Indian Travel Diary Chapter 4: Guwahati
January 29th, Guwahati
I wake at about 7:30 a.m. to men coming through the train selling coffee, tea, water, wristwatches, telephones. Some man is sleeping in the opposite upper bunk, while the old woman remains in the bunk beneath me. I need to piss. Three men come in and fold up the opposite lower bunk (which was empty) and occupy the seat. I put my boots on and get down. "Su pravat", I say to them, Bengali for "Good morning." Blank stares. "Su pravat", I repeat. Blank stares again (maybe they don't understand Bengali, or can't comprehend that a Westerner could be speaking to them in an Indian language) so I give up and go take a piss. The toilet is not a place where you want to spend a lot of time.
Back in the compartment I climb back on the top bunk and get some more sleep. Around 10 a.m. the men get out, and I get down and sit by the window. It's a grey day outside, not made better by the dirty glass of the window. We're somewhere in Assam, and the train is still four hours from Guwahati. We pass huts and shacks made of mud. It's cloudy and it's been raining. It all looks very depressing. The train rumbles on slowly, stopping occasionally. I'm beginning to think that travelling to Guwahati was not a good idea, though I remind myself that my purpose here is to visit the temple at Kamakhya, said to be one of the most important tantric centers in India. But even before I've arrived I'm wondering how quickly I can leave again.
Eventually we cross the Brahmaputra River, which is wide but shallow at this time of year, and stop briefly at Kamakhya station. It's just another 3 km to Guwahati. We travel slowly past half-constructed and grotty buildings. This place is pretty awful. As we come near to the main station we pass slums with houses made of anything available, with black plastic sheeting to keep the rain off. There's plenty of garbage around, and a ditch full of no doubt foul waste water. This is the pits. It's amazing that humans can live in such filthy conditions. The train stops for about fifteen minutes besides a garbage heap at the back of some wretched huts. I remember what Jayanta Lal Chatterjee would say: "All Tara." But it's a bit hard to see the divine reality shining through the garbage.
The train arrives at Guwahati main station. Having consulted the Rough Guide I have an idea where to go to find a hotel. It says of the Hotel Sikkim: "One of the best budget options, with rooms ranging from comfortable — mostly with attached bathrooms and TV — to very comfortable." This sounds OK. I carry my rucksack from the platfom up a flight of steps and along a pedestrian overpass, going in the direction opposite to what I want but there's no choice. There are armed soldiers stationed here and there. Clearly this place is not entirely pacified. There's a pedestrian overpass going in the right direction, and there are short flights of steps leading up to it from where I am, but they are all closed off, so to get to it I have to descend again, exit the station and climb more stairs. Eventually I cross over the tracks, descend more stairs and come to the bus station and GS Road. There are lots of rickshaws and tuk-tuks. It's been raining and the street is muddy and full of puddles. The hotels on GS Road don't look too appealing. I walk along, looking for Hotel Sikkim, and eventually find it. I go up and the manager shows me a couple of rooms. Not what I would call "comfortable" — pretty basic in fact. It seems the Rough Guide was rather generous in its description. The room has a bed, a table and a bathroom. It's 150 rupees (about US$3). I don't fancy lugging my rucksack around while I try to find something better, so I take it.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
But soon I notice that it's so basic there's not even a power outlet that I can plug my laptop into, so I decide to leave my rucksack in my room and go look for another hotel. The street is crowded, dirty and muddy. I definitely regret coming to this place. I ask at a couple of hotels, but they're either full or don't have permission to take foreign guests. Eventually I find the Hotel Bharat, which has a double with bath for 300 rupees, which looks habitable. I take it. I go back to the Hotel Sikkim (it's raining) and get my luggage (and a 50-rupee refund). Back at the new hotel I realize that I have left my slippers in the train (I put them on the top rack and forgot about them). Damn! I get a bucket of hot water sent up. The hotel boy who brings it up speaks no English but indicates that he wants a toothbrush. I say I'll get him one. I take a shower, wash some handkerchiefs in what's left of the hot water, and sleep a bit.
I go out about 6 p.m. to one of the restaurants advertising tandoori cooking. I haven't eaten for 24 hours except for some Marie biscuits and a mandarin in the train. I get a half tandoori chicken, dal tarka and three chapati. It's quite good. I find an internet place (there are plenty here) and get an hour in (it's just 20 rupees, 40 cents, an hour, and the connection is quite good). I return to the hotel through the muddy streets, full of shops and stalls, glad at least that in this grubby town I have a hotel room to sleep in that is not too bad, though the bed is hard.
January 30th, Guwahati
Slept OK. At least this morning it's not raining. My hotel has no restaurant (at least, none that I could find) so I find a hotel nearby which has one (I'm the only diner) and I get an omelette. Cars and buses in the street honking their horns and making a racket. I consider my options for leaving Guwahati. I go to a travel agent and check the cost of an air ticket to Calcutta: US$80. It could be worth paying the extra US$50 to avoid an inconvenient overnight train trip to Calcutta. An additional $95 for a flight Calcutta to Bhubaneshwar does not seem worth it, since it's only nine hours in the train.
Back at the hotel I dial room service (yes, they have a phone in the room and room service) and ask for a bucket of hot water to be sent to my room. After several reminders, including a visit to the manager at the front desk, the hotel boy arrives an hour and a half later to take the bucket to get hot water. I shave and do some laundry. The sink empties into a drain, but not without water first spreading out over the bathroom floor. In India nothing, not even the simplest thing, works properly. Four times hotel boys knock on the door asking if I want my room cleaned (I don't). Isn't once enough?
The fourth houseboy was apparently the plumber, as I later realize. I finish the suds part of my laundry, throw the water out, put my laundry in the bucket and turn on the tap to fill the bucket with cold water for the rinse. But what comes out of the tap is not water — it's some ghastly black liquid. It takes me a second to realize that this is actually happening before I manage to pull the bucket away. The liquid emerging from the tap seems upon examination to be a dense suspension of fine black soot, and it takes a minute for the running water to clear. Apparently there was some plumbing work going on. Maybe they put in new pipes, which happened to be filled with this black soot. Only in India.
I have to rinse my laundry often to get rid of the soot, and it's 2 p.m. before I get out to look around the town. Fortunately it's not raining, but it's not sunny either.
I've decided not to fly to Calcutta but rather to take the train to Bhubaneshwar. It's 31 hours in the train, but a lot cheaper than flying, and this way I can avoid Calcutta (except that the train stops there at 3 a.m.). At the reservations office (after I finally find it) I fill out the required form then stand in the queue, not one of the ordinary queues with thirty or so people waiting in each of them but rather the special queue for (i) blind, deaf and/or dumb people, (ii) women (the notice adds the helpful clarification, "female members only", apparently to emphasize that those women who are not female should not consider using this queue) and (iii) VIPs. As a foreign tourist I reckon I qualify as a VIP. After half-an-hour I reach the reservations clerk, who tells me to go see the Assistant Supervisor (in his office), who is quite helpful. I can get a ticket and reservation for the train I want (although it leaves at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m.) but I have to return in a couple of days to get the actual reservation details. I pay 1781 rupees (US$37) for a 2-tier compartment, same as I had coming up.
There are a lot of soldiers standing around in Station Road near the reservations office, but that's because the army barracks are just across the street. Apparently several truckloads of soldiers are leaving, probably to go into the hills in Megalaya or wherever to intimidate the locals in order to maintain Indian control over the territory, since the locals don't entirely agree with being ruled from Delhi, and sometimes go in for armed uprisings, with numerous fatalities on both sides.
