Ripples Following Ripples ~ THE NATURE OF THE BODY

Next morning, I got a bus to the border, where I watched long lines of porters in single-file ~ like ants ~ carrying boxes of what I learned was dried fruit from Afghanistan; wearing long blue shirts, Pakistani porters passed the packages to their red-shirted Indian counterparts at the barrier dividing Pakistan from India; they were not allowed to cross. The Indian porters then loaded the boxes into waiting Indian trucks.

I crossed back into India without much delay. I’d decided to go to Kashmir, in spite of the fact that it was still a troubled place. After spending the night in Amritsar, I took a bus to Jammu, the winter-capital of Kashmir, and from there ~ again by bus, as there is no train-line ~ to Srinagar.

The road had improved considerably since my visit in ’98 ~ probably because the military needed it for its repressive opera-tions. As we climbed, it became cooler, which was one of the reasons Kashmir always attracted people; and now, at this time, there was an influx of people from further south; the situation there had become less dangerous and permitted this. We got to Srinagar at 4 pm, and then my hassles began. I allowed myself to be hussled by a young guy into going with him by auto-rickshaw to look at houseboats on the river, but wasn’t impressed, so dis-missed him, and was then persuaded by someone offering a room on a lake-boat for Rs150, but when he dropped me by car, and his elder brother took me by shikara, I wasn’t impressed by that, either. Just then, someone else got into the shikara and persuaded me ~ I’m a fool! ~ to accompany him to his houseboat on the connecting lake, undertaking to pay the boatman and promis-ing me a room for the same price. Well, I’d really let myself in for a long ride ~ it was the last boat on the lake, but fortunately con-nected to the land by a walkway. It was hard to pin him down about price, but I agreed to pay 200/-, including breakfast of bread and tea. I wasn’t happy, as the boat wasn’t very good and was weed-choked, with no mountain-view. There was no power, so they gave me a kerosene lamp until power came on late, when I slept. It wasn’t cold at first, but early morning, I got under the covers. The next day, I moved to another boat, but the house-boat owners are notorious for finding ways to cheat their guests, and this rankles; you feel like a sheep to be shorn; moreover, on the houseboats, you are dependent on shikaras for getting back and forth, and they are not always available when you want them. I searched for a hotel, but because it was now the hot-season, there were many tourists from the plains, and most hotels and house-boats were fully-booked. I was lucky to find quite a nice room in a hotel and moved from my boat. The boat-owner wasn’t pleased, as he thought I would stay longer than two days.

Contrary to what I’d expected, Internet-connections in Srinagar were surprisingly good, and at Rs30, not very expensive. In one cyber-cafe, I bumped into the Korean monks, who told me they were leaving for Ladakh the next day, the Zoji-la Pass having just opened; they would be among the first to cross it. We might meet in Leh, I told them, as I would also be going the day after.

My bus left on time, 8 am, but we stopped at Sonamarg for three hours, waiting for the traffic to come down the pass, as it was one-way only. We then began our ascent, which was very slow and involved many halts; the narrow road switch-backed up and was quite perilous, with great banks of snow towering over it, threatening to collapse at any time. At the 3500 m summit, we began our descent, but going down the other side was also slow, as the road there was no better. We reached Drass before dark, and the foreigners had to register at the Tourist Office. Drass is said to be the second coldest inhabited place in the world, but I found that hard to believe; in summer, it is quite pleasant, and the land around is fertile. After a break there, we started off again for Kargil; reaching there at 8:45, but it took a while to get my bags from the roof, and then began the usual hassle of finding a hotel; eventually, I got one, and dashed to the toilet. I’d been bursting to go for hours; what a relief! I slept quite well after that.

The bus would be starting at 5 am, so of course, I got up early, but that wasn’t a problem for me. I had time enough to do what was necessary, and made some coffee, too, to have with biscuits until it was time to go.

Not far out of Kargil, we left predominantly Muslim Ladakh and came to the mainly Buddhist part. From hereon, stupas and hill-top gompas are common sights. The land is dusty, rocky, brown and barren, but, as along the KKH in Pakistan, here and there are cultivated patches irrigated by the Indus, which we were again beside; it has its source in Tibet, and recognizes no international boundaries until finally it merges with the ocean near Karachi, and loses its identity there.

“A wave in the sea, seen in one way, seems to have a distinct identity, an end and a beginning, a birth and a death. Seen in an-other way, the wave itself doesn’t really exist but is just the be-havior of water, ‘empty’ of any separate identity but ‘full’ of water. So, when you really think about the wave, you come to realize that it is something that has been made temporarily possible by wind and water, and is dependent upon a set of constantly changing circumstances. You also realize that every wave is re-lated to every other wave.” (Extracted from “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”, by Sogyal Rinpoche).

Along the way, we stopped several times for tea and food, and reached Leh at 3 pm. At the bus-station, a hotel-tout offered me a room for Rs200, but I said I expected to pay Rs150, and he said okay. He took me by van (for which I would later be billed); the room was good, but the water had a bad smell and I couldn’t use it for coffee. After a short nap, I went out to get more medicine for diarrhea, as I was still down with it, and also had giardiasis, with a taste like rotten eggs coming up from my stomach; I felt weak, and although I didn’t feel like eating, forced something down any-way. Tired, I returned to my room. Leh is 3,500 m asl, but wasn’t as cold as I’d thought it would be. There were quite a lot of tour-ists who’d either flown in or come in as soon as the pass opened; it was just the beginning of the season.

For centuries, Leh was almost-completely Buddhist, and there are monasteries, temples and shrines everywhere; but in recent years, there has been an influx of Muslim Kashmiris; the future will see the Buddhists being outnumbered.

Many people use Leh as a base for trekking, and I could see why; the landscape was spectacular, and I might have gone my-self had I not been so debilitated. My general lassitude mitigated against me doing or seeing much, and at this stage in my trip, my interest was at low ebb anyway. But, since it would have been a pity to come all this way and see nothing, I walked up to the old palace above the town, but there wasn’t much inside, and I thought: Poor king ~ when there was one! I then hiked further up to the gompa overlooking everything; it was quite a climb, but I sat down at the top to rest a while, and took some photos from there. Later, I went in search of some medicine for the giardiasis, and the man in the pharmacy suggested I see a doctor in the hospital just opposite. The doctor there gave me a prescription for which I didn’t have to pay anything but the Rs2 registration-fee, and advised me to return the next day with a stool sample.

The stillness of the night was broken by barking dogs, and I had to resort to using blu-tack in my ears ~ it makes effective ear-plugs, better than those commercially-available. I’d discovered this use for it the previous year in Dogmandu.

With my stool-sample in a plastic container bought for the pur-pose, I went to the hospital, where I waited in line before being sent to the lab, where I was told that I should have brought the sample in a match-box! I envisaged doing it in such a container! They asked me to return for the results later.

To fill in the time, I got a bus to Spituk Gompa not far away, and was tired after climbing the hill on which it sits. There are good views from the top, of the city and airport on one side, and on the other, the Indus river and the cultivated areas on both banks; and all around were stupas, made of mud and probably containing the ashes of lamas; most of them were poorly made, misshapen, and in various stages of disintegration. I sat for a while on the windy summit, then walked down and got a bus back to the hospital, where I was told that my stool was normal, and no parasites therein. There was no charge. I was very tired after walking back up the long slope to my hotel.

Internet-usage in Leh was Rs100 per hour or more, so I refrained from using it; I would wait until I got back to Srinagar. I didn’t meet the Koreans there or elsewhere again.

The night before I left, there was a power-cut and by morning, there was still no electricity, so I had to do everything by candle-light. It was still dark when I left the hotel to walk to the bus-station, and the bus left promptly at 6, less than half-full. We stopped for tea an hour out, and after another two hours, for lunch. By that time I was hungry, so ate my fill of dahl-baht. We reached Kargil at 2:30 and stopped there for 30 minutes, then, not far out, we got stuck in some kind of jam for an hour; I didn’t discover what it was all about. I got talking to a Brit from N.Z.; he was on his way to Pakistan for trekking. It was 5:45 by the time we reached Drass, and by then, all the hotels were full; I resigned myself to sleeping in the bus, but just then, someone came and told us we could get a room nearby. We went to see it and well, I almost turned it down, as there were no beds or anything, but just mattresses on the floor, and the blankets were rather suspect, but after such a long journey, we settled for it, paying Rs50 each.

I didn’t sleep much, and got up before 3 am. The bus left at 4, and two hours later, we were at the top of the pass; it was an easier ride than it was coming, and there was no delay in getting to Sonamarg an hour later. We halted there to eat, but from then on, ran into heavy traffic, with long strings of military vehicles rumbling past; we reached Srinagar at 10:45. I got a room in the hotel where I’d stayed before, and after washing my clothes and showering, went for two hours of emailing, but the connection was poor and I only just managed to read all my mail and reply to most of it. I got a ticket for the next day’s bus to Jammu; there was no point in staying longer.

Security was tight in the city as we left Srinagar, as the PM was coming, and we had to go by back streets until we reached the highway. It was a long and tiring journey back to Jammu; we got there at 6:30, and stopped near the train-station, but what a hassle trying to get a ticket! There were armed police everywhere, and all bags had to go through x-ray machines! Finally, I gave up, and went for an a/c bus instead. A tout demanded baksheesh for helping me, and, not content with what I gave him, asked for more, so I said, “Baksheesh is what I decide to give you, not how much you ask for.”

The bus was comfortable enough, but the ride to Delhi seemed interminable. We finally got there just before 8, and I got an auto to Paharganj, near New Delhi railway-station, where most back-packers stay in budget hotels. I checked into my regular place ~ Star Palace ~ and got the same room as before; this time it had an air-cooler ~ a box-like device that blows air through wet straw ~ but it was hot, even so. After washing my clothes, shaving and showering, I went to eat masala-dosa, did my email, and made a reservation for the next morning’s train to Jhansi; I wanted to re-visit Orccha not far from there. While in the station, I weighed myself, and was surprised by the reading ~ 66 kgs! My sickness had taken its toll!

In a newspaper that day, I read that shortly after I’d left Srinagar, there had been a number of bombings to protest the visit of the PM, causing several deaths. People who’d gone there on vaca-tion ~ even children ~ were among the dead.

By then, of course, I’d resigned myself to the heat, as there was nothing I could do about it. At the station, I struggled up the stairs with my bags and reached the appropriate platform; at 6 am it was already hot and humid. But oh, how nice it was in the a/c compartment for 7½ hours; moreover, there was only one other person in the compartment, and we were issued with nice clean bedding, so I slept a little. At Jhansi, I emerged into the heat, but didn’t start to sweat immediately. I had to wait almost an hour for the Orchha tempo to fill up ~ and boy, do they cram people into such vehicles! ~ and was hot and sweaty by the time we got there. I soon got a room for Rs100, and then had lunch of cha-patti-thali nearby. Later, I made an effort and went to the river; I was surprised at how much the water-level had fallen. It was so warm that I didn’t stay long.

By this time, an inexplicable pain had developed behind my right knee; had I pulled a muscle at Delhi train-station or something? I really didn’t know, but it was so bad ~ and I’m not a wimp where pain is concerned, and can stand quite a bit if I must ~ that upon starting out anywhere, I had to limp along on my toes; it was quite obvious. I called in a masseur, but his ministrations did nothing to alleviate it, and it lasted for a week or so before disappearing as mysteriously as it had appeared; some pains are like that.

Even so, it didn’t prevent me doing what I wanted. I revisited cer-tain places and took some photos. I also went into Jhansi to do my email, only to find out after the event that my pocket had been picked, probably while I was getting out of the tempo; the thief was Rs600 worse off, because although he doesn’t know it, a thief steals more from himself than from the one he robs.

The power-supply was erratic, and my room was hot without the fan. It rained quite heavily at times, presaging the monsoon; I ex-pected to be caught in it along the way, either in India or in Nepal.

The duration of my stay in Orchha was determined by a mysteri-ous rash and maddening itch, starting on my backside. At first, I thought I’d picked up a flea or louse from being in close proximity to someone in the tempo, but the ‘bites’ spread so rapidly that no flea could have done that. It spread to my nether regions and around my waist, and even to my upper inner-arms; I was driven to distraction, and it was only with great effort that I could resist scratching the raised lumps. Was it a heat-rash? Hardly likely, as it appeared so suddenly and spread so quickly. Prickly-heat I’d had before, and it wasn’t that. Was it caused by something I ate or drank? Hard to tell, and it was doubtful I’d be able to get any-thing like Calomine Lotion for it in the village. Perhaps it was an allergy of some sort, even though I’d not been allergic to anything so far. I couldn’t sleep from it. The power went off, but fortunately returned after half-an-hour. We are vulnerable and susceptible, and I’d been thinking earlier how lucky I had been to travel as I’ve done without coming down with much sickness, as there is no-one to care for me. It is the nature of the body to get sick and feel pain; we are not beyond that condition. Reflection on this may give rise to fortitude, and enable us to better deal with things.

