When I set off for India I knew only two things: what I had read in Midnight’s Children and that Indians were mad for whisky. I wasn’t sure if the second thing was racist.
Suffice to say that I spent the first two nights in a fleapit in Delhi, terrified by men knocking on my door all night long. “Johnnie Walker,” they hissed. “Give it, madam.” I’d bought some in Abu Dhabi but I was too scared to open the door and sell it to them.
But I got into it when I realised that you could finance a trip to Nepal by bringing back whisky.
The bit no one ever told you was how everyone got stuck in Kathmandu. After a few months in India, Kathmandu was a paradise. Brownies. Lemon meringue pie. Burgers. The hippies had turned the locals on, not only to shooting up heroin, but the munchies. The economy was seemingly based on drugs and patisserie, although once you ventured further afield the medieval poverty of the villages was truly scary. We would scuttle back, usually sick and craving sweet things.
It seemed to be the ideal place then to start eating opium. I was sharing a room with Jean-Claude, a French guy whom I’d become mates with on the road, but was having a peculiar affair with Daba. He was a beautiful Tibetan ex-monk. I was entranced by his long, black hair and er … spirituality.
Except, like all eldest sons, Daba had no choice about being a monk and there is little spiritual about Tibetan Buddhism as it is practised. Having left the monastery, he now belonged nowhere.
Daba seduced me as we drank out of an ancient silver samovar.
“What kind of tea is this?” I said, as it hit the back of my throat. He drank this all day.
It took a while for me to realise that Daba was a lost alcoholic. But lots of things took a while to dawn on me as I munched my sticky little balls of opium. I carried on drinking “tea” with Daba, trying to see if me and Jean-Claude could get a cheaper room, and waiting to feel something.
Some days later, I was woken up by being slapped round the face by Jean-Claude.
“I thought you were dead.”
He was in a right state. I’d slept for 72 hours. No dreams. Nothing.
This was a bit alarming, I could see that. Not as alarming as what he said next.
“I love you but you cannot live like this. I want to save you. I want you to understand Jesus.”
Jean-Claude had certainly not been in love with me when I was conscious.
That was the wake-up call all right. I was on the next coach out of Kathmandu, with a completely pissed Daba, propped up by a weeping Jean-Claude, waving me off.
It could have been worse. I had an entire suitcase full of Johnnie Walker.