Short Stories from India

Beetroot samosa on cut piece of newspaper in hand


Short Stories from India


With a bit of Nepal Included



Chennai

Karnataka, India


A photo of Mr. Prabu standing in the parking lot of Chennai's Bus Station

March 9, 2018 - Bus Station in Chennai-


"Arrival in the dark. Customs upset I had no stamps in my passport. Share a taxi into the city with a Swiss guy named Maurice. He paid for the taxi. On my own walking by 1:00am. Stepping into another world, walking past packs of wild dogs, people sleeping everywhere. Stop for a street meal, a local named Prabu helped me get a fair price. Walking again towards the bus station, 3km to go. Run into a man named Subaya, he offers to help me get a bus, I explain I don't have money to pay him. He says welcome to India, this is not why I offer to help you. We go into the station at 2:45. People sleeping everywhere, the man in the office refuses to wake up. Back on the streets with Subaya, chai teas, cigarettes, he rolled a joint in the back of a tuk-tuk we sit in. Empties a cigarette, sucks it into the tube. We walk back the way I came, smoking. He sees I'm happy and explains this makes him happy. Stop at a hotel for him to use the bathroom, I'm his cover, he sleeps in a tuk-tuk each night. We walk with him laughing saying Machong, Machong, Machong. Money, money, money. He teaches me many words. Another man comes up, trembling cold although it's hot outside. Soon he has a knife out, jabs at another man's throat. They calm him with words, explain I'm just a new friend no money. Subaya keeps explaining I'm in no rush, there is all the time in the world in India. We talk of life and his family, his daily earnings, dreams of having his own tuk-tuk. He shows me his hand, talks about how each finger is different, this is India he says. We go back to the bus station at 5am. Find the bus to Bangalore, he must start work soon driving. I wish him well fortune for the day and we talk of me finding him again in two months. I promised to come find him one night before flying to Nepal. The bus left at 5:30am, arrived in Bangalore by 2. Exchanged money, sorted medicine, ate local food on a backstreet with my hands. I now sit waiting on the next bus at 11pm heading to Hampi. No hotel yet, sleeping on the road. Unexpected adventures around every turn, stomach still strong. I think back to asking Subaya why he left his home for the city, he simply smiled and said, "Look at all this life...""

