Imagine a life of nothing but hashish, potato and the odd cup of tea. An impossible feat for most of us but in the spiritual land of India, it’s not uncommon to stumble across incredibly devout individuals who do more and more insane undertakings to convey they complete devotion.
Some have opted for raising their hand for the rest of their lives. Others have decided they will never sit again and spend their days standing and even attaching themselves to a harness so as not to fall over when they sleep.
While making my way through the north west in Rajasthan, I was camping up in the holy town of Pushkar. Well known for its hustle and bustle but also for its camel fair every November, the town is regularly visited by people from all over India and indeed the world.
Sitting under the whirling fans in the deathly heat, I’m approached by a small stout man with a beaming smile. Waddling over, we parks himself in a chair across from me. “Good Sir! Where you from?”. Seeing I had no option but to converse with this man, he made it his duty to regale all the stories and tales the town had to offer. Two hours and endless cups of Chai later, he’s landed on a particularly interesting nugget of info. He’s began talking about a Baba that lives in a rock temple a few miles out of town that I should go and chat to. Having earned my trust and gaining an incredible amount of amicability towards this man, I ask would he take me there. He agreed but not before insisting on sharing a Chillum with me.
Now I didn’t know what a Chillum was but agreed anyway. We walk slowly around the back of the tea shop, the paint long peeled away in the blistering sun. He pulls out a lump of Charras or hash and begins mixing it with tobacco before stuffing it into a long tapered clay tube. Lighting it up and passing it to me, we spend about 15 to 20 minutes puffing away. Not a big smoker at all, it’s hit me quite hard. Slowly, edging our way down the noisy streets smiling ear to ear, we approach a young man called Prateek. Eagerly stuffing us in the back of his Tuk Tuk, we’re only five minutes out of town on a dirt track when we turn off into a man made reservoir channel and come to an abrupt stop. Getting out, Prateek pulls me from the back and wedged me beside him in the front… “You drive!”. “Em, I can’t. I mean, like I don’t know how to drive a Tuk Tuk. I don’t even have a drivers licence and I’m far too stoned!”. Both men laughing seem to take no notice and simply motion at me to drive anyway.
Finally getting the hang of it and following the hand gestures of where to turn and which sandy tracks I should be taking we drive through a cloud of monkeys. They surrounded a large garden where men were perched in robes atop a peering rock. Hopping out, we enter the gate and moments later are met my a small man with very large presence. Ambling towards us, smiling, he gestures us to the garden. Anshul and Prateek start collecting wood from nearby and pulling out grain sacks and arranging them in a circle before setting the fire alight in a matter of minutes. The sun having long disappeared and being replaced by the glowing waves from out tiny fire, Aloo BaBa stalks from the shadows to come and join us.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure that Aloo Baba has been smoking hash all day as his eyes are millimeters from being closed and a permanent smile has been parked on his face. Talking about the birds, trees, nature, being present and a lot of incoherent mumbling, I eventually figure out the gist of his words. However, I couldn’t help but keep asking how he survives on nothing but potatoes and the odd cup of tea. A quick wiggle of the head and a stark laugh was the only response I could get. So we pull out the Chillum and go through enough to tranquilize an elephant before making our journey back. Tuk Tuk blaring Punjab pop music while our driver (who had left the driving to me) was playing porn on his new smart phone and laughing his head off.
If I learnt anything from this, it’s to just say yes and go with strangers. Despite all practical and logical intuition, use your better judgement and let people show you the weird and the wonderful of the road. You’ll find a more fulfilling and rich travel experience than any travel forum or Tripadvisor post!