservation but they don’t understand. I go downstairs and ask for breakfast, and where I can find an ATM. Breakfast will be ready in 20 minutes, I point to something on the menu that I can’t read. Then walk out the door into a blast of heat and honking. Cows wander past me, motor bikes, people selling fruit, shit and garbage all over the ‘road’. The first ATM isn’t open yet. I walk a little further, the morning rush is starting, everyone’s going somewhere in a hurry, no one obeys traffic laws and no sidewalks so dodging puddles of black water and cow shit can be risky. Next ATM has no money, next one is off, next one doesn’t accept overseas cards. I make it to a dead-end and I’m face to face with a bull. so I turn around and go back for mystery breakfast.

Luckily the hotel has a taxi service so I can pay them for that and the room with my credit card. And wait. Someone comes with a small van and I get in, he does a 6 point turn on the narrow road under the overpass by the airport and we’re off. Once we clear that area the air starts to smell of roses. The streets clean up, all the intersections are roundabouts with beautiful gardens in the middle. Massive trees line the empty roads. The sun is still low, and people sweep the sidewalks making sun beams in the dust clouds.

Everything is green. Compared to being here in January when most of the trees are leafless. This is when we start to pass embassies, one after another, Canada, Japan, USA, Kuwait, all of them, no wonder it’s so well manicured. After a few miles of jaw dropping beauty we get closer to the city centre and its jaw dropping poverty again. People sleeping on the mediums between the highways, children begging and fighting each other for space at stop lights, homes made of garbage all around.

The driver takes me to the bus stop and says good luck. I get out, go through a metal detector and ask the information for where to find a bus to Rishikesh. She asks if I want a nice bus or normal. I say nice and she points me to counter number 14. I still don’t have any cash, my bags are heavy and I’m sweating. The guy says there is a bus leaving in 30 minutes and its 640 rupees. And the ATM is out the exit and to the right. I try that one several times to no avail. Someone says there are more ‘behind the metro’ so I venture out onto the road and 10 minutes later find a row of them, the first two don’t work but I hit the jackpot on the third and make it back with minutes to spare.

I’m directed to bay number 11 and start asking about a seat, along with 10 other people who didn’t plan enough to have a ticket. Two minutes before leaving they assign me seat number 40 and I find it at the very back of the packed bus, I get the row to myself, and all the leg room in the world. Now for the eight hours of podcasts and much-needed napping.

We get one stop for lunch and washroom half way and then pull in to Rishikesh around 5 p.m. I immediately get a rickshaw to the area around a certain ashram and near a bank, luckily the driver knows his way around. I have no way to contact my air bnb place but find it, and the shop keeper out front lets me in. I put my stuff down, wash my face, go into the courtyard I share with another room and knock. Alex from Portland Oregon answers, then Jules from NYC comes out and I’m invited in, meet Judith from Spain and we hit it off right away and make a plan to swim in the Ganges and get dinner after.

The water was refreshing and somewhat clean. The current where we went in was extremely strong and hard to stand up in. Today I’ll try it a little further upstream where it’s calmer. We swam until sun set and went back to change and decide where to eat.  There are few restaurants we could find that had english menus, but we found one a kilometre away across a suspension bridge and it was yummy. On the way back we sat on the banks of the river and made friends with a dog who followed us almost all the way home.  In the morning I walked back to the same restaurant for breakfast, 150 rupees for corn flakes, toast, two fried eggs, and a coffee. Then I walked the opposite side of the river and had a chai and bought coffee grinds so I can make my own at home on my stove. Today I cleaned my new apartment, did my laundry and later we’ll visit the Beatles Ashram.

Tokyo Shortcut

 

Living in a mouldy basement in Toronto you can have all sorts of theories on what is life. Is it a computer or a hologram is anything really here? Atoms living and dying popping in and out of existence and all in our minds. Not until I walking in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, Nepal and see a goat stop and look around and yawn did all these theories go out the window. Now in Tokyo it’s hard not to see this place as a computer chip when you’re 450 metres above.

Being in the Tokyo Sky Tree, 450 meters up gives me an idea of how high I was in Nepal at 2500 meters.

I spent the day alone and got a message from Sho saying come to Asukasa. Some friends and other travelors from San Fransisco were waiting there. He gave me the address of 29-15-2 so I googled it and started walking.  After arriving at Toy Dogs, real name Kosuke, we all went for monjya, Japanese pancake, then to sentō.

