Wandering….what a concept! When I dropped out of the rat race in 2013, I sincerely had NO idea where I was headed or what I was doing. I mean, there was a loose plan; but in all honesty, I was flying blind. Now here I sit in the fresh ka ka diaper of 2017, just two days old, and I am still unsure, still navigating with a makeshift plan, a concept, an idea…hell man, I’m still just wandering. As I reflect back over the adventures I’ve had with Mrs. R (my wife,) and Mina (my motorcycle) in 2016, I realize…turning my back on traditional society, thumbing my nose at the North American ideals, embracing the wanderlust, leaping unafraid (seriously scared actually) into the unknown and blazing my own trail was the sanest thing I have ever done…
.. sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain.
January – 2016
Start with a bang, baby! On the beach in Papong, Thailand, spraying tourists, ladyboys, cops and Bgirls with silly string. That is how one should start every year! Screw sipping champagne and wearing a tux; next year, try beer, tequila shots and flirting with an intoxicated coquette….on your lap……in a different country! That’s NYE, man!
To solidify the love and stability in my life, we were off to Haflong in the North Cachar Hills of Assam to crash Mrs. R’s baby brother’s wedding! This was my first time to Haflong, meeting ALL the in-laws. It was terrifying, as meeting the Mother and Eldest brother of your princess bride should be. As it turned out, they were warm wonderful people, as were the rest of the immediate and extended family….all six point three million of them… and they embraced me (repeatedly) as one of their own, quickly and lovingly.
I myself am unacquainted with village life and didn’t realize just how deeply the “everyone knows everyone” statute was entrenched in everyday life. That was until the Pastor of the local church…there, in an isolated hill station in North East India, while shaking my hand in the reception line at a wedding leaned forward and whispered… “Ah yes, Lee….I have seen your pictures on facebook.” …and fixed me with a cynical stare and somewhat taunting smile. Very unnerving indeed! This exchange instantly made me question my recent behavior and conduct as well as the privacy options on my facebook account! To recover my composure, I played at the wedding reception with a solid bunch of fellas I had met the day before and my faith in my lifestyle returned.
February – 2016
My Valentine in 2016 turned out to be the lead guitarist in my band, JJ. Odd, I know. I was feeling a little awkward about it myself. Yet here we were, strolling around Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, surrounded by star struck lovers, sharing a bag of candy floss on Valentine’s Day. I mean, I expected a lot of weirdness in my life, but this?
The truth is, we had been booked to play a duo gig at a newly emerging hot spot in the city centre on the fourteenth and had just arrived that morning. There were a few hours to kill before sound check, so we took in some local sights. At the time of booking, we had questioned the promo agent right away : classic rock duo on Valentine’s? He assured us it was the right vibe for this bar, so we agreed….it wasn’t. The audience was filled with young lovebirds doing what they do on Valentine’s.
The last thing they needed was bubbling psychedelic dreamscape poured all over them like mushroom soup. We changed our tack very quickly and slowed everything down, then we loved it up…the whole set….have you ever heard someone croon The Doors? A sticky sweet Break On Through was something to hear! It turned out great, the audience lapped it up and we had a complete laugh on stage.
We caught the train back to Delhi sometime around 12:30 and at 2:00, JJ woke me whispering…”Dude, we are the only ones on the train…” I told him to get over his nightmare and go back to sleep…but he insisted…”We are alone, man!” It was true; the train had stopped and was empty. You have never seen a sadder sight than two bewildered rock stars dragging their guitars and pedal boards through the Indian wilderness in the middle of the night. Eventually, we were picked up by some kind of cattle train and returned to Delhi late the next morning.
March – 2016
I survived a cricket match in India! For those of you who don’t know, cricket is religion in this country and to attend a world cup cricket match and come out alive is a great accomplishment for a white guy!! England vs West Indies in the semi- final. The right team won and other than a few bruises from the soft drink “line”, I was unscathed and enjoyed myself completely!
This was also the month of our first major bike trip to Shimla. With a quick layover (return visit) in Chandigarh for Holi,we set off into the Himalayas for one of the most beautiful hill stations in Asia
The road to Shimla is nothing short of breath taking.
The ride through the mountains reaffirmed my belief in life itself…you simply cannot be surrounded by such soul inspiring landscape and not feel its affects. I was already awe struck and we hadn’t even arrived.
