('On-line' text of)

'VIA RISHIKESH - A HITCH-HIKER'S TALE'
An account of hitch-hiking from England to Europe,
North Africa, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan & India in 1970

by Paul Mason
© Paul Mason 2006

 

Chapter 16

PROPER - IN PYJAMAS

Today, for the first time since we left London Yolanda digs out her make-up and titivates herself in an attempt to cultivate a 'respectable' secretarial image for herself. We are on a mission to locate the Indian High Commission and obtain the precious visa for Yolanda. We don't discuss what would happen if we fail, the idea is just unthinkable!

Outside the High Commission stands a armed soldier wearing a bright red starched turban. Yolanda approaches alone, gains admission, and completes an application. She re-emerges and rejoins me where I wait some way up the road, she seems confident that the visit has been successful, we will have to wait and see.

Whilst we are here in Karachi I think to look up the family of an old friend of mine, Hikmat Khaleeli. Optimistically I scan the phone book but after searching the family name by a variety of spellings I am disappointed, and conclude they must be ex-directory.

Walking the streets of the city we swelter in the mounting humidity. Hand-painted hoardings make interesting reading, advertising as they do services from palmistry to sexology to medical treatment of specific ailments such as urinary problems. At the sight of a naked couple walking down the middle of the street I am left baffled and confused, (surely it isn't normal to walk around naked?). The more we explore Karachi we wonder that we find no evidence of any business convention, so we are left to wonder about what caused our accommodation difficulties.

We needed more Pakistani money and after finding that the government rate is a mere twelve rupees to the pound, we become a little more interested in the repeated offers of black market exchange. The best rate seems to be twenty rupees to the pound and after making an exchange we are left temporarily flush, leaving us with more than enough to buy a good meal from the profits.

Back at the hotel I get talking to an English chap in the next room. He has bought himself an unusual musical instrument, which he is in the process of packing up and sending it home. He confides to me the nature of the 'extra' contents he has included in the parcel but urges me not to tell the American girl, who is also staying in our hotel.

'She's with the Peace Corps man. She's a spy! If she found out I'd get bust for sure.'

It is odd that he trusts me, a complete stranger? But I have better things to worry myself about than someone sending black hashish home. In the back of my mind lurks a worry about a visa.

* * *

Yolanda is due to return to the High Commission today and again she tidies her hair and adorns herself with a little makeup. As I wait for her I focus only on a positive outcome to her visit. When she returns she waves her passport triumphantly.

'They have given me a three month visa!' Yolanda beams.

'Now that's more like it! Well done!'

'And they gave me these brochures, and a map of India. They were really nice to me, extremely polite,' Yolanda says surprised.

'So should I go back and try and get you a six month visa,' I joke.

'You wouldn't?' Yolanda asks, at once becoming very serious. There has been so much unspoken worry over the visa since the incident in Islamabad.

'Let's get two bottles of Benz and some biscuits,' I urge. 'It's time to celebrate.'

* * *

With no reason to delay we are up early and back on the road out of Karachi. As we wait for a lift in the direction of Lahore, we both have one thing on our minds: -

'Another bottle of Shezan. Another bottle of Benz. Yes let's!'

Again and again we buy these drinks from one of the nearby stalls that have been storing the precious bottles of nectar on blocks of ice to refrigerate them.

'I could get addicted to mango juice,' Yolanda confides.

'I already am!' I admit.

We have along way to go to get to Lahore and the journey proves to be some of the most rigorous and grinding yet. The highway is in a state of very poor repair and travelling in Japanese replicas of European cars the road seems even worse than I remember it from before. We eat little on the way, stopping only to eat at wayside cafes where we have the choice of several preparations served from a row of billycans. The main dish is overcooked over-spiced vegetable matter with pieces of bone; the other cans contained a variety of dubious looking liquids. But we eat what is available and submit to the supposedly inevitable long-running difficulties in the toilet department.

The trip is really turning into a nightmare, as night and day we suffer heat, discomfort and tiredness. But at last after two days and nights of sleepless travelling near Lahore, our destination.

