Fantasy, Mysticism, On The Road, Photographic Stories, Short Stories
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In the land of Snakes

Twenty six days ago and three hundred fifty kilometers north

I
Moon

I reached Aldona late in the night. It was Purnima, the full moon of Holi. Vishwan was away, gone to a border village, tsar. A place somewhere in the middle of the jungle at the border of Goa and Maharashtra. But I had no idea of that then, I was waiting. I sat downstairs at the bar. Grandmother was pouring feny to a local. She told me about Vishwan smoking too much. The room was lit with two cyan bulbs. He arrived. We kept my backpack at his place. He lit his cigarette. We sat. His hair had grown and white; beard thickened and black. Soon, we were off, feeling the dense wind of the leaving winter, scooting through the western ghats in the night going towards the moon.

We entered the fair. Vishwan parked the vehicle somewhere outside and we started walking away from the lights towards the jungle. It was late. But it wasn’t dark. The night seemed to have dissolved with milk. The path. Fields. Water. Jungle were awake. Suddenly a swan rose and flew crying at the top of her voice, like informing a far someone. He flew around in a big circle over our heads and went away. We kept walking. A stream came. We stood for some time looking, hearing the nature and kept walking further along the mud road. There was no sound, not even of crickets or any other creature. It was a silent night. Far up in the mountains suddenly, our eyes wide open,
did you see that? It was not still.
Yes.
What was that?
A running fire?? Rolling down from up!!?

We saw a ball of fire. It is not possible for a human to be able to make such a thing happen. We kept looking at the far forest. It wasn’t a man controlled fire. It seemed like a performance, making us feel it was more that just fire. And over. It was brief. And we were in milk dark again.

For a long time, nothing happened. Then as the path curved, far in the shrubs behind the trees, Vishwan pointed my sight towards a blue light flickering, like a well placed blue dot bulb. It was fascinating but it couldn’t have been light like. At first it seemed coming out of an insect. We tried going near to it but couldn’t. It remained unmoved even after long when we decided to move on. The walk had started taking a toll on me. I had flown from Delhi today, had crossed half of Goa on bike as a pillion. I could have just lied down on grass and close my eyes. But I think we both heard a bark from far. It had come from so far that we just overheard it. Suddenly a small fox like creature bisected the road running furiously away from us. It was late in the night. Quiet but in no way the jungle was sleeping and we could feel it. Slowly we meandered towards a platform from where right in front of us stood the biggest tree I had seen in many years of living nights. Resting our eyes, we just kept looking straight in awe towards the direction of the huge tree. Vishwan had taken his lighter out but soon when it seemed we are not alone he quietly slid it back in his pocket. Far, something started moving. The bark came again. And this time it came straight from the tree, right in front of us. As we looked closely what settled under the shade, we started seeing eyes looking back at us, hundreds of eyes, open, wide, white were just gazing in our direction. They looked inhuman, and had become restless by our uninvited presence. We saw them Sitting. Standing around, under the circumference of the tree. They were everywhere, over the branches, above, even on the sides and the middle, sternly looking back at us from behind the logs, branches and leaves, nude.

The world is a dream. And the dream is true. We kept still, trying to figure our ground, we had realised some movement from the far end of the field. First of all, it seemed like a reflection in the water only to realize that they were marching like clones very slowly. Like an ant army walking in one line. Unending. The most freaking part was that every body had there right hand up with a closed fist. We kept seeing. The time had freezed. It wasn’t looking fun. To our dismay, one after the other the moment they turned right, one throat after other started screaming so loud and together as they started running towards us.

Dark.


II

Road to Rudrapada

I left goa soon afterwards. Even though I tried to look for a place after that incident but the whole time it wasn’t feeling right. The owners I met and the people in general lacked something probably warmth. Each place I was lead to was a concrete mess. I had started relating events with each other. Nothing filled with joy was happening. Either the places were expensive or the vibe was cold. Or simply it wasn’t the place to be at that time for me. After much thought I got all my books, luggage and decided to leave Goa altogether. I came down to a place I had not considered at all yet it should have been the first place to go to. I got the first train in the morning and came down to Rudrapada. In the second hour, I found a home, an old wood and local mud brick house constructed by a Canadian, thirty years ago. It was the only house in the whole wide field with numerous coconut trees amongst others, an angry young male buffalo for company and a big lonely frog- kupamanduka in the well always looking up.

That night after the incident, something more violent happened. Or it could have gone further. I can only imagine if someone wanted me somewhere else. I had felt being pushed away from there, the night with Vishwan. So much so it made me vary of my standing for a while, my acts. I watched every happening intensely, every person, their passing gaze arose questions in me for somedays after that night.

