Down by the shore, several fishermen stood lined up along the shore, pulling a line attached to a boat. Thousands of tiny dead fish lay scattered across the sand, and as my eyes darted from the fish to the huge piles of fishing nets laying everywhere, I began clicking pictures to document the tragedy.
“Look,” I said to Kevin, as he came up behind me. “Oh, they left the fish out to dry,” he said. “They did?” I stared at the fish, several having only holes were their eyes had once been. My dramatic documentation of ruthless overfishing was suddenly flawed, “But they’re so small. I thought they might have just not thrown them back.” “No, small fish is all that’s left,” Kevin said; maybe it was documentation of overfishing after all, “They pick the sand out and then they eat those.”
It seemed a hard task: the fish looked pretty solidly in the sand. I cringed at the thought of granules of sand gritting between teeth, the crunchy sound it would make. So, those little guys made up the local fish fry.
It seemed barely a few minutes had passed when the excited driver was back. “Sir, madam.” He gestured wildly towards the truck, “Time to go back.” “Already!” I exclaimed. It had only been twenty minutes, not the promised thirty, but the man was off chasing down an Indian couple that had braved the truck ride in the back. It wasn’t till we got into our car that I realized, “Wait. We never went to the end. I never saw the remains of the land bridge to Sri Lanka.” I would have to see it on the internet later.
After returning over precarious, wet, dirt roads, we finally reached the town of Rameswaram, a deceptively small little town for such a popular pilgrimage destination. I have no photos, as we left our cameras with our driver in order to visit the temple that is home to twenty-two holy wells. As we walked down the street, some men approached us, carrying something in their hands, calling, “Temple, madam? Temple, sir? Holy water? Holy water?”
We were led inside where, along with some other people, we quickly paid thirty-four rupees and were brought to the first well. It was a deep stone well, with clear water, and a few plastic bottle caps floating around. Each man with a bucket got his own group of people. Our water man jumped up on the stone wall of the well, swinging the bucket in front of him, and gestured for us and the rest of group to come over.
I watched as the temple man lowered the bucket into the well, pulled it out and dumped a full bucket over one of the men in our group’s head. Kevin went next, and I watched the water stream over him, and down his shirt and jeans. Then it was my turn. The bucket rose from the depths, brimming with water. The man quickly and efficiently released its contents. As the water flooded over me, I felt two things: one joy, this was fun, and the other, worry.
I didn’t mind getting wet, but… I looked down at my white shirt, wondering how quickly my undergarments would start showing through. Kevin pulled off the dark blue Tibetan “Peace” shirt Tsering had given him as a gift earlier in our trip (bless her), and I quickly shrugged it on.
From then on the wells were sheer fun. After each well we would walk down a different granite hallway to the next one. The Temple was enormous. It had been built around the springs and the hallways connecting them were ancient and wide. Each well had a different temperature and taste. Some were warmer, some were cooler, some were saltier than others. Walking through those hallways, dripping wet, was exhilarating.
By the last well Kevin and I were giggling like school children. The sign at the well advised that this last blessing would be equivalent to one hundred months of something, and thirty days of something else, and also a bath in the Ganges. Karmically speaking, it was huge. The water was poured over us from a small terra cotta pot. Then we were told to hold out our hand, and drink the water that was poured into it from the same pot. A little negative voice in my head wanted to worry about the water and bacteria in the fresh wound in my mouth (from an emergency root canal a few days before!), but Kevin reminded me, “It’s holy water. It will help heal your mouth.” I decided I agreed with him and swallowed the sweet sip happily.
I believe in the value of a ritual of cleansing and purification every once in a while, one that lets you feel the mistakes of the past can be washed away, leaving you fresh to face the future. Because, after all, isn’t that what life is about… waking up each morning for a chance at a new day, a new opportunity to create ourselves?
(And we never did get sick from that water.)
This is the last of a three part blog entry:
Part One: The Bridge to Rameswaram