Chaos and preparation for sacred India
London to Delhi
1st February, 2004
Inner calm. A meditative silence swept through me as I found my essential Krishna being and I let the dharma-world float away. The path
that others followed to India, I had also found. The pain, heart-ache and sickness of the world surrounding me seemed to fade.
At last, I had found some carpet to lie on in Heathrow airport.
To Be a Sadhu
India is a sacred country. Each river or mountain has a divine significance. To enter India, therefore, the Indian government insists you must be first found worthy. And then your body purified. Rigorously.
The first test is the guidebook. An Indian travel guide opens easily
enough, hinting at the colorful bazaars and layers of ancient history.
Then you reach the "Health Risks" chapter. It is fat and full of gleeful colour. Indian health risks appear to encompass all known diseases, and allowing one single molecule of India to pass you lips, touch a mucous membrane or borrow its way into your skin will lead to immediate bowel rushing, brain shrinking and public embarassment.
So you prepare, by buying every drug known to science, filling your rucksack with toxic chemicals until there's no room for your socks, and promise yourself not to drink any water, eat any suspect food or touch any dirty surfaces.
This strategy works perfectly until the moment you step off the airplane, when you realise that every surface is dirty, all food is suspect (or unrecognizable) and that sneaky water will find a way in no matter what. In the shower, on your hands, dripping off a roof into your upturned eye. Nature finds a way.
In the end, you do anal clenching exercises, plunge in and hope for the best.
Patience is a Virtue
The next test is the Tourist Visa. Every other country will issue one a these on the spot, after all, you're going there to spend money.
The officals will happily stamp your passport to enter Thailand or Cuba or Peru, usually with the word "Rich Western Sucker".
For India, you suffer the mystery of Three Random Queues, and the Three Giant Scrums.
The first queue starts outside the High Commission in London at 830am where you fight to get to a man who gives you a prize: a ticket giving you permission to join the next queue. The first queue is only 10-20 minutes.
The ticket has a queue number. You're supposed to go to the ticket hall 30 minutes before your time. Of course, as you can't be sure when your time might be, everyone goes into the hall straight away, and fights for a postion to see the ticket clock. For two to three hours.
At last your number comes up. Mischievously, up to ten numbers can come at the same time. But your ticket gives you the right to... scrum forwards through the crowd and fight your way to a counter. Your application is in order! Hooray... they take away your passport and tell you to wait... a little... for the passport stamping man.
The passport stamping man, at a different counter, stamps and announces passports for collection completely at random and in a quiet voice. The result is, you guessed it, another giant scrum as everyone tries to stand at his counter, all at the same time.
Getting a passport is like winning the lottery. You hear your number, scream your reply and your passport is lobbed to you over everyone's head. After six hours you have your visa, and can go home to cry.
Approach with a Humble Heart
I had set off from Islington as the first snowflakes fell over England. I rejoiced to escape the English winter. Eighteen hours later, I was still there.
Every sacred ritual requires ritual mortification of the flesh. Virgin Atlantic are pleased to now offer this service for free. Before we could see the blessed Ganges we were required to queue, wait, queue, wait, enter the departure lounge, leave the departure lounge, enter it again and two hours late, board the aircraft. Yes! Ready to go.
We were told the aircraft needed de-icing. As time passed we realised the Virgin method of de-icing was to board all the passengers, allow them to sit for three hours and let the heat of their rising wrath melt the ice, not only on the plane but the runways and a large amount of sururban south west London too.
At three in the morning we had to exit the aircraft. The staff cheerfully told us that there were no hotels, no taxis and no food except each other, and scarpered. We bunked down where we could.
In the morning we queued again. Three times. A cameraderie had grown up among the passengers, the veterans of VS300Y. I began to recognize them as old friends: there was Screaming-Child-Woman; Angry-Angry-Sikh;
States-the-Bleeding-Obvious-Man. I was Looks-Dejected-Says-Nothing Boy.
Eventually we set off. My comrades and I stuck it out as best we could, sleeping, screaming, being angry or watching TV. We arrived in Delhi.
Taking a last deep breath, I covered all skin, closed all orifices, and stepped out the door.