Spiti-Gramphu-Keylong-Leh: A Long Mountain Journey: Ghost Buses and Bruised Behinds

Right now I am in Amritsar and very tired and hot. I am not in a poem writing mood. Sorry.

left from spiti
went to keylong
took a bus
then another one

After doing the things we did in Spiti, including eating several bowls of thentuk, delicious tibetan noodle soup, we left. Our destination was Keylong, where we’d stay the night before getting on the bus once more, for the final hairy leg of our journey to Leh.

We got a bus early in the morning to Gramphu, a junction where the road from Manali splits into two roads, one leading to Kaza and one to Keylong. Something you have to come to terms with when travelling in the North is that all the buses leave at ridiculously early times in the morning. You have to get used to waking up at five, feeling like death warmed up, but cold.

Charlotte bought me a red woolly hat for my birthday in Kaza. It is my best friend and I love it. I can’t wear it now that we are back in India proper, because it is so hot I already feel like I am wearing twelve woolly hats, all the time.

The bus to Gramphu was scary (one wheel was hanging off the edge of the road at one point) but we’re quite used to it now. The bus is our friend.

Herds of sheep blocked the road. We travelled with an assortment of Buddhist monks and mountain people.

When we arrived at Gramphu we sat waiting for three hours because all the buses we wanted to catch were stuck further down the valley, due to some kind of landslide apparently. It was a pretty nice place to be stuck for three hours. I drew a picture and played guitar for a curious monk, consumed several chais and had a glorious, high altitude open air mountain wee. It definitely makes the short list of best urinations of my life.

Finally, traffic started flowing past us in the direction of Keylong. A funny looking bus pulled up and as usual we got on it.

It was not like the government buses we had previously encountered. They are wide and squat with reassuringly chunky tires, and usually full of people. Charlotte and I would later come to refer to it as ‘The Ghost Bus’. It was very old and worn out, and also very tall and top heavy. This meant it swayed back and forth alarmingly as it negotiated the rocky road. Inside, all the chairs were soaking wet, and there were no other passengers before we got on. ‘Mysterious’ I thought. The driver looked about fifty but he had a mohican and cool jeans. A few of his bus buddies sat in the front with him.

As we continued along precarious twisting passes once more, swinging to and fro, we mused that perhaps the wet empty old fashioned bus was a ghostly continuation of a vehicle that had skidded off the road years ago and crashed down into a river, killing all its passengers, condemned to patrol it’s old route for all eternity. They never asked us for any money. We got off bemused after our free six hour journey.

We stopped at one point and I had a wee alongside an army man. There’s more and more of a military presence the closer you get to certain disputed areas near the border. After a while we became quite used to the sight of bored men lined up fondling their guns.

Drawing into Keylong, we drove alongside a huge foamy river. Perhaps this was where we’d meet our end, as the demon bus made its spooky recurring journey to the bottom of the riverbed (luckily and perhaps unsurprisingly for the perceptive reader, that didn’t happen).

The mountains had been changing, slowly but surely after leaving the desert of Spiti. Green and lush mountains now. Similar to China, said Lotte.

Keylong was quite a nicely placed little town, in a pleasant little valley of green. We didn’t do much due to exhaustion. I seem to remember curry was involved, and perhaps getting some money from a cash machine. We hit the hay pretty early.

At five in the morning we fell out of bed cursing once again. Another bus. ‘Yawn’ I said. ‘Shut up you idiot’ said Charlotte. She’s grumpy in the mornings.

In the gloomy early morning dark of the bus station, we found out from a preoccupied ticket man that the bus was all booked except for one free seat. After some scrapping and whinging, he agreed to let us on anyway. We took turns sitting on the metal floor in the aisle for the fourteen hour trip to Leh.

That was a challenge. The bus leapt and bucked regularly like a jolly mule and our glutei were thoroughly tenderised by the time we reached our final destination.

On the positive side, the landscape was magnificent and eclectic. Mainly mountain themed. We rolled over huge high passes, stopping to make yellow snow at one point in the most beautiful lunar wonderland, trekking some distance up to a place for Charlotte to toilet away from the prying eyes of perpetually prepubescent Indian men.

There were long ascents and descents on dusty paths in which the bus was filled with dust particles that threatened to choke us all. There were big open flat stretches of land surrounded by distant mountains that my altitude addled brain thought ‘looked like they were CGI’. There were rest stops in service stations run by nomads, congregations of food tents outside which we ate thali and horrible dried apricots. There were intricate mountain springs that looked like veins dispersing down steep slopes. There were lots of pretty things to potentially describe with pretentious prose (well done for reading this far).

At one point we stopped in the middle of a river in the middle of the road. On one side of us gaped a gigantic drop. Inexplicably, the driver took the opportunity to wash the tires with the flowing water. I am glad the handbrake behaved itself. We continued on and I am sure the tires were instantly re-coated with dirt and dust.

There were a few army checkpoints on the way at which bored looking military men checked our passports. I did big smiles at them to brighten up their days.

Fourteen hours of horrible uncomfortable beautiful terrain later we arrived in Leh. Everyone was exhausted and moody but I think shared the private knowledge that we were all very lucky. We ate dinner like vegetarian zombies with some people we met on the bus; the lovely Dutch girls, Doina and Isa, an Indian ballet dancer named Ackshay, and a Bulgarian ballroom dancer, Jimmy.

After dinner, we slept like logs.

Thank you for reading this. The next blog post will be about our time in and around Leh and I’ll write it soon.

Jonny

A Poorly Planned Pilgrimage to Find Sangha Tenzin, the Self-Mummified Monk of Gue, With Several Sacred Sketches and One Small Poem

This is the one about our time in Spiti Valley visiting a mummified monk.

Saw a monk and he was dead

he still had hair

on his head

Kaza is the capital of Spiti Valley, an area of the Indian Himalayas that is covered in a layer of yellow dust. It is desert with mountains. Very hot in the day, freezing at night. I chanced I saw huge Egyptian faces etched into the clay coloured mountains, half asleep in the jeep as we entered the town. In Kaza we met a dog with no nose, and called him No Nose. Charlotte decided we should feed him as he was so horribly wounded; we bought him a can of tuna and he guzzled it immediately; he was a very grateful chap and we felt touched and sad. It is easy to be sad about the animals here; they live in awful poverty like the people do, but they do not have a human voice to wear you down with hassle and turn you cold.

Everywhere in India is in a state of perpetual development, Kaza included. Walking through the streets between houses you must constantly negotiate builders and piles of bricks, ladders and heaps of debris.

I turned twenty in Spiti Valley. Happy Birthday to me. I also listened to a lot of Arcade Fire.

The Reason We Were in Spiti Valley

We were in Spiti Valley to see a 600 year old self-mummified monk that Charlotte found on the internet. His name is Sangha Tenzin and he was a Tibetan Buddhist monk; the story is that to rid his village of a plague of scorpions, he entered meditation whilst starving himself and drying out his skin with candles. This process has preserved his body in the state it was at the moment of his death. They say when he died, a rainbow appeared over the village and the scorpions vanished.

The mummy is kept in a tiny and remote village called Gue. It was hard to get there.

He was apparently found in a heap of rubble after an earthquake in 1975, which must have broken open his tomb I suppose. The villagers are very protective of him. He is not a tourist attraction. When we first attempted to get to the village we were turned away by its inhabitants; they told us to get back on the bus; there was nowhere to stay.

No hotels, guesthouses or homestays in Gue. Nowhere to eat either. Everyone there has always been there. It is a nowhere place. The journey there on the bus was long and tricky. We ascended slowly up a rocky mountain road next to a fast flowing river. Showers of rocks occasionally pelted the bus from the mountain beside us. At one point the road was especially bad and the bus swayed to and fro madly; even the driver looked scared as we swung back and forth, leaning over the drop down to the river below.

When we were told we couldn’t sleep in Gue we got back on the bus and it drove on to the next town. We decided to find a place to stay there and come back the next day. Problem was, there was an army checkpoint on the way to the next town; we were very close to the border with Tibet and needed special permission to go any further than Gue, in the form of a permit.

‘Oh shit’ I thought, as the bus drove into the army base.

‘Permits’ said the army man.

‘We don’t have permits’ we said.

He was very angry. I think the Indian army are very bored unless they are shooting people, and so finding some Westerners who’d done something naughty was the highlight of the army man’s career. We tried to explain that we hadn’t meant to come this far, but he wouldn’t let us. He fumed at us for a bit and then pointed at a jeep.

‘You go back to Kaza straight away, naughty tourists,’ he said. ‘Get in that unfamiliar jeep.’

