Archive for February 5th, 2010

I met a guy

After eying a beautiful Royal Enfield (CIRCA 1950) motorcycle,  I struck up a conversation with the current owner.  The bike is being restored and shipped to Europe in a few weeks to a lucky bastard who is going to be riding it around the EU; I am so jealous, but figured with the gear shift being on the right /wrong (opposite of  all modern motorcycles) side, I would surely kill myself even if I did have the good fortune of owning one.

Monks chanting at sunrise

The same guy had previously helped Sue and Dave book their Himalaya trek….the one that never happened due to Sue’s serious Indian weight loss program (eat, throw up, have diarrhea….repeat for days). So casually I explain that I am trying to get to Boda Gaya and it is proving difficult, beyond difficult actually, as the trains are all fully booked. As he shows me the original name plate that is going back on the bikes fuel tank he says “I know the guy who can get you a train ticket”.  The process sounds highly suspect (something about railroad employees buying tickets, reselling them, and changing the names on the ticket) but I was currently out of options and have come to realize that sometimes, particularly in India , you just have to have trust and let the “guy” help you.

Without such and attitude, you will most certainly be going home earlier than planned. I  have met a lot of travelers who have said: “Nothing works here, we hate India, we are going home”.  Me on the other hand, well I am trying, with limited success, to develop an approach that gives up some of my perceived control.  I am thus starting to figure out that the “Nothing works” is simply according to our expectations, but at the end of the day, things do get done…..or at least somewhat done.  That afternoon Dave and I run into the “cake lady”, who as a westerner, is making Dargeeling her home while selling cakes that taste like cakes.  We mention the odd plan to her and she simply says: “Oh the guy with the cool bike is a good guy, if he said he can get you a ticket he can, no need to understand how”.

The next morning we check out of hotel, walk until we find a ride in a jeep going down the hill from Dargeeling before the latest in a series of protest strike (hotel manager and husband are also in jeep trying to get out of town also as the strike may disrupt things in Dargeeling through the new years).  After some tough negotiating, and some help from our hotel manager we convince the jeep driver that the front and back seats do not need to be crammed full, and we pay for a little extra comfort. The back…well they put 7 or 8 people back there. We drive through Gorkhaland independent state demonstrations and somehow avoid the road blocks; aparently there is an agreement with the strikers and the jeep drivers regarding when they can pass, but it is completely foreign to us as to the process.  At one point we see a few rupees change hand as we continue out of the Himalaya foothills.


With no hotel booking we walk to a hotel that looks decent (pretty nice actually) in the non-tourist town of Silugiri,  After checking in, prepaying, showing all forms of ID, we are given rooms; Odd.  Dave and I set out to try and find the guy who can get me a train ticket; We continue to ask directions over the honking horns and bustle of and Indian city at night. Dave ultimately spots a hotel down a side street with a name similar (but not the same) as the name we were told to look for.  “Yes, we know the guy you are looking for but he is gone; I whine, they tell us to sit down and they call the guy.  In India, you are always told to sit down and you never really know what that means, but we simply trusted that something would happen and we wait. Soon we see a rather old, rather haggard looking guy come in and we are surprised the hotel lets him into the lobby. He sits down and starts talking loudly on a cell phone.  At this point Dave and I are about to call the whole process  a bust,  and then this guy hands me the phone and says: “For you”.  It is the Enfield motorcycle guy on the phone telling me that the other guy is my guy and he was simply verifying who I was.  Out pops a train ticket with my name on it. Dave and I look at it and again opt to trust that it is indeed a ticket to Patna (near Gaya, and where I need to get to). As requested,  I give the guy $4 for his effort and walk away repeating Sue’s favorite saying regarding how to explain things in India: “But of course it is”.

