October 10, 2010
There were some things that I feared I’d never see. I don’t really have a list. There’s just sort of this vague recollection of stories and images I’ve gathered in my head from travel memoirs, old National Geographics, and coffee table photo books: people bathing in Ganga, lighting candles in little cups of leaves and sending them down river with a garland of marigolds; women holding hands and walking down the street in jewel-bright saris, barefoot; Sadhus in orange robes with impossibly long hair, canes and faces of holy paint; gaunt men powering bicycle rickshaws with women in full burkas riding behind; a sleeper train filled with Indian business men, families, beggars, and workers but no Westerners; rice paddy fields with women carrying enormous sacks of grain, grass, or greens on top of their heads; peaks of the Himalaya with prayer flags flapping in the wind, red, yellow, green, blue; the Dalai Lama and his monks in red.
What I mean is, I was worried that by the time I finally arrived, everything would be paved and everyone would be wearing jeans, t-shirts, and penny loafers. Big country that it is, the cities of America look pretty much the same. There are the same restaurants, the same department stores, the same sort of homes, and everyone more or less dresses exactly the same. I’ve seen this in other places too, though never on quite the same scale. The cities of Ireland, England, and Scotland – though often lovely – were all vaguely similar in their big, stony grandeur. In Spain, the city centers had lovely kept gardens, parks and historical buildings, but the outskirts had that familiar Meditteranean-cement-apartment-building-thing going on: miles of slightly dirty, very square apartments with shabby balconies and stores selling umbrellas, saucepans, and coca-cola below. The outskirts of Athens and Istanbul were much the same.
I’ll never forget the day Caitlin, Joshua, and I landed in Cuzco, Peru. We had just flown from Portland to LAX, LAX to Lima, and then from Lima to Cuzco. Before that, Joshua had been to Italy, I had been to Great Britain, and I think Caitlin may have crossed over the border into Canada. When we walked out of that little airport, we looked up at the Andes Mountains. On our taxi ride into town, we passed Quechua walking barefoot, packs of stray dogs, and ramshackle shops set up on the side of the road. It was very, very different.
The flight into Leh, Ladakh gave us a similar jolt. Ironically, the comparisons to Cuzco were readily apparent: dirt roads, devil-may care drivers, jagged, snow-capped mountains, and women with long, long braids. But they were different, too: Leh has these gorgeous timber windows and pagoda-like roofs. Leh had gompas and prayer flags.
Ever since we’ve landed, I’ve been presently surprised that India is even better than my imagination and certainly better than my fears. I don’t mean to suggest that Western globalization isn’t a threat to their way of life or culture (I’m in no position to make a generalization like that) but all those things I listed – ganga baths, saris, sadhus, cycle rickshaws, sleeper trains, rice paddies, prayer glags, and Tibetan Buddhism – are alive and well. What’s more, they still seem surprised to see us. People have been traveling in India for a long time, but in some places, you’d never know it. Even in Rishikesh, where Western hippies have been flocking ever since the 60s, is decidedly less Westernized than even Dharamsala or Leh. It seemed to me that there were for more Indian tourists than Western, and out on the street, we were always outnumbered. Which is nice. Which is how it should be when you’re traveling.
I don’t mean to sound puritanical; every once in a while, I appreciate a good clean restaurant where the wait staff know that Westerners all vegetables washed in mineral water or otherwise boiled just as much as the next traveller. Sometimes, it’s very reassuring to see another over-pale traveller decked out in vaporwick and a backpack on your bus, train, or automobile – you know that at least if something goes horribly awry, you’ll all be in the same position. I just mean to say that it seems a little odd when we travel to places to see new and different things, eat new and different things, and then we end up staying with all the other people who are doing the same thing and we end up talking and eating with them only.
Joshua and I haven’t seen a Westerner in over 24 hours. Last night, we picked up our bags from the ashram, and our kindly guide led us across the bridge to our taxi. As the sun went down, Joshua and I held hands in the back of the car. Actually, we gripped hands, and every time our taxi driver headlessly flung himself into oncoming traffic, leaning on his horn and overtaking five to six motorcycles, autorickshaws, and trucks, we squeezed until we could feel bones pop in our fingers. It was harrowing.
A little more than 30 minutes later, it was completely dark. As far as we could tell, we were in the middle of nowhere. Sure, there were still countless forms of vehicles flying down the roads at top speed, neglecting any and all traffic laws (if there are any), but there were no land marks, no signs in English, and our taxi driver knew no English either. Finally, cutting off a cluster of women in saris, a motorcycle, and three bicycles, our driver pulled into a dirt parking lot. Up ahead, a dim, naked light bulb illuminated a cement entry. There were plenty of Indian men and women about, toting luggage and small children, but there wasn’t another Westerner to be seen.
We took our packs and walked through the entry onto the platform. In the dark, we could see two sets of railroad tracks. We sat next to a pile of cow dung, a couple of sleeping dogs, and dozens of Indian travellers, who stopped mid-conversation to ever so casually stare in our general direction.
We still had 45 minutes before the train was expected to arrive, so we unloaded our packs and sat on them. I read while Joshua fretted.
When we first got to Rishikesh, Joshua had the brilliant idea to arrange for bus tickets to Gorakhpur with the ashram travel agent. He went down to work out the particulars, and an hour later, he came up with the particulars: all the trains directly from Rishikesh to Haridwar and then Haridwar to Gorakhpur were booked – first, second, and third class. The only way that we would be able to get to Gorakhpur was via Varanasi, and even then, we would need to take a 30 minute taxi ride to the small station of Raiwala outside of Rishikesh. The detour added about 8 hours onto the total trip, but it was the best we could do; taking a bus would almost certainly take much longer.
Once we had figured out that train tickets are in such high demand, we decided to buy the rest of the train tickets we’ll need for the remainder of our trip. Joshua gallantly hammered out the details with the ashram travel agent, so we now have all our train tickets with us: Varanasi to Agra, Agra to Jaipur, Jaipur to Jaisalmer, Jaisalmer back to Jaipur, and finally, Jaipur to Delhi. All of these tickets are for sleeper seats (except for the last one, Jaipur to Delhi, which is a day train ride anyway).
Although we had all of our train tickets squared away, we were still a little apprehensive. We had ridden trains before in Britain, but something told us this would be very different. How do you know where to get on? How do you know which train is yours? What about which stop?
The train arrived about 10 minutes late. As people made a mad dash for the doors and engaged in general chaos, Joshua ran first left, then whipped around and shouted, ‘no! That way!’ We ran back four or five cable cars, and then Joshua said, ‘ok! I think it’s this one!’ I saw no differentiating numbers or figures, but Joshua’s good with this sort of thing. I followed like a blind, lost sheep.
Inside, there were stalls that opened up to a narrow hallway that ran down the length of the train. Inside each stall, there were two long seats facing each other and then two lofted seats above. Halfway up the stall wall, another long seat could be raised and chained to the top seat, but for now, it was hanging down the side to provide room for seated passengers.
On the other side of the hallway, two more sleeper seats allowed room for a couple of people to sit below and luggage to be stored on top. Somehow, Joshua found the right stall. We unloaded our packs and sat down. There were 8 other people in our little stall. Every single one of them looked at us as though we had just landed from Mars.
Much relieved now that we were sitting on the correct train in our correct sleeper car, we looked around. People were playing cards on lofted beds, women were sitting cross-legged, combing each other’s hair, pointing at us, and giggling. Fans up above stirred the thick air around us, and the grated windows looked out into the dark. I decided almost right away that this was a terribly romantic mode of transportation. Everything was old, and already, there were people laying on the highest sleepers with their elbows tossed over their eyes, sleeping.
By now, I was totally immersed in my book, so after I had my fill gaping at all the newness around me, I went back to reading (Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution by Thomas McNamee). Joshua started to read to, but it just so happened that one of our staring stall-mates spoke English, and they struck up a conversation. It was hard to hear over the sound of the train swaying over the tracks, but I did gather that we were something of an anomally. The Delhi business man applauded us for going out and seeing ‘the Real India,’ while at the same time mentioning that during the high season, we would have been lucky to find any square inch to sit down, much less claim our sleeper seat.
At one of the stops, a little boy – probably five or six years old – got on the train. Barefoot and shirtless, he pushed an empty burlap sack down the isle, picking up trash and dirt. As he came by, he held out his hand where he held a couple of rupee coins. He tapped my knee and tilted his head to the side, ‘please, Madame.’
I know I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. There are beggars all over India. Some of them beg on their dessicated knees, their legs shriveled and thin from polio. Others are missing limbs, fingers, toes, teeth. Bony women in rags carry filthy infants on their hips. Little children run up to you, begging for your spare coins.
I gave the little boy our last cookie. It wasn’t what he wanted. Looking disappointed, he continued wiping the shit off the floors. I don’t know what to say or do or think. Do I give them money? Do I not? Do I look them in the eye and say, ‘no, I’m sorry’? Do I walk by without looking at them? What’s most humane? What’s most loving? The other day, I saw this poster in one of the Indian restaurants. It had a picture of a lovely, well-dressed Indian girl crying. It said, ‘In order to be happy, we must not be so concerned with others.’ I kept on looking at it, wondering if it meant ‘concerned with what other people think’ or just plain ‘concerned with others.’ In a country so poor, I suppose it could be either.
At about 9:30, our stall-mates started to turn in for the night, and we got out of our seats to pull down the middle sleepers. Joshua crawled into his middle sleeper across from my upper sleeper. With our packs at our heads, we were able to sleep with our legs tucked up.
I slept for a while, and when I woke up, I finally managed the courage to venture down to the toilet. Standing on a awful, piss-wet platform above a hole that opened directly onto the train tracks below, I hoped that an updraft wouldn’t leave me in a very wet, very embarrassing situation. Luckily, I escaped unscathed.
Back in my loft, I looked around at all the people sleeping, curled up like children, smacking their lips and blowing slow air out of their nose. Men were lying on the floors and on top of bags. Every square inch was taken up by a sleeping body. It felt old world and romantic. Someone was snoring, but with the white noise of the train tracks and the two ancient steel fans whirring next to my ear, I didn’t mind.
I slept until 8 AM, and when I woke up, I looked down at Joshua, reading. I read too, and the two of us spent the next five or six hours lolling about on our sleeper seats, reading and napping. This is so much more comfortable than a bus ride. At about 2 PM, it got so hot and sticky, I had to come down and sit by the window to catch the hot breeze. Most people had disembarked either in Lucknow or Dehradun, so there weren’t many other travellers left. Watching India fly by my window, I looked at farm land that had been carved into rice paddies and vegetable patches. Men made furrows in the soil with enormous hoes, and women cut the crops with scythes. Next to the tracks, mud huts sat beneath great big banana trees, and in school yards, children played tag barefoot.
Finally, we arrived in Varanasi. Gathering our bags, we stepped onto the body-packed platform. Although there were hundreds of people, we were still the only Westerners in sight. Following the crowds, we made our way to the exit, picking up a taxi tout along the way. Although we had planned to walk to our hotel, when we saw the mass chaos outside, we conceeded.
For 20 rupees, the man and his friend drove us in their autorickshaw to a hotel about a mile away from the train station. The more touristy part of Varanasi lies along the Ganga a few more miles away, but our train for Gorakhpur leaves tomorrow morning at 7:50 AM, so we decided to stay a bit closer.
Once we had unloaded our bags and I had taken a quick shower, we walked outside to stretch our legs. As we walked, we passed cycle rickshaws full of women in gorgeous saris and still more women in black burkas. Cows with sword-sharp hip bones foraged for food in the gutters, and dogs with distended bellies, missing fur, and engorged teats curled up in corners. Barefoot children ran by, towing small paper kites flying high up in the sky.
At one junction, we found a vegetable market with overflowing wagons. Eggplants, prickly cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cauliflower, and carots sat in colorful arrangements, and on another end, street vendors were selling fried things. We bought a couple of fried thingys and stopped the boy just in time. He was about to drizzle some soupy stuff over the top, and although we’re stupid, we’re not suicidal: that pot of soupy stuff had been sitting out in the heat all day long.