We did as he said. Inside the unfamiliar jeep were four Indian archeology students on a road trip from Punjab, ‘enjoying nature’. They’d been turned back by the army as well. They were obviously having a great time. The inside of the jeep was littered with empty mountain dew bottles, and they were full of easy grins and giggles. ‘We like road trips. Living so close to the mountains, you can get in a jeep and just drive.’ We powered down the road, a little too fast, squashed in the back of a jeep again, stopping for photos along the way, with ‘Summer of ’69’ blasting from the sound system.

‘India is awesome’ I thought.

Contrary to the Army’s orders to go straight back to Kaza, we got the boys to drop us in the nearby village of Tabo, only 20 kilometers or so from Gue; we resolved to go back and see the monk the next day. Nothing would stop us.

TABO is a lovely place that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone visiting Spiti Valley; it is a small monastery town full of monks. As Spiti is very close to the border in places, some villages are predominantly Tibetan and Buddhist. Tabo’s monastery is very old; inside it is dark and spooky, full of statues of strange Buddhist deities. A congregation of locals received teachings inside from an animated monk sitting cross legged and talking passionately. Further in I discovered dark corridors with hundreds of small images of the Buddha on the walls, each hand-painted in different colours.

If staying in Tabo, I recommend you have dinner at the Third Eye Cafe near the monastery; this is the restaurant of the guesthouse we stayed at, run by a lovely long suffering little Tibetan lady who cooks incredible noodle soup and momos.

The next day we made it back to Gue, this time with a hired driver to do the round trip, and two curious Israelis we met in Tabo.

The villagers all stared at us as we passed them. The place was seemingly totally isolated. The Lonely Planet crowd was nowhere to be found; Gue can’t be found on most maps, let alone in guidebooks.

On top of a hill looking over the village is the little white building that houses the body of Sangha Tenzin. Next to it the villagers are building a monastery, due for completion definitely at some point in the future. They started in 2006. They are hard at work still.

We entered the little building slowly, watched suspiciously by the residents of Gue working on the building next door.

Inside his glass box, the old monk gazes into the distance with a look of serene pain, mouth open as if he has just let out his last breath. He’s still got all his skin, shrunken and stretched tight across his cheekbones, and a little hair on the top of his head. He’s crouched down, knee tucked under his chin, and one very striking thing is his hand, perfectly preserved with thumb rubbing forefinger in the gesture of a mantra. His eyes are empty sockets, long rotted away, but it still feels strange to study them, as if the soul of Sangha Tenzin is still somewhere in there, looking back at you. They’ve dressed him in robes, protecting his modesty.

He’s surrounded on all sides by mountains, and stares down from the top of the hill, and the wind blowing through the valley is chilling, and I got a strange idea that it’s his death rattle blowing through the village, the final sigh from his dried out little starving body permanently trapped in time at the moment of his death. It was a little creepy in Gue.

Our next destination was the mountain town of Leh, even further north, the other side of a two day bus journey over some of the highest roads in the world. I’ll write about that soon but not right now. Blogging seems more and more like homework.

Also, if you want to read a more informative, accurate and up to date blog, in which I feature as a figure of fun, Lotte’s is here: http://lottepress.wordpress.com/. Her blog is the BBC News to my Harry Hill’s TV Burp.

Thanks for reading,

Jonny

squashedinthebackofajeep
 
OCH LOOKIE HERE IS ANOTHER WEE POME
Squashed and bruised in the back of a Jeep

Lost in mountain views with lack of sleep

Didn’t need a poo but had a couple of wees

In the day time you boil and in the night you freeze

Manali to Kaza was a fun little drive

I am glad we are still alive

CHORUS

Hot chai hot chai

Really nice really nice

Long drive long drive

Sticky thighs sticky thighs (Repeat to fade)

