Escaping the Bam-Bholes

View Kasar

July 2008

It was raining season in Rishikesh; which means: PILGRIM SEASON! This is when thousands of pilgrims, many of them from Hariana, invade Ramjhula. Waves of young men clad in orange march 24 hours a day through town shouting: “Bham Bole, Bham Bole” to announce their presence to Lord Shiva. They carry holy water from the Ganges up to the Neelkanth Temple to offer it to the Shiva Lingam. One rule is that the water shall never touch the floor, so all the dhabas and chaishops on the roadside build improvised holders where the pilgrims can hang up their holy offering during their breaks. What I found very funny is that they come back from the temple wearing their underpants on their heads! ‘Strange rite’, I thought and then found out that they do so to dry their pants after having bathed in the temple compound. I wonder what the Indians would think I they saw a horde of Westerners marching through town with their underwear on their head…

Anyways, things get tough for a foreigner during this time of the year, as the pilgrims usually give them a hard time. The foreign tourists actually get evacuated by the authorities from the hotels and guesthouses next to the pilgrim trail and are sent to accommodations in more peaceful areas. So it happened to us and we decided to simply escape from all the turmoil. Baba and I had made friends with a girl from America and we decided to travel together. None of us felt like traveling too far, so we checked on the rarely used travel guide to find nearby attractive places. I hate to read instructions of any kind and also dislike reading guide books! We went through the section of Uttarakhand and stumbled upon Almora, which was only a one-night-trip away. I liked the melody of the word “Almora”. There was not much text to read about it, but as we skimmed it and read

“There is a nearby town called ‘Hippie-Land’ by the locals; ask for accommodation at the chai shops on the road”

it was decided: CHALO ALMORA!

As soon as we left the town of Almora after having survived another crazy local bus ride through the mountains and arrived in the village, I fell in love! It was simply beautiful! Peace, pure nature, village life, cool, fresh air and colorful flowers everywhere! I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Actually there is not much to do for tourists, life there is still pretty much authentic. No shops with tourist stuff to buy, no courses or classes, no distractions; it is the perfect spot to chill after having traveled through “Indian hard-core tourist places”. The scene really forces people to calm down, to be with themselves and nature.

We found a simple guesthouse where we spent a lot of time in the roof-top restaurant while the monsoon was pouring down and simply enjoyed the amazing view through the big windows, which offered a great view over the ever-changing clouds, rainbows, valleys and hills while we were munching on chocolate pancakes and sipping chai. It was off-season there, too and we only met one more backpacker. One day early in the morning I stepped out of the room and could not believe my eyes! The rain had stopped, it was a bright clear day and there they were, as if somebody had hung up a painting just in front of my eyes:


Himalaya range

I had no idea that they were that close! Shame on me! Maybe sometimes reading a guide book is not a bad idea, but if you don´t read it you might get blessed with unexpected surprises like this one.

Some peaceful weeks later, Baba suddenly received a phone call from Bihar. His 103-years old grandfather was dying and his last wish was to see his grandson he had been missing for too many years. Since Baba ran away from home at the tender age of eleven he had returned to his birthplace only once after 17 years of absence. After the initiation to Sadhu-life you are reborn as a new being and should break all the attachments to your previous life, which also includes the physical family; at least until you have reached a certain stage.

But once it happened, when Baba and I were visiting Benares, that he suddenly became very introverted. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that soon it would be Rakshabhandan, the festival when the bond between brothers and sisters is worshipped and that he would like to see his sister again. Varanasi is not very far from his birthplace and I told him that I would buy him a train ticket if he wished to go there. He called his Guruji to ask permission and when Baba received his blessings, he took a train to Patna. All of his family thought that he had died and was more than pleased that he returned as a Sadhu, which is believed to bring seven generations of good luck to the family.

So now the grandfather wished to see his beloved grandson again. For some time the three of us were just sitting there wondering what to do. The Himalayas are pretty far from the plains of Bihar; to be more precise about 1000 km, which can be translated into 2 days and 1½ nights of traveling in pubic transports.

Uma in Wonderland

My friend looked at me and asked:

“You feel like going on an adventure?”

“Why not?” I replied

“Okay, then… CHALO BIHAR!”