My thinking in the summer of 2008: if the whole of southern Asia were not under the sheng canopy , the largest gap would seemingly be the Indian sub-continent. I had been advised that October would be one of the best times to enter this part of the world.
Hari, my guide and companion in Malaysia, had traveled there before, and had offered to accompany me at the appropriate time. My friend Lapping had offered to subsidize Cesco if he wished to go as well, and so Hari, Cesco and I came together in Chennai (old Madras) in early October.
As usual, we had to consider the problem of transportation. The railroad solution had worked reasonably well in Australia, and so we decided to try it in India: we bought month-long India rail passes. The modus operandi with these, once one decides when and where he wants to go, is to queue up in the appropriate line at the local train station, and obtain reservations (or be put on the waiting list), opting either for a sleeper (if the trip is to be at night), or a seat. There were minor problems with late trains, and one major problem when floods occurred during the Dinali holidays, which delayed a train for several days. But the method turned out to be sufficient for our purposes.
Chennai is in the northeastern corner of India’s southernmost State Tamil Nadu. In India the States are subdivided into Districts. Chennai is in Tiruvallur District, and two Districts
to the southwest is Tiruvannamali District, the district headquarters of which is Tirvannamali town. The word "tiruvannamali" means "fire", which in Hindu lore is associated with the human chest. The Hindu god Shiva is said to have manifested himself in five specific places in southern India -- in each of these places as one of the five natural elements: ether, wind, water, earth, and fire. Shiva’s fire manifestation was on Arunachala hill, next to Tiruvannamali town. The most famous object of the town is the large Arunachaleswar Shiva temple, which has been in existence since pre-history. Arunachala hill is a pilgrimage site, venerated as a healing place, and a source of spiritual knowledge.
We considered this to be a good place to begin our work. So we boarded a train to our destination’s nearest railroad station at Villapuram, and took a bus thence to Tiruvannamali, arriving in the late evening. Next morning we hired an auto rickshaw (the ubiquitous three wheel motorized open-air cart, which serves as the common man’s taxi in India) to take us to the temple.
Upon arrival at the main gate, I observed that there was a rather strong vortex on a high nearby hill. So we circled round the outside of the temple walls, asking for directions as we walked, and eventually made it to the trail which leads up that hill. This, we learned later, was the famed Arunachala hill.
On the way up the trail, a young boy offered to lead us by direct route to the top. The way up was somewhat long and steep, and Hari offered to stay with what we did not need to carry, at a small temple along the way.
I had flown into India out of Shanghai, and from Shanghai to the Arabian sea across the Indian border of Assam. The sheng canopy had been unbroken, except for a moderately sized hole above southwestern China. But from Assam to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) on the west coast of India, where I changed from an international to a domestic flight, and then again across India to Chennai, there was no sign of a sheng
canopy . And such was still the case overhead, when we visited Tiruvannamali.
We judged it would be better to travel in the cooler north earlier in the trip, and after arriving back in Chennai, where Hari had relatives, we set off north and west, taking a sleeper to the city of Mangalore in Karnataka State on the west coast, which we reached on October 8. After detraining, I took a fix on the nearest strong vortex, and we hired a taxi, directing the driver toward our target.
These situations are always a bit tricky, since we are unable to tell our drivers our exact destination, nor often even the distance to our destination: only the direction. The situation is further confused if a driver has small understanding of English. During the days just before our coming, and periodically throughout our trip, India was suffering from miscellaneous terrorist bombings, so inquiring taxi drivers’ minds wanted to know.
On this particular outing, we ended up in a suburb of Mangalore called Ulal. The vortex was on a hill, and we had the driver park at its base. Cesco stayed with the driver while Hari and I walked up the hill along the side of a road. This was not open country: everywhere were homes and gardens, and when we neared the vortex, there were several people just up the road eyeing us curiously. Hari walked over, engaging them in conversation, while I ducked behind a tree to treat the appropriate spot. Hari brandished his camera like a true tourist, but we were still regarded with curiosity as we returned down the hill. Later we learned that the neighborhood was an area of friction between Christians and Hindus, which may have had something to do with the interest our presence had wakened.
When we returned to the car, the cabby took us to small place for a good Indian breakfast, and thence to the a nearby beach,
where I had my first view of the Arabian Sea.
The old Portuguese colony of Goa was only returned to India in 1961, and has long been a tourist center. This meant we could expect better accommodations, but also higher prices. We arrived weary, late in the evening, without sufficient energy to hunt for a cheap hotel, and took what our driver presented.
Next morning we hired an auto rickshaw and pointed the driver in the direction of the nearest strong vortex. We ended up on the beach, which was not surprising, given that vortices near the coast tend to be most often on the beach (albeit sometimes on a nearby hill). It was a beautiful site, and the immediate vicinity being unoccupied at the time, we had the rare experience in India of being able to plant our TBs unhurriedly and unobserved.
