This is a backpackers dream as we go far from the well worn tourist paths of India and immerse ourselves in some of the most ancient untouched civilizations on earth. The amazing bio and cultural diversity of North East India awaits. This could very well be the life changing trip that many people are looking for; it will certainly change the way you view the world.
The itinerary will be subject to some slight fluctuation as we travel and things come up.
This trip will start in Guwahati but we would quickly go to Shillong and spend a few days in the area trekking and getting used to the area before taking the train to Tinsukia to visit Dbru Saikowa Nation Park by boat. We will then go by bus to Roing in Arunachel Pradesh and spend a few days on various day hikes. We’ll then hire a jeep and head up into the remote town of Anini and perhaps a little further into the Himalayas to the end of the road before making our way south again.
Manjuli Island is a must see since they figure it may be gone due to erosion within the next 20 years. However, depending on time, we might skip this one in order to spend more time in Nagaland: Mon to Longwa. We will take the treacherous mountain road down thru the middle of Nagaland to the capital Kohima, taking our time to visit several spots along the way. Just a bit south of Kohima is another short trek and then another short trip to Imphal. We will return to Gawahati and have a feast before parting ways.
Some of the things which sway us from this itinerary include: Kaziranja National park, opportunities to get more involved with the local tribes, and local infrastructure. This is not a resort holiday and all participants are expected to be in good physical and mental health. Nights in Arunachel may be as low as -5C, while the days down in the Bramaputra valley may be over +35C. We will take at least one train and perhaps a few local state buses where we will literally rub shoulders with the locals. Tourist infrastructure in some places will be non-existent and sleeping conditions will often be less than ideal. Hopefully we can make up for this with some more comfortable home-stays or eco-tourist lodges occasionally. It will also be possible to skip some day activities in order to take time along or just rest. I do not expect much wifi connectivity, though phones (including data) should find a connection for most of this trip.
The cost of this trip will be $2450 which will include transportation within India, lodging, all group meals, permits, guides, and pretty much everything we will need on the trip. Maximum of 5 people for this trip. Currently accepting minimum deposit of $600 to hold your seat for this trip. I expect it to go fast.
The following are not included: Spending money, baksheesh/tips, flights, Visa for India, inoculations and other personal extras.
Highlights: There will be many, however, the root bridges around Cherrapunji and the sacred forest by Mawphalang will be among the first sights to open our eyes. This will also be our first contact with local tribals. The Bramaputra River surrounded by tea plantations as we make our way north. Majuli Island is the largest river island in the world. The ferry to get there will take about an hour. The biodiversity of Arunachel Pradesh and the opportunity to see several species of wild cat as well as a large array of birds, river dolphins, and other kinds of big game animals. We will be on the edge of snow leopard territory in Anini. The incredible cultural diversity including Khasi healers, Naga warriors, Ao merchants, Anini herdsmen and many others. The treks; unbelievable treks and the beauty of nature. Expect stunning picks from every angle.
India has a great culture of wandering sadhus who have cut themselves away from the mainstream society, organized religion, and material dependence. You will not find them in Rishikesh or Varanasi or any of the cities so full of corruption and noise; they will be in the peace of the forest. They will be in the cities too, but you will not easily find them.
Pilgrimage with Mike Holliday takes us thru key locations along the Narmada river valley as we meet with Sadhus, stay in Ashrams, walk with the pilgrims, while practicing yoga, leaning traditional Vedic Sciences and delving deep into the philosophy. This may also feel like an adventure pilgrimage as we get close to the locals and experience the beauty of rural India.
19 nights in ashrams & guest houses around central India
Transportation within India
Extra guides when appropriate
Meditation & Yoga at the Gayatri Ashram on Omkareshwar Island
Walking the forests and ancient temples Amarkantak
The vibrant intensity of Varanasi
Philosophical talks by Mike
Experiencing the heart of India far from the typical tourist trails
Note: This trip is partly designed as an Introduction to off the beaten path travel in India. we will travel and live simply as we look behind the myths and the masks that we mistake for reality. We will be walking extensively, living simply (meaning beds and toilets may meet western expectations) and facing cultural expectations much different than our own.
Clothing should be culturally appropriate for ashram living.
This package does not include:
flight to and from India
Additional travel within India
Personal meals and transport
Mike Holliday has traveled and studied extensively around India as a solo traveler, adventurer, yogi, pilgrim. He began teaching in earnest in Varanasi India around 2012 at the insistence of his teacher due to students who had begun showing up. He led his first pilgrimage in 2018.
19 day pilgrimage to Varanasi, Omkareshwar, Ellora & Ajanta Caves, Maheshwar, Mandu and Indore
20 November – 8 December 2018
It’s about time I bring a group of friends to see some of my favorite pilgrimage places in India: Varanasi, Shiva city, the spiritual centre of India famous for tantra and pilgrimage; Omkareshwar and Maheshwar on the Narmada river are major centres of the 3.5 year pilgrimage that sees a steady stream of devotion. Ellora and Ajanta are both ancient monuments of devotion and wonder. We will make a stop by Mandu for a day of cycling, frivolity and wandering thru villages and Mugul ruins scattered across the country side. The final stop will be in Indore to visit a couple important tantric temples and enjoy the comforts of the city before going our separate ways.
The trip will include:
Land travel within India, most meals, room, guided tours, yoga & astrology
Traditional Hatha Yoga practice including asana, pranayama, mantra, meditation. Bhakti, Raja, Hatha, Jnana, Tantra and Kundalini yogas will all find expression over the course of this trip.
A detailed Vedic Astrology reading and remedy coaching.
Six nights in a simple, traditional forest ashram over-looking the holy Narmada river
Five nights in Varanasi over looking the Holy Ganges river
A small group of six allows for deep integration of the practices and teachings.
Excellent introduction to India for those who wish to continue traveling the country
A unique yoga pilgrimage
Deep introduction to yogic philosophy and Vedic way of life.
Suitable for anyone who is a pilgrim at heart. No prior knowledge or experience is necessary. Sincerity towards the method is the most important attribute.
20 November – 8 December 2018
20 November 2018: Arrival in Varanasi, rest, short evening yoga and meditation next to the river.
While in Varanasi: Morning yoga, site-seeing tours, boat rides, lots of free time, meeting Shiva devotees, astrology charts will be completed for each person.
25 November: Train to Khandwa; bus to Omkareshwar, take rest and get settled at the Gayatri Forest Ashram, easy evening yoga and meditation.
While in Omkareshwar: Two yoga classes per day. Learning traditional stories, parikrama (walk) around the island, visiting important pilgrimage sites, pilgrims and sadhus. Spending time in nature, swimming, enjoying.
02 December: Jeep to Ajanta. While in Ellora/Ajanta trip we will take our yoga where we can get it. There is often an opportunity to practice among the caves.
03 December: Jeep to Ellora and then to Maheshwar, take rest, get settled in the guest house.
While in Maheshwar: One to two yoga classes per day, visiting special holy sites, boating, swimming, meeting pilgrims, singing, & enjoying nature.
