Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Weekend in Rishikesh

To stop writing for one day is to miss a massive gamut of sights, activities, feelings, and observations.  Every day seems like a week.  Today, for example, I woke up with a stomach ache in the Himalayan foothills, threw up in a parking lot of a rancid train station (a cow happily trotted over afterwards…), walked up and down a packed moving train with three other white girls + luggage looking for a car that did not exist and seats that had been reassigned without notice, cooled off and got some work done in our air conditioned apartment, then ended the day in a gorgeous restaurant eating exquisite food. 

I had a truly amazing weekend away from Delhi in the foothills of the Himalayas in Rishikesh, about 6 hours north.  Steph and I arrived in Haridwar early in the morning from an overnight train.  The station was, of course, packed even at 6am.  Many travelers were herding from here to there.  People were doing their laundry on the train platforms (perhaps they lived there).  And plenty of men were yelling out their various wares for sale.  And the smell… let’s just say that I often thank God that my sense of smell is rather dull.

So we successfully found a bus to Rishikesh by wandering around asking “Bus?” “Rishikesh?”  After a while, we made it to our hotel.  It was amazing.  The view was unbelievable.  The “foothills” of the Himalayas rose dramatically from the valley that held the Ganges, which was also in view from our favorite breakfast table. 

Steph and I spent our first day exploring the town, which was both delightful and overwhelming.  It is a popular tourist site, and since this is the season for Indian tourism, there were many Indians with their cameras.  Now, I mentioned before that I found it very strange to have people who wanted to have their pictures taken with them.  It turns out that this is seemingly commonplace.  There were times when we would have one person request a picture, then when others saw the photo opp, they wanted their pictures taken with us as well.  Eventually, we had to say no and just keep moving.  We saw a few other Western tourists who were having the same thing happen to them, so at least we didn’t feel abnormal.  It is very strange, but sometimes it feels that if you are white, you are automatically treated as a celebrity, for better or for worse.  I wonder if it is just the novelty of someone different or the fact that they value pale over dark skin or maybe just a side effect of Hollywood creeping into their culture. 

So to make a long story short, we went rafting on the Ganges, and I actually intentionally jumped in for a swim.  It was lovely (as long as I kept my mouth firmly closed).  We went hiking to a waterfall.  And we spent the evening at a light ceremony in the next town over Haridwar.  That was really fascinating.  It is a nightly ceremony that is an important pilgrimage for Hindus.  Thousands gather on the platforms that lead into the river and bathe and play in the water.  The scene of layers of colors of saris on the stairs was truly gorgeous.  People buy little boats made out of leaves filled with flowers and a candle with incense and float it down the Ganges as an offering to the sacred river.  Prayers are said as a group, section by section.  A beautiful little girl came around and painted quick little flames on everyone’s foreheads.  And then the thousands who had come left in a more orderly fashion than I have seen in any large event in the U.S. 

We reluctantly left the hills the next day, and I already said more than enough of our adventure home. 

Somehow, it is already Friday again and we will be leaving in the morning for another weekend trip.  This week has flown by in hours and hours of emails and reading and a few meetings.  In other words, I have been working in earnest on my research.  This has been interspersed with delicious meals out, an evening of fantastic conversation sparked by a power outage, and a surreal trip to the movies. 

I tried very hard to post a video I took in Rishikesh, but the internet here just wouldn’t cooperate.  You’ll have to settle for pictures.  (Which I will post very soon.)   Have a lovely weekend!

No comments: