On Mataji’s Houseboat – Banaras 1967.

Old Varanasi from Mata Dharam Das' houseboat - 1967I hitch-hiked from my home town of Preston in the north of England, to India, leaving first in December 1965 and finally arriving at the third attempt in August 1967. Kevin Rigby inspired my decision to go in the summer of 1965, just talking about what it would be like in India, how wonderful it was, almost channelling it, although of course he’d never been there and couldn’t have had a clue about the reality; apart from the fact that it was the home of the Buddha Dharma and Indians still totally understood spirituality as an alternative way of life to the materialism of the West. I was so impressed with this spontaneous spiel that I just said “well let’s go there, then.”

After a pause he said “OK, let’s go.” So we went. We kitted ourselves out for the trip with First World War Army Surplus blanket and poplin sleeping bags for thirty shillings apeice and US Army Cargo Packs for a pound, mail order from Exchange and Mart. I bought Bartholemews maps of Europe, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent to figure out what route to take. We also bought Army Surplus bayonets and Kevin fashioned slick wooden sheaths for them to hang from our belts. We sewed shoulder straps on the cargo packs with two more straps underneath to hold the sleeping bags and that was it. I gave in my notice as a clerk at the accountants’ office, telling Kevin I’d catch up with him in Trafalgar Square in London and off we’d go. But I couldn’t find him when I got there, he’d done one of his famous disappearing tricks, so in the end I left on my own; I hitched to Dover, caught the ferry to Boulogne and headed east to Germany only to be beaten back by early winter blizzards in Europe. Then, Kevin and I separately spent the next year or so ‘on the road’ up and down the UK, youthful beatniks fomenting the 60s revolution and, of course, tripping out completely.

Kevin Rigby Birmingham 1965

Kevin Rigby Birmingham 1965

Eventually we got it together to try to get to India again in the spring of 1967. We scraped together £5 between us and had a hilarious hitching trip across the north of Europe but after being refused entry into Austria for lack of funds we lost each other crossing the German/Austrian border illegally, just before dawn. Out of my brains, I also lost my passport and was forced to be repatriated after a week in Salzburg prison but Kevin slipped through the net. He disappeared into thin air, walked over the mountains to Yugoslavia and reached Istanbul. There, after sleeping rough by Bosphorus he stashed his gear in the bushes by the water’s edge while going to get his visa for Iran, but got back to find everything stolen and found himself left with just his passport and his pair of jeans, nothing else. Determined and desperate to make it out of Europe to India however he persevered, took the road from Istanbul to the East and made his way to India, penniless, hairy and barefoot, while back in Preston again I got a job rubbing cars down for respray in a garage to pay off my repatriation costs and regain my passort. Kevin, mourned for three days by his parents to whom he had been reported dead, rose again and sent me his address at an ashram in Rishikesh. With nothing better to do I set off again and hitched to India, without a hitch as it were, this time there were no obstacles, I flew along with long, fast lifts and arrived within a single month. Only to find when I strolled into Rishikesh that Kevin had upped and gone off across India to Benares, leaving me a note to meet him at the Manikarnika Ghat there, ‘the burning ghat’ where bodies were burned by the side of the Ganges.

Nothing loath, I took the impossibly crowded train changing at Saharanpur, third class. My journal for August 1967 notes: “Kipped at Benaras station after horrific 27 hour train journey and next day up and off to find the ‘burning ghat’ just as the monsoon breaks, big drops splashing on my head and the penetrating odour of parched earth suddenly getting wet. The bicycle rickshaw wallahs rejoice in the rain, shrilly ringing their bells in a chorus of delight at the rain as people come out of shacks and huts to dance and take showers in the downpour, singing praises to the gods. Walk 4 miles in rain, go wrong way, shin deep in water, eventually get bus to centre and walk to golden temple with guides, to burning ghat; of course, no Kevin; no-one would ‘stay’ there (just dead bodies, mud and ashes). In nearby alleys cloth-wrapped bodies are being tipped in the river and slip beneath the wavelets, the ritual accompanied by chaotic brass bands, while enormous bedraggled crows hop around, one of them almost choking as it tries to swallow a dead rat just in front of me. This is India, I’ve made it, I tell myself. Then suddenly meet 3 beatniks in the street, sitting at a tiny open air chai shop under an awning in the triangular central square by the river. They wear colurful lungis, one has long blond hair, they are super cool and are making a chillum. I approach to talk and ask if they know Kevin but one thinks he’s left and gone back to Europe a few days ago. “Yes, that English guy, he decided he belonged in Europe,” confirms another “and left on his way”. Drat! So I get high with the ganja smoke and become ultra-normal.

