Our bus journey into the foothills began with a pissed off look from a bicyclist we nearly ran over in the flat-lands, not far outside of Delhi. Covered in dirt from the tumble he took to escape being squished like a cockroach by our large tires, he must’ve had that philosophical thought common to the people of that country; wondering what was the omen in the experience, relevant to day that lie ahead. The traffic was incredible; the familiar ‘Lambretta’ of my Vietnam memories, a sort of tricycle pick-up truck with a two-stroke engine belching blue fumes, lots of those intermixed with more conventional (to westerners) sedans and vans, the larger cargo trucks, and buses with so many people in them, commuters were hanging out the open door and sitting on the top. And in the mix of this, too many bicycles to count, as well the many people walking alongside the road, adding to immense bedlam of humanity in motion. And finally we were out of the insane traffic and into the amazing Himalaya foothills, on our journey to Almora, a so-called ‘Hill Station.’

The first thing I noticed was, the pines. The Chir Pine of Northern India…

Chir_Pine

…bears a remarkable resemblance to the Ponderosa Pine of Montana:

Ponderosa

My feeling was a sort of déjà vu. With the same bark and bunch needles, it was an uncanny feeling; knowing I was on the other side of the planet in a forest that looked and felt like home. The trees were the same. Once a fair distance into the hills, our driver pulled out at a roadside parking place, where our cook pulled out his equipment and began preparing an afternoon meal. I wandered off, walking along a path into the trees, simply to feel the ambiance. The forest  was a balm from the intensity of the human experience that is New Delhi.

The cook had long since packed up his gear before everyone had been persuaded the journey should resume … and now, the driver was becoming more and more frenetic as he pushed our bus to the limits it could handle on those many hairpin turns negotiating the unforgiving cliffs as we penetrated deeper into the hills. I knew the score and was sitting up front close to the driver .. the Tibetan had tipped me off to the reason underlying our driver’s near panic. Bandits were operating after dark in the area and we had dallied too long with our late, roadside, lunch. Now night was threatening to overtake us, prior to arrival at our destination. So, if the forest was an uncanny resemblance to Montana in the present, the forest’s characters apparently bore an uncanny resemblance to Montana of the past: when ‘The Wild Bunch’ was still operating. I admit a certain visceral pleasure in Bummer John’s look of redoubled, helpless stress, when he’d asked, and I informed him, of the reasons for our driver’s unnatural hurry.

When we had arrived at Almora, Jasper® & Socket™ had vanished, for the duration of our stay. I had no idea why, then, but being an old intelligence hand, and having made a short study of the possibilities, I can make an informed supposition. A posse must have been after them.

Not long prior to our rendezvous with these characters in 1984, Neil Oram relates an encounter Jasper® had at a nearby baba’s ashram:

At Sri Babaji’s Ashram near Herakhan in the Himalayan foothills, Jasper® and Babaji conversed in demotic Hindi and a part of their conversation went like this:

Babaji: What’s that around your neck?

Jasper®: It’s my Nath beads.

Babaji: You’re not a Nath!

Jasper®: Yes I am.

Babaji: No…you’re a dope dealer from Almora.

Jasper®: No, I’m Ram Giri…a Nath sadhu.

Babaji: No…you’re a dope dealer from Almora.

Jasper®: O.K., forget it. Next life I’ll live all the rules of a Nath sadhu.

Babaji: No, next life…you’ll be a dope dealer with a chai shop.

Jasper®: Alright Baba, the life after that one I’ll be a real Nath yogi.

Babaji: No! In that life also… you’ll be a dope dealer running a chai shop in Almora.

In other words, a classic case of someone’s reputation preceding them.

The highlight of Almora was, the delightful hospitality of a Mr Sharma. An elderly, retired civil servant, he was interesting, well informed, inquisitive and we spent hours in engaging conversation. This reflected the sisters’ character; for every devil we encountered, there was an angel manifest.

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My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)