Waiting outside an ATM booth in town, a person about my daughter’s age, also British, came up and we got chatting.
‘I hope this one works.’
‘I’ve got fifty rupees, and I want to buy a bracelet.”
‘My wife took all our cash. She’s gone on an ashram retreat.’
‘You didn’t want to join her?’
‘I was here forty years ago.’
‘With the Beatles?’
‘That would have been fifty years ago. Not Rishikesh. Just India. Bumming around.’
And, so, of course, this got me to thinking back to around that time.
Indeed, there had been no spiritual dimension – intended or otherwise – on my trip to the subcontinent back then. An opportunity had arisen for me to go there, and I took it. Most of the time was spent under the influence of cannabis, opium or Dexedrine. That’s how it was back then. Accounts of the Beatles’ stay with their retinue at the ashram down the river suggest exactly the same thing.
All that changed a year or two after my return to England when I became nauseated with the whole lifestyle. Not only did I change my appearance and sell all my music albums, but I also destroyed all my photographs along with any other reminders of my past self. I wanted to become entirely new.
Every day began at dawn with meditation followed by hours of writing. Then came a hike through the woods whatever the weather with accompanying contemplation of nature. A period of language-learning before dinner was followed by reading and an early night which never-failingly resulted in eight hours of blissful sleep.
After many years of this routine the sought-for event occurred in three spontaneous stages: the Creative Force revealed itself, pure Spirit flooded my entire being, and the Holiest of all the historical teachers appeared before me and filled me with Peace Profound. All in One.
I’ve got to tell you this town is just as venal as any in the world. As a traveller, with the exception of street-food and mineral water, there is no service or object that you do not pay more for than does a local. In other words, it’s a rip-off. The white people going around in their pantaloons and kaftans and dreadlocks and so on seem to happily ignore all this, preferring instead to see themselves as some kind of elevated and lofty spiritual souls. It really is cringe-worthy. All the visitors of my age seem to be on Largactil. It’s one thing being laid-back and going with the flow, it’s another to be apparently brain-dead and wholly uncommunicative, as though afraid of being found out for the fraud that you actually are. Viewing them, they seem to be living out spurious notions of how they believe mystically enlightened individuals ought to behave i.e at slightly one remove to all the benighted beings surrounding them. God knows what they are like back in their home environments. Equally preposterous, I imagine.
At least I got to experience Holi Day and for the one and only time during the trip was able to see what is a deeply conservative, caste-based set of people lightening up and enjoying themselves.
That’s some relief.
Now, if we can just find somewhere devoid of nasty, polluting traffic…
Himachal Pradesh, here we come!