Day 64: Rishikesh
I wake in time for yoga: round two. Entering the space through the garden up the hill, it feels awkwardly silent without the giggling Kiwi high schoolers who filled the room yesterday. It’s quiet; intimate. Today it’s myself, a tall white dude, and our teeny twelve-toed teacher.
The class stretches me beyond my limits–physically; as the teacher is quick to adjust my positions and ‘help’ my legs and arms into unnatural directions, and mentally; as I struggle to focus on my third eye through the blinding pain.
Afterward, I feel like an overused hair elastic.
The other yogi and I chat over chai at the restaurant post-bendathon, and he tells me the story behind the orphanage his girlfriend and him are volunteering at–Ramana’s Garden. It’s run by an American lady who came to Rishikesh thirty years ago and lived on the Ganges River in a tent. She made friends with the outcaste children around the area–“The Untouchables”; impoverished for all of time, thanks to the caste system implemented in India somewhere between 2200 BCE and 100 CE.
That word beneath ‘Bhramin’ is “Academics” in case, for some reason, you can’t read it.
One day the river flooded, washing her every belonging into oblivion, save for the clothes on her back. With nothing left, she figured the inevitable had finally come: it was time to return to America. But her ‘neighbours’–the families who lived on the river, seemingly with nothing to give, somehow provided her with a tent, sweaters, blankets.
Emotionally moved, she decided to stay in Rishikesh. These people had welcomed her into their country. In karmic spirit, the orphanage was born. It started small–herself teaching the children and doing activities with them until now, thirty years later, the orphanage houses fifty-five children, providing them with a full education program and organic nutrition, with another sixty who attend school classes everyday.
Thanking him for the chai, I go shower and then spend a couple hours writing in a cafe on the river. After, I buy a SIM card at the mobile shop so I can book trains online, which is supposed to be complex but much cheaper than going through a travel agency. I purchase an orange and a guava from a fruit stall, which is quickly snatched from me by a little bastard of a monkey. Fruitlessly, I sit on the ghat to read my book.
At lunchtime I discover a metal bench beneath a tin canopy on the street, where a man serves me a stainless steel dish of beautifully authentic thali, teaching me Hindi words as he refills the dal and subji from massive pots.
Upon arriving at the gate, the man who leads the class informs me it was an old poster I’d seen. No class today. Heading in the direction of home, I wander into a temple filled with ringing bells and chanting. The few men standing with their hands together at the front gesture me over, and I stand with them as another man sprinkles holy water over our heads, then produces a tiered lantern of candles, which we hold our hands over and wave it’s smoke over our heads. It continues on. I don’t know who I’m praying to, so I leave.
On the way out, I see a sign out front advertising a meditation class, so I go back in to inquire.
I’m brought to the door of a room. A man answers and invites me to sit inside.
I tell him I’d like to try a meditation class, and he says he can teach me whenever I like. We make an appointment for 8pm the next day. He’s going to teach me how to do nothing, and I’m excited.
On my way home, I stop for a lime soda, scrub my filthy feet in the shower and zonk out.