A Journey to India

Journey to India
February 2012

in 1985, brother Matt and I did a long, wandering, colourful adventure pilgrimage throughout the length and breadth of India. it was a glorious life adventure.

Matt on the Ganges, 1985

his personal life adventure took a different form in September 2009, when he passed on from his earthly form, to the utter shock and disbelief of all who loved him, a state that persists to this day. his departure left a larger-than-life gap in the lives of us all.

in February 2012, I re-traced our footsteps, in a pilgrimage with his ashes, back to the river Ganges, in Varanasi, fabled City of the Dead.

Taking Matt’s ashes to Varanasi, City of the Dead

what is the value of ceremony, ritual, observing the rites? whatever you make it, perhaps… one goes through the process hoping that perhaps the lightning may strike… this physical journey might allow some degree of emotional processing, letting go of loss and regret.

and so, off to India.

february 2012. i land in Delhi, travelling alone but Matt with me in spirit and in smile: let’s go to Varanasi.

arriving in Delhi

I travel by airplane this time, before Matt and I were forever on the train, gazing out the window as the world went by, day after day. it’s a different world now, a different India, and mine is a different life… I take the plane from Delhi to Varanasi, security checks and all, rituals of a new order.


Varanasi, however, proves timeless: I pick up a cough right away (I like to SEE the air I’m breathing…)

Varanasi is timeless…
Varanasi hadn’t changed

I wander through the marketplace and do some shopping: basket, charcoal, candles, incense, flowers.

I arrange the symbols I have brought with me to put in the basket: Matt always liked Ganesha the elephant god; a dolphin figure: we swam with dolphins together, off the coast of Goa back in ’85; a photo of him, timeless in his beaming happy youth; and, of course I include an eternal owl.

and one bright early morning, even as we did so long ago, I go out on the water.


the boatman has seen these ceremonies before: Varanasi is the traditional place to say goodbye to one’s loved ones.

sun and water, fire and smoke:

now he’s gone travelling once again, closer to the light.

and here I am, by myself.

I head back to Delhi, there just long enough to leave again… flying south to Goa where Matt and I shared an endless happy beachdwellers’ life.


Little Vagator beach, that was our hangout yoga place in ’85.

photo by dear Matt… actually, the posture didn’t last all that long, but it looked good while it did.

we did two hours of yoga every morning, on the hard-packed sand on the very edge of the hissing waves, then spent the day eating fruit salad and roaming the beaches and markets.

Little Vagator beach, as it was when Matt and I were there… circa mid-80s.

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in the modern age, one is no longer completely cut off from the world whilst in India.

in fact, I remained wired into my network:

Text message to dear Bill, maritime advisor to Owl Studio:

am speaking from here in Goa, Vagator beach in fact, my old turf,
where i am admiring huge waves from the very same old juice bar,
or a much later incarnation thereof… of course i knew it was not going to be
remotely the same, STILL wot a shock to arrive last night and
see my yoga beach turned into a disco Costa del Beachchair…

No Complaining: Rule Number One.

keep smiling, carry on. located our old yogaspot by the waves,
intense memories of brother Matt, met a fire juggler, Andy from Wales,
said ‘yeah, some of the old freak scene still going.’
got up this morning, did my stretching routine by the waves,
then swam out a bit… now, chai and juice at the edge of the beach,
try to commit to my drawing exercises somewhat, follow my Plan (ha),
make the most of that which offers. SO! it all goes on, under the eye of heaven.
all love, wish you were here. hope all progresses as best it may. R

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Yorkshire Ian, old friend and old India hand, flew in from Chennai to join me in Goa.

he’d last set foot in Goa in 1975 when India was still a remote medieval kingdom, and we were still young long-haired gypsy spirits: “place has changed alright, BUT – not as bad as I’d feared!”

and true enough, the negative changes do seem to be more superficial than otherwise. after the initial shock of seeing Coca Cola signs and realising everybody now wore clothes, dammit, we fell into a cheerful circuit of meeting people, new friends and astonishingly, old ones – the counter-culture continues.

we strolled, we conversed, we perambulated, we fruit juiced… we even shopped a little bit: i bought a beautiful marble statue from a young stone carver on Vagator beach: from a shop full of different images, this one leaped straight to my eye, possessed of a perfect symmetry. is it self-indulgent to buy it? hell no: encourage the arts… now the deity dwells in owl studio.

I attended an all-night meditation ceremony, under the Indian sky… hugely powerful… time ago, time ago…

and then, we started moving south again, Ian and I, to Gokarna beach in Karnataka province – only a train ride away, this time, talk about memories, the jammed and confused travelling experience on the Indian train…

and here, we move away from the developed package tourist beach to the dreadlocked beachdweller scene that i recall.

******************************

Text to Bill:

hello hello once again o good dear bill – now somewhat further South,
down in Karnataka, Kudli beach, just arrived, saw the fluorescent
tangerine Sun drop into the Arabian Sea… will be here for the last tranche of the Journey,
the next ten days or so, staying in a fixed concept of geographical reality,
and attempting to keep the inner exploration onward and alive,
yoga and artwork the plan… and this seems to be a good place for both,
already meeting other artists, of impressive capacity the one fellow,
inspiring, just what i need… and took a yoga class, stretched the envelope,
hope you’re on the wing, more anon, all love, R

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incredible karma: in my very guest house was already resident a hugely skilled and inspiring fellow artist, Feri – exactly what I needed to keep my own energy flowing
I tried to keep the pencil dancing day by day

and, as planned, i settle in, find a good yoga class just down the beach, do two hours of practice every morning (thirty years ago i was the instructor and the demo guy; seems far away now, as I age and stiffen… aye well, one day at a time).

plunge into the salt waves, walk up and down the beach, fruit salad rice and veg, and settle in to the cheerful day to day of this tiny beach-front mini-village guest-house in which i find myself, full of characters of all ages and description.

the South African family with four tiny ones were a three-ringed circus all by themselves
Colm and Kevin, having a smoke and a tune, gazing at the waves

Baba and Mimi pondering life
Baba was particularly good for my attempts at portraiture, as he didn’t move all that much… just smiling

after three days i felt like i’d been there forever. i was at home.

the guest house did a collective outing into the village for Shivaratri, the huge Hindu festival.


best job in recorded history for a ten year old
got lucky here, elephant stood still in front of me, where i was established in the juice bar, for a good twenty minutes

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and finally it was the end of February, time to start the Departure From India… the Return Trek… all the way, in one long curving journey, from the south of sunny India to the grey of London-town…

and it all starts with walking down the beach.

I swing the bag to my shoulder, stride out along the sand, heading back to the West. to my great surprise, i felt wonderful. i am forever a pilgrim, a direct link  back to the long-haired hitchhiking teenager i once was, forever am.

(“Anthropologists have concluded that nomadism is the happiest of all human ways of life” – ‘Warpaths’ – John Keegan)

I take the train to Madgaon

buying the ticket in Madgaon station

I fall into instant conversation with all the other travellers, and in particular Isabelle of France, with whom I shared the journey, and both our life stories… the journey flew by.
to my surprise, I take a motorbike taxi (!) to Goa airport, after no motorcycle in my life for decades – the major car crash of my life left me with a significant aversion – but this is… this is ecstatic, warm, cool, sunny breeze, flowers flowing by…

And then, the flight to Delhi, watching the sun sink westward over the Indian ocean.


finally, FINALLY! a lengthy flight back to London… and then the lengthy piccadilly line into town.

archetype of all the homecomings that ever there were.

and the cats were overwhelmed to see me…

below is a slideshow of all the images used in this narrative – click your way through or let them flow by…

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