I check the Tourist Lodge, where I see a couple of Europeans, the first since Shantiniketan a week ago. The Rough Guide describes the Tourist Lodge as "grubby and overpriced". A single room costs ten rupees less than what I'm paying at the Bharat. I don't see a room (since no singles are available) but it looks OK from outside. Grubby perhaps, but all the hotels I've seen in Guwahati are grubby.
I wander down to the bank of the Brahmaputra. It's very wide, but not much to see apart from some islands, one of which is the location of the Umananda Shiva temple. It's probably not worth the trip out, and in any case there are no boats visible. Flocks of crows are feasting on some vegetable material in some garbage dump. Garbage is a common sight around this place.
I wander back toward the center of town, passing a couple of men who are sitting/lying amidst piles of stones, one in front of a small fire. It seems they're covered in grime, like coal dust. This is probably where they sleep. It's hard to imagine that life could get any more basic than this. It's a small mercy that they probably don't know how comfortably a lot of other people live, even well-to-do Indians, to say nothing of the comparative luxury enjoyed by most people in the West.
Nearing the station I notice a small Shiva temple, and take a couple of photos of the priest. He gives me some prasad, sort of like popcorn, and I offer ten rupees to the deity.
Back at the Paltan Bazaar, where my hotel is, I give two rupees to a beggar girl sitting on the curb, with a small boy in her lap, and am rewarded with a lovely smile. I get in a half-hour on the internet before the power fails. I go for dinner. At the restaurant I choose it's too early (6 p.m.) for Indian food, so I get some chicken chowmein (edible if uninspired) and a coke. Then another hour on the net. A friend's message informs me that my 90-year-old aunt has just died. When I last saw her a year ago she had fairly advanced Alzheimer's and did not recognize me.
I walk back to the hotel, passing many street stalls selling a thousand kinds of cheap things like socks, alarm clocks, children's toys, locks, birdcages, stuffed toy dogs and lots else. There are men standing around holding armfuls of leather belts, hoping someone will buy one so they (or their family) can eat tomorrow. Women with children sit on the pavement roasting peanuts over small fires and hoping someone will buy some.
Back at the hotel there's a knock on the door. It's a hotel boy asking if I want to order food. They're really fond of knocking on the door here for various things, but after 9 p.m. one could expect not to be bothered. But no. At quarter past nine there's another knock on the door. This time it's a hotel boy offering a mosquito coil. No thanks, I have one already (and anyway there are no mosquitoes). Jesus Christ! Is there no peace around here?
January 31st, Guwahati
Around 6:30 a.m. there are banging noises. By 7:30 a.m. the honking in the street has started.
It's sunny this morning. The town looks a lot better with a bit of sunshine. I'm even tempted to stay a couple of days longer, but I have my ticket out.
Breakfast in the nearby hotel again. I order scrambled eggs on toast. When it arrives I note that it is not your standard scrambled eggs. It seems they have boiled a couple of eggs and then mashed them. At least they shelled them before mashing.
So this morning it's off to visit the Kamakhya Temple.
It's turned out to be a nice day. I go to the local bus stand and ask for the bus to the temple. It leaves and trundles along at about 15 km/hr. After half-an-hour we ascend Nilachal Hill, where the temple is located (it's about halfway up). It's about 1 p.m. Soon after I get off the bus I'm spotted by one of the eagle-eyed priests, who beckons me to follow him. His name is Shree Gauri Sankar Sarma Panda (according to his card, which he gives me later), and he turns out to be a competent guide. First he takes me to a place where I buy some offerings for thirty rupees, some candy, incense, a coconut and a small lamp about 4 cm. wide filled with ghee (clarified butter).
The Kamakhya Temple is a fairly large structure. The oldest part is a structure with several beehive-shaped domes. Around this are several tall columns with carvings of deities. Extending from this older structure is a newer one, around which are panels in which are carved various Hindu deities (including Ganesh) and devas. There are flocks of pigeons, feeding on handouts from the pilgrims, and there are several dogs, cows, goats and monkeys wandering around.
