The Reality Trek

Hello Friends,

Back in September, I was able to postpone the story of my trek due to technical issues. I say “able” as there was also the  feeling of being overwhelmed by how to describe this experience in a way that would be enjoyable to you all. It was only four days but those were very full unusual days. I have come to the point of publication at last. I have gone for a nice balance of words and photos.

Enjoy, Kundan

Himalayan Mountain Yatra 2012

When I first conceived this adventure, it was along the lines of what I later wrote in my invitation. I had this romantic vision of tramping through the mountains to our day’s destination and, after setting up camp, we trekkers finding comfortable spots with vistas to inspire for a long sitting meditation. My using the word ‘romantic’ should alert you to the fact that the actual yatra was a very different experience.

I had been enjoying a bit of excellent R&R at Orchard Hut for a week before my compatriots, Kerry and David arrived for our venture. Prakash had been saying that this was going to a ‘recon’ trek in preparation for other future treks. I was not inclined to take this attitude. I can now say that I have changed my mind. Using maps and photos, Prakash had proposed two alternative routes for our trek. At first, I leaned towards the one that would finish at a small high altitude lake. When it sank in that this route included six hours of completely uphill climbing on a steep ridge in one day, the light went on and we settled on the other route. David and Kerry went through it all with Prakash when they arrived and agreed to the proposed route. Two days at Rupili (a trekking hut that the Dhami’s had built on a 2200 metre high ridge. During the second day we would take a trek up to a higher ridge with great views. Third day, a shorter walk through forests to Khubi at 2800 metres. Overnight there and, then, to Sundarani at 2500 metres. The fifth day would be a walk along another high ridge and back to Sundarani. Sixth day a short trek down to meet the jeeps that would bring us back to the place where we walk up the hill to Orchard Hut. As Kerry’s last name is Sunderland, she liked the sound of Sunderani. When Prakash explained that ‘Sundar’ means beautiful and ‘Rani’ means queen, she liked it even more. So, that was the plan.

Day one arrived and we were all packed and ready to go. Then, there were forms to sign and valuables to be put in bags and taped up and signed to be kept securely for us by Prakash. Suddenly it was time to go!

GroupPhoto

Notice the hats we were wearing. Our Himachal Pradesh hats for the occasion. David’s was too small, mine was too big and Kerry’s was just right! (Lucky we didn’t run into Goldilocks along the way or she would have taken Kerry’s hat.) Kerry and I used ours in the evenings and were happy to have them. David had a flash hat that he had brought along for evenings. I must, at this time, fill you in on our qualifications for this trek. David is from the south island of NZ and has a lot of experience at mountain trekking. Kerry has done a lot of bushwalking in Australia which she loves. If you are familiar with the geography of Australia, you may remember that changes in altitude is not mentioned very often in most of the country. Myself, well I had done a lot of short two hour walks in the mountains surrounding Chichibu, Japan where I go to study my shakuhachi. The trails that I am accustomed to are mostly well maintained and wide. I was to discover a very different set of circumstances.

We were carrying daypacks. Here’s Porters Packingwhat the porters were carrying!

We immediately headed upwards. We were to go from 1350 metres to 2200 metres in 9 kilometres that day. That’s 900 metres in 9 kilometres. That’s a ten to one ratio. I don’t know if that’s relevant to anything but it’s an interesting number. After a couple minutes of climbing, we came to an easy path that ran around the contours of the mountain. It was only maybe ten minutes before we were climbing for a short while coming out onto a road! This was surprise. Happily, we were on the road for only a few hundred metres. What happened in those few hundred metres is that Kundan made his first major mistake of the day. In the pictures, you will see that he is carrying a large blue daypack that was lent to him by the Dhamis as his ultralight daypack was too small to be carrying his flute and the few essentials that we carried for use while walking. One of these essentials was a water bottle that was sitting on the side of the pack. While on the stretch of road, we were in direct mid-day sun and Kundan does not do well in such conditions. He rapidly started to flush from the heat. When he reached for the bottle, he discovered that it would require stopping to take off one side of the pack to reach said bottle. Rather than stop for such an operation he kept going. Big mistake! Even though it was a short time in minutes before our next rest stop, Kundan was severely weakened. He rehydrated but this short interlude was to haunt him later. [Lesson 1- ease of access to water supply. I’ll be carrying a hydration bladder in future walks]

1stRest

This first stop on our way was a very pleasant outlet for a spring and we all enjoyed the shade.

Next section was uphill and, though the trail was easy, the climb had our hero exhausted quickly. Our trek leader, Manu, noticed this elderly gentleman struggling up the path and made a stop very soon along the way at a family shrine with a lovely view. That was a fifteen minute stop and when we continued, the slowest in the group had rallied, was no longer ‘elderly’ and we made good progress to our lunch stop. One of many small shrines that we passed along the way.

herdingGoatsAlthough we had risen in altitude a bit by lunchtime, we were still passing through villages and we could hear children at play in a school below us. We were to find people living year round for much of the way up the mountain.

It was during this first days climb that I began to realise that what I, a novice mountain climber, considered ‘moderate’ and what an experienced climber considered ‘moderate’ were two very different things.

As we moved in between and beyond the permanent homesteads and villages, we were on trails that were either animal tracks or small rivulets that had been carved out of the mountain side. When these were steep was when I began to notice how my body was not in shape for such an adventure. My left knee began to make itself known as uncomfortable when we moved up the more steep parts of the trails. To compensate, I began to depend on my right leg to lift me through the more difficult stretches. This helped but, in the long run, my right hip began to ache. I wish that I had some photos to show what the trail was like but I was putting every last ounce of my energy into taking one more step, and, one more step, etc. When we reached the lavish trekking hut, I fell onto my bed to the shouting of my body, “What have you been doing to me?!!!”.

Rupili

HutBedroomHere’s the beautiful trekking ‘hut’ that was our abode for two nights.

Below is the wonderful bedroom that I fell into and enjoyed my first two nights of the trek. Such luxury.

As should be, the first day was the Ridgemost difficult.

In the following days, we experienced the grandeur of high ridges and the beauty of lush forests.

Forest

At times, we walked on trails that had changed because they were only animal tracks that get washed away and our guides had to find their way.

NomadHut

We saw nomad huts and settlements.

RoofSheepNomadGroomingKubbyKids

Our camping spots were near where kids were at play and everyday life continued despite the presence of these strange foreigners. Some of the nomads began moving down the mountain on our last day. The early leavers would travel by foot with their animals all the for hundreds of kilometres to their winter homes.

PitchingTent

We pitched our tents in stunning locations.Kraby

campfire

We had a campfire that was very romantic except that the wind kept changing.

moat

Then, it started raining.

Here’s Kerry with her moat and her throne.

We had a great time even though we returned a day early. Kerry, David and I got to know each other much more. We experienced our highs and our lows together. We laughed and we groaned together.  And, we all three became very fond and admiring of Manu and the porters. It was a great adventure. Below you will find a few more random pics. My flickr page has a collection of photos called Yatra 2012. It’s a mix taken by all three of us.

Notes-

After the trek, I discovered how mountain dwellers go downhill. As usual, I learned it the hard way. One morning we found ourselves moving down a mountainside in the rain on a trail that previous rains had etched out of an animal track. Many places had a slick mud that meant some close calls for Kerry and myself. David was revelling. I noticed that while Kerry and I were slowly picking our way along making not always successful attempts to stay upright in the mud (“Ow. Damn, I got dirt under my nails!) , David and the porters were zipping ahead.

While the three of Shoesus were in the latest gear, here is a photo of the kind of shoes that the porters were wearing.

A few days later, back at Orchard Hut, I went for an easy walk with some of the other guests. As we descended, there was a point where the trail went from the top to the bottom of a large boulder. There was a convenient notch half way down that we were able to use as a step to cautiously climb down. I was third in line and made it easily enough. Behind me was a woman from Switzerland. She just walked quickly down the side of the boulder! A light went on in my head. I began to watch the way the local boy who was leading us walked down the trail. He wasn’t ‘walking’ so much as skipping or bouncing down the hillside. His forward foot would just be pushing off from solid spots along the side of the trail. It was so fluid and effortless. I incorporated this method and was in heaven. Another lesson.

Prakash was correct in calling this a reconnoitre. If I were to do this trek again, now understanding the terrain and my own physical condition, I would make several changes to the routes. Mainly, I would make it an ‘easy’ trek rather than a ‘modHighRidgeerate’ trek. It would be possible and still have all of the really beautiful bits that we experienced plus the ridge walk that we didn’t get to do because of the rain.

The trekking in the mountains around Orchard Hut can offer many, many variations. While I was there, a couple who had been trekking in the Indian Himalayas since the 1960’s went off with a couple porters on a very full-on adventure into areas where foreigner’s are rarely seen.

As I’ve said before, just being at Orchard Hut is such a treat. To spend time in the beautiful natural setting that they have created on the mountain side and enjoy the company of the Dhami family is a very special treat. It is an excellent place for a bit of R and R.

As for my plans, the rest of 2013 will be a time of taking advantage of all the benefits of my home, Byron Shire. If I leave at all, it will only be a short trip to California. I need a good stretch of time being at home, doing the kinds of things that are difficult to do while travelling. As much as I love to travel, it is disruptive to routines. That is one of it’s virtues as well as one of it’s faults. It depends on what one needs. I’m ready to do the other for a while. I am back in Byron now, in the arms of my friends, the natural beauty and the great food. It was seven months away. So, take care all. I’ll still be writing to you. I have a special project that is taking shape and will be announced to the world before too long. I’ll keep in touch.

Cheers, Kundan

Kerry Hanging

Kerry Hanging Out

David

David’s Special Hat

ProneKundan

Kundan Prepares for Lunch

Springtime Arrives along with the Popepool

Arriving here at the end of winter has the great advantage of being able to get ecstatic about the first glimpse of spring while being knocked senseless for only few weeks by the bitter cold. It was so warm today, that I just had to go out for a nice bicycle ride and a hike up to the large park along the western ridges. The trees in blossom now are plums. The cherry blossoms are spectacular but not even budding. The plum blossoms announce the coming of warm weather and have special place in my heart.

Oh, about the popepool. The other day, I was outside moving gracefully through my tai chi form when I suddenly began coughing and gasping for air. It was The Smoke from the incinerating of the mechanics oily rags across the street. Sure enough, when I checked the news, they had elected a new pope. I was later to find out that my poor nephew had lost his entire life saving (I may be exaggerating a little) in the office pool to guess which name the new pope would change to. All of the news media have had to make a big thing about the selection of a new pope. Really doesn’t make a difference. It’s still the same old game. What’s important to me is that he didn’t choose to call himself Pope Kundan. Now, that would have been a worry. Would have had to change my name again.

RedPlum

WeepPLum

BeautyWins

Camellias

Farmer

Did I Mention It Snowed?

The last few times I arrived in Japan, I have felt a thrill at being back in this country. This time it was as the tires touched the tarmac. The earliest yet. I’m not sure what this thrill is about. I suspect it’s a mixture of being in an exotic place, which Japan will always be for me, and, returning to a place that I am so familiar with.

This trip, I arrived at Haneda Airport. It became a domestic only airport when Narita was built but in the last few years has begun taking international flights. I wish all my flights in and out of Tokyo were through Haneda. The immigration seemed to take a little longer but once through the gates, I was only 25 minutes from Ikebukuro Station by Airport Limousine Bus for only 1200 yen. This is so much much much much faster and cheaper than from Narita.