Imagine thousands of people quietly walking together silently in a semi desert at night, submerged in the white light looking far in the dark. Anticipating together. Further ahead the land was guarded by those same nude men looking as vulnerable unlike they were when they had confronted us; imagine that many people trying their best to be not wild even while wanting to make noise, but they cannot. They were gripped like us were but in a much larger theatre. The chaos was in the silence itself. In the white night, eyes looking in each direction expecting some fire from the sky to come. And it came.

The night passed peacefully later with only milk as memory. I escaped almost unhurt.

Since that night a change had set in the mind cycle. I had started studying the law of the land, her stories, I asked and heard about the rituals and the first men who had inhabited the land If any. I spoke to the local priest and met a sage who was travelling but had decided to rest for few weeks at Rama temple. He told me one day that from Lower Maharashtra to Kanyakumari, the Indian western coast is Naag Bhoomi. It means, the land belonging to the snakes. And thus very hallucinating in nature. You see it is a beautiful region, isn’t it? With mountains and green cover all over wherever you roll your eyes. Here are all kinds of creatures and the deepest wells. And above all the sea, looking over humans for years even beyond man made time. We are like sand for him. It lures us. This land is alluring. Even Lord Rama had to sit here and focus for two nights; he meditated here before proceeding towards Lanka. The sage was right, you arrive here, and for years you might just stay or keep coming back. I for sure was looking far deeper than I had ever looked.
III

Varanasi of the South

I had never stayed near a sea before this time for an extended period. A mountain may strengthen you physically but the sea grows you from inside. Because it keeps taking you and from you, emptying you slowly, it touches deeper than where your breath comes from. Keeps directing your days towards evenings into nights with similar ease. Waves. I stopped wearing footwears altogether. I started walking on my skin and as one goddess whispered to me then about the sight, intuition and future enters in you from your toe, she knew it well.

After years of tapa, Lord Shiva gave atmalinga to Ravana, who had thought of taking it back home. But Shiva also instructed that the Lingam would stay permanently where ever it will be first placed on land, so he must never put it down unless he means to. While passing through Karwar, Lord Ganesha came in the form of a boy and planted it in Gokarna, while Ravana was performing rituals. And Once placed Ravana could not remove it from the ground, and in rage broke, removed some pieces of the Lingam and threw them in different directions.

One day I followed an Italian man whom I had seen previously. I had been curious of his gentle walk. And during noon made sure to walk when the whole town was taking a nap.  I was having a papaya shake when I saw him. He took a turn towards a lane behind a well that I never thought existed. I went behind him. I don’t know where he went but he led me to the biggest snake temple in the sleepy town. It was ancient, with hundreds of sculpted snake murals. I sat there under the tree and closed my eyes. I opened it to the sound of a man singing a sanskrit hyme to the snake deity. The words and rhythm of the sound were so perfect that I kept seeing and hearing him for the rest of the evening. When he finished I went over and spoke to him in sanskrit, he couldn’t understand but spoke to me in Hindi. it was surprising because I haven’t heard Hindi here for sometime. He told me he comes from Maharashtra, he left his home and lives by the beach. Sleeps in the park by the sea. We came out of the temple together; the sun had already set and the moment he looked up in the sky, he bowed. Even without my asking he pointed my direction towards a star. He said. Shiva ate him. And has now become Shiva himself. He left soon and I never saw him again.

I used to eat in the temple many a night, and took the walk back home via sea. I started personally knowing sevaks from the temple and many other people who like me came to this place after seven. I befriended some who have kept coming to this powerful place, for shiva to speak with. And for the Shakti which is further up on a hill in the town.

Close by, Gokarna is a town of old spirits slowly waking up to time. It is also known for a very particular reason as I will learn soon. One day the sage during a converstaion opened up, he told me that this place is more powerful than you would know. The energy around the area where lingam is, is magnetic. And it is believed that the spring water here comes from Ganga via Ujjain. This is dakshina Kashi, Varanasi of the south. It is known as a place where Shiva became one with him self. Hence the place attracts sages and worshippers to attain siddhis or insight for higher perspective because here you attain it faster than you even do in Kashi. The sea that you see is not any other water body, it is touched by shiva himself, it is touched by the most angry avatar of vishnu, the Parashuram. Every good cause, or bad comes at a price.