Happy Hampi

Hampi, East-central Karnataka, India


Looking down over rice-fields and the ruins of Hampi, India

April 7, 2018


"Awake in the dark, candle lite, stove primed, water heating. Bathroom rituals, contacts in, tea steeping. The temple loudspeakers can just be heard over the symphony of frogs and crickets. I pick from the plastic bag, my fingers sticky. Sitting with tea in hand, a smoke in the other, the boulders come to life. Red. Mornings always bring reflection. New Zealand, you, Hinemoana, how I ended up sitting right here, now. It all feels so far away, yet brings so much comfort and motivation to think back. Oh, and don't forget the mosquitos. Anytime the sun is not baking, they are out in force. Coils, coconut oil, citronella. Have these and it's not so bad. I'm moving by six. Past the Baba Rocks. Granite underfoot all the way to the river. Herons, egrets. Reports of the occasional crocodile onshore. I'm reminded of the billabongs in the Northern Territory. Walking through peanut fields now. Thorns stuck in the pads of my feet, it's no bother anymore. Up into the granite boulder forest, over the plateau. The sun is rising behind Rishimuk. Johnny at my feet. He always follows early morning. Braver with a mate. I know the path well and walk without thinking. In the shade of a boulder, I sit and watch the first sun rays shine on the temples and old bazaar. As I drop down the other side Johnny loses courage and turns back. A couple of km through the rice fields until Hampi. Masala Dosa sitting on the street. A pan-fried bread filled with onion and potatoes served with chutney. Chai and wifi at Evergreen. Back walking down towards the river. It's over 40c already. After half an hour enough people show up to justify a boat across. The stone is hot under my feet. I walk towards the old bazaar, stop in the shade, police station, man sleeping on the second floor of bazaar ruins. Walking again, heading towards Shiva Temple atop the small mountain in front. The top is exposed with stairs hand chiseled into the rock. Small caves carvings of Shiva in the boulders. The temple is the boulders. I arrive at the top to be greeted by a small man. He takes me into the inner temple, we touch the entranceway as we step through. In the back of the third room stands the oldest Shiva statue in all of India. He puts a flower in my hand, lights incense, and I wave circles in front of Shiva the Destroyer. He asks me to make a wish, and place the flower on Shiva. I repeat after him, “ Ohm Nama shiva” I hold another flame in a brass melting spoon, waving circles again. He touches the statue, puts the color on my forehead. Holy water, sugar cubes. He gives the flower back, asks me to put it in my pocket. Let it go in a special place. I leave 10 rupees in the collection plate. He is fifth generation to watch after the temple. Still a river crossing and long walk through the boulders to get home. Home is my green tent, little stove, bouldering mat, and chair on the edge of rice fields leading up to the boulders. Evenings I'm not climbing I swim and sit down by the river. Watch the goats, water buffalo, brahmins, and the occasional donkey trailing far behind as they cross the river heading home. They mind the stock all day here, it's not like paddocks and fields of the west. Some nights heading home in the dark from climbing I run into locals sitting by the river. They call out boom, the invite to sit for a chillum. Tobacco in a clay pipe. You cup it in your hands so never to touch your lips to it. I sit with them in the dark as we pass the pipe round the circle. As I get home I start thinking of my stomach again. Street food as always. Most I ever pay is around 100 rupees, around 2nzd, for a massive meal of rice and dahl. I sit out at night many times listening to the frogs and crickets come to life, reading under headlamp, pretending the mosquitos aren't here. Nights usually end by 9/10. Alarms set for 5am. Every morning I wake up and it takes me a few minutes to remember exactly where I am and how I ended up here. I'm slowly start getting used to that feeling again..."

Baba Cafe

Hanumanahalli, Karnataka, India


Sunrise on the Rishimukh Plateau in Hampi, India

April 14, 2018


"That last breath before plunging into tungabhadra. Silence, the current across my body, pounamu dragging the bottom, hinemoana far away. The heat is real, inescapable but in this moment. Fear is that elusive leopard, that crocodile awaiting the depths. People warn you, so must it be real? The shadows take shape when you stop believing, the ripples becoming scaly ridges, fear gaining momentum. So don't look too far down, for the jaws are open, waiting to swallow you whole. Trust can be simple thing, smiling at the world, exhaling that last breath as you give into the abyss. Knowing it only takes a single push off the bottom, to find that flood of colours, light, life. Don't forget to breathe..."

Hampi Island

Karnataka, India


The Indian dish Thali on a metal plate.

April 25, 2018


"I'm on the back of an Enfield, three of us on the bike, all Indian. Holding on to the seat with one hand, I adjust my feet to avoid the hot muffler, the chillum still burning my throat. The pink moon is smiling, a sliver of light surrounding the edge of the corona. The road is bumpy, Shri singing songs in Hindi as we speed through the dark, I smile at life. This morning I became friends with Pradeep, a kid selling postcards. Words exchanged, I buy lemon rice to break his fast. By evening I'm eating the best Thale I've ever had, bought for me. The circle is complete."

