A tear jerker in Netwar

Perched on half of my ass in a contorted yoga pose, that  I have now an idea to patent, the speedy 90 minute ride to Badkot from Yamunotri was scenic but tortuous in every way. The bus took 31/2 hours for the same journey the previous day. Now though I was squashed in the back seat of a Mahindra jeep sharing the tiny seat with 3 others. There were guys riding on top as well with women and kids perched on the 'good' seats next to the driver ! Another jeep change at Badkot, whose driver was saying 'aaoo baitho' (come sit) even when there were guys sitting on the bonnet! After more change of vehicles and other small adventures, arrived in Netwar for my night halt. The land cruiser type vehicles operating as public transport in the area leave only when full, so your wait could be from 1 to 10 hours !

Netwar is a small village with shops lining a dirty road . My destination was the forest guest house. After getting lost and going to a couple of stranger's houses finally marched into the place only to be told there were no rooms. There was a hotel in Netwar though, they assured me as i imagined spending the night under the stars. The 'hotel' had 2 rooms and was closed the owner languidly informed me. He asked me to ask at the barber shop down the road. A small entrance at the side of the barber shop was the entrance to a one room one dorm 'hotel'. The room was what I would classify as 'bedfall'. Having seen my share of hotel rooms I have classified them based on their vagabond comforts. I'm sure one day a publisher will be interested in this pioneering work and agree to publish it . Anyway a bedfall room is one in which there is just enough space to step in the room and fall on the bed. Don't even think about taking a 3 step contemplative walk to think about the state of the world ! The teenage dude who showed me the room was desperately trying to impress me with his knowledge of the local treks and women. I liked to travel alone, I  said . I live in an ashram too ! Not hard to convince him on the second point since I was dhotified (wearing a dhoti) and had a clean scalp. For some reason he was very interested in the floor of the room and kept spitting there in between imparting his words of wisdom.

To get him out of the room and to avoid flooding i asked him to show me the promised 'attached bathroom'. He stared hard in my direction as if I had uttered the unutterable and grunted 'Come' . I was led into a darkened hallway where I was sure there were masked men with sickles (don't ask me about the sickle part but that's what I thought at the time) waiting to slit my throat after they found out that I had only 200 bucks in my pocket ! Finally we reached a wooden structure jutting into the valley. Truth to be told the views were great over the mountains but that was because there was not much structure to cover the  views. Very little flooring and even less plumbing ! The water pipe sang some tunes but no paani was forthcoming. 'Dont worry you will have water' he said to me in that reassuring and confident way that meant that I would be really lucky to see even a drop anytime soon. Later that night after a bucket shower accompanied by admiring the hills, the room was quiet except that there seemed to be a TB patient in the nearby dorm who coughed his way through the night. .

Next morning I wake up in high spirits planning to walk to Sankri, a village 12 km away. Netwar is the starting point for Govind National Park and you have to shell out a minimum 150 bucks for a 3 day permit. Gullible vagabond that I am the guard managed to sell me a 5 day permit. I reckoned i could use the extra days ! The helpful guard also wisely dissuaded me from walking to Sankri saying a jeep 'will come anytime soon'. Ha ! My romance with alu paratha continued but to add to the sizzle had the most amazingly lip smacking dahi(curd), fresh local stuff. I literally almost cried after having devoured 3 parathas and struggling to get to my feet again. Err, the lacrimal glands were activated by my intense gratitude to the Lord for such tasty food and not on account of my physical disability that followed my gluttony !


If your days have been full of longing to see my post , here's the reason why Ive only just hauled myself to a net cafe. Death ! Yes, mine if i had braved landslides and a raging river to trek to civilization for the sake of love of the letter. Ah that sounded good! Lets not look at the real reason, laziness, and carry on to the topic of the day.

Just before my head hit the brick hard pillow,the decision was made to go to Yamunotri.What's the fun in planning a trip meticulously 6 months before the journey and then God forbid, everything goes exactly according to plan ? How very boring and ordinary. But imagine turning up at the bus stand not really knowing if theres a bus at that time that will take you to your destination? Being warned of the huge crowds but still being thick headed and turning up at the bus stand with a light heart and baggage...