Sentō is the communal bath house where men and women come to bathe and sit in hot tubs. Eight of us merged with the locals and sat naked in the steam room, hot tub and sauna. I got lots of stories of people who grew up with no bathrooms. Not long ago most people had to come here for their daily cleaning.

Going home I was very glad I learned to skateboard as a kid because that was my transportation. The streets are wide and smooth and no one was driving.

In the morning I biked for about half an hour until I didn’t know where I was, then gave myself some time to try and find my way back on my own. Once I gave that up I used Google maps to help. I was 2.5 km away and came home to see Justin was still sleeping. Then I went to the Ono Terusaki shrine and sat for 30 minutes. People came and went on their way to work and bowed and clapped twice, or rang a bell or dragged a heavy knotted rope across some chime.

Then I went and bought a sandwich and two pastries and brought them home to make coffee while Justin still slept.

He woke up and we cleaned the apartment and took the train to Yokohama.

Tokyo is so clean it looks like it’s power washed every night and Yokohama every other night. Like it sprang up out of nowhere, ancient city brand new.

I waited around downtown for him to retrieve his bike and then we did some window shopping. Then he brought me to the station and he left on his bike but we both forgot to give me the key to Shos apartment. I made it to my station and then found my way back to the place. Completely out of money and only wearing a t-shirt as the sun went down it got cold. The only cash I had was on my metro card so I bought some food and beer from the Family Mart and sat down in front of his door to wait.

After sho came home we went to the store again and did laundry and went to sentō. This one was busy again and after washing we went into the hot tub, the warm tub, and then the cold water tub. Then back around again. This time I tried the electric bath where two volts are shot out from two sides of the bath. At first its painful and feels like a million tiny fists pounding all around you and on your limbs it’s even more painful.

I didn’t have any plans on Thursday and actually had a messenger dream the night before. The sun was out and the day was young. Totally unprepared other than years of experience riding in traffic I took my camera, 10 dollars and my phone and followed Sho to downtown Tokyo for work. The streets are smooth and friendly here. Nothing like the pot holes and street car tracks in Toronto.

We went straight into the heart of the city to wait. We passed the Emperor’s Palace and the financial district. I used the washroom at the 7/11 and it had like everywhere else, a heated seat, bidet, up to 13 buttons, including one for white noise but nowhere to dry your hands after you wash.

Sho doesn’t need a lock in Tokyo because no one would ever steal a bike. The buildings mostly look the same as Toronto, the people are all in black suits, they are called salary men and women by messengers. We do one pickup and drop off at a time then get a rush call from a theatre to a TV station. It has to be there in under 10 minutes and its about 4 k.m. away. That was fun, we do it a second time several hours later and it was not as fun. There are some good hills here, we found a few of them, up and down.

Several areas have cross walk scrambles where people can walk from all angles. Sho barely slows down to slice through them and I’m right on his wheel to make sure I don’t lose him forever.

I get to meet his co-workers one at a time and see all the other messengers working. Most of them dress like the most professional Toronto couriers. They have expensive clean bikes and jerseys, everything here looks expensive and clean.

We take a break to walk along the cherry blossom parks, we stop for lunch with Kosuke at a salad bar. Then sit and wait with coffees. Overall Sho estimates we did 50 km by mid-day.  He works 9-7, and around 3 p.m. I was ready to go home but the thought of navigating Tokyo alone was worse than finishing the day on the road.

Tokyo

It didn’t really feel like a foreign country until I was alone in Tokyo. Wandering around the grocery store by myself trying to find bagels and creme cheese. Paying 2,000 yen for a days worth of food plus some instant coffee. I get the english muffins home to see that Sho doesn’t have a toaster. So now I sit and drink instant coffee looking out his 10 foot window on the corner of a nondescript street. Traffic flows in all directions and the sun is finally shining bright after a couple days of overcast or rain.

Not long ago I was spending my last five days in Kathmandu. There I spent my time wandering the maze of ancient streets, getting lost and finding my way back to the hotel. Next to my hotel was a place that sold great Americanos and corn flakes. After that I would take a road leading to Durbar Square to see the oldest part of town and what is left standing after the big earth quake two years ago.

