Travels in India
On October 4th, 1977 Mary and I flew out to Bombay or Mumbai as it is now. We spent a couple of days there staying at a cheap hotel situated a short walk from the Gateway to India. When I say cheap, I mean cheap, it would be the equivalent of about 20 pence a night, it didnít have a bed, just a mattress on the floor. Both Mary and I wanted to do this as cheaply as possible in order that we could stay as long as possible and, in those days, I didnít mind Ďroughing ití. Many years later I was staying at the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane, and I had a vision of our room in Bombay come into my mind. I remember thinking that I had come a long way since then, in all senses of the word.
My first meal in India was memorable. Iíd eaten Indian food previously, but I didnít like it too spicy, and having just arrived I thought I would have something plain. I ordered some tomato soup thinking that would be safe; Mary had the same. When it arrived, she started straight away, I was to follow a few seconds later. When I did the first spoonful nearly blew the roof of my mouth off, it was so hot and spicy. It was then I realised that she liked spicy food.
Our plan was to do our travelling and go to the places that we wanted to see, then visit the Ashram. The first part of our journey was an 800-mile, 24-hour train journey to New Delhi. We went first class and got a carriage with bunks as I had seen the conditions of travel in the ordinary class. Although the first-class carriage wasn't exactly luxury or anything special by today's standards, it was certainly an improvement on the standard class, and we had a compartment to ourselves with room to move around and a bed to sleep in. A few years later I was to return to India and by that time things had improved, although the standard class still had people crammed in the corridors and on the roof.
Our First Class Carriage on the train journey in India
We spent a couple of days in New Delhi then moved on to Delhi. We didnít really make the most of our visit and didnít see some of the sights that really, we should have seen. That was a lesson I was to learn for later life. Always make the most of any situation that you find yourself in. I feel that I missed some opportunities.
It was a time of spiritual discovery and by the time we reached Delhi I had become quite placid and easygoing, until, that is, I needed to purchase our next Railways tickets. We wanted to go to Agra, as no trip to India would be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal. We were told which queue we needed to be in and prepared ourselves for a long and arduous wait. It was hours before we got to the window. When we got there, we were told that we needed to be upstairs where we joined another queue. Several hours later, we got to the front to be told we needed to be downstairs. My calm evaporated. I found the biggest office and marched into it, and politely, expressed to the person sitting at the desk my displeasure at the events of the previous few hours. I never lose my temper or shout. I fixed the person behind the desk with my eyes and was offered a seat. Many years later when I was leaving the Territorial Army I was being dined out by my officers. That is a time they stand up and relate some of the stories that they recall and say nice things about you. One stood up and said that as long as he had known me, he had never heard my shout or even raise my voice, but I would fix someone with my eyes, and they would know that I wasnít happy. That was the situation in Delhi, and shortly, a member of staff appeared with two tickets to Agra.
We spent a couple of days in Agra and the Taj was certainly well worth the effort. Although, I missed the opportunity of visiting the Red Fort. I visited Agra again in 2010 and made amends for that omission. I also revisited the Taj, security measures had been intensified and photographs were no longer permitted inside the mausoleum, but it is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and breathtaking in its beauty.
Mary at the Taj Mahal 1978
Built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in 1631; it is known as the symbol of eternal love. Its beauty is breathtaking, although the cost to construct it nearly bankrupted the nation. For anyone who loves history and architecture, a visit is a must.
One thing that sticks in my mind about India is the Poverty, and that can have a significant effect on people. On many occasions, we would be surrounded by children or mothers with babes in arms, with outstretched hands. The problem was if you gave something to one of them the others would want it also, and other children would appear from nowhere. We had to detach ourselves from that.
In 2010 I returned to India with Anne, who I was to meet many years later. We were doing a tour across the Himalayas. The tour started in China, then onto Tibet, Nepal, and then India, spending a few days in each. When in India we took the train down to Agra and Anne found it extremely difficult to cope with the children living on the train station platform at Agra.
Unfortunately, poverty and hardship is not a problem confined to India, one of my enduring memories of Peru was when I was in Cusco, on my way to Machu Picchu, I wanted to buy a picture that a young boy was trying to sell in the cityís main square. I love haggling and always want to get the best price I can, so commenced to beat him down from the price he asked. After a while, we agreed on a price and I paid the money and took my picture. I remained in the square and I saw an older boy come up to him and was giving him what appeared to be a chastisement for possibly accepting what may have been too lower price. I went up to him and gave him a few more coins. I can still see the look of disbelief on their faces. I was so pleased that I did that as I think about the boy quite regularly, as the picture hangs in my kitchen/diner.
Returning to my first visit; from Agra, we returned to Bombay and then on to Poona. Generally, we travelled first class, except for a short journey from Bombay to Poona (Pune) where we wanted to experience travelling as the locals do. The trip was three hours, and we did manage to get inside the carriage, but we were jammed up against the wall and couldnít even sit on the floor.
We were now on the final leg of our journey and the reason for our trip to India, which was to visit the Ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. I had read a couple of Bhagwan's books and heard him speak on cassette. There seemed to be something extremely spiritual about him and you could have an audience when you arrived at the Ashram and then again when you were leaving. On arrival, we visited the Ashram office and arranged our audience. The nice thing about him was a feeling of acceptance and how he incorporated all religions and philosophies into his teachings. I feel that that period was another significant stage in my development as a person.
Initially, we stayed in a cheap hotel but once on the ashram we asked about accommodation and were told that there was a Chinese restaurant that put people up. We went along and took a room.
A thing that I remember about that restaurant was one incident at breakfast when the waiter was bringing some toast to a guy at the table next to me. As he approached the table the toast slipped off the plate and fell on the floor landing buttered side down. The waiter picked it up, brushed it off with his hand, put it back on the plate, and put it down in front of the guy. We looked at each other and laughed.
Over the weeks, I grew my hair and a beard in keeping with my new image. Mary and I did a number of meditation and self-development workshops. We both discovered a great deal about ourselves and what we wanted from life. We found that we wanted different things. We were growing up and growing apart.
Me in my hippy days
India is a place you either love or hate. I loved it but after two months I got food poisoning and wanted to go home. Mary wanted to remain, so I left her there and returned to England.
Chapter 8 - Return Home