Wherever we go in Pakistan I enjoy the sight of these hand built and attractively painted goods vehicles. When stuck behind an oil tanker, the landscape painting on the back alleviates at least some of our impatience.

We are dropped off on the outskirts of Lahore but it is not long before a large Bedford truck pulls up. The vehicle is built up in the Afghan style and similarly decorated. We climb up high to a wooden turret that has been constructed above the cab and stand alongside a band of turbaned workers and their shovels.

Lahore is a big shock for us; it is so busy, crazily busy and so noisy. At least it is in the area where we stay the night; it even seems to have a slightly sinister feel about it. We are therefore pleased and relieved to get the chance to meet with a fellow European who proves helpful too, telling us how we need to obtain a permit to travel the road to the Indian border and also telling us where to get it. Where would we be without the continual flow of advice from others, concerning visas and the like?

We go to pick up some cigarettes, and Yolanda seizes on one of the packs and points at it excitedly.

'Kappa dooay, Kappa dooay,' she chants, 'See there, the picture on the box, it's a very famous mountain.'

'Never heard of it,' I confess, turning the box over in my hands and studying the image of the K2 Mountain. But it's a timely reminder that we are near to some very high mountains, that feels good in itself.

We return to our windowless room, padlock ourselves in for the night and try and get some shut-eye.

* * *

In the morning we have little difficulty in locating the Ministry of the Interior and are supplied the necessary chits which give permission for us to travel along the restricted road to the border. For the sum of two rupees apiece we obtain bus seats and are soon headed off down the dusty track, but the trip is much longer than I expect and it is mid-afternoon before we arrive at the Pakistani customs of Ganda Singh Wala.

I have heard that car owners have to pay a significant amount of money at the border in order to take their cars in, but nothing prepares me for the sight of fields full of hundreds of abandoned vehicles. Apparently, the owners either deposit the value of the car and take it into India, or leave it in a field here to be reclaimed later when they leave the country.

We don't have a car to worry about but we do have our own concerns as someone has told me that I can't import any rupees into India or I will be in deep trouble. Rather than ask at the border whether the rumour is true or not I make a quick decision to hide the rupees in my underpants and hope for the best.

At the customs post on the Indian side of the border, a worryingly intelligent young woman who reminds me much of my elder sister Margaret deals me with. I do my best to conceal my anxiety about the concealed roll of banknotes. She eyes me carefully and exchanges a few words with me before turning to the next in line without first acquainting herself with the contents of my underpants.

We have made it to India! We are here in India! At last! Amazing, amazing, amazing!

I take a look at stamp in my passport; it states simply;
'ENTRY 16-10-70 Hussainiwala Distt, Ferozepore' - not even a mention of India! Oh well, we're here, and that's all that counts!

  We follow the flow of other new arrivals along a path beside a wide still river. There is also a disused railway track, which presumably used to connect the two countries.

'We're here! Do you know, it's taken us almost twelve weeks by my reckoning?'

'I've lost all track of the time,' Yolanda murmurs happily.

I find it difficult to come to terms with the reality that we have finally arrived in India, but we have!

As yet we have seen no one praying to a tree but my attention is drawn to the riverbank opposite where I notice a group of colourfully clad women wandering to and fro amongst the trees near the water. I stay watching them awhile noticing that a soft light emanates from the area where they are gathered. As I stare at the spectacle, the figures seem to fade so I watch with greater attention, but their forms appear to evaporate and do not re-appear! I am confused, how could the women just disappear into thin air and leave no trace, how could they be there one minute but not the next?

We continue along the pathway until we come to a large throng of travellers who are gathered outside a large building, which I soon discover, is a railway terminus. Amongst the crowd I spot a couple of Europeans.

'Are you going to Amritsar?' one of them enquires. 'You can stay in the Golden Temple for free. Just watch out for the bed bugs and don't smoke,' he cautions.

'Where are you off to?' I ask, 'Are you going to Amritsar now?'

'We're catching the train to Delhi…. It will leave in a few minutes,' he informs me and then he pads off to the ticket office.

'What do you reckon?' I ask Yolanda, my eyes fixed on the coal black steam locomotives that wait to pull away the waiting train.

