Rishikesh

India is a land of contrast, rich and poor, hot and cold, high and low. Different sides of the same coin. This is the kind of place where kids still play with a stick and a tyre. This trip has its share of contrast as well.

In Mumbai I took a 10 day silent meditation class amidst the chaos. A 30 hour train ride third class across the continent. Stayed in the oldest living city in the world in an apartment with wi-fi. A holy place with a holy river that feeds all of Northern India, completely polluted by those who rely on it.

Then a month isolated in the mountains of Nepal only to spent two weeks in Tokyo. The first time I’ve truly felt claustrophobia. Now I’m back in India in a city where meat and alcohol are illegal. Polluting that same river is not though.

Littering and shitting in public is not, pigs lay in the muck and cows stand where ever they please. Weed is literally a weed that grows wild. Bodies are burned by the river as a naked sadhu and renunciate swim near by.

Sunrise and sunset are the only times of the day bearable to be outside.  Around noon I’ll do hot yoga on the roof and take a cold shower after. And several times a day I can sit in meditation. Once a day I’ll take a dunk in the Ganges and break the ice with strangers with my camera.

It’s too hot to do much other than wade into the river. Just putting your feet in is enough. Or come home and shower and do yoga on the roof, meditate in the trapped heat of your room with fans going, stirring up the hot air. Once on the roof after sitting I opened my eyes to see a monkey sitting next to me.

Last week I rented a rickety old bike and rode 11 km to the Neem Karoli Baba ashram, sat there for an hour or so and came back without any water, only prasad.

Now it’s after dark, I’ve made dinner and cleaned up a bit, sitting on the roof in the slight breeze listening to blues from the 30’s and typing, uploading the days photos and playing chess against the computer.

A few nights ago I fell asleep early and woke at 2 a.m. Unable to sleep in the heat I came to the roof and lied down on a blanket fooling myself into thinking that could work. Then I went downstairs and turned on all the lights and fans and made breakfast, cereal and coffee and started my day. I think I have adjusted to the heat now and my routine is much healthier.

I sit and drink tea by the side of the walkway and a cow is now looking over my shoulder. Resting its head on my shoulder trying to have some of my sweet milk tea. I lovingly shove it away and it comes again on the other side to rest its heavy head and beg a little.

Later on the ghats, hanging with the kids a white cow wanders up to us and they all shoo it away but it stays, looking for food, maybe eating some flowers they are trying to sell. Then it spots a white plastic bag tied with some garbage in it and starts chewing it. I grab the bag from its mouth but it won’t let go, I get it away and the cow somehow gets it back from my hands and we wrestle with it before I throw it away. The cow chases it down and someone has to bait it away with flowers.

The temperature passed 42 degrees so I went to the barber to have my hair shaved off and my face shaved again. Together they cost the same as a litre of milk…

A big thunder and lightning storm woke me early one morning. Bringing relief across the city. I opened all my windows wide and ran to the roof to watch the lightning. Cows moo’d, doors slammed, the sounds coming from the sky were demonic. The rolling thunder and heat lightning made the early morning mountains into orange and green.

At sunset I’m sitting under the bridge.  People look so small from down here.  Compared to the surrounding mountains the whole city could be swallowed whole. The bridge and everyone on it dwarfed by clouds.

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