So Many Roads ~ MY EYES OPEN

"Eternity has nothing to do with the hereafter.... This is it.... if you don't get it here, you won't get it anywhere. The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. Heaven is not the place to have the experience; here's the place to have it."

Joseph Campbell, 1904 - 1987, American Mythologist

Having glimpsed it, we need to remind ourselves of it, too, as it is not an experience that stays with us, but comes and goes. Seeing it, however, leaves an indelible impression that helps sustains us through hard times.

Traversing old trails, I went by Amsterdam to stay with Jeanne and her boys for a while, then set out to Venice for a last look. South of Belgrade, a car full of French people stopped, and I was on my way to Istanbul again. Getting a visa for Iran there, I moved on. Now, being summer, there was no need to worry about being cold, so I hitch-hiked out into Anatolia with another guy (I forget where he was from), and on the far side of Ankara, while we were waiting for a ride, an elderly lady came out of her house and invited us in and served us food. A widow, her only son was away working in Holland. Why she invited us in, when we were unable to communicate, I don’t know, but it was an-other case of kindness along the way.

Some friendly Austrians soon stopped for us; they were driving through to Teheran in their camper-van, so we had another good ride. We made several stops along the way, and even made a detour to the Black Sea. Also, less enjoyably, we visited some Americans in a small-town jail who had been busted with hash, and had been sentenced to 30 years. I forget how we came to know of their incarceration, but there was nothing we could do for them except visit and commiserate with them. The only thing they asked us for was sleeping-pills.

After parking their van in Teheran, we all got a train to Meshed. On it, I met an Aussie guy named John, who joined us for the rest of the journey. In Meshed, we got visas for Afghanistan, and then crossed the border to Herat; it was my third time there, and I became a kind of guide for the others. It was so hot there, however, that I found it difficult to breath and at night could hardly sleep. Now, to drink the water in Afghanistan was highly inadvisable, and bottled mineral-water was something of the far-off future, so it was a real problem getting something to prevent dehydration. Tea was safe enough, but even that wasn’t above suspicion, and was only available when you were stationary; what to drink while traveling in buses (no trains in Afghanistan; the railways never got there)? I solved the problem by buying cucumbers, figuring that the juice thereof should be alright; ob-viously it was, as it sufficed and I noticed no ill-effects from it.

We stopped overnight in Kandahar, with its markets of abundant fruit, and reached Kabul the next day. There, to lighten my back-pack, I went onto the street and held an auction, holding things up, saying, “How much this?” to the crowd that soon gathered around me. I took whatever was offered, not caring how little; it was fun. John gave me his address in Oz, and remained there a while. I said goodbye to my Austrian friends, who were not going any further, and went through the Khyber Pass once more to the plains of Pakistan; not lingering there, but passing on to India again, heading south as fast as I could go. I stopped in Bombay for a couple of days, then caught a train to Bangalore, and an-other from there to Madras, where I met three English guys who were also on the way to Australia, and, thinking it would be cheaper to fly from Sri Lanka, we decided to go there together. We got a train to Rameshwaram from where a ferry ran to Tali-mannar on the northern tip of Sri Lanka. How could I know something was about to happen that would change my life?

After an overnight trip, we got to Rameshwaram only to find we’d just missed a ferry, and would have to wait some days, as they ran only twice a week, but it was a pleasant enough place, quiet and uncrowded; it was on an island, and connected to the mainland only by rail; there was no road-link, so it was motor-vehicle-free. It was also a holy town, with a huge temple dedi-cated to Shiva and Rama, hence the name. Legend holds that it was from here that Rama invaded Lanka to recover his wife, Sita, from the demon-king, Ravana, who had abducted her from the forest-hermitage where they were living in exile and taken her to his fortress on that island. Rama was aided by the mon-key-king, Hanuman, who, together with his army of giant mon-keys, built a causeway of rocks from Rameshwaram to Taliman-nar ~ known till now as ‘Adam’s Bridge,’ as a stone ‘link’ can still be seen beneath the sea ~ and thus Rama and his allies could cross to Lanka to defeat Ravana and his hosts and rescue Sita

