Thursday, January 12, 2006

Up the hill

The short walk proved to be a 3km hike up several hills, mainly on slippery rocks. Not the best thing to be doing in a lungi and flip-flops.

Eventually we reached the Yogi Temple - this time with some of the most breathaking views i've ever seen. Below us, lay the Great Ramm (a salt plains desert), and then 70km away, Pakistan.

Through fragments of awful english, I learned that a great holy man meditated here for 12 years, while standing on his head. When he finished, the first thing he looked at was made barren by the gods - and so, the salt plains were born.

Clearly, this is an important place - proof at least, by the fact that there are 4 holy men here. Going all the way from a very old saddhu with white dreadlocks, to a nappy-haired 15 year old... and like those down the hill, these guys love to smoke.

When I arrived, there was a large group of Indian College Students. 18 year old ladies, and their professors (at least 40-50 students). They were quite anxious to speak to me, and seemed to fight amongst themselves over who got to be the one to speak to me. There was much giggling, and at times, applause, when I announced that the people in Kutch were the nicest i'd met in all of India. Honestly, I wasn't playing to the crowd. These really are the nicest people I've met...

I hung out with the saddhus for a while, exploring the top of the hill. They cooked me an amazing lunch (curried eggplant and fresh peas), and most strange of all, they invited me to come and watch TV with them.

You see, electricity works on this mountain top.... and somehow, they have a large color TV, and a satellite dish. Now, I'm used to having to do things to avoid causing offence (eating strange food, dancing, etc), but never watching TV. This is the last thing I want to do on top of a holy mountain, but to be polite, I sat and watched it with them. Eventually, they fliped through a few channels, and settled on the Fashion Channel (the Indian soft-porn channel), which funnily enough, had a reggae song on in the background as the models strutted their stuff.

To take attention away from the fact that I was watching soft-porn with 3 monks, I got up, dragged up the chap who brought me there, and started to dance... strange looks and laughter followed, but it still felt better than having to actually watch TV.

Here is where things get somewhat complex.

I had an interview scheduled with Google for 9:30PM. Not thinking, I had left everything but my camera back at the Than monestary, and only after speaking to the college ladies, did I learn that there was cell-coverage on this hill.

I decided that we'd hike back to Than, get my bag, come back to the top of the hill, and I'd do my Google interview from the top of a mountain monestary - where better to be in a zen state.

However, by the time I got down to Than, I was so exhausted (heat, rocky walk) that I couldn't bear to walk another 3km uphill.....

That left me with a choice. Stay another night at Than, or head back to Bhuj to speak to Google. This was made even easier, by the fact that the last bus to Bhuj had left a few hours earlier.

In the end, I decided to walk 1km to the main road near Than, catch a passing bus back to Narona, and charter a private taxi the 40km back to Bhuj.

You see, while I won't walk 3km for an interview with Google, I'll happily pay 20 times the normal bus fare (7 dollars, instead of 35 cents) to get back.

And so, I waved goodbye, left a donation to say thank you for the hospitality, and headed off to civilization (bottled water, internet, mobile phone service) to speak to Google.

Than was amazing though. I felt at total peace there, be it wandering around the grounds - trying to get close enough to the peakcocks to photograph them, giving a back massage to one of the babas, trying to express myself to people solely through sign language and miming, and just staring off at the distance...

These guys have a tough life. It's cold at night, they have no creature comforts, and if they get sick, they're in trouble. At breakfast, while my chai was being made, the Chapati captain pulled out his wallet to get something out to show one of the others. Inside his wallet, was his bank-balance book, and I forced myself not to look - out of a fear of guilt, knowing how little would be written there.

There is no social safety net for these guys.... yet, they take care of each other, and others who visit - and, i'm not sure if they know it or not, but they're lucky enough to live in one of the most peaceful places on earth.

One day, I'll go back....

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