Saturday, February 13, 2010

Notes from travels - Juna Akhara, Haridwar

Part 3 of my random travel journal, this time from Haridwar.

En route, Haridwar:
Heart is broken but the excitement of the Kumbh and just being out of the house is more than making up for it.
The drive is beautiful, the weather is more so. I have to pee desperately. Back in the day I would've kept my torture to myself. Now, thankfully, I am too old to be an idiot. I ask the driver to stop, sprint into the bushes and have the best piss of my life, deep in the hinterland, overlooking the Ganga nahar.Nicole:
Nicole Jaquis is a tiny powerhouse. We are here to convince her to be in our film and let us showcase her work with the Naga Sadhus. We wait endlessly for her to be free.
Finally, in front of the Maya Devi Temple, she greets us with a question, "Is this your first Kumbh?"
Follow me, I'll take you places.

She leads us through the temple, to the back, where there's a trapdoor. We crouch and enter. On the other side are rows and rows of tents. Each tent has a group of 4-5 Babas, some clothed, others naked, covered in white ash. At the centre is a log of wood burning slowly. The Babas are preparing chillums. A giggling Japanese girl, dressed in saffron, looks blissed out.
As I sit there, inhaling ganja smoke mingled with that of the burning wood, I find myself getting drawn into this strange place.

Juna Akhara:
A baba sitting opposite me is staring at me. I stare back. We're sharing intense eye-contact but I don't feel uncomfortable for a second. It occurs to me that under normal circumstances, I would not be hanging out with this bunch. I would be scared and intimidated.
But my life is no longer normal and I no longer have a clue about who I am.
Sitting there, every label I have used to understand myself - afraid, lazy, inert, unadventurous, uncurious, uncomfortable in new spaces - has fallen away and I want to sit there and be with these sadhus, forever.
I don't know why but I feel very at home.
Yes these people are stoned...but not like the shack guys in Goa, not like my friends at Sunday's party. These people are stoned immaculate. Stoned pure. Stoned simple and divine.

The Invitation:
Nicole seems to like us and the idea of what we're doing. She has a suggestion for me.
You should come stay with me and the saadhvis for a few days before the cameras are switched on.
Yes. Yes. Yes. I will. There is no room for fear (this being my Decade and all). There is no time to think how out of the box this would be for me.
We've established that I no longer know who I am. Agreeing to stay with her, therefore, is a no-brainer.
R and I float back to our guesthouse on a cloud. My travels have found their perfect ending.

Goa released my body from its insecurities.
Bombay released my heart to speak its truth.
Haridwar released my soul from the labels I thought defined me.

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