Night falls quickly here on the Ganga. One minute the mountains on the other side of the Ganga are rust colored from the reflection of the setting sun; the next minute it’s pitch black and all I see are the lights of the ashrams. Starting around 5 there are aarti (prayer ceremony) being performed all along the Ganga but at the larger ashrams the prayers are over the loud speakers, and the chanting and the ringing bells can be heard for miles up and down the river. I think depending on how you feel and your perspective on things, either the various sounds in Rishikesh this time of the evening can be perceived as entirely spiritual or as a completely chaotic cacophony. Tonight it was spiritual for me. I decided to stop torturing myself with the intensive Iyengar yoga course and took the day off. These are some of the things I observed and came across today.
I can hear the morning chants begin at the Parmarth Niketan ashram when it’s still dark. The sun comes to me each morning from behind the mountains and across the river. By 6 I have no choice but to get out of bed.
The guy who works at Madras Café where I’ve been frequenting now recognizes me and today instantly offered me a masala chai when I walked in.
A nice Indian lady who lives in New Zealand struck up a conversation with me and told me to come up to Dharamsala where she is building a retreat.
I spent several hours speaking with a Korean woman who has been coming to India since 1999, and has been studying Iyengar yoga in Rishikesh on and off since 2005. She keeps returning to India over and over again. She was here for 6 months last year and when her visa expired she went to Syria, Jordan, and Libya, only to return to Rishikesh again. People say you either love India or you hate India.
A friend from KYM, Giorgos from Greece, came to meet me at an organic café. While having lunch with him I saw Belinda Carlisle walk into the restaurant. Yes, the same Berlinda Carlisle from the famous 80s pop group, The Go-Gos. She looked well and had a yellow bindi between her eyebrows.
In front of my guesthouse/ashram, a brown monkey with ferocious eyes came at me with a quickness I never felt before. I forgot that I was holding a bag of bananas I just purchased. My heart dropped and I instinctively jumped back, clutching my bags. I had to walk around and down the river to calm myself down, and to wait until I could safely return home again. I spent 30 rupees ~ 0.60 USD on a dozen bananas. It occurred to me later that I could have just given the monkey what he wanted.
There are small one-man kayaks as well as huge inflatable rafts with both Indian and foreign tourists floating down the Ganga. I saw a raft full of young men raising their paddles and shouting in union. They looked happy and seemed to be having a great time.
While walking down the Ganga I saw an Indian woman bathing in the river topless. Clearly unaware of her surroundings or of herself, she got out of the water dripping wet, took a long stick and started to chase the young boys who were staring at her.
Even this holy town of Rishikesh is not immune to the World Cup cricket fever that has swept this sub-continent. Last night, I thought there was a particularly ruckus aarti that went on for hours and hours across the river from my room. They were singing and drumming and yelling and whistling and cheering and clapping and laughing and hauling (I couldn’t see but I imagined there was dancing). I went to sleep with all the noise from the gathering wafting over me loud and clear, amplified by the use of the microphone. The only time I woke up to look around was when it became deathly quiet due to a power outage. Today I realized it was the townspeople watching cricket. India is playing again tonight and I can already hear the drums; I will look for the earplugs I packed.
As I write my room is now as dark as the night that’s fallen outside my window and the Ganga continues to move gently. I see a small flicker of light floating down the river as someone’s prayers are offered to the Ganga. I offer my own prayers for those who are suffering and thank the Ganga for all the blessings in my life.