The long-corridor in the temple at Rameshwaram

I was fascinated by the immense temple there, with its soaring gopurams ~ gate-towers ~ sculpted with tier upon tier of gods, goddesses and fantastic beings in their various realms, and long corridors inside, lined and supported by a thousand pillars, it is said (I didn’t stop to count, but there might well have been). There were also large pools of water known as tanks inside the temple, where people would bathe, considering it lucky to do so; I tried it, too, but fish nibbling at my feet soon made me come out. At times of puja, the sound of trumpets and rattle of drums echoed through the halls and corridors; I found karnatic music hypnotic. Then, too, there was a temple elephant ~ a baby ~ that would touch your head with its trunk in benediction if you gave it a coin; I was later allowed to mount and sit on its back when I’d become friendly with some of the priests there.

One day, near the temple, I was approached on the street and singled out from the others by a sadhu, a small, wiry man clad in just a loin-cloth, and with long hair and beard, who invited me to stay with him in a pilgrims’ rest-house known as a ‘dharmasala’. Why me, I can’t say, and I don’t believe in predestination, nor do I believe there are such things as ‘accidents’. I accepted his invi-tation without hesitation, leaving the English guys, who hadn’t been my type anyway, being like football-hooligans, and moved in with him, sleeping on a mat on the floor, bathing at the well, and eating the food ~ vegetarian, of course ~ he provided me with. I stayed with him ~ Jagadish Narayan was his name ~ only a few days; he spoke no English, and my Hindi (he was from north India, not the south, and spoke Hindi rather than Tamil), was very limited, and so we couldn’t communicate verbally, and although he taught me nothing I can put my finger on and say, “I learned this from him,” or initiate me into any supramundane mysteries, or even give me a new name, he gave me something better: a sense of direction in my life that I’d not had before; he lit my lamp and kindled my flame; the rest was up to me.

I went to Sri Lanka and spent a week there, visiting several places and attending the annual Pera-Hera in Kandy, but it didn’t do to me what India did, so I returned to Rameshwaram, hoping to spend more time with my guru ~ for so I regarded him by then ~ but he wasn’t there; where he had gone, I couldn’t as-certain, but to such a homeless one, everywhere is home.

No longer feeling a great urge to get to Oz quickly, I resolved to travel around and see some of the ancient and holy places with which India abounds, thinking it might be my last time there and that I shouldn’t miss the chance. Consequently, I did this, going first to Madurai, not too far away, where there is a splendid and even larger temple than that of Rameshwaram, dedicated to a goddess named Meenakshi. Although fascinated here, too, I didn’t feel what I had at Rameshwaram, which was more signifi-cant to me than Madurai.

I returned to Madras, then passed through Kanchipuram (an-other ancient temple-town), and Bangalore (a modern nonde-script place). Mysore had quite a lovely feeling about it. Using it as a hub, I made several short trips to places not far away be-fore going on to the west coast. Then it was down through Ker-ala to the southernmost tip of that vast and fascinating country, Kanyakumari, where I was present at the Opening Ceremony of the shrine dedicated to Swami Vivekhananda that had been built on a large rock just off the coast ~ an imposing structure.

In Madras again, I asked at the Chartered Bank if I might leave some money there while making my trip up north, as I didn’t want to carry it all with me. I explained my purpose to a young Brit and he very obligingly offered to put it in a safe-deposit box for me, at no charge ~ very unusual for a bank! Then, unencum-bered, I caught a train heading north along the coast, but without a ticket. All went well for some hours; I sat in an open doorway with my feet hanging outside, gazing at the countryside as we passed by; India has a wonderful variety of brightly-plumaged birds which the people leave alone and in peace.

Suddenly, the train slowed as it came to a station, and because my feet had been hanging outside the train, my right foot caught against the platform and was slightly grazed; no problem I thought, just a scratch. Not long after, an inspector appeared, and was not at all happy that I had no ticket, so hauled me off the train, and gave me a real reprimand ~ and quite rightly, too! Then he let me go, with a warning not to repeat my misde-meanor. By then, I’d found that I couldn’t wear my flip-flops be-cause of the graze on my foot, which was just where the side-strap would have been, so I had to go barefoot. Again, no prob-lem, I thought; the soles of my feet were quite tough, and could stand it. I walked away from the station, out of the town, and got onto the highway, and soon got a ride to Hyderabad, where I had a quick look around, then set off for Poona. Still hitch-hiking, I reached Ellora the next night, and slept under some trees; this was north-east of Bombay, in rugged and arid countryside. In the morning, I went to explore the nearby cave-temples ~ or rather, monasteries. There are Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves here, carved out of an escarpment over a period of a thousand years, and renowned, worldwide, for their size, splendor, and art. As monasteries, they are deserted now, but preserved as national monuments, open to the public.

I‘d already learned something of Hinduism, and was impressed by its scope and twin-concepts of Karma and Reincarnation; compared with what I’d been taught of Christianity, it was like standing on a mountain looking at the world below in all direc-tions, while before, it had been like looking at the world through a key-hole; the single-life-on-Earth belief is very narrow and un-satisfying, raising more questions and doubts than it answers.

Inside one of the Buddhist Caves at Ellora

At Ellora, I felt a thrill, as if something had awoken in me. I knew nothing of Buddhism so far, had met no Buddhists, and had not read the book on Buddhism I had with me. The only thing I thought I knew about Buddhism was that the Buddha was a great fat man who sat beneath a tree, waiting for people to come along and feed him, and even this was wrong; where I got this idea, I don’t recall, but there are many people with such false perceptions. So, it cannot be said I was looking for Buddhism, or that I found it; it might be better to say that it found me. At Ellora, therefore, I was first stirred by Buddhism, but this was not the beginning; I can trace it further back from there, as I will show.

From Ellora, I went to Ajanta, a group of thirty caves ~ all Bud-dhist, no Hindu or Jain caves here ~ 80 miles away. It was late when I reached the access-road, however, so I spread my sleeping-mat under a tree, unaware that this was tiger-country.

When I awoke, I felt a sharp pain on the sole of my right foot, and investigating in the half-light, discovered a white spot, which was hard and extremely sensitive. Because I’d been walking barefoot, I must have trodden on a thorn the day before, but I didn’t recall having done so; maybe, at the time, I thought it was just a sharp stone (some days later, my left foot was pierced by a thorn, with a similar effect, so I guessed the first wound had been so-caused. Thorn-bushes are common in India, and the thorns thereon are very long and poisonous).

It was difficult to stand and walk on my pierced foot so, thinking to alleviate the pain, I cut open the spot with a sharp knife to let out the pus, applied some ointment, bandaged it with a strip of cloth, and set off to hobble the remaining distance to the Caves. But perhaps because of the pain and the effort needed to walk, when I got there, I was ‘high,’ and passing from cave to cave, many with images, frescoes and long-abandoned monks’ cells, I had a strong feeling ~ a conviction, even ~ that I was coming home again after being away for a long time. Did I bring this upon myself, did the pain in my foot have anything to do with it, or was it something welling up from my subconscious? I can’t say for sure, but it was a great turning-point in my life, and I felt that whatever had caused men to carve these magnificent sanc-tuaries out of the rock, this was it for me. From wandering around aimlessly, I now knew which way to go; I had a light to guide me. Because of this, Ajanta is of greater significance to me than Ellora.

Partial-view of Ajanta Caves

Two days later, with my foot still bandaged and sore, I went to Sanchi, in Central India, where there are several well-preserved Buddhist stupas, or reliquary monuments, the largest of which was constructed to enshrine relics of the Buddha’s two chief dis-ciples, Sariputra and Moggallana. I was struck by the atmos-phere that lingers at this place, but was appalled at the lack of respect of Indian visitors to the place, some of whom I saw clambering on top of the main stupa to have their photos taken. Perhaps it’s because India has a super-abundance of ancient and holy places, and people have grown used to and taken them for granted, without understanding or appreciating them.