Yamunotri is one of the four sacred sites of Hinduism set up by Adi guru Shankaracharya ( a cool dude from Kerala) in the state of Uttarakhand. Visiting these sites and bathing in the rivers/hot springs supposedly absolve you of sins. All four sacred sites were once reached through hard treks through forests teeming with wildlife, where you never knew if you would return .They are still closed for 6 months of the year due to snow. So people took these pilgrimages towards the end of their lives when they had nothing better to do ! Now most people  just park their asses on a car/bus seat and puke their way up. There are still many hardcore sadhus still trekking up, more dangerous now, because of the very real chance of getting run over rather than being a delicacy on a tiger's breakfast menu.

The bus advertised itself as an express service and they were true to their word by stopping whenever someone on the road stuck their hand out. What was supposed to be a 10 hour ordeal became a 13 hour hell. Hey that's the fun of unplanned journeys! Lunch, garam roti and sabzi, was awesome from a small dabba (roadside eatery). A loud young group from the Punjab plains tried to goad the driver into picking up speed but it fell on deaf years.We finally crawled into Janki Chatti, 5 kilometres from Yamunotri where the motorable road ends, well after nightfall. In true vagabond fashion, I just set out in search for a room and got one with a king sized bed overlooking the Yamuna for a measly 150/- I soon found out why. Though Yamuna was just a stone throw away there was no running water in the room. The night was a little chilly but great to go to sleep curled under the quilt to the sound of thundering waters outside.

 image courtsey:wikipedia

From Janki Chatti it's a 5 km walk uphill to Yamunotri, the mythical source of the Yamuna river. The actual glacier from which the water spurts out is a further 10 km uphill. The best time of the day to walk up is early morning before the crowds gather. I had a quiet walk sharing my path with the occasional horse carrying the geriatric, obese and the plain lazy ! Also you can get carried on a bucket like contraption on the back of a poor bugger all the way to the top.There's also one where you sit royally in the middle and four folks haul you up. The temple at Yamunotri is not structurally old although Shankarachrya is supposed to have founded it. It has to be rebuilt every few years because of heavy snows during winter.

There are hot water springs where you can have a soak but not anywhere as atmospheric as the ones in Manali(Vasisht) and Gangnani (near Gangotri). There are usually around a 100 people crammed in the space of a bathtub. There are also pestering priests who want you to get all types of rituals done so they can have alu paratha for breakfast.  But all said Yamunotri is the least commercial of the char dhams...



Heat searing into my skin
Rising up in sighing steamy vapour
On the searing blue berth I lie immobile
Dreaming dark grey clouds cool drafts and all pervading wetness.

Dimming sights ,a swirling dust storm
Craning my neck outside
Tonguing the first few drops
Of imminent thunderstorm

Smelling newly drenched earth
Rain french kissing the sand
Nude children uninhibited soaked in laughter
Men cowering under the shade of the banyans.

Bespectacled black blushing with exertion
Stumbling into my solitary coup
A pause, a break in my journey
Across me she sits , to stand again

The blackness drops, hanging on a hook
Brown pastures tumbling in and out
Behind the blinkers staying firmly put
I glimpse the glittering kaleidoscope.

(Penned in a rare moment of poetic inspiration on my last rail journey. The rains and the lass came as we neared the city of the Taj. My first poem in the public domain after an attempt when I was 13, in the school magazine. Ah, to speak of wasted genius ! *Sigh*)

A Tale of two 1s and two noughts

My love affair with 1100 began 4 years ago and is still going strong. An incident when I was in McLeod Ganj, near the Dalai Lama’s quarters comes to  mind. I had just quit my job and the vagabond shoes were new to me. There was not an abundance of common sense (not that I have much now!) . I was chilling with some friends and before I knew it, it was half past eight at night. Having said my goodbyes, I started walking to my guest house. A small problem! The guesthouse was a 4 km walk uphill, through jungle. Yes folks, jungle as in hard core forest. No lights, except star light! The last shopkeeper on the way up gave me some friendly advice that cheered me up.

