Banana Pancakes & Sugar Cane

It’s so obvious when I’m avoiding writing. The cursor flashes blank and I make up every possible reason to not start. I need to check my bank. My emails. I’ll charge my phone. I need another tea. Maybe I need a wee. I’ll just see if Facebook has updates. I need to read the news. Oh I’ll check my bank again. Rinse, repeat.

Then I remember the piece in the War of Art about how it was easier for Hitler to start World War 2 than to face a blank canvas. I am facing the canvas. Even in naming it, I can feel it reduce in me. Looking up the story about Hitler to find the perfect quote, I managed to somehow check my mails again. I’m not sure what I’m checking. Perhaps I’m hoping that someone has mailed to let me know a large sum of money is arriving in my account or that the whole of South America hasn’t been destroyed in a tsunami. I don’t, but I know how much I’m avoiding writing.

And yet, all I want to do is write. In theory. So I’m not sure why it has to be this uncomfortable.

I’m in Heathrow terminal 5. Jem is fast asleep on the couch next to me, he’s under a pile of duvets and a cosy grey hoodie draped over his face. Hannah is on her yellow phone opposite me and jazz oozes into the air. Just outside where we’re sitting are queues that snake around the whole terminal as people try and rebook their flights that have been cancelled by the fog. Whenever I write the word fog, my fingers spell out god, I always have to correct it. god. Even when I’m conscious of it, fingers say no.

We have a few hours to just be. Work out expenses. Sleep. Sit. Digest something, anything of what we’ve been through. As we sit, photo’s get posted of the summit and we get to remember snapshots of it all.

I’m trying to remember it. I try with snapshots.

A Holi paint throwing party that turned into a mud fight and then mud dance to drummers.

Followed by messy showers and swimming in the natural pool as the moon climbed into the sky.

Then beers and music and food and rum and dancing and singing.

Slow goodbyes to old friends and new.

Discovering Adventures in Human Being.

Milking a cow. Touching ‘touch me nots’. Shooting catapults. Throwing pots.

Drinking chai. Eating sugar. Getting into a taxi. Taking the longest drive home through the countryside and then mid city traffic. Arriving exhausted to the Ibis, our proverbial home.

All of our plans for the evening were cancelled and after having been in the earth for 4 days, I craved a view, height, perspective and so looked up every rooftop bar in Bangalore. Coupled with a recommendation, we took a rickshaw to Shiro’s.

We had to walk through an exquisite building to find it, a luxury shopping mall with the best brands. I love the vastness of how many worlds we can be part of. Shiro’s was what I had dreamed. Soft gold lighting with hints of red and blue, a bar and outside section overlooking the city, with asian chefs throwing knives.

We ordered everything from Long Island Ice teas to coconut pina coladas, apple mojitos, martini’s — everything and anything to try. We chose a selection from the menu and the food flooded us with impossible tastes. Like parts of our mouths got to experience variety that we’d never had before. We laughed the whole way through. A kind of blissful delight and disbelief. Relishing our time together, post summit, in this warm breezed experience of heaven.

We headed to the rooftop to see the Skybar and somehow 4 of us found ourselves in a rikshaw not wanting to go home, wanting just to be together in the city. Our driver kind of understood this and so stopped on the side of the road to buy us beers. He then drove us in circles for 20 minutes with us trying to convince him to let us drive or show us something new. He didn’t. Or wouldn’t. And we were just happy shouting at the top of our lungs, drinking beer, all 4 of us crammed into a single tuktuk, watching the city lights go by.

Home to the Ibis for some dodgy dancing and finally, attempted and failed movie night with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

The next morning, we headed into town. I got time with Ads which I loved and we all got lost for an hour ending up in Burger King, crowns, milkshakes, burgers n all.

We then headed to the train station to work out how to get to Hampi. A young overweight, droopy eyed Indian man helped me fill out a form, wait for my number to be called and showed me how to book. There were no Hampi Express tickets left, so we bought tickets for the Passenger Express, no AC and no classes. A smell of urine and adventure.

Home to Ibis to pack, a wonderful farewell to Neil and Ads and later an Uber to the station for the beginning of … This.

The station is packed, there is an art to having an expression of someone who is unfazed by standing out, which somehow helps you blend. The station is a heaving living body, with human ants coming in and out with their loads. We find a restaurant and order a purely Indian meal, Masala Dosa, Thali, Yumness. It’s good to eat like this. Spicy, awake, textured food.

We find our platform and head far down to where we think our carriage will be. The smell of urine is extraordinary. The train is an hour late. The man who helped me with the tickets finds us and stands with his belly pushing against Jem, with a strange stoned-looking smirk at the three of us. He tells us he’s in the same carriage as us. We all go awkwardly silent, wondering how we’re going to be ok with this strange man who knows our names being with us for the next 13 hours… He tells us he’s with his parents and they are going to the same place as us. I spiral into paranoia, that he’s following us, organising a coup, that his friends are going to abduct us on the other side. He walks off to get his bags to join us.

Jem decides to bravely confront him only to meet his parents. He asks him kindly and gently to not join us as it’s making us uncomfortable. I suddenly remember that I’d copied his form and not the other way around. From terrifying fear to endearing relief in a split second memory.

The train. Sleeper beds. No windows. Just bars. A hole toilet straight to the ground. Fluorescent lights. Old fans. Sellers with chai and coffee. We sat with each other for a bit, eating chocolate and coconuts and banana. We each had our own bed through the night, with the speed of the train the only sound. As we all woke up, we got to watch the green and blue world rushing past — empty fields, small villages, stone mountains, beautiful trucks, piles of rubble, families dressed in so much colour waiting at platforms. None of us needed the train to arrive anywhere. We were so happy.

