(Excerpted from Chapter 7: Trekking with God: The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries)
We sit on a mat on a clay floor, nervously anticipating what will come next – the two Australians, the English girl and I. Nimche has invited us to his family’s home after a very unique combination dance and bingo party bombed miserably this Dewali (New Years) – the year 1009 Katmandu time. After three days in this enchanting city I am beginning to feel its groove. Suddenly plates of Nepali food appear before us. The children bring chutney, water buffalo steak and sweet bread. They are followed by Nimche’s shy mother, who dons five earrings pierced through the outer edge of each ear and carries a full pot of chang – a sweet potent Nepalese rice wine. She and Nimche share this 3rd floor apartment with her husband, two other sons and two even more shy daughters.
The family is dressed in their traditional best. The not so shy English girl commandeers the role of chief photographer and promises Mom she’ll send photos. Ashok, a friend of Nimche’s, passes out Yak cigarettes as if he’d just knocked over a lorry full of them. Mom keeps our clay cups of chang brimming, until our increasingly slurred speech gives way to smiling laughter. We brothers and sisters of planet earth are feeling as one.
We exchange addresses. Nimche, Ashok and their friend Raju insist on walking us all back to our respective hotels. Ashok and Raju ask eagerly if we will come and visit their families tomorrow. Back in my room and inebriated, an ember from my cigarette burns a hole in my pillowcase. I sacrifice my bandana and spend all night sewing a quite beautiful patch.
Katmandu is a large city with the feel of a small barrio. Around each corner a new celebration explodes into view. There is always a different pagoda, a fresh clan of raggedy children, a different aroma wafting from yet another pie shop. The formerly named Pig Alley has deservedly taken on the more sophisticated and urbane name Pie Alley. Moneychangers work the thriving black market, fruit vendors drive a hard bargain and monkeys lurk at the bottoms of the stairways leading to each monument to the Lord Buddha – rising into the heavens. The vibe is positive. There is no hatred or tension in the air, no violence waiting to pounce upon the unsuspecting.
There is nothing in particular to do here. No great museums, no amusement parks or zoos, no homes of the famous to fawn over, no tractor factories or tractor pulls or tractor junkyards. Yet the soul is content to wander through these freaky streets, never planning, never asking for directions, never searching; only absorbing this mellow collage of wonderment, hope and gratification. It is such a stark contrast to the cynicism and despair that rush through the streets of America – a nation that will sadly soon crown King George Bush as its latest Illuminati Masonic Grand Wizard.
The exploitation of the Third World by the Western colonial powers has been going on for centuries. These days, the resource grab takes on more subtle forms, often involving the blue helmet surrogates of the UN or the backing of moderate puppet Christian Democrats instead of outright fascist butchers. On a more personal level Westerners continue to sew their own spiritual rot, as in the case of a man from New York whom I now observe yelling at a group of adorable four-year-old Nepalese girls begging for rupees outside this cafe. Or as in the case of the World College West students at the next table who have rudely informed the waiter that their lasagna – an absolute must try here – is cold.
What are the motives of most of these travelers? Is it the allure of becoming the big boss and ordering their very own Third World subjects around for a spell? In their small minds they are so proud to have escaped the mainstream travel industry, but are not their attitudes the same as those who stay at the Hilton? Is it simple curiosity and a desire to seek truth and unspoiled lands that brings them here? Maybe the problem is having any motive at all. Early explorers were curious too. The price of their curiosity was colonialism. Some tourists seek spiritual renewal, but this is also a motive. Look what has happened to the world’s indigenous people at the hands of those seeking “spiritual renewal”. Genocide happened.
I scurry around Katmandu ridding myself of all unnecessary Western goods. In my final act of madness I trade my camera and backpack for a beautiful thangka portraying Lord Buddha amidst a mob of naked women. I buy a multicolored Nepalese duffle bag for 270 rupees and take some cheap passport photos for visas down the road. I am struck by the man in the picture – a scraggly tanned troubadour with the calm confident snake eyes of a permanent roadie. I reach the bus station at 4:45 PM, high from last night’s hash and this morning’s valium, which is available over-the-counter at any Katmandu pharmacy. The bus pulls in just past 5:00 and we are off, bound for Kakarvitta, the Indian border station in West Bengal.
After a mellow few weeks in Nepal and armed with a special permit to visit the war-torn Darjeeling District, I am ready to plunge back into the Indian malaise. The trip is surreal. We hurl ourselves towards white crags, a setting red sun pushing us along. I linger between states of sleep and wakefulness. I begin to hear voices. A mother is telling her child that he is too small to be playing in the road. Another voice warns to beware of toothpicks and cigarettes. I think of Maude, a beautiful French woman I’d met in Katmandu who was bound for Darjeeling with her 5-year-old son Wesley. I feel strongly that something terrible has happened. Death is nearby. I can feel it.
I finally block it out of my consciousness and fall asleep. I am abruptly awakened as a Nepali man sits down next to me. He talks nonstop, first blathering about his problems with the Ministry of Agriculture and his unwavering support for the corrupt king. He then heaps scorn upon Nepali peasant farmers who, he snickers, sit by their fields all night to keep renegade rhinos from eating their crops. He veers off on the wildlife tangent, bragging of his manly encounters with rhinos and tigers in the Terai region of Nepal.
At around 2:00 AM, just as I am preparing to strangle the fat chatty man, we surge forward as the bus breaks to a screeching halt. The passengers rise in unison to see what lie in the road ahead. A crowd is gathered on either side of the road staring at a long trail of bloody pavement, littered with appendages and bits of flesh. The trail ends at the limp body of a small child, whose head is flattened beyond recognition. No one goes near the child. They all just stare. A woman, who must be the child’s mother, thrashes frantically on the ground nearby. The bus veers left and continues on, as if this sort of thing happens daily. The noise box next to me chimes in nonchalantly, “Life. It comes and it goes.”
The mountain air is chilly. I wonder if it was wise to have cashed in my Gortex at the Katmandu bizarre. Still, there is a warm feeling emanating Dharamsala-style from this mountain hamlet’s Tibetan population. The quiet meditation that is life here is interrupted only by the throngs of loud Indian Brahmin tourists who fill the streets today. The men wear striped suits and ties and polished white shoes. The women vainly toss their silk saris about, wishing to own every trinket in the crowded market.
Mt. Kanchenjunga towers over the bustle to the northwest. At 26,000 feet it is the fifth highest peak in the world. On a clear day Mt. Everest can also be seen from this lush valley of carefully trimmed tea plants, which since the days of British Ghurka rule, have produced the famed Darjeeling tea. The Ghurkas are still doing the Crown’s bidding here, currently demanding an independent Ghurkaland via an armed insurrection against the Marxist West Bengal state government. Somehow I am sure this has everything to do with the King of Nepal’s penchant for drug trafficking and with his country’s proximity to both West Bengal and Kashmir – the CIA-coveted prize on Nepal’s western border.
We take a 4:30 AM jeep to a vista where we watch the sunrise over Mt. Kanchenjunga this cold morning. It is spectacular. I am the only Westerner not madly snapping photos, but I know pictures can never do what lies before me justice anyway. We return and I find a warm cafe for coffee and breakfast. As I wander out of door, I am chewing on a toothpick. I have picked up a bit of a cold from this mountain climate, so I am coughing. But that doesn’t stop me from striking up a Yak filterless. With both the cigarette and the toothpick in my mouth, I suddenly cough, inhaling the tiny sliver of wood. It takes nearly a minute to dislodge the toothpick. I can hardly catch my breath. I recall the other voice I’d heard on the bus. Time to head south to a warmer climate where I can shake these voices and this cold.
I arrive in the intellectual capital of India on a full moon and the 525th birthday of Gorananak – the Babul ruler who was born during the Mogul’s reign over the Punjab, in what is now Pakistan. It is appropriate that I should meet Amolok Singh Jassal, a Sikh who prefers to be called Tommy. The Sikhs are not allowed to cut their hair, so they bundle their long dark locks under turbans. All go by the surname Singh. They demand an independent state in the Punjab and have not been above using terrorism to make their point. Tommy says the Sikhs agitate in Punjab as revenge for India’s assistance in the independence of Bangladesh in 1972. Since 1947, when India got its independence from Britain and Muslims got Pakistan from India, Bangladesh had been known as East Pakistan. The Sikhs fled to India to escape Islamist law in Pakistan then pushed for the division of Punjab into Himachel Pradesh and Haryana.
Sikh bodyguard Suckedv Singh assassinated Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar in the early 1970’s. Sikh leader Jagjit Singh Chanhan was a British intelligence asset and a member of the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Nazi International, which CIA Director Allen Dulles helped bolster through his Saudi-backed Banque Commercial Arabe. It was Chanhan who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. Later radical Sikhs launched the Kalistan independence movement with arms from the UK and the US. The Punjab is an area of immense natural resources. There have been reports in the Indian press that Pepsi is trying to buy up land there to grow wheat. There have also been reports of CIA involvement in the Kalistan effort. Punjab adjoins the strategic and disputed Kashmir region.
The dormitory falls silent and I process the images of Calcutta that entered my being today: an old wise woman smoking burning rope bidi cigarettes, a vengeful vendor sharpening knives on the sidewalk, a naked child bathing in murky water surging from a broken pipe, a saddu holy man brushing his teeth at a fire hydrant with an acacia twig.
I hear a shrew chewing its way through the bathroom floor, then munching on tidbits of food near the Australian’s backpack. Guido – the Italian with the strange uniform – has fallen asleep with his Bible in his ample lap, a rosary beside his shaved head and incense still burning on the table beside him. The American salesman with balding worried forehead snores from the next bed. The Salvation Army belongs to the night.
I skip the sticky oatmeal routine in favor of egg curry and chapatis at a nearby diner. I locate the Air India office and plead my case to have the Delhi-Bangkok portion of my ticket changed to Calcutta-Bangkok. You’ll save fuel, I argue, and I don’t have to backtrack to Delhi to catch my plane. They agree with my logic and it’s a done deal, a small coup that will save both time and money. I spend the rest of the day checking out the many excellent used bookstores in the city. I buy The CIA in South Asia, published in Moscow, then bail the Sally Army compound for the Paragon Hotel.
Good move. The crowd is much better here. Tonight I meet a young New York City writer named Stosh who is finishing up a first draft of a book of poetry. We exchange book titles and ideas and smoke Kerala green bud. Soon a Japanese nomad named Kenchi joins us and throws some Katmandu hash into the mix. He says he is an expert in acupressure and asks if we’d like to experience his craft. Stosh goes first, breathing in all the air he can muster until suddenly Kenchi squeezes his neck with a Vulcan death grip. Stosh falls limp, his eyes open, but his mind temporarily shut down – body and soul floating in the nether world. Is he dead, I wonder? Stosh rejoins us and says I have to try it. The peer pressure is overwhelming so I give it a go, floating off in a flash of light then awakening re-energized.
We decide to head up to the rooftop and watch Calcutta grind to a halt for the day. We are joined there by Ravi – a young Indian Muslim who fills us in on West Bengal politics – and Giovanni – an Italian refugee who has spent two months in Calcutta. He has ditched his romantic notions of the city, which so many Westerners here seem desperate to hold on to. He talks of a local mafia that breaks people’s limbs then sets them on every street corner to beg before resurfacing from their gutter each evening to take every rupee each beggar has received. He details a medical racket where people sell their body parts to Western pharmaceutical companies before they even die just to make ends meet and laments that fathers are often forced to sell their daughters into prostitution for the same reason.
It seems the Calvinist Judeo-Christian alchemist industrialists, whose expansionist program wrecked this nation, have left in their wake a nation still painfully ripping off its bandages covering the gaping wounds of colonialism. Calcutta’s bandages are coming off in particularly brutal fashion. New patients arrive daily from the hinterlands – Bengali peasants who find themselves in hock to the mahajan village banker and land in the slums of Howrah to escape his wrath. Dispossessed of land and the serenity of rural life that affords dignity to impoverishment, all that is left is slow death – pervasive seeping death. Western saviors like Mother Teresa, Dr. John and Stephen Kovalski stream into Calcutta in futile attempts at closing the gashing imperial wounds opened by their ancestors.
In Strait Rows
Up in the awkward dawn they find their place
Marching centipede toward elusive mirage
Toting seeds of separateness, long since
Cultivated deep in unsure fallow awareness
Sprinkling bags of mental Molotov confusion
Perfect straitjacket rows for Judas’ henchmen to clearly read
Sweating beads of hypocrisy, winds swirling in disgust, linear labors
Rustling recently planted prisoners swaying in disgruntled unison
Reconsidering maligned roots with each falling leaf
Nearby, a logical step by absurdity’s calculations
More dangling puppets audition for the power play
Locke harvests Mother as Calvin steals Her daily bread
Towers of serenity felled for Babylon expansion
Shackled, delivered to manifested mind, scarred pathway of deceit
Machiavelle reads the inscribed charge:
“We Want Furniture”
Centipedes sentenced to alleged thought
Lay each new potential profit
In strait rows
Morning comes too early. I pile onto a thirty-five-capacity bus with 100 others for the ride to Dum-Dum Airport. The Tata family industrial conglomerate produces all buses in India. One Tata sits on the board at Chase Manhattan. They emerged from the British Raj to become – along with the Birla family – kings of Indian commerce. Their incredible wealth has weathered Nehru’s socialism comfortably – their millions stashed in offshore accounts, safely out of Delhi’s reach.
The old man crammed in beside me keeps nodding off, his thick glasses slide down his wrinkled nose until he jolts back to life and pushes them back into place. The scene repeats itself for the nearly two hours it takes to reach the airport. Maybe the train to Delhi would have been faster after all. The old man, dressed in a flowing white robe, finally awakens and rises at his stop. Just before hopping off, he spits out his first sentence to me, admonishing, “Why don’t you dress properly?”
Dean Henderson is the author of four books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Das Kartell der Federal Reserve & Stickin’ it to the Matrix. You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @ www.deanhenderson.wordpress.com