PsychoGeography #31: Sitting on top of the world

Share
Related Topics

Two decades ago I spent three months in India. My companion was Turnbull St Asser, the last scion of a north-country dynasty of enormous antiquity (they came over with the Cro-Magnons), who had dedicated 30 generations to dissipation and dilettantism.

Two decades ago I spent three months in India. My companion was Turnbull St Asser, the last scion of a north-country dynasty of enormous antiquity (they came over with the Cro-Magnons), who had dedicated 30 generations to dissipation and dilettantism. Turnbull and I had been at the varsity together, and we shared a taste for the finer - and fouler - things in life, although coming from East Finchley my dandyism had a curiously Neo-Marxist tinge. Inevitably we quarrelled in Kathmandu, after I threw some coloured water on his Shantong silk suit during the festival of Holi. Turnbull departed to stay with some maharaja or another to whom he had a letter of introduction, while I headed by minibus for Varanasi.

Strange though it may seem now, we arranged to rendezvous a month later at Srinagar in Kashmir, to see if we could resolve our differences; ah, such is the folly of youth! After an unscheduled extra week on the banks of the sacred Ganga, I entrained and took the thundering Himgiri-Haora Express across the north of the subcontinent to Chandigarh. On the train, slotted into a third-class couchette like a beige filing-cabinet drawer, I met a young couple from Maidstone. We discussed life, love, politics, religion and the future of mankind. I wrote some jejune verses in the girl's commonplace book. When we parted I breathed a sigh of relief.

Fifteen years later she pitched up again while I was signing books at Hatchards in Piccadilly, and yes, she had the jejune verses. Truly, notoriety is a depth charge to your acquaintance, throwing up all sorts of dead fish, and for that reason alone it is to be avoided. There was no avoiding Turnbull either. At the appointed hour I arrived at the Tourist Office and sat huddled on a stone bench. It was cold in Kashmir, especially so after the heat of the plains. The locals went around with portable charcoal stoves, which they sat with underneath their djellabas. It looked right toasty to me, who was clad in regulation traveller's denims, set off with bits of embroidered cotton wrapped around my extremities. "My God!" expostulated Turnbull, striding towards me, his tweeds whispering affluently. "You've gone bloody native!"

Turnbull, however, had already paid for his cultural arrogance. With his flame of hair and flashing monocle, the impoverished houseboat proprietors had seen him coming rather better than he was able to descry them. Out on Dal Lake the flotillas of houseboats, with their ornate, fret-worked superstructures, were mostly empty. There was hardly anyone about to be taken to the famous floating gardens. Knockdown deals were the order of the day: for $2 per day I was staying on the Houseboat Ceylon, with full board, laundry services and excursion transport thrown in, courtesy of its efficient proprietor, Rashid.

Turnbull on the other hand was paying 20 bucks a night for a stinky berth on a muddy barge moored in a sewer running off the Jhelum River. No food, no transport, and certainly no dry cleaning for his suits. I laughed long and loud when I saw his quarters: "Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!" I went, hoping to pay back in some small measure the centuries of schadenfreude the St Assers had exacted from their tenants. "You've been rooked!" An hour later Turnbull was ensconced with me on the HB Ceylon and we had begun to bicker all over again. Rashid, hating dissension of any kind, suggested we take a trip into the Himalaya; he would organise everything. He was as good as his word, and two days later we were clopping up into the terrifying Pir Panjal range, Turnbull and I mounted on laden donkeys, while Rashid took the lead on foot. Turnbull looked ridiculous in a blanket he contrived to wear like a Mexican poncho, and a pearl-grey fedora. I was still cold.

When we reached our destination, a mountain hut at 15,000 feet that looked like a cricket pavilion, I was a hell of a lot colder. We were there for two days, but it felt like two weeks. Rashid fed us indigestible meals of bread, rice and potatoes. "Carbohydrate, carbohydrate, carbohydrate!" Turnbull admonished him. "That's three kinds of carbohydrate!" We took to our sleeping bags, and Turnbull then tormented me by reading aloud lengthy descriptions of princely feasting in a book he'd borrowed from his maharaja: "28 capons stuffed with sweet almonds, a pie of lark's tongues and live songbirds, jellied crocodile kidneys ..." on and on he brayed. In many ways I feel I've never left that hideous place, and that my whole life has been spent in a cricket pavilion being persecuted by an English aristo. But at least I know I'm not alone.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse Level 3

£8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: The Job Nursery Nurse Leeds We are now ...

Web Developer/UI Developer (HTML5, CSS3,Jquery) London

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

C# Web Developer (C#, MS Dynamics CRM, SQL, SQl Server) London

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Scottish independence: ‘I am as British and European as Scottish’

Sir Menzies Campbell
 

We should applaud Mary Berry for her bold views on assisted dying

Chloe Hamilton
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering