We hung out in Kathmandu like hippies, lazy and indolent, doing not much more than swapping our expensive hotel in Freak Street for a cheaper joint over in the suburb of Thamel where there is more going on and a good selection of bars and restaurants.
There wasn’t much to do so we spent our days relaxing at the hotel and the evenings out eating and drinking. We had a big night out with a couple of guys – one a kiwi, one a Scouser [Liverpudlian] – on the beer, which is very strong and had us well pissed in a short time.
Linda and I booked a flight to Hong Kong with Dragonair for the 11th of March which cost us US$320 dollars each. On Sunday the 1st, the four of us spent a few hours over at Patan Square, where we visited a few temples, including one with a whole lot of extremely explicit erotic carvings decorating it’s exterior walls.
The bus trip from Sonali to Kathmandu was long and uncomfortable, but took us through some spectacular country, with steep rugged hills cut by swift, clear rivers. The 8-hour trip turned into 10 or 11 hours, and in the end we left the bus stopped at a road block on the outskirts of the city and walked up to a hotel on Freak Street where we spent the night.
We caught a local bus from Varanasi to Sonali on the Nepal-India border. The trip was long and dusty but we alleviated the strain by smoking a couple of hooters of hash along the way. As we approach the border we had to bully Sindee into throwing the remaining lump of hash out the window because we did not want to risk crossing the border carrying drugs. She was distraught at the idea of having to get rid of a block of hash that would have cost several hundred dollars back in New Zealand!
The border was a piece of piss and we stayed the night at a hotel right next to the border post where we drank tasty beer and ate tasty food.
Back in our room later on, Linda and I discovered a massive stash of Indian currency that we had forgotten about and so we were able to trade this on the black market for a pile of Nepali cash.
We were out on the river again at dawn. In the eerie, ethereal light of early morning, the fires of death seemed even more unreal than the previous evening. Someone threw a charred arm bone into the water right beside us as we cruised past on the small wooden rowboat that we had hired to take us on our dawn journey along the river Ganges.
Later that day, Sindee and I went to the government bhang shop where a seven-year old boy sold as two hash cookies and 2 tola (grams) of grass, whispering to us in conspiratorially tones that it was “good stuff.” We sat up on the roof of Shanti Lodge and smoked a joint of it but it was pretty rough. A French guy, who appeared to be permanently stoned, gave us a lump of hash for free so we smoked a hooter of that and it was much better.
Later on, Sindee and I wandered, stoned, down to the ghats to watch, as Sindee put it, “the barbecue.” It freaked us out so much that we didn’t linger for a long.
The train ride was uneventful and Sindee and Sarah joined us in our cabin at about 10:30 a.m. We filled in the day playing arsehole and talking and we rolled into Varanasi at four PM. We haggled with a rickshaw driver to take us to Yogi Lodge for 15 rupees but he took us to a place called Jogi Lodge by mistake! [This scam is common in India. A hotel will give itself a name similar to a popular place, then pay touts a commission to “mistakenly” take people to the wrong place].
So we walked up into the Old City and made our way through the filthy, narrow alleys to a place called Shanti Lodge¹ and booked in there. After a couple of Pepsis each, we went out for a walk down by the sacred Ganges where people were busy bathing, praying and burning their dead. An enterprising kid took us for a trip upstream in a wooden rowboat and it gave us a good view of the ghats and the myriad activity going on around them. We floated slowly past the Burning Ghat where several funeral pies were burning and several corpses wrapped in golden cloth and garlands of flowers lay waiting for their turn on the funeral pyres.
After we finished our boat ride, we went down and stood on the steps above the burning ghat, where the attendants were stoking the fires and turning the blackened husks of the bodies so that they burned evenly. It was a bizarre site: human bodies burning atop piles of wood while people dried their washing by the heat of the flames and young hucksters peddled postcards to the watching tourists.
That night the four of us enjoyed an evening of Arsehole while we were stoned to bits on bhang lassis.
