Category Archives: The Return to Mother India

Part V: Adventure in Being

At the train station, a tall and skinny man with short grey hair emerges from the sea of people asking urgently, “Sir, hello, where are you going? I think your train is not working!”. Darjeeling! I yell back without breaking stride, confident it wasn’t true.

Arriving at the platform with Christine, we unload our bags and sit on a bench soaked in sweat. The porter leaves to verify the trains departure but returns within a minute and utters a single word: Delayed.

After an hour of trying to understand Hindi train announcements, the porter returns with the man from earlier. “I was trying to tell you before, the train is cancelled man. Oh my God, what to do?” Indeed. It’s eleven o’clock at night and our short-lived ‘plan’ has dissolved.

Turns out he is a rickshaw driver and offers to take us back to Varanasi which is 40 minutes away. At first I’m distrustful and think it could be a scam, so we check with the operators. It is most definitely cancelled, as are eight other trains.

I call Diamond on his cell phone to check us back into our former guesthouse. In the meantime, Christine boldly moves through the sardine queue of sweaty men, guarding herself with her trusty trekking pole and retrieves the refund.

We prepare to leave but are approached by the only other white tourist in the station who is looking for help. She needs transport to Varanasi, so the three of us, with all of our bags, squeeze into the back of the rickshaw now resembling a clown car.

  We head back once more, into the night lights of the holy city, happy that we were able to help this young traveler as we have been helped by this kind driver.

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Heading to the train station that night…I guess Varanasi wasn’t finished with us yet! Photo: Christine Idilbi

I don’t know why this is happening but Life is teaching me a lesson about trust, flow and gratitude.

*

Varanasi…

Back in the same courtyard the next morning, Diamond doesn’t seem surprised and agrees to help us find another train.

We’ve only got 3 days left until our flight out of Kolkata.

Through the maze of alleyways, Diamond takes us to his friend’s travel agency. We enquire about alternative trains but most have been cancelled due to an accident at Allahabad, four days ago.

That was the same train station we tried to get to from Agra four days ago! If we got on that train, we could still be stuck!

Grateful for such mysterious harmony, I am positive about this affirmation.  Diamond’s friend however, looks up after a long search. “Sorry my friends, no sleeper trains or buses available until next week, you’ll have to go by air.”

The tickets are the same cost as my feeble bank balance.

Fearful thoughts arise as my mind creates a whirlwind of assumptions about arriving back in England a beggar, my travels ending, and getting booted out of India for overstaying my visa.

I need a second.

My heart tells me this is good because it shows me I still lack total faith in God. I sit near the Ganges and watch the mental palpitations of panic and anxiety. Finally, I say Yes and trust in the destiny Life has in store for me.

*

Returning to the travel agent, Christine is smiling and says calmly; “They found the last tickets out of Varanasi on the express train to Kolkata tomorrow morning”. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Christine & Diamond on our ‘real’ last day in Varanasi

With restored faith we return to the guesthouse after a lunch of dosa and samosa and pack our things. Later on, I reflect on a practical approach in guiding  someone into deeper Self Awareness and am inspired to write The Master Key.

Christine gets her ankle x-rayed and it shows no broken bones but a torn tendon. Yay.

*

Bright and early the next morning we arrive at the station..again. An old porter who I can’t understand takes us to the last platform, sticks out his hand for a tip and leaves.

This certainly feels like a smoother finale to our Indian saga.

Time ticks on until there’s only ten minutes left to board the train. That’s strange, the train should be here by now. 

Something doesn’t feel right so I go and ask two soldiers for help. Apparently we are at the wrong end of the station!

Palpitations and profuse sweating returns. Panicked, I look around and find myself already surrounded by smiling strangers ready to help. Grabbing Christine, we all rush to the other side where a crowded train is already waiting with whistles blowing, ready for departure. Quick!

Striding down the steps, I blindly dash for the doors to halt the train. “No madam!!” comes a bellow from the communications room nestled in the background. “That is the wrong train madam. You’re going to Kolkata isn’t it?”. Christine wiggles her head to which he replies “You’re on the next train, thank you, yes.”

Oh my word. We have five minutes left so I go to grab a chai and find the train waiting when I return. Running down the platform, Christine is dragging her bags into the train. I grab mine and jump on too.

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All aboard! Photo: Christine Idilbi

Storing the bags we collapse into our beds in the air-conditioned cabin. At Last. After more chai and samosas, Christine and I recall the magic of effortless flow and trust even in the midst of chaotic India. Happy and comfortable, we rejoice in the lessons of life and rest in bliss.

The train ride is amazing and so comfortable we muse about how we could do our own Darjeeling Limited experience.

*

Kolkata

As we enter the periphery of Kolkata, we pass through the district of Dum Dum, the first place I ever visited in India. I reflect for a moment on the auspiciousness of the unexpected awakening that took place that year and the miracles that brought me to this moment, Now.

Upon arrival, a silent man in a red turban wheels our bags across the train tracks to the entrance where we jump into a taxi and head for Sudder street. It is chaotic, busy and of course fully booked. All we find is a mattress in a bricked alleyway or a five star hotel. I don’t believe it, I know there’s a decent room out there.

