Bananas and a Baba

We have been in Arambol for around ten days now. This has given us the chance to meet some interesting folk and really get to grips with the local area.

A few days ago we met a Scot named Al who was holidaying for a month. He told us about how he had visited a Baba – a sort of Hindu holy man. This Baba lives up past the beaches, underneath a Banyan Tree.

Intrigued, we set off to see what this might entail. The sandy trail we had been pointed to followed north of where we were staying, up along the side of the coastal cliffs, and round the back of a fresh water lake which is fed from a small stream. Following this stream north-east away from the coast, we entered a dark woodland area lush with unfamiliar foliage and filled with mind-boggling fauna. At one point giant ants marched in single file across our path and large butterflies the size of my hand flapped lackadaisically around the shaded environ. Their wings were a shade of ebony with flashes of brilliant blue across the centres. Enthralled by these insects, I managed to creep close enough to one to capture it with my camera before the sound of the shutter scared it off.

The trail was hilly and uneven, yet quite distinct, and we met other travellers coming the other way saying that the tree was just up ahead.

Finally reaching an impasse of boulders we looked around for the path, sure enough it veered off to the right and climbed a steep hill. As we mounted the hill we could hear voices in the otherwise serene location and knew we were close. All of a sudden, the foliage cleared away and there stood a mighty Banyan tree, its branches reaching up into the high canopy.

Rounding the stump, we came into view of a small group of people. There were a few Indian men smoking away on hand-rolled cigarettes and another relaxing on a wall with his motorcycle helmet resting on his chest. A Nepalese chap was sat by a camp fire at the base of the tree tending a pot of rice which was cooking away. A Russian man was laying at the side of the circle, high as a kite, and in the very centre, behind the fire sat this Baba. The man was in his sixties and had a voluminous white beard that spilled down his chest.

We introduced ourselves to the group and took a seat in the circle. I had assumed that this man was some type of guru who would be talking in riddles and offering sage advice. It turned out he was more interested in talking about England, where he would visit every ten years or so, to live in Leicester and renew his visa! I suppressed a laugh, imagining this old man in a big old white nappy trying to get on a plane.

The Russian man stirred, and became cogent enough to beg money from me for some ‘smoke’. Firmly declining to give him any money, I stood and offered around a bunch of bananas that we had picked up from the grocer in town. Each visitor and the Baba accepted the gift, and they all sat there in stoned silence munching on their bananas.

This was too bizarre for us both, and after exchanging looks, we bid them all farewell and headed back to the beach.