Sunday, December 31, 2006

Al Qaeda (Not) in Goa.

Maybe I'm an obsessive romantic, but I can't help returning to the sites of my youth where I had the most exquisite of transcendental experiences, as if I could recapture the high and the promise. One of those places is Vagatore Beach in Goa where in 1972 I lived in the nude with the international freak-set and took too much LSD, went on cosmic vision quests and gelled into the anarcho-mystic nutcase that I am. 35 years later it's another world, cyberpunk instead of nature-hippie, with ritzy hotels piled up where once we built our elaborate grass-huts, every roof a satellite dish and every Indian in hip-hop gear with mobile and fast motor-bike, techno music and designer drugs ruling the life-style.

We were anti-materialist then, now we're all high-fashion worshippers of money and celebrity. Still, on the dance-floor, nobody gives a shit in the trance, one can be as silly as a loon and get lost in the rush. Every year there's some disaster that halts the flow of tourists, 9/11, the tsunami, the Iraqui War and terrorist threats, the most common lament being too many Israelis crowding everybody else out. This year it's the opposite, no Israelis! There was a threat from Al Qaeda to target the parties so they've mostly fled south trying to secrete themselves by the thousands in the lost city of Hampi, but if the terrorists want them, they'll surely follow their trail. The rest of us dance resolutely on, not even the fear of mass murderers dampening our intrepid spirits, the Goans as strong as ever and all of us spitting in the face of the cowardly jihadi fuckwits who can only sneak up on people, they especially hate parties I bet.

The Christmas party at the Hilltop was laid-back, the music very "trance", hardstyle rarely gets an outing here, mostly Indian DJs who still seem to be copying the neo-hippie soft style of 15 years ago. Only a smattering of Israeli jungle-bunnies showed up, and few other internat freaks, the wild tribe seems to have moved on, I suppose the parties here have become too controlled, costing 1000 rupees to enter and security guards crawling all over the place. You never know if the blob next to you is a plain-clothes cop so the smoking of charas is not such a public ritual anymore, no "Bam Shankar!" screamed to signify one's big babahood to the ravers stomping all about, everything done on the sly, paranoia rules, the hard-arse freaks have probably split to the backwaters, they're notorious cheapskates and Goans need money.

It's kind of a relief to not have the Israelis so in your face, like having a holiday, for all the money lost I suspect even the Goans are enjoying the break, too much haggling over 10 Rupees and fisticuffs over cultural gaps/gaffs, no more motor-bikes going over cliffs and less flipped-out drug O.D.s delivered to the Emergency Wards, (tho I myself quite like their badness, they're so rude, so strong, a tribe unto themselves, it's amusing to observe them, like wild animals set free of constraints, their quirky social codes and methods of sexual display, their tweaky hippie dress sense, the Israeli stomp, they can be a laugh.

The scene has now been over-run by the Indians themselves, from all over, they've caught the party-bug of Goa after 40 years of firangi rule, Goa's their's and they grab it by the hair and drag it about. Alcohol pours down like monsoon rains, by 7 PM the drunks are roaming and the picturesque coconut groves can turn sinister quickly, and while Goa is a very safe tourist haven, the Goans being particularly caring and watchful of abuse, there is an awful lot of monsters at large ready to run amok.

Dancing peacefully at the Christmas Party I got what felt like a glass of beer thrown in my earhole. As I turned in surprise two guys beside me broke into a fight, tumbling to the ground, with the usual coward's gang of thugs putting the boot into one of them. Apparently one idiot had been grabbing a girl on the tits as he danced in front of her and her boyfriend objected and pushed him away.

The fight tumbled across the entire dance floor, more guys joining in like crazed lemmings, a huge section of the crowd moving with it as one guy seemed to be slogging it out with a mob. And the previously ubiquitous security cordon was nowhere to be found, the fight going on and on, and the victim seemingly leading the mob towards the front gate where security guards should be. The muscle-bound bouncers did indeed finally break up the lynch-mob and ascertaining from witnesses who the ring-leaders of the molestation were, they traced them to a nightclub nearby and beat the shit out of them.

It all makes for an exciting holiday, if one can duck the punches and avoid the stalkers. On New Year's eve the usual hordes of party-wannabes buzzed like gnats on their motorbikes around the labyrnth of Goan rice-paddy fields looking for the happening party but there is, and has always been, only one hot venue in Goa that has out-lasted and out-funked all the rest and that's the Hilltop Hotel, surviving even the curse of Toby Zoates to kick on, tho lamely.

It's 2007 party went off smoothly, like the klunky fireworks display on the beach, the techno music was cutting and actually nailed that "elusive funk" at times, like symphonies and choirs and every rock band and washing machine in the world throbbing together, and the huge crowd shimmied and shook and threw up their arms like apes massing mindlessly in awe under a full moon, as if it's hard-wired in humans to congregate, touch and commune in herds. Over the years I've been passed joints by Bollywood stars, top fashion designers and rich brat kids of billionaire industrialists for they know where the nitty-gritty in dance-music is thumping, it's not in the polite lounges of their 5-star hotels. Mostly it's Bombay mid-class hipsters hoping to surf the electro-wave, and a sea of peasants from the hinterland who want to get in on the Bollywood act, many thinking there's "free sex" available from the firangis.

After 30 hours of continuous dancing the churning washing-machine in the music took over and the drunken Indians crashed into me as they stumbled past, quite annoying, every one of the billion citizens wants to grab a handful of the demi-god like foreigners, they continuously knock against one, stroke, touch, rub, caress, even an old gronk like me constantly got his arse felt-up. I actually think many Indians exist in a group mind, like mob-rule, and there are few individuals who think or act on their own initiative. Sometimes I fear underneath all that friendly obsequiousness and heartfelt cordialiy is simmering a resentment at us foreigner's high-faluting ways and an envy of our western achievements.

2007 is the 150th anniversary of the 1857 Mutiny in which the natives rose up and slaughtered a few of their British Raj masters, and today the newspapers reprinted pamphlets wherein Hindu and Moslem priests encouraged their fellow Indians to go out and "murder any Europeans you come across." Can we still be seen as invaders?

Last night I was returning thru the transit town of Mapusa after a trip to the Goan capital of Panjim to see the movie "Babel" at the Inox Cineplex. We were at the petrol staton trying to get fuel for our scooter and I thought I'd take a quick piss. Strolling across the station's tarmac I was nearly run down by a small taxi-van. Forgetting about the 7 PM danger-zone I yelled in outrage and shook my fist, the driver went ballistic and leapt from his slimy carapace, drunk as a punk, face twisted like a demon from hell. I stupidly screamed he had no brains and was ugly as an evil imp to which he foamed at the mouth and threw his fists about. My friend Prakash rushed over and quietened me, pulling me back to the scooter and I thought the whole matter was over.

The queue of petrol-junkies looked at me glumly as I sauntered to the other side of the station and sat on some rocks to wait for the bike to be fed. Unbeknownst to me the monsters in the taxi had quickly parked and came back looking for me, the driver with 6 hairy thugs in tow, real brave guys and as drunk as rogue elephants. They manhandled Prakash and asked him where I'd gone, and him being the smart lad he is, he told them to go on the opposite side of the petrol dump to the bus-stand where I was waiting for him. They stupidy lumbered off, mitts outstretched to tear me to pieces, while I blithely whistled a happy tune a few metres away. Prakash ran to me and dragged me to the bike, the petrol-heads had warned him to flee quickly, forgetting the fuel, he pushed me onto the bike and sped off, shouting into the wind how I'd come very close to being demolished by a mob of murderous drunken ape-men, no longer the servile happy Goans welcoming the beloved white maharajas. Who needs Al Qaeda when there's Al Cohol to wreack havoc upon the innocent?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bombay Wet Dreams.

I spent a couple of days in Bombay as it's one of my favorite world-cities, I've even slept on the streets there in my youth and only the shoe-shine boys and cripples looked after me. I returned to my most patronized Indian cinema, The Regal in Colaba, an art deco landmark from the roaring twenties, and there I saw a Hindi film, "Kabul Express", a laid-back understated look at Afghanistan, more photo-journalist than narrative, a picturesque ride with the Number One hunk of Bollywood, John Abraham, and it was cool, preferable to the tidal wave of 'blood and guts' images the "war on terror" has unleashed upon us.

I was stood up by a friend and was standing in front of the cinema somewhat at a loss when I bumped into a vague acquaintance, a jolly villain by the name of Micky, half-Goan, half Maharashtran, he looked like a giant hairy coconut dressed in neon hippie hip-hop gear with an avalanche of dreadlocks pouring out of his head and an aura that glowed "nasty boy" from a mile off. I knew him as a sleazy hustler who chased foreign girls about and bludged a good time out of them, and I'd always kept my distance. Now suddenly he's my best friend, latching onto me like a drowning mollusc, drooling with compliments and hearty hail-fellow-well-met bullshit. His delinquency intrigued and amused me, I'd been stood-up and needed company, Mumbai is best with a chaperone to run interference, so I decided to get a closer look at him, letting myself be shanghaied into a night of Bombay revelry a la Micky the Moose.

I've been to many nightspots in this 7-island city, techno-parties in 5-star hotels and members-only discos where one can stay till 3 AM, but they were all full of boring, moneyed people dancing politely and checking out each others designer clothes, much like in Sydney but without the hip music, inevitably Hindi pop slops. I was looking for something different, wilder, sexier, where the celebrants really got down dirty to boogie. Such as the nightclub scenes in Bollywood movies where the whole crew explode into heart-stopping dance maneuvers and have orgasms writhing to the beat. Dance is my number one sport and joy, I've studied and performed pop dancing in many hot clubs from a young age and if I'm gonna find wild and dirty dance anywhere, surely it's Mumbai.

But it didn't look like it was going to happen in real life, the few clubs we visited the couples danced desultorily. The wildest it got was walking the mean streets late at night and checking out the trannies, prostitutes and junkies around Jahengir Art Gallery and Churchgate Station, it's so dangerous only last night a guy was stabbed there 7 times. A bad-arse movie yeah but I also needed something a bit more secure.

As we wandered a back alley we heard live music wafting from a gaudy door into a dingy basement. We went in to get an earful and a beer, it was an airless concrete box with concrete tree-roots snaking along the ceiling, and were sat down with much ceremony by a platoon of waiters done up like militaristic Maharajas. The motley crew of musicians wailed on and on, strangling a Hindi pop tune via a sputtering microphone as I ordered drinks and gazed patronizingly upon them. We were the first customers of the night and much was expected of us.

Then the mob of waiters parted to reveal a line-up of girls, mostly in western fashions and with too much make-up, all gazing hopefully at me. I realized what we had stumbled into, one of those infamous Bombay bars where "bar-girls" are available for company if one spends unstintingly. A burly madame flounced out and sat next to the band, glaring at me as if challenging my manhood, a real man must spend up big, Mister White Sahib!

I stared at my beer while Micky appraised the trade and, as all Indian men do, decided the lone girl in the sari was the only talent there. I quickly paid for the over-priced drinks and escaped before we were further fleeced. I don't know what the story is, I imagine the door at the back led to private rooms somewhere, the club being nothing more than the foyer of a brothel, or maybe the girls just danced more lasciviously the more money you threw at them. In a city where prostitution is illegal, I've never seen so many working girls, there's one area, B.T. Road, where they seem to flock in their thousands.

Micky announced he was hungry and so we called in at an eatery where he proceeded to eat like a hippopotamus, they brought the stuff to him in buckets, he reminded me of King Kong tearing into a dinosaur the way he chomped on and on, and later on he drank like a fish, pouring down booze as if into a black-hole and I got jumpy over the bill, how did those dumb blond girls he roped in put up with this? He sold me a sob story that he had changed his ways, no more smoking hashish, no more hunting firanghi girls, only a small drink now and then, he was a new man. All because his last tourist lover had gotten pregnant to him and then pissed off, refusing to take him on as the father and this had broken his heart. Hmmmmmm, so sad... I was really impressed.

Next up was the Voodoo Club in Colaba, India's one and only gay (sometimes) club, but only on Saturday night, then it's a poof's free-for-all that out-does Sydney's Oxford street in swishing and squealing, but Friday night, the night I'm out and about, is pussy-punters night, resident hookers prowled by desperately hungry men. Yet I thought it would be perversely interesting to watch Indian men in a taboo milieu, cute boys in sports-gear hopping into break-dance, dumpy businessmen in safari-suits trying to do the Watusi, dowdy shop-wallahs stepping on hot-coals in their attempt to be hipsters, all trying to impress the girls with their jerky moves. Luckily the DJ played cool hip-hop music and I was kept happy for a few hours while I watched the mugs crack onto the whores. The best looking girl in the joint, an Indian Anita Ekberg, blond hair and all, was swept out the door by what looked like a British bloke who threw me a furtive look as if he were on some dangerous mission, he was so closely chaperoned by a grim-looking goonda Indian pimp I suppose it was indeed a risky venture.

Another gorgeous girl flounced thru, this one like Hedy Lamarr in a black strapless evening gown, she stood under a spot-light to show off her assets, flinging her lustrous hair about provocatively. Micky was glad-handling everybody including the DJ, telling him what discs to spin, then calling for more drinks while he danced wildly with everybody in the room. As he got drunker and drunker he got more manic, demonic even, and couldn't resist asking Hedy Lamarr what her price was. She blithely told him it was 3000 rupees to which he rudely laughed in her face. For the rest of the night he danced in her vicinity with a 50 rupee note held up and flicked gleefully, as if to tell her that's all she was worth.

She flung her long hair about in a fury and stormed across the dance-floor like a martinet at war, Micky's demonic smile chasing her, his possessed eyes sharp and bright as black obsidian. This was what Micky the Goan party-boy was like up close, a monster of rapacious appetites and cruel masculinity. In all the afray, I managed to get in some abandoned dancing, a few of the whores and hip hop boys joining in, there's nothing in this world like a group free for all in dancing, letting go but hanging right with the beat in the swaying of the hips, the tapping of the feet, the rotation of the head, till the brain swims. Indians are crazy to dance and I'm mad for dancing with them. We all swung about, some fast, some slow, undulating, throwing our arms about in erotic gestures, and our legs stepping to a Bollywood routine. Suddenly the music stopped and closing time was announced. Bummer! Just when we were getting going.

Clubs have to close in Mumbai by 1 a.m. and by this time most of the punters had fled, only a few geriatrics left hanging in there, and the girls, realizing the young guys had no money, zeroed in on the oldies, for "old is gold" in urban folklore. An ancient Sikh in a turban was whisked about for one last-gasp rap dance, and another old fellow who looked like he needed a walking stick clung to a young girl as if she were a life-raft, bear-hugging the breath out of her, but what the heck, money was money and even the gerries still need to get some human touch-up relief.

Micky bellowed for more drinks and danced with the whores, their pimps, their mugs, the hip-hop boys, everybody, stomping on the floor as if to turn the cold concrete into warm wine, and when the club closed he had to be dragged out screaming for more drinks. I was fed-up but he insisted we go to a late-night dive in Colaba, "The Hawaiin Shack" and I thought I'd see the bumpy ride out till the end. In the cab he grabbed my hand and put it on his crotch. I pulled it back quickly. Though curious to discover what it was that draws in all those foreign girls who never seem to get enough of the goon, I wasn't interested, he'd done me in.

Anyway, he had nothing that was so special down there, and I pondered the cosmic question, what was the big attraction? His dreadlocks were filthy and he stank of B.O., he was high maintenance, in money and patience, so what the fuck was drawing girls to him like bees to honey? An oily tongue? (gives good head/had gift of the gab), an affability that never takes "No!" for an answer? A party-boy who really kicks off and is kind of fun? I suppose that gets them in, tho I imagine he simply scores with the stupid ones.

We got into the Hawaiin Shack where the drinks cost a bomb and the music was 'Fifties rock'n'roll, another concrete box that used to be for "bar-girls" now turned legit, it contained a scattering of nice, middle-class couples who looked silly as they attempted to jitter-bug. I myself was jitter-bugged by my Micky experience and was looking for an escape-route. He drunkenly professed love to me and promised we'd be an item in Goa, I smiled grimly and politely murmured, "I don't think so...", then split quietly into the night, alone, to get myself back safely to my hotel in a taxi.

I did meet him in Goa at the Christmas party in the Hilltop Hotel but he had cracked onto yet another blond, dread-locked neo-hippy girl and he looked through me like I was the glass door into Hell. I was so relieved. I'd had my night out in Bombay and it was a bombastic laugh, not to be repeated. I did get a fantastic dance experience in Goa to the hard-style techno they're the Masters of, possibly with real Bollywood stars dancing around me, and it was the greatest dance high it has ever been my nirvana to participate in.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Deadbeat Wanderings.

