Friday, October 21, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda Pt.12 - Kathmandu Day 1!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and most surprising of all, found the Green Gibbon. It’s now 5 in the morning, and he’s on the roof of his hotel in Narayanghat, taking a tea break and thinking about how all of this started.

Part 12: Kathmandu – Day 1!

I arrive at Bangkok International in November 1974 jumping out of my skin. I’m 21, green as all get out and as hungry as hell.

Asia – let’s eat!

The first thing I noticed when I got through customs and entered the main concourse was a man in uniform holding a machine gun who sidled up to bot a cigarette off me.

I guess he could see the large, brightly lit neon sign above my head flashing: ‘Newbie!-blink Newbie!-blink’, not that you’d have had to be clairvoyant to pick it up.

Well, you never argue with a man holding a gun and that’s one rule in Asia I’ve never wavered from.

I gave him a fag and he declined a light and wandered off without a word. No problem! Happy to help the Thai military any day, sir.

I climbed on a local bus and we took off down the highway like a bat out of hell, which was just fabulous.

The road from the airport in those days was a potholed wriggling mess, and the bus sped and wove and lurched, and motor bikes screamed by and wove and lurched, and the Thais standing in the aisle of the bus fell back and forth and I sat wedged into the rear seat with a couple of other backpackers and looked around and recognised a state of mind I’d almost forgotten about - unbridled joy.

Ah, Bangkok, what an entrée.

A few days later I’m walking down Freak Street in Kathmandu. It’s alive with hippies and a score of Magic Buses are lined up on New Road offering trips to Goa, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and all the way back to Europe. It couldn’t get more exotic.

One hundred bucks will get you to London, even.

Not bad, but I’ve got four months and I’m going to bus it, train it and hitch if I have to down through India, up through the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan and Iran, and then one way or another make it into Trafalgar Square under my own steam.

That was the plan, and as I walked through the Durbar Square chatting to bearded Frenchmen in beads and kaftans, and longhaired Norwegian girls in beads and kaftans, it looked like a shining plan indeed.

I was so engrossed in this magical landscape of strange colour and form that I walked all the way back to my guesthouse past the Chi & Pie in Maru Hiti, a distance of half a kilometre, completely absorbed in smell.

When I got the door and woke up, I had no recollection of the short journey other than the pungent and mysterious aroma of Nepal.

I was in another world, close to heaven, intoxicated, and I wanted to be here, and what a difference that was to the forced march I was undertaking at home under Emperor Napoleon.

Of course it was all a dream, but I didn’t know it then, but dad, a.k.a. Napoleon, did, as I was soon to find out - but what would he know?

Dream-shmeam, it smelled like freedom to me and like your big Hollywood break, I knew it would only walk in the door once.

That evening I sat on the roof of the guesthouse and watched the sun go down over the Bagmati River and felt a great sadness welling up in me. Reality, that great leaden weight that refused to float away, was pulling me down again, and along with it my big Hollywood break (all 12 hours of it!).

I was in a very deep hole indeed, I realised, and shining plan or no shining plan, at the end of it all I was due back in the engineering department with the rest of the inmates come March 23rd, and the thought horrified me.

What to do?

Walk out on four years of toil and sweat at the university with only a year to go? My dad would never forgive me. Living with Emperor Napoleon you learned to withstand a lot, but cowardice? Gee, they shoot you for that.

I might as well tell dad that I wanted to be a poet as tell him that I wanted to leave the university and trip the light fantastic in Nepal.

No, I needed a genuine reason to leave, and one I could stand by, and I didn’t have one, dream or no dream.

Deep inside, when I tracked it along the echoing corridors of my mind, I knew this whole intoxicating world was a dream. The way it stood it may have been escape, but it wasn't freedom.

It didn’t have substance, and Napoleon wouldn’t be Napoleon if he couldn’t smell a ruse when it was served up at the dinner table. And that’s one thing about living with the likes of Mr Bonaparte - you may hate his guts, but he keeps you honest.