At three in the morning I woke from a lovely dream to the lovely Mr. Anand knocking on our door (Mr. Anand is the finely moustached owner of Anand Guesthouse, where we stayed in Manali. I told him I’d recommend his hotel and services because he was really nice and helpful: if you are in Manali and looking for an affordable place with a nice view and good staff, stay there).
‘The Jeep is coming, so come on you silly kittens’ Mr. Anand said, playfully but assertively. We wiped the still forming sleep goo from our pretty eyes and tripped and stumbled in the dark, up the rocky path to the road.
‘Bye bye doggies’ I said in my deep manly voice, as we passed the mangy strays that roam the streets of Manali.
We got in the back of the Jeep, which was driven by a young Tibetan man who looked about our age. He had a good grin with tombstone teeth. In the front seats slept a couple who it was too dark to see yet. Our seats were in the back, sideways and facing each other. They were quite shit. We drove off, waving goodbye to Anand, who looked like a proud parent. His moustache glinted in the moonlight.
It was dark, due to the fact that it was still night time. The Jeep was quick and agile, maneuvering around hairpin bends with sheer drops like it was glued to the road. The mountains were monstrous silhouettes, grey black on a blue black sky. The stars and distant villages made pretty lights. I was pretty sleepy too, but the Jeep kept going over bumps in the road that sent us flying upwards and almost banging our heads on the ceiling. Our shitty perches felt like an afterthought, shoved in the back behind the low, comfortable, normal passenger seats.
Still, we could look out of the back window at the terrain receding into the distance as the sun rose; towering beastly mountains, proper MASSIVE MOUNTAINS, HELLO HELLO HIMALAYAS HOO HIP HIP HOORAY (I thought).
We hit the snowline, and the coolest traffic jam I have ever been in. Trucks cars and Jeeps edged along a narrow mountain pass in both directions. The road was unpaved, and sometimes half buried by chunks of rock from landslides, meaning only one vehicle at a time could go through certain bits. People got out of their cars and walked beside them along the pass, wrapped up all nice and snug in woolly clothes, observing. The sun was rising behind us and lit up the clouds. Looking out of the back window, I hastily scribbled what I saw.
When we got out of the jam we picked up some more passengers from Gramphu (a junction with a few roadside cafes that in a few days time we’d spend three hours waiting at). We were well squashedinthebackofajeep then, cos the couple in front had bought all four of the proper seats for the two of them to enjoy and do yoga and play cricket in. The passengers that joined us in the back were:
1. Sweet Old Sleepy Tibetan Lady
2. Silent Old Indian Mountain Man With A Beanie Hat and a Headache
We were all pretty skinny and bony so we fit in OK. Charlotte felt a bit sick from the winding bends and sitting in the back, but luckily she didn’t vommo, gold star for her. The couple in front were:
1. A Couple From Canada Going to A Special Buddhist Enlightenment Ceremony At A Monastery in Spiti Valley
2. A Little Bit Uptight
Only the lady actually. She seemed nice and all, but pretty intolerant and condescending, for an almost-enlightened being. I guess I have a lot to learn.
We drove for hours, along tiny dirt tracks, beside great flowing rivers of melt water, through long-stretching boulder strewn depressions, and over terrifying precarious roads with rivers flowing across them that threatened to sweep us away over the edge. Everything was framed by mountains on all four sides of us.
As we were ascending very rapidly, we both got headaches and felt a little weird from the altitude. If you are visiting these regions Be Ware of altitude sickness; it can strike completely randomly and sometimes kill you. This is what the NHS say:  http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Altitude-sickness/Pages/Prevention.aspx .
As we got closer to Kaza and entered Spiti Valley, the terrain became more and more barren and dusty. All greenery disappeared and we found ourselves in a harsh, unforgiving mountain desert. Boiling hot, exhausted, gaping at our surroundings, we reached Kaza.
I’ll write about it soon, but not now. I need to go find a squat.
Thanks for reading
Me

An Account of a Quite Terrifying Arrival in Manali with Subsequent Doodles and a Wise Haiku

The latest special poem I have been writenning is a Haiku. Haikus are an ancient style of Chinese poem that have a syllable structure of ‘5, 7, 5’, and were invented by King George IV when he was bored on a holiday. Mine goes like this:

we were on a bus

then we got off the bus and

we were somewhere else

Last time I left the keyboard I was halfway through writing about the bus journey from Delhi. (It’s nice in this internet cafe; the woman who owns it offers everyone herbal tea. Because of her accent it sounds like she is saying ‘horrible tea’ but it’s actually really nice.)

What happened after the stuff before was that the bus kept moving along forwards, with us in it, and we started going up mountains. We’d hit the Himalayas finally.

Oh my, some of those roads. Our driver went so fast; to the left of you a hard rock face and occasional trucks that flash by barely leaving the paintwork virginal, to the right a sheer drop plummeting towards distant boulders and rushing water… And the occasional twisted carcass of a crashed vehicle at the side of the road to remind you that the metal box that you are being propelled across a mountainside in could quite easily with the smallest of twitches smash into something and tumble down the valley and crush you into a small compact cube of ex human; we pressed our faces against the windows and drank in the view as it rushed past, a little nervous to say the least.

