Rishikesh and Hardiwar
Trip Start Jun 14, 2005
13Trip End Dec 23, 2005
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On the third, Sam, Dan, Craig (I realize that you have no idea who these people are)and I (you should know that)decided to go to Hardiwar, one of the most sacred sites in India, on the banks of the Ganges, and Rishikesh, another sacred city famous for its yogis and devotion to the practice of yoga.
We rented a cab to stay with us all day, we drove about 600km or more, and he was with us from the morning until 11 at night. It cost us 40 bucks.
The first place was Rishikesh
The city of Rishikesh is entirely vegetarian; there is no restaurant that serves meat. The city is plastered with advertisements for yoga, and the shops are all filled with books - in english - about yoga, stretching, meditation, etc.
The peddlers have bits of sandalwood for sale and various bracelets and amulets with OM written on them - it seems that the entire town is geared not to the hindu pilgrims that have spent their life savings on the pilgramage, but toward tourists whose wealth and opportunity allows them to spend time and money in the town without consequence.
We decided to walk around the city, grab some lunch at a local restaurant, and continue on down the bank of the Ganges, away from the chaos of pilgrims and tourists in the main part of town
The squalor functions the way a vaccine does - expose yourself to it, and soon enough you're immune.
We continued down the bank past a 13 story temple and a temple devoted to Lakshman, full or hindus ringing bells and tourists taking pictures. We walked on for another thirty minutes or so, and then found a small path that led down to the bank of the river. The last five minutes we were followed by a sadhu, or ascetic, and we soon realized that we were going to his place of meditation. He didn't seem to mind, so we continued and reached the bank of the river.
We stood looking at it for a considerable time. The monsoon season had flushed dirt and silt into it, so even here, where it is apparently 'clean' it was full of brown swirls and grey dust floating to the circle and spiraling underneath by the thousand tiny currents that pull it in one direction or another.
Against everything I have been told, I went in. Just knee deep, but still.
I know Dad, you told me not too, and yes Mom, it was dirty, but it's a week later, and the green pus coming out of my foot is gradually going away
Kidding. Nothing happened.
Well, nothing negative happened. The water was electric cold against the heat and humidity of an Indian July. It felt amazing. The river is extremely powerful - both physically and emotionally; whether this is because of its own inherent power or because of the importance it has been assigned, I can't say - though I imagine its the latter. Still, the respect and veneration that people have for it is palpable - as is every aspect of their devotion.
At Hardiwar, we were the only white people. And, as we were also the only people above six feet, we stuck out immensely. The place was filled (literally, its one of the most popular destinations in india, and "popular" by indian standards is saying quite a bit) with both the pious and the curious - both of whom were excited to see us.
There is a convergence of the Ganges coming together after being split by an island, on which is a giant bronze Shiva coiled in cobras. On the right bank, a series of ghats - steps leading to the water - create a cement bank. At the actual site, around a small temple for Ganga, but extending far beyond this temple, there are cement platforms and docks crowded with the bathers and beggers and hawkers.
A series of bridges connects the channels where young men and boys jump in and allow themselves to be taken by the current.
Here was the most affecting subjugation to the squalor that India harbours
There is something powerful about the opposite sides of life when they are present so closely together in proximity. The filth and squalor, however, are far more apparent. With both aspects of life so closely together, one is able, perhaps, to place his/herself on a spectrum - here is the closest life gets to death (perhaps it is even worse than death) and here is me: walking with ease and health and power, sure of my next meal and my ability to take care of it with money or charisma or prowess. I am in a postion far beyond anything that these people have ever considered - their capacity to imagine it aside, it is doubtful, from the looks on their faces, that anything other than the current position has ever occupied or taken over their thoughts.
Perhaps that is the definition of wealth - the ability to afford not thinking about one's own position.