The evenings at Gokarna sea became most memorable. The sun meets with the sea daily by the end of the day. Evening were one of the most sacred times of the day, a ritual that many men and women followed, daily. I noticed people taking their places at same times sitting well before and after looking at the sun setting. Many went for the longest walk till the end and coming back. I once found the same gentle Italian man sitting on a chair ever so gracefully looking at the sea. I went and sat down with him. He was happy to meet and told me that he is leaving tomorrow. After a quiet while, while looking at the sun and the sea he started speaking. Once i was eating something at the shack back there, what i saw was a man who had gone to swim in front of me, asking for help, he was drowning. I left everything and ran as fast as I can to save him. Once in the water It was hard to push him outside because he was much taller than I was. It took all of my strength but he got saved. I just closed my eyes and lied on my back. But the moment I lied down on the beach tired, I saw another man running like a replica, like I did minutes before, running to save another man who was drowning only a hundred meters away. The only thing different happened was that they both drowned. And that day a total of four people died. I am coming here for past twenty seven years. I always try to come here when I come to India. This place is a strange land, very mystical, very powerful. The sea is living. And even as a foreigner coming here for so many years I have realised that life needs sacrifice. The sun had set, quietly we sat looking towards the orange sky.

I had arrived here when winters were ending. I lived through spring. The one thing that made all the difference here for me was water. The water I was drinking. It was only because of  the spring water that I first decided to leave Goa and came to stay at this place. Water that they say is coming from mother Ganga. The spring water is for every one to drink. And It was a joy to go every third day or fourth to walk all the way crossing the long sand path looking at the sea, to meet with the sage and to fill the natural mineral water from the spring. It cut my cost of living to half.

The laws of enjoyment changes for a long traveler; one who is seeking elemental high, within himself, created and directed through one and the only mother nature.

IV

Swimming with the fishes

Some time back a world opened. I had decided to study Sanskrit. It was a new space where people of different generations that I came to know consciously converse in Sanskrit. I met Gana because of Sanskrit. He came to meet me in Rudrapada. He is a young professor who has been studying the works of Kalidasa, and teaches him to his students at the Sanskrit university in Sringeri. It was delightful to see him running and doing his swimming away from the water on the beach. I had promised to visit him in Sringeri before I head back north.

At last the time arrived to leave Rudrapada. The old Sage and a Kashmiri friend who had come to visit me from Bengaluru, also came to drop at the Gokarna bus stand. The station master told me that there isn’t a bus to Udupi but nearby. Only in the bus I learnt that this will go straight to Udupi, and from there I can get a bus to Sringeri.

In the bus, a short man who sat beside me asked my marital status the first thing and later my caste. He happily informed me about his family and his girls. It was humid. children were crying, travelling in the Karnataka state bus that had only one exit at the back. I reached Udupi in little over four hours time.

Udupi bus stand was not very big, and even in the chaos it looked a bit orderly. I had two hours to wait I was told. I sat and had lunch and found a place where I made this sketch.

A small green bus came and the journey to Sringeri began in the evening. Small buses indicate by their stature the journey will be a hike. The tropical trees were wet and the color green. The mist started settling with clouds hovering all over. It did not take much time to start breathing deep.

According to legend, Adi Sankaracharya is said to have selected Sringeri as the place to stay and teach his disciples, because when he was walking by the Tunga river, he saw a cobra with a raised hood, providing shelter to a frog undergoing labour from rain. Impressed with the place where natural enemies had gone beyond their instincts, he stayed here for twelve years, and decided to establish his school here as his dakshina peetha. Adi Shankaracharya also established mathas in the northern (at Jyotirmath, near Badrinath), eastern (at Puri) and western (at Dwarka) quarters of India.

A hill town, Sringeri is the taluk headquarters, located in Chikmagalur district in the state of Karnataka. It is the site of first matha Sringeri Sarada Peetham established by Adi Sankara. It is also the highest place in Karnataka, famous for its coffee and weather. A hill station for the people coming from cities. Agumbe, the nearby town here is known as the cherrapunji of south. Even though I did not experience any rain in my short stay. The time spent in the main rangnatha temple premises and swimming in the Tunga river was memorable.

Tunga wasn’t even considered a river in ancient india, it was one of those streams that were nameless, as there used to be many in numbers. Only bigger rivers had names, Sai said. I met Sai and we started speaking as soon as I entered the river to swim away from the ghat. It seemed strangely kind and admirable to meet Sai. He had just left his job in the US. He was a scientist and had been researching on ground water and on the trees that used to accompany a river in ancient times. He started speaking about the history of Sringeri and Tunga. He talked about trees in ancient times that were mainly found around a river and how it has changed drastically from the times british came here who brought many other varities of trees that were planted alongside many rivers in India. He talked about how cultures who came from outside tried to change here according to them. I later learnt that he has been working on a very interesting book for children on mathematics and astrology. We spent a good time conversing about culture and about bad trees that are one of the reasons for the death of the rivers.

I made a small video the next day but as it happened the sound came out so bad that I cannot use the timeline I wanted, instead sharing something completely new, that even I did not think but anything is good for you to meet and hear Sai.


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