'Yes, let's,' she declares.

Of course, I have heard about Indian trains, that some passengers cling onto the sides of the coaches whilst others sit on the carriage roofs. Fortunately, this train is not like this, but it is very crowded with no seats available, but we find an empty corridor and settle down there. The smell of smoke and the unmistakable sound of compressed steam fills my senses before a blast a high-pitched shrill whistle then loosens my earwax, and we are off!

As I have been led to believe the train is destined for Amritsar I wonder how long we will be on the train. I pay careful attention to the passing station names, hoping and wishing that we will soon arrive at our destination. As time rolls on, more and more passengers cram themselves into the now crowded train. I ask one of them when we due into Amritsar.

'Amritsar nahin. Is train Delhi ko.'

I get his drift immediately, the train isn't going to Amritsar after all, and instead we are bound for India's capital, Delhi. We could get off but as the night has well and truly set in, it seems crazy to get off the train now, so we settle down and accept the inevitability of another long journey ahead of us. Our spot in the corridor turns out to be a magnet for dozens of passengers who come from neighbouring coaches to use the toilet, which is situated only a couple of feet from where we sit. A rank odour wafts our way from time to time, so we have to get used to holding our breath and blocking our noses for long periods on end, but the smell worsens as more and more passengers keep piling in.

At the frequent station stops more and more people climb aboard the train, many of them are clutching brief cases.

'Where are you from? Englandstan?' we are asked again and again.

'Yes, from England. From London actually.'

'London? Proper London?'

'Yes. Proper London,' I tell them, somewhat confused as to just where improper London might be.

The other passengers rummage amongst their luggage and produce food and drink which they offer to share with us. We are offered advice on the best places to visit in India. We are told to go and see the Taj Mahal in Agra, encouraged to see Bombay, Calcutta and Madras too.

Time moves slowly as the train clatters along on its long journey across through the darkness. I am getting more and more uncomfortable and yearn to get off the train and breath some fresh air. My skin has become very itchy, I rub and scratch my arms, legs, face and head, my whole body becomes ever more sore. Yolanda and myself have come to dread anyone coming and opening the toilet door, and when they do we cover our faces and then almost throw up at the stench, things are getting really grim! As we sit hunched uncomfortably over our belongings a new day gradually dawns, but it hardly seems the best way to enjoy the start of our first proper day in India. Oh well.

We still have a long time to go before we arrive in Delhi, and when the train finally stops, the ensuing panic as hordes of people try to get off at the same time is truly alarming. We are engulfed in a surging sea of hurrying Indians and we are swept ever closer towards the ticket barrier. What can I say, I wonder?

'We've lost our tickets,' I blurt out. The ticket collector just smiles at us and moments later we find ourselves standing on the station concourse. We make for the exit where the brightness of the morning sun causes us to squint as we stand and take our first sight of Delhi.

'Hotel sahib. I take you good hotel,' comes a voice.

'Cheap hotel, come I take you,' another voice tells us.

'You come with me, do not listen to these fellows,' says someone else and he grips me firmly by my sleeve.

But I am in no mood to argue and with his help I see an opportunity to escape the crazy din of the railway station. So, in the company of our guide and the few other travellers he also leads along, we find ourselves shepherded through the bustling streets near the station to a quieter, calmer neighbourhood.

We enter a complex of low attractive redbrick dwellings and our guide persuades us to take some tea with him and await the proprietor of the establishment. In the shaded courtyard we sip our cups of scalding over-sweet milky tea. Then a middle-aged lady clad in white cloth wound around her, wearing a red mark on her high forehead, joins us and offers to show us a room. Yolanda seemed hesitant; she gives me a pleading look.

'It's early yet,' I announce, 'we would like to see more of Delhi before getting a room.'

We find our way back on to the street where we instantly notice the mouth-watering smell of food cooking on a snack stall.

'Let's have one of those,' Yolanda encourages.

'Potato cakes are my favourite,' I happily admit.