¹When I revisited India in 2020, I stayed at Shanti Lodge once again.
Linda, Sindee, Sarah and I spent most of the morning lounging in the park and eating at the Don’t Pass Me By restaurant.
At 7:30 we went down to the Old Delhi railway station by taxi (an old Ambassador driven by young Sikh) and waited on the platform amongst sacks and boxes next to a steam train brooding on the opposite platform – a grey giant, oiled and hissing.
Eventually, the booking lists were posted and Linda and I found our tatty first-class coupe compartment, while was Sindee and Sarah found their well kept but not too private air-conditioned birth. The train left at 9:50 p.m. and rolled out of Delhi into the Indian night.
The bus got us to Delhi at 6 a.m. and we caught an auto rickshaw to Ringo’s Hotel. We had a shower and changed, then had some breakfast while we waited for a dorm bed. Diana and Kate were both there: Diana back to her usual posh self after having a rabies injection, convinced that she’d caught rabies from the cook at the Peacock Hotel in Pushkar.
Our first job was to go over to the New Delhi railway station and buy two first-class tickets on the overnight train to Varanasi, then we walked back through Connaught Place and bought a cheap camera to replace Linda’s one, which broke down while we were in Agra. Back at Ringo’s, we packed up all of the stuff to be sent home and took it up to the Post Office where we went through the usual rigmarole of sending a parcel from India to New Zealand.
That completed, we returned to Ringoes for the rest of the day. By an amazing coincidence, two girls from our area in New Zealand had arrived. Sindee Beecroft was from Temuka and had worked in a shearing gang at Grampians [sheep station] the last shearing that I was there; and Sarah Thompson, from Tekapo, knew [my brother] Joe and had just been talking to him just a couple of days previously at the Duntroon sheep sale.
That evening we all went out for a meal at one of the small restaurants down the street from the hotel, then to a place called Nirula’s for ice creams afterwards.
First thing in the morning, Linda gave me some presents: a couple of really groovy tie-dyed shirts and a really cool hippie wallet. She also gave me a card with a big-eared mouse on it.
We filled in the day around the hotel and at 5 p.m. we drifted up to the Sunset Cafe for dinner followed by bhang lassis [yoghurt mixed with hashish], which didn’t have a really noticeable effect other than making us a bit drowsy.
Linda and I didn’t get up till 11 a.m. and after walking up to Shivas for a buffet breakfast, we spent a couple of hours wandering up to the end of town and back.
At the top end of the main street, there was a Hindu temple and we went in there for a look. Somehow, though, it didn’t seem all that holy with rows of beggars, perfume salesman, and families taking snapshots in front of the altar.
A rather funny aspect of the altar was the way people gave offerings at a plate surrounded by garlands. If they put a note larger than 2 rupees into the plate, they would be given change – rather like in a shop. Perhaps a Hindu blessing is a commodity just the same as everything else, with a maximum retail price.
Back at the hotel, we sat out on the patio in the sun until it was time to drift along to the Sunset Cafe for the nightly sunset-watching ritual.
JAIPUR TO PUSHKAR. We caught the bus from Jaipur to Pushkar!
At Ajmer, we changed the buses for the 30-minute ride over the Snake Mountains and down to the holy town of Pushkar, which is built around a small, stagnant holy lake.
We booked into a place called the Peacock Hotel and sat around on the patio for a couple of hours talking to a kiwi guy and a girl called Diana, who had come down on the bus from Jaipur with us.
At 5:30 p.m. we all set off up to the Sunset Cafe where we ate delicious apple crumble and watched the rather nondescript sunset. All around us sat a motley collection of wealthy and pretentious Western assholes, making out they were Hindus from the way back while they awaited the next instalment from their trust funds back home.
A girl came and sat with us and she turned out to have been at Rangi Ruru [the boarding school Linda attended] so Linda and her had a good yarn, then we all went to a restaurant called Shiva’s where there was a good value buffet for 20 rupees each.