The place of Enlightenment

We walk back to hotel in the mayhem of the Indian city and have great dinner (even though it was nothing close to what we ordered as often is the case) and we laughed: “But of course it is”. In the morning I walk to tuk tuk (auto rickshaws) station but opt to avoid what looks like certain suicide and  instead hire a cab to train station.  At the station while I settle in a for a long wait,  I fortunately meet a guy that explains that the train is not late as described on the status board and points out that my train is actually leaving NOW; We run down the platform, find my car and jump the train as it begins to role.  Completely rattled, intimidated, and a bit ticked off,  I find my berth as I clutch my belongings to my chest. I am instantly befriended by Indian newlyweds who adopt me for this part of my journey and share their dinner with me and tell me how happy they are with their arranged marriage (they are totally sincere, obviously happy, and committed to spending the rest of their lives together; divorce is a very very rare thing in India).  And forget the tourist restaurants or even the great street food,  if you want fantastic India food, enjoy the food a happy family packs for long train voyages. Later in the evening I am convinced that the puffed rice, with mustard sauce and chopped onions that is being sold by a vendor at one stop is safe to eat, so I take my newspaper cone that holds the rice and marvel at the rich spicy taste.  As I go to pay, I realize my Indian friends have all ready done so and they refuse my money. Soon a rock in the mix breaks yet another tooth.  I do not have the heart to tell my friends, and discretely spit the rock and sliver of tooth out; I enjoy the rest of the rice and lively conversation with wonderful people.

Indian Buddhist Monk

I Arrive in Patna after an all night train and try to buy ticket to Gaya but the station is closed.  I meet another guy who understands “Gaya” as I try to explain that I need to get a ticket.  He shakes his head in that way I do not understand the meaning, points to a train that is just leaving and we again run down the platform and jump onto the train. This is a local train – I sit on a bench with 3 other guys, while some very fascinating  and very very poor people (I am now in the poorest part of the country) sit around us.  At each stop the train gets more and more full until the is car packed with humans.  No one speaks English and I am clearly quite an anomaly for this train. I try and figure out if I am going the right directions and break out my little guide book map and use compass on watch; yes, I hink I am ok- lets see looks like maybe a hundred or a hundred and fifty kilometers that should be about 2- 3 hours, relax. Three hours later the guys indicates I should get off the train which I never did get a ticket for. We shake hands and I walk into a sea of tuk tuks and negotiate a price like a weathered veteran. I make it to Boda Gaya.  Travel – check.

I immediately set out to seek lodging amongst a sea of gold and maroon (thousands of monks and pilgrims are all ready here and estimates indicate that 50,000 people we be here in the coming days).  I go to a half dozen places with no luck and begin to think I may have finally done it – I am truly homeless.  Then I meet a guy who tells me to take a seat as he knows a guy; I meet another guy who comes at the request of the first guy and he takes me away to meet another guy who takes me to a hotel that I had all ready checked with – there are apparently no rooms in town, but remarkably, miraculously, or because I said I would pay a premium someone just cancelled and they offer me a nice room for way to much money.  I negotiate a still inflated but fair price given the crowds that I am seeing develop outside, and secure a room for the 10 days that correspond to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet being here and doing a teaching.  Lodging – check.

I have no idea how to secure a ticket for the teaching but opt to relax in knowing I am in the right town on the right day.  I go to find a cup of much deserved coffee; not great, but black and taste something like coffee in a continent of tea drinkers. “Good morning” says an older Lama who asks if he may join me”. “Certainly” I say.  We have a nice visit and I ask if he may know how I acquire a ticket for the teaching.  “Wait here, enjoy another coffee, I will be back later”.  After a tine he returns and we depart together. Every few minutes we have to stop, however, as people keep approaching my new friend; the process is always the same, they clasp their hands, bow, say a greeting I do not understand and then shake both hands warmly.  At one such stop, the Lama simply says “Excuse me for a moment, this is His Holiness’s personal secretary on Tibet and I need to speak with him for a moment”. We make it to the registration area and I am helped throughout the process by this kind Lama. Over lunch I ask: “So, who are you“, I get a humble response that includes a name, and like the Dalai Lama an assertion that “ I am just a monk“.  I knew otherwise and Google confirmed;  I have just spent the day with the 5th incarnation of Chusang Rimpoche who oversees the Monastery that bears his name in Kathmandu, Nepal, studied directly under His Holiness, and is a senior monastic in the Tibetan community.  At one point Lama Rimpoche says “So you are not a Buddhist” to which I reply, “No but I am interested, have been doing some practice, and very much relate to Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism with its focus on the mind and analytical thinking”.  “I know” says the Lama, “I think you may have traveled this path before”.  His words are said in a manor that penetrate deeply and for once in my life I am left speechless. “It is best you are not a Buddhist, labels not important, practice important”.  Ticket – check….who know what else.

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