Thursday, July 13, 2006


Many years before cheap airlines and the Interrail would metabolize nomadism making it socially acceptable and accessible almost to the point of irrelevance, both the North American police and the Interpol led their own investigations aiming to understand (and prevent) the growing inclination to roadside life displayed in the 60s and 70s by a disaffected youth. Those were times of the overland hippie trail to India, of the French May, and to the eyes of authorities that understood self segregation to be another kind of transgression, , the movement of an intrepid generation seemed to akin to ideology and militancy. In his book “A sociology of Hitch Hiking” (1974) Mario Rinvolucri pastes fragments of such reports, where the official-redactor bitterly complains: “traveling, specially by hitch hiking, seems to be the joy of this people. Wherever they are found, they are bound for somewhere else; back to Amsterdam or onwards to Istanbul (…) Drinking wine and kissing in public they are a displeasing spectacle” –concludes the inspector who, with the Vietnam war in the headlines manages to make room in his indignation for wines and kisses. Confronted to the lack of consensus at home, there was hardly a better choice for the travelers than the shelter provided by their own strongholds, like Crete, Istanbul or Northern India. But intolerance had a replica abroad and soon the leaders of several alternative settlements near Pokhara and Katmandu were given a stern warning by Nepali Police. An alarming similarity with the late Roman Empire era when, anticipating the Medieval Law of Residence the peasant was obliged to stay where he was recorded at the census. Two weeks ago I arrived to one of these reservoirs; McLoed Ganj, in Himachal Pradesh, Northern India.

My first impression of McLoed was that of a compact universe where Tibetan monks, cows, and long haired travelers in their Royal Enfield – the little modified Indian version of an English 1955 motorcycle- share the streets bis-a-bis. The second mementos I associate with McLoed are its are its poster covered walls, announcing courses on yoga, meditation or Tibetan cuisine. The town has in fact performed a maneuver of adjustment (and bastardization) to accommodate –and please- the visitors’ community. Having traveled trough Iran and Afghanistan in relative cultural isolation, it wasn’t difficult to take the decision to drop anchor for a fortnight, stability I hadn’t known in 14 months of marching pace. Consequently, McLoed became a sort of TV studio , with the curtains unveiling each morning the same settings, more often than not the terrace of the View Café. I was talking there to a slightly built man whose beard was white enough to remember Afghanistan in peaceful times and even to emotionally recall the winters in Qandahar, when a another man, who had been all the while leaning over the corner sofa and repeatedly preparing whiskey and coke, addressed to me. His name was Daniel, and he was an artisan (or jeweler –as he dubbed himself) from Argentina. He resided in Canary Islands, Spain and had come to India to buy stones at Jaipur’s gem market, allegedly the largest in the world. Having accomplished his commercial affairs, he had quickly realized that he was spending less money in India, sleeping in hotels and eating at restaurants, in perpetual holidays, than back home with a basic life in Spain. As many others, he had decided to stay until the last day of his visa. And that’s not a short time, for all Indian visas are granted for six months. For his contemplative pose, every afternoon in the corner coach, whiskey ‘n coke in hand, rather than for the badge in his left eye we started to nick him “the Captain”. I am speaking in plural, since by dusk the View Café, which also doubled as a guesthouse had revealed the presence of other latinos: Sergio and Andres from Chile, Elena from Spain, and others.

- I have whiskey, warm clothes, and playing cards, all I need” –had stated the Captain, letting us mentally reconsidering each item of our gear in the first place, but also hinting at the downhill fate McLoed had experienced, formerly a screen for the flirt and the bias of English aristocrats who, among cocktails and servants would show off their position, now a hangout for a impoverished artists who make frugality the center of their pride.

- When I first set foot in Canarias –the Captain went on- I had no shoes, not a dime, my trousers –a present- could have fit two men at the waist, I didn’t even had a belt. Such is the life of the artisan, today you are rich, and tomorrow you starve. I love it!” It was clearly a Captain that appreciated wrecks. And yet, something hadn’t changed. Hill Station or Hippie Station, it was always about the locals serving a richer lot.