My grandfather has a friend who lives in Patan, another big city a few km from Kathmandu. So I dropped in on him and we went out for lunch. He showed me around the Durbar Square in Patan and then put me in a cab back to Kathmandu. Once I knew kind of where I was I asked the cab to stop and walked the rest of the way. The streets around Thamel are so narrow cars really shouldn’t be allowed in there. The next day Juju picked me up in the rain and we drove to the famous Monkey Temple and two more amazing areas I would never have thought to visit or been able to find. We had lunch at his cousin’s hotel and drove to the ancient city of Bhaktapur to see their Durbar Square. Which means palace square.

My flight to Tokyo left Delhi at 1 a.m. on Friday and my flight to Delhi left at 4:30 p.m. from Kathmandu. So the plane landed in India around 6 and after customs and immigration and baggage I walked to the front door, looked outside, turned around and went back to departures to wait for five hours before checking in once again. Luckily there are an infinite amount of podcasts to listen to and the hours flew past. The flight to Tokyo was eight hours, or a couple podcasts and La La Land, which was pretty good.

After landing in Tokyo things started to look very familiar. There were trains and clean streets, vending machines and brand new cars. There were people wearing clean clothes and brand names that aren’t knock offs. I can’t read any of the signs but people are happy to help.  I bought a train ticket and got on the one for Ueno. About an hour later I got off and bought a coffee and came up the stairs to see Justin walking towards me. We hugged and walked into the masses of people and bright lights and crazy sounds to Sho’s bachelor apartment. The one overlooking a four-way stop with a steam bath, laundry mat, restaurant and fish store.

We relaxed temporarily and took a train downtown to meet Sho at his messenger office. From there we went to a bike shop grand opening and met lots of nice people. One had been living in Paris and was home with his moms BMW so he drove us to the next area. By now it has been 24 hours since I’ve slept. We stayed at that party for a little while and then got dumplings and noodle soup and the last train home. The next day Sho and I had a nice breakfast when Justin went to work we went into the main shopping area for coffee. We got donuts and I bought jeans because it was cold. We checked out camera shops and walked around taking photographs. That night we ate sushi at a sushi train restaurant and drank beer on the sidewalk people watching.

The next day Justin and I took the train to a cherry blossom park for a picnic with his work friends. They had all sorts of sake and snacks so we stayed there and had fun until he had to work. At work Justin has English conversations with Japanese people in a fancy cafe. So I stayed and helped out when I could then walked around alone in Tokyo at night. At 10 p.m. Sho came with his parents car and we drove around the empty streets, saw Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge. Then we drove through a district dedicated to Anime and back home.

Now I’ve got some groceries, eating un-toasted english muffins and getting ready to walk down another unknown street hoping I won’t get lost.

Lumbini

After a month I finally escaped Pokhara. And after about eight hours of driving south now I’m in Lumbini.  I left early for the station and filled my stomach with a risky amount of food and liquid. Tea, coffee, pastries and the best masala tea since leaving India. Not knowing how long the trip would be, in a bus without a toilet.

The trip is just over 100 km but the road is through mountains and many hair pin curves and steep mountain passes later and several hours of podcasts we emerged into what looks like India and a full blast of heat. No more clear mountain air. Now I’m looking out at flat land. Everything is torn up, the roads are all dirt. Lots of busses, one with a goat tied to the roof. Out my window a dog walks along the road with a diaper in its mouth and everywhere you look people are burning their garbage, plastic and all…

We pull into Lumbini after 4:00 and I jump on a cycle rickshaw to Siddhartha Guest House. There are not many choices here, and this is one of the cheapest hotels that is not a monastery.  I wouldn’t recommend it. I would say don’t even bother going to Lumbini.

After checking in I walked to one of the entrances and tried to rent a bike but no luck. No one told me there was a bike rental place just up the street either. So I turned around and someone bikes past me and asked if I needed any help. I said I’d like to rent a bike just like his and he said here you go. He told me where a good place to start was and said he’d wait for me to come back in an hour or so.  So off I went. Inside the five km by 2 km rectangle there are no cars and mostly monasteries and walking paths. You can take a bike all around it and along a pond that runs up the centre. After biking for a while on bike that turned out to be much too small for me I stopped for dal baht. Here the portions are huge and only 150 NPR.