Kathmandu

Thamel District, Nepal


Prayer wheels with mantras on paper behind

May 7, 2018


"I barely notice we are landing as the plane touches down in Kathmandu, deep into conversation with a new Indian friend. We talk of the United States and my escape into the world. It is new to him that someone would want to leave, as so many dream of going. Walking onto the tarmac, fresh air, the humidity gone. It's the first time I've been outside in over a day. I stayed up far too late the night before, sharing drinks and conversations with a French girl living on an island near Madagascar, the morning came early. Our flight from Chennai to Delhi was late, free hotel, lunch, dinner, but unable to leave the international terminal. Walking into Kathmandu airport I realise the Nepali are the most friendly people I've encountered, money is exchanged fairly, customs smiling, welcoming me to Nepal. I feel like a different person the way they receive me this time, in my comfort zone, alive, no fear, light in my chest. Outside the airport more greetings, help when I explain I prefer to walk the 7km to the guesthouse, offers for a free ride. The sky is overcast but the sun breaks through occasionally. Dust up my nose, I can feel it on the roof of my mouth. People take little notice of me, smiling when they do, I feel back at home. Walking through side streets, I notice how clean it is compared to India. Buddhist statues adorning the walls. I recognize statutes still standing after the earthquake three years ago. I stop for lunch, noodles and vegetables, the desire to eat meat fading. Yanna recommended I stay at Nirvana Peace House, a quaint, small, out of the way guesthouse. Arriving I feel exhausted and rest for an hour. Upon waking I have the desire to go climb, the gym only 250m away. It is built into the streets, one of the coolest walls I've ever seen. I spend three hours or more climbing with Nepali, Americans, and a Scottish guy. I realise time had gotten away and message Tulsi to meet up for dinner. Ah, it was so amazing to see him, hear of his new family, reminisce of our times seven years ago. I feel embarrassed how I treated him back then, apologizing many times, thanking him for saving my life. He explains how upset he was that I had to be evacuated back then, but happy to see me alive and well, he hasn't aged at all. He decided not to accept money for that trek, feeling he had failed me. What an amazing soul, I try to pay for dinner but he insist welcoming me back to Nepal. His family is living in Chitwan National Park and invited to host us if we would visit, I said we would. Back to the guesthouse, I make new friends, stay up smoking and sharing stories of the world. The night was long, I craved fresh air and left the windows open while sleeping, the mosquitos feasted on me, a long night. I now sit drinking a chai, had egg noodles for breakfast, plans of climbing this morning, hanging with Tulsi after lunch. Tomorrow I head towards Pokhara, a five hour journey back to a familiar place. I can't put into words how excited I am to see you again, to be in your presence, energy. I feel so at peace, knowing this is the right path, the life of my dreams, indistinguishable."

Pokhara - On the road

Nepal


Trees clouded in mist

May 29, 2018


"Pokhara was becoming a blur. I was losing motivation, each day blending into one another. The decision to move is one I always seem to go for, throw the grenade at your feet, jump, think later. Anytime I begin drinking in the evenings, each and every day, I realise it's mostly out of boredom. I think a big part was being isolated in an all-French-speaking community, feeling on my own but surrounded by people, little to no privacy. I said my farewells on the 26th of May and began walking southwest towards Kathmandu. It took almost a full day to get out of the city, and into the smaller villages. Crazy how much it's grown. My pack is close to 30kg and I'm not fully adjusted to carrying such weight. The road turns into a dust storm in many sections, grit on my teeth, little room to walk with trucks speeding by. Each day has been super hot and humid, with thunderstorms in the evening. I walk along looking as if I've been swimming, drenched in sweat, caked with grime, yet strangely loving it.

I covered around 22km that first day. I ended up in a small quarrying village overlooking an extremely old large eroded river valley when the storms began to hit, steep steep walls. I saw an archway I thought symbolized a temple. Following the path up 200m or so I found my camping spot overlooking the village and river below. There were bathrooms and a tap I could shower under. Shortly after I set up my tent big winds hit, hail falling on the tin shelter I pitched my tent under. Later that evening I was invited by a local to stay at his house. I think I just needed some personal space and politely declined. I went to his house the next morning, dirt floors, similar to the old mustering sheds in New Zealand. The night before we talked about how important it is to help people, him saying his house is small and simple, but his heart big.

The next day my body felt wrecked, hips bruised, feet sore from all the road walking in boots. He offered me a ride but I wanted to push on. The road narrowed following the river, much more dangerous. Quickly in the day, I was starting to feel exhausted, just wanting a place to set up camp safely, I kept sidetracking off the road only to find each temple locked. When I start to tire I fill four 1L bottles of water and buy fresh fruit and veggies so I can camp anywhere, but my pack 5kg heavier. By 4 pm the storms hit again, crazy wind, lightning, hail. I took shelter in a small restaurant. Two young Nepali guys come over and sit with me. Next thing I know I'm on the back of a motorbike, speeding through the village. They take me to a small house, dark inside, full of young people. We smoke together. I walk with them for sunset overlooking their village and all the rice fields, they are so proud of their Nepal.

I ask about camping at the top but they say it's too dangerous, bad people in the village nearby. They take me to a temple I had stopped at earlier. There is a baba sleeping, and the temple priest doesn't seem super keen about me sleeping. He permits for me to lay next to the baba, asks I cook, and please go to sleep. Shortly after dinner, right as I'm getting ready to try to sleep more young locals come by. He explains he lives alone. His friend told him about me and he wants to help, he doesn't want me sleeping in the temple when he has a free bed.

I end up in his small room, his brother home from work. We sit talking, sharing our lives, drinking rokshi, smoking, sharing dinner. I'm struggling to stay awake. Finally, I'm able to close my eyes, but having to lay shoulder to shoulder with the Nepali. Haha, he is basically trying to cuddle and I'm not feeling that. Just different cultures I think. I sleep well, he goes and buys chicken feet, neck, and heads to make breakfast. Although I've never eaten these things, I do, and tell him how so appreciative I am of his kindness. He was struggling to be alone still, wishing he had a girl in his life. We talked much of this that night, and how he must first find inner happiness. I'm not sure if I helped but I could see the struggle in his eyes.

I walk with him to the edge of town, he must catch a bus to work, already 30 minutes late after cooking for me. The goodbye was strange, he became a friend in less than twelve hours. I begin the walk along the road, my goal 26km to a temple on the river I found when we came rock climbing last week. Within a km of leaving the last village a man on a motorbike stopped and asked what I was doing. Feeling it was fate I jumped on the back of the bike. He asks if I'm walking because I have no money, am I hungry, he wants to help. I explain I'm walking because I enjoy it, meeting everyone along the way. I think when you make yourself vulnerable, you open the doors for life, curiosity, kindness. The bike ride was a struggle with the full pack, full-on an ab workout to stay alive, on the bike haha. I decide to take a bus for the next 16km, buy food, go to the river temple for a chill day.

I make it by 2 pm, thunder already in the air. Older Nepali are sitting by the river smoking. I join them, the group soon turns into ten or more. They point out a good swimming spot, a place to wash my clothes. I trust and leave everything in my tent. After a restless nap, I wake to storms brewing close by. I set up my kitchen in a large shelter nearby. The storms were big again, mangos falling in the roof, free food 😆. While I was prepping dinner a large group of locals came back, we smoke and talk. They make a pipe from a plastic bottle, bamboo, and some tin for the bowl. One guy points out the highest village in the area. He says it's another world up there, different climate, rhododendron forest in bloom, good cheap smoke.

I decide at that moment to change my plans. When I looked on www.maps.me the village was not on the map. I could see lights vaguely in the dark last night. The name of the village is Chimk Tanahu. It's around a 2000m steep ascent. Going to give myself two days to make it, ask for directions at the mountain village I visited last week 1200m up.

Last night before leaving people kept asking if I was afraid. I was confused by the question and said of course not. Last night my dreams were wild, a snow leopard standing over me, when I put my hands up my fingers go into his mouth. I try to scream for help and no sound will come. This morning two older ladies came to float offerings into the river and asked the same question, am I not afraid? I ask why this time, and they say because of the ghosts. The temple is very old, many of the buildings being overtaken by nature. The river in front is the result of snowmelt from Annapurna, swollen, cold, grey with silt. I sit now having coffee with this water, enjoying a chill day. I will start the climb up this evening, camp above the cave again. Bathrooms and a tap to shower under. Tomorrow morning I'll attempt to make it to Chimk tanahu."


