Thursday, 12 August 2010

All But A Dream

I have spent the last five months of my life travelling the vast expanse of the great Himalaya, from the tropical borders of Bhutan to the desolate crumbling mountain plains on the borders of Pakistan. It has taken me to the very limits of my body and mind, from the home of the Dalai Lama to war-torn Kashmir, everything has been a blur of beauty in one way or another.

In February of 1968 The Beatles travelled to Rishikesh to find spirituality and much of the 'White Album' through the teachings of the renowned Maharishi Yogi. Some found it and others didn't, Ringo found the whole experience overwhelming and swiftly retreated to the normality of home. I couldn't tell you how much the Pink City has changed in the passing years since that famous journey took place but I can assure each and every one of you that it's immense depth and energy remains entirely intact. Sadus wrapped in a shroud of brilliant orange (and Chilum smoke) float through the dusty streets, serene and blissfully oblivious. The city has an incredible vibrance. Its colours are astonishing and to watch the sun setting over the Ganga, and setting the walls ablaze with vivid pink fire, is beautiful beyond words.

McLeod Ganj with its monumental scenery and breathtaking views, rolling hills and snowy peaks. Overrun with the signature red robes of Tibetan monks in exile. Their futile battle for freedom was known to me for a long time but never fully realised until I was there, living amongst them. The work being done in McLeod Ganj towards the ultimate goal of a free Tibet is wonderful and the genuine desire and compassion from all kinds of people to achieve this is intensely heart warming. It made me appreciate my own freedom more than ever.

With my time now drawing to a close on this trip I was drawn to see a different side of India, one I had no perception of. We left the cool climes of the mountains and struck a course for the sun soaked Great Thar Desert and the fortress stronghold of Jaisalmer.

"On the road south I see a man crouched on the side of the road, weeping before the destruction around him. Smashed concrete and stone. Who knows how hard the climb from the river had been, how desperate his thoughts were. Engulfed in a mind of darkness he looks down at the ruined trees, splintered like a matchstick model. His livelihood lays scattered across the vast slopes. He sits, his friend does not, nor ever will again, no happy long hauls, no smiles and carefree laughter anymore. A mist is rising from the cliffs. Out of sight, on murky green waters float both their lives, and the truck that carried them from the edge." There is always a darker side to the beauty that has surrounded me, it is inescapable and ever present.

On a train bound for Rajasthan I awake and carefully peel myself from the hideously sticky bed to find the entire carriage filled with red mist. I squint the sleep from my eyes and peer down the eerily quiet row of bunks, everything is red. As my knotted mind clears I realise that it is in fact a thick blanket of sand. I stagger to the end of the car and look at myself in the mirror, what looks back at me resembles something teetering between an Ewok and David Dickinson, beautiful. We are hammering our way through great plains of open desert. In the distance a honey coloured town begins to emerge, it's small mudbrick faces glowing in the morning sunlight. The great fort of Jaisalmer stands overlooking the entirety of the town and far beyond into the wilderness. It's ninety nine magnificent bastions standing ominously like proud centuries guarding the precious buildings within. The towns bustling streets and markets are alive with noise and colour, goats and chickens vent their pathetic desperations on deaf ears, the raucous shouts from the stalls rise into the sky on spirals of hot dry air. It is a maze of small alleys which endlessly wind in circles, ensnaring unsuspecting wanderers into an intense game of hide and seek from the touts, sellers and beggars.

Camels are unsavoury animals. Grumpy beasts which seem to be in a constant state of flatulence, spitting, moaning and groaning. Still, what other way is there to travel in a desert? We rode our smelly creatures through the searing heat over colossal orange dunes and vast expanses of open nothingness. We slept under the stars, drank whisky on the highest wisps of sand in the moonlight, walked blind as long as we pleased and broke bread with our nomadic desert guides. I experienced silence, real silence.

I sat quietly, thoughtfully, as he cut the chickens throat, it's life blood flowing through his fingers and gently falling to the soft sand. There was a definitive moment it stopped being an animal and became something entirely different. Our Muslim guides showed such grace, appreciation and respect for this creature it became an almost spiritualistic ritual and as such I felt incredibly humbled. It was something I have wanted to experience for a long while, to buy, kill, prepare and eat an animal. Start to finish. Maybe that sounds slightly sadistic but I guess I needed to know if I could still eat meat knowing where it came from, as an animal, alive and beautiful. Apparently I can. We sat encircling the warm fire with the dying sun to our backs and ate the most delicious and appreciated meal of my life, simple but extraordinary. It was in fact one of the most beautiful moments of my Life So Far.

The problem with deserts is that there is just so much fucking sand, it gets everywhere, and after a battering ride you find yourself somewhat desperate for comforts which don't exist. So we left the desert and headed off on tired legs, back to that endless road. Johdpur with it's vibrant blue buildings and evening breezes filled with painted kites, flown by laughing children from roof tops silhouetted against a fire scorched purple sky. Then, to the opium filled nights in the serene and romantic white city of Udaipur, it's floating royal palace on the turquoise lake said to be a tear drop from Shiva.

"A journey lies behind me, finished but not complete. India has on all accounts been an incredible experience, one which has changed me and imprinted itself forever on my mind. Sitting in the white city, with its green waterways and glistening palace reflecting on the water I look to the sky. Its quiet here in comparison to the majority of India but it still cannot captivate my mind, my emotions any longer. I say the journey is finished but not complete because I have found myself lost in what time I have left. Not enough to find a place or really experience what it has to offer. I have seen a place I love because I have never had the limitations of time so readily holding me back. But now with the prospect of home a reality its hard to clear my mind and enjoy the present completely. It feels like I am just waiting for something I cannot escape, not that I don't necessarily want it to happen.

The slow chill-out trance beating in the background is emotionally enveloping, its methodical thump hits me hard. Music has always had a profound affect on me, it can raise my spirits in even the darkest of moments. I think I began to write because of moments like this, I find it hard to express what it is that alters my moods, so maybe this is my source of freedom I have been looking for for so long. To capture glimpses of bliss lost or irrelevant to all others, so clear to me for a second but then lost again into the abyss. But I have it now, marked and realised forever in my memory".

You see it all your life, it is possibly the most familiar building to any of us, its milky white domes and perfect sensuality so easily distinguished. But, face to face it biblically surpasses any perception and expectation you may previously have possessed and sends you to your knees. The Taj Mahal is perfection in every sense, a staggeringly exquisite pearl on the banks of the mighty Yamuna river. Delicate curves and subtle lines with a pure sense of tenderness and fragility. It truly is a Wonder of our World and surely the most breathtaking monument to endearing love eternally.

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