All Posts Filed in ‘Asia

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Rishikesh, India

I went to an ashram down the road from where I’m staying to see if they had any rooms. The room I’m in has no window and is a bit expensive. 200 Rupees a night. 300 for a room with a window. They said come back in the evening. Walking out of the place I passed a couple of women. One of them said I know you. It was Maya, one of the two American women I met on the flight from Bangkok to Calcutta. She was going to a lecture so I tagged along. We went to a room which was room of people kneeling with hands in prayer gesture, chanting. The was no room to enter so we stood outside, but later, when the chanting had stopped Maya went in and the rest of us followed. People made room.

The lecture was given by a guru type guy with a long beard. He looked like you’d imagine an Indian guru to look. It seems this class has been running for about three weeks now. He knew the names of some of the students, and asked them how long they were planning on staying in Rishikesh. Then he gave out some notices, a bit like school assembly. The police have said that it’s not safe to bathe where some foreigners have been seen bathing, so please don’t bathe there. There ashram takes no responsibility for what might happen. Also, when bathing in the Ganga it shouldn’t become a picnic. You shouldn’t bathe in large groups. Please don’t let this place become like Goa. Some monks have been upset by the behaviour of certain tourists and this place for thousands of years has been a place of spirituality and if there’s just one monk here and he is upset by the behaviour of tourists then that monk’s concerns must be respected.

He went on like this for a while, and though it wasn’t part of the lecture proper it was quite interesting. He criticized yogis at other ashrams for not being strict enough with their students, not having the guts to criticize them when they associate with chillum smoking babas, because all they want is the tourists’ money. I’m not like that, he said. The chillum smoking babas are not bad people, but what they are doing to themselves is self-destructive and you shouldn’t associate with them, and if I catch one person smoking or drinking in this ashram they won’t last two hours. Not even an hour.

I think I’m better off staying in a hotel rather than here, just in case I have some self-destructive urges.

He then went onto the lecture proper, using headings written on a board. This apparently is the third week of the course, but they way he was talking he seemed to be riffing, going from one subject to another, telling various stories and anecdotes:

The one about the very good looking former guru who when he was 18 a very beautiful and rich English woman, probably a daughter of one of the raj officers, knocked on his door and he rather than speaking to her as a young man to a young woman he addressed her as he would a lady of his mother’s generation:n Yes, madam. What can I do for you? With that she went away, but he was still conscious of the fact that he had felt certain unspiritual things going on below his waist so he prepared some hot coals and sat on them. After that he felt pain every time he went to the toilet, but this helped him overcome his desire for women.

The thing about this class is that there are many attractive women in it, and just a few men. I have heard that such places can function a bit like dating agencies. During the day people are lectured to about the spiritual benefits of celibacy, then in the evening they go and test out their resolve, like Gandhi did. At the age of 37 he told his wife he was now going to be celibate, that they would from now on live as brother and sister, but then at the age of 66 he decided to test himself and he slept with two young ladies. He then had to admit that he had not conquered his sexual desires, which is why Gandhi will never be considered divine, why he won’t have temples erected in his name. Brothels maybe, but not temples.

And then there was the story of the baba who lived in a cave up in the mountains and was visited by an English woman. She came out of his cave having had a good talk with him, and she says to him: I notice there is no one for miles around. Don’t you ever get lonely? To which he replies: Now that you’re here, madam, I feel lonely, but when you go I won’t feel lonely any more. I’m not sure how she responds to this, but she then tells him that if he ever comes to England he should get in touch with her and she’ll show him around London, to which he says: I am London. You can’t show me London, madam, because London is me. Probably if someone speaking like this ever did come to London they would be locked up in some institution, but in India they’re gurus.

Things are different here. He talks about chakras and prana energy, things that I’ve heard new agey types talking about before and it’s always made me cringe, but hearing it from this guy it doesn’t sound so cringeable, there seems to be more sense to it. Perhaps I’m just being taken in by the long greying beard and orange dress.

Though many people were sitting there taking notes to me it didn’t seem like that kind of course where there’d be an exam at the end of it.

Swami Darminanda is the teacher’s name. He’s written a book of poetry, which he suggested we read. On the wall around the classroom on the classroom were pictures of various gurus. The only ones I recognized were Jesus and Gandhi. And Buddha. On the table next to him was a photograph of a woman. This was his wife. I don’t know if she still is. He spoke about her a bit. When he left her she told him that he’d come back to her, she’d make sure that he did. And he did. The god Shiva sent him back to her. I’m not quite sure how that happened.

In the afternoon I tried to get on the internet but failed so went for a shave in a barbers. On the wall in front of me was a poster with pictures showing all the services offered, captions under each: head massage, hair cut, body massage, face massage, face mask, bear trimming – this one was below a picture of a very hairy man. I started to laugh, which is not good while you’re being shaven or shaved. The barber started to laugh as well.