Yeah, I was in a bind, but I had four months to work it out, so I wandered off and got myself a large plate of daal-baht and spent the next two hours on the loo, and loving every minute of it, as fools do.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda Pt.11: Under the Milky Way!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and most surprising of all, found The Green Gibbon. It’s been an exciting trip.

Part 11: Under the Milky Way!

I open one eye and look at the clock. It’s 10 past 4 and wouldn’t you know - why do these things always happen around 4 am?

My bed is soaked. The sheet I’m wrapped in is sopping wet, and as I roll on my back the dampness in the mattress hits me like a wet towel. Yeech!

Raja, the houseboy, is going to be mightily impressed with this. “Mr Feeliks, pleeese!” he’ll say. “When you are taking a shower, please do it in the bathroom like the other guests!”

Ten minutes later I’m down in the kitchen making myself a cup of tea.

I’d sprung out of bed and into the shower like a man possessed. I don’t think I’ve ever risen so quickly in all my life. Besides the discomfort of sodden sheets, I had an overwhelming urge to get outside into the night sky and fresh air.

I needed space, but first a cup of tea.

In the shower I’d looked at myself. I’d sweated so much during the night I was white and wrinkly and I must have lost ten pounds. I was positively skinny.

My flu was gone and I felt clear and taught, and what? Capable! I was going to live! But as I looked at my body I realised I needed muscle tone and red blood cells and I made a note a note to eat plenty of red meat. “Goat should do it!” I figured.

While I was making the tea downstairs in the kitchen I looked across at Raja and the other houseboy. They were dead asleep on the charpoys in the corner, and even though I was making the odd clatter and the gas burner was going ‘whoosh!’ they weren’t moving.

And what was I doing in here anyway? I don’t normally walk into hotel kitchens and help myself to tea. But I was dehydrated from the night’s activities and falling down mineshafts isn’t an easy business, no matter what anybody says.

And what the hey! If Raja woke up I’d give him a big smile and ask him if he wanted a tea. “One sugar or two, Raja?” (Being Nepali he’d probably take four.) But no, he was off somewhere dancing with Krishna and the gopis, and good luck to him.

I sat on the roof of the hotel and sipped my tea and looked out into the night sky. It was clear and vast and ablaze with stars. There was a half moon pocking it’s head over the mountains to the east and the Milky Way was vaulting upwards from one horizon to the next, a great heavenly arch of diamonds and pearls, keeping it all up, holding the roof in place.

Yeah, God knew what he was doing when He built that one, but it’s amazing he got it through the bureaucracy.

“Hey, guys, I’ve got this great idea!” He says. “I’m gonna build a Great Circular Arch in the sky made of stars and galaxies and it’s gonna shimmer and shine and underneath it the earth is gonna move so it looks like the Great Arch is moving…”
“It’ll never work!” say the doubters.

I guess it helps being the boss.

The Green Gibbon. The bright Green Gibbon! What the hell had I just run into?

When I was at university many years ago I’d taken a trip to Kathmandu. I’d been at the books for four long mind-numbing years and I needed a break.

I had one year to go to finish this engineering degree I was chipping away at (like a man with a chisel on a concrete block) and I was 21, miserable and didn’t have a clue.

Well, maybe half of one.

Christ! All my life I’d wanted to be an ‘artist’, and here I was studying freaking engineering, and I hated it.

I’d wanted to be an artist ever since I was 8 years old, and although I admit there was a certain romantic element in the idea, it was what I loved, and as far as I was concerned, that was it.

Roll on Rembrandt! Roll on Andy Warhol! Roll on Mr Felix!

But dad was having none of that.

When you’re born into the aftermath of the Great Depression, watched a world war rip the planet apart in your formative years, and just when you thought things were on the upswing, along come the Beatles singing ‘All you need is Love!’ and to top it all off, there’s a bunch of pansies dressed in flowers tripping the light fantastic and telling everybody to head to California where everything’s free and we’re all going to Heaven and bypassing Hell.

And they’re taking over the world!

Well, Charlie Manson woke us up out of that dream, but I couldn’t see it. But dad woke me up.

“The word is ‘no’, Felix!” he said, when I laid my carefully sculptured plans of a shining and brilliant art career before him on the kitchen table.

“But, dad!” I wanted to say, “This is how I’m gonna climb up on that big White Horse I saw in my dream. It’s the only way I think I can make it!”

But dad didn’t put much stock in dreams; not the kind you have in the middle of the night, anyway, and certainly not the kind that lead grown men to dance around in bear suits and burn down the learned institutions that had taken Western civilisation thousands of years to put together.

I’d never told him about the Great White Horse dream, and when my father said ‘no’, the word was ‘no’.

In my cosmos at the time, dad and God were interchangeable personages, and God's Will be done on earth, as it is heaven, or you’d get hit with a lightening bolt.

I took it real bad.

‘Sullen’ is a state of mind that many teenagers experience, but I do feel I moved this long and august tradition forward a quantum leap.

What Rembrandt did for portraiture and Andy Warhol did for Brillo Boxes, I did for ‘sullen’. It became my new art form.

And so, as these things go, some years later I ended up at university, studying engineering and failure was not an option. General Irwin Rommel, I have read, was a great motivator, as is fear.

Hell, you can even learn to smile, almost, if you work at it, even though you don’t want to, as you can learn to half believe what you’re doing is the right thing, even though you know it isn’t, if you’re confused enough, if you can follow that.

But underneath it all, under a sea of alcohol and a neatly crafted devil-may-care attitude, I was miserable, and the only thing more alarming than my misery was the fact that nobody seemed to notice.

Not my friends, not my girlfriends, not even my mum. I used to wonder whether they were all blind, but I hid it too well, and learned not to talk.

“Yeah, that Felix, he’s kicking goals! That boy’s a winner!” The world loves a winner all right.

I’d go to parties and in the middle of the testosterone and estrogen fuelled late teenager and early twenty-something frenzy, I’d simply not be there. It was weird.

The music would be thumping, the boys would be knocking back beer and weed and the girls would be shaking it out for the quick and the lucky, and the floor would drop away on me. I’d suddenly be stone cold sober and standing in a room full of grotesque phantoms.

In the middle of the night I’d lie on my bed and think about this strange phenomenon, and always, always, up would come the memory of the Great White Horse and the mineshaft.

It was scary.

Looking back now, it was amazing I held it together, but underneath it all I knew something, instinctively. My dad was the most merciless, hard-headed bastard on the planet, but I knew he loved me and I knew he would never intentionally damage me, and it made all the difference.

There had to be a way out of this mess. I needed an exit strategy and one that would hopefully not bring the Wrath of Khan down on my head.

Damage or no damage, dad could be formidable when he wasn’t happy about something, and we were talking big biccies here – my future, and his investment in it.

But which door? What door? Was there a door?

These things I pondered, along with how many pairs of socks to take as I packed my rucksack and prepared for my first big OS trip.

A few days after they let us out of the university, I was on the aeroplane bound for mysterious, exotic Kathmandu.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.10 - The Cave!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has recently ridden through Hell, died (momentarily) in the bathroom, been brought back to life by the Ghosts of Lovers Past and has just fallen down a mineshaft. It’s been a busy couple of days.

Part 10: The Cave!

I am in a boat, on a pond, in a cave at the centre of the earth. I have just fallen down a mineshaft, and have arrived at the bottom.

I am calm, the pond is calm, and the little wooden boat is drifting over the black water through the silence towards an opening in the cave wall up ahead.

The boat slides through the opening into a bigger cave and a bigger pond, and drifts further out towards the centre.

I am sitting on the wooden cross-seat of the boat, towards the back, looking around at my new surroundings – there is a strange half-light in the cave, coming from where I don’t know, but everything is crisp and clear, and I’m content.

Just then I hear a splash and suddenly I feel something grab my right ankle. I look down and there’s a long arm extending out of the water and into the boat and a large hand has forcefully clasped on to my leg.