07 December: Jeep to Mandu, cycling/site-seeing, and then jeep to Indore.
08 December: Visit Mahakala and Bhairava temple before departure. The tour will end on this day and departures will go from Indore.
Note: let us know if we can help to arrange transport and lodging before and after the trip.
By the end of this trip participants will have gained deep knowledge of Yogic, Vedic and Tantric practice and lifestyle. One will have gained an appreciation for simple, prayerful living and will have a good foundation to continue a personal sadhana (spiritual practice). You will also gain valuable travel experience and a deep humanistic education as we travel on and off the tourist trail thru the heart of India.
Anyone with a sincere desire for self knowledge thru yoga and traditional knowledge are welcome. Yoga classes are easily modified to be accessible to everyone as well as challenging for every level of fitness and concentration. Much of the philosophical content will be organic (arising from the circumstances and questions) so this too will be both accessible and challenging for most anyone.
India can be a challenging country and we will be living very simply as pilgrims ourselves for parts of trip. This simplicity of nature will hopefully counterbalance the sensory and emotional over-load that Delhi and Varanasi are known for in different ways. Travel can be slow and frustrating (most times) and there will a few arduous days of travel, lots of walking, and a group of eight people traveling and living together for 19 days (18 nights). We hope that lots of free time, optional tours and practices, and flexibility by everyone, will allow everyone to get the flavour they are seeking from life.
This package tour includes:
19 days/18 nights in various guest houses and ashrams may be shared occupancy
Many meals, lots of chai and snacks
Vedic Astrology consultation.
Classical Hatha Yoga classes
Additional administrative fees, organization costs, booking fees, travel expenses, baksheesh & diksha donations to temples, pilgrims and ashrams in the name of the group
$1950. A $600 deposit will hold this space for you
Limited to six people. Must have at least 4 people signed up by October 1 for the trip to proceed. Full refunds will be given if it’s cancelled for this reason. I expect it will sell out fast.
One place will have preference for someone with knowledge in Ayurveda and/or Jyotish and would like to do a mentorship in astrology over the 19 days of this pilgrimage.
Unless your seat can be sold to someone else we may only be able to refund 50% of the fee in case of cancellation. There will be an administrative fee retained in any case, but we look vary favorably upon those who find someone to fill their place for them.
Bring a friend and save $100 each (not available for early bird pricing). Bring two or more friends and save $200 while each of them save $100.
What is not included, and why?
Many meals, snacks and chai throughout the day since you will be on your own.
Baksheesh, diksha payments, tips to temples monks, sadhus and service people which are best given by your own heart & hand
Flight to India, travel insurance, immunizations are all your responsibility.
Souvenirs, personal items, personal travel or personal entertainment.
No certificates will be available as this pilgrimage is meant to be a personal healing, learning & potentially transformational journey. If you want a certificate, go to Rishikesh.
If you are unsure about what may or may not be included, please ask before departure.
Your host and guide:
Mike Holliday has had a deep spiritual and personal connection with Varanasi, Ganga & Narmada since 2007. He has been teaching yoga around the world for almost ten years and offering philosophical/spiritual coaching and counsel for over half that time. He has guided many people thru Varanasi and well as thru Indian culture and a few have even come to experience the magic of the Narmada river with him. He is an engaging teacher and story teller; a very knowledgeable guide thru the unknown; a sincere, grounded friend and adviser & he has a strong passion for sharing traditional knowledge. He is an off the beaten path teacher who mostly follows orthodoxy but does not not believe it is necessary.
Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m walking thru some known past or walking into some unknown future. The people I meet along the way all appear to me as dear old friends rather than people I’m meeting for the first time. I become familiar fast, I tell people what I want and expect it with the same ease with which I give what is asked of me. The demands are not unreasonable or unexpected, just what the situation demands. We’re all just fulfilling our duties to the other; to humanity; to ourselves; or, if you like, to God.
I’ve faced some hard traveling in the past as I faced off against the scorching hot winds of the Indian plains, or the cold isolation of the Himalayan mountains, or perhaps even when I walked in my vain attempt at hitchhiking thru the nomadic lands and salt flats of western India. The Narmada valley kicked my ass and so did the Naga hills, but none of it so hard as Canada’s west coast.
Over the past few months, I’ve been from Edmonton to 180 miles out on the North Pacific, I’ve walked, trekked, hitch-hiked, bused, flew and boated uncountable miles; moving far too frequently, ready to give up time and time again but unable to stop due to some invisible hand of fate. The isolation, the untamed nature, and the magnitude of accidents and incidents has challenged me on every level stretching my emotions thin (sensitive as a champagne glass), sharpening my instincts so that they cut like a razor without hesitation, and, of course, breaking my body with frost bite on my fingers, cartilage torn in my ribcage, and infection setting into even the most insignificant cut. (I found out after writing this that I also crushed three vertebrae in a ladder fall a couple of days after I tore the cartilage in my ribs.)
The bear that was foraging on the beach where I camped in Winter Harbour came to give me a sniff at night. I know how these weak dogs feel when they decide to crossing thru another packs territory. At least I didn’t piss myself. I was camping/hitch-hiking on the edge of town for three days before someone came along who was heading back towards civilization (if you can call Port Hardy civilization, and it seems you can only call it that if you’re coming from Winter harbour, otherwise you still have a long way to go before you can make such a statement). It’s not a matter of cars driving past you and not stopping, everyone stops, but they’re all locals, nobody is going back to civilization. And when someone did finally come along they had to honk and call me up from the beach because the last thing I expected was a ride. Speaking with the locals I was expecting to be there for another three days.
I remember when I was going up to Nepal to trek the Langtang valley in January so many years ago. A Brazilian girl was in the jeep with me and she spoke of her fathers belief that Nepal was like going to the end old the world. The cold, she said, exacerbated this feeling for her. Dante, after all, portrayed the lowest levels of hell as a most frozen wasteland of demons. I’ve been out past Winter Harbour and I can say that it really is the end of the world. There is nothing beyond except wind, water and waves. The people of the town frozen in some time long in the past making it feel less like I’m traveling thru space and more like I’m traveling thru time. But perhaps this is the effect of a Ketu pratyardasha during a Mercury retrograde.
Ketu, the dragons tail or south node, is known as one of the shadow planets. He’s a mysterious mystical planet that brings our past life karmas to the fore. He is one of the great balancers of our karmic debts. He works in the most mysterious and unpredictable ways. In a flash he can raise one to the highest status or bring them crashing down to the lowest. Ketu usually shows us our most natural talents that we’ve brought with us from previous lives. These being areas of our lives that we’re already comfortable with, we rarely have have the sense of challenge it takes to stick with something until we master it. With Ketu, we’ll pick something up because it’s there and drop it completely when we’re finished with it. Mercury in retrograde also bring us back to our past, so that we find ourselves thinking about past lovers, past mistakes, or any other unfinished business. During the last Mercury retrograde in the early summer of 2016 I edited over 70 pages of past writing and wrote two unsent letters to girlfriends from far in my past. During the retrograde that occurred last fall I was saved by an ex-girlfriend who suddenly thought to repay a debt that I’d long since put behind me. I was hoping this current Mercury retrograde would allow me the time to finish my editing task. Unfortunately Ketu’s strength had me out on the seas pulling in tuna on hand lines and slicing their throats: brutal, blood soaked work. Ketu has long since suggested to me that my past life followed such a brutal blood soaked path. This is perhaps why I feel so blessed regardless of the Saturneous difficulties of my current life: no matter how hard things may seem, they could be a lot worse.