The fried potato cakes are simply scrumptious, they do not just contain potato but are also stuffed full of herbs and spices and served with a portion of chutney too. About us birds twitter and squawk, seemingly responding to the blare of horns coming from the plague of cars and motor-rickshaws. I notice a corpulent businessman reclining on the back seat of a cycle-rickshaw, his dark waistcoat alone announces his status, for otherwise he is dressed normally with long white shirt over a white skirt-like arrangement and wearing open sandals on his feet.

Wherever we wander voices greet us, some offer us hotels and some offer hashish, all are open and friendly asking questions such as: -

'You where coming?'

'London, from England,' we tell them

'London proper, proper London?'

We nod.

An arm clutched at me and thrusts a hand-rolled cigarette in between my lips. I inhale and am not surprised to taste the sweet pleasant taste of hashish smoke; I exhale it through my nostrils. Yolanda tries some too before handing the cigarette back to its smiling owner who then disappears into the crowds.

'Hotel, hotel hippy hotel,' an eager voice cries out, 'Come this way.'

I look to where he is pointing and notice some frayed and emaciated Europeans. I walk over to where they are.

'Comment ca va?' they ask.

'Hi, do you speak English?' I ask hopefully.

Perplexed, they turn to one another, and then someone else is called over; 'Deutsh, sprocken zee Deutsh?'

'Nien Deutsh sprocken zee, I'm afraid,' I try.

'Hey I'm English man,' says a rather pop-eyed passer-by. 'Are you staying at the Green?' As he seems to have difficulty in speaking, my belief is that he is mightily stoned.

We prefer to look further, for a place to stay and someway down the road we come to a signboard for the 'Eagle Hotel'. Stumbling up the steep staircase we enter a cool and extremely tidy room where a group of men are sat about on polished wooden high-backed chairs.

'You are looking for manager?' a Spike Milligan voice asks.

I look at him hard for not only does he sound like Spike Milligan, he also looks a lot like him too. I laugh out loud and the men laugh too. This decides us; we have to stay here, as we like the atmosphere.

We are shown to the top floor where washing is hung across the stairway. The manager opens the padlock and shows us into a low whitewashed room with two rope-strung beds. We decide to take the room and before getting comfortable we first deal with the monotonous duty of filling out the dread registration forms (I even have to give them my father's Christian name). Then we return to our room and unpack our toiletries and towels. I open the shutters revealing a barred aperture in the fragile wall. As we settle down to rest for a few minutes, a bird flies in to have a quick look around and then sits itself outside and sings.

Downstairs there is a restaurant and we decide to order up an early lunch. We order vegetable pilao (fried rice, peas and potatoes) and to quench our thirst we try the fresh lime juice, I would recommend it anytime.

We go back upstairs and laze around, gazing at the view of the local houses, shops and lanes of Old Delhi. I need to sew up my jeans where they have been coming adrift at the seams, to my amusement I discover that they fairly well stand up without me inside them, so it is clear we also need to wash some of our clothes. But that could wait until tomorrow, today I really need to buy some new shoes; the cracked sole has been pinching my foot since it came apart in Algeria, they just have to go.

Out on the balcony we meet some of our fellow guests, both Indians and westerners; we fraternise with them awhile.

'Where are you going?' comes the repeated question.

'Hmm, we've only just arrived,' I protest.

What with all the travelling we have been doing, I have had no thought for where we are going, only just in getting to India reasonably quickly, whilst the money lasts. But I realise that we will soon have to work out where we want to visit, now we are here.

Whilst we were on the road, I had entertained a vague image of Yolanda and myself drifting about the roads of India learning the language and perhaps finding some sort of solace amongst the religious people here. Now we are here that all seems a bit desperate and unnecessary. But we still have no clear idea where we should head.

Goa seems the most popular destination; from what I can gather it is a palm beached drug taker paradise down the coast somewhere. We have not come all this distance just to re-involve ourselves in the company of people who are stoned out of their minds. I wrack my brains to think of somewhere I want to go and come up with nothing. But I have an idea that rather than go somewhere it might be better to go and visit someone. I vaguely remembered that The Beatles had visited India a couple of years ago. Now where did they go? I recalled they had gone to stay with some old bearded philosopher fellow and, of course there was Ravi Shankar who had taught George Harrison to play sitar.