I leave the taxi and stride around for thirty minutes, until at last I find the last room on the top floor of ‘Capitol’ Hotel. The concierge wipes his nose on the curtain as I sign in our names. Classy.

I turn on the AC and return to grab Christine who has made a friend. She is an Indian gypsy who draws temporary ‘henna’ tattoos on people and came to her rescue to defend her from the lustful advances of an over eager man. Relieved and exhausted we buy her some milk for her baby, wave her goodbye in the humid crosstown traffic and crash into the refrigerated room in a happy heap.

Epilogue 

Finally we arrive on the 181st day in India as we sit in an intercity cricket pitch, with the Victoria memorial silhouetted against the glow of the evening sky.  We are grateful for the rich, raw, marvellous and beautiful life experience that our inner Guru facilitated in beloved ‘full power’ India.

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Walking back to the hotel to get ready for our flight Photo: Christine Idilbi

That night, as the plane reaches take off speed we sail upward, overlooking the land of West Bengal.

*

Through all the apparent craziness of India, I have learned that when one stops trying to swim upstream by maintaining a rigid, planned existence but instead surrenders to the natural state of being, life flows harmoniously.

That sense of being, of ‘I am, I exist’ is inherent in all of us. This is our root, our source. We are One.

Our journey is to realise this consciously.

God Bless the Being!

Part IV: Shiva Shambo

Varanasi

Christine and I rub the sleep from our tired eyes, sit up inside the shiny Honda and reanimate with a lung full of frigid A/C.  Our friend parks on the shady side of Shivala street, which is jam packed with market stalls. Slumping over the steering wheel he rejoices, “We are here!”

We step out into the haze of heat amidst the bustling marketplace, it’s only 9.30 in the morning and I’m beginning to sweat, an Indian Summer indeed!

*

Our driver takes us to his friend’s guesthouse and we are met with a smug, balding man with red, angry eyes who insists his place is the best in town. The crummy conditions, high prices, and stench of his arrogance drives us away quickly and I pray that we are guided to the right place.

On the way out, a porter tells us of a better guesthouse close by. I follow him into an alley that leads toward the Ganges river and arrive at ‘Singh Guesthouse‘.

Stepping into a lush, gardened courtyard enclosed by tall cream walls bordered in red, I walk around a small water feature feeling refreshed already. Inside the lobby, two old men are enthralled by an intense indian soap opera.

The first man who stands to greet us is ‘Diamond’ who has lived in Varanasi his whole life. His blue eyes sparkle against his dark face, greying hair and sturdy physique. It doesn’t take long for us to connect and I like his kind, wise and fatherly approach.

His friend reluctantly tears himself away from the show and heaves his bulging frame to join us at the check-in desk. Above us is a rickety fan and a framed picture of Sri Ramana Maharshi, a beloved Indian sage who is a guiding light in my life.

Thank you, this is the place.

*

It’s already noon by the time we drop off our bags, say goodbye to our marathon driver, and sit down for a snack and a deeper chat with Diamond.

We share our experiences in India as he listens intently, especially as the conversation turns to spiritual matters. “People come to Varanasi to be purified by the Ganges.  To ‘learn and burn’ by the Grace of Lord Shiva” Diamond explains. “The river runs deep here, just like the current of Life”.

Many people come to Varanasi to experience this healing power, but with temperatures soaring at 46 degrees,  the tourism is scarce. We listen to his welcomed insight while sweltering in the perpetual sauna.

A cleansing bath in the Ganges is more appealing than ever. 

When the furnace cools off a little, Christine and I sit on the steps of the Holy river and meditate to the sound of the flowing water. Happy and immersed in the moment, we watch the setting sun cast its orange rays over the shimmering waters.

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Sunset over the Ganges    Photo:Christine Idilbi

Later on, we drink chai as the boatmen row, people wash, and fires burn. Diamond’s words ring true as we listen to Bhajans and the drumming of cremation festivities happening along the river. My soul is filled with love and gratitude to be in India’s holiest and oldest city which is a focal point for both Hindus and Buddhists worldwide.

*

Over the next two days, Diamond shows us around town and makes sure we are in safe hands. Inside the mystical temple of Lord Shiva, we give offerings to the many brahmins and deities draped in marigold flowers (see cover photo).The hallways are thick with the sweet smoke of incense, and adorned with beautiful murals, intricate carvings, and the vibrating power of prayer.

We also visit the sacred garden of Buddha’s first teaching in Sarnath. The tranquil garden, lined with lily pads and pink lotus flowers,  allows a welcomed mediation inside the fragrant serenity of this hallowed ground.

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Statue of the Buddha at Sarnath Photo: Christine Idilbi

*

By the end of the second day, the Varanasi bake house is still uncomfortable, especially for Christine as she has developed a fever.  It’s so hot we take multiple cold showers throughout the day to avoid sautéed organs.  We need a break from the furnace, so we book a ticket to Darjeeling for a rest in the mountains before catching our flight out of Kolkata to Bali.

We bid our dear friends and the holy city farewell as our loaded rickshaw sputters to life and we set off on our evening voyage across the Varanasi bridge to the train station.

Off we go!