I should of written this blog post a long time ago. I have been somewhat preoccupied with my photography. I have been getting a bit carried away compiling and editing images for a photo book of portraits on India which I have now actually finished. All thats left now is to print the thing. So watch this space as it will be available very soon.
So anyway now I am going to try and break into my memory bank and remember what the hell I have been up to since Kashmir, which is going to be a little difficult as I have been smoking a lot of weed recently. I blame you Ryan your a bad influence, although it doesn’t take much to influence me when marijuana is involved. So forgive me if this blog post is a little vague.
So starting way back when, I was still stuck in Kashmir as the day before I was due to set off from Srinagar it snowed and continued to now heavily for the next 3 days making it impossible to ride my motorbike over the mountain to Jammu. I desperately needed to get my bike to Rajasthan where I was planning to sell it as my money had all but run out and no body was going to buy a motorbike in Srinagar when its covered in snow and bloody freezing! When the road was eventually cleared I said my goodbyes to the Qadir family who had kindly let me stay with them during my time in Srinagar and set off early in the morning in the direction of Jammu.
It was freezing cold and although I was wearing every item of clothing I had it was still not enough to keep the bitting cold at bay. The road had been cleared of snow but was covered in water that sprayed up all over me soaking my legs. As the sun began to rise it brought some welcoming warmth and the ride became more bearable. The landscape was beautiful as it was all covered in a deep blanket of white and rising up into the mountain all you could see for miles around was expanse of pristine white. As I began to rise higher up the mountain the temperature dropped and the snowmelt on the roads became a treacherous layer of ice. I was the only vehicle going up the mountain was reduced to a painfully slow speed for my own safety. All around me were hundreds of Indian army soldiers on training exercises all looking at me like I was some kind of nutcase and to be honest at that moment I bloody felt like one but there was no way I was turning round and going back to Srinagar.
The ride up the mountain took what felt like an eternity. To make things worse there was a continuous flow of army trucks coming the opposite way all with chains on their tyres and taking up the majority of the cleared road and splashing me with slushy snowmelt that made conditions incredibly difficult. I could not feel my legs below the knees anymore! About 10 kilometres after I had passed through the mountain tunnel I was stopped by a border official who could not believe what I was doing. He ushered me into his small hut where I had to fill out my details on exiting Kashmir. Inside he had a big wood burning stove which I huddled around, when I went to take my boots off to warm and dry my socks I noticed that my jeans were completely frozen to my boots with a thick layer of ice! I had to wait for my frozen laces to melt before I could undo them!
I sat with the guy for a good 30 minutes with my pants and socks literally steaming. We shared my cigarettes and tried to have some sort of conversation in broken english. Once my stuff was dry I went back out to the bike and tried to start it but it just would not have it. I couldn’t fucking believe it, could things actually get any worse! So there on the side of the freezing cold mountain with gale force winds making it feel even colder I had to take the fuel tank off change over the CDI unit with the spare as I was convinced that was the problem. However it still would not start. Stir crazy mad, frustrated and pissed off I decided to just roll the fucker down the mountain. So silently me and the bike roll down the mountain, after a few minutes I pulled in the clutch stuck it in third let the clutch out and boom the engine starts up with that satisfying enfield roar.
Not ever wanting to stop again I continue down the deadly mountain road. Close to the bottom I met a never ending convoy of trucks that were causing absolute chaos by trying to over take one another on ice covered roads that were made smaller by the huge piles of snow at the side of them. It was here that I had my accident when a truck that I was overtaking decided to pull out and try to overtake another truck at the same time crushing me between itself and a truck that had come off the road on my right. On reflection I was incredibly lucky it could of easily been the end for me. The tail end of the truck was actually over the top of the bike and ripped off my mirror breaking my clutch lever.
I took some time out here and smoked what was left of my cigarettes and patched up my clutch lever the best I could so I could attempt to use it. Keeping a wide distance from any trucks I continued on my way down the mountain where the traffic got unbelievably worse. It was completely backed up on both side and was going absolutely nowhere. I was forced to ride on the left outside edge just inches from the sheer drop of the mountain. It continued like this for hours. I was not having a good time at all and to make things worse I discovered that the breather pipe on the top of the engine had come off and must of happened when I had the accident up on the mountain ages ago. This resulted in the engine blasting oil all over me and the bike, looking down was just a big oily mess. I tried to put it back but every time I gave the bike power it blew of again and continued to spew oil out all over the place.
