India Bound

Sunrise at 5.30 am Sunset at 7.05 pm

Location: Mussoorie and Delhi, India

Engaging in wild acts of exploration and inquisition.

Monday, July 03, 2006

11,000 feet of intestinal death...

"If we could hear the squirrel's heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar," said George Eliot

"Think how quickly the sheer volume and multiplicity of sensory information we receive every waking minute would overwhelm our consciousness if we couldn't quickly forget a great deal more it than we remember."

And so we took a caravan of old Ambassador cars and ancient vans for the eight hour drive into the Himalayas, stopping every couple of hours for "tea breaks" in small villages where our presence created quite a scene.

(quick, a list!)
- the wiry Nepalese men carrying stacks of bricks with their heads
- colorful skirts and shirts on the small, tanned men and women covered by large tweed jackets reminiscent of British Army coast
- women in bright saris tending to the rice paddies
- the tan dog who followed me all through the village and sat at a distance away while I watched the sun set (and the men who laughed at the sight of us)
- houses built on stilts at the edges of cliffs overlooking the Yamuna River
- changing landscapes: from jungle to pine forest with cacti and brown mountains to huge jagged green rice paddy-laden mountains with snow
- the sadhus living in caves by the river, the women coming down from the mountain barefooted and with no teeth
- the fat men and women carried in baskets on people's backs up and down the mountains (a group of thin women pointed at a fat Indian woman in her basket jiggling everywhere and laughed behind their hands)
- having chai and pekorahs under the awning or our small hostel as the sun sets over the 23,000 foot mountain behind us
- half the town that gathers around to watch us play a game of cards, or groups of people that gather in awe of digital cameras and smily shyly when they are shown pictures of themselves
- lunch by the side of the river - the tour guides took the trash we had put neatly in bags and set a huge bonfire as we looked on in horror (plastic melting to the ground, tinfoil crackling)
- marijuana plants everywhere alongside the road (all male) and we gather astonished to smell the four foot plants as women and children walk by entirely non-plussed


7 am hike to Yamunotri, the winding steep paths that never seemed to stop their switchbacks, and we ascended 3,000 feet huffing and panting next to horses carrying the old, the young, the fat, and the rich Indians too prim to walk through all the horse shit and piss and mud. We passed the sudhas in their orange and while drapery (Jai Yamuna Ji) and women weighing saris down with rocks to let the river flow over them for a good washing. Up and Up, stopping constantly at to have our pictures taken with those coming down the mountain (at their request - we are always an odditiy).

Finally we are there, and the little cleft in which the Yamunotri temple is perched on is opened to us and we walk through rows of smokey stalls where pilgrims buy their offerings to the goddess Yamuna (we buy little dishes made of leaves holding perfumed pink flowers). We make our way to the temple where we must wash our hands and feet in the scaling natural hot springs (rice can be cooked in them in two minutes). We perform puja - our offerings are given to the goddess with the aide of the priest, who gives us blessing and chants several mantras for us and then annoints our foreheads with red and yellow paint and rice. Then we are off to the "Ladies Only" bathing area where the water from the hotsprings is pumped in for the enjoyment and cleansing rituals of the women, though carefully hidden from the view of men. After splashing fights with a group of Indian girls, and when the hot became too hot, we stretched across rocks by the river and lay in the sun and wind. From a high rock I watched women washing their saris, sadhus smoking beaties (tobacco rolled in leaves), fat men from the city next to the skinny men of the nearby villages, everyone taking cleansing dunks in the river and sunning themselves.

The walk down the mountain, still warm from the hotsprings, I felt the closest to bliss and weightlessness that I have this entire trip. Surrounded by so many sights, sounds, smells (equally as disturbing as amazing) so constantly I had begun to feel a weight develop physically and mentally and the river and the springs lifted that weight. I can only image the joy the men and women who walk miles and miles just to get to the mountain must feeling having reached it (and feel a pang of guilt for being ferried around in a taxi)

Once down from the river we met a man who wanted to show a couple of us his village across the river, which is one of the oldest villages in the Himalayas. It was made of wooden carves strung with wheat drying in the sun and the women and children sat around in clusters eating mangos, dressed in the most brightly colored woven clothes. We were led into an old wooden temple and climbed ladders made of hollowed logs until we reached the top where we were given Shiva's blessings and then taken to a rickety balcony to see the view.

Ten or so of the village children who had been following us noticed that I had been collecting flowers and began grabbing handfuls of potatoe flowers and thrusting them at me and refused to quit...and so we trailed flowers after us through the town.

Then, down to the second village temple where a wedding had just been celebrated and flowers still lay everywhere...And standing in from of the snake god's temple, it hit me - a wall of naseau that threatened to knock me flat. Clinging to the edge of a shit-filled hole in the ground, vomitting my guts out, I saw a spider as big as my hand walk up that wall and was humbled before it all. Wrapped in blankets and sweating off a fever I marveled at how in one day India brought me to the highest (11,000 feet) and then soon after had me on my knees racked with pain. This is India thus-far, always in extremes, constantly reminding me that I am fragile and not a part of it.

We left Yamunotri the next day, and I thanked the river and the mountains but in truth was entirely glad to leave.


Anonymous JM said...

Such a picture is painted in my mind. Doesn't sound like 'the best of times.' But quite amazing nonetheless

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! i am amazed at the pictures you paint in my mind!
You are truly gifted with words. Can't wait to have you visit Colorado and see my cabin. Can you guess this message is from Stella????

11:17 PM  

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