Thursday, October 15, 2009


Really, this isn't as selfish as it sounds. But rarely do I (do any of us!) get a complete break from others' demands on our attention, time, or schedule. So I've got a week in Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas that produce the Ganges river, to just read and run and hike and... do whatever then heck I want! When I want to! OK, so I'd love a fresh hummus sandwich with lettuce and tomatos and pickles and onions and mustard (yum!), but you can't have everything.

Rishikesh the tourist town is separate from the actual town, suitably populated by weathered beard-wearing men dressed in the holy color of saffron, variously wandering about, reading languages I can't (yet), and/or asking for money along the well-traveled pedestrian corridors. There are more Hindu temples here than I can pronounce, which means there are as many Indian tourists as foreign ones, all targeted by sellers of an assortment of jewelry, sandalwood, cowboy hats (really!), clothing and blessings - a tikka mark on your forehead, say these words, here's your string bracelet, donation please?

But it's close to the mountains, so there are some beautiful places. A twenty-minute hike reveals two waterfalls, dammed up to make pools to swim in, and just beyond, a valley filled with rice fields and simple houses. Locals as well as tourists come to swim in the falls; I watched three skinny local boys swimming in their underwear once a middle-aged white couple had gotten out, followed by the too-cool boys from Delhi who were still silly once they jumped in and ruined their styled hair. The air was cool in the shade, and the forest green and teeming with butterflies, so different from the dust and smells of the city.

I hiked most of the way to a temple, deciding I didn't need to hike the rest of the way downhill to actually get there. (Who builds a temple halfway down a mountainside, anyway?) Funny how even a simple walk can feel like a story, like you're in a pilgrimage or travel essay if you let it... Two stoned men sitting in the path feeding monkeys ("good monkeys", I was informed) with monkey snacks so I could feel their tapered fingers on mine, then offers of various versions of a smoke. A little further on a couple shyly posing for pictures with their camera and mine, delighted at my offer, likely because they knew I wouldn't disapprove of their intimacy. Reached the top of the hill to find cell towers and a farm but no temple - that was downhill again. Ah, well - maybe next time.

Rafting, reading, and just enjoying my own quiet space here. Next up, headed to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering to see what I can contribute there. I'm supposed to be helping instruct their basic mountaineering course, starting with walking uphill and ending with ?? but I'm not sure how I'll fit into their military hierarchy, especially as a woman in a relatively conservative region. Huh. Well, some of us are going to learn something, not sure who...

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