India Emergency Room Visit = 5 Rupees

While traveling I get lots of injuries but this is a really stupid one. Got gashed by the ceiling fan in my guesthouse when I stood up on the bed at night. You see being tall is not always so good.

There was lots of blood spilling from my bald head. Luckily some Indian guys next door helped me patch it with my medical kit in the bathroom. A good medical kit is a necessity for traveling, and I’ve used mine and re-filled it at least three times.

The next morning I visited the emergency room at Taluk Government Hospital in Varkala, which is the southmost tip of India. It was a Monday morning and lots of people were there but I got seen and professionally patched up in about 45 minutes.

(Taluk Government Hospital in Varkala)

The facilities were a little sketchy, with some WWI-era equipment and there was a garbage fire burning nearby. But the doctors were fast and thorough and the price can’t be beat:

5 rupees — thats just 7 cents U.S.!!!

Compare that to $200 I paid last time to visit ER in Boston. That means U.S. price is 2,857 times the India price. Note that India actually has universal free health care, U.S. just claims to have universal health care.

I also got treated for a previous wound and prescribed antibiotics and cream, all inclusive of the 5 rupee price.

INDIA X-RAY COST FOR PRIOR MOTO CRASH

Since I’m writing about medical costs, I also got an X-ray when I was in Delhi recently. Back in the fall I crashed my rental Royal Enfield motorcycle when a cow came out of nowhere on a blind turn.

The road was sandy and I applied the brakes too hard, crashed and fell on my elbow (the cow was unhurt). I have had lingering elbow pain since, so thought I should finally get an x-ray. The finding was no fracture.

Total cost for X-ray in specialty clinic: 500 rupees … or just under $7 dollars. This is not the price after insurance. I didn’t use my insurance because it’s too much hassle. That’s the straight cash price I paid in Delhi for an X-ray at a private specialist clinic.

DELHI DENTIST COSTS FOR SIX FILLINGS

Okay maybe I have been smoking and drinking and not flossing much for the past 10 months while traveling. So I finally went to the dentist in Delhi to check the damage.

I went to what seems to be a fancy dentist office: Clove Dental in the gated community of Hauz Khaz. I saw an Indian dentist woman who replaced three old fillings that had come out and filled three new cavities.

(Clove Dental clinic)

The office was very clean and hygienic and they even let me play my own chillout electronic music. She did a great job, with modern equipment and little pain involved. Total bill was 7,200 rupees or $97 U.S. dollars. Not sure what the price in U.S. would be but I guess about 4 times that.

So the verdict is Indian medical costs are rock bottom and dental costs are very reasonable. And now I’m ready to keep traveling and have saved money on medical costs that I can spend on motorcycles and substances that may lead me to get injured again.

What a life!

Trippy Love: A Short Story

A beautiful girl approaches an older guy in a nightclub as techno beats in the background.

“Hey, you took my drink from the dance floor!” she says.

“No, it’s not yours, it’s mine,” he assures her.

“I’m tripping. Let’s leave here,” she says, grabbing his hand.

They ride his bike through the dusty back roads, returning to his hotel, holding hands awkwardly.

“Do you like curvy girls?” she asks.

“Yes. Some of them.”

They find more treasures, and trip even harder in his small clapboard room by the beach. Things get intense. She stares deeply into his eyes, noticing they’re beginning to change, frightening her.

“I’ve seen something in you; an old woman, or wolf,” she exclaims, as she begins shaking and crawls under the covers. “Are you going to hurt me?”

“No,” he replies. 

He notices her shape shifting from fair into dark; beautiful yet scared. A totally different girl opens the covers and invites him underneath.

They confide in everything. He tells his darkest secrets that he’s never shared before. “I don’t care,” she says, staring into his ever-changing eyes. “I like you, man.”

She let’s slip under her breath, “I mean, I love you.”

He melts — asking her why.

“No one has ever loved me and cared for me before,” she says, tearing up. “Never treated me special, or asked how I’m feeling.”

It’s the most honest thing he’s heard, and in that moment he realizes he wants the same.

“I love you too.”

Night becomes morning, morning becomes night, and they’re still up, tripping.

He drops her at her friends’ to say goodbye. Her flight leaves in the morning and she’s upset this is ending so fast. Her face shifts again and again, like an actress cycling through the emotions.

He leaves saddened, and looks up for just once last glance as she watches from the balcony above. It would be their last moment together.

Things go dark.

The next morning he awakes to knocking on his hotel door. He opens it, expecting the housekeeping staff.

But it’s her only, standing there more beautiful than ever in a red dress. The same girl, but a person he’s never met.

Their trip is over, but it’s only just begun.

Arranged Marriages in India: Twisted Social Networking


While traveling through India for the past ten months I’ve met many young Indians who are also traveling, staying in hostels, and generally living a lifestyle that runs afoul of their parents’ wishes.

When the topic of marriage comes up, they often say something like, “My parents want me to come home and get married ASAP. What should I do?”

I respond, “Do whatever the fuck you want to do.”

But it’s not so easy in India because of the archaic tradition of arranged marriages and other socio-economic factors. According to a 2018 Oxford University study, 93 percent of the country’s 1.3 Billion still follow this tradition.

How does an arranged marriage happen anyway?

#1) In India, most young people live with their parents until they are married. Many stay their whole lives, never really leaving home.

#2) Pre-marital sex is taboo. Some young people date and find love that turns into marriage. But this only happens 3 percent of the time and is condescendingly referred to as a “love marriage.”

#3) The vast majority of young Indians allow their parents to arrange their marriages. For the poor and uneducated this is often a necessity, as the country has little path to independence or welfare services. But well-off Indians also have arranged marriages. 

#4) Parents arrange marriages by conspiring with town elders and hired matchmakers to find suitable candidates. They share “Bio Data” sheets, which are like resumes showing: education, religion, family history, skin tone, and caste. Many parents share online profiles of their children on shaadi.com and play digital matchmaker.

#5) When parents want their children married (which is usually late teens in the villages, and mid-20’s in the cities) the children are granted some time alone to meet their matches. Sometimes the whole families meet as part of this process. The children often have some veto options.

#6) If things go well, the families start planning the wedding right away. They spend huge amounts of their savings (and sometimes take loans) for 1,000-plus-person weddings, decked out like a Bollywood movie. This is often to appear as if they’ve socially networked themselves into wealth.

#7) In many places the bride’s family is required to pay a dowry to the groom’s to make up for the fact that a woman is considered of less value. This sometimes happens in reverse in places with few eligible women. Dowrys are technically illegal, but still happen all the time.

#8) If the son (or even worse, daughter) grows past the age of 28 and is still not married, they are labeled “unmarried” and considered an embarrassment to the family.

#9) Once married, divorce is rarely an option. Only 1 percent of Indian marriages end in divorce, compared to 50 percent in developed countries.

#10) If the couple encounters major problems in their marriage, they often just live with them for the rest of their lives, rather than leaving the black mark of divorce on their family.

Travelers’ Takes: Why do young Indians still go along with this?

“One of the reasons is the controlling nature of Indian parents and their obsession with ‘family values.’ If you’re caught with intoxicants, you face the family’s wrath, but bringing someone home you actually like is worse. A love marriage, or marrying someone outside of your cast is the easiest way to tarnish a family’s reputation.” — Ashraf, Jodhpur

“Given how little government does for common citizens, having to separate from family money can seem scary. Independence is a risky business and arranged marriages seem like the easier way. Also patriarchy has women having no life apart from family, leading mothers to be over involved in their kids’ lives.” — Mitushi, Assam (***UPDATE*** – Read Mitushi’s full counter-analysis on her new blog!)

“Generally, if husband and wife encounter major problems during marriage, they live together a miserable life fearing that if they separate, the society with look down upon them and their kids. Some educated couples in metro cities are taking steps to come out of this situation, but that number is extremely low.” Shaily, Delhi

“There are a lot of bribes still practiced. The girl’s family pays a huge amount to the groom’s side. It mostly happens in arranged marriages. It’s the dowry.–Akshata, Hubli

“Despite this, our generation is catching up to the rest of the world pretty fast. I know of all kinds of married couples: open, swinging, gay, sometimes, and for convenience. Many of us get to do what we really want. The rest just follow blindly with arranged marriages, considering it to be an integral part of the culture.” – Ronnie, Manali

