After Delhi, I took a train North to Haridwar, which is just below the Himalayas. Regrettably the mountains were too distant to really absorb much of them, but the city was beautiful, since I ended up there in the middle of a religious festival. The next day I went back to Delhi for a brief pit-stop before my plane, which would take me to Chennai.
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The train took me to this small river town across curtains of grey mist. It appears that Delhi is not the only place where transparent air makes for an uncommon good.
I took my first Rikshaw to find my guest house. A delightfully refreshing ride, but a single hole in the road will make these things swing like a rolling bell.
As soon as I was free, I walked out into the city, and I spent the best part of the next six hours walking. I occasionally sat down with some local gurus, mostly old men with long rasta hair. They didn’t strike me as particularly illuminated, more like a bunch of people who have smoked way too much weed over their lives. One of them offered me food, which I thought very kind (though I put my brake to my appetite due to the dubious hygiene). I made some efforts at communication after that, but he did not respond. He seemed more interested in attempting to seduce this local lady of thirty-odd-something, who in fact did possess some beauty. I excused myself, and as I left he ‘blessed’ me by printing a thumb of paint onto my forehead.
There were a great deal of these figures around because today the Kumbh was taking place, a festival involving the holy Gunga river. It is not unlike baptism in that you plunge in the current and are washed out of all your sins. Ashwini, on the phone, told me that I should jump in the river, and I suggested that he throw himself in the lake. Interested as I am in these religious rituals, I had a whole day of walking ahead of me and the logistics of bathing were very much in the way. I guess it’s going to be hell, after all.
At one stage I took a funicular up to a temple. The view was stupendous, the temple on the other hand was not. A couple of statues surrounded by a clusterfuck of souvenir shops. I was blessed (again), and this time they asked me money for it. Dream on, Siddharta.
One thing that impressed me greatly about this place was the fauna. After the cows, dogs, goats and pigs, this time it was the turn of the monkeys. Small grey apes that roamed all over the place and climbed on just about anything. They were even at the station. I also saw the usual eagles, and – amid the assortment of birds – a number of beautiful green parrots. Didn’t know they belonged in this place.
I walked down the temple by the steps, all the while thanking God that I hadn’t found this track upwards when looking for it (it was one of those legendary temples with an infinity of vertical steps climbing over the mountain, and the way down was enough to dehydrate me like a camel).
I then went to the house and ate (a meal based on six Kit Kats, such was my level of exhaustion). I walked out again later for a breath of fresh air before going to sleep. En passant, I popped into a temple where this group of a dozen kids and a crone were sitting cross-legged and chanting. One of them motioned to me and I walked in. The temple was small and clearly quite poor, yet it felt ever so much more sincere and appeasing than the one at the top of the mountain. I left early though – I was tired, the singing was getting repetitive, and I was anxious someone would steal my shoes, which I had left outside in the haste.
It is barely nine o’ clock, but I shall get myself ready for bed. My train is at 6.10 a.m. tomorrow and I feel exhausted. I am going to need a holiday when I come back from the holiday.
The funicular, with my glossy new glasses...
I wonder why in Delhi taking the metro feels like going to the airport. Scanners, bag-checking and soldiers with machine-guns.
About those ‘gurus’ with long hair, I wonder what I was expecting. Probably nothing, which is why I’m not feeling disappointed. They were the guys who coined the term ‘illumination’ (whatever the original word may have signified), one which I find much more appropriate to indicate a wo/man’s goal in life than ‘happiness’ (the European telos).
So perhaps I was wondering what it would feel like to come in touch with other ‘illuminated’ people. But of course I felt nothing, other than the simple pleasure of sitting in peace with other people (and that doesn’t require illuminated companions). After all, if illumination is no more than realising that you don’t need illumination, what could these people possibly give me – other than their company – or tell me?
...and the view from it.