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For me, spending all this time Backpacking through India was not just about traveling and taking pictures. It was far more than a “Time-Out” from life. It was an adventure, of course, and an inspiration, but it was also a search. I was looking for knowledge of a very particular kind. I didn’t know where I would find it, but I knew that when I found it, I would know.

Inspired by my heroes, Gurdjieff and Herman Hesse, and many others who had made the “Journey to the East,” I wanted to find it for myself.

Two years before leaving for India I had a most unusual psychic experience – something which my investigations into the modern science of psychology could not explain to my satisfaction.  Since then I’ve read everything I could lay my hands on to explain what happened, and the closest I’ve come to an answer are the concepts of Satori, and Kundalini awakening. To me it felt as if I had been asleep my whole life up to that point, without realizing it, and during that experience, I had woken up. What I wanted, more than anything, was to find out how to get back to that state again, and to remain there. To remain awake.

The odd thing is that to someone who has never experienced this peculiar state of mind, descriptions evoke only the slightest recognition. It sounds like a dream or hallucination, self-deception, or possibly a nervous breakdown, or even a drug-induced delusion. Words are meaningless. To someone who has had the experience, all the inner bells go off, and they know, and words are equally meaningless. I was looking for someone who knew, and who could show me the way forward.

Backpacking RishikeshOur Journey continued from Varanasi on to the capital – New Dehli, where we spent a night or two in the bustling metropolis, but we soon moved up the mighty Ganga towards Rishikesh. On the way I picked up a copy of VALIS written by the science fiction legend Philip K Dick. In this mostly autobiographical work, he describes an experience similar to mine, but in a very different way. Knowing, without knowing how you know. A kind of direct ‘cosmic’ knowledge injection.

tall prayer flag DarjeelingWhen our overnight bus to Rishikesh stopped at a roadside Tea stall, I got out to enjoy a cup of Chai and the crisp night air. This was when I met Trilok for the first time.

I noticed an old man in a white robe, stepping off another bus. He came over with some tea of his own, and asked where I was headed. When I told him, he warned me:

“Watch out, Rishikesh is full of ‘fake’ gurus.”

I noticed his long grey beard and a mischievous monkey-twinkle in his eyes.

I searched those eyes, waiting for the sales pitch. It didn’t come.

I had met my fair share of these Charlatans already, and I knew what he meant. Religion is big business in India, perhaps second only to Cricket. Everywhere there is someone who will read your hand, your star chart and teach you yoga, Ayurveda or something else. Everywhere you find ‘gurus’ dressed for the part, posing for pictures and offering spiritual wares at discounted prices. Those that really know simply don’t advertise.

Rishikesh is a magnet for spiritual nuts. You find these people from time to time back home, with that spaced-out look and slightly dishevelled mind, speaking to imaginary beings, and you immediately know that it’s better not to get involved in a lengthy conversation. The zeal might be infectious. Here, this kind of character is in the majority. Shaved and robed loonies from all nations wander the streets, fill all the ashrams, and sit around at all the coffee shops. It’s quite fantastic.

One part tourist destination, river-rafting hotspot, and one part mental asylum, Rishikesh is a world on its own.

downloadWhen our bus pulled into the final stop at sunrise, we sat at an open bench and looked through the Lonely Planet to find some place to stay. As we sat there, Trilok’s bus pulled up, and we watched the passengers dismount. He seemed to know everyone in the place. He noticed us on his way up, and offered to show us a cheap, clean place to stay. Great, why not?

Since many ashrams offer virtually free accommodation in town, the prices in Rishikesh are rock bottom. We stayed for Rs40 (US$0.65) per night. Admittedly, the room was tiny, but it was quite clean.

Over the next few days we got to know Trilok very well, and he shared endless stories from his rich life, some of which seemed too far-fetched to be true, but I’d like to share some of them here.

Trilok ran away from home as a young boy to pursue the scratching of his very own spiritual itch. He claims that a mysterious rich Aunty left him a bag of money and jewels, but that his greedy family kept this from him his entire life. During his “search” he drifted all over India, and met all kinds of people, including the famous Ravi Shankar, who was so impressed by Trilok’s singing voice that he changed what he was playing to accompany the crazy youth. He drifted in and out of all the major ashram scenes, and was a life-long devotee of Osho, who gave him the name “Tri-loco, or three-times-crazy” – Trilok.

Along the way he educated himself, and had some help from a rich Russian benefactress. He met mother Theresa, who thought he was a ‘special young boy’ but he claims that her organization was already full of coke dealers by then. Same with the Dalai Lama, but according to Trilok, that gang is now riddled with gun smugglers. Osho, his favourite started the ashram in Pune, but since Osho died, the place has become a mecca for the jewellery mafia and “sex games.” He told us an interesting anecdote from his time in Pune.

Some tourists at the ashram were having a drinking party and watched Trilok sing and dance, and became quite charmed by his lively way. They enlisted him to find them some girls, and trustingly handed him their credit card. The mischievous robed nut soon found the willing girls, but instead of renting them to the tourists, he took them all to Bombay and put them up in a five star hotel, dressed in fine new clothes. Somehow the card was returned and all was forgiven. Unfortunately, Trilok had grown tired of dancing and singing sober, and picked up the drinking habit during those years. In the words of his beloved Osho: “Zorba the Buddha!” In other words – life comes first.

In another story, Trilok explained how he had to care for an abandoned young German boy, Kiki. The mother was in India at an ashram, but had to return to Germany without the child. There was some complication, and she didn’t return. So Trilok set out on a journey with Kiki to Mumbai to find news and to get the young boy home. Trilok, as usual, was penniless, and had no idea where to go, but that made no difference.

Upon reaching Mumbai the two of them passed an old, crumbling church, and Kiki insisted that he knew the place, even though he was hardly old enough to remember. Trilok felt cautious, being a Brahmin, he didn’t know if he would be welcome in the Christian church. But the boy insisted, and dragged him in.

Looking around the ruins they found a statue of Jesus, and Trilok offered a silent prayer:

“Jesus, I’ve heard of you, but I don’t know how to worship you. Please don’t be offended by my presence, I’m here for Kiki.”

Then he heard a voice say: “Don’t worry, go outside.”

The boy and Trilok looked at each other in shock. They had both heard the voice, but there was nobody around.

They went outside, and immediately a big black car that was passing by stopped, and pulled back as the window came down. Inside was an old friend of Trilok, who owed him money, and immediately invited them to his home. Phone calls were made, and the situation was soon resolved. Kiki got on a plane back to Germany, and thirty years later still calls from time to time.

Part crazy, part inspired, part wise Grandfather and part naughty rascal and compulsive liar, it was a privilege to meet the three-times-crazy Trilok. His speciality is Mantra meditation, and when he chants, the room fills up with other-worldy peace, and you feel that you are in the presence of Hanuman himself. Highly emotional, delicate and devoted, and with a taste for whiskey and pot, this was as close as I came to finding my guru. Both Nicci and I grew very fond of the old scoundrel. With all his faults, he remains one of the most child-like, free spirited people we met.

backpacking rishikesh


The wind flies through spaces
who can stop it,
or ever really know it
Except those who have wings?
Amramham, Maduramham
To know what one wants
One must want no thing
and one must want every thing
Then there is no question