Two strapping young men coming out of a rave party are scaling a narrow, rickety


of s

and stones


  Their faces are painted in dizzy colours. Under a bright February afternoon sun,


sweat on their broad, gilt-speckled foreheads splinters into tiny liquid suns. The party might be over, but the music—most likely a medley of trance tracks—must still be buzzing inside their heads, for they’re stepping high, wide and carefree, revelling in it.

Ron Daniel, the taller and stockier of the two, is clad in a pair of loose fitting orange trousers and a plain, skin hugging black T-shirt. A long, funky metal ring dangles from his left ear, matched perfectly by the large Rudraksha necklace he sports with pieces of ribbon hanging from some of its big beads. Blue and red streak his thick, green Rastafarian locks. Zac Manny, his fellow traveller, with bulging eyes and brawny, dragon-tattooed arms, is wearing a sleeveless, khaki jacket with the buttons open, and baggy khaki shorts. His hair is dense and unruly, his beard a hive of blond bees. Together, they complete the picture of two devil-may-care pilgrims in a punk paradise.

Six months ago, Ron and Zac were serving their mandatory military service in the Israeli Defence Forces. Their heads overdosed on pictures of bestial Arab-bashing, their brutally crewcut hair an embarrassment to any punk worth his salt.

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In search of 'Jews gone astray in India‘, two of the three men who run the Chabad House in Vattakanal. Israelis avoid the

unless there is a party going on.

Now they are in a far-flung village in the mountains of south


gambolling in a mad, manic season of fear, loathing and a little bit of enlightenment—two of an estimated 30,000 Israeli young men and women seeking every year, in the valleys and the beaches of an idea called India, a mythical detox from the afflictions of an enforced regimented life.

Some of them see the funny side of the story: when your head is already screwed up, you might as well clean it by further screwing it up in as many different ways as you can.

Where is Vatta?

In one of his stoned, Zen-inspired moments,



Shatter, a friend of Ron and Zac, and who mockingly calls himself a “warrior”, finds a way to describe his Indian adventure in four terse lines: “In Israel I do weapons. Boom! Boom! In India I do drugs. Boom! Boom!”

On his way up, Ron pauses every now and then and turns back to please himself with a grandstand view of the Nilgiris. The sun seems to comply, transfiguring the range into a dazzling theatre of light and shadows. The sighing of the breeze, the rustle of leaves, the songs of sparrows and doves, the scolding of squirrels, and the many sounds of silence provide the perfect background score. Zac is held transfixed by the trees and flowers—mostly eucalyptus, pear, pine, cypress, silver oak, acacia, mimosa, rhododendron, and magnolia—that populate the verdant valley.

The green of the international spiritual highway connecting India and Israel matters a lot to him, in much the same way as it does to many of his fellow Israelis in India.

A black dog sniffs around his legs for a while, before, as if suddenly inspired by the prospect of a better territory, it is startled into a sprint. A file of Tamil labourers, descendants of exiles from Sri Lanka who sought asylum in India during India Gandhi’s time, trudges past him indifferently, their backs bent under cement sacks on their shoulders. When a backpacking French couple coming down the slope greet Zac, he looks at  them  and asks:

“Where is Vatta?”

His hands splay outwards, and the muscles of his face contort, giving him the look of a happily lost man. It is easy to get lost in Vatta even when you are not high, but for travellers chasing a life where you can get a happy high and get lost, the village is a promised land.  Zac repeats the question: “Where is Vatta?”

Michael Ravi, owner of the tiny house where Ron and Zac have been staying for the last six days, does not like his village being called Vatta.

“The name is Vattakanal. Only these Israeli fuckers coming here started calling it Vatta. And now the village is known as Vatta everywhere in the world.” The consternation an impending cultural incursion has filled him with is hard to miss. “I tell you, man, in five years this village will be speaking Hebrew.”

The French couple, having already travelled enough in India know better than to answer a happily lost Israeli in one of India’s Little Israels.

“We know how to travel in India,”


says with knowing a grin. “We are used to getting lost and used to finding our way back home. We are Israelis, after all.”

And even if they contrive to lose their way, the three good men of Beit Chabad (The House of Chabad) will find them.

A hundred years ago, what is now the village of Vattakanal was a forest through


the British rode their horses to Kodaikanal, the hill station they built in the eastern ranges of the Western Ghats to cosset themselves when summer turned the plains of Madurai into sweltering kilns.

Around 70 years ago, the Jesuit priests of Kodaikanal started constructing mud shacks with grass-thatched roofs in forest land to house the servants—tribals who were converted into Christianity—at their seminary, and thus was born the village of Vattakanal.

It still remains a Christian village of about 100 families, with Roman Catholic families constituting the majority and CSI and Pentecostal families making up the rest.

Post-independence, the erstwhile servants of Jesuit priests found their true calling in the good earth of Vattakana

l and

made it a rich farming village that produced the finest potatoes and carrots. At the same time, Kodaikanal, six km away, was gaining a reputation as the princess of the hills, seducing lovey-dovey honeymooners, casual runaways, location-seeking filmmakers and errant flower children of the hippie West.

The phenomenon tolled the death knell for the fields of Vatta, with the younger generation, in pursuit of an easier and steadier source of income, finding employment in Kodaikanal as jeep drivers, cottage managers and tourist guides. And when the bison, in retaliation for the escalating encroachment of forest grasslands, ran amok, the fields were gone forever from Vattakanal.

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Father and son: Pan (left|) was born in Lahore while his parents were travelling, he carries a photo of him as a two-year-old in front of a south Indian temple. When he was 19, he travelled all around India on a bike  Now he is travelling with his son, GintoA landscape engineer, he built steps for the house in which he was living with stone and wood, since the old woman of the house had trouble climbing the slope.

R Mohan Sundaram, one of the first to set up a “tea and snacks” shop for tourists in Vattakanal 12 years ago, describes those days, in his theatrically modulated voice, as “days of staring at the mountains and waiting for an occasional tourist to pass by.” Even though Kodaikanal had by that time become a prime location on the Indian tourist map, Vattakanal was still an insider destination that only the most hardcore of travellers explored.

(Even today, though it’s jampacked with travellers in the tourist season, neither Vattakanal nor Vatta has found its way to Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide to India, or for that matter even to the tourist map of Kodaikanal.)

It was, according to Billy the Hippy who came to Kodaikanal in 1989 and has stayed here ever since in his matchbox-sized mud house on a cliff edge, a place which “Shiva liked”, a place where natural born hippies found their hermitage and made ganja oil from the fabled Idukki Gold they smuggled from Kerala.

“This was where the real hippie parties happened,” says Billy, the mutinous excitement of his youth shimmering on his 60-year-old face. “Goa was just a hoax, too commercial to be hippie.”

But if Goa was too commercial to be hippie, Vattakanal was too hippie to be commercial. Unlike most present day travellers from the West for whom India is a cheap destination where they can afford to splurge in a way that they would find difficult to even imagine back home, the hippies of the Seventies and Eighties—disillusioned, radical beggars fleeing the horrors of post-war European capitalism—preferred to fill their wacky wallets with ganja and not money. They would stay with the families of villagers for months, paying not more than ten rupees per day. And in the Nineties, even they disappeared from Vattakanal after a clampdown on drug trafficking.


“Those were the really tough times,” says Mohan. “We had no farms, only a handful of tourists came here, and not everyone found jobs outside. We really had no idea what to do.”

But then, he had no idea about what the Israelis were up to either.

Nobody knows, least of all the Israelis themselves, why all of a sudden so many Israelis started flocking to Vattakanal around the dawn of new millennium. The theory most Israelis subscribe to is this: Some Israelis came here, liked what they saw, liked what they heard, spread the word, the rest of Israel followed and one more Israeli tradition was born. Travelling to India has always been an “Israeli thing”, a custom Israelis most often explain with a simple word:  “Connection”.

“Perhaps it is the nature, perhaps it is the culture, but Israelis always had an Indian Connection,” says Hadas Ezekiel, a 30-year-old jewellery maker who is on her second Indian voyage. “By the time they are about to finish their military service, Israelis are thinking either about India or South America. Since India is a cheaper option and since there already are a few Little Israels in India, most Israelis prefer India.”

Hadas was one of the few who went to South America after she had completed her military service 10 years ago because she always knew she would, because she always knew she must, one day travel to India.

Perhaps it is the nature, perhaps it is the culture, but Israelis always had an Indian Connection.

And even though the landscape of South America was just as awe-inspiring as India’s, and drugs cheaper and easier to procure, she found that the unique “connection” that has now made her return to India after first coming here four years ago was missing.

Unlike most Israelis, she likes to travel alone in India and finds herself peeved when she comes across a bunch of Israelis or Hebrew posters in an Indian village. “Give me a break! I see Israelis all the time back in Israel, and I read and hear Hebrew all the time. I did not come to India to see Israelis and speak Hebrew.”

But Hadas is an exception that proves the rule, which is that when they travel in India Israelis live, eat, drink, smoke,


, shop and trek together. This, Hadas says, is a direct consequence of Jewish history: a manifestation of the impulsive sense for solidarity injected in Jewish blood by the many centuries of life outside Israel. “That is why we build Little Israels in India. It is very much an instinct thing.”

Vattakanal is the latest addition to the list of those Little Israels in India, Goa, Hampi, Gokarna and a few villages in the Himalayan valleys being the others. Typically, the Israeli season here starts around the end of November, and gains momentum throughout December and the beginning of January when hordes of Israelis reach the village after their bacchanalian days and nights in Goa, Hampi and Gokarna. The village is chock-a-block with Israelis till the end of February; at times they even outnumber the local population. By the middle of March, they start heading northwards to the Himalayan valleys, from where they usually move to Nepal and Mongolia, and finally back to Israel. Unlike the hippies for whom India was a religion to swear by and a lifestyle to celebrate, the Israelis, once they leave India, do not strut around with a hangover. Back home, they uncomplainingly return to the glory-less chores of ordinary life, every now and then thinking about their next Indian trip.

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Gal and Gopi:  Everywhere Gal Shatter goes to in India he carries his favorite doll Gopi which he uses with a puppeteer”s grace. or those on LSD, Gopi provides a wonderful trip.

What distinguishes Vattakanal from the other Little Israels in India is that here the Israelis feel literally at home, for here they stay not in guesthouses or lodges—the village does not have a single guesthouse or lodge—but in houses that have a kitchen.

“The kitchen makes all the difference,” says Hadas. “Israelis feel more comfortable when they have a chance to cook their own food. It gives them a sense of running a household, and they are very fond of it. And when they find a whole village with houses that have kitchens, they like it even more.”

The villagers, too are aware of Vatta’s speciality, as evidenced by the many stone and mud houses with tin roofs that have sprung up in the last decade.

“Every day, someone is thinking of building a new house here,” is how Mohan sees it, and with the rich now opting to construct bigger and more luxurious houses, he thinks his village would turn into a tasteless concrete jungle in the not so distant future.

What distinguishes Vattakanal from the other Little Israels in India is that here the Israelis feel literally at home, for here they stay not in guesthouses or lodges—the village does not have a single guesthouse or lodge—but in houses that have a kitchen.

Sahayamary, Mohan’s wife who was born and raised here, has a more pragmatic view, and knows there is always a price to pay for the good life. She has not forgotten how bad things were ten years ago, and how much worse it could have been if the Israelis hadn’t come along.

“It is not just about the money,” she says. “For instance, now with the tourists coming, women have become key players in this village. They have more say in the families as most houses rented out to tourists are taken care of by women.

“We are good at running houses and now we make money out of it. We run shops also in the junction. Even our children are able to see and interact with people from different cultures. It is good for their future as they are growing up without any inhibitions.”

