Walking back down the jungle path towards Arambol, we spot an Indian guy and a German girl on the riverbank. Both without a shred of clothes, both covered head to toe in white clay.

“Come try the mud bath!”, he invites us. Uhhhhhmmmmmm …. Okay? Why not.

We approach unsure and awkwardly. The powdery-white guy is down on all fours, enthusiastically digging away deep under some tree roots to mix a fresh batch of clay for us. “Like this”, he says, vigorously rubbing the creamy mixture over my arm with both hands. Assured of the awesome health benefits, and determined not to miss out on this experience, we dive right in, smearing, slapping, and patting mud on to our bodies, faces, hair, everywhere.

Sufficiently slathered, we sit like grey aliens from another world, half naked at the edge of a rock pool, in the shade of the tropical jungle surrounding us. While we wait for the mud to dry, we talk to our strange, almost ethereal, new friend, still liberated from his clothes, but in such a matter-of-fact way that it seems totally and utterly normal. He talks of his childhood, how he grew up in the area, and how he’s always loved sleeping outside. He’s slept on the beach, next to the lake, in trees with his dad, many many nights in the forest. When it’s monsoon season, he says, he’ll consent to sleeping in the entrance of his house. He has studied Ayurveda and yoga since childhood, he picks plants from the forest to make medicines, fruit from the trees to eat. At 28, only a year older than us, he’s years beyond his time.

“Have you ever spoken to a tree?”, he muses, “Not using words. It’s a living thing. When you speak, it listens, when you ask, it tells, when you feel, it feels.” He comes to the forest often to meditate. “When people meditate, they try to think nothing, no thoughts. But the brain doesn’t work that way. Thoughts travel faster than the speed of light. So when I meditate, I listen to the river and the birds, to what they have to tell me. Nature is the greatest teacher.”

Enthralled and utterly absorbed, our mud packs have long since dried to a flaky white layer. In a powdery puff, we scrub off, and rinse in mountain water. Our friend, now clothed, escorts us back down the path. We emerge from the forest like Alice from the rabbit hole, pulling twigs from our hair and wondering at the magical strangeness of what just happened, and with a smile and wave our friend is gone.