Personal documentation of a 6 week long road trip across india –
Day 6 of Roadtrip with Farco & the monkeys.
Destination Kalimpong by new years, bleaker & bleaker. Drove non stop after hitting the East coast highway. Back seat is slumbering. 4 am. Aa is cranky, will not settle unless Farco stops for the night. “Hadh hoti hai!!”, she says (there is a freaking limit) in a voice that reminded me of her mother. She has accessed the mother, we’d better listen.
Temple signage spotted. In the current climate, liberals can only be safe sleeping next to temples. Diversion taken, temple found, camped. Walked into our first Orissa temple, through a mini door in the wall. Completely empty at that hour, lit with tube lights & open to visitors. Elaborate pond, steps leading down to the water. Larger than life statue of Radha & Krishna. A clichéd image of couple love. Premises are huge.
Slept alone in the tent. 3 in the car, 1 in a hammock. Cold ground, cold sleep. Morning was announced by voices outside my tent addressing me. “good morning sir”. Sat up groggy and listened for a few minutes. Wiped the mouth and the wry smile. Looking forward to their reaction when I step out. “good morning” I say with hands folded in a namaste. 3 men look at me curiously. Main man wears a yellow lungi, topless but with a thin white fabric draped over his shoulders, lending him a dignified appearance. Pooja Lota (brass religious vessel) in his hand.
The usual questions – where from? what reason? why here? why didn’t you sleep inside the temple? I fielded them indulgently. Not the first time this line of enquiry. He’s concerned about the co-ed sleeping arrangement inside the car. They should be married. I mumble some kind of agreement out of politeness. He hands me some Prasad (blessed eatables). Now he needs to know my caste. Dread. I ask him if its important. We’ve both lost interest in this conversation.
Aa and I look for a spot for morning ablutions. Definitely no toilets here. Village poop mile found, replete with a squatting man. Find myself in the field lower down next to the road. Release into the soil, sunshine on my face. Being connected to the elements is rewarding.
Monkeys are awake. Official temple visit. Dark staircase leads down to even darker room with a stone god wrapped in muddied red cloth, wet with milk/ghee offerings. Just enough light to see the silhouette and some glistening silvery elements. Vermillion red smeared on forehead, intensely shining.
I’m allowing myself to feel for stone. Fire becomes a door. I am drifting into primal spaces. In the deep void, the bells make sounds that travel on infinitely. My chest draws in a delicious breath. These elements bring ease, a mildly euphoric ease of being. I wander away to the open area at the back. More than 20 Nandi bulls the size of my head, flank the walls of the balcony like space. Each sitting right next to the other. Aa passes by mentioning that the stone bulls grant wishes if you whisper them into their ears. I’m feeling playful. Fingers tease the rough surface of the stone. I’m smirking. Partially sniggering at childlike desire to indulge in whispering to inanimate objects. Choose not restraint but escape from the confines of agnosticism, just for a moment, and bent down to whisper one word.
Unfettered desire of the subconscious emerged as an airy voice that was absorbed by the porous stone.
Day 2 of Roadtrip with Farco & the monkeys.
Brief stay in Hampi. Mardana’s place, hippie haven. Terrace full of mattresses and soft afternoon wind. Quiet rest, walk to the river with Aa, Ar and M. Feet in cold water, river bath, banana cake, smooth rocks under bare feet. Tame impala plays in the background.
Dinner comes in a thali. Mardana is a really sweet person. Communal sleeping on the terrace floor. There is a romantic breeze. Awake at 3am to find a blazing paper white moon peering in now. Fall asleep and wake intermittently. Smiling at the moon as I sleep.
Day 3 of Roadtrip with Farco & the monkeys.
Farco is repacked systematically. Lights and old hair decorate the insides. M & H resolve differences. Finally moving. Exhilaration. Official beginning with all 5 monkeys. Evening sun on our faces. Reliving the moment for pleasure as it passes by.
