A heat wave has been sweeping across India. "Delhi is burning," Rachna remarked to us one morning. I didn't think much of this at first, so I was shocked to learn a few days later that over 1,400 deaths had been attributed to this heat wave. Only 1/3 of India currently has power now. Even at the beautiful estate of Ankuri, where Amanda, Luna, and I are continuing our volunteer projects, we are no longer surprised when the fans glide to a halt and the lights blink off. During the heat wave life slowed down to a hazy lull and I found myself wondering how people in the even hotter parts of India could have the willpower to get out of bed and get work done.
When we took a day trip into the mountains it came as a very welcome reprieve— further up in the Himalayas at the village of Rikholi it became cool enough to enjoy the outside air as we interviewed 9 more of the knitters who work with Ankuri about their experiences. Rachna's family owns a beautiful piece of land near Rikholi, which is being prepared for a campground for the more adventuresome travelers. We spent the afternoon catching tadpoles and admiring the flocks of butterflies before retiring to talk about the grand scheme of what could be done with the land.
On Sunday we took a day trip to Rishikesh (which translates to "Hair of the Sages") to see the river ceremony. Rishikesh is a town that is directly on the Ganges River. It was absolutely wonderful to be by water again— I'm from Holland, Michigan and have always loved feeling the storms of Lake Michigan come in over the dunes near my house. To get to the river ceremony we had to cross the Ganges on a bridge that was of a modern build and yet was still struggling to withstand the strong mountain winds. While walking on the bridge the wind blew us so hard that we stumbled up against the mesh walls and my skirt billowed out, tangling with other pedestrians and bikers.
A petite man in front of me who seemed to be a sage or hermit was struggling noticeably. When the wind came sweeping in he would lower his turbaned head and trudge on, singing a low mantra under his breath and using his stick for support.
When I got to the other side of the river I took off my shoes and immediately dipped my feet in the water. I so badly wanted to dive right in at that moment. The Ganges is a huge river that flows from the mountains, so the water is (comparatively) cold and clean, unlike the other rivers I've seen here. For example, the day before Rishikesh we visited a Hindu temple based around a cave and a small river— but the river was filled with trash from the military base upstream as well as from from plastic offerings to the gods that could not be decomposed by nature. There is a strange double standard here. There is the standard of following high morals, including avoiding waste and taking care of nature, yet there is also a pressure to follow traditions when they arise— traditions such as throwing offerings in the water that don't always support the morals they originally based upon.
When we were at Rishikesh we went to see a ceremony to "put the Ganges River to sleep." Rachna's son happened to be acquaintances with one of the young priests, and after they talked for a while he got the priest to let us sit on the matted platform/stairs next to the other priests, while they sang and played music. I was uneasy sitting in this place because I felt that the priest had been rather manipulated into giving us this form of honor. During the music and chanting, I watched the sun go down over the mountains and then closed my eyes to meditate. It was enchanting to sit there, although several people in my surroundings kept trying to get me to clap or lift my hands along with the ceremony, which broke my reflective mood. When a candelabrum came around, people would reach out and touch it while they said a prayer. It was insisted that Luna, Amanda, and I get to hold it, which was rather unnecessary because it didn't mean as much to us as others. It was more of a status thing.
During the remainder of the week Amanda, Luna, and I are rushing to complete our projects. We all know that we will be working on these project for a while once we get back from India, too. We are also preparing for a 10 day trip around North India. Each of us is researching a section of the trip so that we can get the most out of it— there's nothing more wasteful than traveling through a series of ancient buildings without knowing the history. I am particularly excited to be traveling to the Wagah border to see the lowering of the flags ceremony between Pakistan and India, a daily military practice that has been occurring every day since 1959.
Over and out,