Seems like many young Indians are leaving home to travel and live the digital nomad life. They’re having sex with the people they actually choose to be with, well beyond the watchful eyes of their parents. Hopefully they get credit cards, keep traveling and fall in love far, far away from the false warmth of the family nest, which can quickly turn into a cold ball and chain.— The Editor, Renegades Logbook

Floating in the Arabian Sea



A plane flies in from Mumbai
Another leaves from Delhi, and a third from Bangalore
All three crash into the Arabian Sea

The passengers are lost
Floating somewhere around Goa
Inhaling clouds of smoke and chemicals
Suspended in time and space

They’re getting sucked deeper into the funnel now
Further down through the ocean’s vortex
It’s that dark grey spiral
The sunken dancefloor of Larive

I can’t see their faces
Whether it’s a man or woman, boy or girl
I don’t care

I inhale the techno and get so high I float
Into a bay of brown arms and breasts
Each pair holds me tight, then passes me along to the next
Without judgment

Now I’m drifting down a jungle river
It’s winding past the hostels and cafes
I’m breathing in that smoky, Goa roadside smell
It’s been nearly six weeks now, floating

Finally I find my friends and they pull me ashore
We get on our bikes

Like ghosts we tear through the night
Past Pappi Chulo, past Area 51, past the cops (fuck them)
All the way to Curlie’s on Anjuna Beach

There, a girl with a strawberry face approaches
She takes my hand and leads me through the sea of people

“Tell me when it’s time to go,” she says
“Tell me when it’s time to breathe
 “You’re the only one that knows
“There’s a voice inside me.”

###

(* Cover photo and lyrics from last stanza: From P60 with Lisa Shaw – Magic)

Tales from the LA Riders Motorcycle Club High-Altitude Expedition

LADAKH, INDIA
Sept. 14, 2020

I meet the leaders of LA Riders at Coffee Culture In Leh to discuss joining their motorcycle club expedition.

The club director introduces himself as “Cheetah” and explains that the “LA” in LA Riders is the local word for “pass,” meaning they ride motorcycles through the world’s highest altitude passes.

In two days they will embark on a weeklong trip through a route no traveler has ever crossed in the legendary Zanskar region of the Himalayas.

Cheetah says it will be 80 percent off-road riding at altitudes reaching 17,500 feet, followed by camping and live music in the mountains each night.  

Sounds kickass. Only problem is I have no experience off-roading.

I tell him, “I’m in.”

DAY 1 – RIDE OUT
Altitude: 11,562

We meet up early in downtown Leh. Thirteen riders are there for the trip, mostly on Royal Enfield Bullets and Himalayans.

Ten Maruti Suzuki “Gypsy” SUVs line up with staff loading tents, cooking supplies and live music gear.

A large LA Riders banner frames the start line. Local media shows up and Cheetah delivers the world’s all-time most honest press statement: “We have no insurance at all,” he says. “Riders, if you die it’s not our responsibility, okay?”

We nod.

(Cheetah, center, delivering his press statement alongside LA Riders leaders Tani, in local dress, and Singge, in vest)

The bikes and Gypsys are lined up and ready to ride out. A TV reporter woman notices I’m the only foreigner in the group and asks for a quick interview and ride on my bike. Sure thing.

There’s just female rider in the group. Her name is Kaydee and her style is ninja fierce. “More girls should ride on the front of bikes, not the back,” Kaydee tells the media, pointing out the seat removed from the back of her Enfield.

(Kaydee interviews with JK 24/7 news in front of her bike)

After the interviews, we ride for several hours en route to our first campsite. Our convoy is rolling through a valley lined with massive pyramid rocks and it looks like that scene from Mad Max where the bad guys get stuck.

I have my Patagonia down jacket tied sloppily to the back seat of my bike. I hit some rocks and it falls loose, getting sucked into the chain and making a crazy “puff” sound as the bike jars to a halt.

I assume my bike is fucked, until four young guys in the Gypsy behind jump out with knives and cut the jacket from the chain. I’m back on the road and reach camp that evening minus one jacket.

DAY 2 – SINGGEY LA
Altitude 16,590

We spend the second day riding up steep and rocky roads made by bulldozers that sit nearby after just carving up the mountainsides.