I started moving back in May when the heat of Varanasi started to rise well above 40 degrees. I headed north to the Himalayan Mountains, wandering villages for a couple of months until I found some nice place to rest. By then it was time to leave India and come back to Canada where I’ve been wandering for about 10 weeks.
About a month ago, I thought I was done and finished. I thought the highways and forests of the interior had finished my off. I though that I couldn’t possibly go on. And then I got the call to go Tuna fishing. It’s often like that, just when you think you can’t go on, just when you think that your heart and soul has given all that it has, just when you think you’ve lost everything, there comes some fresh spark from god only knows where. I’m amazed time and again how much spark, how much illumination is within me even when I think I’ve spent it all. Such will to live. Now, once again, I honestly don’t feel like I can continue any farther.
A few nights ago I was sleeping in my tent when the breath of a bear woke me up. I could smell him and hear him as he sniffed at the tent. I dreamt about him the night before and thru my dream I knew somehow that I was welcome to pass thru the territory. He left when I spoke to him. I’d seen him on the beach, I knew he was in the neighborhood.
“Life,” a wise man once said, “is mostly about wastin’ time, and I waste my share of mine.” Sometimes this seems like all I’m ever doing is wastin’ time. I’ve gathered up all kinds of knowledge that I could not have imagined, I’ve had experiences that are quickly fading from this planet, and I’ve loved and lost so many times that I don’t know the difference any more. But all of this I keep within me. When I start to put my experience and knowledge to paper and print it sounds like some stereotype that cannot possibly be real. How can one man do all of that? Perhaps I’ve taken my memory from books and movies or merely dreamt it.
On the other hand, few of my stories have the sparkle and shine or the outlandishness that people seem to associate with my kind of travel. This search for freedom has not been an exploration of the drug culture: I’ve managed to avoid the coke in Central America, the Ayuasca of the southern shamans, the ‘shrooms of the west coast, the acid of the cities and all the rest of that mind altering experimentation. I’ve done my best to maintain what I consider a certain level of legitimacy in my quest. Many people seem somewhat disappointed that I haven’t explored this drug fueled consciousness. It’s like my legitimacy is lost by not having gone thru this drug fueled route to higher consciousness.
I cannot say that good old fashioned meditation has brought me here alone, just like I cannot deny living in a world of altered consciousness. Experience has been just as important as meditation and fate has done most of the work for me. This path is written in the stars, this consciousness has been a gift of God. If any one little thing was changed then it would all be changed to such an extent that I would no longer be me, but someone else with a whole different set of knowledge, skill and experience.
Sometimes I wish I could view my life from the perspective of my friends and family who see me as a great adventurer, mystic and yogi. Of course my pride has elevated me to Baba with so many clients calling me doctor and guruji, but this very pride keeps me quite about my travels and these people who come across my path.
A wise man said that there’s no use trying to figure it all out, it takes the time that’s needed for talkin’ about the places you’ve been and the faces you’ve seen. Perhaps I waste too much time trying to figure it all out; trying to see how one piece fits onto the other and what piece will come next. So, perhaps it’s time I speak, or write a little more about the places I’ve been and the faces I’ve seen.
A truck driver picked me up somewhere around Mount Robson. He told me that he stopped because I was wearing a cowboy hat rather than a rag on my head. I felt lucky for a moment that I happened to be wearing that hat that was plunked on my head by a friend as he left me to seek my fortune on the side of the highway; it’s more common for me to have a rag on my head. By the time I shared this news with the trucker we had already established a friendship and he was no longer in the mood for insults.
I sometimes come across these big burly manly men who wrestle bears. Of course they don’t really wrestle bears so this little adventure that is my life seems to threaten them as though my meager existence somehow knocks them out of the alpha-male seat they are so accustomed to. Perhaps they could handle it if I was competitive and boastful about my adventures, but the truth is that I never seek out adventure, adventure just seems to grab a hold of me and drags me thru the mud or the sea and then spits me out in some strange place like Winter Harbour or Port Hardy. All I can do when I come out the other side is marvel at my surroundings and wonder just what it is I’m doing here. I ask this of the wind quite a lot: What am I doing here?
As a philosopher I’m used to asking questions of myself. I used to always ask and wonder, “who am I?’ but now that I seem to have that figured out to some degree, my question is more often: “what am I doing here?” It’s a fair question. I have no reason for being here, I’ve never even looked at this part of the world on the map, but yet here I am in Port Hardy putting off my bus ticket one more day over and over. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll go somewhere. I’m too far away from everything to get anywhere in a day.
I was in this situation a few months ago in India. There I was in the village Tatapani which had been mostly flooded out by a dam a few years earlier wondering to myself what I was doing there. As is often the case, I was just wastin’ time. There was nothing there to see or to do, and as usual it was the people who touched me in a way that the land out here touches me. Sometimes these touches burn a hole so deep that the mark will never go away. Sometimes it’s just a gesture; a sentiment.
How often have I made it thru someplace that I’m sure has changed me forever only to run into some old friend who reminds me that I haven’t changed one bit. All the scars are internal. All the perception arises from within. We cannot even imagine what it must be like to see thru another’s eyes. How often the vision changes; that inner vibration seeking it’s harmonious match. Every note is beautiful on it’s own, but it takes a certain degree of magic for harmony to arise from a whole cluster of notes. We often forget this when we’re in conflict with others. We point our finger at the other person throwing blame upon them and challenging them to change their inner music to match our own.
But even in conflict there is some match between people. I’ve seen this in astrology charts when people clearly do not match with each other. Although their personalities may not match, their karma matches; their miserable time together matches. I’ve seen horrible relationships come in front of me and I’ve had to say that yes, there is an astrological match in the charts. Soul mates do not only come into being between butterflies and rainbows; everyone we encounter is a kind of soul mate fulfilling some need in our lives; fulfilling some vision we have of life. Sometimes we need the conflict to feel fulfilled; that duality of righteousness that bring some tension to life.
Some people say this about astrology: “I don’t want to know, I’d rather it comes as a surprise.” But even knowing what I know, life always comes as a surprise. Reading a future in a chart and experiencing that future are two very different things; two very different ways of knowing. When I see an accident coming in my chart it never occurs to me to try to avoid it. One always tries to be careful, but such is the nature of an accident that we never see it coming until it’s already upon us.