We kept walking. I ate my fried thingy, but Joshua’s stomach was still feeling a bit iffy, so he set his bowl down in front of a particularly scrawny looking dog. I was walking behind him, just having crossed the street, and I saw a half-naked beggar man leap up, swat the dog away, and snatch up the bowl. He looked to make sure Joshua wasn’t watching, and then he gobbled down the whole thing, including the bowl (which was made out of leaves).
We returned back to the hotel, not having seen one Westerner or a single restaurant. In the dining room of the hotel, we ordered a vegetable biryani and an onion parantha. An Indian family came over for a little photo op, and after they had gone, we changed the TV station to the Commonwealth Games.
As we ate the Indian version of Jambalayah with Parantha and chutney, we watched India fight it out with Pakistan on the hockey field, wheelchairs race around the course, and thin-muscled men leap out of the starting blocks. We tried to figure out who all was in the Commonwealth, and then Joshua said, ‘it’s like they wanted to do the Olympics, but they didn’t want to invite the Americans, because they were sick and tired of us winning everything.’
Sometimes, my husband is very astute.
October 9, 2010
We woke up early to catch the coolest part of the day. Joshua was feeling a little bit better, so we decided to go for a long walk/run up to the Shiva Temple in the hills above Rishikesh. Walking past the last buildings of lower Rishikesh, we began to run.
Although we ultimately missed the turn off for the Shiva Temple, we decided that we didn’t care. We ran for an hour through an impossibly green and tropical forest, listening to monkeys scream and passing a sign that said, ‘Beware of Elephants’ (although we didn’t see any). Cresting the hill, we were able to see another town on the Ganga far below. In the distance, the river cut its wide path through the plains and ended in a hazy horizon.
We turned around and ran back, hopping over streams that ran over the road and dodging cars and painted carrier trucks. Back in Rishikesh, the city was waking up, and as we ran by, little school children would start to run too. One Sadhu gave us a thumbs-up.
Back at the room, we showered and packed. Before we left for breakfast, we stepped out onto the balcony. With a breeze running off the Ganga below and a spectacular view of the suspension bridge and the fairy-palace ashrams, the balcony has made this room one of our favorite places to say thus far.
Across the bridge, we ate at the German Bakery again. We sat in the same seats and ordered the same things, watching people, monkeys, motorcycles, and cows cross the bridge as we ate. On our way back to the ashram, we picked up a couple new books. In the room, we said goodbye to our balcony one last time and checked out, leaving our bags with reception.
We had about 30 minutes before our appointment with the Vedic Astrologist, so we headed to one of the fairy-palace looking temples. Stowing our shoes in the cubbies outside, we made the circuitous route up to the very top, stopping to admire the colorful shrines along the way. On the last four or five floors, we were stopped a dozen times to pose in family photos. At the top, we snapped a quick picture of the Ganga and the bridge below, and then we rushed back down, running late.
Things like telepathy, psychics, horoscopes, crystals, tarot, and astrology have all sorts of baggage associated with them, and I know that if I admit that I’ve had my horoscope done by a Vedic Astrologist, some people might find it difficult to take me seriously. That said, I’m not really sure if I care.
Pandit Uniyal’s office sits on a side street not far from the German Bakery. In one small room, he has a desk with a computer, two small Hindi altars with statues of gods and goddesses, and a blanket on the floor with pillows for seating. For our consultation, we all sat cross-legged on pillows.
To begin, Pandit gave us each 10 page packets. The first 8 pages are type-written, and the last two pages are handwritten. On the first page, Pandit has entered our personal information: our names, date of birth, time of birth, and birth place. From these pieces of information that we gave him yesterday, he’s been able to identify the latitude and longitude at which we were born, the day of the week, the time of sunrise and sunset, our ascendant sign, moon sign, constellation, and dates corresponding with the Vedic calendar.
Here’s what Pandit discovered about my date of birth:
I was born at 37:28 North and 105:52 West. On the day of my birth, the sun rose at 5:11 AM and set at 18:39 PM. I was born on the 5th day of the Dark Moon on the Vedic Calendar, and my sun sign is Taurus. My ascendant sign is Cancer-Moon, moon sign is Sagittarius-Jupiter, and constellation is Moola-4. In my most recent past life, I was a dog.
