The magical subcontinent has attracted seekers of many kinds and from many nations for centuries. It seems that “the wanderer” is more known, understood and embraced here than anywhere else on the planet.
Nicci and I spend a day or two exploring the streets of Mumbai. We’re fascinated by the richness and variety of life here. On a corner an old man sits cross-legged, full lotus position and straight-backed in a little booth only big enough to hold him and his few wares which are on sale. This is how he spends his day, this is his living. His serene eyes smile at us, though he doesn’t speak a word. Elegant women in Saris drift past us, their quick eyes picking out the prices of vegetables, flowers and materials on sale on the streets. Homeless and weather-beaten souls scratch out a makeshift living alongside noble, turban wearing businessmen in suits, passing by, speaking loudly on their mobile phones. Everywhere there is movement, everywhere there is bright colour. Nikki is wary of the street food, but I take a gamble or two and discover the marvellous sugar cane press. A shy, smiling young man selects a few stalks, then piles the sugar cane into the press, cranks the handle a few times, and presto – fresh juice. Add to that a mint leaf, and if you’re lucky, a little ice, and it tastes amazing. Soon we have wandered into a little street festival, art, performances and interesting food.
Near the CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) we find ourselves sitting under a leafy tree that is also a kind of shrine. On the trunk is a postcard sized picture of Shiva, and the tree is hung with garlands of various flowers, and incense smoke drifts up lazily into the hot afternoon air. All life, tree included, is appreciated, as it should be.
It is time for us to move on, and we’re deciding where to go next. We’ve heard about Goa. . .
Inside the terminus we discover that the Janshatabdi Express and the Mandovi Express are both fully booked for the next few days, so we’re looking at taking a bus instead. If you travel without a plan, you need to be flexible. Itinerary: Whatever.
There is something fascinating about the state of mind of the traveller. Colin Wilson called it “Holiday Consciousness”. It is the sense that everything has somehow become more interesting, more worthy of attention, intriguing and full of magic. Things that would ordinarily hardly register on the mental radar now become charged with nuances of meaning and wonder. Food and drink has more flavour, people’s faces become more interesting, colours are richer and deeper.
As one who is interested in all things mystical, magical and wonderful, for me this journey is going to be an exploration of this state of mind. How does it come about? Can it be harnessed? Will it fade? Possibly a part of it is being able to let go of the need to feel in control. Call it “Drifter Consciousness” if you like. As we drift through India, taking in the experience, whatever comes, I will be carefully paying attention to what is happening on the interior landscape too.
The CST spits us out, and in the 35 degree Celsius afternoon we hastily make our way with our backpacks to Passion street or possibly even Fashion street (articulation is key) where our bus leaves at 5pm. Suddenly it is like a scene from the amazing race, except that along the way someone tries to buy my sandals, and another tries to sell us weed. We’re both sweating buckets and laughing happily as we board the bus and settle in for the 15 hour overnight haul down the coast.
What will happen next?