A wise man once said that: “We all got holes to fill, them holes are all that’s real. Some fall on you like a storm, sometimes you dig your own.” To this I could add that we usually know when we’re digging a hole for ourselves even without predictive astrology, but this does not keep us from digging the hole. Actually, I’ve written before that most people know their future without seeking out astrological advice. Just as something deep inside myself knew that I was facing the Saturn effect on my luck long before it became as apparent as it is today. People mostly know if they are going to be successful or miserable, rich or poor. Of course crazy things happen some people worry about everything while others worry about nothing and who can say what will come of them. Strange luck strikes from anywhere when the time comes.
I’ve always had high hopes for myself. I certainly never expected to be living on such an edge of existence; clinging to the edge of world wondering where my path will take me next. Venus will soon be giving influence where Ketu has been for the past month. I pray that she will be kind to me, and embrace me with the kind of love and luxury and creativity that she’s famous for. I’ve noticed in the past that her location in my third house with Saturn and Jupiter looking at her often influences this very traditional art of astrology that I’ve been practicing. I remember years ago asking my teacher about this combination as I wondered why I was not using my hands for art and design as I expected from Venus. One look at the charts covering almost every page of my notebook laid my questions to rest.
The difficulties of these past months has left me wondering if things can get any worse, though of course I know that they can. I have a not on my own astrology chart that Venus should bring both a relationship and some writing which sound quite pleasant, but of course I cannot ignore Venus’ rulership of my 12th house of loss and the 7th house of the loss of longevity; both of which are obviously quite ominous. Since she’s living in my third house of effort it makes perfect sense since I don’t feel like I have any effort left in me and if this continues it’s sure to be the death of me. But I don’t suppose death in in my cards just yet either as my previous figuring should give my at least another 15 years in union with this body. My teacher assures me that I have even longer than that.
Speaking of astrology, I’ve had some wonderful clients lately as well as some disastrous feedback. This great intimacy I feel with my clients, although wonderfully touching in a familiar way, occasionally gives me a kick in the ass since I share their pain as readily as I share their joy. And of course regardless of what I do, I cannot change anything for them (and lucky nobody expects me to do this), and still there exists suffering and confusion in this world. Patience and awareness seems to be the only remedy; but such remedies are only bestowed on those of us who are fated for such patience and awareness.
In any case, I’m merely writing for the sake of writing; singing for the sake of the song. I’ll continue to walk in this world between the past and the future, between heaven and hell and all the rest. Non-duality and non-difference between the poles. This fleeting stillness being the only real reality. It’s been said that when truth descends upon us, the only response in worship. So please accept this writing in the spirit of worship, just as I pray each step I take in this life continues to be taken in worship.
Many people have asked me about Nagaland and of course I’ve been meaning to write about it for years. Over the past couple of days I have found these words to say about it. Enjoy! The complete photo gallery can be found on [here] on Flicker.
I went to Nagaland in the spring of 2009. I had been hanging around with a few people in Varanasi for a couple months, when one of them, Damian, got a phone call from Pete. Pete just got back to Guwahati after his second permit to Nagaland and he wanted to go back on a third permit, but he needed Damian and another person to make up the necessary group of four people for the permit. Special Permits always have some strange stipulation like this attached to them. Though these days I don’t even think you even need one for Nagaland anymore; you can just go.
So anyways, this is how I ended up going to Nagaland. When Damian got off the phone and popped the question to a few of us, we all asked; “Where’s Nagaland?” “What is Nagaland?” It seemed that part of the reason Pete needed more people for the permit is that another Pete had tried, on several occasions, to kill him because he thought the first Pete (Pete the Piper), who had called Damian, was trying to kill him. There was a third Pete (Beardy Pete) in this previous group but he was not part of any murder plots and he was also in the group I went with. Nagaland is in the far North East part of India, on the border of Burma. Tribal hill country, warriors, headhunters, opium, baptists, face tattoos were all enough to make my head spin. None of it made any sense so I had to go check it out. Me and Damian and Sinead and her 6 year old son, Michael went out together from Varanasi to meet with Pete and Pete; Pete the piper and Beardy Pete, murderous Pete had disappeared somewhere into India.
We made a stop in Darjeeling for a few days. Froze and then rented a fancy room with a massive cast iron bathtub, it’s own fire place, too many beds, a veranda from which you could see Everest on a clear day, though we’re still debating if that really was Everest for ten minutes early one Sunday Morning. Darjeeling is a full days ride up the mountain from the nearest train station (not counting the famous Toy Train). The day before we were to leave there was a bomb blast at the station. And we were beginning to see from the more local North easterly papers that there was a bit more tension in this part of the country. We caught our train anyways and continued to Guwahati where we were to meet Pete and Pete.
Pete the Piper was is his mid-forties and played bagpipes for some grand British Orchestra and was in love with a young Naga girl and thinking to take some medical training and going to live with the Naga’s. Beardy Pete was in his 60’s, he and his wife were the private gardeners for some estate in the Midlands. He had traveled all over the world visiting tribal groups from when he was in his 20’s.
Damian, the man in Varanasi who I had been traveling with was also from the UK. He was a sort of wandering minstrel playing a pin whistle (and now and Indian flute) and various fairs and such throughout Europe. While in Varanasi he did two things: learns classical Indian Flute and sent home ten thousand plastic parrots to sell for one euro each.
Sinead, who was with her boy had come to Varanasi to meet a guru she had met on-line. It turned out the guru was a pervert, but she had a found cheap place to stay, occasional child care, and a kind of family. Michael, her son, was a super star in India; he fed on this and was drained by it in equal measure.
It was these five and myself going up to Nagaland. I was fancying myself as a photographer and wanted to be a writer. I had no idea what I was getting into. The Assamese Times had reports daily of insurgency activity: bombs, fights with police and army, abductions, communal violence. Guwahati, the capital of Assam felt like one of the most educated orderly cities I’d ever been in in India up till then (and it still leaves that impression). Even the bus we took North was better quality than most Greyhounds I’ve been on in Canada. The state bus dropped us at a town near the Northern Border of Assam and Nagaland, we took a taxi to the next town inside Nagaland and then another Jeep to Mon, the Regional capital. Here is were we finally met with our guide and filled out the necessary paper work with the Indian Army Office. There had been several military checkpoints this far that we had to sign into, and above this we would have to deal with the insurgent check-posts. The army-post filed a claim of improper license and demanded a fee of 4000R’s which they knew would be paid by us and not him; a subtle way of getting $100 baksheesh.
The Horn Bill Festival was supposed to be taking place in Longwa, several hours by Jeep up the mountains, and situated right on the Burmese border. I call it mountains, but in reality it’s kind of the foothills of the eastern dissipation of the Himalayan Mountains, in any case, Longwa is situated on one of the highest of these hills at over 3000m. We passed thru a lot of jungle, villages and people were still everywhere, many of the older faces tattooed with the marks of successful head hunt. The villages themselves each marked by a church with a tin roof standing in contrast to the smoky thatched huts of the rest of the village. We passed a jeep in the ditch that had been lucky enough to hit the one tree that stood between the road and a cliff that disappeared into an abyss. Though it wasn’t mountains, this aspect of the roads here certainly reminded me of Nepal and what I knew of the Himalayas proper. The driver laughed, it was his jeep, he’d done that the day before when he was on his way down to get us.
