Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Return to India

We’ve been in India for two weeks. The airports:, clean and modern. New Delhi, sanitized. Everything seemed much more tame than our last visit.

Last week, we arrived in Rishikesh from Dehradun via taxi, one of our most common forms of transportation here, especially when we have the whole family with us; taxies are less expensive than trains beyond a certain sized group. Our travels through Rishikesh and Laxman Jhula started to feel like, something. But I still hadn’t caught that feeling of being in India. Something about me was missing. Was I overly nostalgic in my romanticism of the India that I remembered from my last visit? Had I changed too much?

As we travel to Haridwar, the landscape and drive bring everything back into sharp focus. Suddenly India seems more: colors, sounds, people, vehicles. The villages smell like villages: diesel, sewage, animals and people to foods and wares. The traffic becomes a chaotic wave of cars, busses, scooters and other things (tractors, bikes, animals and people). Traffic in India is like a school of fish in the ocean: they dart in and out as one and can scatter just as quickly around an obstacle. They move like a hive mind. Tapping into that feeling, that motion is tapping into India itself: feeling the chaos of the place and making it a part of you.

Suddenly I am feeling like one with my surroundings again.

We arrive into the Haridwar’s parking with much of the family present. Immediately we are surrounded by smells from a shanty market to wade through before entering this river town, one of the main religious pilgrimage sites of the north. A tall Shiva statue in the distance stands guard over the holy city.  We remind ourselves to keep a close hand on our gear.

The Ganga at HaridwarThe Ganga at Haridwar

My last two trips to India found me on pilgrimage into the mountains, this trip takes me back to the River Ganges. As we pass over a bridge into the city, it hits me. I finally feel like I’ve returned to India. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been to Haridwar, the last time to register our marriage with the local record keepers who have records going back generation upon generation of Saum’s family (hundreds or thousands of years – nobody unrolls the scrolls that far).

Canal of the Ganga at HaridwarCanal of the Ganga at Haridwar
The river is to our left, canals to our right. People on both sides are dipping into the river to bathe themselves in her waters. They go to clean themselves in it washing away their sins. Everywhere you can see men stripped to their shorts in the water or out of it dripping wet. I’m told women will do it in full sari, but I don’t really witness any.

Beggars swarm us for handouts, but instead we donate to the people that will feed them all tonight after arti (prayers) are finished. It’s hard looking into faces of children barely dressed chanting chapatti chapatti (bread) and gesturing eating nothing in their hands. Knowing they will be fed this evening is a small comfort; we have so much.

Wares at a store in the marketWares at a store in the market

IMG_1119Mala shopping

We cross another bridge over the canal and hit Haridwar’s main market. The agenda – we have no agenda. Buy a lohi (blanket) for Saum. There are gifts to be gotten – but India is one place we feel comfortable recreationally shopping. I can’t stand shopping malls in the US, I avoid them constantly. I hate their look, their feel and their experience. I can’t stand the consumption. But when I come to India, it changes. Shopping is different. It’s interactive, like a slow competition among friends – you socialize, posture, haggle. The wares are laid out, one by one, unwrapped before you like Christmas and splayed for you to see, only to be re-wrapped for purchase or the inventory shelves.

Aloo Tikkia

IMG_1125 (2)
By the time you’re finished, you feel like your family is larger
On My first trip to India, I couldn’t figure out why people would buy an STD. It’s a place to make calls.

We shop. I buy a mala – impetus to begin my mediations again (which I have). We buy little boxes (choti dibbas) that you can put equally small things into – that we also purchased. We get street food – aloo tikkia – and eat it. We are having a wonderful time! Then for some reason, we’re overcome – Saum with an unexplainable desire to buy a Shiva Lingam the size of a small bench – and the rest of us unable to stop her. We now have this 100 lbs. thing we are desperately trying to figure out how to ship back to the USA, but so far it’s beating us.

Then we purchase fabric. Purchasing fabric is an experience like none other in India, except perhaps purchasing carpets which is its closely related cousin. Each piece is draped out. Then another piled on top of it, then another in a large pile of color. You run your hands over it. We take turns asking for this one or that one. Purchases are selected. It repeats with different fabrics or styles. Chai is served while you decide. Perhaps it’s this immersion in the experience why I can’t stand shopping in the US. Maybe it’s because I know these shopkeepers will directly benefit from my purchases. Whatever it is, it is an experience like no other.

We make our way out of Haridwar’s market and it’s fully dark. Scooters compete with pedestrians through the winding paths closed to cars. We make our way back to the water and see the lights of the city shinning down upon it. People stare at me because I’m white, and I’m rare from what I’ve seen today.

We make our way back, slowly among the same route we took to get here. Shiva is lit up with his back to us, and Gangaji. The drive home is somber. We’re tired and happy.

We may be heading back to where we’re staying in Rishikesh, but I finally feel like I’ve come home.

1 comment:

  1. My brother used to ship items from India via Indian postal service. Their rates are affordable but depends entirely with the weight of the item. Enjoy your vacation!