We’re in Delhi, getting a taste of the city before moving onto our next 10 day study in Rishikesh. We’ve decided to take the metro into town to see some sights. We traveled this way last night when we arrived. The bustling streets of Delhi are different than the rural town of Vrindavan. The population here is over 1000 people per square kilometer, as compared to about 350, which is the national average. I can feel it. It feels like people are everywhere, pushing in on me, as if the concept of personal space doesn’t exist anywhere.
I’ve written about the things about India that I love. But there are things that I don’t like, too. Every sparkling temple in the sun has it’s shadow, and I found many shadow aspects of India in Delhi. I’ve walked this street to the metro twice now. Both times, an old man riding a bike towards me points at me, then touches himself as if to jack off. I am openly gawked at as I walk. There is not enough Indian garb in the world to keep me from sticking out here — my blue eyes and alabaster skin give me away immediately.
The Delhi metro is nice (thank you, England), albeit very crowded and somewhat overwhelming if you’re not careful. As we waited in a long line of men to board the train, a very kind man pointed toward the front of the train and said, “You should go to the women’s cars.” We should have known — they separate men and women all the time in India. In each major temple and in metro security, there are always separate lines for men and women. In the men’s line, a man awaits the men through the metal detector for the pat down, and in the women’s line, we greet a woman soldier for our pat down. (Which, by the way, are the most thorough pat downs I’ve ever received. Let’s just say it’s the most action I’ve had in India). The first three or so cars on each metro line are reserved for women only. They are far less crowded and far less smelly.
Men out number women in India. When on the streets, it’s mostly men we see, probably because the women are taking care of the home. It’s considered extremely rude, taboo even, for men to touch Indian women in public. Because of this, men turn to each other for touch and affection. Many men also seem to consider Western women an exception to the rule, because I’ve had several men look at me as they pass by, then tap me with the palm of their hand.
The streets of Vrindavan were dusty, but the streets of old Delhi were filled with black grime, smoke, excrement, spit, dirty water — you name it. As we exited the metro, we found ourselves in an old and more traditional part of Delhi. We walked by very busy shops, a bus station, open urinals, and temples of ritual all smooshed together. Our goal was to visit the Red Fort, built by the same king who built the Taj Mahal, but we were very turned around and couldn’t seem to locate our place on a map. Instead, we took our first rickshaw ride to show us the way, which was one of the most frightening experiences of my life (video footage to come). For 30 Rupees (about 60 cents), he hauled all three of us about a half a mile.
We walked around the outside of the Red Fort, then shopped our way back to the metro station. We also visited a temple that day, then sprung for a fancy dinner at the Oberoi Hotel before rising at 0500 to catch a train to Haridwar, and next a taxi to the Parmoth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, where we are currently staying.
Rishikesh is breath taking. The Ashram is right on the bank of the Ganges River, which runs out of steep, forested mountains full of monkeys, birds, medicinal herbs and unknowns. This town and another line the banks of the river with brightly painted buildings in pinks, yellows and blues. It’s cold here — probably in the 40’s at night and, if we’re lucky, the 60’s during the day. All the buildings here, including the Ashram, are made of concrete with stone floors. And they aren’t heated. We bought a small electrical heater and snuck it inside to make it bearable, but I’m wearing a down coat almost 24-7 and invested in a wooly Pashmina to wrap around my head and neck.
We joined a group of about 30 Brazilians to study Ayurveda. I was not impressed the first day, as Ayurveda in Portuguese makes about as much sense to me as advanced calculus, and so that combined with the cold had Cathy and I looking to go to Kerala early! But I’m glad we stuck it out another day. Today, four Indian Ayurvedic doctors flew in to teach class for the duration of our stay, and not only do they speak English, but we found out that they are some of the teachers of the founder of our school in California.
Also, the people here are wonderful! The streets here are a wonderful reprieve from those of Delhi, and even easier to manage than Vrindaban. Shop keepers here may say hello, but the don’t really bother you to come in or take a look. It’s so relaxing, I feel I can let my guard down and enjoy the people here. We’ve become friends with a family who owns a jewelry and book shop, and we stop in each day for chai and shopping. We’ve also been receiving some healing treatments from the father, who is an aura reader and user of vibrational therapy from Tibetan singing bowls (we all bought one). They are our friends now, and it feels really nice to have friends here.
It’s evening and my hands are cold typing this. It’s time for dinner, so I’ll head back to the Ashram, where I’ll scoop rice, dahl, vegetables and chapati onto my plate, sit on the floor and eat in silence, as is the protocol here. But back in our room with the tiny heater, we’ve sneaked in some Nutella and cookies. We’ll discuss concepts from the day, wait for any calls from the US, and finally snuggle into our beds for the night, where the glow of the heater will keep us company like a glowing fire.