Vivek Bhasin : Extracts from my incredible 350 kilometers walk on the Camino Frances “On the WAY, the PATH, on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela” 20 April 2018-02 May 2018Galicia, an autonomous community in Spain’s northwest, is a verdant region with an Atlantic coastline. The cathedral of regional capital Santiago de Compostela is the reputed burial place of the biblical apostle Saint James the Great, and the destination for those following the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. The western cliffs of Cape Finisterre were considered by the Romans to be the end of the known world. The Camino de Santiago (Latin: Peregrinatio Compostellana, “Pilgrimage of Compostela”; Galician: O Camiño de Santiago), known in English as the Way of Saint James ( and Jacobsweg in Swedish among other names, is a network of pilgrims’ ways serving pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great.
Being neither wiser nor wittier, 19th April 2018 I departed Stockholm Sweden with some anxiety, apprehension and a little confused from both family and my own inner voice, flying to Madrid Spain. That same evening I nearly missed the last train to Leon from ChaMartin a main line station in Madrid but thanks to a last minute cancellation I clambered on board with the last ticket and my rucksack. It was around 2100 hrs when I arrived at Leon and searching, asking in broken espanol (Spanish) I finally located the Pilgrims office where I was officially given Peregrino Credencials, a special passport to trudge, stomp, heave, and surge my body towards Santiago de Compostela. I was now a pilgrim and the geography of the region called me to start from Leon at 600m above sea level moving through various highs ( 1600m) and lows through Villadangos del Paramo, Astorga, Rabanal del Camino, Molinaseca, Cacabelos, Vega del Valcarce, Fonfria, Samos, Mogarde, Castromaior, Casanova, Arzua, St.Irene and finally Santiago de Compostela. I worked an ETA ( expected time of arrival ) as 3rd May 2018 into Santiago but with the weather gods predicting snow, hail, hard sunshine, hard rain, fog, low clouds, strong winds I urged myself to prepone my arrival a day earlier…02 May 2018.
… 20 April 2018 on the Camino..
There are many ways to lead you to the creator.. some indulge in studies of the divine, others wait to be preached, many sit on the banks of the Ganges whilst some on the Himalayan peaks communicating with powerful in chants and prayers and telepathy; many prostrate along the road full length and the repeat this from toe to hair a million times towards their true belief …
..and there are some like me; a trickling faith, a hundred temples and over three thousand chapel prayers at the Holy Trinity Chapel BCS and still I never got it…
The path from Leon to Astorga and the walk at 0710 this morning… I followed the yellow shell, the pilgrim with his staff bent forward, determined.. I followed the road and only once glanced back at the spires of the Cathedral at Astorga.. I never looked back but yet my psyche was not fully impressed with my faith nor was I sure of the end..
as someone told me.. “ never venture, never win “but is this really a win ?( a flood of memories and then a stillness ..)
When I looked back again.. all I saw was the sky turned red and the sun lifting upwards…
This is no game, no gold medal no pat on my back.. this is a path of true reflection; I follow my own … looking at the ground that changes from asphalt to stone and pebble and grass and back to stone … my shell and I, on the road to Rabanal del Camino…
Every evening I stopped to seek shelter…I lived in Church wings, monasteries, and pilgrim hostels called albergues…some were donativos ( you give a donation of a few euros and they allow you to rest your bruised body….. sometimes 60 of us wheezing, snorting and snoring…this was co-ed, yes we men and them women sleeping next to each other ( okay separate beds!) no adverse thoughts, never…. just a beautiful congregation of souls and that is what mattered….each on a camino….a path ..a way.
I carried my body forward in slow steps and then at the summit appear to stand tall, looking at the horizon, but many weaknesses arise within me… will I be someone else tomorrow and the day after ? Only the Camino will speak to me and finally tell me .. or will it?
On the Camino 23 April..(4th day…)
There was thunder lightning and heavy rain last night at Molinaseca.. (I arrived on 22nd April 2018 after a most difficult walk…up steep gradients, down slippery and dangerously wet slopes with huge slippery rocks, my knees took a pounding, feet swollen and hurting as I limped in to town) .. but today when I awoke in the dark at 0530 .. I saw 2 French Ladies in a hurry .. packing their “mochilas/rucksacks” with head lamps .. whispering in French …they were in a hurry and their briskness got me to lift my body after a hard sleep ..severe pain.
I hit the road 25 minutes later on the road to Cacabelos…The road was hard , the feet pounding … but the sweet cuckoo encouraged my drag to proper steps ..Alessandro the Brazilian was ahead and so was David from Barcelona …and 8 Km to Poneferrida …
I met many amazing peregrinos on the road to Santiago de Compostela ..Mat from England, Als from Holland, Trevor from Australia, Steve from the US.. ( ex Caterpillar engines been to India often.. he looked like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.. )Steig from Copenhagen who stopped every 45 minutes to gulp a pint, a glass of vino tinto and smoke cigarettes, a sprightly young lady from Edinburgh, Vaarik from Lithuania, Juan Franco from Milan, Melanie from Germany, Lorenzo Grossi from Turino, Benedict a young handsome dude from Frankfurt; he walked into the Albergue Fonfria at 2200 hrs, stripped down to his boxers, took a shower, spent another 2 hrs in meditation…by 0300 he was gone into the fog. I met Tina and Alexandra from Riga, Jessica from Germany too; I even met Senor Picasso, Ms. Galicia future Ms. Spain for Miss Universe, a mature and super intelligent ex.Ms.Greece who represented her country in Rio 20 years ago, young and bubbly Isabela a Danish flicka on her gap year walking fast and furiously and fabulously. I met beautiful and intelligent Lady Regine at Vega de Valcarce, we had crossed paths earlier as I was always sitting somewhere panting out of breath as she passed me…but that evening she was in the same restaurant having a pilgrims meal and we talked about life and the camino for many many hours…Regine had come to the end of her camino and was breaking away at O’Cebriero the next morning; we lost each other on the path the next morning but met at the point outside the Church of O’Cebriero…she was someone very special on the camino…And Don O’Sullivan a fantastic person, a fantastically genuine person. Thanks Dan! Namaskar.
And I also met this guy ……I met “myself” and we talked of many things on the camino… materialistic and spiritual…I argued and once shouting at myself I ran short of breath; the body pleaded I needed to rest and so I did on a huge rock to calm myself …….and yes I did ..
As I walked through vineyards and even encountered a one-eyed cat… my feet aching … my body sweating…I still kept asking myself.. why but why..? Even Alessandro asked me what is my Camino ..to be truthful I still don’t know, except I wanted my body to hurt at all points and see it heal when I lay down at night to brace another day on this amazing Camino ..
Days went by….at the point of crossing into Galicia I was walking on the ridge of the mountain with the sun rising on my back; the camino walks westward. Ahead the sky was white with low clouds; the chilly blast sensed approaching rain, yet the Gods did not ordain this; instead the clouds stooped low and enshrouded me , the iciness caressing my face and neck like freezing smooth velvet.
….Then I walked out of the cotton into bright sunshine and entered Galicia and amongst the richness of its natural beauty, encountering quaint villages, cows with bells, beautiful noble horses, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats and chickens ( and even 2 hissing snakes) I trampled over fallen pine cones, hard sharp stones, crossed streams, stepped on cow manure and mud and slush…. up the hills and down into vales, walking in country lanes, past vineyards, along the main autopistas ( the main highways) , crossing fields and cutting through hedges, an entire forest blackened due to forest fires in some past hot summer.. and getting lost for hours as I could not find the yellow arrow, the stone with the yellow shell…….I felt the reverberations and the power of the Camino…on which for thousands of years pilgrims had walked the same way…plodding westward to the Cathedral…..
..and finally on 02 May 2018 I entered the outer limits of Santiago de Compostela….the excruciating pain in my legs, my knee caps appeared to have drifted and I was limping. But I saw the twin spires in the distance and I knew my time was nigh. At 1415 hrs, walking in slow steps and panting I walked through the tunnel where a bagpiper played his tune….i closed my eyes and saw the world spinning by….and suddenly I was there at the massive courtyard and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela…
Dropping to my knees…my eyes closed..the tears ran freely as I heard a voice…”Bienvenido Peregrino”..Welcome Pilgrim…!
( At mass that evening the priest announced…among the many nationalities of pilgrims that arrived today…” one pilgrim arrived from India and Sweden”…that for me for said enough).
(The local newspaper El Correo Gallego of Santiago de Compostela, tracked me asleep at the Seminario de Menor and flooded me with questions. Why a 62 year old Indian Sea Captain having visited 120 countries wanted to walk the Camino…? Responding…The Camino was a path my wife and I had read about, I dreamt about and wished to be a part of my life; the thought of walking that difficult path was frightening. Many a pilgrim has broken a leg, smashing faces and splitting open knees; many young, fit and able start with great gusto and get spent within a few days, returning home. I walked the Camino with great conviction in my mind and soul and a great power walked with me and protected me. I could feel it on the journey.. The photograph and the write-up on Captain Vivek Bhasin , Old Cottonian was viewed by one and many on 4th May 2018.
The Mariner Vivek Bhasin having lived an intensive life through 120 countries finds this path-the way on an incredible walk ( 350 km) to Santiago de Compostela.
And a few hours later as I walked within the old city I met Gandhi!
Gandhi handed me a note…” there is more to life than increasing its speed……..”
