Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Into India

Settled into our second evening in India. Oh how I wish I had a good camera along. But a camera couldn't even begin to capture the intensity of it all. A camera cannot convey the smells: the incense, the frying japates at the market, the stench of the urinals one must immerse oneself in while waiting in line at the ATM, an occasional waft of hashish pipes burning. The colors of India are more vibrant than you can imagine. Coming from the bleached out deserts of UAE may have something to do with my appreciation for this. As I am dumbstruck by it all I keep reminding myself this is their "normal." My "normal" would probably be just as stunning to them, though I find this hard to believe. Even the poorest, dirtiest ladies have on the most beautiful saris.

In Delhi we experienced the Chadni Chowk which is the quintessential market street, having successfully transported ourselves there via subway. I have no idea how we did that. We were guided by a one legged man, Abdulah, in a turquoise sarong who got about on his one leg faster than we could scoot. He took us into the inner depths of the market, taught us which areas were safe and which were not, hired us pedicabs when needed. Senses in complete overload. A completely naked man (who Jasmine said looked pregnant) walked down the street toward a temple, surrounded by his entourage. I thought he must be a mad man. Turns out he was a Jain priest. They go about life without clothes. Even in the midst of a bustling market. We were served tea in a pashmina shop by a kind man with the orangest bad dye job you ever saw. Jaz, bless her heart asked him the significance of his died hair, as we had seen in on other men. "To cover my grey hairs" he said and then gave us a lecture on how the chemical dyes we use are so bad but his natural hennah is much better (yeah, and it looks like a very bad dye job... but whatever works). We bought fried biscuits with curry potatoes from a street vendor. Indescribably delicious. Saw the barbers doing razor shaves right along the curbs. Right next to the professional ear cleaners using long needles on their paying customers. The garbage is everywhere. The parks are strewn with papers and plastics, as are all the street gutters. Another stark contrast to the UAE where laborers are constantly sweeping and picking up any little bit of trash around.

Today we caught a train to Haridwar. I met a lovely Indian family who were on their way to Dehra Dun. He is a retired historian and a writer and he was busy on his manuscript that had "uncensored" in the title. He introduced me to his wife, a beautiful grandmotherly woman. And then his daughter who was holding his 4-month old grandaughter "Rin Jin" which means rain fall. I held Rin Jin and made her smile. It was a lovely encounter.

We were met at Hardiwar by our driver, who does not speak a lick of English so it's been interesting trying to communicate. He took us to the Har-ki-Pairi temple on the River Ganges. Bustling markets surround this holy place on the water. We take off our shoes and enter into the temple which really is steps down to the water where the devout bathe and bless themselves in the water. We are approached by someone who offers to do an official blessing for 5 rupees a piece. But then as we repeat the sacred words and take the flower bowl to float in the river he asks how much the welfare of our family is worth. 5,000 rupees? What will you pay for your family's good fortune. As I stubbornly resist his imploring for my family and more money I realize that now he is probably making me repeat "forgive me oh blessed one for I am a cheap soul who will not pay top money for my family." If we are hit with the plague and illness and loss of fortune you will know what happened. After this dousing in the river, and watching so many in ritual cleansing we head up the side of a mountain to the Mansa Devi temple. It is a good long climb we share with beggars and monkeys and other families out to be blessed. There is a cable car option but we are ready for some exercise. At the top there are more market stalls, mostly selling blowers, puffed rice, candles and other objects to buy for offerings at the temple. Again we take off our shoes and enter in. But at every idol they want donations. It's a very strange mix: Gods and money and one I'm not comfortable with. But it is obviously what works for these people we see as they provide the gods with offerings of food and flowers and money.

After the hike down we head up road, dodging motorcycles and oncoming trucks (these two lane roads are used as three lanes along with a good measure of cows wandering freely along as well. I am so glad we have a driver (they also drive on the left side of the road so it makes it even more uncomfortable).

We drove to Rishikesh where we were greeted at our hotel with bright yellow marigold garlands to wear around our necks and cold glasses of Coke. Heaven! After we checked into our simple but ample rooms we went down the hall to the hotel restaurant for a late lunch: dahl, paneer tika masala, stuffed potatoes in curry sauce, rice, yogurt. Absolutely fabulous and all for 500 rupees ($11) total for the 4 of us. After a too short rest our driver picked Karl and Jaz and me up to see a very special site (Mary Ann is resting up as she is starting to come down with something....I certainly hope this is not caused by my lack of donations to the Ganges). We are driven up a windy mountain road to the Ashram Temple Parmarth Niketan. This temple is along the Ganges as well (but higher up) and we arrive to a swath of bright gold, young boys in ceremonial clothing, swaying around a fire on the steps down to the river. A singer and musicians are melding the crowd into a trancelike joy while a large statue of Vishna or Krishna hovers over the water. It is totally joyful and we are soon one with the crowd. Then as the sun sets leaf bowls with flowers and incense and small fires inside are launched into the water. Now we are back. I am ready to sleep soundly (I hope) and rest up as tomorrow we head into the Rajaji National Park at the foothills of the Himalayas where we are promised wildlife sightings. Will try to add pictures if I can later.


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