The Great Stupa at Sanchi

Walking down the road from the sacred hill, trying to catch a ride to Bhopal, suddenly, I ‘disappeared’ ~ that is, my body was there, as normal, but the ego, or the sense of ‘I, me, mine,’ was not, and my consciousness exploded or expanded. Knowing nothing, as yet, of such things, even by reading, I saw, felt, or experienced life as a whole, with no barriers or limits, and knew where the center of the Universe was/is: HERE. This was ac-companied by an intense feeling of joy and love such as I had never known before; I felt at one with everything. It was a most illuminating experience, and I wanted so much to share it with someone, but there was no-one. I am not saying or implying that I became enlightened thereby, and it shouldn’t be thought so, but it was certainly a transcendental or enlightenment experi-ence. It didn’t last, of course ~ I couldn’t sustain it ~ and I fell back; but it left me with an unshakable conviction about what I had seen: that we are not this small and narrow thing we call ‘I’, but something much, much more.

Soon after this, I read the book I’d been carrying with me, enti-tled simply: Buddhism, by Christmas Humphries, and I must here acknowledge my gratitude to the late founder-president of the London Buddhist Society, as his words and explanations made complete sense to me, and left me in no doubt whatso-ever that what I had stumbled upon just a short time before was the way which I should henceforth try to follow. It wasn’t a matter of belief, for I had seen and experienced it.

From there, it was not much of a choice to make to become a monk; it seemed the logical thing in order to realize what I had glimpsed.

Traveling on, in Rajasthan, I met someone who took me to an ashram that had coalesced around a woman called Suttee Mata, who, it was claimed, had not eaten or drunk even a drop of wa-ter for 28 years! Incredible though this seems, it is not the only case of its kind; I’ve read of a woman in Bulgaria who was sup-posed to be like that. Anyway, I’m only reporting what I was told, and India is a country of strange and mysterious things. Appar-ently, she was married at an early age, but before the marriage was consummated, her husband died, and she entered upon a period of mourning, eating nothing at all. When the mourning was over, and she came to eat, she was unable to. She was strong and fit, so fit, in fact, that when she went on pilgrimage in the Himalayas, her followers had difficulty keeping up with her! Her story was quite well-known, and she’d been subjected to rig-orous observation by Western researchers, who concluded she wasn’t cheating by eating and drinking when no-one was around, but they couldn’t explain her condition. Her followers claimed that she lived on prana, the life-force in the air. I stayed there for 3 days, and as in most such ashrams, the people were kind and friendly; I was well looked after. I’d be more skeptical about this now, but dare not say it’s impossible; I just don’t know.

In Jaipur, I saw some of the sights, including the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), the 18th century Jantar-Mantar astronomical observatory and the stupendous Amber Fort. Also, because my thorn-pierced feet were still infected and painful, I went to a gov-ernment hospital to ask for a shot of penicillin, and eventually got a shot of something or other, but maybe it would have been better had I not, as you are more likely to catch something in such hospitals than get cured of anything. I can’t say I did for sure, of course, but I developed what appeared to be jaundice some weeks later.

I reached Delhi soon after this, and spent a couple of days there during the festival of Dussehra. From there, I went to Amritsar in Punjab, and after visiting the Sikhs’ Golden Temple, with its mu-seum of gory paintings depicting the massacres and persecu-tions the Sikhs had undergone under Mughal rule of previous centuries, I turned south again, to be picked up by a wealthy farmer and invited to spend some days at his home. I accepted, and was treated kindly enough. He took me to visit some of his friends, and made a big thing out of the fact that I used a rush-mat for sleeping on, just as they did; he must have been sur-prised or shocked that a white sahib should lower himself so! While we were out, some members of his family could not resist going through my bag to see what it contained; privacy is a con-cept unknown to lots of people, it seems.

