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The overnight bus from Hampi to Hyderabad, accompanied by the “Super Perigree” moonlight was something I will never forget – one of those truly iconic traveller’s moments. We didn’t sleep at all, and we landed at our destination, Hyderabad, just before the first light of the sun appeared. We were totally spent, and, even so, still just a little excited. Today was Holi, and we didn’t know what to expect.

But the early morning hours dragged on. City life was slow to get moving, thanks to the Holika Bonfire festivities the night before, and we sat on the deserted, litter strewn streets, wishing for a clean, soft bed or a warm cup of coffee. Neither was to be found anywhere.188791_10150165612075091_936669_n

To make matters worse, a very large, very mean looking rat scampered across Nicci’s feet, looking hungry, and even moodier than us, so we picked ourselves up and walked on. The day was starting out badly, and we felt thoroughly unimpressed with Hyderabad: The dirty lake, the ridiculously overpriced Auto Rickshaw, and the not-so-impressive-after-all statue of Buddha in its grimy waters, and we just crumpled on the grass outside a coffee shop, longing for it to open. Joggers passed by, full of insufferable energy, eyeing us with a mixture of curiosity and sympathy. This was a dreadfully low point for us. But… “This too will pass!” I thought, cynically watching a sewerage truck pump its contents into the lake.

At last, when the “Most Holy” Coffee Shop finally opened, the day rapidly began to improve.

196473_10150165606255091_6003050_n In fact, it turned out to be one of the most memorable of the journey.

Holi is the Indian Spring festival of colour and love. People ‘play colours’ in the streets; chasing each other with weapons of coloured powder, or water – and everyone is fair game. Bhang, a drink containing cannabis extract is often a part of the festivities, and it is a time to play, to sing and to dance. It is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, Spring over Winter, and our spirits were lifted. Music filled the streets, mobs of people armed with powder, water pistols and balloons appeared. 189467_10150165605745091_4040716_nInfectious smiles greeted us everywhere. We simply had no choice but to join in. By the end of the day we were covered from head to toe in pink, green, blue, yellow, and purple powder, happily sharing in the playful war, dishing out colourful revenge, making many new friends, if only for a moment, and forgetting and forgiving the misery of the morning.

We entrained that evening, still coloured all over (The stuff is impossible to get off when all you’ve got is a tap on the street), and settled into our 2AC cabin for the 22 hour trip to Kolkota (Calcutta).

Travels so farThis was by far the longest single stretch of our journey, almost 2000km (1242 miles)from Hampi to Kolkota. We travelled across the width of colourful India – miles and miles of rice fields, tiny villages, strangely dressed people, extraordinary steel bridges over unnamed rivers, terraced landscapes, and distant hills. For hours on end I stared out, drinking in the scenery, lost in a thoughtful, happy daze.190655_10150165606495091_7451872_n

For a long section of the journey we shared the cabin with an elderly Indian gentleman. He was still full of youthful vigour, and had a refined, but nevertheless mischievous air about him. I noticed that he was practising yogic meditation, and so, when he was done, I started up a conversation. He shared some knowledge about the science of Pranayama – a method of breath control aimed at clearing energy blockages along the spine, and activating the esoteric nervous centres from base to crown.
“The ‘breath’ (meaning the Prana, or life energy) must go straight through,” He said, “Without getting stuck anywhere.” His wise eyes twinkled playfully. “Like the toilets on the train.”

Indian trains use the “hole in the floor” method. Waste goes straight out onto the tracks, and so people are encouraged not to use the toilets when the train enters a station. Presumably this is ignored by many passengers, judging by what can be found on the tracks in places.

Nevertheless, I appreciated the old man’s humour, and his knowledge about the ancient Sanskrit methods.
After what seemed like an eternity on that train, we finally arrived in Howrah Station, Kolkota, and Nicci and I immediately decided that we loved the place. In the next post the story will continue, and I will share the heaven, and also the hell that we discovered in this remarkable city.