I eventually made it through the nightmare of backed up traffic and down the mountain. The temperature on this side of the mountain was the complete opposite and all the layers of clothes I had on just had to come off. The high temperatures were not good for a bike that had spewed most of its oil all over itself and me. Luckily I was soon to be approaching civilisation again and spotted a small mechanics with enfields outside it. I got the bike patched up for next nothing, discarded my outer layer of oil saturated clothes and made my way to the Punjab.
This was easily the most traumatic ride I have ever done and will be ingrained in my mind forever. Hence the great details that I have remembered. Don’t worry the rest of this post will be much much more vague.
In the punjab I made it to Amritsar and stayed in the same place I did last time. Before I even bothered to wash the dirt grime and oil from my body I headed to the local wine shop and bought a bottle of whiskey and made light work consuming it. After a long lie in I headed to the golden temple for the day wandering the complex and taking liberty of its free meals. Twice. After all my money was nearly gone and I had just spent a nice chunk of it on that much needed whiskey and making the bike good again!
When I could bring myself to getting back on the bike I made my way to Jodhpur breaking up the journey with a stop of in Bikaner. The journey was surprisingly problem free and riding through the desert was a joy although the road surfaces were littered with bike destroying pot holes.
Jodhpur is like a city from a fairytale. It is dominated by a huge and impressive fort that is surrounded by an ancient maze of blue buildings that are fantastic for photographs and getting out of the hot dessert sun. The people here are all incredibly friendly and very open to being photographed. I spent near enough a week here with the prospect of selling the bike as there were many tourists around. Unfortunately they were the wrong type of tourists and the only attention the bike got was from piss taking indians who were offering ridiculously low prices for the bike.
Once I had my fill of what Jodhpur could offer and enough of the piss taking indians I headed to Pushkar where I knew I would have no issue with selling the bike. Pushkar is a place I have been to many times before, its a proper hippy hangout with enfields everywhere and a great place to chill out. I always stay at the same place called Hotel Moon Lake run by an eccentric character with an explosive temper called Pravatti. As soon as I arrived she recognised me and asked if I wanted to sell my bike. She got on the phone and called up a guy who arrived with a fat wad of cash. I handed him the keys and took his wad of cash. I had sold the bike within 5 minutes of arriving in Pushkar, I could hardly believe it. Part of me was upset to see it go after all we had been through together but I was more relieved to never have to deal with it again!
I wish I could say I did lots of cool stuff in Pushkar but after the madness of Kashmir I just chilled the fuck out. I had access to internet at Pravattis place and my website was in much need of updating and general work. So thats what I did. Smoked lots of weed and got creative with my laptop. The hard part was getting out of Pushkar as the festival of Holi was soon approaching and all the trains were booked up for weeks. I wanted to be in Varanasi for Holi and the only way for me to get a train ticket was to get one on the black market and pay double. I didn’t care I just needed to get there so this is what I did.
On the train it was clear that many people had bought tickets on the black market as it was severely over booked. Luckily I got on the train towards the start of its journey and got somewhere to sit but as the train continued along its journey more and more people got on and nobody got off. The carriage was like a can of sardines! The journey was 26 hours from Pushkar to Varanasi and I was in sleeper class. Now usually every person gets there own bunk in sleeper class however on the sardine express I had to share my bed with some old guy who didn’t even have a fucking ticket! It was roasting hot and his sweaty body against mine made it unbearable and sleep was impossible. I decided to go and get some fresh air at the open doors at the end of the carriage but gave up as in the darkness I could not tell what was the floor and what was people!
In Varanasi I was met by my friends Raj and Babu who gave me a ride to their part of Varanasi, Manikarnika Ghat commonly known as the burning ghat. This is the place where hindus are cremated 24/7 and the most happening place in Varanasi. For people who first arrive in Varanasi and see this they find it a little shocking to see multiple corpses being burnt in open funeral pyres but for me I have seen this so many times now its kind of normal. Once I got freshened up I joined them for a catch up and we sat and chatted while the bodies burned right next to us. My friend Arsu baba spotted me, came over and started to make a chillum which he then passed around for us to smoke with him. It felt good to be back in Varanasi amongst the madness.
