Notes from India, 1962

Joanne Kyger in Nara, Japan, June 1963. Photo by Allen Ginsberg. © Allen Ginsberg LLC.

In 1960, when she was in her late twenties, the poet Joanne Kyger (1934–2017) joined Gary Snyder in Japan. From there, the two traveled to India, together with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, where they met the Dalai Lama. Below are entries from Kyger’s journal, written in India in March 1962.

March 2, 1962

Moved across the Ganges to Swarg Ashram. Two rooms, for Peter & Allen, Gary & I. Afternoon walk down to sand and rock point of Ganges—white glittering sand. A few orange robes spread on rocks to dry. Everyone strips to undershorts, launders and bathes in the river.

Sadhus sitting in meditation, red eyes, matted hair up by the bridge. How can they sit so still says Allen. Gary changes last of my color film exposing by accident last pictures. Losing the following:

  1. Portrait of Gary with wet hair, Allen behind in the Ganges.
  2. Peter swimming, Allen & Gary bathing.
  3. Gary meditating in sand, Allen standing on tall rock in background.
  4. Allen, Peter, Gary sitting on bathing steps on Shivananda’s side of river.
  5. View from lodging across to other side of river from hill where we spent the first night at Rishikesh.
  6. Gary in front of Agra Fort Pearl Mosque.

March 3, 1962

Made Indian style tea on spirit burner—milk, tea, sugar, boiled together for us all. And rolls with jam and peanut butter. Studying maps. Always windy in the early morning here. And today cloudy and cool. Bird hops through the window looking for crumbs.

Reading Allen’s article from Second Coming. “When the mode of music changes, the walls of the city shake.”

Afternoon all of us on roof on hill. Ganges and small mountains behind us, on the Shivananda side. Swami Sri Lingam doing yoga asanas for us. The eyes, the mouth, being exercised. Great red meaty mouth.

Gary insists I eat yogurt and spills it over my mouth and sleeping bag. Leaves the cup outside and a dog eats it. A cat comes through the bars at night and knocks over a pail of it, comes back to lap it up.

Cows and bulls outside the door, one pins Allen to the gate. Peter pets them.

Chapter II from some book by Tim Leary at Harvard University Center for Research in Personality, who turns everyone onto mushroom pills. Pages peppered with words like: sweet loving guy, sweet new therapy, fine loving afternoon. He says he loves the poets but from the way he writes about them he turns them into unattractive foolish asses, drops just enough phrases through the mouths of others to show how he feels—no baths, big phone bill. Not very bright. Probably wants to write or be spiritual in big way—and envies Burroughs, Ginsberg—who he basically hates—covering it up with gooey admiration. ‘Allen Ginsberg, Zen master politician.’ Constantly harps on the poorer physical aspects of Allen—thin, glasses, white, stooped shoulders. ‘Hung, like me, on doing good.’

March 4, 1962

The rest into Hardwar to see the beginning of Kumbh Mela. Terrific wind. Gloomy. Fuzzing of time. I could step back into Brentano’s stock room.

Reading Kim all day between bouts of laundry. A grey heavy wind dries the clothes on the porch. Lugging buckets from the faucets at the pumps. Soaking the clothes for 30 minutes in the room and back to rinse and bringing back a fresh bucket for new laundry soaking. Sleeping bag liners, shawl, Gary’s parka, and on.

Fruit salad when they return. I wear English man’s long red sweater. Allen makes Peter in the next room.

March 6, 1962

Climbed the hill, Nealcant, behind the ashram, until noon to view Himalayas. One or two ice covered peaks. Some nearer foothills with snow. Green hills, farmer’s house and land terraced down the side. They look like Nepali Hill folk.

March 7, 1962

In Hardwar, walking up & down. The picture seller pulls the old beggar man’s beard when he tries to help, and slaps his face.

March 8, 1962

Traveling all night by train to Bareilly. At dawn, breakfast with two eggs. First non-vegetarian meal in two weeks. And on train and bus to Almora.

Crossing the river Ganges yesterday in morning boat with Jaipur peasants, they singing. The air and hills clear, river fast moving & muddy. Almost naked ascetic in Hardwar. Block printed Ram Ram cloth.

It’s better to be a good man, than to be a yogi.

Four bridegrooms on the way. All young like adolescents. Bright umbrellas held over their heads, cheeks painted, beads hanging in front of their faces and tall bright colored hats, paper tinsel.

At the train station early, the bagpipe band of well trained and uniformed bandmen playing near a large beflagged tent set with cups and saucers waiting for a wedding party to arrive from Delhi.

Bus from Kuldani to Almora. Wreck after Raniket, government jeep has gone over the side of a cliff. A civilian riding illegally comes on back with us in the bus. His mouth and eye puffed and bloody. Everyone collects his baggage & dirty laundry. Broken suitcase. Peter gives first aid to soldier. His wrist broken. Head bloody. A truck takes him on to Raniket. Four or five people puking out the bus window all the way, including the little bridegroom, his father beside him. Sharp curves. Shining white mountain tops.

March 14, 1962

Fever, brings cold. Made stew in and out of bed. Peter and Allen turn on with Morphine before dinner and no appetite. Peter has also taken Opium at 10 o’clock, before going to find his 12 rupee roast chicken was stewed in curry. He washed it off in the restaurant kitchen.

The next morning after buying Tibetan rug and hairy blanket we took the bus on to Kaumuni government rest lodge on ridge facing Trisul and surrounding ranges. Bask in sun all day facing the mountains, bundled all over, reading Gandhi’s autobiography.

The chokidar makes us dinner. Kerosene lamps, fireplaces. Each room, 2 rupees a night. This morning on the way to Naini Tal, Peter and Allen sing rock and roll, blues.

Naini Tal has a lake, surrounded by high mountains, is a resort town with fancy Indians with transistor radios on trays and tweed jackets.

The selections above were first published in 1980 as part of The Japan and India Journals, 1960–1964, which was reprinted by Nightboat Books in 2015. They now appear in There You Are, a collection of Joanne Kyger’s interviews, journal entries, and ephemera, edited by Cedar Sigo.

Published with permission of Nightboat Books and Wave Books.

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