When we mercifully reached Rishikesh, it was late at night. Darkness sets in early in India winter, and since it was seven o’clock the town was sleepy and quiet and many of the shops were closing. But we found an open café filled with Western tourists probably enrolled in one of the many yoga institutes in the area. Besides being a holy city, and therefore a pilgrimage site for Hindus, Rishikesh was famous for its yoga, and as the city where the Beatles came to study with the Maharishi.
We enjoyed a good meal of Indian curry and rice on a balcony overlooking the view of the Ganges River and the footbridge crossing over it. I stared at the nearby sign; we were either staying in Lakshman Jhula, or it was the town across the river, I’d never find out for sure. Monkeys dangled from the bridge’s wires, high above the river, chasing each other about without a hint of worry about falling. A cow wandered up the steep and narrow steps next to us, much to my surprise. And a young dog must have caught our animal loving presences because she sat on those same steps and stared in our direction.
After a full nights sleep we awoke to a different town; alive, and full of people bustling across the small bridge that spanned the Holy Ganges. We quickly joined then, enjoying the expansive views the footbridge provided. We took the camera to the river’s edge, where long steps called ghats lead down to the water. That is the spot where so many Hindus carry out the ancient tradition of bathing in the holy water to cleanse themselves of bad karma. The river itself is the reason for the pilgrimages, as it is the home of the Mother Goddess of India, whose purity is enough to wash away any sins.
I was struck again by India’s many paradoxes. Turn of the century plumbing also dumps out incredible amounts of sewage into the Ganges, untreated. Bacteria samples of the river have shown concentrations of bacteria tens of thousands of times beyond acceptable bathing levels. Yet families didn’t know or didn’t care. They were delighted to be here; jumping in quite willingly. I watched old women, moderately dressed in Saris that become see-through and clingy the moment they hit the water. Children laughed, people were having a great time. I considered joining them, purposefully forgetting about the water quality. I compromised by dipping in my toes, giving them a holy blessing.
A family came by and asked for Kevin and I to take their picture. I happily obliged, only a little bit confused because they wanted me to take it with my camera. And now we have a picture of Kevin petting one of India’s stray dogs, surrounded by a smiling (or not quite) Indian family.