Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Dipping in the Ganges

As Amanda, Hannah and I make our way through the crowd, Jess and Delphine get bombarded by vendors and are terrible are being firm and ignoring them. Jess panics and Frenchie is hopeless. People are coming up to us and shaking our hands, showing us their children. Amanda is fantastic with all the attention, Hannah is just laughing, while Jess and Delphine look like they are about to cry, and both loving it and trying not to panic. Talk about overwhelmed, it's the definition of the word. We walk down the street and down to the ghat steps for the main bathing area. This big group of men want to take loads of pictures with us as a group, then each one individually- I am starting to get annoyed, especially since about 100 people are staring at us and Frenchie's nervous laugh can be heard on the other side of the freakin' Ganges.
I sit down on a wall by the water to get away, even though I know I am still being stared at.

Suddenly, two big Hindu women come up to me and want to take me down to the water. Uhhhhh ok? I willingly go, feeling the same excitement I did when I went surfing for the first time- the same exhiliration. I step down one step at a time, so my pants are wet around my ankles. Then they lead me down one more, and one more until I'm up to my ribs. On the count of three: ONE-TWO-THREE!!! I dunk!!!!
Nothing like the thrill of dipping in holy water and washing away all your sins. The smiles of my Hindu mommas faces is priceless. Amanda and Hannah join me and we dip again all together. I lead Jessica down the steps (she trips over half of them hehe!) and I hold on to her tight as she dunks, and comes up laughing laughing laughing. She is beaming.
The crowd we attracted is even bigger, I am about to start charging for photos!!!
Delphine, of course, is reluctant to go in, complaining about how dirty the water is
I just want to yell : EMBRACE IT!
She has to dip twice to get her hair wet.
Our Hindu mommas show us how to put your hair down and whip it back in the water- the proper way. Jess and I go in one more time, 3 times for good measure and to properly wash our hair.
I feel nearly close to tears. I am just BEAMING with energy- we all look glowing and fresh. My and Hannah's hands are shaking because we just feel so good and have such good energy pulsing through us. We each take some red powder and mark a little bindi on our foreheads. I've got the true makings of a hippie: my bangles, my mehandi hands and feet, my psychedelic pants, my yellow saffron scarf, my red bindi and cleansed by the Ganges of my sins. Ahh.

We walk back home, soaking wet but feeling just so incredibly high and elated. These obnoxious men are desperately trying to get pictures with us by grabbing our shoulders and snapping a photo. Total mood killer. We walk allll the way up home in our wet clothes, up the hill and into the mountains. At home we all shower, freshen up and spend the night talking on the porch under the heavy rain. The bugs are crawling all over us but I'm trying my best to embrace it. It is wonderful and serene, sitting out there talking, smoking, eating, listening to the rain and having deep conversation. Jess tells us about Hindu concepts in religion and tradition while looking at all the deities on my new scarf.
I bunk with Frenchie for the night, who I'm just starting to feel pity for. All she knows how to do is complain and be negative, rather than embrace experiences and culture.

Big Problem, and it's staring me in the face: my first cockroach! Yuck!
I go out on the porch and try to recruit the help of the hippies getting stoned out there, but to no avail. They just crack up at the idea of using a stick to kill it. Delphine is actually so adorable the way she deals with it cuz she has to talk herself through it as she smacks it with her shoe and screams. I sleep on the hard piece of wood they call a bed, with a sheet over my head, paranoid about bugs.

Offerings to the Ganges

Cheetal shows us to another cottage even further down this walled path which was just perfect. It has a nice little porch that hangs out over a ravine filled with mangoes and monkeys. In the near distance, those luscious mountains I still dream about are high above us, foresting ancient temples and ruins.
We relax and unwind on the porch, hanging our clothes out to dry, taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and enjoying the view. I love just picturing the Beatles hiding out here for months, on a high and inspired by the scenery. Our host Cheetal tells us about the time the elephants came crashing through the valley right below in a herd- how cool!
After settling in and filling out our guest and passport information, we set off for town. The walk down is pleasant, all downhill, with the Ganges below. Rickshaws putt-putt their way up and down as we pass little roadside vendors. Down in the village, we find the Cafe Madras, right near some shops. We order a GREAT big meal of fruit lassis, fresh Nutella pancakes and butter naan- my favorite!!! There is a constant flow of traffic, up and down the street. We do some shopping around, for mala beads, gifts, jewellery and souvenirs. Amanda, Hannah and I head down to the river and buy offerings at one of the ghats for only 10 rps.
It includes a banana leaf with marigolds, fresh petals, incense and burning clay. I say a little prayer for my friends, my family as I set the gift in the water and watch it quickly float down the Ganges.
We continue our shopping, looking at jewellery, anklets, CDs and clothing. We make our way slowly across the suspension bridge and see a gorgeous view of the mountains surrounding the river that flows out of them. Across on the other side, Hannah has a serene moment, where she just stops and needs to take it all in. The sights, the sounds, the people, the smells, the singing, the flow of the river. All the bright, colorful people are gathering, singing, praying, as the sun sets on the Ganges. Magical.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Road to Rishi