The itchiness became somewhat less, or maybe I got used to it, and managed to sleep a little, but by then I’d decided to return to Delhi, giving up my idea of revisiting Khajuraho. My leg was no better, but the rash had subsided by morning.

Paying my bill, I got an auto-rickshaw to the station, and tried to get a reservation for the afternoon train, but couldn’t. I had to set-tle for a general-ticket, and wait for the train to come. It was so hot on the platform, even in the shade, and I filled and refilled my water-bottles, each time adding purification-drops! The train came at 1:45, and I got the conductor to upgrade me to an a/c carriage ~ of course, at a steep extra charge, but it was worth it ~ at least, I got a berth to myself, with a pillow, so I was able to nap as I liked. How nice is a/c after the ordeal of the heat!

One of the passengers in my compartment started to play with his cell-phone ~ at full volume! ~ until I refused to take it any longer ~ why are Indians such noisy people? Everything has to be at full-blast with them: horns, loud-speakers, radios, phones ~ and said: “Oh, come on! Stop playing with your toy! Give us a break! You could at least turn the volume down!” He complied, meekly, but why the heck do they need to be told about things so obvious?

The train was late, and when I got off, the large pocket on my backpack got snagged and tore open, and my Lonely Planet fell out; someone picked it up and gave it to me. A porter wanted Rs50 to carry my bags, but I struggled up and down the steps with them myself, and made it alright. I reached Star Palace at 10:30, and made coffee, unable to sleep for a while.

My fasting blood-sugar-level had been falling for a while, and in Leh reached 4.7, which I was delighted with. Imagine how I felt in Orchha when it got as low as 3.1, and in Delhi 2.5! I was so in-credulous that I thought something must be wrong rather than right, as I’ve tried for years to get it down, without success. What was happening? I could even eat chocolate without it sending my sugar sky-high! It remained way below the desired max of 7.0 for two weeks, before climbing above again. I no more understood the drastic fall that I did the leg-pain or the rash, but how I wish it would come down again! Over the years I’ve tried so many things ~ tablets, capsules, pills, powders, teas and so on, but nothing seems to work. Even my strenuous treks in the mountains didn’t have the desired effects. Roll on, stem-cell research!

The weighing-machine in the railway-station read 64 kgs when I fed it a rupee and stood on the plate. Doubting its accuracy, I went to another, with the same result. I’d not been this weight for many years!

With no reason to stay any longer in India, I reserved a berth on a train to Gorakhpur, and the next night was on my way. The train was very crowded, and the carriage was hot and stifling; the 14 hours’ journey was bad enough even with a reservation, as the carriage was hot and stifling; it would have been terrible without.

Upon reaching Gorakhpur at 9:30, I decided to get a taxi to the border rather than make the trip by crowded bus, but even the taxi was slow and made two detours to avoid police checkpoints. It took 2½ hours to reach the border, and as always, I felt good to leave that exasperating country!

Getting the visa for Nepal was as easy as getting the Indian visa was not; simply pay $30 and fill in the forms, and you’re in. While looking around for a bus to Kathmandu, the sky suddenly turned black and a terrific dust-storm blew up, sending me scurrying for shelter; I’d never seen anything like it. It was followed, 15 minutes later, by a sharp shower. Someone then led me to an agent, from whom I bought a ticket, unaware that he had grossly overcharged me. I also agreed to stay in a hotel ~ Blue Horizons ~ in Jatha, and paid 250/- for the first day. The bus left at 2 pm, and thus be-gan a very bad ride lasting 15 hours, bad, in the sense that when we reached Narayanghat five hours later, the blasted driver stopped there almost two hours, without any explanation. (Fortu-nately, the rain had cooled things down, and it wasn’t the hot ride I’d expected). Then, five minutes after starting again, he stopped for food, another 45 minutes. We stopped again the other side of Mugling and the driver and his crew disappeared for another hour, by which time I was annoyed and tried to get others to complain, but to no avail, except for someone sitting beside me, who’d got on at Mugling; he agreed with me and translated for me; the rest were an apathetic lot who deserved what they got. I got off to search for the driver, but couldn’t find him, so had to wait until he returned.

