Mahindra College, Pune to Varanasi.


I woke to a sunrise that calmed the clamorous valley of the previous night. I walked up the arcing stairs of the YHA to the roof and was met with a far warmer world. The laborers on the neighboring building site were huddled around warming morning fires, Pune had become solid after the little pinpricks of light had joined together.

I now needed to get a taxi to The Mahindra College, I arranged this with the owner of the ‘not quite a YHA as they haven’t got status, but would like to, but hasn’t got the facilities to, would be in a nice place if they would just stop bloody mining’ and then in half an hour I stood on the roof and watched a fellow in a modern little car weave backwards and forwards obviously asking people directions. At one point he stopped 20 meters away from me, ‘Mahindra College, Taxi’ I shouted, he blankly got back into his car and drove around for another ten minutes more asking questions of each gathered clump of people on the building sites around us. After a while he came back and said ‘Mahindra College, Taxi’. I had my ride.

Arriving at The Mahindra College is a little like leaving India behind. You ascend up a seemingly never ending road up a spiraling slope to this little hilltop idyll that seems to all intents and purposes self sufficient, populated by young people of the world, a state of it’s own.

Isis was asleep when I arrived so I settle down to do some work on the fast internet connection in the common room until she stirred. When she awoke she pounced into my arms and I drank up a cuddle as if I had been thirsty for a lifetime.

We stayed on campus for the Weekend with the few students and Tutors remaining there. I was made very welcome by all except for the mosquito that plagued me on my first night, we ate in the canteen that was catering to a handful instead of the 200 students of term time, it felt a priviledge to have such a wonderful building to ourselves. Isis was the perfect host and quide, staying up there was the ideal preparation for our next journey up to Varanasi.

The Mahindra College building has won awards and I can see why. There are spaces where you just want to spend time, little ponds with fish that will nibble your toes if you have patience – or perhaps paste fish food to them, as you please.

The views over the Valleys are amazing, gazing is a big pastime there as is sheesha smoking. In fact I was planning to arrive by paraglider. The valley looks perfect for it yet no Paragliding schools in the area seemed willing to even try to recce the area, I did contact them and try to explain. I’ll have to bring my own wing and make my landing next time.

But all things pass, anicha anicha, so on Monday we hopped in a shiny Mahindra College jeep and made our way to the train station. At 4.15 the Varanasi train would leave.

One of the reasons I am so happy about making this journey is because when Isis was in her mothers tummy I made a similar journey to India. I brought a recording walkman with me and recorded people talking in Cafes, music I heard, general sounds and I made music with this. Now I am with that very daughter who plays three instruments, we have better recording equipment with us and a laptop for editing it. So on the train we made recordings of the general chatter, of time passing, of the clatter of the train on it’s tracks.

We were however on the bottom bunk in Non AC sleeping cars. This is not the most secure place in the world to be as the train fills up with people who have or have not tickets, these people mill about and can have one eye on fat luggage, Indian or tourist, should you be  less careful. The best place is the top bunk as you are out of the way, or some would say the AC cars as those are locked, but we booked our tickets late and we take our chances, it was fun.

At night we padlocked our gear with long chains (as did most people) and then slept using our packs as pillows. As one extra security measure I slept with sunglasses on, people won’t go near you if they have no idea if you are awake or not, even if you are snoring like a lion.

So we got through the night, but the journey was one of 27 hours (it tunrned out to be 31 hours) so we had time on our hands. We chatted, joked, made recordings, got to know the neighbours Prashant, Manoj and newly weds Arevindi and the beautiful Ashwini. Ashwini lit up the whole carriage as the sun was going down with her sari, the little reflective discs sparking like a disco ball. This reminded me of the wedding chamber in a palace I visitied in Jaipur. It had a domed roof encrusted with every jewel imaginable, on the wedding night the couple would retire here, heady from the celebrations, hungry for each other, hence one candle would be lit in the middle of the room. This would light the room up like nothing seen on earth or in the heavans. Now that’s imaginative.

The end of the journey seemed like an eternity. As the train had been delayed by some falty tracks it becamse later and later as it was occupying track meant for other services, but we arrived just before midnight and made our way, trough the good sense and haggling of Isis with our rickshaw driver, to The Ganga View hotel. It is an amazing place, all marble and teak from an age gone by. It’s a little expensive but we’ll stay here until Christmas, they have a concert on christmas day in the dedicated music room here, we feel very at home.

Ok, Isis has just woken up so she is going to see the Ghats in daylight for the first time. Varanasi is a wonderful place, we are on a magical journey, it’s great to be here with her.

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