‘Did you see dinosaurs?’
‘Here? In Omkareshwar? No,’ is my answer to the strangely attractive Brahmin with blue eyes. He’s got a fair complexion and for a moment I think he’s a Westerner. A damn good one, copying a pilgrim though. His inner forearms bears a lot of thin, long scars as if he’d cut himself. He’s aware of it. I watched him draping playfully his scarf around the head of a relaxing cow. And when I try to rescue a puppy from the attacks of a monkey the Brahmin comes up to me, ‘what happened? Problem?’
So, no, I haven’t seen a dinosaur, I tell him. But what he meant was the movie Jurassic Park from Steven Spielberg. ‘I have seen Titanic,’ I try to be at the same time spirit as where he’s seemingly in right now. Then he goes on, giving me a quick lesson in Hinduism: ‘The cow, is God. The tree, is God, the river, is God. That monkey, is God,’ and I quickly add my knowledge ‘yes, it’s Hanuman!’ People gathered around us all laugh approvingly. ‘In India everything is God, isn’t that fantastic?’ I point to one of the many big bats hanging above our heads, they flock together in the enormous tree where we enjoy it’s shade: ‘Is this Batman also a God?’ No, it isn’t, and while talking so pleasantly I notice the new tunic I’ve bought isn’t very appropriate. It’s an Indian tunic and although matching the orange Brahmin clothes, see-through. For a man not interested in marriage he’s obviously interested in breasts, and when he asks me to join him, I friendly thank him.
Omkareshwar is one of those places, together with Hampi and in a non-touristic way with Nanded, very comfortable to be. It’s set up for pilgrims and tourists, although tourists are not here at this time of the year. Reaching this place the temperature rose, cycling in the sun, to a 48 degrees. I notice that the turban I wear takes a lot of heat away, drenched with sweat when I take it off. An ayurvedic doctor I met told me that heat comes in through our ears, nose and mouth mostly, and by covering my ears I block out some heat, and noise too. It does help considerably. I drink a lot of nimbu pani, lime water with salt. Or the very refreshing and filling sugarcane juice. I have become a big fan of the questionable funky colored drinks offered on carts along the road, together with lime and ice a real threat.
A few days later I see the same remarkable handsome Brahmin again. In Ujjain. A pity I am eating while he pass the restaurant I am in. I would have loved to be with him, just for a day -though I would dress different- because Ujjain and it’s people are one of such a treasure I would like to learn more about. Ujjain is another pilgrimage place and with it’s ghats it is a small Varanasi. The town, to be said one of the oldest in India, is congested and authentic. This is India when you think about what India is? Walking past the ghats, the stone steps leading into the seemingly dirty water where people wash themselves and their clothes, I see men searching for gold. They dig the dirt in baskets and go through it carefully, until only mud is left where hopefully gold is to be found. I meet up with young kids who are playfully posing for the camera. I notice they have a handkerchief in their hand which they’re smelling onto continuously. I ask them to have a sniff and indeed it is glue. Imagine, to be a mother, to have a child again -no, you did not want to have sexual intercourse, you just have-. Imagine, to be a young boy, to have a mother who is drugged, in order to do the work she needs to do. Imagine, you can not have children and go through the beyond human nature circuit of pushing God’s will. All the while I am being followed by guys, I notice them, I try to free myself of them.
‘Like feeling fulfilled by an organic delicious meal but a spiritual, existential one’…
Someone wrote, and this could certainly refer to Ujjain.
One of my followers manage to come close to me while I am invited by a man who is regarded crazy by many. He is one of those man I would stand watching at and suppress the question what he is. ‘Heee, namaste, ji, what are you?’ is a question slightly less ‘normal’ as ‘how much money do you make?’ or ‘are you married?’ or ‘what is your age?’ So I won’t ask the man ‘what’ he is. Now such a man invites me to come sit next to him, and I do. He is dressed in a kameez, over this another stiff cotton shirt and a North Indian woolen vest over it. He has a dhoti wrapped around his legs and carries one bag only. He’s adorned with bangles, on his wrist and on his upper arms. He wears a cap and a pair of glasses. He has a flute enthusiastically decorated with tinsel and treads. He doesn’t speak English, as the sadhu dressed in white doesn’t either, as the guy followed me also not, and the other sadhu dressed in bleak orange neither. I sit there for a long time, and I just watch and experience. People belonging to the so called middle class watch our little group as inauspicious, I can see what they think. Poor people from the village greet us, you can feel their joy. Rough men laughing friendly at us are known as thieves. A man obviously very low in social ability is watching us continuously until the baba we are sitting around moves his stick through the air and chase him off. ‘Crazy,’ they tell me. People bring chai to this baba and touch his feet in respect. We all get to share in the little bag of tea brought to us. A few added pakora’s, deep fried pockets of dough, are shared too.