First night of camp searching. Driving through narrow roads inside small villages. Dusk arrives as we bounce ahead between harvested fields of rice stumps. Finally a forgotten lane. Farco sneaks in. Welcomed by a pond, a hill, a few trees – perfect campsite. Tent is unfurled, hammock positions discussed. Darkness, moon rise, orange moon reflected in the water bright. Ominous distant sounds. Fearful. Isolated spot. Ar suggests that we shouldn’t be seen. Lazy solution, we hide in the car. Stupid decision. Giant truck passing by, lights shine on us. we couldn’t look more suspicious. They leave. No one is comfortable now. Packing up.
Truck comes back, blocks our path. Second truck also blocks path. Fear. Man walks out towards us. I step out to speak with him. Only way out is communication. He speaks Kannada, I understand very little. He is angry, suspicious and ready to call the cops. He is sure something illegal is going on. I try to reassure him. More men appear. Tomorrows news headline running through my head briefly. Choose to assume goodness comes first. Try to reason with man. Explain to him why monkeys are there instead of a hotel, “it’s stupid really, want to sleep under the stars”. He can’t understand why. Fellow truckers are alright. Some speak Hindi. I explain as best as I can. Aa comes in sounding a bit panicked. I was hoping she wouldn’t. Truck folks understand we are upto nothing really. Main guy still wants to ‘check’ Farco. Wonder what he is looking for. Shines a torch in very quickly, car is exploding with hippie paraphernalia. His curiosity is satisfied, we are allowed to leave.
Collective sighs. Felt like a narrow escape. Drove on in silence. Late night entry into Andhra Pradesh. Find a biriyani place that looks suspiciously closed. I peer in through the gates and ask questions. Friendly guys, at first hesitant, then sensing an opportunity for friendship, invite us in to leftovers of the day. They are making an exception. After earlier incident, their friendliness tastes like honey. We ask them to tell us where we can find a good camping spot. Can’t hide from other humans forever, have to learn to trust them. ‘Drive up ahead on the highway for about ten minutes to find Hanuman temple, camp there, you will be fine’
We did just that. Hanuman statue is huge, the size of a 3 storey building just by the highway. Playground next to it is our spot for the night. No sense of isolation, no darkness, no real camp. But after the edgy evening, temple atmosphere felt safe. Hanuman the protector. I’m learning the Gods, like the Austrians are.
Day 5 of Roadtrip with Farco & the monkeys.
It is 3.30 in the afternoon. We are lying in a sunny patch next to the highway.
Farco has broken down again today for the third time. Something is wrong but nobody knows what. The Mechanics we’ve met have been friendly, curious and funny.
Spark plugs, coolants, electrical points have all been changed by different people. But somehow seemingly, everyday just after a good bout of driving and a full belly…
— written en route in Andhra Pradesh
Had lunch at a roadside joint. They look confused when they see us. 3 white men, 2 brown girls. What could possibly be the equation they probably wonder. Andhra Pradesh has spicy, meaty food to offer. Main vegetarian attraction is cashew curry. A gravy with actual cashews.
Day 1 of Roadtrip with Farco & the monkeys.
First time it stalls, Aa and I push the car to a rolling start. Full collapse. Ar and I on a mission to find The Mechanics. Friendly enquiries with people yields a story. Closest mechanic died 3 days ago. Hot sun, long walk, friendly fellow on a bike. 3 on a bike till the next village. Waiting. Nothing. Back to the car. Mechanic #1 appears out of nowhere. Seats are taken out, luggage is on the ground next to the road. We are on our way, 2km ahead, breakdown. The Mechanics resurface. Advisors increase in number.
Afternoon spent at the Mechanic’s garage. Friendly fellows. Filing spark plugs down, changing oil, no success. Get towed to Chitradurga, 50 km away. The Mechanic’s car, he asks us for rope, we look at each other. Omni maintenance is new to us. Old chain found. Link established. Chain is weak and short. Broke every 5 km. They fixed it with a rock. 3 hours to cover 50 km.