Billy the Hippy

Once  in the Sixties, when Billy the Hippy was a young man living on the streets of London, the police caught hold of him and asked why he was so dirty. Billy the Hippy, who counts My Experiments with Truth among the books that matter to him, replied: “Because London is dirty.”

billy the hippy.jpg

A few years later, he would come to India with his girlfriend who wanted to walk into India crossing the Pakistan border. He would split with her after two months. It is difficult, he says, for a hippie to travel with a girlfriend. Soon, he would also lose the bag that had all his documents, not that it mattered much to him. “India was where I always wanted to be. When everyone at my home sat in chairs, I used to squat on the floor, in the proper Indian way. And even as a kid, I always liked to do something with my hands, picking up whatever I could find and making stuff with it, like how the Indian gypsies live.”

After parting with his girlfriend and travel documents, Billy the Hippy also decided to part with something that was of far greater importance to him in managing his day-to-day life: his hearing aid. Billy the Hippy is partially deaf, a blessing, as he puts it, for some one who is by nature not too curious about people. For years, he travelled throughout India as a deaf white man with no passport, living on the streets by selling the jewellery that he makes. “I learnt to live all on my own. Gandhi would be proud of me.” In 1989, he came to Kodaikanal, found a tiny house at the top of a suicide point, and decided to stay there. “From most places in Vattakanal, you can only see the sunrise. But this being the edge, I can also see the sun set in the west.”

It was the time when the old hippies were leaving, when capitalism had started making deep inroads into the Indian life; the time, according to Billy the Hippy, “when heroin and ganja came under the ambit of the same law.” He thinks the young junkies and peddlers should form a “Ganja Union”, and revolt. “There should be Ganja farms wherever the climate is suitable. It is good for the nature. Ganja is not just for smoking, you can even make jewellery out of it if you know how to do it.”

When he is not selling jewellery on the footpaths of Kodaikanal, or to the Israeli tourists who, he says, are crazy about what he makes, he roams around the forests, picking herbs and leaves to smoke, and finding new designs for his jewellery from the weird and wonderful patterns in nature. And when it rains, he goes and plucks the finest of mushrooms from the grasslands. In between, Billy the Hippy also essayed a cameo in a Tamil movie titled Ram, which was based on Kodaikanal. He has not seen the film, be remembers what his line was: “Yes Sadhu, you are right!”

Most houses at Vattakanal charge anywhere between Rs 150 and Rs 300 a day, much less than what the cottages at Kodaikanal—cottages without kitchen—charge. Owners of those cottages, as one would expect, are not too pleased with the situation. The villagers do not have licences to rent out their houses, making them easy targets for the police who they say are bribed by the cottage owners of Kodaikanal.

Along with the police, the Electricity Board also conducts frequent raids as most houses are charged on a domestic, and not commercial, basis.

The village’s reputation as a drug haven only makes matters worse, with the police now raiding Israeli parties and making their presence felt in the village, and even slapping cases against some of the villagers for selling ganja.

“The villagers here do not sell drugs,” says Mohan. “Everyone knows that the drugs come to the village from city. And the police don’t do anything about it because they get a lot of money from the mafia operating there. And since they cannot fuck with the Israeli tourists, we are the ones who end up in trouble.”

Around the middle of the last decade, the Europeans too started trickling back to Vattakanal after the hippies had disappeared in the early Nineties. None of them, though, consider themselves hippies. Most of them are working class flower children, youngsters who are out of a job in the winter, or those who are struggling to come to terms with the European economic crisis, or, like Debora Vooijs, those who come to India running off from the disillusionments of their jobs.

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A 31-year-old television reporter with a Dutch channel, Debora first thought about traveling to India when an old couple she was interviewing asked her: “So what are you doing with your life?”

Debora did not come to India with an aim to get enlightened, but she concedes that it is hard for European travellers to do away with the idea of India as a supermarket that sells enlightenment. “The search happens all the time sub-consciously,” she says. In Vattakanal, it is a mishmash of mountains, music, and marijuana that instigate this search. But Debora has not found  “enlightenment” yet. With a twinkle in her eyes that is naughty and knowing at the same time, she asks: “Have you seen me somewhere? I have been searching for myself.”