I just have time to realise that it’s a hairy arm, before there’s an even bigger splash and up out of the water rises a… well, what is it? It takes a moment for me to realise it’s a large hairy gibbon, the size of a man, and most startling of all, it’s bright green!

It all happens so quickly I don’t have time to be afraid, and then the gibbon, who’s standing waste deep in the water beside the boat and staring intently at me, announces in a deep voice: “You’re mine!”

For some strange reason this strong male voice, these words and the sure grip of the hand on my ankle calms me, and I relax back onto the cross-seat of the boat and take a look.

“Well, my, my, my!” I say to myself. “A bright green gibbon!”

I love gibbons. They are, without a doubt, my favourite animals on this good earth, and they’re the only animals I actually pine for.

I also love dogs, but who doesn’t? I enjoy romping with them, miss them when they’re not around and having a dog as a friend is something very special indeed.

But dogs are easy to love, and by saying that I take nothing away from them.

Kids and dogs, way to go, and dogs fit in. They are social, understand hierarchies (read: They know who’s boss!) and their capacity for forgiveness is almost christlike.

They’re a gift, and thank God for hairy, happy gifts that go ‘bow-wow-wow!’

But there are other animals in the pack that take a little more work to embrace, especially considering our penchant for torturing them.

I once saw a large, male, black panther in the Colombo Zoo and sat and watched it for an hour.

It was heart breaking to see this magnificent beast, with paws the size of rocks and leg muscles forged at the Krupp factory, locked into a small cage.

It paced relentlessly, hopelessly, back and forth without break, and without surrender. That thing was going to walk and walk, until it’s pilot-light simply extinguished, and then it was going to drop dead, and there was nothing I could do.

It felt bad (that’s an understatement!), I felt bad, so the only thing I could think of was to just sit there, beside the cage (safely on the outside, of course) and acknowledge the damn thing, as was.

And you know, interesting things happen when thoughts slow down.

I sat there for the first thirty minutes brushing away kids with ice-creams who came too close and stood on my feet and ignoring young men, with laughing girls on their arms, who threw peanuts into the cage.

The clock ticked on, and then, for a moment, when there was nobody else around, the great beast stopped its relentless pacing and looked at me.

I guess it was thinking no more than ‘who’s this turkey and if I could get out of this cage I’d rip his bloody head off’, but it was enough. I’d been noticed and for a second we looked each other in the eye.

Perhaps it’s just my mind in low gear, or maybe I’ve watched too much David Attenborough, but on some visceral level I felt something dark and immensely strong suddenly and unexpectedly punch into me, and it knocked the wind out of my chest.

I felt a short, sharp pang of intense fear - I was a mouse, frozen like sorbet. But I'm more than a mouse, I’m also a man with a heart and I said, unbidden (albeit in a small voice): “It’s ok to eat me!”

It was the least I could do.

And the great beast just turned away, without a flicker, and went on pacing. And what else would you expect from a king under the circumstances? Nothing! He’s a king.

But it changed me.

I felt a flood of grief go out of me like a wave. Whatever had been locked up, whatever guilt and shame I’d felt over what we’d done to this peerless brute force of nature, just left me.

Where it went, I have no idea, but I imagined it sliding outwards in all directions, entering forests and mountain retreats all over Asia where great beasts live, breathe and die.

I then got up and left.

An hour later I opened the door to my guesthouse room and it was like walking into a cave, and I looked around, puzzled, trying to work out what had changed.

Eventually I stood in front of the mirror and looked at my face, and I simply couldn't place it - it wasn't the same old gung-ho face I'd left with this morning.

It was pale and grave, and there was a clear, dark light in the eyes I'd never seen before, and it was coming from where? I kept getting the words in my head: "This light is coming from beyond the grave!" and it made no sense. What the hell does that mean? Where's 'from beyond the grave'?

And I remembered the black panther, and I thought: "What's a panther?" It was scary.

But I knew this: whatever the hell this dark light was and wherever it came from, it was the most majestic, albeit frightening, thing I'd ever seen in my whole life and it spelled freedom.