At Seminario de Menor Santiago de Compostela (5th May 2018: The Departure)
… I got up this morning at 0400 hrs exhausted … the exhaustion was not because of 18 days on the road since Sweden nor due to the completion of the 350 Km walk on Camino Frances and arriving at Santiago de Campostela ( actually in a fairly good physical state.). nor was it due to a flood of memories ( some were so specific that one even lasted an entire 10 minutes … as I unreeled the camera in my mind departing Monasterio Samos and the immediate start of a sharp gradient a steep hard uphill track towards Sarria… it was cold and wet and dark as I pushed upwards …every step had to be secure, no error as the stones were loose , wet and slippery and I could have fallen on my face and all my teeth shattered !..the forest was silent …except for my rapid breath and the fog that formed every time I exhaled ; the effort to reach the top took 105 excruciating minutes; my feet pounding and my body lurching forward, my eyes wide open and my soul..searching. Yes 10 minutes of concentration ignited the inner camera as I recollected that stage of the Camino…
No no.. my exhaustion came on as I stopped the camera in my mind …the exhausted system of mine increased when I left the Seminario Menor, the world of the Camino I was leaving, and returning to the hard road of the world I was going back to…. an immense hollow feeling created this tiredness..I felt concerned on how would the days ahead unfold… was I to immediately transform to the normality of sorts? … as the many sunsets would create flashes of blue on the horizon with calmer stillness so would the ache in my legs and my swollen feet subside, and …
I would re-emerge as another pedestrian in the maddening crowds of the world but with the security and sanctity of always keeping the Camino, the path , the way to Santiago de Campostela within me… and I will smile.
Conclusion ( Sweden 8th May 2018)
I was away from the pace of today’s electronic and fast moving world where pressures are there to perform beyond your maximum heat beat.. stress is “in” …where people compete on how many million “ FRIENDS… (Friends??!)“ you have on face book but not a single genuine friend … the mobile is a bigger addiction than marijuana and cocaine … and you either survive after multiple heart attacks to increase your bottom line in the Corporate world or commit some other drastic act…
The Camino brings you back to great sensibility ….and you speak .. the Camino answers. away from the artificial jokes, scandals and corruption of the world..
I at least realised how Beautiful life is… on that Beautiful sometimes treacherous route..
I thank my immediate family ( Ann-Sofie , Dhani , Radhika, Daniel, Olivia, Jiv) my parents, my 3 Mums, my grandmother, my blood brother Sharat..and my cousins … all of you…and some very special people I met in the 120 countries and on the Camino..
I am ferociously grateful to my Alma mater Bishop Cotton School Simla ( I wore the BCS Hat every evening on the Camino)…to all those who’ve gone before and those who’ve yet to come …. I learnt to convert happiness from loneliness, work and play under Team Lefroy and Team BCS…and go out to face the world, a world … at many stages, of scorn, rage, envy but with my solid foundation from all of the above mentioned … I sieved away those who created negative vibrations in me; you don’t need 16 Million Facebook friends in E-Space… you need a handful whom you can speak to, touch feel and love…
I donated a feather pillow at Seminario de Menor, Santiago de Compostela (SdeC)
…..May many pilgrims on the ultimate arrival at SdeC get an opportunity to lay their heads down on the pillow sinking into the luxurious richness of feathers .. turning on their sides the pillow adjusts to accommodate their necks … closing their eyes may they open their inner vision to the path… the way… the Camino to Santiago de Compostela.. that an Indian -Swedish Sea Captain, a son of Bishop Cotton School… too walked in another world, their world… a more beautiful world…. that stays calling.. calling him to come back…..
(walked an average of 27 km every day for 13 days..)
Additional photographs…and additional Thanks….
[all pictures can be clicked for a larger view]
I must expressively Thank the following.. without whom I would have surely failed
- BCS: School Cap
- H&M (Label of Graded Goods):check shirt/maroon pants/grey jogging pants
- Mizuno : Walking water proof shoes
- No Name: Bath Slippers
- Dobber : All weather jacket
- Wenger: Rucksack
- Happy Socks: Socks
- El Corte Ingles:Belt
- Björn Borg : Boxers
- Jockey : undervest
- Levi’s: Sweatshirt
- Timex: Wrist watch with luminous dial so I could rise at 0500
- Nano-b: Toothbrush
- Negro Jabon: Soap
- Interprox : Inter dental brush
- Profimed : Dental Floss
- XXL: Cotton sleeping case
- XXL: Trekking Towel
- Spanish Vaseline
- Mum’s Mustard Oil ( Calcutta)
- Costa Rica : Bandana
- Dhani : Rain Sheet
- Dhani: Cotton /Linen stole
- Trigger: Walking Sticks
- Camino: Weather Hat
- Olivia’s woollen gloves
- Ray Ban: Specs/Shades
- Samahan: Herbal powder
- Peder Persson: Hunter’s survival bag
- .. my hair brush..