Chhimkeshwari 2124m

Nepal


Green Hilleberg tent pitched overlooking a green mountainous landscape

June 5, 2018


"I spent the last night camped above the mountain village of Bandipur, five days on the road since leaving Pokhara. Even here, where it's a bit touristy, I struggled to find out much information about the mountain, or hill as one local called it. I decided to take enough food for three nights, not really knowing what to expect.

The first day was hot hot hot, the rough mountain road would split into many sections forcing me to guess which way to go, no traffic other than a couple of bikes. Mentally challenging, never knowing if I was going the right way. By evening I was on the slopes of the mountain, took a side trip to a village in the valley below. They spoke little to no English but drew me a map, allowed me to fill 5l water, and pointed me on my way.

Once climbing back out of the village, heavy with water, I wanted a place to set up camp. I climbed up terraces on the slopes of the mountain looking for a well-hidden spot. The next thing I know I've stumbled upon a massive grove of marijuana, it took me a second to realise that's what it was. I crept close and could see a couple of rough huts, and lines to dry the buds. In that second I realised maybe I shouldn't be here, I'm not sure how they would react. I went down just below the fields and pitched my camp behind a large boulder.

The next day I awoke above the clouds, in awe at the view and watching the fog drop, rise, and move through the mountain valleys. The air was so quiet, a solace from the loud sounds of traffic I have grown so accustomed to. Crickets, birds, the bells from roaming livestock. I'm moving by ten, planning only to go to the base of the climb up, find a place to camp, and get lost in my book. The mountain roads, trails, were stunning. The slopes were near vertical in many sections, old ladies passing, piercings covering their faces. Namastes exchanged, prayer hands. I pass mud houses, corn drying on lines below the slate roofs, terraces everywhere in the steep slopes. Other than some tin roofs, it's like stepping back in time, nothing has changed, the mountain culture intact.

“Helllloooo! How are you?!” I hear yelled from a mud house on the hill. It is a few terraces up from the road, corn growing high on each. He invites me up for water, I hesitate, and then decide why not. We exchange names, his English really good. Barat somehow found a way to work in Malaysia for part of the year. From my second-day hitchhiking I had learned the Nepali word for smoke. I say the word, a handful brought out, I roll a test smoke and enquire to purchase more. He brings out a large grocery bag full, 500 rupees, no negotiations needed. I see older ladies nearby stirring a cooking pot, tending a fire. I realise they are making rockshi, the local moonshine. I walk over to see, taste, and I'm amazed at how clear theirs is compared to the cities. I buy 1L for 50 rupees.

I say my thanks, and decide it's time to move. He says I'm only two hours from the top. After much inquiring, no English, I think I'm on the right path. Local village girls yell to each other from terraces far separated. Each is there to point my way, smiling, namastes. The climb up is a bit of a struggle but I enjoy it. Arriving on the top is really like stepping into another world, a temple on the summit, ferns, flowers blooming from the parasitic plants in the trees. The summit is so often covered in clouds, mist, the ecosystem more of a rainforest. I worry about how exposed the summit is, burn marks from lightning on many of the trees. After much self-debation, I choose a “somewhat” safe spot.

I ended up staying two nights. The wind was cold, my dreams vivid. I glimpsed the Himalayas for the first time in seven years, my first time seeing the Annapurna range. Words can't describe the scale. From 2100m, an 8000m mountain range is like seeing something out of a dream. As the clouds clear I think I'm seeing things. They are higher than I would look for a commercial jet. On the summit, you have views of both sides. Endless layers of mountains, clouds far below.

That day a Nepali family visited the top. They brought a newborn for blessings, incense, flowers, coconuts, and fruit for offerings. They spoke no English and I felt unsure of camping where I was. The place felt so sacred, quiet, pure cold air. Before they left they brought me an apple and two bananas, this alleviated the feelings of doubt.

I ended up spending four days surviving on muesli, dates, milk powder, vegetables, and 6 packs of noodles. I left before 8 am the last morning. Finished the last of my food and made the walk back in one day. I think about free camping to save money, then find 1000 rupees, life. A guy gave me a ride for the last 1km. He was a popular local business owner, the police check I didn't expect no problem."


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