They invite me to go back to their houseboat with them and meet the crowd, including an Indian woman who takes care of them; she is called the Mataji and is wild.

Mataji

Mata Dharam Das ‘Mataji’.

But she insists on washing my feet before smoking chillums prepared from what we used to call Indian bigstick, ganja. There is a whole bunch of freaks wearing lungis including one American guy called Eddie who’s already been living in India for several years. He is two fingers short on one hand and calls himself Eight-finger Eddie. “Got any hash?” he asks me, the new arrival. I hand over the piece that I’ve brought from Afghanistan, he sniffs it and passes it to the Mataji and after bending it and sniffing it she is clearly happy.

Eddie takes charge of things, along with the Mataji. She puts my lump of hash on a wooden block and with a big grin at me she whacks it with a curved cleaver into two equal pieces. Then she takes a huge chillum and heats it until it’s red-hot on a roaring primus stove. When it’s cooled down she ties a long, thin rope to her big toe and stretches it above her head with one hand after passing it through the chillum, then she reams the chillum vigorously, up and down the rope, with great enthusiasm, grinning at me again with anticipation. They smoke gangia here and don’t get much hash it appears, particularly the good stuff like I’ve brought all the way from Herat. This chillum is now perfectly clean and she fills it expertly after selecting a stone to block it. It is prepared with fantastic style, meticulous care and well-honed skill. Finally the Mataji crushes a red-smouldering ball of buring coconut fibre onto the top, wraps a clean piece of cloth around the bottom, folds it in the fingers of both hands, raises it to her forehead and shouts a long ritual chant ending with “BOM SHANKAR!” before puffing away to get the hash burning well with sparks flying out of the top and taking a long draw, then, as a long flame bursts out from the top of the chillum, blowing out a long roll of thick blue smoke she passes it over to Eddie. She has a fantastic vital force, a real presence, powerful eyes and a most impressive facial expression combining dignity, power and joy.

Eddie in Goa - 1971.

8 Finger Eddie

The beats, several of whom like Eddie have already been in India for years, are meek as lambs before her; a very quiet sussy scene as everyone takes one good hit and passes the chillum clockwise. Apparently this is the very first colony of beats in Benares, one of the most ancient holy cities of India. Long rolls of smoke are blown out by everyone and I do my best to get the grip right, airtight, a good draw, and emulate them.

After this hit, delicious mixed chai is cooked up in no time with creamy buffalo milk and spices to help us all refocus and Mataji and Eddie collect paisa from whoever has any, goes out to the bazaar and comes back with bags of food to cook a great dinner of delicious vegetable curry with a huge pot of rice enough for 12 on a single primus stove… followed by perfect Indian coffee. I have been well and truly initiated into the Indian beat scene!

Smoke all evening and flake out on the floor. Morning, the rain has stopped, it is all clear, I go out on the roof to dig the Ganges with shark-sized carp rolling, there are even a few genuine tourist rowing boats passing by in the early morning sun coming up over the distant opposite bank. The Ghats of the city with their ancient buildings curve away in a long curve into the far distance by the limpid water. Later, leave to check out the scene in the bazaar and drink delicious lassi in the milk shops.

Australian John McInerney - Banaras - 60s

Australian John

Benares is completely unspoilt, no Western-style buildings, hardly; all craftsman shops. Buy some polleny hash (garda) off French guy who is studying Sanskrit at the university. Eat with Australian John, an Aussie who has been 3 years in India, great style, wearing long white robes and with shoulder-length hair he shows me the ropes, how to survive on the street in India, and I buy him chapattis with free dal at 6 paisa a hit. I keep meeting him, and later at Delhi station. Buy a couple of chillums and catch the train back to Rishikesh next morning to see about studying yoga. I decide to quit trying to catch up with Kevin now and make my own way. He’s got me all the way to India on a fool’s errand and then typically disappeared again into thin air, changed his mind completely as is his wont and gone back to Europe.