I do some research and discover that Ravi Shankar comes from Bombay and that the philosopher guy is called the Maharishi, and that he has a place to the north of Delhi, towards the Himalayas, at a town called Rishikesh.

'Which is closest?' I ask pulling out the government tourist map Yolanda had been given in Karachi.

I locate Bombay on the map, and then we find Rishikesh. Bombay seems a long way away, several days journey perhaps, whilst Rishikesh is much closer, perhaps only a day's journey, by my reckoning. Because of my passion for music I am drawn to find out more about Indian instruments from Ravi Shankar, but as Rishikesh is nearer, it makes sense to visit there first.

'I'd like to go and see the Maharishi,' Yolanda tells me, bubbling over with enthusiasm, 'I told you I was interested in him didn't I? My boss Mr. Lions went to see him, he told me so.'

I'm not much bothered where we go, just so long as we have a destination in mind. But for the time being, the idea of staying around in Delhi for awhile holds quite an appeal, I am happy here.

'What do you think of the place?' I ask another guest that evening, as we stand on a terrace and watch the lamp-lit comings and goings in the street below.

'What do you mean? Delhi? Just another city, yeah, just another city man.'

'What?' I gasp, 'Really?'

But he doesn't have anything further to say on the subject so I bid him goodnight.

* * *

Waking up I remember where I am, and am elated that we have actually arrived here in India, now all we have to do is breathe it in. Before going out we breakfast at the downstairs restaurant and then descend on to the street and become engulfed in the hustle and bustle. Bicycle bells ring merrily and there is a constant fanfare of car horns and motor scooter hooters resounds as we dodge through the traffic, walk past the hippy hotel and make our way on to the market place at Chandni Chowk. Here, stalls are piled high with a multitude of products attractively arrayed. I have no desire to buy anything, just to look. We pass a shop selling brass objects and amongst the gleaming stock of vases and bowls I spot some perpetual calendars. Amazingly clever devices, which give calendar dates for as long as several decades, just by twisting two discs of metal engraved with days, months and years. I recognise them as our family has one of these, back in London; my parents had been given it as a wedding present, I think.

'I really feel like spending now!' I announce gleefully, looking over at a row of clothing shops. Since every other shop seems to sell either clothes or shoes, we are spoilt for choice as to where to go.

I ask to see some shirts, long loose white ones, I also ask to see some trousers too.

'Kurta, kurta is shirt. You want kurta payjama pants!' he shouted.

He brings me a pair of white cotton lightweight trousers and a large shirt with intricate embroidery around the collar. I imagine the 'elephant' trousers will be more comfortable in this extreme heat than my denim jeans. Yolanda seems very keen on my purchase.

'For me too,' she insists.

The shop owner scowls at her and shows her instead some feminine looking clothes.

'For you lady, shalwar kamiz. Yes!'

'Kamiz that's similar to chemiz the French word for shirt,' she explains to me.

'Paul, I want the same shirt like you are getting, and the trousers too.'

We both put pressure on the shopkeeper to bring a set of whites for her. At first he resists but eventually, after a lot of cussing, he orders an assistant to find a shirt and trousers in her size. I detect she is very pleased with herself as she now wears a smug look on her pretty face.

Clasping our neatly wrapped purchases, we move on to a nearby shoe shop wear I pick up a pair of sandals. In fact I scour many shops in search of a pair marked as Anthony described (stamped to certify the cow died a natural death), but without success. But I find a pair I fancy, ones that have a circle of leather to hold the big toe connected to a wide strap which holds the foot, all sewn with gold braiding. However, the heel and sole are very stiff and unyielding to the touch, though Yolanda encourages me to buy them saying they will soon 'wear in'.

'Kalapuri chapal. Best. Excellent quality sandals,' the shopkeeper persuades.

I buy them.

To round off the shopping trip we buy some bananas, clementines, various toiletries, a small package of Surf washing powder, a packet of incense (locally referred to as agarbatthi) and our shopping spree is done. Eager to try on our new clothes we get back to the hotel as soon as possible and get the clothes extracted from the limp brown paper and string that secures them.