Laborers cheer from their roadside camps as we become the first bikers to reach the Himalayan vantage point from this route.

We stop and witness unreal mountaintops around us and have no words to describe them, so we create categories: “Gangsta’ Shit,” “Heavy Metal,” and “Death Metal.”

Cheetah, Tani, and Singge, the leaders of LA Riders, are all amped up. They tie up flags and make Buddhist chants to commemorate the occasion.

(The road to Singgey La)

We camp that night in a high altitude site and drink whisky and local wine, which comes in a two-liter sprite bottle, looks like skim milk, and taste terrible.

“Mmm, it’s good,” I tell people.

Two young guys, Ilyas and Sonam from Acoustive Ladakh, are playing some soothing local music, followed by covers of Guns N’ Roses, John Denver, and Pink Floyd. There’s a fire made of dried yak shit, which is warm and somehow doesn’t smell like yak shit.

Everyone gets smashed and I wake up in my tent with a killer headache. I locate my medical kit and pop two Diamox altitude sickness pills, plus two 400 mg Ibuprofen tablets.

I’m ready to ride.



“You already know about alchemy. It is about penetrating to the soul of the world and discovering the treasure that has been reserved for you.”

— The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho



DAY 3 – Phugtal Monastery
Altitude – ?

It’s morning and we’re zigzagging up big, sandy mountainsides dotted with bright tangerine brush. The sand is so thick it sucks in the rear tire of the bike, causing spins and sandstorms that make all riders vanish into dust.

I fall off my bike on a sandy descent and this guy named Captain Naveen who is a championship dirt bike rider gives me some pointers. “When you ride, don’t use the brakes or clutch, just ride and surf the sand,” he says.

I take Naveen’s advice and don’t fall again.

(I call this one ‘Mount Death Metal’)


Late afternoon we park our bikes to trek to Phugtal Monastery, which turns out to be more deadly than the moto ride.

It’s an hour-long catwalk on cliffs set high above the Zanskar River: Buddhist Gangsta’ Shit. The path is just a six inches wide in places and Cheetah and the boys jog across briskly, as I lag behind.

Next we cross a bridge made of local sticks that puts the bridge from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to shame. Man, Indian guys can’t even go an hour without cheating death. Death Junkies.

Finally we reach the Phugtal Monastery, which is built around a massive meditation cave that have been visited by monks for 2,500 years.

(Me at the Phugtal Moastery with ancient meditation cave seen at top)

DAY 4 – SHINKU LA
Altitude 16,580

Day 4 is all Death Metal with 20 glacial river and waterfall crossings, plus every hardcore off-road element: sand, mud, gravel and steep inclines of jagged stone.

I manage the water on my Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc which is built like a tank. The prince of a local village is riding with us today and doesn’t fare so well, tipping and falling underneath his Thunderbird 350cc in the middle of a big river. He gets up and makes it across with some help from the crew.

(Lalit crossing like a boss, followed by the prince, set to Rammstein’s ‘Du Hast’.)

A guy from Delhi named Shared, whose been riding a Himalayan with no prior off-road experience reaches Shinku La pass first, followed by me and Cheetah. Everyone else is either pushing a bike, picking up a tipped bike, or being pushed up the incline.

We’re too cold and wet to enjoy the glacial lake below the summit, so we snap a few pics and ride down the backside of the mountain, attempting to beat the setting sun.

(On my bike at Shinku La pass, 16,580 ft.)

DAY 5 – FUCK
Altitude 15,912

Day 5 was supposed to be the last day but Cheetah announces there will be a Day 6. Fuck. We ride somewhere I can’t remember.

I have Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” playing in my head for hours thanks to a Russian girl named Vera who turned me onto the song a few weeks back.

So it’s gonna be forever
Or it’s gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it’s over
If the high was worth the pain
Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane
Cause you know I love the players
And you love the game

I mentally pause the song to curse the endless rocks beneath my tires. They’ve been jarring my wrist and spine a hundred times a minute for the past five days. I yell out from under my helmet, “Die fuckers!”