This place is one of the 51 satipithas, i.e., places where parts of Sati's corpse fell to Earth during dismemberment by Vishnu (Sati being the wife of Shiva who had committed suicide after she and her husband were insulted by her father). This is the place where her yoni (vulva) fell, and this temple is sacred to Kamakhya, the Hindu goddess of sexual desire.
Large columns flanking
the older structure
There is a line of visitors along the side of the temple, but the priest takes me into an entrance at the back. I ask if I can take photos, but he says no, and in fact there's a sign outside which says no entry with a camera. The priest takes me to a grille, through which he indicates that the deity, Kamakhya, can be seen, although I see nothing I can identify as an image. I ask if Kamakhya is a form of Kali, but one of the priests says No. I make an offering of twenty rupees through the grille and receive a flower garland and red mark on my forehead in return. This is apparently as far as non-Hindus get. But I indicate that I'd like to enter the main part of the temple (the visitors who were outside have entered and can be seen forming a line inside). The priest indicates that this is possible but holds up three fingers, the meaning of which is not clear to me. Do I get three minutes inside? As it turns out he means that I have to wait until 3 p.m., since visitors are only admitted every couple of hours.
So I wander around the temple taking photographs. On the left side of the newer part of the temple is a panel in which there is a representation of a female figure in the style of the Celtic sheilas, i.e., displaying her vulva. (There are still a few of these to be found in Ireland.) The style is so similar that one has to wonder whether there was a connection between Celtic religion and the mother-goddess religion of old India.
I meet the priest Sarma Panda again, and he takes me to the back of the temple where the sacrifices take place. There are no kid goats being sacrificed at present, but only a couple of pigeons, who soon lose their heads in a spray of blood.
An hour or so has gone by and I'm waiting in the line of visitors to enter the temple. Sarma Panda calls me and takes me in via a side door on the right side. I'm whisked down the steps and into the inner chamber, which is dark, lit only by a few candles on the walls. There is barely time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The pilgrims are in a queue, approaching the sacred place in the crypt, where there is another priest sitting. It's quite dark, the walls are black and I cannot see much. Sarma Panda inserts me into the queue and gestures for me to sit down by this priest, which I do. The priest indicates for me to throw the flower garland that I've brought onto a heap of flowers (or is it a Shiva lingam draped in flowers?), and then to reach down to where there is a pool of water. This, it seems, is the reddish, iron-rich water said to flow from a cleft in the rock (seen as menstrual blood flowing from Kamakhya's vulva). The priest indicates that I should scoop up some water and anoint the crown of my head with it, which I do. He places the flower garland around my neck then indicates that I should offer money, 101 rupees, though he suggests that if I offer 501 rupees it will come back to me (many times). I say, 101 rupees, and make the offering. He seems satisfied. Sarma Panda then takes me to a second priest, just behind the first, where I kneel down and again scoop up some water from the pool and wet the crown of my head. It's so dark that I can hardly see anything. Sarma Panda takes the small lamp of ghee (which I had bought previously), lights the wick, gives it to me, and gestures for me to move the lamp in a clockwise manner while the priest recites some prayers on my behalf. This done, the priest suggests I offer some money, but Sarma Panda motions for me to follow him.
He takes me back up the stairs, around the inside of the temple, where I'm shown a picture of Kamakhya. She is 12-armed with six faces, sitting on a lotus whose stem emerges from Shiva's navel (Shiva is lying face upwards on a lion). She holds various items in her twelve hands, and is flanked by two figures who seem to be Brahma and Vishnu.
We emerge from the temple through a small chamber on the left side, whose walls are decorated with mosaic images of Hindu deities, including at least one image of Saraswati. It's taken at most five minutes, but I've completed all the offerings and rituals to be performed within the temple.
