Today, June 15, 2019, will be remembered for two events that will go down in history. First, because I am sixty-eight years old: Take it now, almost “na”! And secondly, because from now on these cosmic chronicles published by conmochila will be of rigorous actuality in the “Last Minute News” plan. The present chronicle could bear the same title as one of my novels, Circumstantial, or also the affirmation that I am myself and my circumstances. I’ll make it clear.
It all started when my Valencian friends ended my relaxed Chitwan retreat in Nepal and walked me through several national parks in Kenya. It was then that the bloody Indian bureaucracy made one of its Machiavellian tricks and shortened my visa to three months. Having been healed of fright, I simply changed my plans and decided that after this period, which I would spend in the Kumaon Hills, I would return to Nepal, where I still had three months left on my visa out of the five they grant annually. I even booked a train to Gorakhpur, the Indian city just a short distance from the Nepalese border near Chitwan.
However, these new plans were also altered when one afternoon Mr. Lobo, while playing backgammon, told me: “I was recently in Uzbekistan and I recommend you take a look at that country, if only to visit the four wonderful cities that are World Heritage Sites. After thinking about it for a tenth of a second, I decided to listen to my intelligent Indian friend: “Uzbek Chelo!
Being the tourist season of the Kumaon Hills, I had to go to Delhi in a crowded sleeper class wagon because the A/C wagons were all booked, which showed that the Indian middle class has enough rupees in its pocket. Another proof of this is that in Nainital, the capital of the district, there was not a single free room left.
In Delhi it was freezing hot, 47º (try to imagine the panorama when the electric service is cut off and the fans or air conditioners stop working), and I promised to get out as soon as possible. Like the other times, I settled in the Paharganj neighbourhood (a name that, for no apparent reason, means “mountainous neighbourhood”).
Then I went to the offices of the Uzbek Airlines, the only company flying directly to Uzbekistan, and had the following conversation: “I would like to go to Taskent tomorrow,” I said with my usual confident candor. “You’ll have to buy a round-trip ticket,” they replied. “Then I wanted to go to Kyrgyzstan by land.” “Neither, nor, nor, nor.” Improvising as I went along, I asked, “Are you flying to Bangkok?” “Yes, but unless you also have another ticket to leave after Thailand, you must return to Delhi.” Plus, they wanted to take a look at my Indian visa. It was all Kafkaesque, and I started getting pissed. So that nothing was missing from such an absurd cocktail, the schedules and the prices of the flights were not of my taste. I finally got the pleasure of farting them because I don’t like going where they don’t want me to go either.
Always on the go, I called Air India, and the next day I was leaving for Bangkok on my way to one of my favorite destinations: Kanchanaburi and the Kwai River. Such changes of course are not unusual, for it would be difficult to remember how many journeys I have planned without them becoming a reality, or how many I have interrupted halfway. The pure truth is that while I was gathering information about Uzbekistan and drooling in front of the pictures of Samarkand that Mr. Lobo was showing me, I had the constant feeling that all that was going to stay in nothing.
In the morning I drank the last chai in front of the historic and now closed Imperial Theatre, which the British built in 1930, and then I took a taxi to the airport (I could have gone on the Metro, but monumental queues are formed to get tickets and pass the strict security systems with X-ray machines). I brightened the day for the taxi driver by giving him the last cost stone, and he exclaimed: Uttarakhand charas both achá.
If you have to fly from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, I advise you to go with plenty of time. Due to the usual traffic jams, I’d need an hour to get there. Then it took me another hour to check in my luggage and another hour to get through the security checkpoints, where an angry official treated poor Bangladeshi boys like scum and kicked me through the huge terminal to the boarding gate, which changed several times forcing me to go from one end to the other. Some big signs announced “Number one airport in the world”, and I, apart from wondering who would have made such an evaluation, thought that, if by any chance, I would be number one in slowness.
Air India’s flight departed punctually to the east as the monsoons entered India from the southwest, or Kerala. Seeing from the air the arid plains of the Ganges Valley I imagined that within a few days they would be under water and that a few weeks later they would be covered with a mantle of greenery. This was the only landscape I contemplated, as the plane, a “Boeing Dream Liner”, had some very “model” windows that the hostess boss automatically darkened by pressing some computer keys and left me with a span of noses before we flew over the incredible coasts of the Bay of Bengal.
We landed in Bangkok after dark and, to save time, instead of taking the Sky Train, I shared a taxi with a girl from New Zealand who was going to the same neighbourhood: the tourist ghetto of Khao San Road.
After the 47th in Delhi, this time the always embarrassing Thai capital seemed pleasantly fresh to me. I moved into a boarding house in whose garden there was a sign warning: “Beware of coconuts” (which can break your coconut when falling from coconut palms). Soon he was enjoying a “Leo” beer on a pedestrian terrace. It was the time to reflect and to settle the memories.
I thought of an old western globe-trotter who lived for several years in the Kumaon Hills pretending to be a man (a practical girl in such a macho country) and who worked as a schoolteacher without anyone discovering the deception.
I thought of the thousand forest fires (exactly 1,030) that had ravaged Uttarakhand over the past two months, even burning some of the tents in my old friend Amit’s luxurious campsite.
I thought of the spectacular storms that sometimes turned them off and caused temperatures to drop by 10 degrees.
I thought of the old black and white photos that Mr. Lobo showed me, thanks to which I discovered in astonishment that the forests I like to walk through are quite young because the previous trees had been cut down at the time of the British to plant tea, when they managed to steal seeds from China for the first time.
I thought of the brave American Miss Wallace, who after spending half her life in the Kumaon Hills running a Christian ashram first and then a hospital, still resides there at the age of ninety-one, and when she makes a computer mess she goes with her jeep to ask Mr. Boar for help.
I thought of the drones currently used to transport blood to the most isolated villages in the mountains.
I thought that the general culture of the “Pahari” population of those lands was very limited, and many times erroneous, besides being plagued with absurd superstitions: “Drinking water after chai is bad for health”.
I thought of the long hobo beard that I had grown during those last two months and that I, living in a house where there was not a single mirror, had not noticed it.
I thought that, as on other occasions, those weeks in the Kumaon Hills had passed in a jiffy.
I also thought smiling at some of the typical Indian customs: when you ask them for something, for example, a fried rice in a restaurant or a pair of trousers in a store, they will inevitably ask you how many you want: “If you think I’m going to eat twenty plates of fried rice. Come on!”. Dialogue for sea bream in a cafeteria in Paharganj where they sold beer illegally and served it to you in a paper cup as if it were a soda: “Do you want a big beer or a small one? The big one costs two hundred and fifty rupees and the small one a hundred and fifty.” “Give me a big one.” “We don’t have”: Ha, these Indians are crazy!
Farewell and closure: Before going to bed and finishing such a long day, I asked for a mojito, and I thought: “Rediós, how beautiful life is!
And that’s all for today, my dear papanatas. Bom Bom.
The Cosmic Chronicle, by Nando Baba