Shimla itself, while it may be a bit touristy in the material world, is nothing less than majestic in the natural one. I myself don’t mind being surrounded by some fantastic restaurants and a little bit of market shopping while I am taking in the scenic extravaganza all around me. A night in the former palace of Raja Rana, built in 1938 and complete with tiger head trophies on the wall in the lounge, was the coup de grace in this daydream.
April – 2016
Speaking of daydreams, April brought my band two of our biggest and best performances to date. The Hard Rock Café and Blues, CP. Now, The Hard Rock Café may not be the sort of milestone that one holds in super high regard in India, it may not be the dream gig you’ve all been striving for, a gig that validates you as a true member of an extremely elite aristocracy…and that’s okay,….for Indians…. but it is all that to me. I’m a stranger in a strange land after all….in my world, this gig was something of an achievement.
The Hard Rock Cafe is an institution, a common set of values, an idea shared by millions of like minded rock and roll freaks who will NEVER roll up their Ozzy Osbourne posters and mutter, “Well, I guess that’s it”….It’s a belief system, a connection to something deeper, something that unless you’re soaked in its sweat, you will never understand
….The first time you heard Hendrix, when the hairs on your neck stood up, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck, Angus Young, Janis Fu%*ing Joplin, Cream, Black Sabbath, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, MY BELOVED BEATLES………wow mamma….can you feel that? Yea, well….if you don’t, I’m truly sorry for you and I don’t know what to say.
Those two gigs…we played, baby; and not some starched shirt, factory pressed, pleasingly melodic, soaked in Park Avenue deodorant baby faced evening of Sufi, Edm, Bollywood or pop music. No, not in our house, not in The Cafe or in the hallowed halls of Blues. They were a sweat soaked, ripped jeans, beer swilling, voice cracking, amps up to ten ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS EXTRAVAGANZAS!!!
May and June – 2016
Taking the princess bride home is such a sweet sorrow. Oddly, my homesickness increases when I am there. I suppose it’s the impending dread of knowing I am leaving again soon. But showing off my country and sharing Mrs. R with my family is simply wonderful. We took in as much as we could in the time we had. Kingston was a great start, Wonderland theme park, Toronto shopping , Wasaga Beach, Toronto Argonaut game and a trip to an Amish Village called St. Jacobs for crafts and amazing food!
We jumped VIA Rail (ahh, a Canadian train ride for a change!) to Ottawa, our capital city and arrived to a cold drizzly day. The sky was grey, the streets were wet, but exploring our Parliament and being able to return the favors of exposing history and culture to Mrs. R dissolved the weather problem into nothing more than a background. Just to ensure we had turned all the stones, we stayed the night in a haunted jail cell. A real jail, a real cell, really haunted and after a tour of death row and the gallows, I really didn’t sleep a bloody wink.
Quebec City provided a good healthy dose of history and European elegance to the trip. Mrs. R fell in love with the city almost immediately and has since proclaimed it to be one of her favorites so far. We wandered cobble stone streets, sipped wine and nibbled pate in sidewalk cafes, explored the local shops and truly soaked up all the pure Canadiana that wrapped around us like a Hudson Bay blanket.
A day spent on The Plains of Abraham and in The Citadel reminded us that even the most peace loving countries have histories steeped in blood and war. Slowly, my princess bride started to absorb the rich history and culture of my homeland; she started to realize what it means to be Canadian.
Montreal was as Montreal always is; dynamic exciting and loaded to the rim with fun. If Toronto is Canada’s New York or London, Montreal is definitely L.A or Montego Bay! The only history we were concerned with here, was seeing the Queen Elizabeth Hotel where John and Yoko held their bed in for peace in 1969.
With that done, we dove into Montreal like two starved dogs. We accomplished almost all the playful inequities that St. Catherine and St. Lauren Streets had to offer!
A Caleche ride is definitely not to be missed, nor is Montreal Smoked Meat, the harbor front, a Montreal Alouettes game (I won’t mention the hockey team, I’m from Toronto and therefore forbidden to do so by penalty of flogging). Old Montreal was alive and kicking with food, flavor and fun and the Formula One race was also in town just to add to the fervor!
July – 2016
July saw my band enter the studio for the very first time to record one of my original songs, “Roll on to Rishikesh.” A catchy little rock diddy written on the train to Rishikesh. The whole month was spent mired in music, lots of writing and rehearsing; an exhausting but exhilarating experience. The act of creation, music, painting, writing, any of the arts, is still a deep and wondrous mystery to me. I am just glad I can be a part of it….in any way.
