The Adventures of Two Old Hippies in India: Searching for Bliss Ananda, part 1
February 19, 2023
There is no doubt that I have been neglecting my blog posts while I have been travelling around India. The main reason is because I have been writing my third book while I have been travelling and so its been hard to work on both projects.
But I do want to share our adventures in India with you because they have been truly life changing.
My friend Steve Tremmel and I set out on this journey not only to rekindle our love for India after the pandemic, but also to begin a search for something better. Something better than the grey, controlled lives we live back in the UK.
Our mission was to seek out our happy place, somewhere that we could find that illusive inner peace. We went searching for Bliss Ananda.
So, as a way of taking you through our amazing adventures in India, I have decided to serialise my book so far.
This book is by no means complete at this moment in time; I would say only 40% ready. So far I have written down the journey and the beginnings of some feelings about our search but at the present time I have only written the skeleton of the book; the flesh and skin are yet to come.
But this works as a way of taking you through our adventures in India from early December 2022 until March 2023 when Steve finally came back three weeks after me.
This book is very much about a journey, yes, but not only a journey through India, its also about an emotional, existential journey around finding happiness.
I hope this scaled back version of the book encourages you to buy the fully finished version when its published. but for now; lets go on an adventure…
Searching for Bliss Ananda; Part One
Ananda: The Hindu word for bliss, meaning spiritual bliss
All my life I have wanted to see an owl in the wild, not in a zoo but in the wild flying free. These beautiful birds have always fascinated me, they are strange and angelic creatures; but alas, until that day I had never seen one.
But one morning in Benaulim in Goa India, as I sat on my balcony drinking a coffee, a huge, beautiful owl suddenly raised up from some long grass across the street and flew right in my direction; it was a wonder to see. But then it headed straight for the tree just outside my apartment and landed on a branch only feet from me. It stared at me exquisitely for a few moments and then flew off; what a strange thing to happen, but how wonderful.
This was not the only odd thing that happened to me on my long trip around India. One night as I walked up an alleyway to get to my hotel, a shadow of a man started closing in behind me. He appeared to be tall with a his hair tied in a topknot, and in his hand, he carried a three-pronged staff. I looked around in shock to see no one there, and the shadow had disappeared too.
Over the last decade a strong new hippie scene has been growing all over the world; a brotherhood of like-minded souls seeking a better way. When the world is in a mess, souls of light seek peace and love.
I find the hippie vibe especially strong in India, which has significant hippie communities in places like Anjuna and Arambol in Goa. India is a very special place, it holds a kind of mysticism and an overwhelming sense of spirituality; it is in the very air you breath, it’s a feeling, an energy.
Oh, what adventures I have had there over the years and what characters I have met. Beautiful eccentric creatures who brighten up the world.
I wonder with joy, what adventures are yet to come?
SEARCHING FOR BLISS ANANDA
Out of madness comes clarity, and from death finally life. Here, it became clear, that the beginning marked the end.
I had been searching for a better life for many years, an Ananda existence, a quest for my happy place. My life in the UK was stale and a waste of precious time; time that could have been filled with Bliss.
I knew this trip to India was important for me, not only because travel had been restricted for a few years due to the pandemic, but also because our increasingly conservative government were crushing my free spirit.
So, how strange that when I finally returned to India, I was met with so many hurdles, but most importantly, a serious illness.
Delayed flights from Abu Dhabi, and then Mumbai, meant hours stranded at cold clinical airports. Then my first two hotels (Mumbai and Anjuna in Goa) did not have my booking, even though I had paid for my stay. One, the hotel in Mumbai, put me out on the street shrieking “no booking, you leave”. I found myself stranded in the street late at night in a rough, dirty part of Mumbai with all my luggage.
But the key thing here is the illness; without doubt a rebirth moment, a parting of ways from the old me and the beginning of the new. As soon as I arrived in my beloved Goa, I fell seriously ill with a really nasty virus; I suspect I caught it from the passenger behind me on my plane into India, hacking and coughing into my neck as he lent forward not covering his mouth.
By the time I got to Arambol I was left with no choice but to lock myself in my room, fan on, shutters closed, to see it through. Sweating, hallucinating, aching, nightmares, coughing, fever, and all; a hellish ten days of madness, where I was often frightened for my life.
Sometime during that crazy sick time, I felt the old me leave this world; gone forever. And out of the feverish insanity, finally, slowly, the new me was reborn. The illness, the hurdles, all having a purpose, all setting the stage for a massive change in my life. For then I was reborn, ready for my search for Bliss Ananda.
We all deserve to be happy; life should not be about misery, sadness, regret, or control. Our increasingly conservative world feels like its closing in on us, as governments seek to keep us in our place, dictate against how we choose to live our lives and shut down our happiness.
I have striven for most of my life to find a bliss existence. My violent upbringing at the hands of my abusive father has led me to strive to be a better person; to live a happy and satisfying life.
Over the years I have found myself in places around the world that have come close to giving me that life. I define myself as a hippie, a free thinker and a free spirit, a hippie soul looking for my happy place. It must be out there somewhere.
I have friends that feel the same way as I do, friends who feel trapped in a United Kingdom that is increasingly right wing, ultra-conservative, fascist, and controlling.
I have been seeking my Bliss Ananda for many years now. I am not getting any younger (58) and I simply want to be living a good life; is there anything wrong with that, don’t we all deserve that?
My published books, successful blog, and festival business, mean I now have an income I can carry with me when I travel. I can spend longer and longer living in places that suit my free-spirited soul.
My good friend Steve Tremmel is also someone who is searching; desperate to escape his own existential shackles.
We have both set off on this search for Bliss Ananda, travelling together in search of happiness, wherever that might be. Starting with India, a place that in the past has satisfied our seeking souls. But on this long journey around India in 2022/23 we discovered a changed India; a country also being controlled by an increasingly conservative right-wing government.
Will we ever find our Bliss Ananda? Will we ever be set free?
Well, read on and see; and you never know, you might find your perfect Bliss Ananda life too.
STEVE TREMMEL, MY TRAVELLING COMPANION
Let’s start off by talking about Steve Tremmel, because he is an important part of what is to come. Steve used to work in catering but is now a care worker. He lives in Sussex in a field, in his converted truck.
I met Steve through my Facebook group, he always made positive comments about my posts, and we often chatted on that platform. One day I invited Steve to a party I was having (my Pre-Sri Lanka party), because I felt he was someone I would get on with and had the potential to become a good friend.
We immediately clicked when he came to the party, and we had a great time. All my friends liked him straight away and so he became part of our crew.
But there was more to our friendship; we became close. We shared the same ideals, we loved the same sort of music, we are spiritual in the same way, and we laugh together a lot. He has become a close and cherished friend; as well as being a total nightmare at times, but more on that later in this book (lol).
We started attending festivals together and one festival in particular really stands out: Noisily Festival (https://noisilyfestival.com).
It was a stunning festival in a beautiful location. At Noisily we really gelled and became close as friends. We totally loved the festival and took a lot from it. One thing we liked were the huge Indian tents used as coffee shops and music venues. Steve had spoken to me before about wanting to change his life, become freer and run a food stall at festivals.
By the end of Noisily we had made a plan to go into business together, a business we decided to call the Hippie Kushi Tent; selling all things Goa, including, clothing, accessories and food.
Steve is also somebody that had been fundamentally affected by his time in India when he travelled there a few years back; his life changed forever. He too was desperate to return to that beautiful country, so we made the plan to travel there together for several months at the end of 2022; exploring not only Goa, but many other parts of India too.
And so, the road to India began and I had a new travelling companion to share this exciting adventure with me.
“There is, perhaps, the risk of being loved; of opening your heart and letting others in. Your expectations of how happy you have any right to be, might be threatened when you discover what fun it is to dance barefoot to the sound of a drum”
Planet Backpacker 2008
I was born in Portslade, now part of Brighton City in the UK. It wasn’t a happy childhood, me and my two brothers were brutalised by my father who clearly had mental health problems. This affected us all in different ways, but we all had one thing in common; as soon as we got to the age of sixteen, we were out of there.
My younger brother headed as far as Australia, where he has struggled with depression for many years. My older brother took refuge with the woman he was later to marry in Hove, Sussex. For me, it had to be London and all that the big smoke had to offer.
I was young and reckless back then and initially began earning money (and accommodation) by being a rent boy; allowing dirty old men to have there way with me for a warm bed and some pocket money. That of course was a dangerous game and I needed to move on from that fast. On the off chance, I walked into a Salvation Army hotel in Victoria one day and asked if I could work there for a roof over my head. They clearly saw I was somebody who needed help and straight away offered me a job in the laundry. The job came with my own hotel room and a good wage; I was safe now from the dangers of the streets.
I eventually moved back to Brighton, continuing work in the hotel and catering sector. I made some great friends and slowly started becoming the eccentric character I am today. It was the time of the New Romantics, and I quickly became the local freak, wearing makeup, colouring my hair, and wearing crazy outfits. This gave me notoriety and I embraced the limelight; it was a way of showing the world that I was somebody after my traumatic childhood.
When a friend of mine said he was moving to London, I decided to go with him, and we ended up sharing a flat in Brixton. I managed to get a great job in the catering department of the BBC and made loads of new friends from all over the world.
Soon after this, Nick, the guy I had moved up with, and I discovered a club called Whirl-y-Gig. This was a unique and eccentric club night event, full of colourful characters many wearing hippie attire. I was already into a lot of hippie music and had read a lot of books about the original hippies, so I was already a fan of this culture and the hippie ideal. So, I too ended up changing my image to look much more ‘hippie’, goodbye New Romantic Steve.
We enjoyed going to that club for many years and truly loved it, but then a new and exciting club culture started raising its head called Techno and we both slowly stopped attending Whirl-y-Gig; it was the end of an era.
This was the beginning of techno music and the ecstasy tablets that went with it, and I embraced that dance scene with open arms. I clubbed and partied for years, getting heavily into drugs.
But one day I realised it was all getting out of hand and so I made a big decision. Nick had already moved out of our Brixton flat after falling in love and moving in with someone, so it felt like the right time to begin a new chapter in my life. The drug thing was consuming me and so just like that, I moved back to Brighton to live with my brother. I stopped taking Es and tidied up my act. I took a job as an assistant banqueting manager at a local university, and it was that job that changed my life dramatically.
We used to provide the catering for a company that gave lectures about the work they did in Africa. Basically, they trained-up teachers and then sent them to Africa to teach at the new schools they had built there. I found myself stopping my work and standing there listening to those lectures, thinking how exciting it would be to teach in a remote African village.
I then immediately quit my job and signed up to the charity to be trained as a TEFL teacher. Next thing I knew I was on a plane to The Gambi in Africa to teach children from six to sixteen at a school in a remote village called Kunkajang.
I ended up staying there for a year. Despite there being no running water or electricity, I loved the simple life they lived. This experience truly ignited my love for travel.
Sadly, when my contract was up, I had to fly home. I arrived back in the UK homeless and was placed in temporary accommodation on the council’s housing list. I was eventually given a council flat on a rough gang ridden estate in Camberwell, south London.
Not long after that I suddenly became very sick with severe stomach issues and ended up in hospital. I was diagnosed with an immune deficiency condition that had a big effect on my life. This leaded to me becoming very depressed from constantly being unwell. I put on loads of weight which plummeted my confidence; this resulted in me falling out of love with myself and falling into depression. I was staying home drinking wine every night and constantly buying things I did not need; consequently, I got into massive credit card debt. To block it all out I ended up losing myself in hours of work doing admin for the NHS and so the grey period in my life had begun and it went on like that for fifteen years!
A few years ago, I managed to get a flat swap with another social housing tenant, and I was then able to move to somewhere much nicer; the Hampton flat I have today on the border of Surrey. The area is right near the river Thames with its houseboats and some lovely parks and nature, and it’s a much quieter area, which finally gave me room to breathe and reassess my life. My image was pretty square at this point, a neatly trimmed goatee, short hair, and clothing that made me look like an American tourist; I desperately needed a real change.
I had always wanted to go to India, it was a place I had read extensively about, and I felt it was somewhere I could reinvent myself, a place that could offer me some answers.
One strange night I had a very vivid dream where I was conversing with Vishnu, a Hindu god; he basically told me going to India was the right thing to do. I woke up feeling super refreshed and my path felt clearer, I immediately bought a flight to India the next day; I knew I needed something to snap me out of this grey period in my life.
As soon as I arrived in Goa, India for the first time, I began to wake up. India has a spiritualty that you somehow absorb into yourself. I travelled all over Goa and met many hippie types there. These colourful characters were living a good life, six months of the year in places like Arambol in the north; a true hippie heaven.
I loved sitting in the restaurants listening to live music, I loved dancing in the clubs, and on the beaches with the hippies to the sound of the Hari Krishna chant. I loved the palm trees, the animals, the holy cows, and the warmth of the locals. India embraced me and I embraced it back. I wanted that hippie life, I wanted to rekindle my inner hippie; I felt happy for the first time in years.
I came back to the UK a changed man. My image changed rapidly to the look I have today. I embraced the hippie lifestyle, I started my popular blog and Facebook group, I started attending lots of festivals, I even returned to Whirl-y-Gig (yes, it is still running after over thirty years), and most importantly of all, I fell back in love with myself; I became Hippie Kushi!
That trip to India also reignited my former love for travel, a love I had pushed aside during my ‘full-stop’ years; now I wanted more and more adventures like that, and I have never looked back.
LIFE IS FOR LIVING!!
THE LONG ROAD TO INDIA
In March 2020 I arrived back in the UK in a dramatic way. My Air India flight had been battered about and pushed from side to side by a hurricane sweeping across the UK. The flight across the Channel had been nerve raking to say the least and as we started to drop down preparing to land, things got a whole lot worse.
When we neared Heathrow things got so bad that the crew instructed us to take the brace position in case we crashed. At this point I found myself praying to Ganesh to please let me live as I still had a lot to do in this life.
As I sat there, my head in my arms preparing for a bumpy, if not disastrous landing, I told myself at least I was dying returning from a wonderful time in India; the place I love.
As the plane neared the runway the fierce crosswinds made the jet roll dramatically to the right. I thought the wing would hit the ground and prepared for the end. Suddenly one wheel made contact with the tarmac which made us veer off to the right. The pilot then put the left wheel on the ground, and we then veered to the left racing onto the grass at the side of the runway. Finally, the front wheel came down and we swerved back onto the tarmac, slowly coming to a halt in the wet and windy night. Immediately the oxygen masks popped down and one female Indian passenger undid her seat belt and darted to the toilet to be sick, ignoring the crews demands for her to return to her seat.
After we finally left the aircraft, an announcement was made that the airport was now closed until the hurricane passed. We were the last flight in.
As I walked, shaking uncontrollably, to passport control, I couldn’t help but notice something else on my arrival back to the UK; everyone at the airport were wearing facemasks. I asked a fellow passenger what that was all about. They replied with surprise: “Because of Covid, of course”. What the hell was Covid?
And so, it began.
I don’t want to go on too much about the Covid period; we all know how difficult the two years of the pandemic were, but there is one part of it that became incredibly frustrating and depressing for me; and that was the long road back to India.
I love India and have done ever since my first trip there about ten years ago. India changed me, for the better and it’s my happy place. I am at my happiest when there and so I wanted nothing more than to go back.
In 2020 we could not leave the country at all, we went into total lockdown, and so the idea of going back to India was not an option and I got very frustrated and depressed because of this. The bleak British winter did not help that situation one bit.
2021 was even harder because we thought things were going to improve but in fact, they were worse and Covid was killing thousands all over the world. Then the vaccines came and there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel, but India was not doing well and things in that country were truly terrible.
India did start allowing people in towards the end of 2021 but there were heavy restrictions and mountains of red tape. Despite this I was so desperate to return there I booked a flight with Tui which was almost immediately cancelled by the airline.
After receiving a full refund, I tried one more time and booked with Virgin through Skyscanner. But India got more and more paranoid about westerners coming to India because of Covid. E-visas were suspended, only expensive paper visas were allowed, and you needed to quarantine for two weeks on arrival which simply would not work. So, with regret, this time I cancelled and lost half my money. It was time to give up.
Eventually I booked a five-week trip to Sri Lanka, which was much easier to enter and at least it was better than not getting away at all.
Sri Lanka was ok, picturesque, with some great natural beauty and wildlife, but in a conservative Buddhist country the nightlife was really boring (karaoke mainly), it lacked that special feeling I was longing for; I missed India so much.
On a brighter note, things had started improving at home over the last eighteen months. My book ‘Hippie Kushi Waking up to Life’, Book One, was published, and I have received a lot of great reviews for that. I ran a few clothing stalls at various festivals, including Psymera and Whirl-y-Fayre and made good money. I also enjoyed going to loads of festivals including Goa Cream, but I especially enjoyed Noisily and Whirl-y-Fayre. I also enjoyed some great house parties and spent lots of time with my lovely friends; but still one thing was missing.
Finally, in 2022, it started looking like India might finally be happening; India was opening up, and the pandemic was under control. Steve and I started making plans together to go back to that amazing country. But this would not be just any trip; it would be a three-to-four-month epic journey around India! We were both feeling lost in the UK, like round pegs in a square black hole.
Despite paper visas still being in place (due to our UK government pissing off India), India’s government had now almost completely relaxed all their covid restrictions; the setting was now right for us to go back.
And so, the road to India had begun.
Around July, we started planning where we wanted to go in India. I knew Rajasthan was a must, if not only because we needed to source the Maharajah tent for our new business.
I really fancied beginning the trip in Nepal. Kathmandu is a place I have always wanted to visit, and I really wanted to see the natural spectacle that is the Himalayas. But as time went by and the financial crisis started to take hold due to the horrible war in Ukraine, the pandemic, and our incompetent government, it became increasingly difficult to save up enough funds in time to get to Nepal when the weather was still tolerable. High bills and rising grocery prices meant I had to eventually give in on Nepal and settle for a visit to Rishikesh in India in order to see those amazing mountains.
Steve, who was also struggling to save realised he could not leave for India the same time as me and would join me there after Christmas.
I had also said I wanted to travel by train and bus and not by plane, if possible, as I enjoy travelling across country rather than flying over it. This meant some very long train journeys were on the cards. My good friend Geoff Sarbutt is the India train expert, so I contacted him for some advice on the complicated ticketing system.
The next big issue were the flights. Direct flights to say, Goa, were as much as £1300 but I knew from past experience there must be a way around this.
Steve, the fluky bastard, managed to get a special deal for a flight on BA, direct to Mumbai for £600. This spurred me on to book mine. Once it was booked, the trip would feel real.
Although the Indian consulate advises against booking your flight before you receive your visa, waiting until nearer the Christmas and New Year period would see fares skyrocket, so, I went ahead and booked.
After much searching I eventually found a flight on Etihad Airlines for just £500. The catch was a fourteen-hour layover in Abu Dabi, but for me it is worth it. Flight sorted.
Mumbai to Goa:
The next issue then was how to get from Mumbai to Goa for the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
There were now three choices: By internal flight (around £60), by train (around £18), or by the new ferry service (around £80/£90).
Although taking the ferry along the beautiful coastline is a lovely idea, the train is by far the cheapest option, but I then found out you needed to book well in advance; so, I eventually had no option but to book a flight.
I knew I needed to book at least my first hotel in Goa, due to visa reasons but was taken aback to how busy and full up everywhere was for the festive season.
Steve and I quickly realised we needed to fully book the period between arrival and when we leave for Rajasthan on the 5th of January, otherwise we would struggle to find a room.
Due to a lack of availability for busy periods, I have now found myself moving around a lot in that initial period (Anjuna, Arambol, Benaulim, Arambol). But at least the worry of finding accommodation in that first busy month is one less thing to worry about.
Then came the most challenging part of all: those paper visas.
A friend on Facebook had sent us all the links, so Steve and I sat down in my flat on the computer and filled in the visa form. You need to do this first to get a visa application number, in order to then book your visa appointment.
I filled in my form easily and managed to attach my photo. But when Steve went to fill in his, it crashed twice and at the end it would not allow him to attach a photo. So, we tried to take a photo of Steve against my white bedroom door. Passport photos are supposed to be a serious face (no smiling) but every time I went to take Steve’s photo, we both kept bursting into laughter and ended up falling on the bed in tears of uncontrollable hysteria. You will get used to this kind of behaviour from us two as time passes on this trip.
We got there in the end and then went onto another site to book the appointments at the India visa centre in Hounslow. On this system you book your appointment, and on the day, turn up with all the required paperwork, grab a ticket and wait to be seen. They then take your paperwork and passport, and your stamped passport will be posted back to you.
When we went to book the appointment the nearest appointment we could make was the 16th of November; only 3 weeks from my departure date, nightmare. We had no choice but to book this and I then had to wait with fear in my heart for that approaching appointment.
I knew that until I had that stamped passport in my hand I would not relax and believe that I am actually going.
Fingers crossed I would get mine back in time.
The [loosely] Planed Route:
Previously we touched on our route plan, which we had now decided upon. It should be stated that this plan was loosely made and not sealed in stone; we were flexible to changing it if circumstance called for it.
My plan was to start in Goa, firstly Anjuna for three days, then Arambol for nine, followed by Benaulim for the Christmas period. I adore this lovely quiet village which was introduced to me by my friend Geoff Sarbutt. I love the cosy scene in the town, the aging hippies, the beautiful beach, and my friends at People Bar where I will spend Christmas day.
This will be a nice quiet start to an amazing adventure before that nutter Steve flies in (joking buddy).
I will then be travelling back up to Arambol, where Steve will then be joining me for the New Year celebrations, and the beginning of our long journey around the rest of India.
On the 5th of January we will be taking a train back to Mumbai to begin our long journey to Rajasthan. After spending a night in Mumbai, we will be exploring the Ellora Caves.
These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff, not far from Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life. Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.
Next stop Rajasthan:
Rajasthan abounds in objects of antiquarian interest. Early Buddhist rock inscriptions and carvings are found in caves in the south-eastern district of Jhalawar; the area around Ajmer has a number of mosques and Muslim tombs, the oldest of which dates to the end of the 12th century; and Bikaner, in the northwest, has a spectacular 15th-century Jain temple. Splendid princely palaces, many elaborately decorated with wall paintings, are scattered throughout the state; the palace at Udaipur is especially notable. Those and other historic structures (e.g., temples) are often within several historic Rajput hill forts, six of which—including those at Chittaurgarh, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, and Jhalawar—were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.
We will also be talking to some manufacturers of Maharajah tents here, so we can order one for our new Hippie Kushi Tent business back in the UK.
After extensively exploring Rajasthan, we will be taking a train to Rishikesh:
Set against the backdrop of the Himalayas and with the pristine Ganga flowing through it, the ancient town of Rishikesh is one of the major tourist and pilgrimage hubs in northern India, where people from across the world arrive in search of peace. Rishikesh is commonly referred to as the ‘yoga capital of the world’ and rightly so. The destination is abuzz with visitors, who come here to learn yoga and meditation. Rishikesh has numerous ashrams, some of which are internationally recognised as centres of philosophical studies, yoga, and other ancient Indian traditions of wellness. The Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board organises the annual International Yoga Festival (IYF) here, which attracts thousands of yoga enthusiasts. There are several legends associated with Rishikesh. It is said Rishikesh finds a mention in the ancient text Skanda Purana, and in the epic Ramayana. It is said Lord Rama, along with his brothers, came to Rishikesh to do penance after killing Ravana.
Rishikesh is also known for its connection with The Beatles. In February 1968, members of the legendary English rock band visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram (now popularly known as the Beatles Ashram) to learn transcendental meditation. The band composed nearly 48 songs during their time at the Maharishi’s ashram, many of which appear on the White Album (and a few from Abbey Road). John Lennon recorded a song titled, ‘The Happy Rishikesh Song’ after his visit. Several other international artists, including Mike Love of the Beach Boys, Paul Horn, Donovan, and Gyp Mills, visited the site to contemplate and meditate.
Rishikesh is also a town of quaint cafes, which offer local and international cuisines and are mostly packed with tourists. Interestingly, in the last couple of years, Rishikesh has become very popular for its vibrant Holi celebrations, mostly organised by private hotels and resorts.
Steve and I also want to explore the Himalaya here and perhaps study meditation and yoga.
Rishikesh to Pondicherry is a long way, so, after this we will take a train to Delhi, where we will take an internal flight to Pondicherry:
Blossoming bougainvilleas, crumbling cathedrals on leafy boulevards and 18th-century colonial buildings colour the former French colony of Pondy, which sits on the Bay of Bengal. But it’s also unmistakably Indian, with colourful festivals throughout the year, several mosques, and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Quiet beaches stretch north and south from town, good for swimming and sunrise strolls. Pondy is a popular weekend getaway destination from Chennai and is easy to navigate on foot or by bicycle.
Also, near Pondicherry is the famous Auroville community. Steve has already visited the alternative community, but I have not and so we both want to visit this incredible place.
Auroville, sometimes referred to as “The City of Dawn” is conceived for 50,000 inhabitants from around the world. At the centre stands the Matrimandir, the “soul of the city”, a place for individual silent concentration, in an oval shaped Peace Area surrounded by a lake. Radiating out beyond the lake are four Zones – the Industrial (north), Cultural (northeast), Residential (south/southwest) and International (west) – each focusing on an important aspect of the town’s life. Surrounding the township will be a Green Belt consisting of forested areas, farms, and sanctuaries.
After Auroville we will be travelling down to Kerala, a place I have always wanted to visit. Initially Steve wants us to stay with a family in a homestay. He did this before and really enjoyed it. This is a great way to get to know the locals and their way of life.
Then we will book a boat cruise along Kerala’s famous back waters. I love boat rides, especially those that include some amazing nature and wildlife.
Kerala is blessed with its scenic beauty wrapped with green nature. Periyar National Park in Kerela is famous for its gorgeousness, greenery and stillness, the park is the dwelling place of abundant significant species, including the royal tigers and majestic elephants apart from other reptiles, fishes, and birds. Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Lake. A short drive will take us to the Alleppey jetty point where we can board our Houseboat for an overnight experience on Kerala backwaters that have been known for their mesmerizing and alluring charms spread across the whole area and finally unwinding in Mararior Mararikulam Beach to relax and enjoy the serene beaches.
By this time we would have come full circle and will make our way back to Goa. We will travel the entire state from Palolem in the south to Arambol in the north and that for me is when one of the best bits happens.
When we finally get back to Arambol, Steve and I will be renting an old Portuguese house for the duration of our last month in India.
We will then relax into a lovely routine of enjoying the beaches and bars, the markets, the live music, and the clubs. I will write, make art, and maybe even do a few DJ slots.
We will also rent some motor scooters and travel about, visiting temples, waterfalls, and game reserves; we will live in Hippie Kushi bliss.
Visa Appointment and receipt of my visa
The 16th of November was the dreaded date of my visa appointment at the Vista centre in Hounslow, London near Heathrow Airport. It was a truly horrible wet day. The weather was freezing cold, raining, and dark. I reached the visa centre in Hounslow an hour early and took refuge in the café drinking a coffee that cost me a shocking £4.50!!
When the time came, I took my place in the queue at the entrance to the waiting room for visas. After getting my ticket with a number for my turn at the booth, I had to queue again to get my paperwork ‘validated’. It quickly became clear my two passport photos were not the right ones but the man at the desk told me they would take the correct (visa photos) at the booth.
I only waited twenty minutes before my ticket was called and I rushed to the booth. The friendly gentleman behind the counter took my passport and paperwork but asked me no questions at all about my trip before charging me a whopping £158 for my visa (the price included a £10 fee for the new photos and a £10 admin fee). After having my photo taken at another booth, I was free to go home to wait anxiously for the postman to return my passport, with hopefully my visa in it, before the date of my flight.
The day after that Steve had his appointment. It should be pointed out, that the day after Steve and my visa appointments, E-visas were reinstated in the UK, too late for us though; hey ho.
Luckily, and to my relief, only three days later a courier arrived with my passport containing a shiny new six-month visa for India.
I had my visa and now Steve had his; India was officially on, and it was time to get packing for an amazing adventure.
I love to travel, and I believe travel can change our perspective on humanity in the best possible way. Travelling long-term is mind blowing and it helps us grow into new, more open, well-rounded people. When we travel, we can experience some amazing things along the way. To travel the world is to find beauty, to experience, to feel elation. There are some breath-taking places around the globe waiting to be discovered. Travel is about exploring new cultures, religions, and traditions. Travel is discovering fantastic nature and wildlife, stunning cities, and history, but most of all, its meeting so many amazing people. If you want to find a way to expand your mind, change your mindset. Stop with the two-week package holidays that only give you a sterile glimpse of a place, instead, choose to really travel; for weeks, months, years…or even indefinitely.
I have loved travelling all my life and I have travelled vastly, all over the world. It began with family visits to the US as a child, then I travelled with friends to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Later I travelled alone, long term, across the USA, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and Denmark; I had really got the travel bug by then.
I was a teacher for a year in The Gambia Africa, and on later occasions for several months in other parts (Senegal and Uganda). I also rode on horseback through the swamps and jungles of Brazil. More recently of course, I discovered India and I have also travelled very recently to Sri Lanka. To travel is my life!
But why travel for extended periods rather than a two-week holiday?