The insurgent check point was easy enough. Guides in this area must have connections from all sides. Mostly they were drunk teenagers with enough sense of discipline no to rob us. Their only intent was to search the bags for liquor they could drink. Beardy Pete had been thru it before and merely insisted that the search was unnecessary and there was little the boys could think to do about that. It’s funny how often as a westerners in India, all we have to do it pull rank and get our way. I’ve used this with airport security in India, and low level police and army, and it’s as if no one really wants to deal with it so they just let you have your way. In the west of course, these sort of people, most particularly those we allow to carry guns are taught to show people who is boss. But India where the guest is god, even up in these Naga Hills were they so easily came to accept the monism of Christianity, albeit weaved into their traditional animism.
I found the Naga’s to be a very pragmatic people. Anything that seemed like it would make their lives easier was welcome. They saw clearly that the white gods had defeated the brown ones that had acted as their rivals for centuries. Until the arrival of the British, the Naga’s were essentially an iron age society. They had steel smelting, and gun powder, but they had to actually see a musket before they put the two together. Until then they used steel spears and Machete’s, for hunting and warfare. I found it interesting that although they are a warrior society, they did not have at all the sense of courage and sacrifice that I’ve come to expect from the western notion of the warrior. They followed quite the opposite dictum. Guerrilla warfare : sneaky, cunning, silent and quick. If someone sounded alarm everyone ran. Better safe than sorry.
And as for the heads. There is a kind of Highlander belief about taking heads. In many ways, I began to think of it as the Nuclear weapon of tribal warfare, perhaps like scalping, a warning to others less ruthless about causing trouble. It’s one think to have your loved one killed, it’s quite another to have their head taken and put on a stake to someones village entrance. You can imagine the power you can take from a rival village after taking several heads. The early Tantric warriors likely followed a similar belief. There was no ego in the elders here. The younger generation had plenty of ego hanging out fifties style with their rock’n’roll, slicked black hair, rolled jeans and motorbikes. The contrast with the older generation was striking to say the least. From hunter and gather to Elvis in two short generations. The middle age people were somewhere in between. And of course, seeing the girls hanging out with the guys in India is always a spectacle, but this fifties style teenagers hanging out against the tribal backdrop was unreal.
We were welcomed to Longwa with a storm, as the local ladies cooked up some of the rice and dal we had brought up with us. When we ran out of food a couple days later we discovered that they had been feeding several families with our store. Many of the men who usually toured the hills were in the village to prepare for the festival. The clan we were staying with was building a new morung, a bachelor dormitory that was fairly common up there. They had taken down the old one and saved what they could. The government had given them a permit to take a couple big trees from the jungle for carving the main beams and a new log drum. They would also sacrifice a mithun a mostly wild Jungle buffalo that is considered sacred. The intention was to give the clan and the new morung positive power. Besides the workers need to be fed some good food, since they mostly seemed to live on just rice.
The morung was constructed in just a few days. I was proud to have helped put up the main beams; everyman went to help with that. My beard and my large frame got me the nick-name Baloo (Hindi for bear).
The sacrifice of the mithun was more interesting. We were told that it was happing so we went to a small valley in the village. There was the mithun, a massive bulky animal already tied up. Some of the men were working to get one of their massive jungle made ropes around each of its feet. They worked quickly and quietly and there was an obvious intention of not getting the animal excited. Once the mithun was secure, another man came walking down the hill with a spear over his shoulder like he’s taking a walk in the park. He stopped beside the mithun and gave it one smooth stab with the spear into what I assumed to be the heart. There was some struggle and then she slowly collapsed. I noticed, as it took it’s last breath that one of the men who had come to hold it down in those last moments gently slid his foot over its eye to close its eyelids. The children were crowded around teasing each other and making disgusted faces. The men pulled out their dao (machetes) and set to work on the butchering. It probably took less than an hour, they had small stretchers mad of bamboo that they would place parts on to be hauled away. The head and many of the internal organs were carried in this manner, one man took a leg over his shoulder, several others walked away with bloody bits dripping from their arms. I had no doubt that every part of this animal would get used in some way.
Something I always found curious is that the mithun was pregnant. Judging by the size of the fetus I would have expected it to give birth soon. They obviously took the killing of this animal as a bad omen and they did not mean to kill the fetus; the entrails reading they did on mama mithun also indicated problems in the coming years. Even today it seems strange to me that no one noticed that this mithun was pregnant before the sacrifice. They obviously had not advanced into animal husbandry. I should note here as well that their agriculture consisted of very intensive slash and burn agriculture. There seemed to be more barren hills than jungly ones as their population had been expanding and resources dwindled. I remember commenting to one English speaking Naga that I was surprised to have not seen more animals in the hills. He looked at me like I was a very stupid man and said only: “we eat meat.” They had, it seems, eaten all the animals in the area. I’d heard of this similar thing in Vietnam after the war: the people were so poor that for a time you could not even find a single rat in the country.
The Naga’s are this poor. Actually can’t quite be that poor since the odd dog is kept as a pet. I asked about the rumours I had heard in mainland India about the Nagas eating dog and was told dog was strictly medicinal, and I suspect useful in case of emergency. Human they told me was not a part of their diet, they merely took heads and performed a kind of voodoo on them, rat was plentiful in the marketplaces of the larger towns, but up here in the hills not even a single jungle rat was seen. I had, up to this point, seen a great deal of poverty throughout India and Nepal, but there was something different about the poverty here. Here I saw no government agencies handing out rations of food, water and fuel like I saw in many other areas of India. The World Bank was active here trying to alleviate their poverty. Unfortunately these once proud warriors could not seem to embrace the bee keeping projects that had been set up for them. If I ever need proof of the ineffectual abilities of a global organization to understand local demographics, then Longwa certainly provided me with that proof.
Here I was in the heart land of some of the most fierce tribal warriors still living on this earth. They are famed these days for opium trafficking, trafficking in endangered species parts, as well as human trafficking. Their jewellery celebrates the headhunts and is typically made from bone and teeth of any animal including possibly man, monkey, rhinoceros, horn-bill, tiger, bat rat and rodent skulls teeth and claws. There is often fierceness to their jewellery that, when combined with the facial tattoos, strikes one immediately with fear. But of course one notices quiet quickly that despite the head-hunting and the opium addiction, the insurgency and the ineffective central government, the people are considerably gentle and happy. How they laughed when I put my power under the logs to hoist them into place for the morung, And even more laughter over the children who were afraid of me and my beard thinking that I was perhaps only half human. There was a hint of seriousness and fear behind the nickname they had given me – Baloo. And this nickname would change before my week was up.