'They'll need washing first, they're full of starch,' Yolanda counsels. 'I'll sew the buttons on too. I wonder why they don't come with them on. Whatever! It won't take me long to put them on.'

So it is that we spent most of the remainder of the day bathing, hair washing and cleaning our clothes. With both my jeans and new pyjamas out drying on the roof, I don my Moroccan djellaba. I light a joss stick, its softly perfumed smoke seems to refresh my sense of smell; I haven't lit any incense in several months. I relax and read the tourist leaflets, well, I give them a 'once over' anyway.

From time to time I check whether the whites are dry yet as I am getting impatient to wear mine. Before they are properly dried I have got into them and am posing in front of the landing mirror. They look great! I try the sandals too, but they feel stiff and awkward, but I am consoled that at least they look brilliant.

All in all, we've had a good first day in Delhi, and agree that tomorrow we will set off for Rishikesh.

* * *

'It's Monday today. The traffic will probably be better than if we'd gone yesterday,' I comment somewhat inanely.

'Probably,' Yolanda replies graciously.

My sandals squeak and they rub my toes and ankles too, but this does not stop me from enjoying my new outfit, I love it.

We have only a vague idea which route we should walk out of Old Delhi. First we head back to the railway station and notice it looks changed. It occurs to me that perhaps we are disorientated and that it is a different station. Yes, most probably that is what has happened. As we walk on, a vast red sandstone fort looms into view. We stop to examine a poster on the wall, which proclaims a forthcoming attraction here: - 'Son e Lumiere at the Red Fort'.

We walk on and as we do I notice a car stopping near us, a large black family car.

'Can I offer you a ride,' a suave voice calls to us.

Unhesitatingly, we accept the invitation and climb in. We exchange names; his is Vijay, Vijay Mathur.

'I had a school friend called Deepak Mathur. Is he one of your family?'

'The name Mathur means we come from the city of Mathura, the holy city of Lord Krishna's birth,' he explains.

'Oh, I see, that makes it easy doesn't it?'

'Tell me, what is your father's profession?' he asks

'Physicist, Atomic Physicist amongst his jobs. Now he has passed on.'

'He was a clever man! Where are you going to, have you seen the Red Fort?'

'Yes, we just passed it. Now we are going to Rishikesh.'

'That is good, it is a very holy place, you will be blessed. Unfortunately I cannot go with you, much as I would like to.'

Vijay stops the car and fumbles in his pocket.

'Here, take this for your bus fares. And this is my card, show it at the J.K. Ashram in Haridwar and the servant there will give you a room. My family is connected with this place.'

'Are you sure it will be all right?'

'You are very welcome. When you return to Delhi give me a call. Keep well! You must know that they do not have proper facilities so far from the city.'

'That's really nice of you, thank you very much.'

'Don't mention it. The money should be enough for the bus fare, you catch it on this road, up there.' he directs.

We wave him goodbye.

'What a nice guy,' we both agree.

We walk on and pass a piece of waste ground where a man with a monkey entertains a small group of children. On seeing us coming, he feverishly rotates a small drum with little spherical clappers, which beat the skins loudly and the monkey dances about and performs.

'Poor little thing,' Yolanda whispers.

'Let's walk on,' I breathe.

The road leads us to a long iron bridge, which spans a broad lazy-running river, the River Yamuna. I am aware that the rucksack is cutting into my shoulders so I unstrap it and let it down on the ground, and then I pick up and grasp it in my arms, the swirling waters below seem to cry out for my load. It is tempting, so very, very tempting.

'Would you mind if I chucked the bag in?' I ask.

'What are you talking about? Of course I would,' Yolanda answers.

We have no reason to hang on to all this clutter, but then, maybe one day soon it would come in useful. I hope so, for if not, it will have to go.

On the far side of the bridge we find a young chap selling bananas, huge clumps of them. For only a rupee he sells me twenty of the ripe fruits and we get stuck into a healthy breakfast.