August – 2016
More road trips on tap this month! That’s right. In the very heart of monsoon season, we decide to vigorously pursue our motorcycle enthusiasm; as we are motorcycle enthusiasts after all and ride to the neighboring states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh! Alwar and Garhmukhteshwar are both fun destinations (wet or dry) and we loved each one.
The city of Alwar is full of hustle and bustle and features some cool destination locations. The Clock Tower in the centre of town, St. Andrews Church is worth a look too and the main market shouldn’t be missed, just to get the real flavor of Alwar.
But just outside the city is where the magic really begins. A thrilling bike ride up the side of a hill (small mountain) in the Aravalli Range, to Bala Quila Fort is a tingle shot for the senses. On your right, stunning landscape mixed with a plentiful stock of wildlife. On your left, a low crumbling stone wall and certain death….so much fun!
Under threatening skies we spent an hour or so crawling all over the ruins, once again stepping back in time, feeling the grandeur of a bygone kingdom whisper to us in the empty halls and decaying courtyards. Balancing on a fragmented balcony of what could have only been a royal bedchamber, we cautiously took in the sprawling valley below…..priceless.
On the way out, I hit the kill switch and we coasted the four km down to the main gate in blissful silence. The occasional call of a peacock or scream of a monkey would break the still air and the odd deer would lift his head to observe us as we whispered past. We got a little lost on the way to The Dadhikar Fort, but this miscue afforded me the opportunity to play with the water buffaloes….embrace the detours after all! There was a herd of buffaloes having a nice bath in a small pond just off the side of the road. I thought me, Mina and the buffaloes would make a wonderful National Geographic cover! Not realizing as I roared up to the side of the pond, that the bike would startle them and then… they would stampede….cos that’s what they do…apparently…when startled. The shepherd explained all to me loudly (in Hindi) while pointing his staff at the sky (presumably warning me about the impending inclement weather). In retrospect it may have been a somewhat ill fated plan…..right from the start, I may not have thought it through….Kind sir, please switch off your motorcycle as it is upsetting my livestock…..I’m positive that is what he was saying.
We got back on track and headed off for a lovely lunch at Dadhikar Fort. After lunch, the monsoon season finally made an appearance as we were leaving. If you’re familiar with the term micro burst, you know what happened next. If not, imagine being dry, then soaked to the skin in less than ten seconds. This is about the time we happened upon a sea of mud and I decided to “power through it” like any man would! That cost me a new securing bracket for Mina’s leg guard and a boat load of apologies to Mrs. R. But honestly, as we pulled back into Alwar, mud caked, soaking wet, with leg guard dangling and scraping on the road…..we were grinning like twin Cheshire Cats.
September – 2016
We saddled up Mina and took off for Burja in September, yet another Rajasthan destination to add to our log. One of the most memorable experiences of my time in India came during breakfast here. In fact, it was in Burja, that very morning, the first inkling of starting a blog came to me. Two months later, I posted my first blog effort “Breakfast With Peacocks” about this very place.
This trip, we stayed in a 240 year old, former palace called Burja Haveli! We marveled at the architecture as we explored the nooks and crannies of the old royal residence. We were pampered by the staff with food and drinks and watched as local women ground fresh masala in traditional stone mortar and pestle in the courtyard.
The highlight of this stay was definitely the jeep safari to Jaisamand Lake; crocodiles, monkeys and langoors all in abundance. This manmade lake was created by the Maharaja as a water source for the nearby city of Alwar. In recent years, it had dried up, but due to excessive rains (not a common occurrence in Rajasthan), it had been refilled. The tree tops from the valley floor are visible poking out of the lake. It is framed on one side by view points, built in traditional Rajasthan architecture. The structures add beautifully to the mystique and character of the lake.
October – 2016
Pumpkins and the beach! Goa and Halloween…October was a great month! Goa is undeniably my favorite spot on earth. Mrs. R and I, in the absence of our beloved Mina did the next best thing, rented a Royal Enfield Motorcycle and went tear assing all over North Goa.
This trip, we abandoned our usual philosophy of lay and bake and replaced it with one of a slightly more ambitious nature. Find new beaches to lay and bake on! Good ya?! We thought so! The beaches are a bit of a blur now, Sinquerim, Candolim, Calangute, Baga, Anjuna, Vagator,Morgim, Morjim,Mandrem and Arambol…we did ‘em all….we swam, we ate, we laid in the sun like lizards…God, I love Goa. During one of our treks, I was once again provided a truck load of fodder for my upcoming blog. “Indian Police Corrupt? Naww..” was my second (and one of my most popular) blog post.
