Travelling is the best way to learn and grow in life but it is also important to be observant as well as aware of your surroundings. Watch the view as your journey unfolds along the vast roads, mountains and peaks. Under the sea, a world unexplored opens up – all blue and colourful, neon and bright, the world beneath the sea is a true delight. I enjoy this rush of the unknown and the unconquered. This is what it is. A perilous plane – a journey almost to the divine.

The temples and the faith, the jungles and the savannahs, the mountains and the vast terrains with canyons – it is all one when you see life through the eyes of a traveller. Travelthon Tales are my personal travel tales as I move along this life of freedom, wisdom, adventure and mayhem. The tales will be enlightening with morals, values, wisdom and teachings as I march forward in my quest to travel the world in search of peace, meanings, answers and, most of all, joy.

A Hookah, A Houseboat and The Dal Lake

It was early hours in the morning that I arrived in Srinagar, the capital city of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. We parked into the Sitara Lodge which was just opposite the main road and the vastness of the beautiful Dal Lake. There was a chill in the air and the traffic on the road was terrible as I escaped into the crowd wearing a white sherwani and leather chappals in full Kashmiri style.

As I walked past shops and hippies, I caught the glimpse of the lake. Its stillness and tranquillity were soothing for the eye. Various shikara boats floated on the lake. Some were looking for passengers and some were just floating lazily on the lake. At the back of all these were houseboats all clumped side by side. Each houseboat had a distinctive name like Bloody Mary, Chaplin, Nausrath, Dawn and other such names. The sun came out in the afternoon and the lake was shimmering with its radiant light. Holidayers and tourists wearing colourful clothes, jewellery and shawls walked side by side enjoying ice cream, kehwa and cold drinks.

It was time for us to head towards the houseboat called Rose Marry in the middle of the lake. I ventured onto the shikara boat that would lead us to our destination. My tour guide Sagar was with me and he carried booze, chicken, mutton, seekh kabab and a hookah with him. This was my grand gift for the evening – sleeping over at a houseboat on the dull lake while smoking a Hookah.

Our houseboat keeper was a local Muslim fellow called Kasim. He was thin but tall, fair and had a typical long thin Kashmiri Nose. “The militancy has died down now sir. Yes, I know we still have stone throwing, bandhs and lockout especially at Lal Bazar area but those are just pent up frustrations of the local unemployed youth.” he said as he arranged the Hookah for me. He carefully lit the charcoal and then poured tobacco and essence into it. He puffed away with some large pulls to get the Hookah really burning. The smokes filtered through the water in the apparatus as one inhaled and then puffed it out.

The fragrance of rose and sandalwood filled the moist air as I peeked out at the lake from the window of my shikara. “Can we get some stuff like you know, Kashmiri chars?” I asked Kasim with a glint in my eye. “It is possible. I know someone who can get it from the mountains across but it will take time. It’s one hell of a walk.” I gave him money and asked him to get the stuff. So what if I got married to LSD, I couldn’t lose the opportunity to get high on the dull lake.

I waited for my cherished rose as Kasim came back with the stuff. “I used to know a lot of people in the Azadi movement who used to sell this. It was their mode of earning. I used to befriend some of them.” He sprinkled the char as powder on the top of the steel foil on the mouth of the hookah. That’s it. It was lights out from there as I sank into my dreamy world intoxicated by the moonlit night in the shikara on the Dal Lake. The plants, trees and skies looked different now. They almost stood out as if they were trying to reach me. The air grew musty as the smoke of essence coped with chars sent up into the air from our shikara. It was truly Dum Maaro Dum Rose Marry!

Suddenly, the strange pungent smell of something burning started coming from our room. I jumped up as my Razai was on fire. “Arrey, it’s the hookah you fool! You were so out and intoxicated you didn’t see the charcoal that fell on the carpet. Now, the whole thing caught fire! You are lost my friend and now you will have to pay for the damages!

I was unhappy with the way Kasim rubbed me. After all, I was a guest and accidents like these happen all the time when one is partying or on vacation. I gave him a 100 rupee note for the damage that happened. Then I drank my hot Kashmiri nahi and walked straight to bed still intoxicated with the Dal Lake.

