Pilgrim on a Paper: Day 1

Early this morning, the 12th of December and I’m scrambling around in the semi twilight of six o clock at my buddy Nishan’s place, and I’m running late. Quite typical.

I make it in a hasty auto rickshaw blur to the station, where I am to meet up with Prem da, a friend from Bangalore. He has apparently made this journey enough times to know that it is prudent to arm yourself with a good arsenal of ten rupee notes to avoid transvestite genitalia thrust in your face, as many of them that work the trains in the general class are wont to do.indian-train-unreserved-general-compartment-ii

The General Compartment!

Oh by the way, have I mentioned that I’m travelling without a reservation?

It’s afternoon and we’ve crossed into Andhra Pradesh. Prem da knows a lot about the country we are passing through, so the boredom of the journey is lost in the stories he tells me. He also knows a lot of the party scenes in Nepal, so it seems he can hook me up with the right gear and the right places to party in the mystical Himalayan land, which I am to reach after so much sadhana!

Prem Da is a very interesting guy, his heritage making up for a lot of the interest factor, him being of Mongolian, Nepalese and Azerian stock! Another first for me, where I am travelling with an authentically Central Asian man!

I’ve already arranged to meet up with Wim, the Belgian artist who I met in Goa and was supposed to travel to Rajasthan with, though I got happily waylaid in Mumbai for ten days in the beginning of December at the Dhamma Vipula Vipassana meditation centre, the quite-willing conquest of two lovely Russian ladies I’d met in Goa.

Now that purgatory is done with, and my soul and inner sanctum thoroughly cleansed and purified, I am back on the road, my real home!

Wim is staying in Thamel, quite rightly the original ‘Amsterdam of the East’, bang in the centre of Kathmandu, it is still apparently a time warp back to the days of Hippie Heaven, Nirvana on Earth! I must experience this for myself.

Also I expect to travel through Pokhara, the festival city that is booming with parties the year round. Feverish with excitement!

political-map-of-Nepal

Nepal

The train journey is passing surprisingly smoothly for a general compartment cross country, while we are able to stretch out comfortably in an almost empty carriage. The only major bother is the proliferation of dubious eunuchs or hijras, as they are called in this country, begging money from travellers, a profession that more often than not, takes the form of a perverted extortion and exploitation of passengers on the Indian Railways. The authorities have accepted this crowd as a part of life for longer than living memory, so this scourge of transvestite bandits sweep all the trains in the country, flashing their privates to shock the weaker hearted commuters, efficiently raking the whole joint for quite a pretty penny, an amount that normally ends up in the greasy coffers of regional, organized gangs.

I learnt from Prem, my friend, that it is best to be equipped with a ready stock of ten rupee currency notes that can be easily dispersed. Already, merely a quarter of our journey dispensed with, we have been cleaned out of about 200 rupees. Now we feel stupid having bought tickets for this compartment, where we are paying ‘toll’ to amounts that are equivalent to the ticket prices, but there’s nothing to be said for the lackadaisical authority of the management in this system.

We weren’t feeling a very positive vibe from our fellow travellers, some of whom,were shooting us unnecessarily hostile looks. Being prudent wanderers, we decided to get ourselves upgraded to a different coach. At Secunderabad, we got off the train and spoke to the Ticket Taker, who, for a small fee, upgraded us to the emptier and comfier AC coach.

Lugging our bags to the new coach, we met our new co-passengers, two pretty young girls from Nepal, who were eager to have people to talk to after the day’s long journey. We got off to a good start with the girls when we all went to sneak a smoke near the train doors!

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