Here’s what Pandit discovered about Joshua’s date of birth:
He was born at 44:56 North and 93:05 West. On the day of his birth, the sun rose at 5:45 AM and set at 18:18 PM. He was born on the 7th day of the Dark Moon on the Vedic Calendar, and his sun sign is Aries. His ascendant sign is Gemini-Mercury, moon sign is Sagittarius-Jupiter, and constellation is Moola-1. In his most recent past life, he was a deer.
The next three pages of the packet show diagrams of our various star charts. They appear very complex and scientific, but Pandit was able to point at totally incomprehensible numbers and shapes and tell us all sorts of things about our personalities and our future.
For example, I have Venus in my corner, and that means that I will make my living with the Arts. Mars likes to hang out in my corner too, and that means that I will be inordinately successful. I’m going to make a lot of money. I’m going to be filthy rich. Saturn’s there too, and that means that I’m a kind person and sometimes too personal, too generous.
As for Joshua, he’s got Mercury in his corner, which means that he’d better hitch his wagon to his wife: a fruitful business is not in the cards for him, but he’s very good at handling other people’s money, and since his wife is going to hit it big, it’d be best for him to just manage hers. (Here Pandit looked up and very seriously told Joshua: ‘men are born with five senses, but women are born with six. When your wife tells you to do something, you say, ‘yes Madame.’ Also, it’s best just to leave the money making to your wife. She has lots of good money signs; you don’t.’) As far as his profession goes, Pandit saw government work in his future. Given the exact constellation of the stars at his birth, he’s a very intelligent man who frequently changes his mind. (Here again, Pandit urged Joshua to stick with his wife. For someone as Mercurial as him, it’s good to have some stability. In addition, he must manage his anger problems; otherwise, disaster will follow.)
The last two type-written pages, an overview of our personalities, financial futures, marriage and children predictions, career opportunities, health, and lucky things.
For myself, I’m a moon sign, so my life is likely to be very changeable. I have a fertile imagination, and I love strange scenes (?) and adventures. I tend to be sentimental, talkative, and extremely hard-working. I am artistic, and I love my family and home. I have deep feelings of loyalty and responsibility, and any anger I feel is short-lived. Being a watery sign, I easily adjust. As indicated before, I will be very, very successful when it comes to money (No problems there, Pandit said.). For my marriage, it will be happy, but at times, I will be far too demanding. I will have two children, one boy and one girl, and they will very likely have strong musical or artistic abilities. For my career, I will work in the Arts, but some form of social work or teaching is also viable. I will likely own my personal business. When it comes to health, I should be relatively healthy, but I may experience some problems ‘below my navel’ in the year 2040. Pandit also sensed that I will be very cold. (That’s strange, he said. It looks very cold for you.) I will die when I’m 84 or 86. My lucky day is Tuesday, and my lucky colors are white, cream, red, and yellow. My lucky numbers are 2, 7, and 9, and my lucky stones are diamonds, pearls, and rubies.
Joshua, on the other hand, is under Mercury’s lordship, and this means that he is both joyous and reluctant in nature. He’s intellectual, understands things very quickly, and has great analytical powers. He is capable of clear, quick, and logical mental action, and he is always alert to new ideas. However, as Pandit mentioned before, his mercurial nature leads him to change fields frequently, and his prospects for business aren’t great. As for study and education, Joshua loves to ‘go deep into matters and study them.’ He does not believe in what he has not experienced. He loves to travel. When it comes to marriage, he’ll marry someone who is successful ‘along either artistic or literary lines.’ He’ll have two children, one boy and one girl. For his career, jobs in government look best, but it’s likely that he’ll do more than one job at a time, given his dual sign. Also, it would be best for him to manage his wife’s money. He’s good at that. He’ll have excellent health until his old age when he’ll struggle with his eyesight and his skin. He will die when he’s 82. His lucky days are Thursdays, and his lucky colors are green and yellow. His lucky numbers are 3, 5, and 12, and his lucky stones are emerald and yellow sapphires.
In the last two hand-written pages, Pandit gave us pointers, predictions, and advice:
For me, I’ll be getting a great job between December 2010 and February 2011; however, I’ll soon change that job for something even better, possibly in September 2011. It’s suggested that I fast one Sunday of every month. On the morning of my fast, I should fill a copper bowl with water and a floating flower. When I place the bowl in the sunlight, I should say, ‘om.’ From August 2012 to August 2022, I will be blessed with two children. There will be long journies and changes in work in this time, and I’m advised to wear a pearl pendant (because I’m under the moon). From August 2022 to August 2029, I’ll move under Mars’ sign, and my work will become even more profitable, although I must steer clear of jealousy. During this time, I should also fast on one Tuesday of every month, as well as the day of the Full Moon. From August 2029 to August 2047, life looks a little bit more difficult. There might be a death in the family, and my children seem a little fickle about their higher education. I need to be careful about my taxes, because my business will be audited, and this is also when my ‘below the navel pain’ comes to a fore. During this time, I should wear a ruby pendant, and I should chant ‘Om Hran Hrin Hron Shaha Rahuway Namaha’ 108 times every morning. Then, from August 2047 to August 2063, things look up again. I’ll live abroad in a foreign country for a while, and my children will settle down. My health might not be so hot from May 2061 to August 2063, but otherwise, things are looking pretty prosperous. From August 2063 onwards, I’m likely to become very spiritual, and if i haven’t already, I will die in July of 2074.
For Joshua, a job in the government sector looks probable by March 2011. After the age of 28, he won’t really have to worry about money because ‘your wife will be the cause of your prosperous life.’ He should also fast on one Sunday a month and fill a copper bowl with water. He should chant, ‘Om Nama Shivayah’ 108 times every morning. From February 2028 to February 2035, he should readjust his thinking about public and private life, and be wary of a senior family member’s declining health. From February 2035 to January 2053, he’ll struggle with worries about his difficult children, but later on in that period, he’ll likely do some extensive travelling. In the next period from 2053 to 2069, he will have problems with blood pressure, but he will also rediscover the joys of social work. In February of 2069, he will die.
When Pandit finished explaining our horoscope, he stood up and retrieved a pot with red paint inside. Touching the crowns of our heads, he blessed us and marked our foreheads with red paint. We paid him and left.
Afterwards, we tried to decide what we thought about the whole thing, and both of us tried to strike a balance between skepticism and possibility. On the one hand, you can argue that horoscopes paint a wide brush, and individuals can see bits and pieces of themselves in any of the wide brush strokes. The power, then, comes from seeing a reflection of yourself and taking time to identify the characteristics that you wish to embellish and those you wish to quell. On the other hand, you could take the horoscope as gospel. You could have total faith in the dates, the numbers, etc., and you could use the horoscope to help make important decisions about your future.
I suppose I lean more towards the first hand where wide brush strokes provide useful reflections, but I’m also drawn to the mystery and romance of considering that there might be a mathematical force out there that can tell me about patterns, fate, and likelihood. In the end, I got a kick out of a number of things that – at this point – I’m still thinking of as coincidences: 1) Pandit said Joshua was a deer in his past life. When Joshua pulled cards to find his animal spirit a few years ago, you pulled a deer. 2) Pandit said that our constellations match, and if we had been considered as a match in India, our families would have considered our constellations favorable. 3) Pandit – without any prior knowledge – pretty much nailed our career interests. Joshua’s been talking about policing in the past couple of weeks, and Pandit suggested something ‘in government.’ For me, he saw something artistic or literary. Beyond those coincidences, I feel a sense of optimism. I’m still not at all sure how I feel about things like fate, etc., but if I should go on from this point believing that I will be successful as a result of my hardwork and persistence, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Even if it ends up being a joke – oh yeah, Ellie’s going to be the money maker in the family – that’s ok too. Anything to give me that boost of confidence to keep trying.