Back at my guesthouse I met a cool southern guy from back home called Ryan. He was the first brit I had met in months. He was completely on my wave length and it was great to have somebody to bounce conversation off. He was also a complete stoner and together we set off across Varanasi to find the best hash we could find. We went into many dodgy places that had everything on offer and like a bunch of weed connoisseurs we did our shopping. Now in Varanasi weed is legal due to the fact that the hindu god Shiva was an absolute stoner and Varanasi is dedicated to him. Weed is everywhere. Its most commonly consumed in the form of bhang which is marijuana mushed up into a paste and is available from government run shops. Its normally consumed in a drink made with milk called Thandai It gets you completely stoned and cost 30 pence!
Marijuana is a big part of Varanasi life and the streets and ghats are filled with the smell of marijuana smoke. Marijuana gets an undeservedly bad name and reputation back home but here literally everyone consumes it. This is probably why Varanasi is one of the most laid back and friendly places you will ever visit.
I knew I was going to be staying in Varanasi for some weeks and my dutch friend Judith had an apartment that I could use while she was away in Rishikesh. To stay there would be the equivalent of 3 quid a day. I was sick of having to eat out all the time and wanted to practice cooking all the recipes I had learnt on my journey so far. It also meant I did not have to worry about being locked out of my guesthouse for staying out to late. Which has happened many times before resulting in me sleeping on the roof with Raj at his house. So of course I took her up on the offer.
The day of Holi arrived and with it came the craziness. Every man women and child was intoxicated on bhang and armed to the teeth with water pistols and water balloons loaded with colourful water and a determination to use them! Nobody was safe, no man or animal. The colour of choice seamed to be purple, I think there were other colours in there as well but the resulting colour became purple. Everybody was drenched in purple and anyone who wasn’t was soon to be. It was a carnival atmosphere with everyone having fun. Lots of people were drinking heavily, perhaps a little to heavily. By the late afternoon the ghats were littered with purple casualties passed out in a pool of their own vomit.
In the evening the coloured water was replaced with powder and everyone was wearing their new clothes that had been bought for them by their family members that were soon to be covered in multi colours from the powder being thrown everywhere. Every corner you turned had a party going on with huge speakers blasting out the latest music from bollywood movies. Everyone was in full on party mode, the air smelt of sweat and booze and smiles donned the faces of everyone. In Varanasi there is a curfew at 11pm where everyone should go home hence the reason the guest houses lock their doors around this time. However this was not going to stop the street parties. It was comical to watch the police come in force to try and close down the party by pulling the plug on the sound systems. Reminiscent of the police back home at illegal raves. The police soon disappeared however when their palms were greased with a number of 1000 rupees notes! For days afterwards walls were stained with the purple reminders of holi and purple street dogs wandered the sun baked ghats.
My time in Varanasii and India was now coming to an end and after saying my goodbyes to Raj and Babu I intended to make my way back to Srinagar to spend my last week with the Qadir family who have been such a big part of my trip and who I owe so much too. I wanted to say a final big thank you and write down all the traditional Kashmri recipes that Tahira cooked so perfectly. It would of been the perfect ending to my epic trip. However it wasn’t to be. After a gruelling 30 hour yet again over booked train journey to Jammu I could not make it to Srinagar. I was stuck at the last hurdle. The road to Srinagar was closed due to heavy rains. The rain went on endlessly for days and Srinagar was yet again suffering from disastrous floods. Its kind of ironic that the floods always seem to happen when I am in the vicinity.
So excepting defeat I made my way from Jammu to Delhi. The last stop before home. It was a massive downer but hey you cannot predict these kind of things and I just hope that the floods are nowhere as bad as the last one I was there to witness that claimed so many lives and destroyed so many homes. The journey back to Delhi was made all the better knowing that the next journey I will take will bring me home to my own family and friends I have missed so much. The journey home will also take me via Dublin where I will be able to drink my first ever Dublin pint of Guinness that I have missed almost as much as my friends and family and after 9 months in a beef and pork free India I am just hoping they have Burger King in Dublin. I have been dreaming of a XL double bacon cheese burger for the last 6 months! Roll on friends family, guinness and burgers!