It was the August of 1974, I wanted to go to India, I had a childhood friend who had come to North America for two years, then left just as my senior year ended. His name was Sanjay Suri (No relation to the actor), he left, and we never talked until 18 years later when I was 36. I received a letter from him in 1974, he had sent it to my mothers house, who then sent it to me, in the letter was a phone number and an invitation to Kishangnajiohaligar, an incredibly isolated small town about 20 miles away from Kishanganj, attached was a picture of a field of Marijuana plants, totally out in the open, right next to his house. There was one problem, he couldn't come get me, and I had no money for a plane, so I decided I would take a shipping boat, my destination was Mormugao, a town all the way across India. Since it was a boat ride, the customs would be much more relaxed, as in a single bribe to the only customs officer on the dock of the New York harbor for my backpack and suitcase not to be checked, why didn't I want them to be checked? Because I was carrying enough drugs to make an Argentinosaurus think the sky was falling.
What was I packing exactly? An ounce of weed, a liquid vial of about 30 hits of acid, 10 peyote buttons, 2 grams of DMT, and 20 tabs of T-U-I. Now, just so you know, these are estimations, I brought my whole drug collection on this trip to the savage heart of my inner soul, yes, this trip would be Fear and Loathing in India.
I was sleeping on a straw bed of a port side room that smelled of onions, the trip was expected to last three weeks, I decided I could easily find more weed in India, so I began smoking my weed, about a quarter to half gram per day, there were a total of 9 people on the boat, the captain, me, another traveler making the holy journey to mecca, the cook, and 5 crew members. I was saving all my other drugs for India itself, but I decided I could indulge in hallucinogens a few times during the trip.
The first day was the strangest, we left in the late after-noon, I retired to my quarters to smoke half a joint and sketch the patterns of rust and paint on the walls, the ship was more comfortable than I had expected it to be, but it was very humid on the lower decks, when I was called up for dinner. The crew was silent, apart from the occasional observation to the weather, we ate in silence that first night. I went back to my quarters and found myself surprisingly tired, I went to sleep.
I awoke around 1 AM, I couldn’t fall back asleep so I went upstairs onto the deck to finish off my joint, at the front of the ship, to my surprise, I saw the Muslim I was traveling with, I went up to him and introduced myself, his name was Rafiq Al Daye, he had grown up in Afghanistan his whole life, and was going there, where he would visit his childhood home, then move on to Mecca. I pulled out my joint, asking him if he would partake, he said yes, and produced a box of matches, we smoked and looked at the stars and breathed in the sea tinged air. We then ventured into his cabin, where a sitar and a few bags lied, from from one of his bags he produced a huge jar of hashish oil, and a hooka, we smoked hash oil, conversed about all sorts of things, while he played the sitar, expertly I might add.
I had moments like this with the captain and two other crew members, for two weeks I smoked weed, tried to learn the sitar, had a number of deep conversations, sketched waves, things on the boat, stared at clouds, stars, and looked over the horizon. But about 4 days away from India, a storm started to emerge, it had rained on the boat before, but this was a full blown tropical storm, it was supposed to have gone over us, but it shifted downward, it had rained for 8 hours, very hard, but it wasn’t very worrying, I thought that what I was experiencing would have been the worse, boy was I wrong. Me, Matthew (the cook), and Rafiq were smoking some hash oil, talking about nothing in particular, when a huge wave hit the side of the boat, Rafiq went into action almost immediately, throwing out clothes from one of his bags to put his Sitar into, so it wouldn’t be broken.
Me and Matthew raced upstairs to see something out of a pirate movie, a whole crew racing around trying to make sure the boat didn’t capsize, Matthew went over to help them, I went into the captains cabin, he told me to get Rafiq upstairs so he wouldn’t drown if the boat capsized, I found him praying to Allah to spare our lives, I told him he needed to come upstairs, he finished praying and grabbed one of his bags. We stood on the deck, where he began praying again. After about 3 hours of standing in the rain, the storm ended, and the sun began to rise. But the damage was done, our communications and compass was totally fucked, our captain had to get to India using a globe, the sun, and the stars, but I had faith in him, and we arrived in India 6 days later. I said my good byes to all the friends I had made and walked out of the port city I was in. I was in India now, on my way across the country.
Mormugao was a beautiful small town, as I stepped off the ship I felt pretty good, thats one of the pros of ship travel, no jet lag. But I had had a diet of onions, chicken, and rice for the past three weeks, I wanted some Indian food. I found a small cafe that was selling some food to sailors, I ate there, then walked into the winding city of Mormugao. In a small street, I found a small child of about 7 playing with a soccer ball. I conversed with him in broken English for a while. His older sister, or possibly mother walked out, yelling at him, he picked up his ball and ran inside, him, and three other children close to his age sat down and started eating a meager meal of rice. They all seemed famished. I walked back to the dock market and purchased a Chicken. I navigated my way back to the house. I knocked on the door. The teenager, of about 16, was shocked to see a white tourist with a whole chicken. I handed it to her, she looked at me, puzzled, and said in a thick Indian accent, “Of what price?”, I answered “None”, her eyes lit up. She cooked it up, and placed it on the table, as I ate with the family, 3 other children outside the window looked in, I invited them in.