‘Bhaisaab, make sure you talk to yourself ’ 
‘Don’t worry bhaiya I do that all the time!’
‘Arre, no sir, you have to talk loudly to yourself. Of course you know that there are bears in the jungle. Why just last week our....’
‘BBB…Bears you said?’

The word sent a chill down my spine but I put out a reassuring smile and walked on. Forget the bear problem, how the hell was I going to see and walk on the roughly cut irregular stone path? Ah, my double one double zero has a torch!  It was the first time I was using it in pitch darkness and it was reasonably bright. It stayed that way for the 45 minutes of my journey.

I must tell you some habits of bears in India so that you know your bare bear stuff the next time you are lucky enough to bump into one, maybe in the supermarket or in the neighborhood tea stall. If you’ve been warned about bears in the area you’re travelling in and you happen to be alone, ALWAYS talk loudly to yourself. Make noise! Bears have poor eyesight and can’t see you even if you are close but the noise will serve as a warning, for them. Also it might get the impression that there is more than one person on the way.

For this to be more effective, you can try one of my techniques. I sing duets and use my falsetto voice to the best advantage. One of my favourites is Lukka Chuppi from the movie Rang De Basanti and believe me I can give Lataji a run for her money! But in McLeod Ganj that cold starry night I was singing Yesudas’s Hindi hits. I figured the bears in the area were familiar with Hindi, and I really wanted them to daud for their lives as I started my systematic murder of each song!

Cut to the present. I told this tall tale just to illustrate my attachment with double one double zero. She is ideal for my rough lifestyle because she’s strong, sturdy and has an amazing battery life.  After 3 years of yeoman service, unfortunately the battery has now conked out. I turned Trivandrum inside out to find a new one but all that was offered were duplicates , in the range of 200- 300 /-.

Finally I found a shopkeeper who promised me the real thing.
He slickly takes a battery covered with a flimsy plastic wrap, the kind they dish out milk pedas in.

‘What the hell is this?’
‘Original battery sir’
‘But, but the ‘cover’ is open’
‘Sir, this was given by customer as he didn’t want it’
‘What? How do I know it’s not been used?’
Oops I touched a raw nerve.
‘Look sir, nobody is forcing you to buy this.’
Disinterested look from the dude.
‘Ok, how much is it?’
‘Ok saar good day!’

At the end of a long day, in another shop they finally point me to a newly opened Nokia Care centre. Something I appreciate about my fellow Malayalis. They are mostly a helpful bunch!

Nokia Care is on the 3 rd floor and since I was super fit from all the vagabonding I make it straight for the lift. The lift door opens and my eyes pop out. The floor is littered with shoes, sandals and slippers of every description. This looked more like the outside of a Nokia temple than a repair shop! Despite the sight of the million chappalls, I march bravely inside. There is a big hall packed with owners of the million chappalls. They are all staring at a lady behind a table. She must be the goddess! I approach her with folded hands and state my case. She barks out ‘Arun Vijayakumar’. Shuffling of feet behind me and a relieved looking gentleman marches on to the glass cubicles behind the lady. They are all manned by robotic looking men and women, the mobile doctors. I prostate myself before the goddess and state my case again
‘Ah yes the 1100 battery, original 299 rupees only’
‘Wowowo, I thought you only sold original accessories here’
Ah the goddess has a sense of humor, she smiles.
‘Latest stock from China, price drop form 450 to 299 just this week!’
I can’t believe my luck! Nothing like a bargain to lift my spirits up!

                             Isn't she a beauty ?

My experiments without mom

A peculiar situation on the domestic front. Each time I visit my parents I resolutely decide to be on my guard against sloth. But after a week or so, it starts to infiltrate into my brain like an old familiar friend and I just lie around and … eat… and sleep. This is exactly why I decided to travel in the first place. People often think that travellers travel coz of an itch in their pants to see places, have new experiences and for spiritual growth. Nonsense! Mostly its because we have nothing better to do and have some spare cash lying around. Yeah guys go on and be jealous !