The strength of concepts
A woman who seems to be homeless -all these people I am with are homeless-, coming out from the dry bushes behind where we sit, dressed in a man’s outfit, flashes me a smile. The intensity is so strong that I believe it is because both our mental prejudices of each other are gone, thus the pure brilliance of our eyes from human to human is left, and it’s strong. Strong is also the smoke coming from the chillam, a wide stone pipe filled with tobacco of a greenish color. Probably pure marijuana. It’s so strong that I have to leave the scene, in order not to get stoned. But not after I have seen the baba we are with, giving a little show in his hazy state of mind: he’s chewing on a razor blade like it’s grass for the goat.
The guy who’d followed me has his own ideas with me, which I am fully aware of, and soon I am able to get rid of him, as he is the kind of guy who want something.
Strolling around, drinking chai and forgetting to eat, I wonder through Ujjain. At the moment I am reading a book ‘A Journey into Mystic India’ from Ram Puri, an American who’d become a sadhu and here I am in the middle of an important place for sadhu’s. Visiting places mentioned in the book and trying to understand it all a bit better. ‘Heee, sister,’ is what I hear. I turn around to see the razor-blade eating baba coming behind me. He wants me to sit with him and the huge group of baba’s gathered under a tree. I notice how more and more people want to sit with these men, one of them a supposingly well-known baba. Hari Om Das is his name and he misses one leg. I notice it only when I pass my attention from an albino guy taking a bath in the river while his underwear collects so much water it almost slips down his body. Men around me are coughing from the strong chillam smoke, there is a Muslim among the group, and a woman too, most uncommon people, probably called weird, funny people. I am given a wooden mala, while Hari Om Das gives me a cotton ball dipped into rose perfume. I feel comfortable, probably because we are all different. Later on when I am stalked by two children living in a hut along the riverbanks, I am rescued by a man who would most probably never sit down with sadhu’s and their chillams. Or maybe he does now and then? I feel fortunate to move among all.
While I wait for breakfast in an Ujjain family restaurant which is open but not active yet -damn, could I start early, now this- I see another known face: the baba dressed in white. Naturally, I don’t invite the baba in, somehow this seems not appropriate, but I go to him and offer him chai. Because the restaurant not being open the baba in white waits patiently, crouched on this heels, on the pavement for chai poured into his tiffin carrier. Passerby’s and guests of the hotel act very respectful to him. I cycle on, I pass Indore over a very long bypass and ring road. It is another huge city and am surprised I see Walmart Enterprise. What a horror: Walmart in India?!
Initially I had made Indore my final point of cycling in India. I would have done a Vipassana course but for a few reasons I decide to cycle on. One of the reason is that I like cycling in India. Liking as in wanting to fulfill the whole ride, not only 2/3 of it. Another reason is that plunging from this madness into a 15 days silence would be too big a contrast. I change routes too, from A27 to A17, and needing an almost weekly adjustment in plans in order to be at the right time in Delhi.
People still try to make me scared, people who deal with tourists in the tourist season in Omkareshwar. Such a guy tries to give me the feeling he knows more of cycling and road conditions than I know, thus giving me all kind of tips, but most of all the warning that I might be… raped. Although I notice this word is never spoken out loud in India. And you know what, shall I tell you something special, something never heard in any news. I came to India with the statement: ‘Nothing is going to happen to me. I will be fine, as I have always been.’ I really have been told often, before I left for India, and while in India, that this is a country full of rapers. Yes, this might be true, but not to me. I have cycled 3500 kilometer in this huge country and not óne man has touched me. This is a novelty in India to me, but it shows that being outside the touristy area’s things have not heated up that much. Or I was just lucky. However, I find the Indian people very trustworthy and very sincere. Hardly ever am I cheated on prices. I get great discounts at times and even things for free as well. India is not known, unlike Iran or Iraq, to be spoiling us foreigners, but Indian citizens are good to me. They won’t invite me in their houses, unless I work as a volunteer. They won’t see me as a guest, perhaps simply because there is só much tourism.
I happily cycle on, people from the hotel help me carry my bags over the ghats to the main road. As they did when I arrived.
I have passed jasmine flowers in the South, now I pass heaps of marigold flowers. I gulp in this instant happy feeling, offset by a crying dog beaten by a large stick. I pass shepherds in underwear. I cycle off the tarred road to find rest and quietness in the fields, and for a few minutes I am the delusion of camping.