In the following days I rejoiced in the bourgeois and novel pleasure of having a neighborhood. When the day would draw to an end, it was a tacit date that grouped us in the View or Trimurti Cafes to play cards with Sergio and Elena. McLoed itself doesn’t loose, for being the seat of the Tibetan Government in the exile, its general aspect of farming town. Tibetan prayers –strips of colored cloth printed with Buddhist sutras strung at the top of houses and temples to purify the air- make the hillside village look like something in between a birthday and the bridge of a massive ship. There were in McLoed enough temples and monasteries to keep us busy for al week, but it was hard to see the town as something different than an esthetic background for our own personal searches. It was enough to activate the lateral hearing in the View Café to realize that it was possible there to go around the world in 80 loonies. Everybody there seemed more or less involved in a series of disciplines ranging from Reiki –which I later found myself learning- to Ayurvedic medicine and yoga, but we were particularly impressed of the constancy with which ‘the people over the cushions’ gathered each evening to work on the Mayan calendar. Led by a Swiss with a scholarly preoccupation for the nature of February 29th, the group worked industriously, deriving the astrologic predictions for the following day, and publishing the graphically in a A4 size poster. In fact, when you ask, “what day is it?” in McLoed, chances are the other person is going to come up with “self existing red moon” or “blue monkey”. With such titles, who can honestly miss old Monday or Tuesday? Other times you can hear them speaking about bakthuns, 52 years long cycles. When 52 bakthuns are passed hold yourself, game over. Redirecting our ear to our South American table, the Captain argued with Andres about the mileage of different Royal Enfield models, while Sergio categorically suggested a classification of nipples, and asked seriously if hardness and diameter should be enough criteria. Mind the gap…

Seen like this it seems like just a logia of mystic orientated coffee drinkers. And to some extent most of the routine in McLoed slips away hanging around different cafes in rota basis, but of course, with a police reluctant to interfere with Holy Tourism, the freedom of consciousness is the only moderator and coffee or chai are mere footnotes to marihuana or hashis. It’s an old issue which, let me say, our society, too afraid to openly embrace it but too interested in the grass to reject it, has promptly resolved with clandestinity. It is no doubt a matter of perspectives. I was surprised to meet an English couple who not only resorted frequently to smoke in front of their children but were rather afraid that these would pick up odd prejudices from school…

As days passed, however, other layers of the onion came to surface, and it became evident that McLoed was a lot more than a destination for a colorful bunch happy to have a great time in a cheap country. It was quite an experience to run into Jari, an Ecuadorian who has studied alternative therapies in India for over 4 years, and who is equally qualified to heal a migraine with Bach Flowers or to give a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita, the Epic drama of Hindu gods. But Jari rejects the word “mythology”, for he rather considers our civilization to be the corrupted inertia of a forgotten golden era, which echoes reached the scribes of the Bhagavad Gita. As he instructs us in an elegant style that includes rhetoric questions, nothing seems to grasp at the attention of the Swedish girl who next to us keeps knitting a brigh orange sweater with the slogan: “Slowly, slowly, full power”, which quite summarizes the prevalent attitude around, the faith of the visitors in their alternative paths, the stoicism with which the Tibetan maintain their exile. With the same criteria, the inhabitants of Christiania, the alternative community nestled in the heart of Copenhagen, had their coins minted bearing a snail. Not as intimidating as the double headed eagle of the Russian coins, but far more meaningful. Also as in Christiania or as in a Rainbow Gatherings, McLoed offers shelter from the mainstream to the traveler and the innovator. On learning that many of the present were thinking of flying to England to attend the on going European Rainbow in the South Coast, the link was clear. But no matter how cozy harbors are, ships were conceived for the sea. Sometimes ships don’t return from the sea, and this is something sailors know perfectly well. My last days in McLoed were all sadness. By email I learnt that Kinga, resourceful and unstoppable Polish hitchhiker and writer from Gdansk had died as a result of malaria in Accra, Ghana. It is proper to ribbon an article about patience, commitment and confidence with the most famous of Kinga’s statements: “Every dream is given to us with the power to make it come true”. Slowly slowly, full power.