And it was shaking my foundations.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.9 - The Tomb!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
Mr Felix has just fallen down a mineshaft, but we wind the clock back a few hours for a bathroom interlude.

Part 9: The Tomb!

Just before I fell down the mineshaft, I went to the bathroom.

I was physically drained from the morning’s outing, and reading Dante’s Inferno had somewhat miraculously, and unexpectedly, collected all of the waring parts of myself into a coherent whole, and the coherent whole, I’d discovered, was empty.

I was The Hollow Man, alas.

“How ironic!” I thought to myself. Throughout my adult life, rightly or wrongly, deluded or on-the-ball, I'd relentlessly pushed for content over form. I worshipped the flame, and now the gas supply had been cut-off.

Maybe I'd forgotten to pay the bill?

A year and a half ago I’d walked out on a secure job at a university in Melbourne. I taught in the Creative and Digital Media Department, and what had begun as an exciting and stimulating job had, to my mind, degenerated under new management into a farcical parade owned by the forces of globilisation and ruled by political correctness.

It was the Emperor’s New Clothes, and we were living it.

The new order seemed to be: if it looked good and attracted paying customers, it was ‘in’, if it created waves and scared people off, it was ‘out’.

“But good art naturally scares people!” I said to the director, somewhat naively one day at the end of a rather heated discussion on ‘where we are heading’.

“Yes, we understand that, Felix,” replied the director evenly, "but we've got to keep the doors open and it's a new world blah blah blah blah..." He leaned back easily into his chair, a man in total control, and filled up the room with fine words.

Above his head hung his latest artistic gift to humanity, a glossy oil painting of the Space Shuttle Challenger just before it blew up.

"What's with the new painting, boss?" I'd asked him the week before. (He winced everytime I called him 'boss', so naturally I kept doing it.)
"Well, it's the Space Shuttle Challenger, just like it says on the label!" he said, slightly puzzled, as though overnight I'd turned into a moron, as well as being a pain.
"Yeah, but what's with the numbers?" I asked. Over the image of the Shuttle he'd painted strings of bright green numbers running horizontally across the picture.
"Why!" he said, obviously happy that someone in the department, other than the flunkies and boot-lickers, had finally taken an interest in his beloved art career. "That's the computer code that the Shuttle was spitting out just before the O-rings failed..."
"And the major malfunction happened!" I interupted brightly.
"Exactly!" he beamed.

I tell you, it's great to be on the same wavelength as the boss, especially one as well thought out as mine was.

And everything he said was all very reasonable of course, but you know it's a sham.

It's a bull without balls, a lion without teeth, a woman without a heart - and what's the point? How can you give yourself to something you no longer respect?

It stank and in the end I walked, and now, unfortunately, I was in the same boat as the people I so passionately despised; different path maybe, but same end-point.

I lay back on the bed and contemplated some well worn cliches: there are many paths to hell-on-earth, pride cometh before a fall and how wrong you can be.

But at least I knew I was in Hell and that was something, and the pilot-light on my once beloved (to my mind) roaring flame seemed to be still sputtering with some life - not enough to light a cigarette maybe, but still.

What was it that I’d betrayed so badly? What was it I wasn’t getting?

I lay on the bed without moving for over an hour. Whatever was at issue here, I realised, wasn't going to get solved by my on-board computer. I needed perspective. I needed a gun.

Time slows down. I am alone in a barren room, under a white sheet - a grey carcass of dried bones. Silence descends like a fog, filling every crack and corner of the room. I am suffocating under a sinking weight....

... and I need a pee, badly.

I then realised why God had built the ‘eat, drink and waste product’ mechanism into living organisms. Without it our pilot-lights would simply go out and we would sink inexorably into despair.

“Clever!” I thought. “Who would have guessed!”

Inside the bathroom I lent against the wall to steady myself and after I’d finished at the toilet, I went to the basin to wash my face and hands, and looked in the mirror, and what a sight I was.

It was a face I hardly knew – drawn, pale and without life. “Jeezus!” I said, “I’m dying on the inside!” and a knot formed in my belly and the fear of death rose up like a white sheet and I fainted.

I don’t know how long I was out, maybe a minute or two, but it’s hard to tell when time has stopped.

Slowly I became conscious of lying on the cold floor, and the right side of my head ached where it must have hit the tiles, but apart from that there seemed to be no damage.

I opened my eyes, groggy, and standing together before me in holographic splendour where the only two women in my life I have really loved.

I closed my eyes and shook my head, just to check I wasn’t hallucinating, and when I opened my eyes again, struggling to come awake, they were still there.

And they were radiant. They were the most radiant creatures I’d ever seen in my life, and they were looking down at me and smiling, and the kindness in their eyes just broke me.

And I started to weep great sobs (and I could feel my sinuses clearing up!) and I said, out of nowhere: “I’m sorry I lost you! I’m sorry I didn’t hold on! I just didn’t know how to reach far enough!”

And both of them broke into broad grins, and then they left, so I hoisted myself up off the floor, took a cold shower, went back into the bedroom, lay back down on the bed and fell down a hole.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.8 - The Mineshaft!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
Mr Felix continues his search for the lost divine spark. After a ride down through the mountains out of Kathmandu, he’s stuck in Narayanghat with a bad flu and a state of mind that’s approaching terror. He’s been down to the internet café to read about Dante’s Inferno and has chucked away his dope. Night is closing in, he is laying on his bed and things are rapidly coming to a head.

Part 8: The Mineshaft!

I am falling, falling down a mineshaft. I look back up towards the light and see the world of the familiar slipping away.

Below me I can see nothing. I am alone, hurtling downwards inside black fear.

“You’ve done it now, boy!” I say to myself, and I know with a cold certainty that whatever is at the bottom of this shaft is what I’ve been chasing for decades.

There’s a hard nut forming in the centre of my chest and it’s pushing its way outwards through my sternum. I wince with the pain and crouch forward as I fall.

I talk to myself: “There will be no way back. How bad do you want this? What the hell's at the bottom of this shaft that attracts you so?”

When I was at high school, many years ago, getting all set for a life of successful boredom, I had a dream about a Great White Horse.

In the dream I was a young boy, cradled lovingly in my father’s arms. We were in a green field and my father was standing, with me in his arms, by the entrance to a deep mineshaft, looking across to a big white draft horse that stood across the way.

“See that horse over there, Felix?” he said. “Your job is to climb on to it and try and get to the top!”

I looked across at the Great White Horse (for that seemed to be its name) and saw that it was surrounded by men, some of who I knew, and all of who were trying franticly to climb onto the horse and get to the top.

There were men hanging on to its sides, men hanging on to its tail and some were even clamping themselves upside down to its belly.

All the while the great beast stood stock still, turning its head every now and then, flapping its ears and flicking its tail, but ignoring the men. It was as happy and content as a Hollywood movie star on opening night.

The most successful men were sitting in a tight line on the great horse’s back, but they were also franticly pushing and shoving at each other and standing on the faces and heads of the men further down, who they attacked without pity.

The whole scene was one of chaos and desperation, and some men, the losers, the weak ones, were standing around disconsolately on the ground, waiting for an opening, or simply having given up.

But the most alarming thing of all was the man sitting on the Great White Horse’s head. He was obviously ‘the king’ because he wore a crown, which was made of tissue paper and coloured red, similar to what children wear at birthday parties.

He was small, wiry and nervous, lashing out repeatedly at those behind and below him, and he smelled of something rancid, something bitter. If he was a king, he was sitting on an uncomfortable thrown indeed, and he reminded me of a monkey.

I see a lot of monkeys in Asia, and I'm extremely wary of them. They can be vicious, unpredictable and opportunistic. They hunt in packs, attack without warning and act without reason; none that I can make head or tail of anyway. I avoid them, always.

“Climb up on that thing?” I thought to myself doubtfully, and with growing alarm.

I studied the horse for a few minutes looking for a path through the men, and I figured I could make it about half way up the beast’s side if I worked hard, and then, I guess, I’d have to hang on to its mighty flank for the rest of my life and hope nobody further up stood on my face.