It grew later and darker and we found ourselves driving through a road flooded by sheep. We were made aware of this by bleating sounds coming from all directions. Outside came sheep after sheep after sheep; they were herded by tired looking men with sticks blowing whistles. We crawled along at the pace of a slug and the sheep were like water molecules flowing down the road, around the bus, splashing up the side of the path and down again back into the main mass.

‘Baaaa’, they said.

Eventually we got out the other side of the sea of wool; for the final half an hour of the drive we were tired and cold. So, tired; everything blurred together and I started to have minor hallucinations; for split seconds I saw weird black beasts running in front of us, before I shook my head and identified them as shadows playing in the headlights on the road. More sheep drifted past the outside window like tattered ghosts, bleating in a decidedly tortured fashion. As we entered the city, scrappy wild dogs chased cars, barking harsh and high.

We were practically thrown out of the bus by our tired and impatient driver and immediately realised we were on our own in a weird place in the middle of the night, completely at the mercy of the locals.

A SPECIAL TIP TO AVOID BEING RIPPED OFF WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN MANALI:

You can walk to Old Manali, where the nice guesthouses are, from the bus station. If you arrive in the middle of the night, taxi drivers will charge you 10 times what you should pay to drive you there, if you can even find one.

Also, hotel owners will try to persuade you that you shouldn’t walk, but stay at their expensive hotel in town. IGNORE THEM, and use a map (you should have a map). Walk up the hill and over the bridge to the other side of the river, and you’re there. Takes half an hour max. Don’t do what we did.

WHAT WE DID:

We wanted to stay in Old Manali where all the cheap accommodation is, but no one would drive us there for less than 500 rupees (loads). A man with bad teeth in a funny hat wouldn’t leave us alone, saying we should stay at his hotel in New Manali. He seemed like the only option so we got in his rickshaw and he started driving.

He drove us up a very big hill. There weren’t many street lights and he was joined in the front of his rickshaw by some buddy of his. He drove further and further until we pulled up outside a dark, abandoned looking building. It didn’t look like a guesthouse, and it seemed pretty much isolated from everything. There were no lights.

‘It’s just through these bushes here’, the man with the funny hat said, pointing towards some dark undergrowth.

We were quite convinced that he was going to murder us. Charlotte ran away up the road and shouted at me to come with her. However, it was dark and we had no idea where we were.

We decided we had no choice, and followed the strange man into the bushes.

My heart was beating very fast like this: boomboomboomboomboom. In my pocket I had my penknife, so that if the man went for us I could prod him with the small blunt blade. Luckily we found out within a few seconds that it really was just an incredibly terrifying hotel in the middle of nowhere. ‘That’s lucky’, I thought, ‘we aren’t being murdered or robbed’.

We were about to have a shower when a violent knock clattered at the window. We looked at each other in fear, still shaken and paranoid from earlier events. ‘Shit’, I mused, ‘what if that is a werewolf.’

I peeled back the curtains. It was the old man again. ‘Is the water hot?’ He shouted through the window.

‘I don’t know yet,’ I said. I was naked.

‘Ok. Tell me if there is problem.’

‘Thank you’, I said nakedly.

The next day we left the hotel, because frankly it was shit; obviously the only way the poor man could get anyone to stay there was to hang around at the bus station in the middle of the night and prey on vulnerable tired people who had no idea where they were. We wondered how many other people had thought they were about to be murdered after getting off the bus.

We walked across the river to Old Manali, which is the place to stay in Manali. It’s one long twisty uphill road lined with nice restaurants and cafes and cheap guesthouses, and it’s quite pretty.

Manali is nice for a few days after hard travelling. It’s a tourist town mainly full of people with dreadlocks wearing pajamas smoking hash, talking about how ethnic they are. There are a few Indian people there too.

There isn’t much to do in Manali if you don’t want to smoke weed and talk about how ethnic you are. We ate quite a lot of pizza and falafel, met some nice travellers, and I drew some pictures, inspired by the lovely view of the mountains from the balcony of our guesthouse. If you want them to be bigger, click on them. If not, don’t.

The writing in the picture below is from this song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIJyxhdUkLg by Anthony and the Johnsons, who are a very good band. The lead singer is a transsexual man with one of the best voices I have ever heard.

One of the first things I did in Manali was was eat lots and lots of Momos. They are a delicious Tibetan snack, little dumplings stuffed with minced vegetables. When we arrived, we hadn’t eaten in 24 hours cos of our bus journey and hotel incident. I went mental.