We’re riding at 15,000 feet and my shoes and pants are soaked from more water crossings and no waterproof gear. I’m shivering as I just have a T-shirt under my replica Superdry army jacket, because my bike ate my Patagonia jacket on Day 1.

Just before sunset I tap out and give my keys to a young kid named Stanzin in the Gypsy behind. It’s my first time riding in the Gypsy which is available for tired and injured riders. I take off my wet shoes, eat some chocolate, and smoke a cigarette with the guys.

(This is the bike, this is the road, enjoy the ride)

A couple hours later it’s dark and our Gypsy headlights die on a cliff-side, winding mountain road with no guardrails. The driver keeps going in the dark, cursing in Ladakhi and flicking his fingers in the air to punctuate each curse.

Now it’s pitch black and freezing. Stanzin riding my bike ahead crashes on a bumpy spot and just misses falling off the cliff to certain death.

The guys fix the Gypsy lights; we smoke a joint and finally reach the small mountain settlement of Pang. We all gather around a wood stove in a small restaurant, eat some Veg Thali and pass out in the backroom under some blankets.

Day 6 – MANALI-LEH HIGHWAY
Altitude 17,582

In the morning I check with the kid and he’s fine. My bike has a broken headlight, a missing rear view mirror, and won’t shift down into second gear. I’m ready to ride again.

We’re cruising along the Manali-Leh highway, which has big stretches of desert and massive canyons. It’s sunny but cold, so we all stop on the side and lie on the asphalt to absorb its heat like a bunch of biker lizards.

We reach Taglangla, the world’s third highest road at 17,582 feet, click some photos, and then begin our long and curvy descent back to Leh.

Everyone is tired but must face one last indignity: the coronavirus checkpoint, where they stick long swabs up our noses, tickling our brains. We just cheated death a hundred times. No one is worried about coronavirus.

We form a “Rolling Thunder” convoy and ride into Leh 23 vehicles deep with LA Riders flags flying high on the backs. Heavy Metal shit.

I head back to my hotel and have my first shower in a week.

The Original Renegades Logbook

“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



GOA, INDIA
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!

(Oceanfront shala at our yoga school in Goa)

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.

ANJUNA BEACH
February 17

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.

(My first day on a motorcycle)


HAMPI
February 21

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.

(Sunset on top of Lord Hanuman Temple in Hampi)

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.

(Zaza at the Achyuta Raya Temple and her matching Oracle Card)

GOKARNA
February 26

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.

TRAIN PLATFORM
March 1

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:

Instagram: @aklosthouse

RISHIKESH
March 8

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.

(View of the Ganges from Shalom Backpackers)

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!”

(On the left, me and Mythri with friends at Shalom Backpackers)

LOCKDOWN MANALI
March 16

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.

(View from Himalayan mountains above Manali)

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.

(From my last day in the Orchard House; my room on top right)

UNOFFICIAL END OF LOCKDOWN
May 25

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.

(Chris, third from right, and the “Trash Bandits” after a Nature Park cleanup)

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.

Instagram: @Two_Wheels_of_Nirvana


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!”

(From left: me, Alex, Sonam and Eva on our picnic “date”)


“I was caught, in the middle of a railroad track.
I looked round, and I knew there was no turning back.”

–AC/DC, Thunderstruck


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.”

(Danny, Alex and Eva guarding their hostel, 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.

(Manali Renegades, from left: Shreya, Maan, Ashish, Danny, Kishor, Alex, Eva and me.)

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.

(Posing on our Machismos. Mine’s a 350cc and Danny’s is a 500cc)
(Danny’s jacket with fictional Wisconsin motorcycle club patch, which they sell in Delhi)

LAMA DUGH
June 13

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.

(Renegades celebrating on Lama Dugh after the Junkie Camping Olympíque 2020)

BIRTHDAY BASH
June 19

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.

(Dream Village, my birthday party venue)

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.

(With the craziest Renegade: Ashish “Bhalla” (red shirt) and Shiva in his piercing studio)

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.

(Me and Lauren doing street art in front of Universe Cafe)

BEGINNING OF THE END
July 2020

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!”

(Full Power 24-hour)
(LEGENDS: Alex and Eva in their natural habitat, Manali)


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.

VISION QUEST
August 2020

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.

(What I saw on my Vision Quest)

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