That's my story anyway. Too many comforts and life slowly slips into auto gear and Pan starts to wither away. Life becomes predictable and I start taking people and things for granted. Undoubtedly if I live in Trivandrum all the time, it’s a very shitty place to live in. It’s only because I travel to even more shitty places that Trivandrum looks hopelessly perfect to me now. My friends here just don’t get it.

As I was saying, a peculiar situation at home. The major causative factor for sloth is mom, or her indulgence. (We have a saying in Malayalam which means if something's shitty in your life , blame it on mom ! )This holiday I really decided to cut the sloth. I packed off mathaji to an Ayurvedic centre for 10 days to rest and heal her worsening arthritis. Rest from 35 years of non stop labour. I expected her to swoon and thank me endlessly but all she could think about was how we were going to eat ! 

So as she was chilling out, getting her systems tuned and oiled, it was up to sis and me to enter the dreaded space called kitchen. Mom had helpfully left behind recipies of some dishes we could attempt. The opening day’s performance, dosa was a runaway success. I’m now a certified Ghee roast specialist. Ha that was easy! Somewhere in the middle of the 2nd day, Dad inexplicably not satisfied with our excellent culinary skills, gave full powers to the maid to manage lunch and dinner. Apparently our innovations with coconut, chillies and coriander were just not working for him! But sis and I brushed aside this minor setback  and held our fort for breakfast. Dad was forced to eat half cooked appams and passable (just) upmas. 

But it was all good  fun and more importantly woke me up in the morning instead of stumbling out of bed with The Hindu. On the plus side of life without amma, the house is quieter and I get nagged less. The fridge is half empty because we chucked out all the unidentifiable fungal food stuff. Some of the objects excavated were turned over to the Archeological Survey of India.

So if you’re experiencing apathy in your life, blame it on mom but at the same time why not give her a break? Get zing back into your life and learn the hard way that the life in the kitchen ain't no cat walk !

My 5 best thumps !

The title might have got a fair number of you excited if you mistook thumps for humps. Apologies!  Blogadda is trying to get bloggers to write about five instances when they really felt like whacking someone.

Five occasions  when I would really liked to have got physical :

1.    On a recent 2 months yoga course, there was this guy who never spared any opportunities to be the centre of attention. He put his hand up for everything. Yeah the obligatory over enthusiastic guy in every class. He was instrumental in motivating us to volunteer for an NGO to pick rubbish from the street. But conveniently on the days when we needed to go out and pick stuff he was ‘sick’. On the last day of the course, a Canadian camera crew turned up to shoot a documentary about the NGO. They only wanted those who had regularly volunteered to be part of the shoot to make it look more natural. Unashamedly, our man was first in the line for picking rubbish .It took all my yogic abilities not to give in to the temptation to strangle him. But due to Health and Safety regulations (Canada), all of us were required to wear masks that day. So no one was recognizable, including our hero!

2.    Once on a skiing trip I found myself in a dorm with a guy who thought his moral duty to share his love for loud phone music with the world. The music was always on whatever he did, wherever he went! In the loo. Changing clothes. Walking. In the mess. Farting. Skiing. Flirting. How can I forget him trying to seduce a girl by pumping up the tinny volume, shaking his skinny ass and winking in her direction? Sublime! Our complaints fell on his obviously deaf ears. But during our time together I would get the urge to rearrange his facial anatomy at least once during the day! 
Conversations can lead to humping (for some lucky guys), but in my case they more often lead to imaginary thumping. 2 such instances…

 3.  The setting: a wedding in Kerala.
‘So mone, what are you up to now?’ asks concerned ‘Uncle’

‘Err I'm travelling, Uncle.’

‘Good! Good ! But where is yuar job?’ Ah, the good old mallu accent!

I take deep breath.

‘I’m taking a break from work’

‘But you said the same thing 2 years back!’

I start counting down from 10.

‘Yes uncle, I'm still travelling and loving it’, with plastic smile.

‘Where’s your dad? I have to talk to him. Young men shouldn’t be allowed to wander by themselves.’ Uncle wanders off in search of Dad.

Close to bursting point, but am saved by the curvy single daughter of said uncle who sashays to where I'm standing and asks admiringly, ‘So you really travel full time?'