In the darkness we meet The Mechanics in the bigger town. I have a blazing headache from not relieving my rectum all day. The mechanics get to work. I find a spot behind the garage to deposit my waste, out in the plants. Expert job. Farco is roaring.
Onwards to Hampi. Dhaba meal. Big ground. Sleeping in the car. 3 people lie parallel. Farco sleeps too.
— written in Hosahalli, Karnataka
Day 7 of Roadtrip with Farco & the monkeys – Last day of the year 2015.
Last camp in Orissa. Space behind temple. Slept in a hammock. Something about resting suspended above the ground makes you automatically smile. Farco had two monkeys sleeping in hammocks on both sides. Sunny morning, sleeping stuff is packed onto the top and secured. Back onto the highway. The usual – breakfast, chai.
Now pretty sure we won’t reach Kalimpong for New Years. We sing and make merry at the back of the car. Plan to make an elaborate camp at night. Hours of driving, West Bengal is a new landscape. Evening comes and Farco does not seem happy. Found a mechanic’s garage. Parked.
Giant mosquitos. M gets himself a beer. Scattered around.
Early dinner at a Dhaba. Chicken curry, aloo dum, rotis, jeera rice, tiffin for after the new year has started. Looking for fire wood, what is a camp without a fire. No luck, dark now. Continue to drive on dusty by ways and detours. This part of West Bengal’s road infrastructure is still largely under construction. Ride is hard. Dust everywhere, stark fields of stumps on both sides. Not cozy for an elaborate camp at all. Beers are passing hands, driver stays sober! It’s 11pm and still driving. No sign of a camp. At the stroke of midnight will we be the fools in a box? Maybe.
Town we pass is bright but not a single soul. Are the houses dark because everyone is out in anticipation of the coming newness or just sleeping while the newness arrives at their doorsteps. Käptn Peng is in full power, “er mag sie und sie mag ihn”. Frustration and excitement. Farco finally takes the ‘camp search detour’. Driving through narrow roads in residential areas in search of a sliver of river we saw on the map. Satellite maps cant see dead ends too well. Driving in zig zag paths in search of the campsite. Finally a patch of open ground that looks like it belongs to no one in particular. We are lavishly parked in the center.
11.50pm. Tea light candles, Absinthe in ‘a’ glass, whisky in a bottle. Music from the van.
Day 8 of Roadtrip with Farco & the monkeys.
Highways are narrow and bumpy. Dust storms so thick, can barely see ahead. Everything in the car and outside covered with a fine dust. Palms are dry. Traffic is weary. Brown, brown, brown. Fields on both sides, fawning splendour of yellow flowers.Fields of ‘rai’ ie. mustard. A sip of fresh, cool water for the eyes.
Occasional villages flank roads. It’s New Years day. Fields have folk with giant amplifiers. They seem to be having a rocking party, full energy body thrusting. Farm boys celebrating in their fields, teeth bared in wide smiles and hands pumping.
— written near Panchagram, en route in West Bengal.
Concentrate the energy on yourself, she said. This voice had been there since the beginning of time. Her circular form, in balance with nature, refines itself with each concentric movement, her particles circulate along her circumference. They create music from deep within their lungs and participate in creating her energy, her voice.
When all her particles are aware, she is a sphere of light. The understanding she possesses transforms the leaves of the tree into a chorus of voices. The man who became the Buddha sat under this tree and heard that chorus. He left mankind and walked the forests of his mind, in search of the clanging bells that symbolise the light.
He met the wild elephants that rushed past him hastily. He tried to stop them but their towering strength was frightening. In the rush he found a stillness that saved him from the fear. In the stillness was the silence which let him hear the frequency of all there was to know.
— written in Bodhgaya, Bihar.