Another good thing to do in Manali is walk through the nature reserve. I did this on the way back from the cash machine cos a Russian lady said it was good. It was good, walking along the winding forest path past wild cows, surrounded by huge towering cedar trees.

We got stuck in Manali for longer than we wanted to because the long road to Kaza, our next destination, was closed after a landslide. We got out eventually though. The jeep ride to Kaza was awesome. Stay in tune.

Thanks for reading. ❤

Jonny

An Excellent Exodus From Delhi to Manali by Bus With Creative Expulsions to Wow Your Eyeballs (And Why You Should Travel by Public Bus in India)

Did a bus drive (Delhi to Manali)
Glad we are alive (driver was foolhardy)
Hills were steep (drops a bit scary)
Road blocked by sheep (driver got Lairy)

THE DAY we left Delhi, we woke up in our stuffy little budget room horrifically in the morning, hurled insults at each other, and rushed to the bus station. Eventually we found the right bus, with a few minutes to spare.

PUBLIC BUSES are the best way of travelling in India, perhaps joint-best with the trains. They’re usually packed full of people, but they are real people, cos the gap-yahs and colonial sympathisers always take the AIR CONDITIONED VOLVO TOURIST BUSES, which are super expensive and more likely to crash. I think this for two reasons:

1. They are newer, so have more powerful engines, and the drivers are probably less well-trained; a bad combination.

2. One time I spent the morning chatting to some tourist drivers who invited me onto their bus, and gave me an apple. It was about ten in the morning, they were about to drive down the precarious mountain road from Shimla to Delhi, and they were starting the day with a big old bottle of fortified wine.

FOR THESE reasons, take the public bus. It’s funner, safer and costs next to nothing.

WE TOOK A PUBLIC bus to Manali from Delhi; it took seventeen hours. We started out of Delhi driving through long flat stretches of barren almost-desert, stopped for chai and a wee in the city of Chandigarh, and then finally hit the foothills of the Himalayas. It was a beautiful ride but the windows were open and we both got our faces caked in dust and looked like we were made of sand.

At one point a man got on the bus and plonked himself down on the seat next to us. Everyone on the bus stared at him. He was tall and swayed slightly, and he smelled of strong spirits. I suspected he was drunk out of his mind.

He wore a stripy shirt and was missing one of his front teeth. I guessed he was in his late thirties. He had a habit of looking knowingly into your eyes, and then coughing up phlegm everywhere.

He leaned over Charlotte to tell us things (he mainly spoke to me, I suspect in an attempt to seem respectful and honourable. Charlotte thought it was a bit offensive). At first after a few mumbled sentences mixing English with Hindi, he burst into tears. I’m not sure entirely why but I think it was something to do with ‘border’ ‘wife’ and ‘very bad’. We were pretty taken aback by this and responded by nodding sympathetically. I could feel the eyes of the rest of the bus all staring at us.

He cheered up after a few minutes and decided to tell us more about himself.

MAN: I am a farmer.

JONNY: Oh. That’s nice. Where is your farm?

MAN:  Yuipo pouhd grrrrr graet dtgg you indb border noip pon India

(JONNY and CHARLOTTE nod understandingly)

MAN: Is this your wife?

JONNY: (Just for fun) Yeah.

MAN: You are lucky man. Broolpgahnn fshhh

JONNY: Yeah, I am.

(Silence for a moment)

MAN: You are very much welcome in India. Rrrgeyjipp grashggh bet boppsh. You are my brother, and you are my sister.

JONNY: Thank you.

MAN: Yes. You are my cousin. And she is my sister.

JONNY: Yeah?

MAN: You are… my nephew. And she is my sister. And she is your wife.

CHARLOTTE: Wouldn’t that be a bit incestuous?

MAN: I am tour guide in Shimla.

JONNY: I’ve been there. It’s very nice.

MAN: You go Shimla? POHHIUHUHusg

JONNY: No, we go to Manali.

MAN: I AM GOING TO MANALI!

(JONNY and CHARLOTTE look at each other in fear)

MAN: You are very welcome in India.

CHARLOTTE & JONNY: Thank you.

MAN: There are many problems, with Indian culture.

JONNY: Yes. But there are problems with every culture.

MAN: Yes. Many problems with agriculture.

(Pause)

MAN: I am school teacher. I go to Chandigarh.

CHARLOTTE: What subject do you teach?