Anyway, while there, I observed someone beating a buffalo with a thick bamboo staff, so I asked the farmer to give me this staff, and he did; it probably wouldn’t save the buffalo being beaten, as I’m sure they had other staffs for that, but it was certainly useful to me, and when I left to resume my journey, I began to carve it while waiting for rides, until, some days later, it had be-come quite a work of art, even if I say so myself. This particular staff was solid, not hollow like most bamboo, and so was very strong. Now, a staff in India has many uses, and not just as an aid for walking; it acts as a visible deterrent, both for dogs, mon-keys, and people who otherwise might disturb you; I never had to use it to defend myself, but I’m sure it was effective. And I’ve always liked to walk with a staff; it’s like having a third leg.

Back in Delhi, I went to the Nepalese embassy for a visa, nec-essary before going to Nepal in those days. I got one, valid for 15 days from date-of-entry. Then, as I was making my way out of the city, to a highway to hitch a ride in the direction of Benares, a Buddhist monk (the first I’d ever met), asked me where I was going. When I told him, he said it was getting late and would soon be dark, so it might be better if I spent the night at his temple nearby, and go on the next day. I accepted, and followed him to the temple, which was a simple affair of corru-gated-iron with a bo-tree in the compound. He introduced me to his brother-monk who, like himself, was from Chittagong in East Pakistan. I was received kindly and a charpoy was placed out in the yard for me beneath the stars; in October, this was quite suitable as the rainy season was over and the nights were mild. I don’t recall being bothered by mosquitoes, so there probably weren’t many, and those there were I was able to tolerate.

The next morning, Venerable Dhammika ~ for such was the friendly monk’s name ~ invited me to go with him to the home of some of his supporters. I accepted, and on the way there, he told me that, a few days before, one of the children of the family we were going to visit had been knocked down by a car and killed; the funeral was already over, and he was going to give a memorial sermon.

Before going on, I should say that, Ven. Dhammika being the first Buddhist monk I had ever met, I was ignorant about the life-style of monks, and so I thought nothing of it when he instructed the family to prepare a seat for me alongside his against the wall, and to serve food to both of us, while the people sat facing us. So I sat there and ate, unaware that monks of Theravada Buddhism ~ of which he was a follower ~ never ate together with non-monks but always apart. Maybe he thought it would be in-convenient and embarrassing to explain this to me, or maybe he placed little importance on this custom and was ready to over-look it; I do not know. Maybe he was just kind; this I know.

After we’d finished eating, and the plates had been cleared away, he took a long-handled fan that he’d brought with him (and which is used by some monks while preaching) and, hold-ing it before him so that the people could hear him but not see his face, he began to speak. Now, I didn’t understand a word of what he was saying, although it must have concerned the child’s death. But, whereas the people in front of him couldn’t see his face because of the fan, still sitting beside him, I could, and saw that, while speaking, he was weeping, with tears rolling down his cheeks. This moved me, for I saw that he cared so much about the people to whom he was speaking, and shared their loss and sorrow. I didn’t know then that monks are not supposed to show their emotions but should restrain themselves. On the other hand, however, we are taught to consider others as ourselves, and to feel their suffering and pain as our own, for it is by identi-fying with others that compassion arises.

I will state clearly here that I was far more impressed with Venerable Dhammika, who couldn’t hold back his tears in sympathy with the family over their loss, than with all the stony-faced monks and nuns I’ve seen performing ceremonies over the years ~ far more impressed, and favorably so! Should a monk make his heart cold and hard like a stone, which almost nothing can move? Everyone knows that no-one lives forever, and that it’s only a matter of time before we all go through the portals of death; increasing detachment and equanimity result from reflec-tion on this and insight into how things are, but have nothing to do with mere unconcern or indifference towards others.