Off the train into the best kind of heat, real summer heat with a light breeze. A tuktuk took us from the station to Hampi, 15 minutes into our drive, the landscape started changing. Banana fields and rice paddies… everything lush, bright, green, vibrant — with perfect blue skies lighting it.

We got taken to the ferry, a tiny boat that goes from one side of the river to the other — about 200m.

As we climbed out of the tuktuk, it slowly dawned on all of us that we were in a new world. Nothing like the smoggy busy traffic jungle that is Bangalore or the earthy grasslands of the summit — this was something else completely, this was paradise.

Playful bodies splashing about amidst the rocks with the sun glistening as it ballets on the water. The backdrop is filled with orange and red boulders. There are rickshaws and bicycles and mopeds lining the streets behind the water. We climb on board the next ferry, a small boat that squashes over 20 people on it and somehow makes space for motorbikes as well.

As we get to the other side and carry our bags uphill, we turn around and are confronted by awe. A landscape lush with green and littered with massive temples — a scene that if I’d seen in a movie, I would have laughed off as impossible.

We carried our bags to The Goan Corner, a backpackers haven about a 15 minute walk from the ferry. We collapse in the main area and order three times more food than we’d ever need. Each of us determined to finish it. We knocked ourselves out into a food coma, had a nap and woke up to just enjoy the quietest evening together. In season, this place has up to 140 people filling every chair and table… there were ten to twenty other people quietly around at any given time, that and 6 dogs. It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

In the morning we shared a bowl of muesli and found out we could rent scooters. So we climbed on the bikes and spent the day touring the island. I don’t know if it’s actually an island. It should be if it’s not. I’ll let someone know.

We met a new friend for ‘the best coffee in town’, with a view looking over the other side of the river that took all of our breath away. He taught me some hebrew. There are so many Israelis that come here and so restaurants have Hebrew and falafel and Negila. It’s nice to see a world within a world like that.

Bikes. The thrill of the acceleration in your hand. The air forcing itself over you. Aliveness. Just, aliveness. All the smells, colours, roads are right there in you and with you. My head got to wonder into forever while still getting completely lost in it all. The fields and cows and shacks and children waving.

We got perfectly lost and eventually found the lake, bought cokes and crisps and got to the water. Still water, surrounded by rocks and grass, completely enclosed. Warm water we can dive straight from the rocks into. Who made this place. Diving and swimming and sitting and diving.

On our way out, Han came off her bike and proudly and brilliantly boasted her ‘Motorbike wound’. Jem cleaned it and has nursed it and we all kind of hope there’s a small scar to remember this all by.

A very late lunch in another restaurant and a final ride home on our bikes. Coconut milkshakes and beer and happiness.

We woke up earlier to get to the other side of the water. All we knew is that we wanted to cycle in Hampi and see some of the temples, a simple dream, with little planning.

We got bikes on the other side and found ourselves at the first main temple, I was just looking forward to being on a bicycle. A young man called Krishna started telling us some interesting facts and it was so interesting to learn, turns out he’s been a tour guide for ten years and wants to know if we want a tour on our bikes. Yes, yes we did. We negotiated down a lot.

Into the temple, learning about the history of Hampi compared to Rome. He leads us into the grounds and on our left, there she is, an exquisite creature, Laxmi, the elephant of the temple. We got to see her from the back, all in mesmerisation. Then we walked around, learnt some more about pinhole photography in architecture — and headed back. This time her trainer was with her. And then, our guide, Krishna invited us to meet her, to touch her, to play with her — and to have Henna painted on our hands while we did so. The temple was closed to the public and so it was just the three of us, Krishna, the trainer and his kids — all being together — with this masterpiece of an animal.

A day of cycling, drinking coconuts and sugar cane and we arrived back to our home exhausted and full. We grabbed our stuff and headed back to the ferry, took one of the last crossings at sunset and found The Mango Tree, a sit-on-cushions-on-the-ground bohemian haven where we got to sit and be for 3 hours. We ate and napped and drank and devoured chocolate banana coconut pancakes before getting a ride to the bus station for an overnight trip back to Bangalore.

The bus was loud and hot. It shook and rocked and bumped. I loved it. We all slept and woke up to the shouts of ‘last stop’ at 6am, on the dot of our expected arrival, such punctuality was wholly unexpected.

We wandered through the bus station with our bags, Jem called the station “a massive heaving pile of ‘slugs’”. We got into a rickshaw that promised to take us to a nice hotel. After 3 incredibly and wonderfully dodgy hotels, we realised we just wanted to go home — to the Ibis. So we did.

I asked for a recommendation for dinner and google and the guy at the front desk both said the same place. So we ordered an uber and headed straight there. On arrival, the only thing all of us could see was a massive sign saying ‘Imax’. So we raced inside a shopping mall and booked tickets for the next show, went to an arcade to play air hockey and pass the time — until it was movie time. We put our order in, then took our seats — to have someone bring us a mega super deluxe caramel and salty popcorn which we devoured while watching The Wire, which we enjoyed enough for it not to be unpleasant, but not enough for it to beat everything else we did before and after.

The restaurant happened to be tucked away hidden inside the shopping centre. It was designed like the inside of an old Indian train carriage. Incredible if we had time to appreciate it and were awake, but it was a a somber and sweet quick last meal before our final tuktuk home through the fresh air, kaleidoscope of smells and one last immersion in the city.

A few hours of sleep and then a taxi to the airport…movies on the plane — and the happiest 8 hour wait until leaving London for Edinburgh, curled up in restaurants — with jazz and warmth keeping our memories safe.

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