MAN: I am biological sciences. HGFR ooahhagg op hbdiuk///////////////

JONNY: That’s good.

MAN: The world will die in… um… ekhodphh.. Five hundred six eight pohgrapop

JONNY: Sorry?

MAN: The world is five thousand years old.

JONNY: Ok.

MAN: And the world will die… in approximately five hundred years.

JONNY: Really? Wow. We’d better try and fix things I suppose.

The man seemed to want to emphasise his points, because he repeated the things said above, over and over again. We thought to give him some water to sober him up but he spat it all over the floor and laughed. The small child in front of me gave me a knowing look and whispered ‘drinking’.

After a while everyone on the bus got pretty annoyed with the man, as he was quite loud, and wouldn’t leave us alone. At one point they rose up and shouted him down, unleashing a hail of Hindi scoldings.

He quietened down for a while, but soon started telling us about the end of the world again, and that we were his brothers/sisters/cousins/nephews, and very much welcome in India.

When his stop came he almost missed it, but skillfully whistled at the bus driver to pull over. He nonchalantly swayed towards the back door, swinging on the handhold bars for support like an ape. He fell into the back of someone’s head, and quickly righted himself, mumbling apologies.

He turned at the doorway to say goodbye, and the bus driver began to pull away before he’d got off. People shouted for him to stop again, and as the bus slowed down, the man opened the door, mounted it, and slowly swung out holding on, before letting go and falling out onto his feet like a cat. Before the bus left him standing there, he shouted, ‘Hello good morning!’ and nearly fell over.

He was a wise, broken man, I thought to myself, as the bus drove away.

I have to get up at FIVE AM tomorrow to get the bus to the highest road in the world so I’m going to write about the rest of the journey some other time. Remember: baked beans.

Thanks for reading (unless you skipped to the end to get a free thanks in which case No Thanks to you, mate.

xxxx

A Visitation to Pahar Ganj, Scum Hole of India, and Hasty Pilgrimage Portraiture at The Lotus Temple, Customarily Commenced with a Jolly Ditty

We spent some time in Delhi
The streets there are quite smelly
I went to a place
Drew somebody’s face
(Some other witty line about Delhi)

We fell out of the train from Agra slimy and weak, like it had just given birth to us, and jumped in a rickshaw, telling the driver to take us to the place in New Delhi where all the cheap rooms and grimy cafes are found; the tourist ghetto of India’s capital; the one and only Pahar Ganj.

I am lucky enough to have visited Pahar Ganj, New Delhi, four times now. It’s quite a horrible place. Our driver thought we were melons and so agreed to a super cheap price to drop us in the main bazaar. When we got there, instead of him forcing us to stay in his buddy’s hotel like he’d hoped, we skipped down the road ignoring him, to find our own place. He looked like he wanted to murder us; for once, we ripped off the driver.

Pahar Ganj is a proper tourist ghetto; most people’s first experience of India; the streets are lined with dust and shit and men trying to persuade you that you should give them your money for various reasons. You have to have a sense of humour there, and a cricket bat. The hotels are cheap and nasty. It is also eyeball chafingly boiling in Delhi at this time of year, and the pollution levels are HUGE so it so it feels like you are breathing evaporated petrol instead of air.

At night the place is especially weird.  Big flourescent neon signs stick out from hotels and bars, illuminating the dust particles in the air, whilst at street level, cows, stray dogs and dodgy men shift around in dark corners beside unfinished roadworks and outside derelict buildings. It’s like a post apocalyptic Asian Las Vegas, with farmyard animals.

HOW TO ESCAPE A TOURIST DEATH IN PAHAR GANJ

Pahar Ganj is a very stressful place, and sometimes makes you feel like you are going to die.

Now I will explain to you how to not die when you are in Pahar Ganj. First, go to a cafe and order a banana lassi, and drink it really fast. You will then feel like you are God.

Then, get the hell out of Pahar Ganj. Go to the Bahai House of Worship, or ‘Lotus Temple’. This is one of my favourite places in Delhi. There is a metro stop very near, or get a rickshaw if you are lazy for about 150 rupees.

The Bahai House of Worship is a temple made by these fellas who follow the Bahai religion. They believe that everyone’s ideas about God or gods or just Good without any God are equally valid, and prejudice based around these things is silly. I like these people a lot. The temple is incredibly peaceful; the rule is that you can go in and do whatever you want in your head; pray, or think about breakfast or listen to Queen, but you have to be completely silent. The place is shaped like a lotus flower, hence the name. Inside it’s cavernous and echoey, and sometimes birds come in and fly around near the roof. There are huge windows that you can look out of.