So now I shall see what I shall see…”

Sean Jones  © 2013 sean jones

 

(Sean Jones has travelled widely & lived the subcontinent, mostly in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, for a dozen years before returning to the UK in 1979 and establishing a successful travel business in London, “REHO Travel” which ran for the next fourteen years. During this time he helped a lot of friends who also came back from India, helped establish Buddhist centres and the global Tibet support group network, as well as being appointed as the Dalai Lama’s personal driver in the UK for 10 years, 1984 to 1993. Sean has now retired to the Pyrenean hills in the South of France with his wife Ariane. He has two sons from a previous relationship).

LINKS:

photo album – sean jones / the flower raj.

web site – sean jones / jamyang study group.

photo album – mataji / the flower raj.

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14 Responses to “On Mataji’s Houseboat – Banaras 1967.”


  • Nice one, Sean. I too met Eddie on the Banaras houseboats in 1970. He was a bit of a star then.

  • A lot of people have commented in Facebook on this post, would be nice if they commented here also.

    I was on that houseboat in 1967 & 1968. Met Mataji through Jasper who took me down to see her after a night at the Banaras music festival in the winter of ’66.

    At that time Mataji was living on a Dhuni (sadhu fire) amongst the sadhus of Manikarnika Ghat (burning ghat).

    The (male) sadhus did not take kindly to Mataji’s sudden popularity with eccentric foreigners but she always gave at least as good as she got!

    My word, that woman could harangue & swear! I learnt a lot of bowdlerised Hindi from her I must say.

    Mataji has her own remembrance page in our encyclopaedia http://wiki.theflowerraj.org/index.php/Mata_Dharam_Das & if you have any memories of her or of her scene, please do contact us using the contact form at the top of this page.

    Jai Mataji! Jai Hind!

  • I only went back to the houseboat in 1971, when the photo at the top was taken. That trip to Varanasi was to fulfil the old karma of meeting Kevin at the Manikarnika Ghat, in the story above. I was working on a dam site (Tarbela on the Indus River) in Pakistan at the time, ’71, and in the springtime Kevin had visited me on his way back to India overland from the UK. So we agreed to meet up at the Ghat, four years late, and from there to go on to Nepal. We ended up in Pokhara and it was there that I met my first Tibetans, running the Tibet Hotel.

    Ten years after the above tale, in 1977, I met Eddie again. I was on a local bus in Swat, Pakistan, where I’d built a house down by the Riverside, and heard this guy in the seat behind talking to his girlfriend about the suffering of the people squatting by the roadside. I turned round to chat and recognised it was Eddie. It was Easter and he was taking a break from his usual Goa/Kathmandu circuit by visiting Swat. I invited them to my place and they stayed a couple of weeks.

    Next time I met Eddie was in 2009, on my first trip to Goa. I sought him out via the flea market he founded in ’75. He was holding court at Joe Bananas, and we met for dinner at Xavier’s. We had a wild evening as we told each other what we’d been up to over the previous 32 years!

    Kevin died in Swat in 1979 and was buried at the bottom of my garden. The great floods of July/August 2010 which devastated Pakistan swept away my house and the land it was built on, including Kevin’s grave, not a trace remains. So his bones were redistributed into the Indian ocean as the Swat River runs into the Indus.

    Jasper might have been in the boat when I was there in ’67. I did meet him a few times, with Ganesh Baba, at the Haridwar Kumbh Mela and then at Temple Alaknath in Bareilly. Then Robert Beer took me to see him in Oxford about 1995.

    I left the Indian scene in the spring of 1968 as I could not handle the flood of hippies who were coming in. I thought I’d head for a quiet place, like the cool mountain air of Chitral, across the northern hills. So I ‘escaped to Pakistan’ and set off north from Lahore by foot and spent the next ten years in the North West Frontier. It took me another six years to arrive in Chitral though, and then in 1975 I was drawn to make the trip to Dharamsala to meet the Tibetans – it was Kevin again who persuaded me to make the journey there from Swat to find the Dharma.

    He had become a Buddhist monk by then. It was yet another four years before I retuned to the west, in 1979 (as penniless as I’d left in ’67) after Kevin passed away while I was stuck in prison in Mashed, Iran I stupidly got busted crossing the Herat-Taybad border.

    Hope this postscript helps to put my account of the houseboat in ’67 into context and perspective!

  • That is the only photo of Mataji that I’ve ever seen online. So thanks for posting it. Memories of her become slightly clearer.

    Although I did live on a houseboat in Banares, for a short time in 1970, I never met Mataji or Eddie there. I met Eddie in 1971 on his porch in Anjuna.

    The following year, I met Mataji, ‘Bom Shankar’ Baba, Jasper and many other remarkable people, on a yatra to Amarnath, in 1972. It turned out to be Mataji’s last Himalayan yatra. She died about a year later, I believe, in Benares.

    Anyway, we all wound up in a commune centered on two houses, one above the other, on the shores of Dal lake in Srinagar. The landlord was Gopi Krishna, the writer of ‘Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man’ (also known as ‘Living with Kundalini’), which we had studied in Balyogi Prem Varni’s ashram in Hrishikesh, earlier that year.

    This was one of the many amazing experiences that being in India, in the seventies afforded me. Never to be forgotten. Hopefully, it will be a published short story one day.

    About the origins of the Anjuna Flea Market. You say of ‘flea market he (Eddie) founded in ’75’.

    As I was an eye-witness to the event, I must point out (as I already have elsewhere online) that Eddie did endorse the start of a flea-market in South Anjuna, because we had the courtesy to ask him. Though he certainly wouldn’t have see it that way, we felt that South Anjuna and the ruined porch he had found was really ‘his territory’.

    However, the flea market began when a Frenchman called – as I remember – Jean-Philippe – said, over a chillum in an Anjuna chai-shop ‘They are having a flea market in Baga. People with vehicles are selling their unwanted stuff and things they made. Why don’t we do that here?’

    All present agreed, if Eddie didn’t mind. The Frenchman eventually said ‘I’m going to ask Eddie. Then, I’ll put a notice in all the chai-shops on the beach for a flea-market next Sunday and see what happens’. We ‘Bom Shankar’d’ him off.. The year was 1974 (I think it was early in the year also), not 1975.

    By 1975, the flea market was already established (if still very primitive). The first ‘Stoned Pig’ magazine of mid-January 1975 advertises it as an established event, which proves the case.

    The wording is as follows:

    ‘A Grand Open-house Flea Market at Eddies porch next to Joe Banana’s restaurant, Anjuna Beach (South end) on Sunday 26th January 1975 and Sunday 2nd February 1975.’

    The caption reads ‘Hey man, what’s happening? Dept.’ and the strap-line is as follows:

    ‘Renounce your material possessions but don’t leave without a new set. Buy, sell, exchange, set up a stall, hang around, eat fruit cake, drink tea, smoke dope, flip out and/or be alive’

    Where was my brain at, when I wrote those words, nearly 40 years ago?

    The page, including an interesting article on depression, by Eddie, called ‘Coming Down Again’ can be found here http://www.goaheadspace.com/stonedpig/album/Issue%201/index.html

    The actual ‘Stoned Pig’ site, as a whole- http://www.goaheadspace.com/stonedpig -, badly needs a re-vamp, I notice. I originally built it many years ago, when Web development was a foetus of a technology. However, although the forum doesn’t work, most of it does and the entire magazine may be read there.

  • @Sean & @Ray excellent!

    Photos of Mataji in her album at:
    http://bit.ly/13avVw7

    Michael Mann took great photos including Mataji:
    http://bit.ly/13aw96y

    And Mataji has a wiki page at:
    http://bit.ly/13awl5B

    Which needs updating but does have the only photos of her family, gleaned from the scrap-books of Jasper Newsome:
    http://bit.ly/13awIgv

    The stoned pig still lives I think, just.