“The villagers here do not sell drugs,” says Mohan. “Everyone knows that the drugs come to the village from the city. And the police don’t do anything about it because they get a lot of money from the mafia operating there. And since they can’t fuck with the Israeli tourists, we are the ones who end up in trouble”

There also are Europeans, like Lucas the Lover, who have made Vattakanal their virtual home, coming back to the village every year and staying here for six to eight months. Lucas the Lover wants to find an Indian girl to marry so that he can stay here forever.

This is his sixth straight year in Vattakanal, and if he does not manage to find a girl before May, he says he would never be able to come back to India as he is running out of money.

He is happy now, having almost found his dream after chasing it for so long. If his romance does not jump into bumpy roads before May, he will marry Selvy, a deaf and dumb woman who runs a shop at the tiny Vatta junction.

Roland the Baker, a Frenchman whose bread and French confectionary are a massive hit with the tourists, came to Vattakanal 12 years ago when the village’s Israeli connection was yet to be fully established. From 2005, he has been coming here every year.

During the six months of his visa period, he stays at Kodaikanal at his house-cum-bakery called Two High, and works with a Tamil woman who is his “guardian angel” and is a  ‘better French baker’ than him. Roland starts baking at midnight, finishes at around seven in the morning, and then walks to Vattakanal with his baskets. He walks from one end of the village to the other, lighting up a beedi every now and then, chatting with the villagers in his broken Tamil and delighting the tourists with his delicacies.

The travelling baker

Roland the Baker sells chocolate pie and galette for the same prize: `10. But to anyone who cares to listen, he says, pick the galette. “I don’t know, man. Everybody needs chocolate. And there are so many different tastes in the world.”

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Every morning Roland comes to Vattakanal with baskets filled with freshly baked delicacies. He never takes the main road, preferring instead the rocky road through the forest. Here he Bastien Aueneau, a French software engineer,  Roland the Baker talks passionately about the coming elections, and about how stupid it would be if Sarkozy gets reelected.

Roland the Baker is a connoisseur, a man of discreet charm and élan. Every morning, from Monday to Saturday, he reaches Vattakanal around 9.30 am, baskets filled with freshly baked French delicacies dangling from his shoulders. Dressed usually in a pair of loose cotton trousers, T-shirt and a pullover, he walks from one end of the village to the other with a stick in his hand. Colourful Rasta turbans hide his locks which when let loose reach his ankles He never takes the main road, preferring instead the rocky and steep short cuts through the forest which he negotiates with the adroitness of a dancer. Occasionally, he pauses and looks at the play of light and shadows in the mountains, and remembers the days before he turned a baker when he used to work with Paris Casino as a light and sound artist.

Sometimes on his way, Roland the Baker eats his own money. He does not consider selling part of his job. “I am a baker. When I finish baking in the morning, my work is done. What happens after is fun. That is why I don’t like to bargain with the Israelis.” With the increasingly oppressive visa regulations, he thinks he won’t be able to come back to Vattakanal for long. “This is a beautiful place. But if the authorities are going to make it difficult for me to make a living here, I don’t think I would come back.” Roland the Baker knows how big the world is. If life gets difficult here, he knows he can go to Hawaii, or to New Zealand, or may be even to Ethiopia. 

Vattakanal has its share of early risers but most of the tourists are creatures of night. The late risers are most likely to have been partying through the night, since there is always a party going on at one Israeli house or the other.

The sky is a prominent character in the Vattakanal story; a garden of a million stars in the night that nocturnal junkies roam about in glee, and a sea of multi-coloured clouds in the morning from whose depths the sun slowly emerges as if under a spell.

Unlike the Europeans who spend a lot of their time trekking, most Israelis prefer to stick to their houses—the kitchen and the fireplace being the main centres of activity. Life is a festival of indolence here, all “Shanti! Shanti!” as the Israelis are fond of describing it.

Some like to sit outside and paint portraits of trees shrouded in mist. Some report crazy stories of army life, like the one in which a soldier on sentry duty mistook a pig in the bush for an Arab suicide bomber.