How do I describe everything? First of all, people are EVERYWHERE- comin' out of the woodwork! I make eye contact with many..awkward. Along one bridge, I see the worst suffering I've seen yet- a man lying down, completely emaciated so that you could see the bone is his legs sticking out, the flies swarming around him like a piece of meat. And people just walk past like he's a bump in the road.
Sadhus are walking around with their oranges robes and pails for money. I look into the eyes on one sadhu and feel my heart stop- his eyes are so fierce!!! I think he just penetrated my soul...
The Ganges snakes it's way along the route to Rishi, while loads of people walk on the side of the road in the slow traffic that inches up the hill. We get out and switch rickshaws. Auto #2
The road to Rishi is green- for once. There are village centers along the way but I mostly remember seeing jungle-like forests and dense vegetation. We spot a few monkeys along the way. A motorbike with two guys on it keeps up with us steadily, trying to get our attention and yell things at us. I am in a friendly mood so I wave to EVERYONE who happens to look/stare at me. Most respond with a smile and a wave, others not so much.
An hour later, we pull into Rishikesh, only to switch rickshaws at the bus station. Auto #3
We sit with a small family, so there's about 8 of us in a 5 person auto as we head north.
Halfway up the hill, our rickshaw dies...on to Auto #4. Best part is that it is so packed, Hannah has to stand with her ass out the window to make room. Boy, did we have a laugh and a couple of jokes about that.
Up a big hill lands us in Lakshmandu, a quiet village north of Rishi. The Ganges is far down below, with green forested hills shooting up all around us. We are dropped at the bottom of a random lane, which we climb up and up to a path leading to the "Bist Mountain View Guest Cottage". Amanda says we were meant to find this place, and something leads us there. We are followed by a sweet old street dog who doesnt leave our side. I forget what we name her!
Our "hotel manager" is this really chill Indian dude with an eyebrow piercing and a calm voice.
Rooms are only 200 rps a night!

Sunrise on the Ganges

Saturday, June 14th
But it is totally worth it. Pitch black is the night as we go out to the little landing overlooking the Ganges river, the mist rising up like spirits. Ever so slowly, the light begins to deepen as mystical chanting over on a bridge begins. We could see forms walking slowly across the bridges, the mist covering their figures. As the sunlight grew, we go down to dip our feet in the holy river. It is cold. The current is so strong! I walk down the steps a bit to my ankles and say a little prayer- not sure it for anyone, but just the world in general, saying how much I love it. We sprinkle water around us in an arc and say "Namaste!" to the river and the sun. Jess and I do some sun greeting yoga moves, then drink chai on the little landing as the mist rises up with the sun.
Back to bed for a little while...of course Frenchie doesnt offer to sleep on the floor and we cramp 4 in a bed. Around 10am, we pack up and leave for Haridwar just as it starts raining. We hire a rickshaw to take us into the city center, with massssses of pilgrims everywhere.
But nothing beats the presence of the sadhus, in their bright, sometimes faded, orange robes, dreadlock hair (sometimes in big buns, or beards!) and soul-piercing eyes.
We eat a nice big breakfast at Big Ben restaurant, where a "continental" breakfast included toast, tea and juice. How HUGE! Not.
As Hannah and I smoke a Gold Flake outside, a crowd gathers just to stop and stare at us. That's right. They take 10 minutes out of their day to just stare at us from about 10 feet away. I should have just stared right back like some crazy person just to make them uncomfortable. I even wave at one person, who looks so confused and awkward. Inside the restaurant is GREAT for people watching, cuz they cant see us! Sadhus, men as old as death look carved out of stone, and old women with big 60s glasses, no teeth and boobs hanging down to their waist hobble along the streets, shaking their canes or saris. One woman takes 15 minutes out of her day just to stand at the window and stare at me. HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!
In the street is even crazier!! I nearly get pickpocketed by all the children- and the beggars were insane, unmerciful. Shoppng was fun but Jess wants to go into every store so it gets a bit hectic. I start getting overwhelmed by the constant flow of human traffic, the staring, the nonstop begging. Amanda and Hannah were truly wonderful is taking care of me- they each stand on either side of me and take my hand. It feels nice that they are worried about me and see how overwhelmed and disoriented I am. Hannah tells me her secret to crowds like this that she picked up in Thailand- take BIG, long strides and walk fast. Some guy wards off a beggar that WONT leave me alone by yelling at him!!
We hop in a rickshaw quick as we can to take us to Rishikesh- only 200 rps. On the Ganges, thousands of people are bathing, men standing on the side of the road in Speedos and wet undershirts.

Dirt and Deities

When we arrive in Haridwar for the Monsoon Festival, our friend helps us find a rickshaw driver to take us to the right bungalow. Haridwar is like a ghost town.
Sleeping bodies lay sprawled everywhere- in parking lots, on the side of the road, in ditches. In the rickshaw, we get our first glimpse of the mighty GANGES. Breathtaking, even in the darkness, you could still see the strong current and the mist rising off it. No wonder it's considered a deity and worshipped.
Our rickshaw goesall the way through the streets of a neighborhood, only to find the road blocked to our hotel. Fucking figures there's no sign. So we head allllll the way back and are told we have to walk 1km to the hotel. Thank the Ganges our driver walks us over- this place is freaky! It is creepy outside at 2am. Our hotel is tucked away in a dead part of the city; we have a little bungalow right on the river with only 2 single beds (for 5 people...)
Hannah and I take care of paying for the room, waiting desperately for water and hot chai. When we return to the room, figures Delphine has showered first, even though Amanda is sick as a dog. She's hopeless. Tensions are high, especially between Amanda, Jess and Frenchie.
Hannah and I try our best to stay positive, offering to take the floor, with me sleeping RIGHT next to the door where I can already see bugs crawling in. Ah! But I deal. Reminds me of that scene in Indiana Jones, The Lost Arc where he's literally crawling with buggggs. Eeek!
Hannah and I share a single sleeping bag but nearly roasted inside, bc we had to be covered from the insects.
Two hours later, at the ass crack of dawn 4:30am, we wake up to see the sunrise on the Ganges. So tired. Concrete floors are never too comfortable.