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."