There truly is nothing that can compare to winding a motorcycle along a beach road or jungle path in Goa, exploring each little side road with the heightened anticipation of a child at Christmas. What will be at the end of this one? A village? An isolated beach? A jumping party beach? A shack with amazing food and sunsets….like we discovered at Mandrem? This quaint little village is home to a church, a handful of vendor stalls and a hippy rest pit where you can find yourself lazily nibbling on a ham and cheese Quiche while sipping a cold kingfisher or coke as the sun sinks into the Arabian Sea. That was a moment in time that will never be repeated or forgotten.
Every year on the 31st October, Mrs. R and I carve pumpkins and put them on our door step. Every year on the night of the 31st, I fill a bowl with candy, leave it by the door and sit in semi darkness listening to spooky music waiting for the door bell to ring….it never does. Every year during the first week of November, all the neighbors suspiciously eyeball me…the Satan worshiper, as I get on or off the elevator or walk about our society; they shield their small children behind them as I pass. Halloween is just not understood here… alas, nor am I….drinker of human blood and stealer of souls. I love Halloween; it has long been my favorite of any holiday. I celebrate it with vigor, unnoticed and unappreciated…yet still, without fail! But, with each new year, there is new hope…and this year, our efforts were rewarded.
Sometime around 8:00 pm there was a faint rustling at our front door. Curiously I opened it to investigate…and much to my surprise, there was a A WITCH!! no, no…just an aged woman crouched SACRIFICING A GOAT!! no, no, just looking at our pumpkins. I must have been a sight, staring down at her in disbelief. Just then the door across the hall swung open and our neighbors came pouring out into the hall. Mom, Dad, Son….and this was obviously Grandma admiring my Jack-O-Lantern carving skill! Dad was taking pictures and they started congratulating me on the fine job I had done. This was a trick alright….how could this be? Then the most unexpected occurrence of all : the young lad gleefully shouts to me… “Trick or Treat?”…I swear I teared up. I grabbed the candy bowl and supplied the whole family with toffee and mango treats! Even scary grandma!
It turns out they had lived in Canada for many years and knew what the scene was regarding Halloween! I didn’t care how really, they had made my year and also made me the first man in history to shell out on Halloween in India!
November – 2016
The Wandering Hippy launches and the world is never the same!!!
Alright, that’s optimistic; however, it did occur to me one bright morning in November of 2016, that I should start writing some of this down….but first…BOMBAY!!
Mumbai : The princess bride and I were yet to explore this city, this icon of India, home to Bollywood and beaches and…well hell, it’s just glamour town ain’t it? So, after yet another (mercifully short) depressing train journey we arrived! It is still called Bombay by the locals and it is the hub of India’s entertainment industry. Clean, friendly and bright, I couldn’t find a single flaw with this city. Even the fabled nightmare traffic didn’t seem all that bad, no worse than Delhi at least. The fort area with the markets and eateries is touristy but very nice and great for shopping! The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, is a must see. A historic railway station built by the British is now a World Heritage Site. It is also the headquarters of the Central Railways; so Mrs. R flexed a little muscle and with a flash or her ID card, got us to see it from the inside!
We toured the city beaches and soaked up the beauty of the botanical gardens. I even participated in a time honored Mumbai tradition….dangling from the open door of a moving commuter train. One has to fit in with the locals, ya? The Taj hotel (site of a hideous terror attack in 2008) was a bit of a somber visit. It is a stunning structure however, as is its neighbor, The Gateway of India, the ancient sea entrance port to the country.
Yet for all its glitz and glamour, I found Bombay to be a city of moonlight. We did a moonlight stroll around the Queens Necklace, partook of the night market on fashion street…in the moonlight…and we rounded out our stay with a romantic moonlight sail through the harbor.
December – 2016
The last month of the year saw us relaxing and drawing up plans for 2017. A quiet Christmas at home was the perfect way to wrap up the year. The joy of Christmas (and a new BBQ) warmed our hearts and served as a reminder…that here, in India, I was home and happy…and I was going to continue down my chosen path, remain committed to my plan of “no plan”. In short…I will continue to tour and travel, continue to explore the roads less traveled while feeding my wanderlust bisects of adventure and God willing ….continue to write about it.
Peace and Light for all of you in 2017