Ram Giri & The Chillum Train Affair

A short piece on the attitudes & advantages of sadhu chillum-smoking & railway travel in India in the 1960s …. perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Ram Giri - Eye of the Chillum

Ram Giri – Eye of the Chillum

Early Indian summer 1968. Delhi is getting hot & although Bombay & Goa are no cooler, it seems time to make a move.

Maybe we had outstayed our welcome somewhere. It may have been that summer when an Ashram on the Modi estate at Modinagar was lent to Ram Giri as a foreign-baba centre; didn’t last long – within a month we were all kicked out – too many hippies invited off the Delhi streets; no discipline & too much uncontrolled drug taking.

The Nagas like their rituals ….. not spur-of-the-moment hippy experimenting. Word got around quick & Modinagar finished. No money ……

So Ram Giri, Acid Michael & I decided to take the long slow sleeper train to Bombay ….. and to travel ticketless in third class, acceptable in those days. Third class was the poorest of the poor accommodation, hard benches, crammed luggage racks, overflowing toilets, as many passengers on the roof as inside.  Nobody would mind crazy Westerners travelling without tickets in third.

But third was full, no way of climbing on board; Delhi station crammed, bustling, hotter than hot. Things looked bad.

At the last moment Ram Giri said “Run …..” & we ran for the Second Class Sleeper Coaches & leapt aboard as the train started to grind slowly out of the station.

Sleeper coaches have guards & attendants & are fully ticketed. We hunkered down in the corridor as a TTI (Travelling Ticket Inspector) came up angrily. “You cannot stay here ….. you will have to get off at the next stop. The Railway Police will deal with you“.

Michael & I looked at each other nervously ….. Ram Giri as usual was uncaring. “Let’s smoke a chillum“. What! Are you serious? That’ll REALLY get us into trouble!

Now you must realise, dear reader, that our Ram Giri Baba was fully accoutred in the ‘dressed’ (as opposed to ‘naked’) Naga Baba style ….. orange cloths, long matted hair tied up, barefoot, one small bundle of sleeping cloths & one smaller bag of chillum ritual Siva implements & Ganja.

So he pulls out the little bag from under his shoulder and begins the long slow ritual of chillum preparation. Mike & I are sort of pretending we’re not really with him, or not there at all. This is a disaster in waiting!

The TTI looks in & gapes.  Another attendant ambles by. A passenger or two squeezes past in the corridor. We’re all three squatting on the floor. Finally the clay chillum is filled with bush ganja, tamped down with coconut husk & ready for lighting. We apply matches and the flames roar.

And so does RG (as usual) “Boom Boom Shankar. Alaknath, Shiva Maheshwara, Mahadev, Kashi Vishvanath ki Jai!” on & on ….. sucks mightily.

As the sonorous Sanskrit rolls out over the clanking carriage, doors pop open & the officials gape.

You are Holy Men?” ……… ahah!

We explain; RG is a certified Naga Baba (foreign), Mike is a supplicant & I’m wearing the mixed white & orange cloths of a celibate student or Brahmacharya. The TTI squats down with us. He’s a caste Hindu & respect for spiritual seeking is built-in.

He asks a few leading questions in Hindi & bona fides are established. We’re not just hippies along for a free ride. We do know Sanskrit (at least I know enough & J has the mantras down pat). Mike looks humble. I look serious. Ram Giri looks impressive.

RG hands the inspector the smoking chillum. Raising it to his brow, the uniformed official mutters a short invocation & tokes. An attendant or two also partake & the usual ‘further enquiries’ are made … “Who are you, where are you from, what are you doing, what is your caste?” …..

Tea arrives – acha, thank you Lord Shiva.

Another chillum is prepared. Nobody takes the slightest notice of ganja smoke swirling down the train corridor as we racket out of the Delhi suburbs into the evening countryside. More passengers step over us.

We are having one compartment free …… Babaji, would you be liking to sleeping there?!“.

Would we ever. A short migration to a comfortable three person compartment. No mention of tickets. Food arrives. Someone brings more ganja for preparation by RG, he astounds with his chillum skills & demotic Hindi. Further conversations late into the night. On Shiva, and travelling, on England & Congress Government & what foods are best for spiritual living. The usual for India.

Twenty-four hours later we steam slowly into Bombay Victoria Terminus ….. we thank our benefactors who ask for our blessings & off we go into the Bombay mix …. another day awaits.



Additions / Corrections:


Thanks to Arthur Mandelbaum, Andrew Somerville, Dave Tomory & Robert Beer  for  additional info, corrections and encouragement.

Naga Babas:

‘Naga Baba’ (literally ‘snake [of Shiva] ascetic’) is a generic term for a set of groups of Hindu renunciates: there is much conflicting & anecdotal information on the internet on them; a good introduction by an initiated Western Naga Baba is BABA RAMPURI whose site will lead you to much good info.

Additional Material:

Wandering with Sadhus: Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas.Wandering with Sadhus – by Dr Sondra Hausner (Amazon.com). In this moving ethnographic portrait of Hindu renouncers—sadhus or ascetics—in northern India and Nepal, Sondra L. Hausner considers a paradox that shapes their lives: while ostensibly defined by their solitary spiritual practice, the stripping away of social commitments, and their break with family and community, renouncers in fact regularly interact with “householder” society. Indiana University Press.

Be Here Now by Baba Ram Das.The late and very great Neem Karoli Baba is said to have received the name ‘Neem Karoli’ after a train he was travelling on stopped at the small village of Neem Karoli so that he could be kicked off for travelling without a ticket.

Unfortunately the train engine would not restart until the baba was invited back on to the train to continue his journey.

This story is recounted by his disciple Baba Ram Das (formerly Dr Richard Alpert) in his book “Be Here Now” (Amazon.com).


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5 Responses to “Ram Giri & The Chillum Train Affair”

  • Only in India…. .things are not always what they seem and things seem not always what they are….. hahahahahahah Jai Hind!

  • excellent piece of writing, very atmospheric andb ringing totally true

  • Wonderfully written. Ah, the days of the Sadhu Express!

  • Jasper ka purana dost, robin

    Aalakh Niranjan, subh dukha banjan……… the normal state of affairs.
    Let them EAT AIR!!
    On platform 7….phir milengi….

  • Great story. That’s the way of Hindustan.

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