Walking back up to the German Bakery, we sat tucked away in a corner. We ordered small snacks and a couple of drinks to while away the time, reading our horoscopes and then our books as we ate. Every once in a while, I would catch a glimpse of a monkey sliding down one of the suspension ropes on the bridge like a fireman. They’re fearless.
After a bit, it started to rain pretty heavily. We ordered a couple of more drinks so that we could keep or table and view. At one point, a couple of Indian women pulled me away to take a photo of them. Their English was impeccable, and they were both wearing very expensive brand-name sunglasses and side bags. One of them told me that they had flown up from Delhi to ‘check on their assets here in Rishikesh.’ Just a couple of weeks ago, the Ganga had flooded almost 25 feet higher than it is right now, and it had covered a lot of the shops and guest houses’ first floors.
With just 30 minutes before our taxi was due to arrive, we walked back to the ashram, quick checked the internet, and then retrieved our bags.
October 8, 2010
At 7:30 AM, Joshua and I walked to the Yoga Hall inside the ashram for class. Somewhere in the middle of the second asana, I was looking up at the ceiling and I had this rush of dizzyness and tiredness. If I had really cared, I think I would have just pushed through and been fine, but as it was, I just didn’t care that much. I folded my hands in a Namaste to excuse myself, and I went back to bed.
While slept, Joshua wowed the yoga instructor. He was even invited to attend the intermediate yoga class later in the day. When he came back, he was feeling great, and he decided to go book the rest of our train tickets. Our tickets from Rishikesh to Gorakhpur had just barely panned out, and having discovered that train tickets are harder to get ahold of than we had originally expected, we decided to book ahead.
After a couple of hours of fussing, Joshua booked the rest of the tickets for a trip, and it was a good thing too: all of the AC sleeper cars had already been taken.
To celebrate, we went for a little 40 minute run up to the waterfalls and back, and once we had showered, we walked down to Swarg Ashram to get some cash from the ATM and find some grub. In a little cafe hidden between stalls and temples, we ordered a couple of dosas: fried lentil crepes stuffed with curried veggies and potatoes. They were delicious, but unfortunately, Joshua was suddenly struck by a severe case of Delhi-Belly. We paid quickly and nearly ran the rest of the way back to our room.
While Joshua attended to his needs, I poked through some of the handicraft stalls. It’s much hotter in Rishikesh, and I’ve been lusting after a pair of ali-baba pants and a light, short-sleeved t-shirt. After some dithering, I settled on a pair of loose fitting, soft pants and a lovely dark green t-shirt. Wandering across the bridge, I went in search of an astrologist. After our disappointment in Dharamsala, Joshua and I figured that the next best place to indulge in our New Age curiosity would be Rishikesh.
In a little office down a side street, I found just what I was looking for. The sweet old man seemed to be running a high-demand business, and his paperwork and manner were even more professional and official than I had really been looking for. I filled out papers with our dates, times, and locations of birth, and then I scheduled a consultation for tomorrow at 1 PM.
Back at the room, I checked on Joshua. It had been touch and go for a bit, but he was feeling a little more stable now, so we decided to head back down to Swarg Ashram to see the big ganga aarti. On our way out of town, we heard someone making a big fuss up ahead, and we pratically ran into Eshai and Hadas before we realized that it was them, and they had been shouting at us to get our attention. Quickly recommending our ashram for accomodations and planning to meet up later at our ashram’s restaurant, we moved on, hoping not to miss too much of the ganga aarti.
At the lovely temple on the water, we took off our shoes and went to stand above hundreds of worshippers dressed in the most lovely colors: the women were wearing the most beautiful saaris, and the men were either dressed in orange or white. As they clapped, sang, and lit candles, they looked like tropical butterflies in the firelight. Both the ceremony and the backdrop – the Ganga in sunset with a statue of Shiva floating above the rushing water – were gorgeous.
When we got back to the ashram, we met up with Eshai and Hadas on the balcony of the restaurant. A group of travellers from Argentina and Chile joined us, and as we ate spinach stuffed paranthas and mint slushies, we talked about Indian food and gushed over our Ganga view. It was a wonderful evening, and although we hadn’t said goodbye to Eshai and Hadas that long ago, we were sad to say goodbye once more.