4. Another conversation with uncle, later in the day:
‘Ah mone, I was waiting to talk to you again’

‘Wow, so was I’, plastic smile.

‘Really, about what?’

‘Err, well, err you know general knowledge, I mean general topics, politics, ble...’

‘Ok Ok, the reason I wanted to talk to you is because your dad is concerned by your lifestyle.’


‘Yes he thinks you should stabilize’


‘You come from a good family, its time you thought about marriage.’

Direct frontal assault.

‘I saw you talking to Anju. What do you think about her?’

‘The …Ahh…you…she’s nice, yes she’s a nice HOMELY girl’. Maybe baldy daddy will get the hint.

‘Ha I knew it. She likes you too. She just told me. I spoke to your dad already.’

‘What the $%$%$%?!!!'

  Now you should settle down and get a job'

‘But…’ I feel a light touch on my arm and turn to see the smile of curvy single Anju. Cold sweat and a thumping/humping feeling!

5. This happened today. I was climbing a newly painted iron spiral staircase to the second floor shop by the side of a busy road. It was so windy that the staircase was shaking! Damn! When I got to the top, pure emptiness! The staircase was a good 2 feet from the shop and propped up by sticks and PVC pipes! I could have just disembarked and had my legs plastered. No warning signs, nothing! Laughing faces all around. Blood pressure shoots up along with embarrassment. I see my reflection in the shop window and feel like thumping, the idiot that I am.             

Cumulonimbus in a well

                        The flickering flashes of light and the gentle grumbling in the sky woke me up today. A nice contrast to the boisterous rhythmic croaking of frogs that put me to sleep. The air was suffused with coolness , the soft sound of rain tempting me to linger more in bed. The monsoons are almost upon us and it's the  time of the year that I love to be in Kerala. The dust and heat no more,all around is intense green and a certain stillness which is not hard to come upon even in a city like Trivandrum. Just go down a side road and soon you will lose the sound of traffic and be surrounded by trees and bird calls. Maybe the blessing of slow 'development' and a militant workforce that puts off the big industries.

                       The first thing I do when I come home is to head for the shower. The water is not brackish like in so many parts of India  but sweet, more so if its from the well. Any house worth it's name in Kerala will have this concentric circular contraption that all children and a few demented adults like me love to gaze down into.There's something quite exciting and forbidden in  leaning over the parapet to peer down into a well, to see the depth , width, the shape and structure of the rings and the inexplicable pull I feel to jump and be submerged in water.

                         Traditionally there is an aluminium pail and a pulley to pull the water up. If the well is not too deep, people, mostly women do it freestyle, without using the pulley but just the rope which is an excellent exercise ! It's a sight I have seen countless times, the woman drawing water from the well and one which still fascinates me. If she's a seasoned hand , there's a sinewy flow to her movements making the whole process look effortless. She releases the rope  first and the pulley rolls fast ,the pail in a free fall motion to the water surface making a characteristic sound loud enough to  let the neighbours know that water is being drawn ! Then the pail hits the water and she tilts the rope slightly in a subtle movement for the water to enter the pail. And now with both hands she pulls the rope down in a rhythmic flow and the pail jerks upward in a see saw motion. The well in the house has a baby well near it as well. It was originally intended to store water from the main well for people not so keen on the exercise benefits of drawing water from such depths. I look down in the deep mother well in the courtyard and glimpse the static dark grey monsoon clouds in its depths...

A tatkal affair

'It's the season of ripe, juicy sweet mangoes,
Of humid heat, threatening clouds and smell of new earth
So does one need more reason to set sail for Kerala? '