But there was something even more disturbing. I felt sorry for the lot of them, even the vicious ones at the top, even the mad king. It was a half-life, a half-truth they were living, and it had driven them all half-crazy.

“Surely there’s more to life than this?” I thought. “Surely there’s a bigger truth to be lived?”

Just then my father interrupted my silent reverie and said, soberly: “But whatever you do, Felix, win, lose or draw, don’t go near that hole!” and he pointed to the entrance of the mineshaft at our side.

I looked down at this black hole in this bright green field of men’s labour, and back at the horse, and back at the hole, and felt myself slipping out of dad's warm arms.

I am hurtling downwards into the black.

The pain in my chest is persistent, relentless, and fear is turning cold. An icy hollowness is clawing at me, struggling upwards from my feet, snapping at my belly.

What’s at the bottom of this shaft? Death? Or worse... madness? A monster? A life of hopelessness?

Just then I know I can pull out. I can stop this freefall with a simple act of Will. I have a moment of doubt, and this is the slipperiest fear of all - the yawning fear of failing myself.

I struggle to get a grasp. I’ve come too far to turn back now and it’s cost too much. Home does not exist. I am alone.

Quietly, slowly I come back to myself. “Fuck it!” I whisper. “Let’s do it and be damned.”

There’s a sudden, sharp stab of pain in my chest, and I clench my jaw and curl into a ball. I can’t take any more, and I'm about to break.

I groan, and hear the nut in my chest crack open and it feels like a bone breaking, and out slides a small piece of white tissue paper, and I watch it float quickly away.

And out of nowhere, because it's the last breath I've got, I say the words: “Oh, Jesus, help me!”

Immediately, I feel a breath from behind and I hear the words, right in the centre of my head, clear and strong: “The Truth is in Surrender!” and without thought I arch my head back, open my arms and give in to my Fate.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.7 - Will it float?

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
Mr Felix continues his search for the Lost Divine Spark (LDS). After a ride down through the mountains and the rain out of Kathmandu, he’s now stuck in Narayanghat with a bad flu and a state of mind that’s approaching terror. He’s recently been down to the internet café and has been checking out Dante’s Inferno on the web, in one last-gasp effort to confront his spiritual condition head on.

Part 7: Will it float?

I feel a lot better after reading Dante’s Inferno, and back at the hotel I make a resolution: The dope has to go!

There’s no point working out where you are and then getting stoned off your gourd. It’d be like shooting yourself in the foot, which is one way to exit the war zone, but I’m a cyclist and don’t like holes in my feet.

I will go down with this ship,
And I won’t put my hands up and surrender.
There will be no white flag above my door,
I’m in love and always will be.


While I stand over the bowl and watch the plastic bag gurgle down the hole, I offer it up as a votive sacrifice just to make it official and maybe score a few heavenly frequent flyer points.

Scene in heaven: St. Matthew, the tax collector, and assistant, in charge of assessing votive offerings.

Assistant: We’ve got another incoming from that Mr Felix, Matt!
Matthew: Oh, gawd! What is it this time?
Assistant: It looks like about 38 grams of prime quality Nepalese Brown, dripping with water or something...
Matthew: Kee-riste, this guy kills me! What was it last time? A complete set of logged, ordered and numbered URLs on ‘Hot Babes on Bikes with Vegetables!’. All right, sigh… let’s dunk it!

(The 'dunk' or Votive Sacrifices Test (VST) is very similar to David Letterman’s TV segment ‘Will it Float?’ where Dave’s lovely assistants drop objects into a tank of water - a bicycle, for example, to see whether it floats or not. It’s gripping stuff!)

Matthew’s assistant drops the Nepalese Brown into the large font of holy water.

Assistant: No, Matt, it’s gone to the bottom! Feet of clay, mate. No points for Mr Felix today!
Matthew: Yeah, I thought so…
Assistant: Wo! Hang on! The placcy bag’s split and the hash is leaking out all over the place! Oi vay! We’re gonna have to drain the water and clean the font!
Matthew (coldly): 200 penalty points! What’s his score now?
Assistant (checking the book): Let me see, that’s, ah…205 minus 200… that gives him a grand total of 5 points.
Matthew: What’s his I.S.?