I figure this as good a place as any to hitch a lift and while we wait I get to ponder about the nature of happiness. It occurs to me, for the very first time, that it is impossible to simultaneously experience happiness and unhappiness. I cannot see any merit in experiencing unhappiness, whereas happiness always feels right. I pursue this idea further and wonder if perhaps we actually have a real choice in the matter of whether we are happy or sad. I decide to test this theory by actually choosing to be happy! I am exhilarated at the implications of this idea, and I sense that I will have something to discuss with this Maharishi fellow, when I get to meet him. I wonder whether we will get along with one another? I feel confident that we will.

There are few vehicles on this road, just the odd cyclist and the occasional truck, so when the grey government bus swing around the corner I hail it and Yolanda and I climb on. We buy tickets to Hardwar from the conductor and sit ourselves down and begin enjoy the ride.

The first town we come to is Meerut, which, according to the pamphlet I had been reading back in Delhi, was the sight of a 'mutiny' during the British rule. Through the bus window I spot a rare sight, a cemetery, no doubt harking back to the time of the British. As the bus navigates the twisting streets of the town I spot a hand-painted sign for a 'Milk Bar'; it sounds like just the place for a stop. But the bus doesn't even slow and we are soon out of town and back onto the open road. Through the lush plains we race glimpsing the sights of rural India, bicycles piled high with vegetation swerve unsteadily as the bus overtakes them. Speeding through villages and towns we drink in the sights of the curious shops and chaay houses and the colourfully clad women carrying bundles on their heads. Everywhere we go we see the signs of religious worship, from small shrines by the roadside to impressive domed temples freshly whitewashed and gleaming in the sun.

Not all the passengers are going to Hardwar, some get on only few miles whilst others stay on a while longer, the ticket collector seems surprisingly busy. The bus is held up in a queue of cars, and I look to see what the delay is. A train approaches pulled by a massive gleaming steam locomotive, which chugs across the road crossing hauling a long line of carriages, the air is filled with pungent smoke smelling of bad eggs.

The traffic now moves forward and soon a range of pretty green hills came into view to the right hand side of the road.

'We must be getting near the Himalayas,' I remark excitedly.

'Sivaliks, they Sivalik Parvat are,' a passenger informs us.

'Haridwar! This Haridwar, sahib,' the conductor shouts.

Alighting from the bus, I ask about for directions to the ashram.

But nobody seems to have heard of J.K. Ashram and we start to despair of ever finding the place. Only after much walking and worrying do we eventually locate its whereabouts, we knock at the door and a thin shabbily dressed man opens the door, clearly the servant Vijay told us about. He looks at us suspiciously, so I show him the business card try to explain our situation. Unfortunately, he seems to understand no English, but this does not prevent him showing us to a spacious room sporting the most enormous double bed.

In the circumstances we think it safe to entrust our bags to his care and set off to discover the town of Hardwar (or Haridwar, as many seem to call it). We look about for somewhere to eat, hoping to find a vegetable pilao as good as the one we ate at Eagle Hotel in Delhi, we are lucky and enjoy a hearty meal. We also visit a chemist shop, in search of tampons for my girlfriend, then we return to our lodgings. Our baggage has been put in our room and the bed has been freshly made up with clean sheets on the beds. For us the room is incredibly luxurious compared to hotel we have stayed in during our travels. I explore a little and notice that there is a door that opens out to some slippery stone steps that lead down to a wide river.

'This is the Ganges,' Yolanda informs me, 'the Indians consider it holy, you know.'

'Yes some time ago I saw a film about India, by some French guy. The way it looked in the film was that musicians played on every street corner. The only music we've heard so far has been from the radio sets apart from the records on the jukebox back at the Eagle. I really like the records here, the pop ones, they're so psychedelic, fantastic stuff! Actually, I like them even more than the Moroccan records we heard, and that's saying something.'

We go back inside the room and I lock the door, so as to prevent anyone sneaking in. I think about the water outside, it looks so very deep and dangerous and I have been apprehensive about deep water since I had some unpleasant experiences as a child, going out of my depth. But as I think about the river here I feel an unusually deep sense of peace and contentment within myself. Things seemed to be looking up for us both.

 

To 'Via Rishikesh' Chapter 17

 

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