After turning around and heading back with the sun setting behind me I found the real bike rental place. I rented a bike my size for the rest of my stay for less than I gave the first guy. Back at the hotel, the power comes and goes just like the hot water, and it’s so hot out you don’t really need hot water anyway. In Pokhara I got a tattoo of my friends dog Bella and you’re supposed to keep from sweating and out of the sun for a few days at least…

The next morning I was up and out before seven to try to beat the heat. The food here is suspiciously cheap. The rest of the morning was spent cycling around looking at some amazing monasteries and mostly being lost inside the rectangle. Places from all over Asia have what I would call embassies here. A few of them will let you stay the night but mostly they seem to be tourist attractions. It didn’t take long for me to tire of that so I found some trails to explore. On the way out of one I found 200 rupees! Eventually I made it out of the rectangle and biked along the outside and into a wheat field. That is where I met the two kids I photographed and put on Flickr.http://www.flickr.com/photos/geminiimages/ And on the way home found a mostly naked man shovelling and moving soil wearing a loin cloth and dread locks. So I passed him and waved and then turned around and talked with his friend who knew some English. He only let me take two pictures before he got back to work. I gave the friend who was cooking one of the 100 rupee notes.

There is the Lumbini rectangle and shops around it, and then there is the real Lumbini. After biking about 500 meters into real Lumbini I stopped and turned around. If I’d gone much further I would be in India. The people on that stretch of road were some of the poorest I’d ever seen. They at least had homes but that just means cement walls and metal roofs and dirt floor. Some had cows and chickens but no clothes. Kids played on the street and babies begged for food. After buying bananas one little boy ran along beside me asking for one and before I could say anything he got in front of me and put his hands out and stopped.  We negotiated how many bananas he’d get for being so brave and insistent. He was very happy with two.

Riding a bike again is fascinating. The wheels hypnotize me. Maybe that is why I stayed a messenger so long. This rectangle is fascinating too. Still one of the first things I did here as find the bus ticket booth to buy a ticket out of here. 400 rupees to Chitwan. Symbols of the location of Buddha’s birth and first bath are here but the actual location is unknown at best and said to be just a few kms away from the site. Lumbini means ‘the lovely’ in Sanskrit. It’s hard to get over how much this is like India. The Nepal I know is nothing like this place. Nepal is mountains to me. There are too many mosquitoes here.

Six a.m. I check out of the Siddhartha Guest House standing in a cloud of mosquitoes waiting for them to make up a bill. I walk to the bus stop and show them my ticket for Chitwan and change my mind. I ask for a ticket to Kathmandu instead, to escape the heat. He takes my ticket and crosses out Chitwan and writes Kathmandu and someone shows me to the bus. I get the last seat and 10 hours later we arrive in Kathmandu…

 

Seven days in Bhangjyang

Two New YouTube videos: https://youtu.be/ipOWwYufwa4

Holi is the festival of colours. It’s also the day I chose to take a break from Pokhara. After breakfast I got a ride on Nirmal’s motor bike to the bus stop. I didn’t get a seat for about 20 minutes so I bumped around in the isle. Then I walked four hours up to Panchase. Got lost, stopped a lot.  I asked directions a couple times and when I got to Green Village I was pulled in for a tea and dal baht. Arjun said if I stay a week it would be 700 NPR/night for a room and three meals a day plus all the tea I can drink.  Now I have lots of time to meditate explore, photograph, sit with the cats and watch them make food in the Gurung kitchen.

There are no decorations in this place. Mud walls and floors a fire on the ground some pots and pans and stools five inches off the ground. Somehow everything is possible in the kitchen. They have a big pot that acts as the sink/compost which they feed to the buffalo once a day. And running water outside that comes out glacier cold. After lunch I walked the trail to one of many Shiva Temples. Lots of good view points and half way up stopped in a secluded spot to meditate on a rock. Found a tree and put my hand on it to see if it would speak to me. It just said he was old as time immemorial. When I came back at sunset it was raining and hailing so I went by the fire and the cool cat warmed my lap while they made dinner. Eventually my legs fell asleep and thankfully the cat moved off. Then slowly the life blood came flowing back again. They hired a carpenter from the next village to stay there and make 20 bee hives and furniture. He was treated like a second class citizen the entire time, he ate last, only millet and dal, usually outside or on the floor away from everyone else and had his own plates and cup…I thought he was a slow neighbour at first as he chatted on about god-knows.  While eating he was striking all sorts of poses he was also drinking lots of local wine.

Soon I’m off to bed. Shuba raatri. What stars aren’t clouded over are completely over taken by the brightness of the full moon. Made even more powerful by the lack of power on top of the mountain.

