It’s my first tryst at The Great mother India.
1982, Midnight and I’m standing like a motherless foal in Bombay airport. Traveling alone, as I like to do, this, the bad side of being alone..I see dark faces pressed to the windows, looking in, sharply accessing these rich westerners, newly arrived. Ah, a man on his own, ripe to be pounced on when emerging out into India. This, the one time when you don’t want to be alone, but ah, there is one other backpacker among all the people spilling off the plane. We meet and make a pact to hunt the streets together looking for a bed. Walking out into our first taste /smells of India, so intense, we shake off the faces harassing us and escape into a taxi looking for a bed. He drives us up a dubious back alley where we fail to rouse anyone. We go afoot and eventually find a modest YMCA and drop into bed. It had been a long way from Sydney.
Ray (can’t remember his actual name) and I spent a few days perusing this big, fascinating, dirty city, were we found a boat that would take us south to Goa. On this two day trip you had to some how find a body space on the deck among the mass of sweating bodies to lie dawn and try to sleep.
Goa was known as “the place to go”, but it seemed to me “the place for drugs”. Masses of Europeans smoking and sleeping on the beach. The sad ones older, bedecked in accoutrements, wasted, marooned in India, with a short life ahead. This was not my place, but it was right for Ray , as like many young Westerners, he was here for the cheep drugs. Now while I was thankful for meeting Ray at the airport, I knew we wouldn’t travel together for long. He was the classic brash young university leaver out the show “the world was his.” What did it for me was, when he confided that, at uni one evening, a crowd of them, while drinking got a new young girl drunk till she passed out, hung her onto a rotary clothes line and took turns at rapeing her as she passed. I can’t remember if she survived , don’t know if he knew!
I had never before heard anything as bad as that so, even though it’s hard backpacking alone where you have to somehow get your pack into the tiny toilets, I split from Ray and headed north to Agra alone. Agra of course has The Taj Mahal. What a sight, even did the one at night, with the rising moon behind.
Next stop, the seething great city of Delhi. There I stayed in the old quarter and just sunk into the so different culture. Such an alive place, crazy loud weddings, street vendors selling from jewelry to the famous boiled milk, done in the big flat woks. Cows of all shapes munching at rubbish. Sometimes when two weddings met in the narrow streets a fight would ensue and one had to be somewhere else. Then, as the countryside draws me more, I turn South, gradually moving, mainly on public busses, to reach Bangalore the IT town where a lot of our answer phone enquires are based. On to Mysore and back to the East coast at Calicat. The further South we go, the hotter and darker skinned the people are. More prosperous, bigger bodied, as more rainfall, greener and good soils. Next we come to Cochin. Here I took to boats as there are big inland seas with all manner of fishing. Down this coast of Kerala, there’s a large christian influence as they came hundreds of years ago and are still there. I got as far South as Trivandrum where the people are very dark. I found the people down South very different to the North. More level, comfortable, bigger boned, and less feisty and sharp. In a way, like China, India is many different countries / peoples, it is so vast. After reaching Trivandrum,it was now time to turn North ,bussing to Bangalore where I turned to my favorite mode of travel, trains, second class of course. This is a long trip, right up the central heart of India, with all the various sights to experience. Thru Hyderabad, Bhopal, where the big chemical spill killed many people,and on up to Delhi
Next stop Bihar.A friend, David Wilson, had spent some years in an ashram in India. He spoke a lot about it over the years. While there, one of my aims was to find this ashram so, taking a second class ticket on The great Northern Railway I set off on another adventure. The train was full to the gunnels, standing room only. I managed to find a little space up in the luggage rack where I climbed in and surveyed the heads of the seething mass below. There were all manner of fowl, and even the odd goat. I do enjoy this manner of travel, never a dull moment. You know, you either love India, or hate it. It’s hard at the beginning, but I was told “if you can hack it for the first three weeks, and get past that you either go home, with your tail between your legs, or learn to love it. The love bit happened to me by about this time. Now, the only thing I lost in India was a Swiss army knife that nite whilst up in the rack, and don’t choose to think it was stolen, as I probably dropped it from my pocket.
For a while I decided to travel first class. Now two of the critical things that happened to me in India. They just love films and film stars and as my name is BROSNAN they would have it I was related to PEARS BROSNAN. I would go along with this, as was easier and quite fun. So I was famous. The other was, Indians treasure education and just as they want you to be connected to film stars, they want the person they are talking to to be highly educated and important. So by my attitude, and what I could talk about, they would nearly always decide I was a professor. “What sort?” agriculture of course. So I was stuck with that. On the train I struck up a friendship with a man and his lovely wife He was The professor of the sitar (taught by Rabi Shankar) at BHU. Benares Hindu University in Varanasi.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him I wasn’t a professor, so when he asked me to come to Varanasi and stay at their house I was told I was to lecture at The BHU, one of the biggest universities in India the next day!
Well, I guess I am a bit of a con man and knowing enough about minerals in the soil etc, I pulled it off, scared all the time they would bust me. Varanasi is is a classic spiritual place on the banks of the Ganges. Lots of ceremonial immersing , and all along the banks of the river the smells of the burning gatts, where the bodies are cremated.I didn’t stay too long unless I blew my cover ay.
Back on the the train we arrived in the provence of Bihar. I alighted and inquired the way to The Satyananda Bihar School of Yoga . It was in Munger, a good bus ride away. When I arrived there I strode thru the gate, up the road, into the ashram as though I had been there before, demanding a teacher. David and I had talked so much about the place I felt I knew it, They assigned me to an Australian teacher who I got on well with. The ashram was big, with several hundreds of people. There are big gardens, where all the food was grown as they are vegetarian. The ashram overlooks The magnificent Ganges River. Early in the mornings I would be coached yoga on the roof top looking into the sun rising over the water. Then we would all assemble in the main hall while squatting on the floor and our OOMS would resonate out over The Ganges. Next was a plentiful breakfast and as Karma dictates we all do some gardening or other work each day I am allotted to work in the garden. Then lunch and some personal time where I would explore the countryside. Bihar is one of India’s poorest states and the people were mostly not friendly to us privileged westerners, so you had to be careful. I needed some cash, so found a bank where they ignored me for hours to show their distain. I decided to use this to learn patience, so meditated, oblivious of their rebuttals. They eventually had to beckon me before they closed.
. Of note, and unusual to us .was the red stains on all the inside walls of these buildings where the staff would spit out the nut they all chewed The women in the ashram were mostly a sad lot, downcast thin and bereft of breasts. I didn’t like the Indian mens attitude to them but wasn’t there long enough to judge. Satyananda spends a lot of his time in other countries around the world where he has many more ashrams. Even then there was one in New Zealand and twenty in Australia. At the time he was actually at the NZ ashram.
I really felt the need to meet him and every morning they said he would arrive that day. I started to feel they were having me on, but lo before I despaired and left. in he swept, with his train following. Now, of course I was kept waiting to have audience with such an important entity, so after a day or two I was ushered in. I’m not sure what I expected but was disappointed. There were no lights shining out of his head and he just seemed to me another ordinary egotistical human. Having found the clay feet, I guess I was looking for, I said goodbyes and jumped on the train. I was needing to move on as my best climbing friend, Nick Banks was with a NZ team climbing the magnificent Khangchenjunga
As always another eventful train journey.My next stop along The Great Northern railway line was where you branch off to Darjiling,
Alighting, and a short bus ride to the terminus of the “Darjeeling Toy Train” This is a very small narrow gauge train that winds it’s way up the mountain to the town of Darjeeling. Perched on the lower slopes of the mighty Khangchenjunga Mt, the people were mostly Tibetan having come over the Himalayan mountains fleeing from The Han Chinese when they invaded Tibet. It is a very colorful village as Tibetans are, and exciting to peruse.
Now on the way up in the train I had spotted Norgay Tensing”s large blue house on the top side of the line, so I just had , to walk back down the line to try and visit him. I bowled up to the door, knocking, where a lovely woman, his wife emerged. Tensing was away, so I told her I knew Peter Hillary and she asked me in for tea and a lovely talk. A good memory of a lovely lady.
Next, I decided to walk up the lower slopes of the mountain in the hope Nick and Co may be ascending. While up there I was told I was standing on the border of Nepal and Sikkim, with Bhutan close to the East. No sign of Nick,, of course, so I descended back to the village. It was then I met a nice woman, Betsey Sewell who came from Christchurch in NZ. We became good mates and travelled together down in the Toy Train, back West into Nepal and on to Katmandu. I remember I had the dreaded gardena stomach upset. The wind from this is pretty bad, so was embarrassing to be with a pretty lady at that time.
Katmandu is an exciting place so Betsey and I had a good time. A highlight was. One day I was purposefully biking thru the crowded streets, when I hear a loud “BROSNAN”, looking that way, it was was Banks in a rickshaw just back from Khangchenjunga. Wow, what a lovely surprise.
He could have been anywhere in Nepal, but this sort of serendipity happens all thru my life. I followed him to see the famous English organizer of expeditions Liz Horley. As he had just arrived back from the mountain he had, of course to sign in with her. Nick had tremendous respect for that beautifully English spoken forthright lady, who he had worked with often before.
Then, what a treat, he took me to meet the parents of his favorite sherper where we were ceremonially fed and draped in the traditional white silk scarves, which still hang above my bed. A great nite was later had with Nick and his mates, when the next day he flew out.
So, it was time for Betsey and I to split on our different paths. I think she headed South back to India, and I headed of to do the Malang, Anapuna trek. The first two days I travelled alone on fairly flat riverbed ground, when I met a robust German lad and we teamed up. There had been a few abductions, robberies, and the odd murder of tourists on this trek. It started to become very wooded in, a bit sinister, and much steeper. We will call him Karl! He was very strong and went faster than me up hills, but I am / was! like a goat on the down hill and would catch up with him. Anyway we would spend the nite together in the little rock bivvys where you would pay a few rupees for a roof and a straw bed. I was more social than him and would look around for the workers (sherpers) drinking bivvy where they would ( wine & dine me) well!! offer me ground maize and the traditional drink, chang ( ground, distilled millet I think, strained thru a dirty old sack) They and I loved those times. I have found, all over the world that,, if you like people, even without language, they will like you back. We were in spectacular scenery now, high up where in places the track was just hewn out of the side of a cliff. How they do it I would never know, with no machinery of course. We were all the time aware of possible bandits, and I wasn’t too happy when Karl strode off and I was alone. About half way on the trek we come to Manag. There, a volunteer doctor does a talk each evening about the impending pass where, twelve people a year die of cerebral or pulmonary edema. They recommended us all to climb a nearby 15,000 peak to acclimatize before we did the pass. So, away Karl and I went, and in no time he was ahead out of sight. I didn’t see him again that day and having summated and back, I wondered if he actually went to the top. Early next morning we both started to climb the 18,000 pass. It turned out Karl had an altitude problem, and at about 12,000ft he started to flake. I knew then he did not do it the previous day. He wanted to go back, but I carried his pack on top of mine and we carried on. Towards the top I had to put a rope on him and pull him. We just made it over the top without Karl becoming another statistic . I had swollen hands and eyes, but was ok.
We then dropped down a bit onto very dry desert like plain to the village of Muckdonou ? A nice sunney place to rest our swollen bodies for the night.
On and on down we arrived at a little village called Tata Pani, which means hot water. (There were hot springs there) From there we climbed again up to ?? Pani (cold water) From there the view was amazing. You are looked straight out to Anapuna, Fishtail, and a whole plethora of mountains marching across the skyline. A sight to behold.
Now the long walk thru more populated lowlands to the end of the trek to the village of Pokhara, where we got a bus back to Kathmandu
I forgot to say, food is so precious up high, all having to be packed in on a porter’s back, that i’m sure the green vege served up with our rice was the tips of bracken plants, as that was all there was up there, and of course, they couldn’t pack in vegetables.
So, after a seven day trip, ( It was supposed to be thirteen, but my German went so fast)
we were ravenous for real food. We went to the flashiest restaurant in town and I had top billing egg plant lasagna. Seemed like the best meal I ever had!
A last few days in exciting Kathmandu, then on back to Delhi spending a few days preparing to venture on up to Amritsar, The Punjab, and perhaps on to Srinagar in Kashmir.
Time to stop and reflect. I had been in India for five months having amazing experiences, lost over a stone in weight, was haggard, skin hanging off me, and exhausted. The temperature that day was forty nine degrees. “Was it time to pause?” Yes. This adventure in India was over, but I knew I would be back. After sorting out the nearest travel agency I bribed my way onto an early flight to England.
PS : When Fleur, my then wife, and I,broke up and she wouldn’t come with me back in 1974 I travelled to Britain and Europe alone for five months. Since then, every two to three years, I have travelled for up to five months outside New Zealand, mostly to vastly different countries like India. Most times though after the delight, but fatigue of foreign languages, I would end up in Britain for a while, where they speak English.