(I.S. stands for Inferno Status, and dictates where and for long you’re going to stay in Hell after you die.)

Assistant: At the moment he’s looking at a life sentence in Circle 2. That’d be 25 years, maybe out in 10, 15 with good behaviour. Heh, heh! Fat chance of that, eh, Matt?
Matthew: What’s he need to beat the rap?
Assistant: Rough figures? About 8 billion points.
Matthew: Sheezus! Some people are beyond help…
Assistant: Hang on, Matt, we got another incoming from a…Miss Julia Roberts!
Matthew (brightening): Ah, Julia! What is it this time?
Assistant: A 1962 Volkswagen Beetle in mint condition with a pink bow and a 'Save the Whales!' sticker on the back window, also original.
Matthew: What colour is it?
Assistant: Kind of a nice cherry red…
Matthew: It’ll float! Give her a billion points, and ah, can we pull a few strings and arrange another Academy Award for her? I loved that movie she did with that Hugh fellow, what's his name?
Assistant: Hugh Grant. Another bad egg, Matt. We've got him marked down for the cell right next to Mr Felix's. Another long-term stayer. Anyway, I'll see what I can do about the Academy Award. Shouldn’t be a problem.
Matthew: Great, let’s do lunch, I’m famished!

Back on earth I lie down on my bed and look at the ceiling.

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.6 - Lost in Circle 2!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:

Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:

Mr Felix continues his search for the Lost Divine Spark (LDS). After a ride down through the mountains and the rain out of Kathmandu, he’s now stuck in Narayanghat with a bad flu and a state of mind that’s approaching terror. He's just left the hotel room for the first time in two days, and is at the internet cafe.

Part 6: Lost in Circle 2!

You have come to a place mute of all light, where the wind bellows as the sea does in a tempest. This is the realm where the lustful spend eternity. Here, sinners are blown around endlessly by the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire…

I'm reading about myself on the web in a little internet café in Narayanghat.

I set off from home over 12 months ago in search of the lost divine spark, the reason to live again, and now it’s come to this: stuck in Narayanghat with a bad flu, and in Hell.

I find it laughable when people say they don’t believe in Hell. They must be looking around with their eyes closed. I once spent six months in a small hut on an island in Sri Lanka staring at the wall and let me tell you, Hell exists and you don't have to die to get there. All you have to do is stop running.

...the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire...
...the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire...

I’m searching through the Dante’s Inferno pages on the web, trying to get a little perspective. I’ve been stumbling around in the dark for over twelve months, beset on all sides by demons and monsters, and it’s high time I looked at a map.

I guess I have that very male thing of: "Hey, I know where I’m going, no need to look at a map! Klunk! Thud! Hmm, maybe I’m lost."

For my money you can’t beat the Inferno (originally published as Commedia by the Dante Alighieri Company) for a good map of Hell. Decent scale, all destinations clearly marked, easy to follow.

It seems I’m lost somewhere in Circle 2 where the ‘infernal hurricane never rests’ – yep, that sounds about right, and ‘whirling and smiting’ – yep, yep, tell me about it, and ‘you have betrayed reason at the behest of your appetite for pleasure, and so here you are doomed to remain.’ Jesus! Is that how I got here! Hmm, bad road, Feely.

The good news is that Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, two of my fave people, are down here with me, but I do wonder where Janis Joplin is.

I passed briefly through Circle 5 with the ‘wrathful and the gloomy’ and I didn’t see her, so maybe she’s in Circle 6 with the heretics. Woo! That’s a place I avoid like the plague, like maybe Sierra Leone, or Starbucks.

Being burnt at the stake is not my idea of a fun Sunday ride with the family.

Note: For those of you who would like to know which Circle you’re riding on, there’s a fun, and surprisingly accurate in my case, little multi-choice test at:
For a summary of Dante's Inferno go to:
See you 'round!