For my last day in the Himalayas we decided to go on safari deep into the jungle of the Rajiji National Park. I’d read in the newspapers that elephants had been coming into town and breaking into shops and warehouses to scoff up all the yummy stores. One male elephant was a real rogue, killing several people in its rampages. I had seen elephants in the wild before but was strongly desirous of seeing this particular specimen, always the Jungle Jim in me over-ruling the timid nerd. In his jeep, Balu and I drove deep down dirt tracks, the jungle enclosing us entirely, no way to turn and go back, we had to drive on and we got lost, the road giving way to landslides, at one point the jeep lurched over the edge, about to plunge into a deep gully, Balu only just swerving us back to safety.
Thank nogod the elephant didn’t show up, we were in his territory and there was no escape possible, he could easily have raged from the bushes, dragged us from the open-air jeep and stomped us to human ketchup. What he was doing at exactly this time not one km from where we were foolishly stumbling about was running amok up on the Dehradune Highway, dragging a poor 85 year woman from her car and smashing her to oblivion.
Most of the time we got about on an Enfield Bullet motorbike, Balu driving like a rakshas, (demon), out of Hell, taking every risk so that I try not to scream and trust to his life-long skill at speeding through a maze of obstacles, him always assuring me he knew what he was doing. Sure enough, two days after I left for my ongoing travails, an idiot auto-rickshaw driver did a sudden u-turn in front of him and he crashed into it hard, wiping out the front-end of his bike but thankfully rolling free of injury himself. What if I’d been on the back, the pillion often copping the worst of it? I shudder at my luck, is the high of adventure worth the fear and anxiety? It must be, because I keep going for it, like an addict, if I was a wimp I’d stay home and watch television.
When I finally made it to Mumbai I hoped I’d find refuge in that rambunctious city before I took on the wilds of Goa. I read in the Times of India that a foreigner’s body had been found on the local railway tracks, apparently having fallen from a train. He was unidentified, about 45 years old, six-foot plus tall, blond hair, beard and moustache, covered in tattoos, one of his legs was missing and he had deep wounds to his head. Who was he, how did he get there, what happened to him? Such a strong figure would be hard to overcome, he sounded like a hard-core druggie, drugs being the easiest way to get into trouble here. This story made me shudder all over again.
I’ve put in the hard yards and have a best mate as chaperone so I don’t need to fear the backstreets of Mumbai. The city has changed since the 26/11 carnage, not much fun anymore, every corner policed, the monuments blocked off, nowhere to sit and relax except for the Nariman Point sea-wall, staring at the sunset over the Arabian Sea. We went to the movies, we ate delicious food at funky restaurants, we shopped in crowded bazaars and drank beer in pubs. We patronized the grungiest night-club in the world, the Voodoo Club, empty except for working girls and dirty-old men voyeurising them, the cops raided it twice, the girls rushing to hide in a backroom while us guys sat innocently gazing into out beers, the crowd was scared off and the night was a flop.
Saturday was the big night, we went to a gay party at a club called Scream near Victoria Station. It quickly got packed with screaming queens, wall to wall sardines, smoke-filled so you couldn’t breathe. I cleared a space by dancing with wild abandon, ecstatic, riding the beat, eyes rolled back in my head, exciting the Indians to heights of rhythmic bliss so that we all jumped and writhed and shimmied for Indians love dancing even more than they love fucking and that’s saying something! This night was my lead-in to the season of ecstatic dancing that culminates in Goa on New Year’s Eve, a dance-cult where I can truly let-go of my Western rational hesitations and meld with the spirit of the locals, become one with them, for a few brief, eternal moments.
And then the fast, dangerous spin to Goa by sleeper-bus, an out-of-control roller-coaster ride across mountains, through jungle, me up all night drinking in the night-scape under a full moon, my MP3 pumping techno to match the speed of the bus. The windscreen smashed not far out of Mumbai and I thought we’d be stuck all night at a road-stop, but no, the driver simply rugged up and carried on, driving faster than usual, the wind freezing his arse off as he rushed to get home, we rocketed perilously upon a highway notorious for its accidents and deaths.