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Lutin181’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 20 Feb 2008

Location: India

MapO God, YES! I have found the magic! Just remember kids, one day you're puking into a bucket, the next you're sobbing into your hands because you're so full of joy!

The attentive reader will remember that I had come to the conclusion that I just wanted to get away and dig nature. I wanted to escape the role assigned to western tourists in these climbs, to get some peace. So we got togged up for the desert hills and loaded up our scooters with the kit you need for a few days camping under the desert stars. Plenty of food, plenty of water, plenty of blankets.

And we were off on our scooters, leaving the small (already fairly remote) town we're staying in far behind and after a few miles, the villages start to peter out and the roads got steadily rockier and sandier as the hills loom large. Way out there is a Shiva Temple, which we were headed for and we planned to try to buy some wood from the Sadhus who live there and then camp out in the hills beyond. Already a self-concious western traveller, I wondered how we would be received. What would they think of us, rocking up there on our pink scooters? (Yes, to my chagrin we had been given matching pink 'fashion series' lady scooters for this rather intrepid trip.)

We were welcomed by one of the Sadhus and before long we were supping Chai, given to us by the wrinkly old Chai Man (his raison d'etre is making Chai) and tentatively or 'slowly-slowly' as they say out here, we're broaching our intention to camp out in the hills for a few days. Not such a strange request but we got some resistance and some doubtfull looks because we were two women on our own. "Problem" said the Sadhu. (He only spoke the odd word of English but 'problem' seems a popular word out here.) "Animals!" And he gestured towards the hills gravely and attempted to get us to sleep in a straw-strewn room instead. But once he could see we were adamant and not afraid they sold us some fire wood and even carried it up the steep hills, jumping from rock to rock as we, laden too with all our stuff, scrabbled along behind with a herds of goats, up steep, steep hills and deep sandy dunes ensnared with spiky plants, looking for a good camp. Relations were also helped by our having had the good sense to bring a present of Charis for the Sadhus to smoke, together with coconut offerings for the Temple. But we were moved the warm welcome we received from these holy men.

As night fell we made a new home on a large sandy plateau protected by tall, rocky hills on all sides. The Sadhu introduced us to an old Goatherd called Ganesha who skipped off with one of our flasks and brought it back full of warm goats milk he'd got from a nearby goat. A more instantly endearing, sweet-natured man I have never encountered who chattered away in the most beautiful language I have ever heard. It sounded like a song.

They left us in peace and we ran around dancing and shrieking with joy to be in such a beautiful, remote place with the first few stars coming out. And all the horror I had felt for the cities, of being one, cash-dispensing face amongst a homogenous white mass that is destroying as it moves was instantly annihilated by nature and the sweetness of the welcome from the folk in the hills. I was high, high, high!

We lit a large fire and settled ourselves around it for one of those quiet contemplative nights you have under the stars and began to cook. In the natural amphitheatre we were in, you could hear a person's voice, tumbling down the rocks from miles away, and sometimes we froze and listened, is it coming this way? We looked up into the dark hills and wondered who might be living around and whether or not they might find their way to our fire. And indeed it was not long before the Goatherd returned out of the darkness and we invited him (through the medium of pointing and gesturing) to eat with us. He sat at our fire with his white dog that looked like a wolf (he was like an omen) and he chatted away to us in his ethereal, mountain language that was so simple and happy that together with the vastness and remoteness of the hills and the moon and the stars, it connected me all the way back to the very first people and I was glad to my soul. We didn't understand a single word of one another's languages but sometimes you can have a damn good chat all the same. People must have visited new comers in these hills and sat around fires enjoying a good meal and good company for thousands of years. In fact having met Ganesha's son, also a Goatherd, I can well imagine that he comes from a long line of goatherds, the skill passed from father to son for thousands of years. I cannot describe the joy of this meeting.

After we'd eaten Ganesha removed a cloth from his turban and used it as a blanket, which together with a stone pillow and the glow of the fire was enough to lull him to sleep. Seeing this old man sleep, made me wonder what he had thought of Clare and I and all our stuff and the hustle bustle of our food preparation of cups and plates, and cutlery and antibacterial washing liquid. This man had clothes, a dog, a herd of goats and an axe which he slept on.

Later that night the Sadhu also wended his mysterious way up to our far-away home, emerging out of the gloom and woke up the Goatherd and got the party started with his radio. Amusingly for Clare and I a Hindi cover version of Neil Sedarka's 50's hit, 'Oh Carol' began to bleat it's way out of this thing and we sang along in English and laughed at the randomness of this. (Katie and Ellie, I thought of you both!).

A strange night's sleep I had by this fire and I dreamt of snakes and a lion and a tiger and a massive hoard of western tourists who came from a hideous resort (thank god just a dream) that had appeared just over the hill...

At dawn we were awoken by the Chai Man, who'd climbed his way up to relight our fire. He brought biscuits and smokes and was busying himself with making us Chai. What a way to wake!

Pretty much in this way we spent a few days in those hills and when it was time to leave, we didn't want to go.