SEPTEMBER 2002: KATHMANDU TO PONDICHERRY
|Old monk sleeping at the side of Bodnath Stupa, Kathmandu|
|Michael arrived in Nepal . . .
Michael (email 3 Sep 02): Made it to Pokhara OK. Might do some trekking around here so you probably won't hear from me for a while. Love to everyone. M
There was indeed no contact from Michael to his parents for another three weeks. He met up again with Robert Servine, the American whom he had first met in Dehra Dun. Robert takes up the story . . .
Robert (email 24 Jan 03): Next time I saw Michael was in Pokara, I was sitting with two Austrian girls I had met the day before, Sabine and Bixie. I had been wondering why I hadn't heard from Michael when who should walk by? He had just arrived from Dehra Dun, on a long bus journey, this was on the 5th of Sept. After that we spent about 10 days together. The first day we rented bicycles and went exploring. Michael met Tung Chi, from China. Tung had come up and told Michael he had "just got into an accident and it hurt" in a loud Chinese accent. Michael liked him from the start and Tung joined us as we went exploring 2 caves and a water fall.
The next few days were spent relaxing, renting a boat and going swimming, playing cards, talking, saw a couple of movies, did some yoga and just hung around. It was a nice group of people, Michael, Sabine, Bixie, Tung and I, we spent some nice times together. Tung left us after only a few days and the rest of us decided to go white water rafting, it was a 2 day, one night trip and it was beautiful, not so many rapids, but beautiful. Michael entertained us often, by singing silly little songs, like "I've got a plastic Jesus on the dashboard of my car . . . " and telling jokes, he was joy to have around, light and humorous but capable of serious discussion, someone you could talk to about things and laugh and joke with, a great combination.
After the rafting trip, we went back to Pokara, spent a few more days, then our group decided to split up as travelling groups tend to do. Bixie went back to India, Sabine and I to Chitwan and Michael found himself a little haven, a guest house named Hidden Paradise, small, hard to find and very peaceful. I think he only stayed for a couple of days there, because the next e-mail I got from him was from Kathmandu, where I just missed him. While in Kathmandu, Michael met and spent time with a German girl, who I think he was quite fond of, since he took many photos of her, which he would show us later in Varanasi. (He really was quite the photographer).
In an earlier email Michael set out the words of the "Plastic Jesus" song, or one version of it at any rate . . .
I don't care if it rains or freezes
Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Ridin' on the dashboard of my car
You can buy him phosphorescent
Glows in the dark he's pink and pleasant
Take him with you when your travellin' far
Plastic jesus, plastic jesus
Ridin' on the dashboard of my car
You can get a sweet Madonna
Dressed in rhinestones sittin' on a
Pedestal of abalone shell
Goin' 90 I ain't wary
"Cos I got the Virgin Mary
Guaranteein' I won't go to hell
When I go out fornicatin'
I take my ceramic satan
Ridin' on the dashboard of my van
Women know I'm on the level
When they see my stoneware devil
Leerin' from the dashboard of my van
Jeerin' from the dashboard of my van.
In the meantime Michael's parents has passed on the acclaim that his piece on "Just Another Day in India" had received at home. They also passed on the news that his old mentor at Newcastle University, Professor Godfrey Tanner, had just died. He was Michael's Sanskrit teacher and he had inspired him in his studies.
Michael (email 22 Sep 02): Hello, my pretties. Glad to hear that you all liked my little adventure story. It was just an excerpt from my diary, and it was all true, and really was just another day in India (I've had much more interesting days, believe you me) . . . it was just one where the gods conspired a bit more than they usually do against my sorry ass . . . Thanks for the info on old Godfrey, he really was a splendid but twisted old beastly chap and my one regret is that I'll never be able to thank him for inspiring me to take this crazy trip . . .
I'm in Kathmandu now. Just spent the day with a lovely German lass sightseeing all the narrow, twisted backstreets and old temples of Durbar square. I even snuck in a restricted area to get a glimpse of the Kumari, (but got chased out quick smart!), a pretty little princess in her ivory tower. Haven't done any trekking as the urge hasn't really struck me . . . even with all the Maoists scaring off most of the tourists, it's still a bit of a package tourist's mecca and far too commercialised for my liking . . . so I've spent most of my time in Pokhara, swimming and boating on the beautiful lake there, doing some yoga and hanging with guys and girls of various nationalities. I've lodged my visa application and if all goes well I'll pick it up on Tuesday, then head to Varanasi to spend some time with some good friends before hightailing it down to Pondicherry to begin my course! Hope all is good and everyone is happy, you should be, cos life is fucking great! Love, M
Sadly, no "diary" was found among Michael's effects. There is a notebook, which may have been what he was referring to. However, this contains only some personal observations and some brief notes which formed the basis of some of his other descriptive emails. It does not include "Another Day in India", however some pages have been torn out.
The German girl referred to by both Robert and Michael is Nicole. She has since been in contact with the family, and she sent this beautiful and moving account of the time she spent with Michael . . .
Nicole (email 27 Nov 02): We met in Kathmandu, where Michael wanted to get his visa for India. Spontaneously I went with him to Pokhara for two days, where we spent a wonderful time.
One evening we rented a rowing-boat and with some cheese and red-wine we rowed into the middle of the lake. The full moon was shining, the stars were sparkling and the gigantic mountains were looking down on us in the moonshine. Michael described it like that: "That's probably the most romantic thing I've ever done in my life".
Our lifelines have only crossed for a few days but we used this short span of time to lead intensive and deep conversations. We talked about life in general, his experiences and his adventures, but also about you, his family. He told me how he was combating with his brother when he was a small boy, especially in sports, and also about their relationship getting better and better within the last few years. I know that he loves you all and he was missing you during his travels. He told me that he has great parents, he really admired you because of your deeds and your character and to his mind you are really "cool". He also talked about his Grandpas in high terms. Maybe Michael never had the opportunity to tell you what he was feeling for you therefore I will take over this part.
Mike was a great guy, fond of life, open nice and almost always in a good mood. He still had so many plans figured out! He was so much looking forward to India and when he received his visa he was jumping into the air with joy and he was singing "I'll go to India!" He could very well imagine to become a teacher for yoga, this is at least what he told me. Soon (in about six months) Michael wanted to come to Europe and visit, as part of his travel, his grandfather and his wife in England.
"I don't care if the sun don't shine . . . " he used to sing this in his usually happy mood. Whenever there was the opportunity he picked some flowers for me and handed them over to me with a smile. A real gentleman! I still can see him standing in front of me with his hemp pants, a shirt with printings of the Hindu art, with his curly hair and a smile upon his face, especially in his eyes. Just like that I will keep him in my memories, in my heart.
I am sending you the only photo I have from Michael. On the 20th of September we went with the motorbike from Pokhara to Sarankot, a place with a view to the Himalayas. There this photo was taken.
Several months later, Nicole provided more of her memories of this time:
Nicole (email 4 Jul 03): . . . Mike and me, we stayed in "The Hidden Paradise", a really wonderful guesthouse which is situated in Pokhara past lakeside. To get there you have to leave the small street, cross some rice fields and walk up a small and slippy path that seems to lead you in the middle of nowhere. Around you, there is nothing but silence and nature and you have the incredible feeling to be in a real paradise. Laxman is the owner of this small hotel, he's only 19 years old and a very friendly and lovely person. Mike liked him very much, they had long conversations and decided to keep in touch. Mike even wrote him when he was in India, but only once. I'm still in touch with Laxman, so I had the load to tell him the bad news.
When we came back to Kathmandu, we still had some days together. One day, we went to the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, doing sightseeing like common tourists. Mike said he never felt that much like a tourist before.
Another day, we went to Bodnath. In the Buddhist religion you don't have temples but huge handmade hills painted in white, sometimes including barrows, called Stupas. It's a very important place for Buddhists, one of the most important pilgrim places in Nepal. There, I could really feel the peace. In Asia, every holy building is situated on special places where you can feel the energy that comes out of the interior of the earth. . .
Laxman, the owner of the Hidden Paradise guesthouse, subsequently established email contact with Michael's family. His village, Sedi Bagar, near Pokhara, was devastated by monsoonal floods and landslides in September 2007. However, he has since been able to develop his guesthouse into a tourist destination, and its facilities can be viewed on its website: www.hiddenparadise.com.np.
Click here to view Michael's photographs of Nepal, which include some of these scenes of Durbar Square and Bodnath.
Having collected his student visa Michael then farewelled Nicole, boarded a bus from Kathmandu to the Indian border, and headed for Varanasi to meet up with his friends. Robert Servine has supplied the following exchange of emails with Michael that took place at the time. . .
Michael (email to Robert 22 Sep 02): Hey groovemeister, hope all is good. How was the jungle? Still travelling with Sabina? Give her a kiss and a slap on the ass from me, OK? I'm in Kathmandu with a German lass but I will be outta here by Tuesday and heading to Varanasi. Let me know whats going on old mate and maybe our paths will cross again soon. Take care my friend, M.
Robert (email 27 Sep 02): Hi Michael, Sabina and I are in Varanasi now, we are staying by the burning ghat in a hotel called Mishra, room number 204. She says HI and a big hug. It would be good to see you so stop by if you get the chance. We will be here for 5 days or so. Robert.
Michael (email to Robert 27 Sep 02): Well, my good friend, it seems that the twisted hand of fate has once again thrown us together, as I too am in Varanasi! If, for some reason I miss you tonight, you should visit a young lady named Bernadette at the Elena Hotel and all will become clear. Boom Shankar, and may the god of sleazy hash dealers shine his benevolent light upon your troubled souls. Amen. Love always, M.
Michael also wrote to his family . . .
Michael (email 27 Sep 02): Well, my little hello kitties, after 3 weeks of hedonistic, decadent living in Nepal, I now find my slightly larger, travel weary ass in Varanasi with my good friend Jimmy and his lovely girlfriend. (A sweet reunion 'twas, as we were here last year in the same hotel and worked in Taiwan together and have not seen each other since). My last nights in Nepal, spent on a boat, on lake Pokhara with a bottle of fine wine, a full moon overhead and a lovely German lass are but a distant memory as I begin the rigorous mental preparations necessary for my impending incarceration. Needless to say, I have come out of meditation only to send you this email and to ask you for your blessings. Happy birthday to you my sweets, I'll be thinking of you on the 2nd, which is thrice holy . . . Gandhi's b'day as well as the day I start my course! Love and kisses, M.
The birthday greetings are for his brother Peter and his then partner Kristina, to whom this email was also addressed, and who share the same birthday. While in Varanasi Michael also met up again with Robert and Sabine. Robert recalls their time together . . .
Robert (email 24 Jan 03): Afterwards we met up in Varanasi, must have been around Sept 20th. (Actually about a week later). We had been e-mailing back and forth trying to meet up, when we accidentally ran into Michael and Bernadette in a cafe. Sabine and I had met Bernadette on the bus from Kathmandu to the Indian border, she spent the night there and we went on. Michael met her the next day on the bus from the border, Sunali, to Varanasi. We were supposed to meet up with Michael, and Bernadette, but separately, very convenient the way it worked out, plus goes to prove it's a small world after all. Spent a couple of days with Michael in Varanasi, met his friends Rachel and Jimmy, he had taught english with them and had known Jimmy for some time. We talked about his yoga course and they told stories about teaching english. Jimmy and Rachel said Michael was amazing, they never saw him down, even though it must have been tough for him, teaching alone in a small village, with no one to talk to, they said they had had a difficult time and they had each other, but Michael seemed to do fine. I think he was just a happy person and would remain so anywhere. He seemed happy to me on the Ashram in Dehra Dun, even though he told me later he hadn't really liked it, but he managed to make the best of it, as I think he did with all situations.
The last time I saw Michael, he was packing his things and we were passing by on a boat. We whistled to get his attention and waved goodbye to him for the last time. I will always have that picture in my head, him smiling and waving. . . .
This was the last time Robert saw Michael. However his links with him still continue. Two years later Robert, with his new Australian wife Sonya, undertook the same 6 month course in Pondicherry that Michael went to. After successfully completing the course they travelled to Australia where, in April 2005, they visited Michael's family at their home in Sydney. For the family it was both a deeply moving experience and a privilege to meet them.
Meanwhile, in Varanasi, Jimmy's then partner, Rachel, also has clear memories of those final times together . . .
Rachel (email 3 Nov 04): The last time I saw Michael was in Varanasi.... I sat on the doorstep of his room, overlooking the river...while he packed his ludicrously large rucksack....and we chatted and laughed....and after a great deal of rearranging, re-packing...and 'squashing' of thick Nepalese woollen jumpers and the like into small spaces (Michael insisted they were great buys, stylish, and would be, in the long run, incredibly useful) ...and under the pressure of very little time before the train departed (not that leaving the packing to the last possible moment, and attempting it under the influence of 'a little bit of a smoke', seemed to faze Michael one bit!) .... I walked him to a rickshaw he would catch to the train station, from where he would travel to his yoga course.
At the rickshaw we talked of meeting up again in the south....I told him not to accept sweeties from strangers....and we hugged, a lovely Michael hug. I just took it for granted that I would see him again.
Michael now set off for Pondicherry . . .
October/November 2002 Pondicherry