Exit chamber, Kamakhya Temple
Outside, Sarma Panda takes me to a small shrine where there is an image of Kamadeva, the god of love (or lust), the Eastern version of Cupid. It's not clear, but he seems to be holding a bow and arrow, just like Cupid. I touch the feet of the god (or rather, the image of the god) and then my head, as is customary in India (it represents bowing down and placing the feet of the god on one's head as a sign of respect). Sarma Panda now suggests that this is the time to pay him, and I give him 101 rupees, with which he is satisfied. He then takes me to the place where it's customary to break a coconut on a stone (there is some sort of shrine here), which he does for me. He then puts the two coconut halves in a plastic bag along with the candy (now prasad) and the two flower garlands. Everything is now completed, and Sarma Panda leads me down along the avenue of stalls to the bus stand (on the way I buy a postcard and poster with images of Kamakhya) just in time to catch a (packed) bus back into town, with Sarma Panda smiling and waving goodbye.
It's been a very satisfying visit, and has made this trip to Guwahati worthwhile despite the inconvenience and the unfavorable impression of the town.
I'm walking back through town past the chai stalls near the railway station when I see one of the stall owners with his arm raised in a threatening gesture, attempting to drive away a poor woman who has come begging (either for money or for chai). Her hair is unwashed and she's wrapped in an old and grubby lungi, probably the only thing she owns, apart from the plastic cup she's holding. I buy a glass of chai for two rupees and one for the woman, who receives the chai in her cup and wanders off. (They don't give her the tchai in a glass, as is normal. Presumably to these caste Indians she's an outcaste who would defile their glass simply by touching it.) Later, as I'm walking on, she wanders by, still sipping the chai from her plastic cup. It seems she spends the whole day just wandering around aimlessly, and is probably at least half-mad. I go over to her and put three rupees in her hand. Her eyes light up at this unexpected gift.
I go out for dinner of tandoori chicken, nan and dal makhani. It's good, but I decide I prefer dal tarka.
I notice the beggar girl, whom I saw yesterday evening, absorbed in counting her coins. She's got quite a lot, apparently does quite well begging. Later I buy two blocks of peanut toffee for ten rupees and give her one. She's pleased, but surprised. Probably no-one ever gave her peanut toffee before.
February 1st, Guwahati
I wake to the alarm at 7:30 a.m. Early, in preparation for getting up tomorrow morning at 4:30 a.m. I've discovered that there's a better-looking hotel just down the street from the Bharat, the Hotel Vikash. I go for breakfast. Omelette, toast and coffee, better than at the place where I've had breakfast the last two days. The hotel looks quite good and it's 440 rupees for a single (though none are available). Unfortunately I failed to see this place when I was trying to find a hotel on the day I arrived.
So today I plan to visit the astronomical temple, the Navagraha, on a hill near the town. Then maybe either the State Museum or the Zoo, though perhaps not time for both.
In fact I manage to do all three, because I go to the tuk-tuk (a.k.a. tricar) stand and bargain for a trip to the Navagraha Temple, then the Zoo then back to the State Museum, all for 170 rupees.
The tuk-tuk climbs the steep road up the hill to the Navagraha Temple. At the stalls in front of the temple gate I buy some offerings (incense, a flower garland and a small ghee lamp) and leave my boots and socks. The temple is an octagonal building, not large, covered by the usual Assamese beehive-style cupola. Images of deities are set in shallow alcoves on the outer walls.
Two images of (presumably protecting) deities flank the entrance, and the many visitors are offering incense and small burning ghee lamps in front of them. Inside there's an antechamber with people milling about, mainly trying to sit down in front of an image of Ganesha in an alcove illuminated by many burning ghee lamps. They're reciting prayers and performing arati (moving a ghee lamp three times clockwise before the image of the deity). Eventually I manage to squat down, throw my flower garland onto the heap before the image of Ganesh, light my ghee lamp and place it among the many others already there burning.