As usual, I dropped off my bigger bag at a delivery service. For less than $20.00 it would be delivered to my doorstep in Chichibu. The man told me that it would arrive in two days because it was going to snow the next day. He did not say that they “expected it to snow”, he said that “it was going to snow”. I liked his certainty in an uncertain world. On the bus going into the city, there was no sign of snow but I trusted him. As things would have it, I arrived too late at night to catch my train out to Chichibu, so, I had arranged to stay at Kimi Ryokan near Ikebukuro Station where I catch the train to Chichibu. It was nice budget accommodation. A 4 ½ mat room. (A tatami mat is approximately 1 x 2 mtres or yards. It was after midnight by the time I checked in, so, no bath only a shower. This was a great disappointment as the O-furo is one of my favourite Japanese experiences. My american made trailer does not have an O-furo. Ah, what so many people are missing.

41:2 Mat

So, as I was saying, the next morning, I was up and on my way to the train station. People had their umbrellas up to ward of the snow flakes but I just went without feeling my mustache freeze in the briskness of the air. The Red Arrow Limited Express to Chichibu. I’ve written of this train before. Reserved seats, coach class style with a conductor who bows and greets everyone when he enters the car. On outskirts of Tokyo, we began passing fields covered in snow and trees with branches with ribbons of white resting on them. I was really enjoying my nice warm seat on the inside of the window. I often read during the first part of the ride and start sightseeing once we start up the valley. This time, I just watched the whole way. Shortly after starting up the valley, we went through a long tunnel. As we came out, I was surprised by a landscape that was pure white. I felt a smile spread at the knowledge that this beauty was waiting for me.

SnowTrailer

So, that’s the snow. That was three weeks ago and it has only snowed once since then. That was a week after my arrival. Instead, it was bitterly cold. Nights got down to minus 8 C, 17 F. I was wearing my down jacket as one of five layers. The heater was getting a good workout. My sleeping bag hood came in handy to act as a warm cave to keep my head from freezing. Some days were better than others. The overcast days brought joy to my heart because it meant it would be warmer. Somehow, I survived.

Yes, friends, I have paid my dues and today, I began collecting them. It has been a warm sunny no wind day. 15 C, 59 F. Oh, the smile on my face as I walked around my neighbourhood. I was in only three layers. I went out shopping on my bike when I didn’t really need to buy anything. I took the long way to the market. An hour later, I just went out and rode around aimlessly until I remembered the antique shop that is way on the other side of town that I don’t usually go to because it’s so far.

Yes, life is beautiful!!!

Revitalised in Paradise

BaanSign

So, I left you as I was arriving at the Baan Hom Samunphrai “The House of Sweet Smelling Herbs”. http://www.homprang.com/

The two founders and carers for this place are Homprang and Christopher. I fell in love with Homprang the moment I met her. Unfortunately for me, she is married to this great guy Christopher. The first thing she did when she heard of my recent ailment was fix me a herbal rice soup with a mug of herbal tea. I was given a room and rested until dinner which was delicious as are all the meals here. Just being here on this two acre property is a treat. Lawns and trees, a pond, and old wooden houses that they bought locally, took apart and reassembled to Christopher’s designs with common areas on the ground and sleeping above.

BaanBuild

My room was upstairs in this building.

MedSala
The Meditation Sala where I played my flute.

InsideSala
Inside the Meditation Sala.

When I arrived, there was a class of four thai massage students in their last week. Three French and one American. (Classes are limited to eight students.) In my two weeks here, people have come and gone as students and as paying guests. We have our meals at a long table so that you get to see everyone as least at those times. We’re nine kms outside the centre of Chiang Mai, so, people don’t just drop in. Occasionally, someone will come all this way just for a massage. It’s worth it.

BaanDinner
This photo is unfortunately blurred. Sorry. It does give you and idea of dinner time. Standing is Christopher. The second person in on the right side is Homprang. Lots of young women around me at that time. That pepped me up.