  • Hey well wow that’s something hey?
    I said 1975 because that’s what Eddie mentioned when I met him last in 2009 and he told the stories. So what do i know?
    I love the album of Jasper. I think many of the photos in the album, and the captions, would be better appreciated if they were individually scanned and posted.
    It’s a priceless, unique classic collection! Deserves to be properly seen.
    Thanks to all for the info and the memories.

  • @Sean I was not allowed to take the Jasper Newsome albums away & therefore had to photograph them using an ordinary digital camera.

  • i had found the people that made the overland journey to india, a different animal, than those that flew in. who seem to be a little to full of themselves, like some giant on the face of the earth.

    the trip across took the wind out of your sails and makes you humble. you’re lucky to be alive. sometimes, things were very dicey or you had to careful when you ate your rice while checking for stones, because they dried the rice on the highway and swept it up after it was dry. you didn’t want to chip a tooth.

    it was a dimension, that we entered and sometimes i wonder, if we really left india and is our spirit still wandering around it.

  • @ ‘Tarot’ Ray: I looked for the Stoned Pig page you inserted the link for but it comes up “Not Found”. Same for all the other issues except the intro. Would it be possible to re-post these documents on this site perhaps? Nico would know how and where I’m sure.
    @ Nico, what a pity those albums could not be properly scanned. Is it sufficiently high resolution to select and enlarge the individual photos one by one?
    @ Luke yes the overland trip was the way to. When I went it was rare to meet anyone who’d flown out, and those in vans and campers were few and far between and seemed rather posh. Most people travelled on foot, taking local buses. But the real travellers hitchhiked of course; and hardcore hitchhikers went without money. Kevin and I landed in Calais with £5 between us. Then, sometimes, at certain borders, they started asking travellers to show the money they had, and if they couldn’t show enough they were refused entry. This even happened to Kevin and me trying to enter Austria at my second attempt in April ’67, I then lost my passport and had to be repatriated.

  • @ray- sean is right 🙂

    We should get the stories ‘who had the least money’? I’m gonna make a page to that end.

    On Facebook I’ve just seen some photos of Lupo, who at one period of his life threw away any money he had each evening. That was in Italy as his story went…

    http://wiki.theflowerraj.org/index.php/Hermann_Wolf

    Stories, the barefoot ones with no money & no papers, who walked around the border posts & arrived in Kathmandu for Xmas to become either junkies or monks, sometimes both.

    There’s a ‘mirror’ of the stoned pig, actually my photos of original stoned pig pages owned by Robin Brown:

    http://photos.theflowerraj.org/v/places/goa/old_goa/stoned_pig/

  • Wow . . . . I’m on home turf here . . . !! . . . well, almost, I suppose I was part of the wave of hippies that Sean Jones left India to escape . . . I was on a houseboat in Benares in spring ’69 when I came down with hepatitis.

    While I was in the Krishna Free hospital I had some visitors from the houseboats and was told that Mataji had a house and it might be a good place to recuperate when I got discharged from hospital.

    I did go round there but Mataji said no and I went back to the boats . . . . I think maybe she had got fed up with the stream of hippies as well ….Paul.

  • Sean I can see that u found enough time to put this HISTORY on paper and preserve it. Sorry that Jeanny wount enjoy it. But I did. And I know this is only little part of your exp. Please give us the other things too. Islamqala border cross, virtual NWFA chaishop and many, so many others. I think, few yrs back I wrote here about opening my Mustafa hotel in Bamyan in early 75 but can not find it anymore. Lot of paysaless love from phnompenh lakeside.

  • Mysteriously I only got the notification for your comment today, Nino, more than 2 months later – unless your computer is 2 months predated. I am happy you enjoyed the story, it makes it worthwhile to write, and I appreciate being asked to tell more; these days my past adventures have lost their lustre for me and I tend to see them in a negative light. Anyway, since you like Afghanistan, I’ll be posting chapters from my unpublished book, “Escape to Pakistan” …

  • Hi Sean,

    Your story deserves better than to be posted as a mere Comment; I’d like to (leaving it as a comment also) make it into a proper post & of course add photos which you may have in your compendious archives 🙂

    Good writing & wonderful material, what do you think?

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