Entrance to Navagraha Temple
I then enter the main chamber, which occupies the entire interior under the cupola. It's dark and there are many people. The chamber has eight walls (each with an alcove with an image of a deity). In the center and in each of the eight sections there's a shiva lingam, all draped with flower garlands and surrounded by small burning ghee lamps, which provide the only light in the chamber. The eight walls are all black, as is the ceiling, presumably from the smoke from centuries of burning ghee lamps. The people are mostly sitting around one or other of the lingams, making offerings and reciting prayers.
The Rough Guide tells us that this is "an ancient seat of astrology and astronomy" and that the eight lingams surrounding the central lingam represent the eight "planets": Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon and the Dragon's Head and Dragon's Tail (the latter are the two points in the Moon's orbit which intersect the ecliptic).
I stand against the back wall watching the people making their offerings. There's a low-pitched, continual hum, which seems to be an acoustic resonance produced from the combined mutterings of the supplicants. I look down and see, barely visible in the darkness, walking around on the floor, a pigeon. What's a pigeon doing in here? Does it know how to get out? I pick it up and put it on my shoulder, where it sits contentedly, now and then emitting a peep. Eventually I move around the wall to the entrance, and leave the temple, with the pigeon still perched on my shoulder. It looks a bit bedraggled, its wings dirty with soot and oil from the temple floor, maybe having spent too long inside the temple.
I wander around the outside of the temple taking photographs, and deposit the pigeon on a platform of brick and earth, where it seems content. Is it pleased to be out in the open air after being inside the dark and smoky temple? Hard to tell.
I now travel in the tuk-tuk to the Zoo, about 5 km from the center of town. The Zoo is not impressive. The animals are not displayed well, some in dark cages or surrounded by too much wire mesh. There is a baby elephant, chained to a tree, who appears unhappy. But there are some interesting exhibits, including a snake pit with some large snakes and two enclosures with two tigers, one of which is a rare white tiger, but unfortunately it's too far away for a good look.
Next the tuk-tuk takes me to the Assam State Museum, which has three floors of exhibits, not well lit but all quite interesting. The two upper floors mainly show village life among the Assamese hill tribes. This form of society has to a large extent been destroyed by the inroads of an industrial and market economy, and the Museum preserves various artefacts from the different hill tribe peoples, including agricultural and hunting tools, musical instruments, looms and examples of weaving. There is a reconstruction of some rooms in a traditional village house showing how the people lived. In traditional village life music and dance were highly developed and there were many ceremonies and festivals connected with their complex religious and mythological beliefs. The women were expert weavers and the villages were self-sufficient in food. This way of life, and the mentality and culture associated with it, has now largely been wiped out by the effects of the introduction of a market economy and "modernization". The ground floor of the Museum contains mainly stone carvings discovered during excavations in Guwahati in recent decades, with many images of Vishnu, Shiva and other deities, and a few examples of erotic carvings. There are also copper engravings in Sanskrit commemorating victories in battles by medieval rulers of Assam.
Leaving the museum I go to the place nearby where I saw the poor wretch a couple of days ago, the one sitting before a small fire amidst a heap of stones. He's not there, but there's another man, equally pitiable. He's dirty, dressed in rags and is a picture of misery. I squat down and take a couple of photos. I go over to him, squat down beside him (he has an unpleasant odor) and offer him a 10-rupee note, but he looks at me and disdains it. Nevertheless I place it on the ground before him. I notice that his right wrist is injured, in fact, it appears that a centimeter-wide strip of skin around his wrist is missing, exposing the underlying flesh. This man is in a bad way, and knows it. No wonder that he's not impressed by my offer of ten rupees.
I go to the railway reservations office, hoping to get the details of my reservation, but the assistant supervisor (a different man this time, and not particularly polite) tells me I have to return three hours later at 6 p.m.
I go to the railway station to find out what platform my train leaves from tomorrow (at 5:30 a.m.). A helpful man tells me that they won't know until a half-hour before the train leaves, and I should check the notice board at 5 a.m.