A letter to the man who just arrived: This place will eat you alive. If you let it. You may leave a different person. You may not like the long cold nights and the silence of the days may cause a blissful malaise. Bamboo forests and fires in the distance. Dusk in the meadow. Hermits who don’t wave back, abandoned foundations and empty river crossings. Cow bells hidden by mountain passes. Himalayas tower over me tall with white clouds blown over, smeared across time from day break to now, they stand watch in the North over tiny galaxies in the leaves.

The higher I get the better I feel. Nepal is the top of the world. This place just got a road in 2012 and electricity is also new. I can take an evening stroll and see nothing but the view. The stars shine bright and the food is fresh within a few feet. There are no preservatives no refrigerator and the air and water are clean. The only voices I hear are miles away.

The sun emits radio waves through the vacuum of space. Exactly two months into this trip. Two months ago I left home now I’m in a cave in Nepal in a mountain in the forest with my feet up. I see maybe three or four people everyday. Wake with the sun. Ma lights two incense and makes tea and I stretch and gaze at the Himalayas. Wash my face and eat breakfast then walk into the mountains to find Shiva temples and small caves. Pink and red rhododendron trees line the path. Sit in the sun. nap on a stoop, my jacket packs into little pillow. Smell of wet green forest and only the sound of birds and falling leaves occasional bees and far away single engine airplanes. I’ve had too much dal baht. Probably eaten my weight in rice. Singing Om with John Lennon listening to Let It Be the sun dries my tears as I descend the mountain. Several Beatles references this week have brought back the thought that as time goes on coincidences and synchronisities will grow as well. The song Across the Universe has new meaning for me now as Lennon sings the mantra Jay Guru Deva and then says Om.

Fog straddled the mountain and caressed it from all angles. As I pass flowers after flowers and my path is lined with red pedals the smell of a woman enters my nostrils and I know it’s no woman but the fragrance of God and it’s he who makes all the beautiful women smell as good as they do. Without flowers there would be no perfume.

Green Village guest house is at least 25 years old. Arjun’s grandma’s older brother lived in town and lost everything in a card game so he came here where there were only a few buffalo farmers. He built the original place and lived here 50 years before he was robbed and returned to town. Slowly his family moved up the mountain and started the first tea house and added to it as others came to make a full-fledged ‘hotel’. I had a lot of questions for Arjun, he said they go to town once a month for supplies sometimes less sometimes more. Sometimes they’re without power for months at a time and before the road his aunt would walk both ways.

Today I was caught in the rain. Turned hail storm. I sat under a tree to stay as dry as possible then continued to shoot. Someone who knows Nama the Mother is here now. He’s my age and working in England and is home visiting for a funeral. He says he’s Buddhist and could not do vipassana because he’s not strong enough.

Bishal left this morning after another good talk.  Also my phone is dead and there is no sign of power coming back on. We had breakfast around 6:30 and lunch after 10 a.m. Between we chatted about London, meditation, smoking, family, LSD, books, music and getting together in Pokhara. His family caste is from Himalayas, the Gurung warrior caste, and have been with the British Army for 200 years. He told me two stories of vipassana he’s heard. One was his friend ran away early on the third day and another friend did it and told his long time girlfriend after that he had been cheating and also has a wife. Today I saw Ma with a pile of buffalo shit in her hand walking down the path.

Woke at six and had a millet pancake which includes five teaspoons of sugar, water, eggs and honey on top. The moon is still high in the sky as the sun rises. Mountains are invisible and the sky is blue. The dew and condensation drops from the roof and ceiling as the local news plays on the radio and the dude hammers away at bee hives. I went to a part of the mountain with no birds or bees or breeze and felt complete silence. It’s fleeting and actually deafening. After it disappeared I was happy to hear again. Ok with the radio, the birds and bees the chatter in any language was welcome. Here I’m able to meditate all day and stretch and read and be 100% in nature all the time. Best of all I have no worries. No worries of the future or present. All my food and shelter are taken care of, my toilet, clothes, TV time at night when there is power. Even without power or electricity I’m fine and happy.

Occasional sense desires come but that’s why I’m here. To get away from cake and chips and jungle talkies and tourists because soon enough my life will be turned upside down in Japan and Kathmandu. Monday of this week like the last 10 at least have come and gone without a whimper. Just a smile if I realize which day it is. It truly is your job you hate not a certain day of the week.