North of Goa is Maharashtra State, and our next target city was Ratnagiri, about half-way up the coast towards Mumbai. The vortex in that place was again on the coast, but here there was no sand, only rocks bordering villagers’ houses. So we had to place our TBs surreptitiously between the rocks.
We were stopping at places near the coast, since these typically offer relatively convenient access to latent vortices. We were still south of Mumbai, did not wish to enter that huge metropolitan area, and the town of Roha appeared to be the last good railway stop on the coast south of the Mumbai area. It was on this next stage of our journey that the sheng canopy appeared from the south and overtook us. From that day on during our trip, we were never without the sheng canopy above us.
Roha turned out to be only a very short train-stop, and much to the subsequent amusement of our fellow passengers, we missed it. We had no alternative but to continue and detrain at the next station Nagathani. It was dark when we arrived, but I sensed something in the vicinity which might be a vortex, and we found a place for the night not far from the station.
Next morning we went for a walk in the direction of the qi source, and found it was not a vortex, but a large cellular tower. This was not the first time I had made such a mistake. Back in 2006, when John Scudamore was driving Cesco, Rich, and I about the English\Welsh border looking for latent vortices, I had (much to my mortification) made a similar mistake.
So after breakfast, we took a bus north to Panvel, the next good-sized railroad city.
There was sign of a strong latent vortex when we reached Panvel, and we hired an auto rickshaw to follow it. We wound up some kilometers outside of town, on a small mountain from which rock was being excavated. Because of danger from dynamite detonation, the rickshaw had to remain at the base, but Cesco and I walked up the road to reach and treat the latent vortex site.
North of Maharashtra is the State of Gujarat. Looking for a city in that State, along the railroad with coastal access, we settled on Surat. This was partly due to my curiosity concerning the Zoroastrian faith, for there was a Parsi temple in Surat.
The origins of this faith are known to be pre-Christian, but hidden in obscurity, and it is not known when the founder Zarathustra actually lived. He taught the concept of asha, meaning "truth", or order (as opposed to chaos druj). Zarathustra said that God (Ahura Mazda) left to man the choice of whether he would use his time one earth to further asha -- or druj.
Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of Persia for nearly a thousand years, until it made contact with Islam, after which it declined in that country. Today in Iran it is practiced only sparingly, and usually in secret. In the 7’th century, many believers fled to India, where their descendants (presently about 70,000) in number, are known as parsis. In their temples are kept a holy fire, said to have been brought from Persia in the old days, and kept continuously alive by their priests.
When we visited the temple in Surat, we were not permitted inside the temple proper -- only practitioners of the religion could enter. We were told that even among the membership only a few were permitted into the sacred room containing the fire: just the priests, after many years of training, could witness and tend the fire.
We had thought to journey next up to Bikaner in the Great Indian Desert, but found that tickets were not to be had. This alerted us to the imminent approach of the Hindu holiday Diwali. The week of Diwai is homecoming week for millions of families in India, and public transportation is reserved for this period months in advance. So for the coming week we just had to take what was available, and for the week after that simply just not travel at all in India. We were able to get tickets to Amritzar in the Punjab, on the Indian/Pakistan border. This was Sikh country, and their famous Golden Temple is in Amritzar.
We thought it prudent at this point to buy tickets for the remainder of the coming week. Our plan was first to visit Allahabad, which was the home of a temple housing a nearly two thousand year old tree, thence to Buddhgaya, where Gautama Buddha had reached enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, from there to travel up to Gang-Tok in Sikkim, at the foot of the Himalayas, and then go south again, through Calcutta, back along the eastern coast to Chennai.
In Allahabad the Yamuna River flows into the holy Ganges, and the temple with the ancient tree was located in a fort near the confluence. All three of us had digestion problems at one time or another during the trip, and Cesco’s turn was in Allahabad. Consequently he rested up in our hotel room, while Hari and I went out to see the temple. We hired a rickshaw to get out to the place, and the driver deposited us with some people who ran a ferry business. These led us to believe the temple was across the river, and offered to ferry us for 500 rupees. We agreed, sat down in the boat, and looked around as our hosts began rowing us out into the river. In a short while we caught sight of the temple, on the same side of the river from which we had set out. So we had been scammed. This was annoying, but not nearly so much as it might have been, had I not also noted that there was a vortex on the other side of the Yamuna. So we had the boatsmen let us off on that bank for about 20 minutes, while we made our way to the vortex and back. Once back in the boat, we directed the oarsmen to return to the side of the river with the temple. But they indicated that since we were so near the Ganges, we should at least let them row us there before going back. We declined, but they persistently kept at us, and at length we acceded. Scammed again it turned out, for when we reached the confluence, our boat drew up next to another anchored at the spot, and they had us remove our shoes, and board the other boat. Here was a Brahmin priest, with assistants. These latter wanted us to buy a couple of coconuts placed in paper boats, so that we could present them as a gift to Mother Gunga, the goddess of the Ganges. I declined, but Hari, who comes from a Hindi family, did purchase some offerings. Now the Brahmin led Hari through a ritual speech prior to placing the offerings in the water: the Brahmin dictated, and Hari would repeat after him. When it was done, the priest demanded a thousand rupees for his service! Hari gave him a few, but nowhere near what he was demanding.
The next stop was Gaya, the closest rail town to Bodhgaya. This is one
of the poorer parts of India, and indeed there seemed more beggars here than elsewhere. They were even organized, with native English speakers bringing tourists to beggars, getting kick-backs. Buddhists visit Bodhgaya from all over the Buddhist world, and have built numerous temples there -- but the chief tourist attraction is the Bodhi tree. The present tree is in the same spot as the original, where the Buddha sat in contemplation some two and a half millennia ago. A seedling from the original was brought to Sri Lanka, and it is a cutting from that seedling which is the present tree.
We visited the spot, and it is indeed holy. Some distance beneath the tree there is a concentration of joyful qi. After paying our respects, we walked through the business district of the small city, and out into a suburb where was a latent vortex on the bank of a small stream. We had to bide our time, sitting on the bank, until the villagers no longer paid attention to us, before we could treat the vortex. On the way back I slipped and fell into the stream. I did not obtain enlightenment, only muddy pants, and so I can vouch that it was not the famed stream created by Gautama Buddha’s arrow so long ago.
From Bodhgaya we traveled via auto rickshaw to Gaya, and thence by bus to the city of Patna on the north-south railway line. Patna was likely the most dirty city through which we passed in India. We were scheduled to board the train north to New Jalpaiguri at 10:30PM, but it was about 1:30AM when it finally arrived. We passed the time swatting at mosquitoes and observing various other insects,
Next morning it was Hari’s turn to be ill and remain at the hotel. Gangtok is a picturesque town on a mountainside,
It was now nearly time for the Diwali holidays, and we had to decide what we should do. The sheng canopy was overhead, and we had good reason to believe it was over all of India. Thus further work in India might be somewhat redundant. All three of us were suffering illness to some extent, and we felt a break would be welcome. Cesco opted to return early back to Europe, Hari decided to pass the holidays in Chennai where he had kin, and I chose to accept an offer by old friends to spend a few days in Taiwan. Hari took the train back south to Chennai, but Cesco and I got off at Calcutta. Cesco’s plane actually was out of Chennai, but he feared the train would not get him down south in time for his flight. I felt he was being unnecessarily careful, as he had the better part of a day in extra time between the scheduled arrival of the train and the scheduled plane departure for London. But it turned out that he was right, as floods caused the train to be delayed by over a day, and he would have missed his flight, had he had not flown down from Calcutta. This was not the first such case in which Cesco’s intuition had proved more effective than reason.
As with nearly all travelers from the West who spend any time in real India, we had our intestinal problems. There is a solution, to the effectiveness of which I can personally attest. A century ago, when the Japanese and Russians were going at it in Manchuria, the Japanese Army suffered seriously from dysentery. An herbal pill was developed, which cured the problem, and in after years it became known as (translated roughly into English) "Beat the Russians Pills". Taiwan was under Japanese occupation for 50 years, from 1894 until 1944, and traces of Japanese culture live on there. I bought my bottle in Taipei:
After Diwali, I met up with Hari again in Chennai, and we we took the train down to Madurai in the south of Tamil Nadu. There is a famous Hindu temple in that city, and Hari had had an interesting experience there on a previous visit to India. So I was curious to see it. Unfortunately, not being a Hindu, I was denied admittance into the interesting parts of the temple. During Diwali there had been more terrorist bombings in India, and security was again more strict than usual.
So we gave up on the temple and hired an auto rickshaw to search out a new vortex. This took us out beyond the airport into the countryside. As usual, the driver was suspicious of our intentions, and as Hari and he had a common language (Tamil), he finally asked Hari what our purpose was. Hari explained, and when he had acquired a measure of understanding, was happy to wait for us, while we hiked off-road to reach the vortex. We passed several people in the fields though which we passed, whose photos we took, and generally had a good time in reaching the vortex. This was number 11:
My trip back home took me from Chennai across the country to Mumbai, thence across mid- and north-India, over Assam, over south-western China, into Shanghai, along the coast of eastern Asia, and over the Pacific to San Francisco. This time, along the way home, we never flew out from under the sheng canopy .
The weather was good, and I had opportunity to observe the qi on the earth’s surface in various places. Where the sheng canopy had been present overhead for some time, sheng qi had built up on the ground and ocean beneath. The only exceptions were the water along the coastlines, where for some reason for some distance from the edge of the water out into the ocean, the sheng canopy was not present on the water’s surface. I could feel it in the ground below the water, but not on the surface until a mile or so away from the coast.
Most Indian food is highly seasoned, by US standards at least. But one could order something more mild off the Chinese menu, which many restaurants in India carry. Here is one from a Siliguri eatery at which we dined several times: