“The lives of these infinitely numerous persons make no claim to the tragic; but they live under an evil star. The few who break free seek their reward in the unconditioned and go down in splendor.”
–Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
February 9, 2020
I’m not sure how I ended up in Goa, which is a common thing you hear. But my Indian college roommate planted the seed, telling me legends of full moon raves on the beach.
After 30 hours of travel from the states, I wake up in a beachfront yoga school on the Arabian Sea surrounded by beautiful girls. Thank you college roommate!
Practicing yoga in India makes me realize how sad the classes are in the states. More like a fast-food chain, hustling customers in and out with no opportunity to connect.
In Goa, we practice three times per-day with one instructor and two adjusters per group. The owner of the school is a short Indian guy with glasses and a strong beard. When I’m in child’s pose, he sits his full body on my back and bounces up and down.
For the girls, he gets close and then twists them into pretzels. That’s how it’s done in India.
It’s the perfect escape from the life I left in Boston, working long hours in PR and marketing, before I quit and bought a one-way ticket to India.
I share a cab with another guy and two girls from our yoga school and we head to the party Mecca of North Goa.
My friend suggests we get motorcycles. Embarrassingly, I’ve never ridden one before, so he gets me started on a Honda Hero 100cc. I learn to ride on the dusty roads dodging cows, street dogs, and TukTuks.
I continue traveling with Zaza, a Brazilian girl from my yoga school with wavy brown hair and an infectious personality. We get on the night bus to the ancient city of Hampi.
Passengers and luggage are smashed together into tiny sleeper compartments for 13 hours of bumpy chaos. It’s all worth it when we arrive in Hampi, which the most unique and beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
We stay at a place called Rambo Hostel in a camouflage tent set in a rice field.
A big American guy at the hostel asks for a ride to the ferry. After I start driving my scooter he shifts his huge backpack, and I swerve, crashing and spilling us onto the pavement. A chunk is missing from the palm of my hand, which I try to patch with my medical kit in the hostel. I am a shitty doctor and it never properly heals.
Zaza prepares an Oracle Card reading to get me back on track. She pulls my card, which illustrates a large brick portal set in the desert. It reads, “Trust Your Path.”
A few days later Zaza and I cross the river to visit the Achyuta Raya Temple and we are the only two travelers there. It’s the size of several football fields with ruined columns lining each side and a temple that serves as a window to the desert beyond — the exact scene from the Oracle’s card.
We step through the portal and are transported to the age of desert kings and queens.
I head west to the beach town of Gokarna on my first real solo trip. The bus drops me in a shady parking lot at 3:30 a.m. and I have no plans or place to stay.
I meet an Englishman named Jack who looks like a pirate and is in trouble with the authorities. The night before Jack lit a candle in his bamboo guest hut and awoke to a wall of flames incinerating the hut and all his belongings.
Jack is somehow chill about the situation as he drinks a chai in the cafe. He says he will pay a maximum of 2,000 rupees for the torched guest hut, which is $28 dollars.
On my last night in Gokarna, I walk to Om Beach, which is shaped like an Om symbol and occupied by crazy Israelis just out of the military. They invite me for night swimming with the iridescent plankton.
Around midnight all the guesthouses shut their lights, and we get into the water. The sparkling planktons cover our bodies and follow our movements like a thousand spearmint fairies.
A chubby, blonde Israeli girl joins me in the electric water. She tells me her name is Tripp.
I’m about to catch the train back to Goa. On the platform I notice an American-looking girl who seems like trouble. She tells me her name is Alex Lofthouse, nearly identical to mine with last name spelled as my Norwegian ancestors had it before immigrating to Wisconsin.
We follow each other on social media. My handle is “akloftus” and hers is “aklosthouse,” which is cooler. People say you should be in touch with your feminine side. This is it:
I catch a plane to Delhi, and then pay 350 rupees for the cheapest overnight bus available to Rishikesh. Locals are jumping on and off while the bus is still moving, hoisting large bags of goods overhead.
We arrive in Rishikesh, which is a spiritual place full of ashrams and yoga shalas. I check into Shalom Backpackers hostel, which costs $5 per-night and is set on a cliff atop the River Ganges.
Travelers are arriving for the Holi festival, which celebrates the arrival of spring and flirtatiousness of the gods. It’s bangin’ with a thousand Indian guys in the street dancing to Bhangra and throwing powdered paint of all colors.
I join a group from the hostel and we drink something called “Bhang Lassi,” getting buzzed. We bathe in the Ganges River, liberating ourselves from the cycle of life and death, according to Hindi lore.
I hit it off with a cute Indian girl named Mythri and find she is assigned to the bunk above mine in the mixed dorm — thanks Shalom Backpackers : ) At night, Mythri drops her phone charger down on my bed, and I text her to come get it after everyone falls asleep. I give my plan a 10 percent chance of success, but it works.
The next day, Mythri and I visit the ruins of the Beatles Ashram where the band studied Transcendental Meditation in 1968. We walk through meditation chambers shaped like eggs and massive dorms with murals of gurus.
Mythri leaves for home that evening and sends me a text: “Goodnight, and sleep off to glory!”
Old Manali is set in a valley at the foothills of the Himalayas.
The village women wear purple headscarves and the men wear colorful round hats and smoke “Bidi,” local cigarettes wrapped in dry leaves. When I arrive it’s still winter, so I link up with some trekkers to head up the snow-capped mountains.
On March 22, local police in masks visit our hostel, the Orchard House, and tell us everyone must be out within 24-hours due to coronavirus lockdown. We have nowhere else to go, so I call the U.S. Embassy for help. They intervene and we’re allowed to stay in our hostel if we agree to quarantine for an unclear amount of time. We agree.
Eight guests are quarantined in the Orchard House. Nobody knows how long we’ll be confined to the property or what’s happening in the village outside. We spend our time fantasizing about food, as the hostel keeps serves us dal (lentils) and rice.
We read that millions are infected by coronavirus worldwide, but no cases in Manali so we break curfew and go on a camping trip in the mountains. When we return, the hostel owner threatens to call the police, and I decide it’s time to check out.
I originally checked into the Orchard House for two days, and leave after 72 days. I settle my final bill for lodging, meals and laundry, which comes to 41,000 rupees, or $550 dollars. Deal.
UNOFFICIAL END OF LOCKDOWN
After venturing out of the hostel, I meet other travelers in Manali who I had no idea existed.
I make friends with another American guy named Chris, who has been traveling the world for 10 years doing summer eco projects for money. Chris organizes a trash pickup in the Nature Park and a dozen other travelers show up.
At the cleanup I meet a cool Indian girl named Sonam and invite her on a picnic date. She brings the whole village with her.
I learn that Manali is the Tcharas capital of the world. Weed grows on every mountainside, around every village house, and even in the gutters. And people smoke more here than in Jamaica, and I’ve been to Kingston.
We head to Basecamp Nirvana for the after-party. It’s a motorcycle hostel owned by a guy named Ronnie from Delhi. He listens to rock-and-roll and has a mountain dog named Loki who rides on the front of his bike.
Sonam plays a Boris Brejcha mix and we get cozy on the blankets. A wild French girl named “Princess Eva” takes over as DJ and plays 140-bpm hardcore.
I get thirsty and my new friends convince me to drink the tap water in India for the first time. It comes from the Himalayan glaciers and tastes amazing. I don’t switch back.
Sonam and I leave the party with a young Colombian guy named Danny and a cool Norwegian chick named Alex, who had become a couple during lockdown. The sun rises and we head to the river where Danny and I strip to our boxers and jump across the rocks.
Sonam yells, “Boys, don’t go there!”
“I was caught, in the middle of a railroad track.
I looked round, and I knew there was no turning back.”
We are still officially on lockdown with the whole of India shutdown for travel.
So I rent my own apartment in Manali with a Shisha lounge, bedroom overlooking the temple, and guestroom accessible by ladder. I negotiate a price of 9,000 rupees, or $124 dollars per-month. There is no lease or anything to sign, just a handshake and goat curry dinner with the owner’s family.
Danny, Alex and Eva are savages and rent a whole hostel. It’s equipped with a full bar, pellet gun rack, and psychedelic artwork in every room. As it’s located across the river from Old Manali, it’s dubbed “Sri Lanka.”
Everyone shows up to Sri Lanki on the first night and we blow the roof off the place. We party until 7 a.m. and run afoul of the village authorities. We do it again the next night, earning our crew name: RENEGADES.
Danny and I get Renegade wheels — old and rugged Royal Enfield Machismos — and spend our days riding on the edge of Himalayan mountain roads with no guardrails, dodging sheep and drunken truck drivers.
We form a crew of Renegade trekkers to head up Lama Dugh mountain for a camping trip. We only remember a few bottles of water for the six-hour ascent and all that’s left are rum and cokes. We drink up, getting badly dehydrated.
I lose my iPhone in the process, declaring, “Fuck it. I don’t want a phone anymore.” It’s the last time I have a phone as of this writing. (***UPDATE – got new Samsung phone after four months phone-less)
We reach the top to find hundreds of creepy mountain goats staring at us, with their demonic, black, goat-bosses perched atop boulders.
Eva and Alex unveil their surprise games: Junkie Camping Olympíque 2020, featuring drinking, joint rolling, log jumping, and wood gathering competitions. Team Renegades cheats to defeat team Full Power by one point.
For my birthday the Renegades hold a three-day bash that I’ll never forget; and I’ve forgotten most all of my birthdays since my sweet sixteen. I awake to Sonam, Eva, Alex and Danny in my bed singing “Happy Birthday” in five different languages.
Later we head to the party in a valley campsite where MTV once held a psy-trance rave. It’s called Dream Village.
There’s a new girl at the party which is the rarest of sights during lockdown. She’s a 23-year-old Australian au pair named Bridget, with strawberry hair and deceivingly innocent look.
She’s got a chill personality and nice taste in progressive house music — Renegades in disguise, no doubt. The next night Bridget says, “Sorry, I didn’t get you a birthday present. I’m your present.”
RENEGADES PLAYLIST – TOP 5
Danny and I want something to remember this crazy lockdown, but we’re not ready for tattoos, so we head to Lord Shiva Piercing Studio. Danny gets pierced with gold earring, and I get a pair of thick, black titanium rings, which require my lobes to be pierced and stretched. It’s the first time I have earrings since I was a 19-year-old raver kid.
Lauren, our yoga instructor from the Milky Way Galaxy, organizes a street art project outside a psy-trance cafe. We paint an alien mural and construct a tree made of Tuborg beer bottles, as villagers watch in bemusement.
BEGINNING OF THE END
Alex and Eva drop the bomb: they’re leaving Manali to spend the rest of the summer in Europe, which is a huge blow to the group.
Of the Renegade girls, Alex is the house mom, always ensuring we have games to play, healthy food, and that nothing is wasted. She’s also the best headbanger at our dance parties. Everyone loves her.
Eva has been traveling the world for over a year with no phone. She drives around Manali in a scooter with a tiara and decal on front reading: Princess Eva: Full Power Bitches! When asked why she likes India, Eva replies in thick French accent, “Uhh, I don’ know? Zare are no rulezz!”
We throw one last bash at Sri Lanka, but the vibes are weird. Danny and Alex break up and Danny wastes no time trying to hook up with Bridget in the guest room.
It backfires when Eva walks in, and kicks Danny out of his own hostel in front of the whole party, screaming: “Fuck you, Daniel you puta beetch! Get out or I’ll cut your balls!”
The girls leave the next day, rendering the Renegades ranks depleted and depressed. We keep riding, but both Danny and I crash, damaging our bikes. Worse, I am trapped in a daily Tcharas and alcohol habit, and need an escape to detox.
Ronnie is pushing me to travel north to Leh (pronounced “Lay”), in the region of Jammu and Kashmir. Ronnie is a trusted advisor and legendary biker who once broke his back in a crash – but kept riding. I take his advice and book the trip.
After nearly five months in Manali, I’m ready for the next chapter. But first I need guidance from Lauren, my yoga instructor from the Milky Way Galaxy.
She leads me on a “Vision Quest” that involves oils, incense and healing crystals. It’s a hypnotic process that reveals thousands of tiny crystals floating above my head, representing all the treasures available in the universe.
I eat a sugar cube of LSD and go deep. It’s my last day in Manali and I start crying at the thought of leaving my best friend Danny behind. My friends are partying nearby, but I stay back to complete my vision.
Now I’m ready for Leh.
All my travel belongings:
– Replica Lowe Alpine 70-liter backpack in army green
– Matching sandals, gloves, and Superdry motorcycle jacket (also replica)
– REI 30-liter backpack in grey for day trips
– Knockoff Timberland “Woodland” boots, painted silver & signed by Manali friends
– Clothes, toiletries, drugs, medical kit, etc.
– MacBook Air I used to publish this blog