My first massage here was on my second day. It was a ‘two hour full body massage’. Well, it went for two and three quarters of an hour and was one of the best therapeutic massages I’ve had in my long career of enjoying what life has to offer. None of my massages here have been less than two and a half hours. The credo here is to keep going until the massage is done. Nit, the woman who has been my massage therapist is this thin little woman who is very strong with incredible endurance. The first three of my five massages were two days apart but I found that I needed an extra day between for my body to fully integrate the changes. My last two massages included being massaged with hot herbal compresses during the second half. Want to melt your bones? That’s the way.

I must remember to mention the herbal steam baths I have been relishing every evening. How am I going to get one of those into my backpack?

Plunge
This is the plunge pool beneath the room where you receive massages. The door in the back leads into the steam bath.

I haven’t said much about Christopher and Homprang because there is so much to say about them and so much that can not be said about them. Homprang is this ball of energy and love who moves gracefully about with the ease of one who is in harmony with existence. She makes one smile in wonder. There is a brief bio at the bottom of the home page for their website. My next to last night I finally got Christopher to tell me how they met. He gave me her whole bio and it was a story that if you saw it in a film you wouldn’t believe it. Christopher is this soft spoken American poet who lived much of his life in Britian and is a wealth of fascinating knowledge about Thai culture and life. There’s a link to some of his poems and a brief bio on the homepage. The two of them join us all at the evening meal where we relax and wander in conversation. I am so happy to be one of their friends.

It only took me two days here to begin feeling sprightly again and every day since has been a day of increasing vitality. The last two weeks have been full of good company, loving care, transforming massages, delicious food and a peaceful environment.

If you are ever in Chiang Mai, visit this place. You will be happy you did.

Dream Crashing On The Way to Paradise

The plan was that I would arrive a day early in Chiang Mai and check into Sripoom House. Then, I would head over to my favourite restaurant that caters to westerners like me. There, I would pig out on delicious food that I could only dream of in India.

When I went south to Gudjarat and the ashram, I did not anticipate having to eat white rice, dahl, chapatis and overcooked veggies for the next three and a half months. I did import sea weed, vitamins, minerals and Super Green powder to supplement the Indian diet. It was not enough. (I now understand how much of an oasis the Poona ashram/commune/meditation resort was. We had the safest most varied diet in India. Even fresh salads that you could eat without fear of the usual tropical third world diseases that accompany such actions.) Even with the supplements and the Yang Cheng-Fu form, my body slowly lost it’s vitality. On top of that, I ran into a new to me Indian hazard. It’s called the loudspeaker.

When I first visited India in 1976, to own even a small radio was a luxury. In the early nineties, electronic goods, though more accessible, were still something special. Now, even a small mud and wattle shack has a satellite dish on the roof. Owning a sound system is common. The Narmada River is lined with ashrams and temples that all seem to have loudspeakers stuck at odd angles from their roofs. The various priests and sadhus think nothing of playing recordings of ‘devotional music’ and chanting at any time day or night. Two o’clock in the morning, there is a burst of very loud music for fifteen minutes. Or, maybe some chanting around that time that went on for an hour. The guy in the next village believed that everyone wants to hear ‘the name of god’ from 5:30 or 6:00 every morning at a volume so high that it sounded like he was outside my window. For nine years, my time of deep sleep had been from 5:30 in the morning. This was totally disrupted. Even when he slacked off a bit and turned down the volume, my body would be in stress while the music was playing. It was often beautiful music, it just was often too loud and at the wrong time of day. There was a nine day music festival that had the ‘music’ so loud that it was literally pounding on my body. Even the Indians in the ashram had trouble with it. For some reason, I was more sensitive to it and could not ‘just accept it’ as I was advised. The result was my never establishing a good sleep pattern once my old one was broken. And, of course, my body suffered from the tension.

So, why would I stay so long in such a place? A good question. The answer is a man named Baba Puranand Bharti. From my first meeting him at the ashram when he came for a brief visit, I knew that whatever discomfort I was going to suffer, it would be worth it to spend time with him. It was. To explain to my satisfaction would mean a very long dissertation that may not even make sense in the end. To be near Baba is to have the opportunity of experiencing a very deep state of bliss. During my time in his ashram, there were events and understandings of which I am very grateful. Much was an affirmation of my life’s trajectory and much was a deepening in my trust in existence. In addition, I made some very dear new friends and got to better know some already existing friends.

So, I stayed. And, had dreams of delicious meals that I would eat in Thailand.

My departure from India was through the Ahmedebad Airport. There was a four hour drive after lunch to arrive in the prescribed time. When I wheeled my cart past the army guards into the terminal building, I found myself at the end of long serpentine queue (line in ‘merican). It eventually ended at a single baggage scanner. It took half and hour to reach the scanner belt. Along the way, I had a feeling to avail myself of the services of the plastic wrap machine for my larger piece of luggage. As I stepped around the scanning machine to retrieve said bag, the man say’s “open your bag.” Those were not the words that I wanted to hear. I said, “what does she want to see?” (there was a woman in the driver’s seat.) He says again, “you have to open your bag.” I say in an exasperated tone, “what does she want to see?” To my amazement, the woman in the driver’s seat waves me through! So much for security.

I will skip the interminable waiting in the check-in queue and, then, the hour and a quarter late departure that I am sure was because of the inadequate number of check-in queues. Between the check-in and my gate, I bought a veggie burger. I had him microwave it to kill any life that might be lurking in it. Just filler for this hungry traveller.

There was a transit in Mumbai (Bombay) to a flight to Bangkok and, then, a short flight to Chiang Mai. I nibbled on three planes and in three airports. I slept maybe two hours. I got dropped at my guest house so tired that I was afraid I might not get as many meals in at my favourite restaurant as I was hoping.

I lay down on my bed waiting for sleep. Within the hour I was writhing in agony gulping in breaths. Then… Well I won’t go into the details of the experience of food poisoning. At some point during the day I had enough energy to yell out for help. No one heard me. When I eventually was able to make it to my room door, it was late at night. No one heard me. Some time in the early morning, I woke to find that I was over the hump and feeling better (very relative term here!).

In the morning, I extended my stay by four hours and paid extra for the damage. At two in the afternoon, I got a ride in a red truck out to Baan Hom Sumanphrai School of Thai Massage and Herbal Medicine. I arrived into the hands of the two most wonderful people. I was not a pretty sight.

Tick Another One Off the List

Dear Friends,
The good news is that I found out that I can get to Rajpipla and back by shared Jeep or rickshaw for only 10 rupees (20 cents) each way. Sounded preferable to risking life and limb on the back of a motorcycle. I have used this new mode of transport several times now.

Below is a photo of a normal rickshaw. It differs from the shared rickshaws in that the shared rickshaws have an extension on the back with two facing benches that are big enough to hold two small Indians each. I lost track of how many Indians actually fit in them. This is the first new rickshaw that I have ever seen in India. It won’t look like this for long.

NewRicshaw

My first time to catch a shared rickshaw, I walked the ten minutes out to the one lane paved road and waited only about ten minutes before a rickshaw pulled up.

As far as I could see, the shared rickshaw that stopped for me this time was full to over flowing. However, the driver waved me around to the other side and pointed to a space on the seat next to him. Well, there was a stray sadhu on the other side, so, I figured it was a legitimate way to go. The ride into town is ten minutes on winding country road with assorted bumps and potholes and, then, about five minutes on a two lane main road. The one cheek that fit onto my portion of the seat did fine. The rest of me was suspended between the hand clutching the roof strut and my foot on the edge of the floor was less than happy. Being set down in town was something that caused me considerable joy.

When I had finished my shopping, I was headed to the place where you catch the shared jeeps when up pulls the afore mentioned rickshaw. The driver smiles at me and indicates the same piece of his bench. I shake my head in horror. He understands and scoots over to give me a full portion. It’s hot and I don’t want to wait, so, I accept. This was a much more pleasant experience for yours truly. However, the man on the other side of the driver did not seem so pleased. When we turned off the main road, we came upon some construction at the railway crossing. The driver stopped and went to see what was happening. Everyone piled out to stretch their legs. I was just beginning to loosen the long ones when the driver came hurrying back and jumped on his seat. It was time to go! I hopped on my side only to discover that the man on the other side had slyly taken a full portion in my absence and I was back to one cheek again. I made it home.

So, not being one to be dissuaded by one setback, I ventured forth the next time that I had to visit the tailor. I was fortunate enough to get a ride from one of our guest for the trip into town. This time, I passed by the rickshaws and got a ride in a shared jeep.

The Rule of the Road in India: If your vehicle will not move under it’s own power, then, you have too many people on/in it. Below is a “shared Jeep”. I have never had to ride hanging onto the outside. With this one, there wasn’t even room for that.

JammedJeep

Upon arriving at the place where you catch these vehicles, I was directed to the front seat and a young man slid forward to make room for me. There were only five of us sharing the driver’s bench seat. One time, I was the first passenger on the scene and got a the best seat. In the middle section on the driver’s side. You have to get in and out on the passenger side. I had people arrive when seeing me in my place give me a dirty look before turning away to take what they could get. Even little old ladies acted in this way!

Here’s a photo from the inside of a jeep when I was in the middle of the middle seat. The front seat has six people with a guy hanging off the left side. You can maybe see the arm of the guy sitting on the floor to the right of the driver with his arm wrapped around the steering column. The guy you see on the far left is actually sitting on the seat of a man that you can’t see. The bag of bread rolls belongs to the guy hanging off the side.

The view from the middle seat.

The view from the middle seat.

Yesterday, it was time to go pick up the clothes from the tailor that were supposed to have been ready three days earlier. I went one day after the due date to find that the fabric had been cut but not stitched. So, I had to return. I then realised that this was what had happened the previous time. What I should have done is go in two days before due date so that he can finish it for me on time. (I have since talked with other people about my experience with my tailor. I’m very fortunate. One friend had to wait one year for a shirt to be made!) When I flag down the shared taxi going into town I’m lucky and a 12 year old girl makes space in the middle seat for me. I only have the one leg hanging out with foot resting on the running board. We start up and thirty seconds later she leans across me to let loose a long stream of saliva onto the road. Thirty seconds later, the same. This continues all the way into town. I figured that she must have been practicing for a statewide contest as no one needs to spit that much. It was an uneventful ride otherwise.

So, my tailor had my Kurtas ready and I bought a few provisions, drank a coconut and headed up to the edge of town where the jeeps were waiting. I waited, and, waited, and, waited. Then, the group of people suddenly headed back down the line to a jeep that already was half full. By the time I reach the scene, there was only on space left and that was beside the driver with my knees under my chin, my legs twisted and my hip aching all in ten seconds. Plus, the gear shift was under my legs. This was dangerous territory! I got out. I looked around. I was in no mood to wait for I didn’t know how long to catch another jeep and maybe be in the same predicament. So…

The good news is:
I will never again climb up the back of a jeep onto the roof and settle into the roof rack on a quite comfortable extra bald spare tire with one foot braced against the back rail of the rack to keep from flying out the back whilst facing backwards then bending forward and holding the two side rails in a death grip in order to stop from flying forward. As we hurtled down the highway I asked the universe why there wasn’t a good traffic jam when you need one. Manoeuvring the country road I kept my head down not knowing whether some improvising Indian had strung an electric cable across the road in the last few minutes at just above car height.

We finally came to my stop. I managed to unclench my hands and, with every part of my body shaking, I clambered down to wobble around like a drunken sailor. I have no idea how I managed to retrieve ten rupees from my wallet for the driver. As I staggered down my dirt road, I said to myself, “I should have done this when I was in my thirties, so that, I would know better than to do it in my sixties”
——–
Kundan! You get in the house. Right now.

Yes, Mom.