Hence I found myself in Rishikesh railway station at 5:45 am for a tatkal ticket. Trains are the cheapest way to travel in India short, long or medium distance. The fares have been frozen for ever and so tickets especially for long distance travel are very popular. Bookings for overnight trains open 2 months before departure date and on some trains get booked within an hour. Unfortunately the train I wanted to board fell in that category. Once a week to Trivandrum, and the decision to go home was taken just a couple of days back. The Railways brought in the tatkal scheme for people like me who wanted the ticket at short notice but dont mind paying the extra odd 150 or 300/-.Bookings for tatkal start 2 days before the journey and on popular routes finish in minutes. So it was crucial that I be first in the queue when the counters opened at 8 am. I was first in the queue but when the action started the reservation clerk started entering the details of people who were not in the queue at all. I learn later that if you care to pay a baksheesh of 100/- per person your details are entered first in the computer. No standing in queues ! 3 minutes and he was still slamming away on the keyboard. The guys at the back thinking that I was just hanging around even after my ticket was issued started heckling me. The clerk finally got to my ticket but by that time I was on the waiting list. I had to take the  ticket anyway and board the train.

Three days on a train is hard enough but without a ticket, well well... I had come prepared mentally so the first    day I slept on the bunks whenever one was free. During the night I just rolled out the bedsheet and lay down on the floor. Anyone trying to duplicate this stunt be warned that it can be only done at ordinary 2nd class sleeper class not the air conditioned coaches. They dont let folks without a confirmed ticket anywhere near the AC coach ! To tell the truth, it was not that uncomfortable except when people crushed my head when they were sleepwalking to use the loo. The timing is important, you unroll your 'carpet ' after more or less everyone goes to 'bed'. There were a fair number of people like me sleeping in the corridors lying down, sitting, standing, etc.

 You feel the train up close , all the little jerks and movements and also the big jolts. Like knowing a woman intimately for the first time when you see that little balck mole on her hip , that knowledge which makes the relationship so special, if you care to notice it. So my relationship with the railways have taken on a whole new intimate level. Be that it maybe I have gone ahead and booked my next ticket well in advance !

Disjointed jottings

My firm conviction that women are my preferred  objects of desire stand corrected after the stay in the ashram. I'll admit it, even in the ashram I used to check the gals out. Yeah, I know, what a hard life a man has ! But not with hope or pleading eyes, as in the outside world. Oh no,Here we are the catch ! We are the ones who are forbidden to mix with them . A la role reversal. Yes we brahmacharis (even though short term !) are the prize catch indeed. Also the protective atmosphere of the ashram makes it easy to treat it as a game , and not the life and death scenario that chasing a woman usually involves. :D Hell I don't do chasing , I get chased.

It was this week that I realized that all this changed albeit temporarily. Usually I used to subtly check the women out on the way to the dining hall which was the only place where you could relaistically meet them. Any pretty girls visiting? But this week I suddenly realized I had stopped doing this. Now before you make assumptions like my  kundalini had begun its upward ascent or something like that,  I'll tell you my new vice. Actually there are a few. Topping the list is Gulab jamun. Ahhh heaven , bliss intoxication, I had 3 today. So sweet so soft. No need to seduce that sugary little brown ball. Where's the need to say sweet nothings ?Also not really necessary to take your clothes off for full enjoyment. Although I do admit to looking lovingly at them before they disappeared down my alimentary canal.God i can still taste those 3 juicy slightly crunchy gulab jamuns. Fruit Custard ( be still my heart !) comes second and Jalebi a close third.