I slept on the kitchen table with some blankets under me for bedding that night, it was somehow more comfortable than the fancy bed I had slept in in New York. The next morning, we had some rice for breakfast, and I left Mormugao on foot. I didn’t have a map, but that wouldn’t matter to me until I made it relatively close to Kishangnajiohaliga. All I really needed to know was that the sun rose on the East and set in the West. I brought a milk carton that I filled with water at any chance I could find, the hot Indian sun was unforgiving. Around 3 of my first day of walking. I looked around, and found that I couldn’t see a single human settlement, but the hills were beautiful, I decided to take a nap in the shade of a tree. I awoke to a farmer poking me with a stick, thinking I was dead. He spoke English well enough for us to have a basic conversation under the shade of the tree. He explained that tourists were killed by snakes all the time, and that I might have been victim of one. He offered me a ride on his oxen drawn cart filled with hay. I sat in the back, conversing with him. I got off when he turned off onto a smaller road to get to his farm, and resumed walking.
After another hour of walking, I began walking through a more mountainous region, not large mountains, but cliffs ranging 20 to 40 feet. The path was smaller now, and more rocky with plants sticking out, it cut through two cliffs, at the top of one cliff, was a man sitting cross legged, I decided to walk around to the top of the cliff. and sat down next to him, he talked to me, with his eyes still closed in an Indian language. I said “I’m American”, he said back to me “Ah, American, you must be lost.”, to which I replied “Nobody can really be lost, since there’s no set path in life, we are always at our destination”. To this he opened his eyes, and a smile grew on his face. He was a Sadhu, a Hindu monk, he chose to live his life in perpetual pilgrimage, moving around all of India. We talked on the hill side for hours, until the sun went down. I built a fire by a large rock, where we roasted some local nuts for dinner. From a pouch on his hip he produced a Chillum and began smoking marijuana, he always had a happy look on his face, he seemed old, around 70, he handed the Chillum to me, and we smoked together and slept under the stars, when I awoke, he was gone. All that was left was the Chillum and a sack of the nuts. The Chillum is still one of my most treasured possessions.
I kept walking on the trail, on my way to the North. I was happy.
It had been about a month since I had been in the Sadhus presence, since then, I had become tan, traded my shoes for sandals, and had experienced a stomach shrinking of epic proportions, the equivalent of a quarter of a hamburger from a McDonald’s dollar menu would now fill me up. On my belt hung a masterfully crafted Indian knife, which was sharp enough to go through almost anything with the lightest touch.
I sat by a fire, on a bed of ground, and, as I thought to myself quietly, I realized something, for the first time in my life, I was happy, 100% happy, 100% comfortable, 100% at peace. My bed of dirt and leaves was more comfortable than any luxury mattress back home. I decided that it was finally time to take some hallucinogens, I took about 4 hits of T-U-I and 3 of acid, for the first hour after the onset, I stared at the fire, in awe of the sizes, shapes, and colors the fire contorted into. A bed of grass grew around me, in my state, I deemed it necessary to put the fire out before it ignited the grass. In the newly found darkness in the absence of the fire, I noticed a small boy, who had walked out from behind a tree. In his hand was a bow, he was blue from head to toe, he motioned me to follow him, so I grabbed my suitcase and backpack and followed him into the thick brush of the Indian wilderness.
For about an hour, I followed him, until I lost him to the leaves around me. I stumbled into a clearing, I looked up at the moon, it grew larger and larger, until all I could see was a pure white, all around me. I blinked. The boy appeared. I blinked again, the boy was gone, replaced by a world of magnificent colors. I stared at them for hours. They told me a story, of past, present, and future. They spoke to me, I spoke to them, I was happy.
The sun rose a while later. I was in the middle of nowhere. I knew from the position of the sun which way was north, so I started walking.
After about two days of walking through the wilderness, my food and water supplies were completely gone. After 3 days, I was delirious. I decided to take two hits of acid to relieve my cotton mouth. I saw the blue boy again, but, in a blink, he was gone, only to be replaced by my guardian, he knocked on a tree, shook his head, then knocked on another tree, and nodded. I realized something, there would be water in the trees, how stupid could I have been? I drew my knife, and chopped the tree my guardian had nodded to, there was enough inside to drink, I sucked the low flow stream of water for hours. I stumbled onto the trail about 4 days later, still starving without any food, I made my way to the next village on my path. Ready to set out again.
I had hitched a ride on a truck going north, it was filled with metals that smelled like burnt plastic. I jumped off when the driver informed me he was going West. It was cloudy, and I could feel the pre-drops of rain getting ready to fall upon me. It was around 9 O' Clock, the ground was too wet to sleep on or make a fire out of, so I knew I would need to find a house to bunk in.
About two hours alter I had jumped off the truck, I reached a small building, as I stepped inside, I realized it was a Bhang shop, with a little old lady on a stool knitting. It was just her and her son, she didn't speak English, but her son did, pretty well in fact. He said I could sleep upstairs if I worked the counter the next day. But, to make sure I didn't run off with the money from the register, I would have to give him my chillum to hold onto.
The next day a total of 7 customers came in, since it was a rainy night, he told me I could stay the night again, but would have to leave early the next morning. That night I had 5 hits of acid, and had two glasses of Bhang, which was more powerful than I had previously though. Bhang is an Indian drink, that tastes somewhat like milk, but, its infused with incredibly potent marijuana. This boosted my acid high to a point that I couldn't discern hallucinations from reality. I saw beetles crawling out of the woodwork, lights flashing from downstairs, yelling, screaming, and shouting. Then I saw her, a cross between Ju-on and The Exorcist Demon in the corner, she lunged at me, grabbing my ankle, I had had enough, I grabbed my things and raced out into the rain, running down the road, away from that terrible attic.
It was a bad night, it stopped raining around 2 in the morning, but the ground was still too wet to sleep on, so I carried on throughout the night. By midday the next day, I was exhausted, but I hadn't passed a single village or town the whole day, but I did find a dry spot underneath a boulder, where I ended up sleeping the night. I woke up before dawn the next morning, it must have been about 3 AM, after an hour of walking, I came upon a city, not large compared to Paris or Mexico City, but it was huge to me, awe inspiring even. Nagpur. The city of Nagpur, right smack in the middle of India, the capital, The Orange City. I would stay there for half a week, sleeping on the streets next to the homeless and the holy. I never met a single person who spoke English, apart from a tourist from Brittan, but I walked away from him, as soon as he scratched the surface of what had happened in the world since my communication had been cut off, I decided that I was happier in ignorance of things that didn't effect me. I left Nagpur that night, halfway to my destination of Kishangnajiohaligar, but, before I left, I sent out a letter to Sanjay, "I'm halfway there".
The air around Nagpur choked me, it left a bitter, acidic taste in my mouth, the ground and surrounding land was all dead, wet and dead. Apart from the occasional dead animal in the distance, there wasn’t a creature around. This barren wasteland was so different from the India I had come to know over the past few months I could have sworn I was in a completely different country. The cold rain started up again.
In the distance, I saw a light, as I grew closer, I could make out the shape of a few people, when I came upon them, I found about 4 people and 2 children, huddled around a dead cow in the middle of the road, some praying, some looking around in silence, one of the children, huddled next to his mother, had bandages around his arm and head. The cow had a bullet hole through its left shoulder, and the oldest man was holding a gun. I never spoke to them, for I knew what had happened, the cow had attacked the child for some reason or another, and the farmer had been forced to kill it to save his boy. I knelled down in respect for the family, and went on my way.
About a week later, I was clear of the deadness of Nagpur, I walked along the road, looking around my landscapes, I saw vast hills, farmers working in the distance, and some rain clouds above, it had been dry most of the week, but a storm was coming, I wondered where I could find shelter. After a few hours of walking, I found a school house, where children had just been dismissed, they were all relieved to be on their way home from school, most of them went back to where I was walking from, but one, a little boy, around 8, was walking the same direction I was. To my surprise, he spoke English, not very well, but I had become adept at hearing through heavy Indian accents.
We walked together for about half an hour, I mostly told him about America, he seemed convinced he would visit America someday, and I hope he did, we parted ways, but I still remember him very clearly. I eventually found shelter inside a hollowed out tree, it was just big enough for me to squeeze into. I couldn’t build a fire due to the wetness of the ground, but the tree added a meager amount of warmth. When I awoke the next morning, the rain was gone, and the ground was starting to dry up.
Three and a half months later, I arrived in Kishanganj, the town about twenty miles away from Kishangnajiohaligar, as I walked along the final stretch, I felt good about my travels, I had crossed India, mostly on foot, I could have taken a plane, then a train, but then I would have never had all the experiences of being fully immersed into a culture. I walked into Kishangnajiohaligar, an incredibly small village, I saw an old man sitting on a porch, I said “Sanjay Suri”, he pointed to a moderately large house at the end of the path. I knocked on the door. Sanjay instantly recognized me, he let me inside, he was my age, had a large beard, and short hair. We smoked weed as I shared the stories of my travels.Then, he showed me his farm, it was acres of Marijuana plants, super high quality, he had about 6 farm hands watering and harvesting them. It was a beautiful operation.
For about 3 months I stood with Sanjay, tripping, smoking weed, talking with other villagers, and living comfortably. I took a series of trains back to Nagpur, where I took a plane back to New York. As I landed in JFK, I realized something, for all the time I had been in India, I never saw myself, only in reflections in water, but never in a mirror, I walked into the airport bathroom. My hair was down to my pectorals, my beard down to the end of my neck, I was incredibly tanned, I might have passed as an India. When I arrived home, I sat down. My house was musty, I tried to sleep in my bed that night, and I found I couldn’t, I ended up sleeping in my garden. Television was boring, American accents seemed alien, and America itself was foreign. Over time, I was able to converge back into the American culture, but a piece of me will always lie in India.