On day when I was sleeping in the afternoon since I spent most nights shivering with cold rather than sleeping a bunch of people burst into the room. Pete the Piper was there asking if I knew how to give stitches. In my half awake state I admitted that I did. One of the men had given himself a deep cut to one of his fingers. Pete had some sutures in his first aid kit (and I’ve since added some to mine). So Pete and I worked together to sew up the mans hand. I think we put in something like 8 stitches. We didn’t use any kind of pain killer but the man never flinched once. After ward he asked us for some tablets for pain. Of course we both had some in our bags, but in an area where opium is cheaper than water, the request seemed ridiculous to us. We suggested he use opium for pain relief. The next day another man came to us with a stomach wound that was very unlikely to have been a construction accident like the finger from the day before. We fixed this fellow up as well and this is when Pete started to imagine his potential usefulness in these hills. The closest hospital was at least a full days travel and it was sure to have inadequate supplies. It was after these episodes that my nickname was changed from Balloo to something along the lines of “ghin-whan” which someone explained to me was a very high title that conferred the ability to advise even the king. Soon after, I was presented with a set of beads strung with a monkey bone that was said to belong only to the shamans of the tribe.
The community feel of the village was perhaps the strongest I have felt anywhere. India generally has tighter knit communities than those of Canada, but Nagaland, with its lack of segregation of men and women or cast, was even closer energetically. Men and women would spend their days, preparing food and singing, everyone would mix freely with each other. Inside the morung would be several small fires: some for the children, others for the adolescent men, and a couple others for the elders, women would be scattered here and there. They were not banned from the morung, and actually they were called upon to carry out a special ceremony and chant when the construction of the morung was complete, but the truth is that they often kept company among themselves in the multi-family huts.
But it wasn’t all roses up in the Naga Hills. Whenever we weren’t with our guide, children would come out on the trails and try to scare us away by waving machetes and throwing sticks and rocks and whatever else was handy. Most of them had never seen anything like us five white people who were suddenly wandering around their village and their trails. And those who had perhaps seen a white person before, had certainly never seen a white child. They simply could not fathom what we were doing there or even from where we had come. Michael, came crying to mom with a new wound daily as the European boy and the tribal boys simply could not find any common ground upon which to play. It seemed only a matter of time before the sticks and stones would break a bone and momma bear decided to leave the village before the festival. So, her and I and Michael caught the next ride down the mountain and back to the town of Mon where we would have to wait for the others to come meet us so we could use our permits to get out of the region.
While we were in Mon enjoying the comforts of having our own rooms, a kitchen that we could use and access to a market, Michael went outside to play. At some point the owners also went out to celebrate the festival and in order to keep us safe, they locked us in. This of course kept Michael locked out. But he had met a teenaged Naga who spoke good English and Sinead decided that there was no choice but to accept the teens good will to care for Michael for the day. Later in the evening when the door was finally opened for us, we found Michael at the one vaguely modern house in town. It seems he got us an in with the family of “The Father of Mon.” This was no educated political family, but rather more of a gangster family who had been passing down power for generations. They shared photo albums and stories, fire roasted chicken and Wisers Whiskey.
The teen age spoke of the generational gap in his family. How his older brother was following in his fathers gangster foot prints, and how he himself was proving to be a disappointment to the family because he wanted to continue studying science in the city and go on to University instead of learning how to fight and kill and be a gangster. We heard stories of cold blooded murders by the oldest brother; there never seemed to be valid reason for his murders (not even from a gangster perspective). He was simply and angry unpredictable drunk who had fathers power to get him out of jail and charges every time. The youngest son just wanted to be a scientist. In many ways, the father is likely correct that gangsterism will be more lucrative in Nagaland than science.
The stories of this incredible region could go on and on, but I want to conclude with a small list of facts to answer the most common questions I get.
The last headhunting war was in 1992 when over 80 heads were taken by the victors.
There are over 37 culturally and linguistically distinct tribes in the Naga hills. The Konyaks, who I was staying with, were the victors of the last headhunt and famed for being the most vicious of the Naga tribes. It’s no wonder they seemed to take a dominant role in the region. When asked if there remained any tension between the tribes, I was told by one Konyak Naga that there some Chin Nagas, against whom they fought their last war, who still lived in their towns and villages, but they didn’t cause any trouble because they knew the Konyaks would take their heads if they did. This wasn’t said in a menacing tone, just a matter-of-fact statement that I think everyone around already knew the truth of.
Part of the reason this area had avoided foreign influence, development, social and economic modernization is because they have been fighting a war for independent status against India ever since India was granted independence from England. Money, weapons and logistics was often provided by China or Pakistan or Bangladesh, all counties that stand to gain from an unstable India. These days the Naga insurgency has gone mostly quiet, but other organizations in the area have picked up where they left off. All the valuable contacts that were made with China, Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh have been passed on to other organizations in the North East to continue the random bombings on street corners, trains and buses, to say nothing of all the illegal trade practices that go on in order to fund all of this insurgency.
Since I have been there, they have removed all restrictions to travel in the area. Longwa has been hooked up to electricity and the people now have televisions to watch. I was told by one recent traveler that when the power came on it was such a big deal that the children would fight over who got to flick the switch. And although things like refrigeration and lighting have not to been brought in to revolutionize their lives, the chief now spends most of the hours of power parked in front of the television watching animal planet and other such shows which is kind of doubly sad knowing that they have killed almost all the animals of their region for food.
People often ask me if I tried the opium while I was up there. I have to admit that I did. Many would claim that some of the purest opium in the world would pass thru this region. From the effect it had on my I’d be likely to agree. It was late in the night the first time I tried it. The effect seemed minimal until the next day that passed with me in what appeared to my friends to be a complete daze. In reality it was a day of hallucination. Every kind of demon and devil passed thru my mind that day. I was frightened for myself and frightened for those who were up there with me. I knew somehow that I had no control over my mind and no idea even that I had a body; the existential “I” had completely left this body-mind complex. For months afterward even I would have to stop whatever I was doing and try to sort out dream/hallucinatory experience from reality. In hindsight, opium has been one of the most powerful stimulants of altered consciousness I have ever taken (though admittedly I have not been overly experimental in this regard). The profound position of doubt that I would often find myself in in those months after opium were some of the most profound philosophical, existential moments of my life. Of course I had pondered existence throughout my philosophical studies and I had even had fairly profound meditations on the same up to this point, but none of this could have prepared me for the depths of the unknown that opium would take me. I smoked opium three times up there from pipes made of either bamboo or the thigh bone of a mithun. They were water pipes, a bamboo shoot filled with black tea sat in the fire and we would sip this, swallowing as we exhaled in order to ease the burning of the throat caused by opium. After the day of hallucination I never had anymore problems per-say: it was pretty mellow as one would expect. However, as we started coming down from the hills and I started to come down from the opium I came down with such fevers and chills, vomiting and shitting like I thought I might die on the 40 degree train journey from Gawahati to Kolkata. The doctors in Kolkata found nothing wrong with me and merely wrote NAGALAND diagonally across the more than half his diagnosis sheet.
