Day 14, part 2 – “It never rains this time of year.”
Back in town it begins to rain. We are headed to another orphanage of sorts for lunch. Odd, you would think, but there is an exceptional little cafe that helps support this effort. This is our first stop of the afternoon. Sort of. There are no direct routes in India.
We are dropped off on a road between shops. Like lemmings we follow Swamiji as she guides us along winding narrow streets, down steps alongside buildings painted with murals, through tree covered pathways, until finally we duck under an awning and into the cafe. It’s another magical hippie hang out. This is why people move to India – to work and be in places like this.
A stark contrast to the gray rainy outside, there is a fire crackling in the fireplace, a parakeet chirping in a cage crafted by placing screen on an entire bay window and three cats snuggling patrons as they sip tea. The tables are large and low – this is a shared meal experience. We slip ourselves into all the available spots, meet our new neighbors and await our lunches. My neighbors are from New York City. She has been been here a few months, he has just come to visit her. The mamma cat has taken up residence in his lap. They are light filled and friendly. His hair is purple.
As we reach the end of our meal the CEO of the school/orphanage comes in to share the story of its beginnings and its current mission. By all appearances this is a happy, creative place and she insists that’s true. But the children’s history is not so pretty. These children were born into families of “untouchables” and then by myriad circumstances, orphaned. They have been retrieved from various locations and brought here to start anew. The school boasts world class teachers that come in from all points of the globe for a time to share their knowledge with these thirsty minds.
Once the children graduate, many of them go on to college and some on to become doctors and engineers. It’s a covert operation of sorts, the Indian government does not look kindly on the work being done here. Their reasons are political and antiquated, but the work carries on and more children are saved and educated. The charity set up to support this effort is located in Washington, DC so that the funds are sure to make it here. Just by eating in the restaurant today we have helped support this work.
As we finish up the last of our chai and for some, dessert, Swamiji takes a poll of who would like to go shopping and who would like to go back to the hotel. I’m on the fence. With no real rain gear I become tired just thinking about slogging around in the rain. I commit to shop nonetheless.
As we are waiting outside in the rain half under an inadequate awning, I change my mind. Back is where I would like to go. Five of us are following Sethu to a rickshaw as the rest follow Swamiji to shop. We walk down a very steep hill, through the streets filled with shops and shoppers, round a corner and walk for 15 minutes. Climb another steep hill and pass more shops and stalls, turn another corner and 30 minutes later we are back where we started. We have just made a complete circle. My knee and my disposition are quickly becoming cranky. I try to hold it together, experience it, learn the lesson, but every now and then a snide comment slips out just above a whisper.
Now we are walking up another steep hill. Please, God, tell me this is a different, brand new hill. It is. And at the very, very, very, top of the mountain top a rickshaw is waiting.
We’re back at the hotel. It is only 2 pm.
At three I get bored and wander up to see who might be in the lobby. It is the only place wifi works so it snags a lot of people in its net. There are a few from our group gazing cross-eyed at their handheld devices. I tap Dayalan on the shoulder and ask him if he wants to walk down to the river for some chai. It has stopped raining and I have cabin fever. The die-hard shoppers won’t be back for hours.
We wander along the steps that lead into the river. Every now and then we hit a dead end and have to backtrack. We find our way to a recommended restaurant that is up a flight of stairs overlooking the river. It’s perfect. These are the moments I long for when I am away. I love to find the coffee shops or tea houses and just sit and watch people with a friend and have meaningless but rich conversation. It’s a feeling, a tone, not content I’m after. It’s the feeling I walk away with, not the knowledge I gain. It’s grounding.
After nearly an hour chatting and watching the activity at the edge of the Ganges we head back up the hill to the hotel. We have a schedule to keep.
At 5 o’clock we gather at the river to finally take a boat across it. We’re going to Parmath ashram for the opening ceremonies of the big Yoga Festival. The trip across the river is quick and we are deposited just a few steps down from a giant black bull lounging on the first landing. It’s almost not even unusual anymore.
By the time we reach the chanting it’s almost over. We can’t really see what’s going on anyway so some of us wander aimlessly taking in the sites. Once the crowd begins to disperse some of our group find people they know from “home,” their yoga teachers and friends, that have come for the festival.
The rest of our evening is free. Here on the other side of the river there are more shops, better shops and the prices are really good. It’s almost criminal NOT to shop. We jump in and out of stalls and stores snapping up malas and yoga bags. Karin is drawn into a jewelry shop by sparkly, shiny things. It is starting to rain. I leave Karin in the jewelry store and pick up a couple more items. The rain picks up momentum. The wind begins to blow. Our dalliances have cost us. A young Indian boy is pushing trash bags with hoods. 20 ruppes. I buy one and rip it immediately. There are no boats back, we must walk across the bridge.
It is raining sideways, big, sloppy drops, and my trashbag rain coat hood refuses to stay on my head. My arms are tucked beneath the bag heavy with all my purchases. We stop occasionally trying to wait it out, nothing is changing. We persevere. Walking in the direction of the bridge we can’t really tell how to get on it. There is a giant monument in our way. Upon closer inspection through vision blurred by rain, we notice an opening. The bridge bounces. I know this is preferable engineering, but is just a little disconcerting in the dark, in the rain. It is wide enough for two motorbikes or cows to pass one another, maybe a person in the middle. There is fencing the length of the bridge that begins at the road level and extends up about 8 feet. With eyes downcast, heavy with rainwater, I notice again the call of personal responsibility. I find all the gaps between the road and the fence that my foot could slip through if I don’t watch where I’m going. It feels like the bridge is 5 miles long, in fact it may be 1/2 a mile, but it takes days to cross it.
On the other side, find the Madras Cafe, another recommended restaurant and go in. My hair has taken some sort of Flock of Seagulls look from the wind and rain and my face is fixed in an exasperated snarl. This is Inida, vacation, what has happened to me?! We see a couple of people from our group. They are laughing, eating and totally dry. They look surprised to see us dripping wet, they some how missed the rain. After about 15 minutes three more come in. Dry. They waited it out. This would be my fate in Rishikesh. It does not rain, unless I am outside without a rain coat, without an umbrella. I might as well accept it.
After dinner we walk through the gaggle of rickshaws and their drivers. They are persistent, “Rickshaw?” they say with a sweeping arm movement like a magician pointing the our chariot that has just arrived. Up until now we have politely and sometimes insistently said no, our hotel is just paces away. But tonight we’re cranky, I am not the only one, so we find the ONE driver that will take us up the hill. “100 rupees,” they say like they’re getting away with something. It’s a short, silly drive, but we would have gladly paid 100 each.
As the rickshaw struggles up the driveway we stare vacantly at each other and our surroundings. It has been a long day full of highs and lows, but rich. Everyday here is rich. To resist anything, as I have tried to do today, is to ask for more. I think this is true in all of life as well. India has always taught me to be open and flexible, to adapt. As I fall into bed I am hoping I do not have to adapt as much tomorrow.