I'm quite settled into the Indian way of things these days, only the rare flip-out when I can't bare to be stared at for one more second or there's a crowd of pushy men at a ticket window or some fuckwit parks his truck in the middle of the road and nearly kills us as we drive up its arse. The second leg of my tour of the high Himalayas again took days to get going, every day a new drama, the car got crashed when parking, every acquaintance in town got driven around on their own emergency errands, my driver's father was rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties, on and on for a week. I wanted to call the whole thing off but Balu was determined to go for his joy-ride, his father could wait till he came back to die, and so I gave into his headstrong nature and we sped off at midday, after one last visit to the hospital.

It was a glorious spin into the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, a whole other world with it's own architecture, dress style and favorite deity. We drove thru the old British Raj hill-station, Simla, without stopping, for it seemed an endless warren of concrete cubes piled up the sides of various mountains with little to entrance the world-weary traveler. Instead we rushed another 50 kms thru the dark to reach a hotsprings called Tatapani where we were welcomed into a quaint, grungy hotel, The Springview. It was a sweetly pastoral place, peaceful, hospitable, the mineral waters very soothing for the ailments that beset humanity, and I soaked my injured leg for a few days, for a while I felt strong again and the pain in the knee quietened.

It's a pity that in a year "They" will build a dam upon the Sutlej River and the Tatapani Hotsprings experience will be drowned, as will many villages and a cave dedicated to Shiva not far from the hotel. It is often my fate to frequent a place that is about to disappear, the old days of "hippie India", the salaciousness of Kings Cross, the penultimate freak-trance of Goa, Connaught Park in New Delhi before the Metro, and many off-the-road idyllic spots that get swept away by "progress". For all the trouble and expense of my Maharaja's car-trip, seeing the last of Tatapani was worth it. Balu met a fellow rafting-guide and he took us to his farmhouse way up the valley, above the waterline of the future dam. We met his old father and mother, and we all drank chai while we sat upon his veranda and viewed the sun setting over the village's fields. Gazing upon the misty landscape, it felt like paradise, for those born into it, it's inheritors, the bountiful garden, the peace of raising a family and following old traditions, the love of belonging to the soil, growing with it. Nice for me, a tourist, to get a glimpse of it, I couldn't live here of course, I'd go nuts, an iconoclastic freak in a cage, squawking for sophisticated entertainment and world-information 24/7, and eventually getting up to mischief.

Zooming around winding mountain roads with a golden sun melting away my worries, manifold hills and distant snowcaps gleaming with hazy mystique, I sure felt free and relaxed. We got back to Shangri-la at midnight to land in the usual drama that familiarity breeds. The pretty Japanese girl at the Lodge had thrown a party and invited every Jap hippie in the area, plus a few Indian ring-ins, to plink plink on guitars and bang bang on bongos. Then she proceeded to hang out in another room, leaving the door to her room open. Someone snuck in and stole $2000 in traveler's cheques. It's a big drag for my landlord who has to make a report to the Police and they only add extra arse-ache to any dilemma. The cosmic types like hippies, spiritualists, yogis and desperate oldies who rush to Shangri-la hoping for enlightenment in 7 easy lessons can easily get ripped due to their naivite and mindlessness. It's not unknown for "bad babas" to lure into the jungle silly women who fantasize about their perfect guru, following the bastards tho they glow with sleaze.

The women are then taken deep into the mountains and held captive in a cave for many months where they are sexual slaves and drudges for the wicked goblins posing as holy-men. They are fed Datura and hashish and kept in an hallucinatory daze until they escape or are turned loose, or horribly murdered, the babas having tired of abusing them mercilessly. I've seen a few crazy foreign women wandering the marketplace, out of their skulls jibber-jabbering, and when I ask my friends, "what happened to her?" they have replied nonchalantly, "oh, she got gang-raped by a mob of drunken sadhus." (Not that all "babas" are villains, most are just semi-crazed drop-outs, the few enlightened ones are probably hiding out deep in the jungles or mountain fastnesses, avoiding the bawling masses and accesible only to the near-enlightened.)

(And not all victims are women, guys too can fall for the bullshit allure of the false baba, every year a European male goes missing in Shangri-la or the mountains thereabouts and folklore has it that the "bad babas" got them. Only last year a 19year old Australian boy went missing, he was last seen wandering towards the river at 6 am in the morning, wearing only a pair of shorts and seeming to be in a daze. The river could easily have claimed him, the undercurrent is treacherous, but his body was never dredged up or found at the barrage 2 kms downstream.

He'd probably come on his youth's idealist quest of finding peace and self-knowledge, maybe got sucked in by some unctuous holy-rolling demon in dreadlocks, fed datura and hashish and had his mind-blown so far out he couldn't get back. He wouldn't be the first firangi to get bumped off for his possessions. His father came with a TV crew to search, investigate, expose, find closure, interviewing all and sundry, papering the town with posters of the poor goofy-looking lad but nothing was known of him, dead or alive.)

It's a wild premise for a bad-arse movie and I pray no sweet, cosmic Japanese girl has to go thru it ever again. The cops have chased out of town most of the "bad babas", too many robberies, rapes and murders in paradise, the tourists must be protected at all costs. I myself walk about with my eyes staring at the ground straight ahead, too paranoid and chilled to meet the eyes of the locals and maybe attract trouble. Just sitting by the bridge having chai can get me killed as the mad, uncertain atomic-particle rush of traffic causes constant collisions: two motorbikes smashed off each other right in front of me, one hurtling towards me out of control. I jumped out of the way and the bike hit a parked scooter, the riders all tumbling to the ground. Luckily no one was hurt, but I shudder to think of the vast injuries sustained all over India. I myself am a living testament to the terror of the traffic here, with my leg crippled horribly by an idiot driving on the wrong side of the road three years ago, but that's another story.

Wandering along the banks of the Ganges River I was waved to by a boy playing in the silver sand. As I got closer to him I saw that he had virtually no legs, just twisted sticks of spaghetti he'd buried in the sand beneath him. He had the most beatific, light-filled face and I couldn't resist sitting with him and inquiring about his life. He was now 17 and he'd had polio since two years old, he lived alone here in Shangri-la as his mother was far away in Uttar Pradesh and he was dependent on the kindness of strangers to stay alive.

When he told me he had to crawl on hands and knees to get back to his wheel chair, I said I was very sorry, "I wish I could give you legs." And he replied, "it doesn't matter, I'm used to it. My life is good, I love to play by the river and at 4pm I go to Pujah in the temple, this keeps me happy." His smile was so bright, his nature oozed such sweetness, I've never seen such a radiant face, he was so endearing I wanted to adopt him, or follow him as my guru. I gave him enough cash for a few days food and swore I'd meet him and help him in the future. To myself I swore that I'd never feel sorry for my lot again, attitude is everything!

The cliche of India being a "functioning anarchy" should be changed to a "dysfunctional trial" as the flood of moronic drivers crowding into every junction like cockroaches to a sticky motel has me hanging from my vehicle screaming, "you fuckwits!" But that's just the spoiled white Maharaja in me not getting his easy ride, fuck him! I'm actually deeply contented with my latest fabulous flight among the mystic Himalayan snowcaps, yet my gypsy nature is still restless and I now long for a few weeks adventure by the Arabian Sea, trancing out in Bombay and Goa. So I'm "Gone Gone Gone to Goa."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Of Bad Babas and Sweet Devas.

Money makes for the magic carpet ride, it can take you anywhere, comfortably. I got talked into hiring a car, at "mate's rates", which in India means extra expenses for the mate and an interminable wait for the car to be ready, a week of spinning about the back-alleys looking for a digital car-stereo system in an analog backwater, at least I got to prowl the jungle's edges at midnight and see some wild elephants crashing thru the brush and streaking across the highway to beat the traffic. Most of the hanging around was for paperwork that never eventuated, we drove off with no insurane and then the car broke down at the first town.

Stuck in Chamba, a medieval dump perched on top of a mountain, where Tolkien meets William Gibson as in cyberpunk goblin-grunge. Mercifully, with India's huge workforce, there is a mechanic every 700 yards, the broken fan was fixed and we were off on my much anticipated cruise thru the glorious Garwhal Himalayas. Car-driving up on the ever-disintegrating, narrow roads is a extreme-sport here for tumbling rocks and landslides can sweep us over the edge at any moment, trucks rush at us from nowhere, our nearest accident was when a horse came racing down a precipitous slope to skid under our wheels, us braking hard just in time. I used to do this trip on a motorbike, really out in the elements, the car is a cripple's dream, so cozily contained. Where once was the low-road that past thru old Tehri and deserted villages, now we go the high road for the Tehri Dam has engulfed the Gangetic valleys and drowned all, sunk under a vast man-made lake, never to be seen again, but I'd seen it before the mountains were moved, the ecology changed, now it's cyberpunk, hydro-electricity and water skiing instead of Shiva's shakti and temple trekking.