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Varanasi, India

I’m waiting for the train for Delhi but have just realized I don’t need to go to Delhi. I want to get up to the mountains where it’ll be cooler and was thinking of heading first to Rishikesh and assumed to get there I would have to go via Delhi, but I could have got a train straight there almost, saving a day of travelling.

I’ll arrive in Delhi tomorrow morning and probably won’t stay the night there if I can help it. I think Delhi is hotter than here. I’ll arrive too late to get the morning train to Haridwar, which is an hour away from Rishikesh by bus, but will try to get a bus there. I think the buses run all day and take about 7 hours, and probably won’t be as comfortable as the train, though the trains I’ve been on haven’t been very comfortable. I’ve been travelling 2nd sleeper class, which give you a padded ledge with a fan above. An air conditioned carriage costs more than twice as much. But it’ll be night so hopefully not too hot.

I didn’t sleep last night and got up early and went for a 6am boat ride on the river. As I came out of the guest house a guy was standing right outside the door, at the top of the steps leading down to the ghat. You want a boat? He was with a boy. I asked him how much it would cost. How much do you want to pay? No. You tell me how much it costs. How much do you want to pay? Okay. I’ll pay 50. Is that reasonable? 70, he says. I agree to that and we walk down to the river’s edge where there are loads of boats tied up. Most of them look quite rickety. His does. It’s a small rowing boat. He pulls it towards the bottom step and I step onboard. Two boys get on with saucers of flowers with candles in the middle. Each of them hands me one. The guy says they’re for good karma. Okay. How much? 10 Rupees each, says the older boy. Five I say. Ten, he says. I’ll give you 10 for the two of them. That’s all the change I have. I don’t want to give them a hundred Rupee note. I count out 10 Rupees in change and give it to the older boy. He walks off with it, onto another boat, leaving the younger boy still there looking a bit upset. I call out to the boy with the money to share it with his friend, but he ignores me. The younger kid is now asking for money. He wants five Rupees and looks like he’ll cry if I don’t give it to him, so I don’t. I mean I do.

The boy who was with the man gets onboard. The man is still holding onto the boat. The boy sits in the rower’s seat and the man pushes us off. So the boy’s rowing, or trying to. He’s not steering a very straight course and isn’t looking where he’s going.

We get out onto the river without any major collisions, just a few minor ones. You want one hour? It’s 6 o’clock now. It was 6 o’clock when I got up so it must be after that now. I’m not wearing my watch, but it doesn’t matter. I forgot to charge up my camera batteries so probably only have 20 minutes left, and all I really want to do is take some photos of the ghats from the river.

We get quite a way before my battery runs out, passing people bathing and doing their laundry. A whole line of men slapping clothes against special stone steps that appear to have been designed with this purpose in mind. Slapping stones. One guy’s really going for it. Looks like a good way to vent your anger first thing in the morning.

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Varanasi, India

When I was cycling I was looking forward most of the time. Now, editing the video, I’m looking back. When I watch some of the footage, riding along some road, I can usually remember quite well what comes next: each bump that shakes the camera, each truck that passes too close, each signpost. Though now that I’ve watched the video all the way through, all 52 hours of it, I’m not sure if I’m remembering it from having watched it or from having experienced it.

Now I don’t know what comes next. Another six weeks in India and then home. England. But with no job to go to and no home to go to I don’t know how that’s going to work, so I’ll just concentrate on what’s happening now and hope that things sort themselves out, which they probably won’t, but you never know.

There’s a sign here in Varanasi that says:

You can know your past-pre sent-future

and then an arrow below it. I’m thinking that tomorrow I might follow the arrow and see what they have to say. But I might not. I don’t know. When I passed it yesterday the place looked like it was closed.

A guy, pretty old, shook my hand yesterday and held onto it with both his hands, turning it palm upwards. I thought he was going to tell me my future, but he was doing a massage and he wouldn’t let go so I let him continue. He said: I’m a massage guru. I don’t want money, but I knew he would and when I said that’s enough and handed him 20 Rupees he asked for another 10.

His hands were sweaty, but so were mine (it’s the heat) and apart from the unpleasantness it wasn’t a bad massage. He did both hands and arms, my neck and my head and then was starting on my back when I told him to stop. I didn’t want to take my shirt off.

I spent about an hour trying to find a cash point this evening, walking in a long circuit around the old town. Most of the tourists here don’t seem to stray far from the ghats.

The streets are full of pedestrians, cycle rickshaws, motorbikes, cars and cows. The cows here are very different to the ones I encountered in Canada. The Canadian cows would run away when they saw me on my bike, whereas the Indian cows don’t appear to be afraid of anything. They’ll set in the middle of a busy road knowing that the traffic will negotiate its way around them. I’ve not yet seen a cow get hit, but it must happen.