Most Indians were disgusted that I had gone to such untouchable lands, that in itself seemed to be the cause of my illness according to this doctor. And perhaps he’s partly right, I partook in the rituals of the untouchables, the savages, the tribals, or Adavsis as they politely say in India, in Indian government speak they are the scheduled classes. They have government sanctioned affirmative action on their side, but like in Canada their lands and way of life are completely neglected. The outcasts of India are the same as the marginalized people in Canada. The tribals treated much as the natives here. They’re welcome into society as long as they accept societies standards and culture, but government and society will never support you in continuing to live in tribal fashion or in other ways that do not accord with government and society. Thus there are out-castes because anywhere you go there are people who either don’t want to or don’t have the skills or the knowledge or the background to be able to too fit into society.
The punishment for not fitting with society and perhaps for not accepting or being able to live up to the Rousseauian Social Contract is beatings, and sexual abuse, abductions, and being forced into all kinds of degrading slavery and addictions that are disregarded. Police and governmental disinterest, as well as being low on the list of priorities for most of society keeps much of it invisible in India the same way as in Canada. This is the life of the out-caste and marginalized everywhere. Some few out-caste find their way into at least partial acceptance by society when they fully embrace their ways. Getting thru a full course of schooling up to Bachelor level is a good way for one born of “savages” to certify that he or she is civilized. This was the dream of the teenaged younger brother of the Naga family: to study science and gain some acceptance from society. I suspect it still remains difficult to get that acceptance from society even long after your “savage” roots have been severed. In Canada we would likely start saying that they’ve become more white than native at this point, but society will always see the native even after the relatives begin to only see the whiteness. [I don’t mean this in a derogatory way to anyone, but many people will understand what I mean. White people generally have set the standard for modern civilized society, the created it and defined it and has a subtle way of keep down those who do not accept it. Natives, the red Indians of North America are said to be anthropologically related to the Naga’s, as well as tribes in The Philippines and Borneo.
I thought a lot about disappearing cultures and languages while I was up there. It was an honour to be among the first foreigners to see Longwa and Mon. Of course even at that time many of the traders had been down from the hills and seen different cultures and television. But there was still no electricity or even cell service there then. We knew it was coming. They wanted electricity so they could watch TV. All the young people wanted modern things: nice clothes, houses, machines, make up, style and individualism, education, and the pleasures of music art and love.
It seemed to me when I left Nagaland that the Nagaland I witnessed would soon be gone, the older generation as getting old and the younger generation was in a race to to meet or beat society; few are keen on living any kind of traditional communal tribal life. So, if my only duty to the Nagas is to tell people that they are there and that they exist, I hope this article completes that duty.
From a Canadian perspective we cannot imagine what a report on missing and murdered Nagas would reveal, the numbers would be mind boggling to us. I don’t ask that we write the Indian government or even protest in their name. What can we do? We have our own problems? But just by sitting thru this and reading to this point you have paid witness to the Nagas with me. And if you share even the smallest part of this story, you will be giving someone else the opportunity to witness as well. In many case, this seems to be all we can do for the marginalized and forgotten people of society even here in Canada: just see them, see them the way you yourself long to be seen, completely. The more we expand this vision of the weak and oppressed and all those who suffer from neglect, isolation, and invisibility, the more we see that to be seen is an inner longing we all have, rich and poor alike.
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I was asked to write a few words about India to help sooth some of the hearts that are missing Mother India’s expansive embrace. India is an impossible country that will easily defy anything I say about her. Those of you who have met Mother India know her more surely than my words, while those who have not had such a pleasure of meeting her may find my words hollow and empty. The best I can do is cobbling together a few popular prayers to help invoke her presence. Actually, I admit that it’s probably best to keep silent on the matter of India since my words can only lead you away from who is really India. I know that the moment I put my fingers to the keys I will miss the point. Even before that moment, the point is missed on the arising of the first syllable in my mind. Never the less, I will order those syllables and present them here to add a little spice to your memories and imaginings of India.
Om Sri Ganesha Namaha…. Remove the maya and the impurities from my mind so that I can know the truth of this matter. Om Namo Narmada…. Remove the maya and impurities from my senses so that I can see the truth of this matter. Om mataji… thank you for this maya and impurity, without which there could be no experience, no knowledge, no sight. Om Vishnu Om Vishnu Om Vishnu…. Thank you for your dedicated management of the 3 gunas. Om Namah Shivaya…. When all else fails we know Shiva will take care of things.
India is like this prayer of mine: she’s made of a bunch of parts that seem to fit together and then given her own meaning by everyone who comes along. But no one can understand her any more than they can understand this prayer; despite the confusion, she leaves you with a nice feeling. I recently watched a three hour video on “how to correctly recite Om” and it left me feeling much more confused about the topic, but somehow more confident to approach it. India is a little like this.
Everyone loves Ganesha. If India changed their tourist motto to “come meet Ganesha,” many more people would flock to the country. But perhaps this is why they don’t use this motto; with Ganesha’s blessing we might scurry in like the charming rats so often pictured with Ganesha to come knaw on a sweetened ball grain that is India, and then what would become of India?
Ganesha can be said to be the pleasure loving side of our minds. And the rat beside him, always knawing on something, just like the mind chewing on the sweetness of our mental impression. The pair of them only serves as distraction, and it’s said that you can plead, appease, or command the removal of their obstruction, as you wish. But before we move on, it’s advised we deal with this pleasure loving side of us that is attached to the sweet fruits of our senses.
Narmada pilgrimage can be said to be a remedy for such attachments. There are numerous remedies of course, but Narmada is a special pilgrimage lasting over three and a half years. Devotees begin with nothing but faith and a song. It sometimes seems as though this is all India has as well: faith and a song. It’s hard to even imagine the kinds of peace and compassion she has inspired though Gandhi and Teresa are testaments to this inspiration. The Narmada pilgrimage is followed by all kinds of people: the poor and landless, criminals in hiding or those seeking some gain, itinerants who are too lazy to get a job and enjoy the simple life by Narmada, and of course the many others singing with devotion the songs of love for their mother/sister/daughter/lover Narmada. Her devotees are Bhaktis spreading peace and love and the fruits of their action. The Sufis and Hare Krishnas follow a similar path sometimes become as wild and natural and loving as a fawn in the forest.
The common word for crazy in India is pagal. This word assumes a degree of satisfaction in ones own mental state. This is why they don’t generally disturb crazy people here, they might not be acting up to society standards but if they’re not hurting anyone, leave them, they’re pagal, and usually happier than the rest of us. And the rest of us could possibly learn something from such satisfaction. Although pagal is certainly distinct from enlightened, there is certainly some connection on an individual basis.
After a few trips to India, she will certainly make you pagal. You feel enlightenment fill your heart and you stop caring for anything else, though in the process you will such feel a great bursting of love as well as your personal boundaries. You become so open and loving and compassionate and so completely pagal friends and family will certainly recognize your pagalness when you get home. Armed with the words of Krishna Murtri or Osho you will expound on the insanities of your friends and families and societies. This is likely only the first sign that enlightenment is possible for you, you may have tapped into your source, but without any control you’re certainly only pagal.