My Dad – My Bheem Shila

As I wandered around the banks of the Ganges, I stopped at Haridwar and Rishikesh, the Vedic towns of India. By lacing steep into spirituality, these towns did wonders to my health and vitality. I used to bathe in the river early in the morning and then go for long walks as I admired the ancient traditions and cultures of the place. My first major religious journey was to Char Dham which consists of the four spiritual pillars of the Uttarakhand region namely Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.

It was Kedarnath and it’s snow peaks that fascinated me the most as I reached there by helicopter. The temple is made of grey stone and in the middle lies the Shiva linga. This linga is crooked stone with many edges and not your typical Shiva linga which is round and cylindrical. Outside the temple is a huge stone statue of Nandi. Near the entrance sat a group of fierce looking aghori. They were covered in ash, tridents, tiger skins and were smoking and puffing away at their ganja leaves through their mighty chillums. I too got pulled towards them as I sat myself down amongst them to share a smoke.

The air was chilly, dry and a bit thin but the sub-zero temperature was bringing the fast breeze from the Sumeru Mountains. “You know, life can be strange and one has to go through it to understand its meaning and decipher the many experiences that one goes through.” I said as I looked at the most fearsome aghori who sat opposite to me. “We are the outcasts. We are just lowly beggars. I am happy that a man like you came up to us to talk and share a smoke.” he said with a smile as he passed his smoke to me. I took a puff and bellowed in the vicinity as, slowly, thin and fluffy snowflakes started falling from the sky. It was as if the boards wanted to shower us with his blessings. “You know, Bhola saved this temple from ruin and destruction. When the floods came in the river Ganges, the Mata roared across the hills. It turned the mud and the stones upside down. Trees, houses and huts all washed away. Man and animal buried under the same mud. It was sheer distraction except…” he looked around as some pilgrims offered some money to him. He bought a cup of tea with the money and started sipping it to feel warm again. “Except what… Yes, I believe this place has a story. A shila rolled over from the mountain and stopped right in front of the temple.” I said with faint recollection.

Yes, the shila broke the path of the flow of the Mata and the river passed from the side of the temple. It kept the temple complex totally safe and unharmed by the landslide and flash floods that destroyed these hills a year back.” The aghori smiled with self-admiration as if he was gloating on his knowledge. I said “Well, I am here also after a major upheaval in my life. My dad got murdered and I was left all alone by the horrific incident. Somehow, I blame myself for his death which could have been prevented. This guilt has brought me here in search of redemption and some peace.

Your father… Ahh, he was a brave man, very brave. He fought two of those guys with no weapon in his hand. He was strong.” the aghori said with pride as his eyes swelled. “Yes, he saved my life by sacrificing his as those people were going to kill me next.” I said with some panic in my voice as I tried to recollect the horrid incident. The aghori put up his arms as if he was blessing me and said “Bheem Shila, don’t you get it? The meaning is so simple. It stares you in the face. Your father was your Bheem Shila. He protected you from death and sacrificed himself so that you could live.” As he said those words, a bulb lit up in my head Yes, indeed, Dad was my Bheem Shila. He was my rock and he saved me to the very end. I looked up to the skies and prayed for peace and his soul.

Getting Thrown Out of the OSHO Ashram in Pune

I am a diehard fan of OSHO and have admired the man for his intellect, rebellion, philosophical preaching, sex and meditation. I am a regular at the ashram in Pune but I still can remember my first time there. I walked in one day for the morning meditation with my maroon robes into the huge pyramid shaped hall that is specially built for meditation and the transfer of energy. The place is full of foreigners and most of the instructors are European or American. So here I was jumping up and down chanting OSHO OSHO as the laughing meditation started. We were asked to throw our hands up in the air, jump and chant vigorously.  Everyone went into a frenzy as the drum beat went into overdrive and then suddenly there was a pause and everyone froze in their current postures. Everyone became still and quiet. This on and off period of frenzy and silence is called dynamic meditation and is very popular in the ashram. When one is suddenly still, a pause appears in the mind as thoughts become nothing and a blanket of blankness overtakes the mind. For a few glimpses, one is able to experience the state of no mind as the pause expands and emptiness remains.

I was trying to get the pause but my damn car keys in my pocket kept jiggling and making a noise when I started to dance. It kept happening again and again till the angry instructor walked up to me and asked me to leave the auditorium. She saw me through the gate and was unpleasant in my behaviour. She said “Hey, you go back to your hotel room. You are disturbing everyone’s meditation. Look at you, you have such a funny face. You even look like a monkey!” I was heartbroken as I walked out into the garden and sat on a bench musing to myself. A thought appeared within me. “I am in the house of a man who got thrown out from everywhere in the world. Where does a man go who gets thrown out of his house?”

With this thought humming in my mind, I wandered to the cafeteria and sat down with my fellow meditators to chat. I asked them the same question. Finally, as I was about to grab some breakfast, an old lady who had heard my conversation with the others walked up to me and said “Son, there is still a place you can go to and that place is within.”

Bang! I got my answer. Yes indeed, within is the last refuge for us all and one can retreat inwards at any time no matter what.

The Monk and The Courtesan

Once upon a time far away in the land of Lhasa in Tibet lived a monk. The young monk was full of vigour and wisdom. One could bathe in this monk’s aura as he exuded wisdom, serenity, light and peace. He was well-respected, admired and even worshipped in the small town. He preaches to the people while sitting under huts and banana trees. The words were full of light and people bathed in this nectar of life and joy.

This monk, this holy man, once sat under a hut teaching about the divine and his great creation. Beside the hut was a well where a courtesan sat with her bucket to fetch some water. As she turned, she saw the monk who she had heard so much about. She was excited to see him and walked towards the hut to greet the holy man and to sit by his feet so that she could bathe in his preaching and also uplift her life. She was just a lowly courtesan whose job was to please the rich men of the city and provide them with hollow love and some sex. She felt small but her courage was bigger as she approached the monk to touch his feet. The monk knew her and had heard about the courtesan who was quite popular in the land.

“Please, dear woman, stay away from me. I have my preaching to deliver and you are an obstacle to my path.” the monk said as he moved away from her to take a walk towards the porch in front of the hut. “Oh sire, oh enlightened one, why do you walk away from me. Is it because I am just a courtesan and so low in your eyes? Or are you protecting yourself from my charms?” The saint tried to walk in haste with his heart full of malice towards the courtesan as if he was looking down at her. He walked up to the well and poured some water to drink. His parched lips were quenched by the sour well water and quietened his thirst for a while. As he pondered, he thought about his behaviour towards the courtesan. He was not being nice to her. He felt full of disdain as he thought the woman was one of ill repute who sold her love for money. The courtesan observed the monk and with the stretch of her arms said “Why sire, you look upon me with borrowed eyes and with mistrust? I am a courtesan, a lady of the night, but sire, we are all the same in your eyes. You of all should realise that.” The monk turned to her realising that he had let impious thoughts evade his mind. His eyes grew soft and his body less tense as he watched the glowing face of the courtesan. The monk noticed her serpentine hair, her slim and tender waist and long piercing eyes, the scent of her Gajrrah as she burst into a bhajan “Meera ke Girdhar Gopal.” It is a bhajan on Lord Krishna sung originally by Meera. It is a song of adulation and true spiritual love for the Divine. The song echoed in the air as the buzz was evident. The monk now stood still and mesmerised by the softness of the bhajan. It was like a pithy poem being recited by an angel. All of a sudden, the courtesan transformed into an angel of love and tranquillity.

The monk who witnessed this was no other than Vivekananda, the great Indian sage of the eighteenth century, as he fell on the feet of the singing courtesan to beg for her forgiveness “Mata” he said “Forgive me for having such lowly thoughts in my heart about you. You are like my mata and a woman to be revered.”

Thus, in a lot of spiritual stories, saints have had an amazing connection with prostitutes. Jesus also once saved a woman of ill repute when he stopped men from stoning her by saying “Only those should throw stones who have never sinned.” Through my travels, I have met both whores and monks alike and found them to have an uncanny connection. They both sell love and joy to the world at large, the difference being the whore sells her body and the monk his wisdom.

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