My 4 month travel through India was a dry period in my life and to be honest I did not miss alcohol in the slightest. India is so full of life and unexpected delights that, for me at least there was not even a murmur of a blip in my resolution. In fact, the word resolution suggests that I had to force myself not to drink in the first place, this was certainly not the case. However, whilst hanging out in the absolutely beautiful little town of Pushkar in the state of Rajhastan, I was to discover a new poison. I'm not sure if I enjoyed the experience which I am about recount or not, but it certainly finds it's way into the story of my life
Pushkar, is one of the most beautiful and serene places that I have ever been. This tranquil town is built around a small, spirit enhancing lake, which is a sanctified spot and a place of great pilgrimage for Hindu's. The lake has 52 ghats surrounding it, which are used for both mundane purposes such as washing and bathing, as well as ritualistic rites. The ghats make a fantastic place to hang out and watch daily life unfold. You can be assured that you will never been alone on the ghats for long as a mixture of washer women, Sadhu's (religious men), travellers and livestock come to join you on the holy steps. The Sadhu's are as a strange and interesting bunch of people that you are ever likely to meet. These are men that have bowed out of societies rules and have opted to live away from or on the edge of society in order to focus on their spiritual development. They walk around naked but for a loin cloth and are often painted white with long dread locked hair. Pushkar in actual fact is a dry town, with alcohol strictly prohibited. This does not however prevent these strangest of India's folly's from wandering around the streets, chonging on the hashish pipes, which they claim helps them to attain spiritual freedom (and who am I to question this?)
I spend around a week in Pushkar, chilling out by the very definition of the word. Long, lazy lie ins, followed by extremely drawn out vegetarian buffets (this town is also meatless), and a slow paced amble around the town, punctuated with relaxation on the ghats. From this vantage point I take in the sunset over the lake before heading off for an even more drawn out dinner/supper buffet. There are travellers that get drawn into this lifestyle for years and I can totally understand why. Life is cheap, with only a few pounds a day needed to live a decent existence. Observation of life on the streets, offers a man more entertainment that he could ever need and if you require more then you are never very far from a bhang lassi.
So, there it is, my secret potion has been revealed. Bhang lassi, I hear you cry, what on earth is a bhang lassi. Well, despite sounding like animal porn, this is actually the liquidised form of marijuana and is perfectly legal in Rajasthan. In fact, it is actively encouraged with government shops throughout the whole state selling a whole host of bhang products such as bhang sweets, bhang chocolates and bhang cakes. Of course at the time I did not realise that it was marijuana although I did have my suspicions that something untoward was one of the ingredients, especially in light of the experience that I was about to have.
My travel partner for this part of my trip was a guy called Richard Stokes, who came from Worcester. Remember this name well , for he is to turn up again in my life (well in name anyway), some 6 years later, but for now he is just a guy with whom I share experiences. Richard, it turns out has been in India for the best part of a year and is on the run from the police for smashing a guys teeth in with an ashtray. I met Richard in Agra whilst visiting the Taj Mahal and for the next week I am bombarded with tales of his gangster lifestyle. Only one look into his blue piercing eyes is enough to dispel any thoughts that these tales have no foundation.
Besides Richard, I have also tagged along with 2 sisters from Devon, Lucy and Trina and their 2 travel partners Phil and Neil from Leeds. As often happens when travelling, I am to bump into this group throughout my travels in Rajhastan. After breakfast on one of my days in Pushkar, we begin a conversation about the fabled, mind bending potion, bhang lassi and as a consequence we decide that we will partake in some of Pushkar's finest when the sun sets. We bid each other farewell and arrange to meet at the market square around 5pm. I am excited at the prospect of this and can't wait for sunset. What will happen? How long will it last? Will I ever be the same again? These are the questions that are running through my mind as I sit on the ghats and watch the world go by.
At 5pm, I meet up with the 2 girls and 2 boys in the market square and we head for what I remember to be called the Rainbow cafe. You have to remember that this is 16 years ago and I am writing this account purely from memory. Subsequent Internet research has told me that there is indeed a Rainbow restaurant in Pushkar and I also see that there is a Sunset Cafe. I am positive that the cafe was one of the two. Anyway, this is where we meet and eat a small snack before the conversation turns to our evenings activities. I can tell by the nervous excitement that permeates the air that I have not been alone in my thoughts regarding the bhang lassi. There is a little banter about whether or not we should do it but we all know that it is a foregone conclusion. We are travellers, exploring the furthest regions that Earth has to offer, tonight it is time to explore the furthest regions of our minds.
After a short discussion it is decided that the 2 girls and Neil will share one glass of bhang lassi whilst myself and Phil will have one each. As far as I am concerned it is all or nothing. I mean how often will I get the opportunity to enjoy a mind enhancing drink, in the beautiful surroundings of India's finest province by a sacred lake, surrounded by Sadhu's? More often than I wish to remember as it happens, but anyway this train of thought offers me all the excuses I need. Three glasses of India's finest mind expander ordered, the girls tentatively sip their drinks whilst Phil and I knock ours back. I am not actually very good with horrible tastes and I have a 20 second fight with my senses to try and hold the stuff in. With the evenings entertainment ingested we head off back to the guest house.
Fifteen minutes have passed and our group have taken up refuge in Lucy and Trina's room. We are attempting to play cards but the excitement of our forthcoming journey is far too intense to concentrate on anything but the immediate future. I feel a tingling in my stomach and my feet begin to twitch. My thoughts begin to wander in random directions (nothing new there) but these directions are new to me.