After an hour sit in my room I walked the path to Arthur and found a spot to sit in the sun. Stopping every 10 feet to smell a new smell or listen or stare far away and regain my long distance sight which dissolves in the confines of a city. Seeing people on these trails is as rare as seeing a moose in Canada. I heard people have around 60,000 thoughts (conscious and subconscious) a day and 95% of them are the same as yesterday. We are all writing our stories day by day. I would like for mine to have no repeats.

It’s Thursday, yesterday I had a hot water bucket bath and today I did my laundry which may never dry. As I walked the ridge I could hear two women in the bush and figured they were pruning trees for buffalo like the woman I came across on the way up, way up in a tree. After sitting I heard them closer, then saw four human size bunches of leaves go down the path laughing and chatting along. These people are masters of camouflage.

After an afternoon nap, out my window a man and Ma were carrying wood on their foreheads and dumping it. She’s old and he’s older and I found myself watching thinking maybe they’d let me stack the wood. I asked Arjun and he said go ahead and grab a basket. If she can do it so can I. Now she’s stacking and he’s carrying so I grab a basket and start. After 1.5 hours working bare foot the pile disappeared. It’s hard work, and if you stop paying attention to what you’re doing for one second you can really hurt yourself. That night I had two roxies (local wine) and watched the Waterboy until her Hindi soaps came on.

Pani is water. Jaro is cold. Basa means sit. Chiya is tea. Chiini is sugar.

Second last day a man from Vancouver came and we talked most of the time. He’s 44 has a house and family. Works for the city as an engineer and micro-doses LSD and mushrooms for ideas and to stay fresh. He said he couldn’t live without meditating before bed. I said I also enjoy it. On the walk down Ram Dass said meditation is a method and a trap. You need to become trapped in it for it to work but ultimately it is a method and should be dropped. The goal is not to be a meditator but to be free.

The days are long and life is short. I take it one hour at a time. I love laughing with Nama and Arjun. I could live in this area but it’s changing fast. The road is starting to be used more and people searching for solitude are all coming here. Today a picnic bus came with people crammed in and over flowing onto the roof.

After a long walk I went to warm up and watch the festivities. As soon as I sat down two guys grabbed me and forced me to dance a fast song. I danced with an old man who looks like Gandhi with foggy glasses and missing teeth. My reward was some of the best food I’ve had to date.

Thankful to be traveling alone and for strangers who dance.

 

 

 

When in Rome

We took a short cut to the bus stop and had some food, curry and fried donut and black tea with a lot of sugar. Everyone loaded the local bus, first it stopped to pick up bags of cement then went off pavement and bumped along for maybe 45 minutes. I hit my head once on the ceiling and once on the back of the chair while taking out my camera.

Nirmal and I are now 2000 metres up and looking over the Himalayas. The sun set over India in the West and the mountains in the East glowed pink for an instant. As the rain falls on my tin roof I’m staying warm with tea by the fire. After the bus we walked the same type of slate steps until I was very tired. Almost fell asleep at our first break in the shade and we could still see Pokhara. And hear a farmer far below yelling at monkeys stealing from her. Another hour in the steep hills under the noon sun and we passed a sign for a restaurant and went the other way.

Two people were clearing a field in flip-flops wearing mismatched clothes like they shopped at Frenchie’s with a blind fold on. Nirmal speaks to them in Nepali and tells me we’ll eat here. A young lady in an apron is at the house and she gives us buffalo yogurt which is more like milk, I have one and he has two big glasses. I start putting my layers back on because it’s colder the higher we get. An older woman shows up out of nowhere, she must be the mother.  We’re isolated by miles of wilderness and a single lane road that no one can drive up. It’s nice and quiet here.  The mum smokes a lot, has missing teeth and wears lots of gold. Everyone seems to be wearing red with gold jewelery. They convince me to have some local wine made on their farm and when she comes out with two glasses it looks like water and tastes like vodka. It takes me the whole hour to finish it. I haven’t had a drink since September 2016. We eat the best dal baht I’ve ever had. Being hungry and watching the pretty lady pick and wash the cauliflower and greens and potatoes was fascinating. I got a spoon and one helping of rice was enough. After we ate the people working sat with us and all laughed at my plain black t-shirt being inside out. That’s the second time I’ve worn it that way due to unconcern and each time at least five people feel the need to point it out. Then they asked if I wanted to marry one of them. I said maybe.