I return to my hotel. The hotel boy who asked for the toothbrush is at the counter. I've bought one for him and I give it to him. He's pleased. I have a bucket of hot water sent up and take a shower to wash away the sweat of the day's exertions.
I return to the reservations office at 6 p.m. just in time for a power outage. These seem to be a nightly occurrence. A helpful man gives me my carriage and berth number.
Chicken tikka, dal tarka and roti for dinner. I see more destitute and hopeless people sitting in the street. I've never seen more destitute people in one place than in this town. I'm looking forward to getting out of here and being in Bhubaneshwar and Puri before long.
I pay my hotel bill. The manager informs me that there is a compatriot of mine staying here, who also came to visit the Kamakhya Temple. I saw him today at the museum. Tall, shaven head and dressed in Indian style. Apparently travels with very little luggage. Good idea. I ask for a wake-up call at 4:30 a.m. and go to my room where I pack all my stuff up in preparation for tomorrow's 5 a.m. departure and lugging my rucksack in the predawn darkness to the station. Yuk.
February 2nd, Guwahati
Naturally there's no wake-up call, but my alarm wakes me. I shave and pack quickly and I'm out at 5 a.m. The street is dark. I lug my rucksack, laptop and shoulder bag up the stairs to the overpass and across the railway tracks to the station and I find my platform number then my platform. There are many people standing around. It's 5:20 a.m. and the train, due to leave at 5:30 a.m., has not yet arrived. After awhile it trundles in. I find my carriage and my berth. I have an upper bunk. The other passengers and I are stashing our luggage under the seats, wherever there's space. I chain my rucksack to the table by the window. The other passengers are busily chaining their luggage to whatever they can.
An old man arrives. He has the bunk below mine. He's carrying a couple of bags and a straight-backed wooden chair. What the hell's he doing bringing a chair onto the train? There's no room for it on the floor so he puts it on my bunk above. There's some confusion as we try to sort out where to put the chair. The old man suggests that he take the upper bunk and I the lower bunk. I agree to this, so he puts his bags with the chair on the upper bunk and climbs up. Finally we get all our luggage stashed away.
The train finally departs Guwahati at 6:15 a.m. I lie down on my bunk and go to sleep for a few hours. The train is headed for Bangalore via Chennai (a.k.a. Madras). Passengers for Bangalore will spend three nights in the train. I find that they spend a lot of time sleeping.
Men are constantly moving along the passageway selling all sorts of things: tea, coffee, peanuts, boiled eggs, omelettes and all sorts of non-edible items including chains and locks for those who have forgotten to bring them.
The day passes slowly as the train trundles along through Assam. It's 2 p.m. before we reach New Jaipalguri, at the top of West Bengal. A man takes my order for dinner. I talk with one of my fellow passengers, a mechanical engineer from Guwahati who is being transferred by the Indian government to Bangalore. We discuss India and Indian religion, though he says he, like most university-educated Indians, is not a devout Hindu, visits temples only occasionally and does not do daily puja.
I tell him of my previous visits to India to study Tibetan Buddhism, and he asks me if I know the books of Lobsang Rampa. I say I've seen them, and inform him that Lobsang Rampa was an Irishman who never went anywhere near Tibet, and who got most of the material in his books either from reading other books about Tibet or by the use of his own imagination. The engineer is astounded — very surprised to hear that the Lobsang Rampa books were a hoax. It comes as a major revelation to him. "Could the publishers be sued?", he asks? No, I reply, since they never claimed Lobsang Rampa's books were true. They simply published them and an eager public, seeking to know the secrets of Tibetan Buddhism, bought them in large numbers, unaware that what Lobsang Rampa wrote was mostly fictitious.
Dinner (a plastic tray containing chicken, rice, vegetables and chapati) arrives about 8 p.m. I bed down around 9 p.m. and go to sleep.
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