The experience of long-term travel is so different from a short escape from your nine to five. If you stay in places for longer, you really get to know the locals, you end up experiencing new things, like being invited to a local wedding or a religious festival of some kind, or you discover some hidden place that only the locals know about that totally blows your mind, and you begin to make real, long term friendships with people from other countries that last and don’t just fade away like those made on short breaks. After staying somewhere fresh and exciting for an extended period, you begin to think about your place in the world and if a new and exciting lifestyle is possible after all.
PAST ADVENTURES IN INDIA
What can I say about India? You either love it or hate it; or a little bit of both. The smells, the sights, the filth, the colour, the culture, the religion, the spirituality, and the bustle of people; lot and lots of people, many of them strange and eccentric characters indeed.
India is sometimes unpleasantly ugly, but it is also, without a doubt, beautiful in many ways. The amazing jungles, the dramatic deserts, the breath-taking mountains, the green countryside and tea plantations, the spectacular wildlife, the huge temples and forts, the colourful dress of the locals, and the brightly painted buildings; I absolutely love it.
My first visit to India some years ago, left me a little unsure. I had struggled with the hustlers trying to get at my money, and I had found the heat hard to bear. But once back in the UK I realised I was forever changed by my experience and had no doubt that the spiritual energy that you absorb whilst in India gets into your soul and leaves you craving for more. Now the hustlers don’t bother me anymore; they sense a positive Ananda energy within me that means they mostly leave me alone now; and I don’t really notice the heat anymore.
I have just mentioned the eccentric characters I have met in India, and I don’t just mean the locals. Throughout my travels so far, I have met so many interesting and exciting individuals, ex-pats that now reside in India. People like Jan Cohen, a former South African national, that, after a brief spell living in the UK, moved to Goa for good with her family. This tuff lady in her 60s sports a Mohican hairdo, multiple tattoos, and rides around on a Royal Enfield motorcycle. That is when she’s not raving at a psytrance party in Anjuna.
There is also Nadia and Vinod, who I met in Benaulim. Nadia, a Belgium national married Vinod from north India. During the off season in the tourist hub of Goa, they run a guest house in the mountainous of north India. They also love Enfield’s and offer motorbike tours of the beautiful area they reside in. In the tourist season the run a beach bar in Benaulim in Goa, called the People Bar. If ever there was a hub of eccentric characters, aging hippies, and dreadlocked backpackers, it is that friendly Goa bar. It is one of my favourite places in India for meeting strange and exotic people (more from the People Bar later in this book).
Places like People Bar and the Hidden Garden of Dreams are real life changing places to visit, they leave you changed by your experiences there.
These are just a few examples of the places and characters I have met so far, and I’m sure there will be many more as Steve and I explore this vast and spectacular country.
I have also had many unfortunate incidents in India. On my last visit my bag did not arrive with me and I spent a week in a panic as I had stupidly left my medication in the bag; a mistake I will never make again.
On another occasion I walked for miles in Candolim in Goa in a pair of new shoes. My intent was to buy some sandals while I was there. The shoes gave me a horrendous blister at the back of my ankle. When I eventually swapped to my newly purchased sandals, the sand and dirt in the street got into the now open and festering wound and infected it, this is because I did not properly clean up and cover up the wound. I ended up in hospital having the wound cleaned out, treated, and bandaged, at some financial cost to myself; another mistake I will not make again.
As you visit India time and again you learn from previous mistakes and slowly adapt to a country that is very different from your own.
I have had so many wonderful adventures over the years and met so many amazing people. I am now returning after a long break because caused by the pandemic, and I cannot wait. I need to go so badly, back to my true home of India. My own country is so messed up these days, the politics are a shambles, which means its infrastructure is a shambles. My country of birth has become increasingly more right-wing, fascist, controlling, conservative, and racist and I want out! I find the UK a grey and unfriendly place these days and I know my future belongs elsewhere.
Steve and I have now received our six-month visas, in the form of stickers in our passports, I am fully packed, using my newly purchased huge orange rucksack; everything is now ready for us to begin this amazing adventure around India. I am flying into India three weeks before Steve arrives, and I will be spending the Christmas period in Goa before we travel more widely. I have a long flight ahead, but it will be worth it. Now, it’s off to the airport.
So, travellers of the world, let’s begin our journey, as I recount my own (and Steve’s) travel adventures around India, in my search for Bliss Ananda, I hope this book encourages you to travel longer term as well, and perhaps find your happy place.
There’s a whole, beautiful, exciting, visually amazing, breath-taking world out there…
Let the adventure begin…