For our madness of India we need Mataji. If there’s anyone we can rely on to keep things real, it’s Mataji. Ask and you shall receive comes from Mataji. Openness and vulnerability and leaving your lives in the hands of fate is one side of things; the other side of things is to complete our own desires. Open and vulnerable without any direction is wonderful place from where to discover your own direction, but it will lead also to a lot of following other peoples direction and being used to complete their own desires without concern for yours. I believe this is largely why most scriptures advise being in a spiritual community for doing practice: so that you will be in safe hands. But of course we know also that spiritual communities are just as likely to be corrupt as the rest of society (especially where sex, wealth, power, fame, or reputation are involved).
Most of us have only one spiritual community to lean on for comfort and protection, she goes by various names, but she is known as the ground we walk on, the water we drink, the air we breath, the fire in our bellies, and the ground for all of these things. She is Mataji, the great mother who provides everything we could ever want or need. She is also known as Shakti because she provides the power for our senses, our action and our mind. There is no spiritual community greater than the one provided by Mataji.
Walking the streets of India is often an exercise in our faith in the spiritual community of Mataji. When you look at this country and put your mind to the things going on around here you will surely stumble into a less satisfied state of pagal; you’ll want to change everything. But if you just take a couple deep breaths, turn off the mind and start walking everything opens up and it becomes easy to navigate the crowds on the streets as well as the crowds of thoughts in the mind. This is trusts in Mataji, and I surely need her help to get through this article. Trust and write….. trust and walk…. Trust and move forward in life…. Just let time do its work.
Om Vishnu Om Vishnu Om Vishnu…. Vishnu is the sustainer and the preserver of things. Those nice thoughts that rise up, to form nice sentences and ideas that find their way to action shaping the whole world as well as your own inner world are sustained beyond the original moment of inner vibration by Vishnu. Vishnu is the humble labourer taking the three qualities of nature, the purity, the impurity and the action that is always mixing the two, and reshaping the world moment to moment according to the natural laws of Mataji.
When we walk the streets of India, we cannot forget these three qualities of Mataji, which are so expertly operated by Vishnu. The quality of purity (sattwik), which gets the whites white in the Ganges and does not leave dead pilgrims strewn along her banks after drinking the nectar from her flow. What is it about purity that allows us to look past the garbage and the feces and the smells of all of this and tell all our friends how beautiful and uplifting India can be? It’s a tricky one this purity. The quality of impurity, on the other hand, is simple, lazy and inert. We know garbage is nothing like this, but rocks are, which, by simple logic, could make garbage more pure than rocks. But of course simple logic doesn’t work in a country that insists on the reality of even the most wildly imagined thoughts. And since no one around here seems to be keeping it real except the poorest of the poor it can be nice know that Vishnu is always doing his part to keep things in some kind of strange balance.
But for all the comfort and security offered by the likes of Mataji and Vishnu there’s only one man we can always turn to for peace, and that’s Shiva. Some call him the Destroyer, but that’s such a crass name for someone who reabsorbs our every thought into his cooling waters. He’s the one taking all the thoughts, ideas, actions and even sensations away from our conscious experience. He lets us look from one thing to another while completely forgetting about the other thing. So when you’re done reading this article and move on with your day forgetting all about this experience, you can thank Shiva for his graceful way of bringing everything to some end.
And with that said, I pray that this shabby prayer of mine coupled with the shabby explanation will complete my duty to write about this shabby country. On the one hand India seems to be just hanging on by some small corner of a brick, while on the other hand it feels as though it will persist long after the shinny buildings of the west have crumbled, and just by one small corner of a brick holding everything up. You can’t even imagine it could do that, but here it is before you, the impossible, incredible India…. starring Ganesha. 🙂
I was welcomed to the City of Light this year by a cycle rickshaw ride from the train station that was a nice change from the ever-frantic auto rickshaws. The familiar odors of the city rose up to greet me as well: The pungency of burning garbage, the sour of urine, and the sweetness of Ganga as her shore retreat after monsoon. These familiar smells were joined at this time by those emanating from the heaps of goat, buffalo and camel parts that were discarded following the Muslim festival of Id. The city tried to suppress the smell under white lime but to little effect in the heat and humidity.
The old man cheerfully peddling the bike stopped two other rickshaw wallas to collect money from them. He was a shrewd and demanding businessman, let there be no doubt. He collected some money from both: a sum total of 70 R’s (or about a $1.30). And although this collection happened right in front of me, he somehow had no change when it came time for me to pay the bill of 80 R’s. To his great disappointment I found some change to pay him with.
Last year when I was here, there was a week when the corps of a puppy seemed to be following me around town. I saw it first when another puppy was dragging its already rotting corps along the banks of the river. Despite his hunger and his youth he seemed to recognize that something was wrong with the picture: a puppy eating the bloated corpse of another puppy. I continued to see the same corpse sitting along side several other garbage heaps before the climactic final viewing of a bicycle stopping at a busy intersection of the alleyways only to have his back tire slid out from under him as it dragged the slippery corpse beneath it.
This year I took note of the rather fresh kitten corpse with one eye blankly fixed on the sky. As I write this, the same kitten already showed up near another alleyway garbage heap about 200m away.
Two years ago when I arrived at the alleyways from the train station with my girlfriend at the time we enter a short distance behind a group of devotees following their guru down to Ganga. Guruji had no lack of enthusiasm. When enroute to Ganga they came across a momma cow taking a pees, he took that auspicious moment to scoop the urine with his hands and throw it at his devotees who were trembling with excitement. We who were clustered with them were not quite so overjoyed. My girlfriend, whose first time it was in Varanasi, felt quite the opposite as she trembled with disgust. She later explained that coming from a Muslim culture she could not imagine a religion or culture more opposed to Muslim ways than the ways of Hinduism.
The local drug-dealing duo managed to harass me four times on my first day with such persistence that it’s already become a comedy. They have been coming to me with the same light hearted persistence every single time I have seen them over the past seven years. Our final meeting of the day culminated in a heart to heart over why I haven’t bought anything from them in six years. In his own defence he told me about how he’s changed over that time: he got married, had a child and actually gives away much of his profit to a disabled woman and her daughter. He asked for a second chance to once again acquire my trust and friendship. I told him he had a month to become a human being and not just the local drug pusher.
Amongst this backdrop were hugs and warm welcoming’s, news about friends who were missing from their usual posts, and many friendly welcoming smiles amongst the usual stares of curiosity.
My studies in Astrology continued immediately as well. Sanjay seemed as eager to get back to it as I am. I found again the spirit of astrology that seems to be getting lost in the details of my self-studies in Canada.
It feels good to back to a place that for some reason makes more sense to me. Where consumerism is on an individual level between two people rather than between a corporation and a consumer. But mostly I’m happy to be again with with people who share my passion for philosophy as a path of spirituality. Study as tapasia, conversation as satsang, mere sitting and going about town acting as asana. It all seems so easy here in isolation from my work and my car and the many other so called “conveniences” of western living.