I spent three days with these monks, during which, the brother-monk, noting my interest, asked me if I’d like to become a monk, and if so, he would ordain me. I told him I would (I had already decided after my experience at Sanchi), but that I wasn’t yet ready as I first wanted to visit my parents in Australia and tell them, in person, that I would be going back to India to become a monk. Thanking them, I left, and went on my way.

Over the years, I’ve thought many times of Venerable Dhammika and his kindness to me. He was the first monk I met, and without meaning to, he gave me something that has stayed with me until now: an example of humility, kindness and concern for others. I am fortunate to have met him, particularly at that stage of my life; his example has helped to sustain me through times of doubt and depression. Wherever he is now, I wish him well in every way, and am grateful to him forever!

On my way to Benares, I was picked up by some English guys, but they were on a ‘hipper-than-thou’ trip, and although they were going to Kathmandu, they made an excuse to drop me off after an hour or so. No problem; before long, some French guys and Norwegian girls in a camper-van stopped for me; I was lucky again, as they were also going to Kathmandu. We stopped in Benares overnight for them to get visas for Nepal, they stay-ing in a hotel, while I slept in the van. We visited the burning-ghats and some other places, and then got moving again. At Patna, we had to cross the Ganges, which is very wide here. There was no bridge at that time so we had to go by an anti-quated ferry, and I recall watching Indians in their white clothes getting covered in soot-spots from the black smoke belching from the funnel.

We reached the border at Raxaul, and entered Nepal; Kathmandu, the ultimate destination of many hippies, was still 100 miles away, behind and over the foothills of the Himalayas, shel-tered and shielded in its beautiful and fertile valley. To reach it, we had to follow the steep and tortuous Tribhuvan Highway, the only road into Nepal at that time, built by India in the ‘50’s at great cost and loss of life to connect Kathmandu ~ hitherto quite inaccessible ~ to the outside world; China later built another road down from the Tibetan border.

Through Hetauda in the Terai ~ Nepal’s plains ~ we took the winding road to its highest point at Daman, from where there is a fantastic panoramic view of the Himalayas when the weather is fine ~ as it was then in early November ~ stretching in a vast semicircle of snowy peaks from east to west (actually, the San-skrit word, Himalaya, means Abode of Snow). It was then a long and at times hair-raising descent to Naubise, from where the road climbed, by a series of switchback bends, to reach the rim of Kathmandu Valley at Nagdhunga far above. Then it was downhill to the medieval city, with several rivers running through, and its narrow streets converging like spokes to a hub, connect-ing to similar-looking hubs in a confusing manner. My friends checked into a hotel in the centre of town, parking their van nearby, and I went off to explore, drawn, as if by a magnet, to Swayambhunath, an ancient stupa on a hill a mile or so west of the city, which has a special aura about it, as people have been worshipping there for maybe 2000 years. Hippies called it ‘the Monkey Temple’ because of the great number of macaque monkeys that inhabit the wooded hills and shrines there; they are ugly, vicious and quarrelsome. On my way there, I saw the van with the English guys who had given me a brief ride; they had just arrived, and seemed surprised to see me.

Swayambhu Stupa, Kathmandu

By that time it was late afternoon; after sitting in meditation for a while, night was almost upon us, and night falls quickly here, with barely any dusk. I had nowhere to stay unless I went back to the town to sleep in the van, but I wasn’t worried, even though it was getting cold, and intended to sleep outside somewhere. As I was looking around for a suitable place, however, some Ti-betan monks came along, and asked what I was doing. When I told them, they beckoned me to follow them, and led me to the upper room of a building nearby where they gave me a blanket and a mat on the wooden floor; I was very grateful for this. They had similar beds on the floor. I spent quite a comfortable night, and thanking them the next morning, went to meditate on a slope nearby, among the shrines and votive stupas. I hadn’t been there long when monkeys began to gather around me, bent upon mischief, as is their wont; they are always on the look-out for food, and are so bold that if they see anyone holding anything edible, they are quite likely to snatch it, and sometimes bite while doing so. I had no food, however, but a little con-cerned that they might attack me anyway, I assumed a Buddha-like posture with one hand raised forbiddingly, figuring that they might be familiar with this mudra from all the images round about, and sure enough, they calmed down and sat quietly around me; I thought it was strange.