The funny or not so funny part is that I am not alone. Its one of the greatest paradoxes in spirituality that the more you delve into yourself the more the world opens to you in every way. You notice the flowers that you never noticed before on the sidewalk. The river so ordinary before now seems endless in its shades and movement. The women are all pretty , irrespective whether they are 16 or 60. Maybe why all the scriptures warn the aspirant to not look at the opposite sex.The food has never tasted as delicious as this ever. Even though you are lectured day in and out on the impermanence of desire the desire is still there. Only it transfers to a more acceptable vice. That's why you will find many sanyasins/priests with a thing for food. Im hardly a sanyasin but since ive been following their lifestyle for 2 months i guess ive developed some of their qualities !
The most comfortable item of wear in a hot climate has to be the mundu(dhoti). Yes indeed I'm loving the feeling of wearing a skirt and connecting with the feminine side of me ! Last post I wrote how unusual it was to find a ladies bag in the Ganga. My friend rang a couple of numbers from an address  book in the bag. He located the lady who came to meet him distraught, to collect her belongings. She had arrived in Rishikesh the previous evening with her friend and was staying in an ashram on the opposite bank. She goes for an early morning dip with her handbag, leaves it at the side of the river on the ghats takes 3 dips in 15 seconds turns around and oui, it's gone with 7000/-. AGH , women ! Not a tiny sum for an Indian. That's India, folks spirituality happily coexists( i think!) with depravity, all part of a universal moral order. I better stop before I start a lecture ...
Still in matters related to the dining hall there was a lady there yesterday handing out crisp 100/- notes to the Sanyasins. The monks are ones who are supposed to have renounced everything and live on the charity of others. Still it seemed wierd to see them accept it so casually without guilt,happiness or thankfulness as if it was just a daily affair. I was helping the kitchen out late into the afternoon when the Swami who manages the dining hall materializes infront of me with the 'cash lady'. 'These guys do seva(selfless service, ha!) here' , pointing to me and another guy. My co-sevak jumped for the money with glee. I mumbled something to the Swami about the inappropriateness but found it rude/uncomfortable to refuse. In the end i think I did the right think coz my ego took  a big hit. I was a beggar although a bit of a posh one. You know the whole point of begging is to reduce/annihilate the ego. I've no doubt about that considering how difficult it was to accept money even when doled out with a free heart.

I've been shot

Im just back from the laundry. A tiny 1 room hut by the roadside which serves as a shop and home for a family of six. As I sat on the charpoy waiting for my dhoti to be ironed the two youngest kids were splashing about in a metal 'tub'. It says something about my isolated non family existence that I couldn't remember the last time I saw children stark naked having the time of their lives. The little girl closed her nostrils with her hands and was diving into the water repeatedly laughing all the time. Her brother though kept throwing tantrums inbetween, sulking a lot reminding me of my younger days. The same situation provididng very different reactions in people ! Everything and everyone in and around the vicinity were wet.

A very good day today. A documentary team from Canada shot us cleaning the shit out of Ganga, but alas my 5 seconds of fame were for nothing. We were unidentifiable under the green masks !

The  Kumbh Mela is almost over. For over a week millions of people marched into Haridwar and neighbouring Rishikesh hoping to absolve their sins by taking a dip in the Ganga at the auspicious time. Pure superstition you say ! According to Pundits one of the days was so auspicious that it comes only once in 5000 years ! So I decided not to take the chance and dive in !

There were people sleeping everywhere during the past  week including the roads. Even our early morning visits to the Ganga were not so serene anymore. But you've got to admire the tenacity of the ordinary Indian, how they make do with so little. Makes me ashamed of myself and my never ending needs.The most bizarre thing was the public announcement system. The majority of people visiting were from the interior villages of India. In the mad rush, people get lost,and so there is a public address  system to let people know if someone's missing or lost. But here's the unique desi twist . You make the announcement yourself. Women screaming their lungs out shouting  'helllloooooo, heeelllooooo, kahan heeyyy tuuuu? (where are you?)' is very common. As if the lost person also has a mike and is going to holler back. There are requests, scoldings, rants, sometimes dialects you have never heard of...you get the gist. Highly amusing...and very noisy.

Ah one more week in the ashram folks, and I have absolutely no clue where i should be heading next. Any suggestions welcome ;) Usually nature takes care of that as I meet someone or come to know of something that intrigues me. Also, a strange never before desire to settle down somewhere near here. I tell you, the river has bewitched me no end...Something unusual happened today. As i was swimming in the Ganges found a ladies handbag, full with personal stuff like driver's license, mp3 player etc. Don't get excited people, no money was involved ! So there it is , my stay drawing to a close, maybe, and the thermometer shooting steadily up, for sure!

Intimate with mother

Sunday is our 'rest' day. But we still have to get up at 4 to meditate. I'm getting used to this four o'clock business now. Today I was up at 3:45 and  follow my routine of brushing teeth getting fully dressed and steeping out. It's so quiet outside, Rishikesh looks like a ghost town. There's only one place to go to, where she flows like a queen, looking very proud and aloof. I offer my pranams to enter and she kind of says ok. The cold is indescribable just like the waning moon rising over the mountains. Magical landscape kind of numbed by the cold. Im out in a minute, any more than that and I might be lining myself up for pneumonia !