Just before Naubise, he stopped once more and disappeared to sleep for two hours! Again, I got off to search for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. When he finally returned at 2:30, I gave him a slow hand-clap to show my dissatisfaction of his behavior. Uphill to Nagdhunga went okay until 1 km from the top there was a jam that inched forward, taking us an hour to reach the check-point; that was the cause of it. Most checkpoints had been abol-ished since the tyrant-king was forced to step down a month be-fore, but this one remained. Clearing it at last, we quickly went downhill; there was no delay at Kalanki, except to let people off, and we reached Balaju bus-station. I was not surprised to find no-one from the hotel waiting for me, as had been arranged, as we were so late on arriving. It had taken us 15 hours to make the trip that would normally have taken 9. I gave the driver a final piece of my mind, asking him who he thought he was ~ “Gyanendra II?” I said, “You are a servant of the people, not a king, and have a responsibility towards the passengers. You’ve wasted five hours of my time, and of all the other passengers. You should not be driving a bus!” He kept quiet and said not a word; maybe he didn’t understand English, but he must certainly have understood my tone.

Calling the hotel, I was asked to wait until someone came for me, which he did after half-an-hour, saying he had no car because of the huge Maoist rally in the city that day, and none was available. We had to go by minibus, which fortunately started from there, so we had no problem getting in with my baggage, but it soon be-came horribly packed. When we got out, we had to walk some distance to the hotel, and I insisted that my check-out would be 12-noon next day, not that, as it was already 6:30; they agreed. The next day, I moved to Millennium Inn, where I’d stayed during my last several visits; my preferred room on the roof was taken, but the one I got was also good.

The people of Kathmandu were still celebrating their victory over the king; I totally agreed with them. I had come across this in an opposition-newspaper, entitled,


“Kathmandu, 30th Nov. 2005: While King Gyanendra is in his joy-ful trip killing his time in feasts and whimsical tours, poor com-moners are dying in bed because of scarce service delivered by the state-controlled hospitals. The Bir Hospital, which is situated at the heart of the capital, is itself an obtrusive example of this. Talking the plight of the hospital, there are only two doctors in the Emergency Ward. Not to talk of other wards. Still, Kanti Bal is on the verge of closure.

“The reason behind the shortage of money in hospital is not only because this nation is poor. The king’s frequent ‘esoteric’ trips have been a great economic setback for the country.

“A study conducted recently has brought forth the remuneration of Nepalese king is one and a half times more than that of Japa-nese Emperor, and the queen of the Netherlands. Similarly, the Nepalese king has beaten hollow a score of presidents of promi-nent countries in this regard. The report says that our King’s sal-ary is 173 times more than that of Russian president, 57 times than President of France, 318 times than Indian president, 301 times than General Musharaff of Pakistan, 15 times than English premier. Most specifically, our King’s salary totally supplants the salary of Chinese president in amount. It is a whooping 2426 times greater than that of Chinese president whose annual salary is Rs1,35,648. One can imagine how can a king of a country like ours can afford such a luxury?”

Although the English of this tract leaves something to be desired, it clearly shows that the monarchy of Nepal is anachronistic and needs to be abolished. The crown-prince is reported to be even worse than his father!

My trip was rapidly coming to an end, and I tarried some days in Kathmandu, waiting to hear from DV, so I could make a booking convenient for him to pick me up at KL airport. Nothing much of interest happened in this time, other than visiting my Japanese friends, the Sakais, and staying overnight with them in Patan.

I made a reservation for a flight on Sunday the 11th, and spent some time buying a few gifts and other things.

One night, some hooligans ~ Brits, by their sound ~ come into the room opposite mine around 2 o’clock, talking loudly and turning the TV high. I heard the concierge call them and they agreed to be quiet, but still kept it up. I put blu-tak in my ears, and when I went for my early walk, put a post-it note on their door, saying: “This is quite a decent hotel, and other people stay here. Please consider them and their desire to sleep at night, and don’t make a lot of noise.” I later saw them downstairs ~ a couple of skin-heads, like soccer-yobboes! They left that morning.

On the Friday evening, I got that rash again, but not too bad, and by morning, it had gone.

Subha and his brother-in-law (who had kept in touch with me by email on Subha’s behalf) visited me the next afternoon, but only for a few minutes; I gave Subha a bag of clothes and things I no longer needed, and money for his bus-fare home.

That night, the rash struck me again, and this time much worse than before, so that even my lips were affected; they looked like fish-lips! And I was to fly the next morning! Nor had the swelling abated when dawn came. I felt so self-conscious. It remained like that for some hours, but by the time I got to the airport, it had gone down somewhat, and when I reached KL late at night, was almost back to normal.

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