I returned to the town to have a look around there, and told my friends I would go to explore the valley somewhat ~ it’s an ex-tensive valley, many miles wide and long, and I wouldn’t get very far. Off through the fields and villages I went, and climbed a hill some hours out, until the light started to fade, and I again had to look for a place to spend the night, under a tree, perhaps. Just then, some people came up the path from the valley below, and by signs, asked where I was going to stay and eat. I shrugged to indicate I didn’t know, whereupon they gestured for me to follow them, and led me to a house perched on the edge of a steep slope, and told me to sit. Others gathered to look at me suspiciously and not in a very friendly way, as if I was some kind of ghost or demon. Some of them wanted to know if I had a camera, but I didn’t; they began to look in my bag for something of value, but it contained only clothes and a few books (what lit-tle money I had I always kept on my person). I was offered rice and vegetables, and they sat around intently watching me eat, as if waiting for something to happen; I had the feeling that they might have put something in the food to drug me, but I sat cross-legged, firmly and upright, focusing my mind, and nothing hap-pened. Afterwards, I was given a place to sleep on the veran-dah, with some dirty and smelly covers, but before I was allowed to settle for the night, they asked if I would like a young girl to sleep with, and when I signed ‘No,’ they obviously thought I might prefer a boy, and so one of the younger males started to get in with me, but I shoved him out. Only then did they give up on me and I was left alone to sleep. In the morning, when I left, they stood outside the house watching me go down the hill until I was out of sight, as if to make sure I had left their territory; I felt lucky not to have been robbed or even killed!

On the way back to Kathmandu, I passed the immense Bodnath stupa, around which Tibetan refugees had settled and estab-lished monasteries and businesses; they are very enterprising.

I made another trip out of the city, walking to Nagarkot, a hill of some elevation from where there is a good early-morning view of the Himalayas as the sun rises over them; Everest is also visible, but although it is the highest mountain on earth, it looks small as it is far away. I spent the cold night in a simple lodge. Descending, I passed through the third of the valley’s ancient cities, Bhaktapur, which is perhaps the best-preserved of the three; the carved multi-tiered temples there, set on stepped plinths, are very striking.

My remaining time in Kathmandu was spent wandering around the city, and when it was time for my friends to leave and return to India, I went with them; our 15 days were almost up.

Crossing the border, I parted from them and made my way to Benares, where I walked across the Ganges bridge heading south, and by a number of rides, reached Goa and spent two weeks with friends on Anjuna Beach. I then set out for Madras, where I retrieved my funds from the bank, and bought my plane-ticket to Adelaide, because some months earlier, the migrants had arrived in Australia, been through the hostel-stage, bought a house in one of the suburbs north of Adelaide, and already had jobs; George had arrived before them, and was living in town; he’d also found work; it was easy in those days.

But I’d become sick, and was convinced I had hepatitis; I had all the symptoms ~ yellow eyes and skin, dark urine, pale feces, pain over my liver, and easily got tired, so that the daily walk to the post-office left me exhausted and I had to rest on the bug-infested benches to recover before standing at the counter to check for mail. I’d seen so many cases of hepatitis among hip-pies that I knew what to do to treat myself; I immediately went on a diet without oil, got some ayurvedic medicine for this dis-ease, and rested a lot, and by the time I was ready to fly out ten days later, the symptoms had almost gone, but that was a hard time, and not very enjoyable. (Strangely enough, when I was tested ~ some years later ~ for the antibodies that should have been there if I’d had hep, there were none, and I found this hard to understand, because although I’d not been officially diag-nosed as having it, I’d certainly had all the symptoms, and the way I’d felt was not an illusion, nor do I think it had been psycho-somatic. Had I misdiagnosed myself? Perhaps. Or maybe the ayurvedic medicine was extremely effective.

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