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Varanasi, India

A day of live music, two dead bodies, a procession of boats and dirty linen. I had to be an irritating fussy tourist earlier when I moved to a new room, since the one I was in last night didn’t have a window. They told me the new room had been cleaned but it hadn’t. There were stains on the sheets and the bin was full of rotting leaves that smelt like they’d been there since last autumn. The kid they sent up to do the sheets seemed a bit shocked when I asked him to empty the bin as well. He came back a while later with a bucket. This bucket has just been washed, he said. This place is cheap, only 100 Rupees (£1.30) a night, but it’s pretty crap. I have my own bathroom but the shower doesn’t work and the toilet leaks and smells. I’ve booked a train ticket for the day after tomorrow to Delhi, so I have to stay in Varanasi another night (I tried to book the train for tomorrow but couldn’t) so if there’s space in the guest house down the road I’ll move there tomorrow. It’s 250 a night, and though I haven’t seen the rooms I’ve been eating in the restaurant and the food is good and the restaurant is a nice place to be, in a leafy and shady courtyard.

I walked along the ghats this afternoon. Some of the ghats are burning ghats, where they cremate people over open fires. I watched as one body was carried down to the river on a bamboo stretcher. The body was covered in red and yellow silk. When they reached the edge o the river they laid the stretcher down in it, covering the silk in the holy water of the Ganges. They uncovered the face. It looked like a woman, though it was hard to tell since I was some way away, but it could see a lot of black hair. Men scooped water over the face. They were all men down there. Whatever female relatives there may have been played no part in this part of the ceremony. One of the men took out his mobile phone and lined it up to take a photo of the corpse. It took him ages to either take the picture or to take one he was satisfied with. Once he had he showed it to the others.

I didn’t stay to see the burning as I was distracted by a procession of boats going along the river. A kid said Krishna is coming. On the boats were people dressed in various costumes. Perhaps they were dressed as gods. I’m not sure what Krishna looks like so couldn’t spot him.

The second corpse took me by surprise. I was heading back to my dirty guest house just now, watching the fires burning on Meer Ghat, escaping from the touts telling me of a good place where I could watch the burning, up the steps avoiding the cows and their shit in the dark (there was a power cut), getting splashed by someone’s outdoor shower, past the chai shop and then reaching what looks like my alleyway I find it blocked with people and they’re not making way for me so I push my way past them and realize that on my right, just above my head, is a bamboo stretcher covered in silk.

There’s a tailless gecko in the bathroom. One with a tail came into my room just now, crawled around the walls and then left through the window.

So many chaotic images today all getting mixed up. As I took photos of the procession of boats a guy said: Hello friend. A good Indian spectacle. And I said yes.

Talking to someone earlier who used to be a stamp dealer, sending old Indian stamps to Stanley Gibbons in London. He could remember the address, on the Strand. He could also remember Jack Hobbs coming to play cricket in India, in 1964 I think. Not sure who won. There was a one day between England and India today. Not sure who won that. England were all out for about 200 last I heard, and India were batting. Something like 116 for four. I’m not really into cricket, but try to keep track of the scores for when people talk to me. It just makes things easier. I know England have lost all of the one day matches so far.

three Indian men in Varanasi

The stamp dealer (the one on the left) had a lot to say about the problems of India. Not enough education. Only 30-35% of Indian children go to school, he said. He liked numbers. What is the maximum temperature in London at the moment. About 20, I said. And what is the minimum temperature? About 5, I said. The population of London is about 12 million, isn’t it? About 10 million, I said, though it depends where you draw the edge of London. And then onto the pound Rupee exchange rate, how the Rupee used to be much stronger but over the years it’s been devalued. And how many children Indian families have. Not as many as they used to. Now people often only have two or three children. And the proportion of Indians dependent on irrigation – about 80% I think he said. Far more than in America and Europe. And Australia is one and a half times the size of India. Too much money is spent on weapons. If they spent that money on development then the people would be happy. We are all human beings. Countries don’t matter. Men shouldn’t think about countries, they should think about the world.

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Varanasi, India

In Varanasi it’s impossible to walk from A to B without several people asking where you going? what you want? hashish? opium? come this way. good hotel here. you want cheap hotel? very nice room. rickshaw? This morning I tried the quiet mumbling tactic with the first guy, head down, not making eye contact, quietly muttering vague answers or obscenities that he couldn’t understand. That worked quite well. He gave up after about a minute, or passed the job onto his son cos then I was followed along the ghat having questions fired at me from behind by a kid. This time I tried the answering back technique, asking him where he was going and why he was following me. I also tried a bit of zig-zagging, stopping and walking back the way I’d come, pausing for several seconds without warning. He lasted longer than his father, but only about three minutes.

Maybe they have territories they can’t stray beyond. Preying on a tourist outside your territory could incur repercussions from the local landlords.

Sitting in a leafy courtyard restaurant in a guest house that I’m not staying in. This place is a lot better than the place I am staying in, but it was full last night. It’s quite peaceful. The loudest sounds are the birds and the Germans. Everyone here reminds me of someone. All people are reincarnations of other people, possibly living people, possibly dead people. No one is unique. There are too many people for anyone to be unique.

The guy on the way here, the father, wanted to show me the burning ghats. You can see dead bodies over here. I could see the fires, but wanted to have breakfast first. Dying here will free people from moksha, the cycle of life and death, and bathing in the Ganges can hasten the onset of death. I met someone in Kolkata who said he didn’t believe the statistics about pollution levels and had gone swimming in the river. It’s a river, he said. It’s moving so it can never be that polluted.

I believe the statistics, the fact that sewers from the city pump their waste directly into the river and the fact that this guy swimming in it said he’d bumped into a dead cow.

There seems to be a higher density of cows in Varanasi than in any field I’ve ever come across. They’re everywhere, and their shit is in even more places.

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Bodhgaya, Bihar, India

I was woken by drums. Sun festival, I found out later. A small procession going around the area. A couple of drummers and a keyboard player on a cycle rickshaw plus about ten or fifteen people, women and men. I go out onto my balcony, or ledge since they haven’t built the fence yet, and watch as they pass the hotel and then turn down a small mud path between small thatched roof houses. They stop outside one of the houses.

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Bodhgaya, Bihar, India

Bollywood music drifts in through the open door of my room. I put my headphones on and listen to my own music: Leonard Cohen, The Specials, The Boards of Canada.

The thing with the Buddha and his enlightenment, which I was thinking earlier today while I was supposed to be meditating, is that we only have his word for it that he became enlightened. Maybe he was lying. Is that blasphemous? I’m in the holiest place in Buddhadom, so maybe it is a bit. But Buddha is not a god. God is an illusion. He could have been mistaken. He could have honestly thought he was enlightened, like sometimes when people get stoned or they’re tripping on acid they think they’ve sussed out the meaning of life the universe and everything but then the next morning either they’ve forgotten, or realized they didn’t. But meditation is not a drug, is it? And enlightenment is different. When you’re enlightened you know it, they say. I think. I don’t really know much about Buddhism, but I think it’s okay to talk about things you don’t know much about. And stay silent about the things you do know about.

I could just stay silent altogether, post up blank pages here instead of words. But then those blank pages would be saying something. I could not have a blog at all. But I do, so I might as well use it.

I sent an email to One and One Internet just now. They’re cutting off our web server and taking a load of our money, so it was quite an angry email. I asked them if I could make our correspondence with them public. Even if they say no I will, though not on here. It might be interesting for poeple interested in those kinds of things. Or it might not. For now though, if you’re thinking of setting up a web server or having a website hosted, don’t go with 1&1. They may seem cheap, but they have hidden charges. They say they’ll charge you one thing but once they have access to your bank account they’ll bleed you dry and then if you complain they’ll say ah well, you should’ve read our terms and conditions. That’s what happened to us at least.

This site is safe because it’s free, hosted by Google. But the others, the ones with the pictures, and other peoples’ websites aren’t at the moment.

What’s that got to do with enlightenemnt?

I think I’m going to Varanassi tomorrow. I bumped into a guy I met earlier today who was trying to get me to finance his school for poor children. I was on my way to buy the train ticket and he came into the travel agents’ with me. He said he’d just seen the travel agent and he’d told him he’d got me a ticket for tomorrow rather than the day after. This is a very small town. He then really tried to pressure me to give him money for the school, saying some of the kids were sick or the teacher was sick I’m not sure. I said no. He said you have to think with your heart and give if you feel it’s the right thing to do. I wouldn’t cheat you because that would be bad karma for me. I told him I’m a westerner so I don’t think with my heart I think with my head and there’s no way I’d just hand over money to someone on the street. Also, with my head, I was remembering when I went over to his place this afternoon for a chai, before he showed me the photos of the kids and the other westerners who’d given money and how much they’d given he showed me his brand new Sony TV, with a load of cable stations, including BBC World News (has Blair resigned yet?), and what looked like a new DVD player. And he told me he didn’t earn money, he worked for free. Sometimes it’s hard not to be suspicious. I told him what his school needed was a website, something to give it a bit of authenticity, and I gave him my email address and said I’d help out in that way (though thinking about it I’m not really in a position to now) but I’d also want to see some evidence, not just that the school was authentic but that if people gave money it would get to where it ought to go. No. It’s too complicated. Too easy to scam over the internet. Even the biggest internet companies are scammers. In future I think I’ll just quote Marx: Charity just papers over the cracks in capitalism, or something. Beggars of the world unite!

Ceorge Clinton, Steppenwolf, Thelonious Monk, The White Stripes.

I think Bihar is one of the poorest states in India. Maybe the poorest. I think also the Maoists are quite strong around here. They set off some bombs in Varanassi about a month ago, or was that Islamists? Maybe that was Islamists. They did hold up a train somewhere around here not so long ago though. Not been reading the papers since I got here. In Kolkata I used to read the papers every day. The Calcutta Telegraph and the India Times.

Wesly Willis: Rock n’Roll McDonalds.

There are some things I miss about the Western world, but McDonalds is not one of them. Since I got ill on the first day here in Bodhgaya I haven’t eaten Indian food. This evening I had macaroni with cheese and tomato at the Om Restaurant, the place I’ve been going to for every meal since it seems safe, though at lunch today I was sitting at a table where I could see into the kitchen and I’m not so sure. Haven’t had meat here. I think I’m safer not eating meat for a while. But after the Tibetan special noodle soup I had for lunch I fancied a black tea and a jam donut so that’s what I ordered. The tea arrived straight away – a tea bag in a glass of hot water – but I waited five, ten, fifteen minutes for the jam donut. The waiter said it would be out in a minute. Are they making the dough in there, or has someone had to run out to the donut shop? I think they do that a lot. On Sudder Street restuarants would exchange food with one another, or go out to the local shops to buy things people had ordered. They always had more on their menus than they could store in their premises, and they would never say no to a customer, so often things would take ages to arrive, and they’d arrive in the wrong order, so you’d get your dessert before your dinner and your breakfast after your lunch. When the donut finally did arrive it was hot. Straight out of the oven. But it wasn’t a donut, it was a scone. Two, in fact. Cut in half. The waiter comes over with a pot of jam. So I suppose I miss being able to just go into a place and order a coffee and a donut. And not having to worry about hygiene standards – even though possibly I should, Western places give the impression of being cleaner. I wonder if Indians think we’re being way to prissy about cleanliness, we who use our left (arse wiping) hands when eating. I overheard a lot of toursits in the Sudder Street resturants questioning waiters over whether the ice in the drinks was made from mineral water, whether the orange juice was watered down and could I have a curry that’s not spicy please?

Being able to walk down a street without the fear o tripping over pigs. That’s another thing I miss from the west. Walking out of the guest house last night during one of the frequent power cuts I almost stepped on a load of pigs, or boars, sleeping in the road – more a mud track. A mother with babies I think. If it hadn’t been for the last minute grunt I would’ve stepped on one of them, which probably would have been quite unpleasant, for me as well as whichever one happened to be under my foot. They look like they could be quite vicious if they wanted to. They look like big pigs, who’ve been working out at the gym and probably taking steroids, and with mohican haircuts.

Nick Drake, The Red Army Choir, The Pixies, The Beach Boys, Israel Vibration and The Gladiators.

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Bodhgaya, Bihar, India

Another power cut. The generator starts up.

The first day in Bodhgaya without illness.

The Lonely Planet said that the Japanese Monastery offers free Zazen meditation sessions every day at 5 o’clock so this afternoon I went along to give it a try. On the way there someone who I think maybe I met earlier while buying water offered to be a guide. He showed me the way to the place and then said he’d meet me tomorrow to show me somewhere else and I didn’t say a definite no, but I’m not going. Too many people offering to be guides. It would be nice to one day walk from one place to another without anyone saying hello. It would be nice to be invisible, but this is virtually impossible when you’re a westerner in India. I could be invisible in Canada (when I wasn’t riding the bike) and I can be invisible in London, but not here.

Inside the temple a western woman was sitting cross-legged. I wandered around and then sat down, looking at the pictures on the walls and ceiling, the buddha statue, lizards crawling over wooden text engravings, birds flying in and out of the place, waiting for the meditation lesson to start, wondering whether maybe it already had started. You never can tell with zen. Not that I’ve tried it before, but I’ve read books. In the books the novices get hit by their masters with big sticks, to teach them whatever. I don’t know. That reality is illusory? That all existence is suffering? That they’re just novices and not masters? I sat with my back against the wall just in case.

A group of about ten Indians came in, ignoring the signs saying “Be careful & silence” and taking photos. The got me to take a picture of them all crouching in front of the buddha.

A gong sounded five times. A guy asked if I was here for the zazen. He told me to go and get a cushion and sit on the carpeted area in front of the buddha. Another guy was already there, kneeling, and a bit later a Japanese looking person joined us. So there was just the three of us. No teacher. I watched what the other two were doing. The western guy was kneeling. I tried that but it was painful. The Japanese guy got into the lotus position. I tried that and was able to do it, and with the cushion it wasn’t too painful. I fixed my gaze on a plant in front of the buddha, tried to breathe steadily. An insect landed on my chest, just below my neck where my shirt was open. I wasn’t going to brush it away and certainly wasn’t going to kill it. Not in here. Not with the buddha looking. No one else was looking though so I thought I might as well, but I didn’t. Tears came into my eyes. Sweat pouring off my face and arms. (Not really pouring, but it felt like it.) I tried to convince myself that the insect was just an illusion, that it wasn’t really biting me, that there was no difference between the insect and me, all is one, but it was fucking irritating. I could see the other two out of the corner of my eye. Neither of them was moving. I’m not going to be the first to move. Not yet at least. I’ll hold on for as long as I can. Tried to think of other things. Think about breathing, look at the birds flying in and out and around. One lands on the pot of the plant I’m staring at and takes a drink from the water that must be in it. A lizard crawls across the floor. From behind me there’s the sound of hands clapping, slowly. Is that it? After ten minutes, that’s all he’s going to do? No lesson. No instructions. I think I held on for about half an hour, and didn’t achieve enlightenment. I know that everything is one and there is no distinction between me and not me but I don’t really believe it. Not in the way you’re meant to. I think you’re meant to feel it, to know it, not just intellectually or even emotionally, but in some other way that can’t be put into words so it’s pointless trying to write about it.

As I brushed away the insect that I’m not sure was there the other two, first the Japanese guy and then the kneeling westerner, broke as well. I was thinking they must be pretty experienced meditators but maybe they weren’t. We all took our cushions back together. No one said anything to anyone.

Walking back a kid tries to sell me buddhist chant CDs, a comic style biography of buddha and a book of flimsy postcards. How much do you want to pay? Nothing, I tell him, but he doesn’t give up. Then I meet someone I met a couple of days ago, a guy who goes by the name of Simple and either runs or just hangs out in the chai shop just over the road from the track leading down to my guest house. He’s invited me to drink a chai with him each time I’ve seen him and each time I’ve said not now, maybe later. No I can’t say no. He sends the kid who’s still trying to sell me stuff off to fill up the jug with water, then offers to take me to some place where the buddha was before he came to Bodhgaya and got enlightened. I sort of say yeah, maybe I’ll go, though I’m sure he’s going to want money. He pays for the chais though.

And then back at the guest house the manager, or at least one of the guys who runs the place, shows me a scrapbook with photos of a school, writing, mostly in Japanese, which he tells me is what people who have donated to the school have written, and then the amounts they donated. I was shown an almost identical book earlier today. Both times I refused to make a donation. I’m not handing over cash to someone who says he’s going to then pass it on to some school for poor children. I don’t like being put in a situation where I have to trust someone. Maybe some of them are genuine, and it’s probably too much to expect them to have official documentation showing the registered charity status or whatever. Anyway. I’m broke. I’m overdrawn in two bank accounts and the bailiffs are after me so I’m not in a position to start financing schools. Though being in debt is still richer than having nothing.

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Bodhgaya, Bihar, India

The power keeps cutting out. Every day several times a day. The guest house has its own generator but it’s so noisy I wish they’d just leave us without power. And for the people who live nearby it can’t be very nice. They have to listen to the noise but don’t get any of the power. And it was the same for me until this evening. They didn’t have my floor of the guest house connected up to the generator supply. I think I’m the only one on this floor.

This is a noisy place I’m in. Today I lay in bed all day with a headache, listening to the sounds of building work going on: hammering, sawing, drilling.

I went out this evening, once the sun had gone down, and bought some aspirins though they don’t seem to have done much good. The kids descended on me again, asking me to meet their teacher or give them money. I said a very definite no and heard one of them say: You not nice man. You go back to England. But a bit further on I met the kid with the nice bike who was friendly. He told me they’re not nice boys. They are cheaters. But with him being nice I couldn’t tell him to piss off and he walked with me to the restuarant where I was planning on having the same special tomato soup that I had last night. He sat down at the table next to me, and then two other kids sat down opposite. One of them asked me to buy him a cold drink. I agreed I would buy each of them a cold drink if they promised to stop asking for things after that. It didn’t work. They were asking for food, for English coins (pound coins) – I’ve met so many coin collectors in India. Paying the bill in the restaurant I was warned to be careful of those kids. Don’t buy them school books, he said.

I went back to the Mahabodi temple for a quick walk around the perimeter. Many monks, mostly Tibetan I think. A few western buddhists and a few Japanese. Around the inner temple some people were sitting under mosquito nets. A group of monks was chanting chants. I sat on a wall and overheard a conversation between a monk, Thai I think since he was dressed in orange, and a westerner. Some Indians joined them and also listened in. Then one of the Indians went over to the monk, knelt down at his feet and asked him a question. The monk answered his question, without seeming at all shocked by this guy’s reverence. I was half expecting him to say:

Get up, man. I’m not a god, I’m only a monk.

But he didn’t.

There was a guy on Sudder Street who did that to me. He crouched down and kissed my feet. I asked him not to but he did it again, muttering some kind of blessing. I encountered him again several days later whilst waiting for a takeaway. He had a box of food which he offered to the woman I was sitting with. She gave the box back to him, several times, and then told me that apparently he was a succesful businessman but he had a nervous breakdown and now, whenever he’s given something, like food or money, he always gives it away to someone else. Maybe being rich in a place where you’re surrounded by such poverty is the kind of thing that could cause you to have a nervous breakdown, unless you’re the type of person who believes you are rich because you deserve to be rich, either for deeds done in this life or in a past life. And if you believe that then you have to believe that the people who are ppor deserve to be poor.

Many fat Indians travel in rickshaws.

I’ve not noticed so many fat Westerners in India. There were quite a few in Thailand, but maybe India is not a place that fat people are attracted to. Here, fatness and wealth appear to go together. The kid with the nice bike I was talking to today is quite podgy, and I get the impression he is more wealthy than his skinnier friends.

The generator’s still going. All the buildings around here are in darkness. Kids on the roof of the house opposite are running around playing hide and seek.

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Bodhgaya, Bihar, India

I’ve just been out for something to eat after alternating between lying in bed and sitting in the bathroom next to a bucket for the past 24 hours. I don’t know if it was something I ate – maybe some grapes which I bought from a stall and didn’t wash, or the puri I had for lunch, or some dodgy water. I always drink bottled water but sometimes wonder if they refill the bottles with tap water. It started at about 5pm yesterday with stomach pains as I walked back to the guest house. The Laxme Guest House. It looks like it’ll be a nice place when they finish building it. My room has a private bathroom with some hot water – a trickle, a balcony – really just a ledge since they haven’t put the fence up yet. It looks out onto a swamp which is home to boars.

I took an overnight train from Kolkata to Gaya, travelling 2nd sleeper class. You get a bed but no sheets and since there are no luggage racks you have to put your baggage on the bed, which isn’t very big. They really cram people in. Three stories of beds. I didn’t get much sleep, but it was bearable. I thought the train was due to arrive at 6.30am but at 5am we stopped and everyone in my carriage was getting off. I asked someone where we were. Gaya. My stop. I grabbed my bags, my inflatable pillow and my towell and got off. There was nothing on the platform to indicate which station this was. I asked some army guys but they ignored. I asked someone at a chai stall and he confirmed that this was Gaya, and then I asked someone else just to be sure.

Leaving the station I was descended upon by auto-rickshaw and taxi driver touts. The first guy, with an auto-rickshaw, wanted 150 Rupees to take me to Bodhgaya. I told him that was too much and sat down and lit a cigarette. The taxis wanted 225. I told them I was just going to sit here for a while. I’d just woken up and was in no hurry. Later I walked across the car park and was approached by more touts. The price was now down to 100, and then 80. Getting to the edge of the car park I had a load of them around me. I got them to haggle amongst themselves and the price came down to 50, and then someone offered 20, but the others said he’s a crook, don’t go with him. He’s offering the cheapest price, so I went with him as far as an auto-rickshaw loaded up with about 8 passengers and just one tiny seat left. I couldn’t see where I’d put my bags so I walked away and went with one of the ones who’d quoted 50. But once in there they drove a little way and then stopped to try and pick up more passengers. I said if they were going to load the thing up with more passengers then I wasn’t paying 50. I asked them to stop to let me out but they kept driving. There were two of them. They agreed to take just me, no other passengers.

We drove along unmade roads, dodging cyclists, cows, goats, dogs, children. Though it was not yet 6 o’clock everyone seemed to be awake. Out of the town and fields on either side of the road, past mud huts, a line of women carrying sticks.

The rickshaw drivers recommended a guest house in Bodhgaya. I normally wouldn’t accept such a recommendation since they get commission so aren’t necessarily showing you the best place, and if you’re brought by them the guest house will up the price to cover their commission. But I said they could show me the place and I’d take a look at it. Bodhgaya is a small town so wherever they dropped me I knew it would be easy enough to walk around to the other places.

But the guest house seemed okay. They wanted 150 Rupees a night, which seemed pretty reasonable, and the third room they showed me had a balcony and a private bathroom, so I went for it. I just didn’t notice that the room didn’t have a light bulb or a fan – just cables coming out of the wall. I only noticed that yesterday evening but by then I was feeling too ill to mention it. Now I have. I have a light bulb and a portable air conditioner that two guys wheeled in and filled with several buckets of water. It’s a bit noisy, but good to have. Could’ve done with it last night.

Yesterday morning after checking in I went out for a walk. The guest house is in a poor area of town. Down a road with a mixture of brick houses and makeshift shacks. Kids playing among the goats and boars. On the main road a guy from a chai shop invited me to have a chai with him. He said he likes speaking English, but I didn’t feel like a chai. I said maybe on the way back I’d have one. A little way further along a couple of kids joined me. The smaller one did most of the talking. He spoke good English. The pointed out the various temples and then took me to one temple that was tucked away down a side street. We had to take off our shoes before going in. The smaller kid, who’s name was Amar, had no shoes. He was nine. His friend, who also spoke good English, was ten. When I complimented him on his English he said that education was very important. Education makes you a big man.