I tried drawing the place but it proved tricky; hundreds of Indian tourists flow through the temple every day, and outside on my first attempt drawing it I was surrounded by a huge crowd of people fascinated by a lone foreigner doing funny scribbles in a book.

I tried to capture it’s symmetry in peace a little further away, sitting in the grass in the grounds of the temple. Unfortunately a bored security guard saw me and blew his whistle at me to stop my antisocial grass sitting behaviour, so I moved back to the path. There, he came and watched me draw, nodding his head and tracing his finger across the page in imaginary lines, muttering drawing tips in Hindi.

The temple is an amazing place to go and take a break from the constant noise and hassle of Delhi. The only time my peace was interrupted was when a guy came and sat next to me and stared for five minutes, before loudly asking what my name was. His request echoed through the temple full of sitting silent people. I put a finger to my lips, not wanting to break the rules, and he said loudly, ‘Ah. Silence.’ and nodded his head, grinning.

On my way out I met a couple of Indian guys who wanted photos with me. They saw my sketching and asked if I would draw them. The temple was closing so I had to be super quick; I don’t think they were too happy with the results but they asked me to email it to them anyway, scribbling their address on the page.

They asked me what I did, and I told them I studied philosophy, because I do. The guy on the left said weirdly, ‘Ok, then you can read my face.’

I replied that I couldn’t because it was written in Hindi. He didn’t get the joke.

We got the bus to Manali the next day. It was terrifying and quite fun; we met a few crazy cats on the way. I’ll write about it soon.

Thanking you graciously for your generous reading, don’t forget to turn the oven off.

Jonny

An Excursion in Agra, Told in Jest From a Heavenly Perspective, with Another Stupid Poem

Agra is a place which is hot and full of rickshaws

Saw a famous building and Charlotte got a bit bored

Got too hot

Saw the Red Fot

Sorry that was a typo I meant we saw the Red Fort

Hello friends. Because I am bored this blog is narrated from the perspective of God.

In the Beginning, my beloved children, Jonathan and Charlotte, saw the Taj Mahal. Bravely they woke up at five to get there for sunrise. However, My favour did not smile upon them that day, for the previous day Jonathan had sinned, gorging himself gluttonously on sweet Indian cheeses. The Taj Mahal costs about a tenner to get in for foreigners, a relative fortune in India. (In order to purchase the ticket, they had to hire several elephants to carry the huge stacks of money to the ticket office). In punishment for my son Jonathan’s terrible greed, I Made it so the ATM they had planned to use was broken. This meant that the sun had already come up by the time they reached the Taj Mahal, and they had risen that day pointlessly early. Lol.

It was the second time my good son Jonathan’s eyes were graced by the Taj Mahal. He thought it looked quite nice. Charlotte thought it was ‘too small’ and ‘not as white as she’d imagined’. Nonetheless they had a gay time, meandering around taking photographs and sniggering.

When the sun was at its highest in the sky, my children exodused to another of Agra’s wicked spots, the Red Fort. This place is where Shah Jahan, who built the Taj, was imprisoned by his son. A very naughty son he was. Jesus wouldn’t have done that.

Jonathan and Charlotte had an incredibly gay time at the fort. It is large with many ornate arches and beautiful walled terraces. There is a view of the Taj from the balcony which is well spectacular. I Take the credit for this view. A picture of inside the fort can be seen on Charlotte’s blog. http://lottepress.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/agra/

After they had had their fill of the glorious sights, Jonathan and Charlotte made their way to the train station, to go to Delhi. It was spine meltingly hot, with not a cloud to be seen, and Jonathan my son felt as if he was going to vom from the heat. Luckily I Took mercy upon his soul and sent down two Prophets who allowed them to sit with them in their reserved compartment, instead of where they were meant to be on the train, the non-reserved carriage, crammed full of people, in which they would surely have chundered everywhere.

The moral of this story, my children, is that you should never gorge yourself on too many sweet cheeses, or the ATM will surely be broken. If ye visit Agra, be sure to see the Fort as well as the Taj, for Jonathan and Charlotte found it a most captivating sight. Watch out for rickshaw men, the demonspawn of my Fallen son Lucifer, for they will try to rip you off, and take you to souvenier shops without you asking. I bless you children, for reading this blog. Word.