Tearing around the hair-pin bends, infinite vistas of mountains and valleys spread before us, snow-caps above and the Ganges river a 1000 ft drop below, hardstyle techno music thumping, I had an epiphany as the sun broke out and beamed hot white light into my brain. Yes! This is what I've gone to all the trouble to get here for! A day of high-altitude speeding got us to a hot spring, Gangonani, dedicated to Shiva, He once supposedly meditated there, and many Rishis have lived there over the centuries, beaming the place ecstatic, for the gorgeous warmth of hot water above the snow-line. By the side of the huge steaming tank I was met by a sadhu-baba with evil eyes and saccharine exhortations to join him at his dhooni, (campfire), to smoke and be regaled by his many wondrous tales. He was dressed in faded saffron rags, a pseudo-swami with a rat's face peeping from under an orange turban wound around his dreadlocks. I've met many sleazy babas in my life and saw this one coming a mile off and told him I wasn't interested. My driver informed me the sly fellow was infamous in Shangri-la as a "smack baba", he hung out by a grotesque statue of Kali outside town, it looked fit for human sacrifice, and he imbibed and pushed brown sugar in the village till he was told to fuck-off, and had now fled to the upper regions to hustle the unwary as a pretenscious holy-man.

We stayed at the hotsprings for 3 days, going on drives high above the snow-line towards the source of the Ganges till the snow banks allowed us no further. And everywhere we went we heard the soundtrack from that latest of Bollywood shlockbusters, "Dhoom 2", the signature song being "Dhoom achale!" ("Let's Go Party!"), the Indians love to party, alongside many international freaks like me, life as one long party with tedious work-spells to pay for it all. Back at the hotsprings the "bad baba" continued to importune me, whenever I looked up from my swimming in the hot-tank, I found his hungry, sly eyes upon me. In the bath I was surrounded by the locals, like sweet, innocent angels who have flown down from some celestial region, when I sang my song of joy they leaned in close to catch my every breath. Soaking alongside me were hardworking, honest, hospitable Garwhali farmers, their cherubic children and the immigrant workers from all over India who drill the rocks to make new roads or toil relentlessly to clear those roads of the interminable landslides for us maharajas to pass by without a care. I love sitting with them in the chai-shops and listening to their tales of danger and death, they work for a private company with no security and low wages, yet were ebullient about the wonder of being alive.

One of the facets of the Indian psyche that fasinates me is their sacralising of the entire universe, every spring, tree, turn in the road has it's resident spirit or godhead, sacred music always lilts in the air, and every 7 yards some aspect of the divine needs to be propitiated. I also see the entire universe as sacred but I don't need any god or spiritual symbolism to bolster my awe. Yet I like to recieve the blessing from their sacred hotspots, trying to weave myself into their fabulous fabric, to kind of make my passage easier. So I went up to the Shiva temple to get my blessing for my Indian sojourn, I tip-toed the perambulation around the central icon fearing I would run into the "bad baba" and, just when I thought I had escaped, I tripped over him laying flat out upon the warm granite behind the altar like a Gollem waiting to be resuscitated.

He sprang to life with alacrity, at last the firangi, (foreigner), was ripe for the picking. He insisted on doing the blessing ritual, mumbling mumbo-jumbo while he put tilak on my third-eye. When I informed him I wanted the red string bracelet that signifies I'd completed a pilgrimage he searched wildly amidst the altar bric-a-brac, tossing icons and sacred paraphenalia willy-nilly, tearing the place up in his avidity to please the rich white maharaja, finally amidst his tornado-like efforts some red-string was found and I was twice-blessed with it twirled about my wrist and he with 51 rupees. I wandered off befuddled that I had now been sacralised by a notorious "smack-baba", but I reasoned that it's the place that counts, not so much the fallible human who lurks there.