In the temple a guy was chanting in front of a shrine. It was hard to tell whether it was a buddhist or a hindu temple. The kids told me it was buddhist, but there were pictures of hindu gods: Rama, Shiva and a picture of Mahatma Gandhi, who the older kid, Raoul I think he said his name was, said was his guru. Upstairs there was a monkey on a chain. When it saw us it seemed to get a bit freaked out and started doing back flips. The kids said he was happy. A monk brought him a piece of potato. I asked the kids what the monkey was doing there but couldn’t get a definite answer. They kept saying he was happy. But why is he chained up? If he wasn’t chained he would run away.

Leaving the temple, putting my sandals on, I was asked to give a guy sitting by the shoes a baksheesh for looking after them. All I had on me was a 20 Rupee note so I give it to him. Why did you give him so much? You should’ve just given him 5 Rupees.

Walking back through town the kids started talking about their school. How they needed books for their school. Some kids in school uniform passed us. Why were they going to school when you’re not at school today? Our school is closed today. The teachers are having a meeting. They started pressuring me to buy them school books. The older kid said he needed a book for his exams. A Hindi-English dictionary. Only 800 Rupees. Instead I bought some fruit and shared it with them. They seemed to be quite hungry. But afterwards they returned to the subject of their school books. I said if I was going to give money to a school then I’d want to see the school first, but the “if” got lost somewhere in translation. You can come and meet our teacher. He’s in the internet cafe. I thought you said the teachers had a meeting today. No, our teacher is in the internet cafe. If you don’t believe us you can ask our teacher. I said no, I wanted to go and have a lie down, but maybe later I’d be going on the internet.

As we walked back to my guest house some more kids joined us, but there seemed to be some friction between them, and later there was a bit of a fight between Amar and one of the new kids. I had to pull them apart. I was told by another kid on a very nice looking bike (he offered to sell it to me for 2000 Rupees) that the fight was over 2 Rupees, so if I wanted to I could stop the fight by paying 2 Rupees. I didn’t. Amar asked me not to talk to other children. They’re not our friends, he said. I got the impression though that the fight was over who had found me and who had the right to get whatever money I was going to give. Like cats fighting over a mouse.

They showed me a short cut to the guest house, through peoples’ yards, ducking under washing lines.

It was 9 o’clock. After sleeping for six hours I went back out, ate a puri (vegetable curry with pastry bread) then went to a small cramped internet place. As I was paying I noticed Amar and Raoul standing outside. They asked me if I was going to meet their teacher now. No thanks. But you promised. No I didn’t. I couldn’t remember exactly what I had said, but was pretty sure I hadn’t promised anything, and now I was feeling ill and just wanted to get back and lie on my bed. They walked with me, and passing a book shop they said I could buy their book there. Only 800 Rupees. Amar was also saying that he needed rice. His family had run out of rice and they had nothing to eat. His father was ill so he couldn’t work. He used to be an auto-rickshaw driver. Just 10 Rupees for a kilo of rice. I said no. Then Raoul went back onto the school books. I tried to tell them that I thought it was the school’s responsibility to raise money for books, but they didn’t understand. Amar said if he asked for money he would get hit. He insisted that he wasn’t a beggar man.

Halfway down the road to my guest house they gave up, realizing that they weren’t going to get anything out of me. They turned around and walked away.

Today I saw the other kids. One of them was selling CDs of buddhist chants, but he complained that none of the tourists wanted to buy them and he was hungry. He showed me his stomach and tried to cry. They asked me to buy them some mo-mos. I’m not sure what mo-mos are, but whatever they are they’re 10 Rupees each. Instead I bought some oranges and gave them one each, and kept one for myself. One of the kids was still trying to get me to meet his teacher but I said a very definite no. I think before I was too vague. I told them that I didn’t find their stories consistent. Looking at the chant CDs which were priced at 160 Rupees, I asked him how much profit he made on each CD. One of the other kids said he bought each CD for 155 Rupees, so I suggested that selling these CDs wasn’t a very good business. But someone else said he bought them for 90. He then offered to sell them to me for 100 each. I said no. The kid with the nice bike said name your price. I said I didn’t want them. But how much do you want to pay? I don’t want to pay anything because i don’t want them.

After eating a special tomato soup (tomato soup with tofu and various other things in it) I went into the Mahabodi temple, the place where Buddha achieved enlightenment. The kids didn’t follow me in there.

I walked back alone, stopping at a shop to buy things I didn’t really need. I wanted water but only had a 500 Rupee note on me and thought I can’t just buy water and expect the guy to change a 500, so I got a orange juice type drink, some biscuits and some cigarettes. The biscuits wouldn’t fit in my bag so I carried them. Outside the guest house some local kids, three girls, spotted the biscuits and mobbed me. Give me two, the oldest one demanded. I gave them one each, thinking I should also offer to pay for their dental fees. As I turned to go into the guest house one of the smaller ones came up to me and showed me her empty hands, suggesting I’d forgotten to give her a biscuit. But I was sure I’d given out three and they’d each got one.