Some roll joints, some make chillums, and when they don’t have a lighter or matchbox, they like to yell “lighter connection?” or “matchbox connection?” and when the joint or the chillum is finally lit, they like to say “Boom Bolenath!” Some like to play with the dogs, some with their dolls, and always, the music plays on  “full power”. (“Shanti! Shanti!”, “Full Power” and “Sab Kuch Milega” are three phrases that are immensely popular with the Israeli travellers in India; the context of usage never being of too much relevance.)

Everyone in Vattakanal knows that the present prosperity of the village owes everything to its Israeli connection. They also know that once that connection ceases to exist, money too will stop flowing. It is an uncomplicated equation of economic dependency, but the matrix of cultural transactions that has taken shape in the village since the Israelis started coming here is not as straightforward; the bone of contention being that same sense of feeling at home which makes Israelis come here in huge numbers. No one in the village, dreading the obvious consequences, has so far bothered to ruffle the Israeli feathers; but in private, most acknowledge that the village is not running like clockwork.

They grumble that the Israelis are taking it a bit too far. “They are so brash, man,” says Michael Ravi, who accuses them of showing little to no care for the house they live or for the environment. “They don’t keep the house clean. They destroy the utensils. Is this how you feel at home?  It’s a big headache, man. If two Europeans and two Israelis come to rent my house at the same time, I will have no second thoughts about giving the house to the Europeans.”

Complicating the story further is the permanent presence of the Beit Chabad in the village from the beginning of November to the end of March.

A Jewish religious sect that sets up their house in places where Israelis congregate, they are least liked by the Israelis themselves. Zac Manny, for instance, calls them “fuckers who do nothing but preach hollow sermons. Look at them, man. They get money from the state, they do not have to do the army like the rest of us, and wherever they go they live in plush houses.”

The proclaimed mission of the Beit Chabad is to ensure that “Jews don’t go astray” in foreign lands. In Vattakanal, the Chabad House is run by Ron, Levi and Israel, of whom Ron, the leader of the trio, has come with his wife and two little daughters.

Always clad in a pair of black pants, white shirt, black coat with buttons open and a black hat, they regularly visit houses where Israelis stay, and launch into long Hebrew sermons. To any Israeli who cannot find a house, they offer free accommodation and food, but on account of their zealotry—“We have come here only for Jews”—most Israelis tend to avoid their house unless there is a party going on.

Sometimes, their zealousness lands them in funny situations. Bastien Aueneau, a French software engineer who was curious to know more about the functioning of the Chabad, found out that if he wanted to know more about the Chabad he would first have to concede that his mother is Jewish.

“They kept asking me if my mother was Jewish. When I said no, they even asked me to call up my mother and confirm. They were convinced that I am an Israeli”. When Bastien requested if he could join them for Sabbath, he was at once shocked and amused to hear what they had to say: “Jewish mother, you come. No Jewish mother, no come.”

Bastien now thinks there is not much to be found out about the Chabad, he thinks they are just racists.

(Despite our repeated requests, none of the members of the Chabad house spoke to us.)

Once upon a time, there lived an Englishman in Vattakanal whom the villagers called “Kuthiradorai”, a man who was fond of horses and ganja. He was housed at the M M Estate, now derelict, but once a bustling centre when it was owned by the Jesuit priests, and later when the Hippies came along.

One fine morning, the villagers found that he had disappeared, and that his horses had been shot dead. No one knows what happened to him, but according to the myth that has since evolved with Kuthiradorai as the protagonist, he killed the horses when he was about to be arrested for smuggling hash and ganja oil to England.

Billy the Hippy has not seen Kuthiradorai, but he thinks the myth could not be too far from reality. “When I came here in the late Eighties, the old Hippies were leaving. But in the stories that they recounted to me, the smell that filled the kitchens of this village was the smell of hash and ganja oil.

“They smuggled Idukki gold from across the border, made oil, carried the containers to Kochi from where they shipped it off to foreign lands, mostly America and England.”

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Those must have been the days, for nobody in Vattakanal now sells drugs. But when the season is on there is always a free flow of drugs in the village. Not surprising, since most travellers prefer to wake up and go to bed with with it.

Some carry their drugs while travelling, buying in bulk from Goa or Hampi. Others score the ganja from the city or from a village called Pallangi, 12 km from Vattakanal. Hashish and the hard drugs for the parties, usually LSD and other psychedelics, are scored from north Indian peddlers who travel with the Israelis from Hampi and Goa.

For magic mushrooms, which bloom everywhere in the Kodai hills when it rains, they depend on Kodaikanal dealers who charge Rs 200 to Rs 400 per dozen. 

Since the Israeli season in Vattakanal does not correspond with the rainy season, travellers have to be content with dry mushrooms, which more often than not betray their hopes of Shiva descending from the Kailasa and visiting them with his glowing third eye.

Some of them, in search of better mushrooms, travel to Mannavanur, a  village 40 km from Kodaikanal towards the Kerala border, and known among the travellers as the mushroom village.

And then, there are travellers like Tomas Larsson, a 22-year-old Swedish vagabond attracted to both the silence of Zen Buddhism and the crazy noises inside a junkie’s head, who prefers a more hands-on approach. He roams around the forests, picks up herbs and leaves and barks of trees, and cooks his own drugs.

His maxim is straightforward: “Why bother with peddlers and the police, when everything you want is there in nature?”  He doesn’t sell what he cooks. Drugs, he says, tastes better  shared.

Around the middle of March, when the Israelis leave for the Himalayan valleys and the scorching south Indian summer sets in, the Indian season commences in Vattakanal. Disillusionment, the leitmotif that runs through the history of travellers coming to Vattakanal, is very much the central theme of the now mushrooming Indian association with the village.

If the hippies were disillusioned with the soullessness of European capitalism, and Israelis with the brutality of a mandatory military service, the Indians who come to Vattakanal are mostly made up of young runaways from the 24/7 perils of IT life; software engineers and call centre professionals, usually from Bangalore and Chennai, desperately seeking algorithms to debug the syntax errors that have polluted their systems.

Typically, they come during the weekends and leave on Sunday evening or Monday morning. Since they don’t have much time, and there’s a lot  they want to do, an air of mayhem surrounds them. Without wasting too much time after arriving, they start scouring for mushrooms and ganja. (The wisest of the lot, though, get their LSD and ganja from Bangalore before they start the trip.)

If they have time and enough fuel left in their tanks, they manage a quick trek during the day, usually to the precipitous Dolphin Nose or the psychedelic Guna Caves. The evenings are given over to alcohol and barbecues around a fire. In the nights, after having gone on a bender, they sneak under the blankets, with their speakers still belting out music.

Much like the Israelis, the Indians too are subjects of the unexpressed scorn of the villagers. They are accused of loud and arrogant behaviour, and of disrespectful treatment of the environment.  (There must be more to Israel’s Indian connection than the green of nature.) Interestingly, a few tea shops at Vattakanal sell tea and snacks at a price higher than the one for which they sell it to Israelis; Israeli tea for `8, Indian tea for `10.

There are exceptions, of course, among Indian tourists too that prove the rule. Abhimanyu and Deepak Garg, two final year engineering students and members of the rock band Chokfite, came to Vattakanal on an impulse: they had been to Hyderabad where they won the Hard Rock Café music competition, and were supposed to return to Delhi along with the rest of the band when they changed their plans at the last minute.

Being musicians, they know what it to means to be stirred by silence. And when the mood strikes them, Abhimanyu picks up his guitar, and Deepak his baansuri, and they start jamming.

“Young people change the world. They always do,” says Billy the Hippy, 60, and still dreaming of a better world. “Everything is coming full circle. When I was young, the West came to the East and found soul for a culture called rock music. Now the East is searching the East with the music it took from the West.” Sitting in front of his house at the top of suicide point, Billy the Hippy lights a chillum, takes a hard drag, and looks deep into the mountains silhouetted against an evening sky painted in water-colour orange. His chillum, wrapped in bright orange cloth with yellow and blue stripes on its top, is an aesthete’s delight. Beautiful mountains, Billy the Hippy knows, deserve beautiful chillums.