After breakfast some of us line outside the dining hall in green jackets,gloves and green masks. It looks like a major O.T (Operation theatre) Unfortunately our undertaking is not that glamorous ! We are about to venture forth to ....pick garbage ! One of our sanyassinis from the West (where else?) spearheads the effort working on behalf of an NGO, as we go rag picking through Rishikesh. Working mainly with the help of donations and money collected from hotels and homes, it's an intriguing concept that surprisingly works.They have workers who collect and sort garbage everyday, recycling everything that can be recycled. All the biscuit wrappers, tobacco pouches and the flashy chocolate wrappers are the ones that can't be recycled and go straighht to the landfill. I'll think twice before buying 'Hide and Seek' biscuits again !

People on the road give us strange looks as we move along with big jute sacks picking up 'stuff' on the way. A very crazy way to spend a Sunday but I love it ! On our way back to the Ashram some of us continue the craziness and suddenly decide we want to get intimate with the mother.  So we speed off on a jeep 15 km uphill. The huge yellow raft is unloaded from the jeep and we put our life jackets on. With an instructor and helper on board, sitting at the very back, we delve into the bossom of Mother Ganga. I sit at the front , the place of maximum wettability. The Hindus have a belief that you should enter the river without disturbing it especially a holy river like the Ganga. So we always ask for blessings since we are about to fool around ! Yes, highly superstitious but feels good anyway ! The rapids were exhilarating and scary. There were times when we thought we would capsize. All we saw was water and then in the middle of that , the instructor screams us to paddle harder !

On calmer waters we jumped abroad and swam ahead of the boat. one of the guys was scared to jump in the water because of pure hydrophobia, and lack of knowledge of the art of swimmology. Even with the life jacket he was not budging an inch. All our persuasions fell on deaf ears. So we did the only decent thing to do, dumped him into the water headfirst. He also happened to be the last guy to come back on board ! I will never forget the feeling as I floated down the river looking up at the sky , feeling the sun and the mountains and forest all around me! We came back wet, exhausted and very very happy. I'm falling in love with the river more and more everyday...

Acceptance Speech

For all  people interested, Devil's Musings has picked up another award. Yes folks, I know it was just a matter of time considering how good a writer i think myself to be ;) Bad jokes apart, I am not a big fan of awards , competition, etc. But since blogging awards usually don't come with money, my non materialistic self is sort of ok with it. Sepo deemed it fit to bestow upon me this award:

Just for a change im going to stop being narcisstic and talk about 5 wonderful people I'm passing this on to. They are all unique but have many things in common:
1)I have never met any of them in the real world.
2)They have stood by me and commented through times of frequent posting, and times of post famine.
3)They keep coming back and read every post even though i don't go to their blogs for weeks.
4)They are all gorgeous women who write exceptionally well.

So in every way apt for this award !

This applies to Sepo as well. So ladies thanks a bunch! For my other regular readers, thank yopu as well for your regular visits and support. Unfortunately im allowed to pass this on to only 5 folks, so until next time...

The  Winners:
Raji  Don't let the simple layout fool you. Just in her teens she writes exquisitely in a wide canvas not limited to the usual fascination with fashion, boy bands et al. Check out her latest post Wishes and Dreams and you'll know what i mean !
Jai Published author. Do i need to say more ? Highly recommended with a huge fan following. My gut feeling says shes also a nice person at heart !
Jeeves  Another young writer who puts her heart into her writing. Non pretentious and very enjoyable read.
Gal next door Anonymous blogger who can rant and fume and also go totally soft. The variety of topics she handles is mind boggling and i never quite know what to expect when i visit !
Elmoniv One of my favourite bloggers in terms of style of writing. Go see yourself !

Just before you think that i cater only to the opposite sex, I will be failing in my duties if I don't give an award to a fellow vagabond:

21st century nomad takes honesty to a whole new level. I am a big fan of his post cards !