I look around and see that the others appear to be lost in their own minds. I turn to my fellow journey men/women, to ask if they are feeling the power of the bhang lassi, but decide that this is would be purely rhetoric, so keep my lips sealed.
My mind is now a collage of thoughts and kaleidoscopic patterns and is struggling to deal with the sheer volume of new inputs. Unable to make any rational sense of what is happening to me I resort to laughter, a laughter which comes from deep with my colon and causes me to stop breathing for what seems like an eternity. The laughter starts off as a pleasurable experience but the novelty soon wears off and judging by the look on my friends faces, it has turned into a medical complaint.
Fortunately for me, the girls and Neil have not had a full glass of bhang lassi and are able to assist me in breathing. Normal breathing resumed, I decide that I want to be on my own in a horizontal position to try and enjoy the experience. Unfortunately for me, the girls room is on the second level of a two tier block and I have to negotiate the stairs.
I get halfway down before losing my footing and almost going full length down the stairs. This incident prompts the girls into a rescue mission, which involves carrying me to bed with my arms around their shoulders. What I have not mentioned is that the boys blatantly fancy their chances with the two sisters and in my head they see this latest act as a charade to get the girls to my room. I say "in my head" because at this point paranoia has begun to get the better of me and I can't get to my room fast enough.
Once in the room I am deposited on my bed before the girls go back to their room. I can't wait for them to leave to be honest because I want to lie on the bed on my own and try and catch hold of some of my very irrational thoughts. The room, is small, with a single bed, a small bedside table, a tiled floor and shutters which do not quite shut properly, thus adding to my ever growing paranoia.
The room is on the perimeter of a courtyard which is on ground level, which means that passers by can look through the slats in my shutters if they so wish and in my head that is exactly what they are doing right now. Thousands of pairs of eyes, staring through my shutters at my heavily sweating body and twisted mind. I swear that I can hear them muttering, as they discuss my predicament. With all the mental capacity I possess I wrestle to try and regain control of my totally unfounded paranoia.
When I was younger, I had an obsession with monkeys and lizards. A pet monkey would always top my Christmas list. Although a real life monkey never materialised, the nearest I ever came was Harold Wilson, my grandma's concession to my primate pondering. Harold Wilson, was so named because he had a plastic pipe hanging from his plastic mouth. His body was comprised of a toilet roll with horribly sharp wires hanging out in all directions from which hung his fake fur. If I am to be honest, it was the most pathetic attempt at a toy monkey that ever existed and would never have found it's way into a modern toy shop due to it's very dangerous composition. But, I did not care because I loved him and realised that this was the nearest to a real monkey that I was ever going to acquire.
I had not thought about Harold Wilson for many years, so lord only knows why he took this moment to appear in my corrupted consciousness.
There he was, Harold (the hazard) Wilson before my very eyes, his plastic face alive as he smoked bubbles out of his pipe. I sat and stared with a childlike fascination, as my oldest of allies blew his bubbles and nodded at me as if to say "yeah, it's me, last seen disappearing into the loft in 1980". Oh, no I think, Harold is annoyed about his final resting place and an annoyed toilet roll bodied, wiry monkey is the last thing I want to cope with. All the while, he's blowing his bubbles which are now floating around all over the room.
Worse is to come, in the bat of an eyelid Harold's eyes have turned into those toy spectacles that you can get with springy eyes on the end. Not only have I got to contend with his continuous bubble blowing but now I have to get to grips with his manic springing eyes which are out of control. All, this motion finally gets too much for me and I begin to feel very queasy.
The pangs of sickness begin deep in my stomach and as my inner cheeks begin to salt up I try to prepare myself for the inevitable conclusion. Once again I am fighting with my mind and trying to keep the sickness at bay, whilst Harold Wilson's springing eyes decide that they are going to enter my mouth and peer down my throat to take a closer inspection of my lower intestine. As if that is not trippy enough, my own eyes are somehow cast into the vision of Harold's and I am left peering into my own intestines.
My intestines have now taken on the form of a very brightly lit alphabet soup, like those alphabet sweets that you used to get as a kid, only much, much brighter. To recount, I am looking through the springy eyes of a plastic, wire and fur monkey named Harold Wilson, at my own intestines which have now turned into an neon, alphabet soup. The alphabet is cascading around like a fountain inside my stomach and not helping me keep down my sickness one slight iota.
Finally, after a closely run mental battle, Harold Wilson's eyes get the better of me and I sit bolt upright. What happens next takes an even more incredulous turn. My/Harold Wilson's eyes are confronted with a brightly coloured letter b, which weaves it way through my intestine and ejaculates out of my mouth, closely followed by an equally brightly coloured letter l, letter a, letter r and finally letter b. The word blarb exits my mouth, as I go through the motions of vomiting. This neon alphabet of a blarb then flies through the air, a distance of at least 8 ft before adhering itself to the wall. I have no time to admire my handiwork before the next series of blarbs lines up for it's attack and also sticks to the wall.
My blarbing continues until sunlight begins to enter through my window slats and illuminates my broken, blarbed out body. I estimate that I have been blarbing for a good 10 hrs at least and the result of this is a completely blarb decorated wall. With the determination that won wars and a body as listless as a person that has just run 10 marathons, I ejaculate my final blarb, which leaves me feeling both relieved and perversely proud. I collapse on the bed and feel as if I have just had multiple, multiple orgasms.
Over a day later I awake and feeling bewildered, I leave my room to try and find the others. I only find Richard Stokes, who informs me that their failed attempts to wake me has meant that they have moved onto the next destination without me. I'm astonishment as I try to piece the timescale together and realise that I have missed my reserved train to Jodphur. I vow never to touch bhang lassi again.