It was a sleeping carriage, the start of a run east. Tomorrow I would cross the border to Nepal on foot. Then on to Kathmandu. Then Lhasa. Then over Tibet and onward, sometimes west and always north, to places unknown. Tonight the train was jostling, hot, full of brilliant Indian colors and smells, the famous synesthesia of the subcontinent, too much of everything. The cabin had four bunks. The pair on the right were occupied by a Brahmin couple, having their feet kissed in farewell by their adult children. And on the bunk below mine, what had to be perfect luck: a Buddhist monk, his elegant robes dark mustard, his disposition affable.
One is enjoined to seek, on the road to the hidden kingdom, the blessing and advice of wise monks, and around midnight, after rubbing menthol all over himself, this learned man listened to my plan. I was setting out on the ancient pilgrimage route to Shambhala, I told him, to seek the king and paradise here on earth. I was afraid, I said. Did he have any advice?