My room is a good size, there are two beds and an outlet. Shelves, two windows, which are just open frames with shutters, and lots of heavy blankets. This is 300 Nepalese rupees per night. The very top of a mountain. First thing I saw here was two white guys and that’s all since. White guys and girls. My host and his two cats and some noisy neighbours who came and overstayed their welcome. It’s cold out. And the stars are clouded over. I came here for silence and views. Sounds like some people came all the way here to hear themselves talk. The neighbour has now talked for 30 minutes straight while I watch the interaction between the cats. One is pregnant and keeps her eyes half closed. Yawns and stays by the fire. She let me give her a back massage, the other is afraid of his own tail and jumping around a lot.

This is one of the most isolated beautiful places I’ve ever been. Nirmal encouraged me to try the wine by saying you know, when you travel and stay with local people you see how they live, you should try something new while you’re here. So I did and when I was offered smoked buffalo meat I tried some as well.  The power flicks on and off. Arjune, our host, has a TV on in the other room with a Hindi comedy and is laughing a lot. He put about a cup of sugar in the tea-pot. No wonder I liked it so much.

Without paying Nirmal as a guide I would never have discovered this place. I may have got here eventually but not had the same in-depth experience. Still I’m having a time forgetting about all the Nepalese rupees. Reminding myself that he is very poor, I’ve seen his house, and he takes care of his entire family. And it’s only day one. Paying for more experiences. Gathering new memories. Why? I knew it before and now I’m full of amazing sights sounds smells and feelings. All for the low cost of money I earned and saved. My sweat and tears in exchange for visions of India and Nepal. The idea was to see what my dreams were made of and go home. This is the part where I’m supposed to be planning for my future all the while living purely in the moment. And my eventual return home to Canada will be an end to my new foreign sights and a new chapter of my life will begin. Is that too much pressure to put on myself?

I didn’t even want to go on one trek let alone two. I’m supposed to be at vipassana now not shelling out money on guides and blankets and coffees and hotel rooms. I still have a month in Nepal. If I could stay longer I would. Just keep me away from the tourists. Maybe a house in my parents backyard is the right place for me now. It’s actually quieter than the top of a mountain. It’s got ocean. Trees. Deer. Home. Silence. Beauty.

The next morning, sitting alone watching the sunrise. The girl I saw yesterday started photographing the buffalo behind me. Then took my photo from behind, I turned to talk to her and she just said ‘Look at the mountains’. We sat together and talked about how people talk too much. (Her choice of topic) She didn’t like her group much. She is here volunteering at a school. And on her way to vipassana in Kathmandu. Soon she left me there and I went back to my room and changed my lens. After she intercepted me and said her group was discussing popular baby names in the U.K. I didn’t get to use my other lens just sat on the edge of the mountain and looked at the Himalayas and talked. She went and got her breakfast and brought it back and we continued to talk about Belarus and its closed mind and borders. About future about meditation and family and marriage and Bella and Canada and her leaving home at 17 going to Prague and now Poland. Then she left and I ate a pancake and coffee looking at the most mountains I’ve ever seen.

This place could be B.C. or many parts of the world. The Alps, the Rockies, the Himalayas. The paths in the woods, the trees, the sky and bugs and birds all different but the same. Everywhere I go the sound of wind in my ears is the same. Highlight of travel so far is meeting like-minded people. After a long walk to the Shiva Temple 2500 meters up, we passed a Buddhist temple and walked to a small lake, more like a pond this time of year. Then to a look out where I clipped my finger and toe nails leaving a small piece of myself scattered into the mountains. At this point my bag tipped over and my phone fell out. We walked maybe 20 minutes in tough terrain before I realized it was gone and sure of where it was. We did that over again and back and my legs feel like when I almost drowned from exhaustion in B.C., just about ready to give out. When we got back I chugged water and had a cold shower. And ate dal baht for the millionth time.

The Chinese man at the Hotel Yeti said he would give me a shitty map to look around. There is a paraglider far above me. Hovering with the eagles. The mornings sunrise and evenings set are clear to see the mountains. In between is cloudy. Today I watched as the highest one formed its own cloud.  Wind brushed up snow and cold and warm created cloud and so on. I can see Pokhara from here but it’s still far away. Sun set and rise are the main tourist attractions. My name for the last month has been pronounced Krishna.

Arjune’s aunt came home. After watching the sun set barefoot she got me some chappals so I’m in long johns pants sweater tuque scarf and flip-flops, like everyone else. I sat with her in the traditional Mongolian kitchen and she made us tea. Then cleaned a pot which had maybe pancake batter dried inside. She chipped some off and ate a piece then offered me some so why stop here, I ate it.