India Journal XIII


10/21/2004:  1941 Glass House on the Ganges

Today was a tough day.  We woke around 6:30 AM, had a nice breakfast, then sat on our deck overlooking the Ganges.  Next Mo and I had an Abhyangan with a Shiro-dhara.  Translated this is a herbal facial with a face, scalp and total body message and a hot oil relaxation treatment.  I have never had a facial, but I understand that this one was relatively normal.  I have had a full body message and this one was a variation on the theme.  I have never had a Shiro-dhara (hot oil treatment) so this was all new.  Indian culture is not about comfort.  The entire process was done with me lying supine on a carved out teak wood table while wearing a paper G-string, and nothing else.

The masseur positioned me looking upward, tied a band around my head just above my ears and covered my face with a cloth.  After this hot oil (lower than the temperature used to discourage castle stormings) was  poured from a wood bowel through a funnel shaped outlet on to my head. Once I was pretty well slimed, he swung the oil dispenser in short arks so that the oil ran on to my head from temple to temple in a continuous and repetitive motion.

The warm sliming lasted about 15 minutes at which point I had enough oil on my head to fry up a good batch of French fries, and I was very relaxed.  The message continued for another 30 minutes and was very good except that my butt was starting to complain about being in motionless contact with the teak table.  It was a new experience, and that is what we are here for. 

When we got back to our room Retan was waiting.  He apologized for the problems during our epic the day before and wanted to take us where ever we wanted to go.  In our daze the evening before we had not really considered what Retan, Cookie and the driver were going to do while we spent two days in our lovely bungalow on the Ganges.  It turned out there were no rooms for the men to stay, and besides they had no money, so they slept on the lawn in front of the Glass House on the Ganges.  We accepted there offer to take us to Rishikesh and also offered them our sleeping bags and pads.  They accepted a sleeping bag, but would not use the pads.  We arranged a time to meet and headed to Rishikesh for the afternoon. 

Retan, Cookie, the driver and the two of us loaded in the car and we headed to Rishikesh for the second time.  When we got to Rishikesh we first needed to get some money.  This was the first town since we left Delhi almost three weeks ago that had a bank.  We needed to get some money to tip our great guide and cook and also to do a little shopping.  The problem was this was right in the middle of one of the highest Hindu Holy Festivals and all the banks and many of the shops were closed. Hindus celebrate everything and the current five day festival of Dusserah immediately followed the nine day festival of Navaratri.  Dusserah is a five day Hindu festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil in which Rama sets off to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of the demon-king Ravana. Given the spirit of the holiday, I thought it was my duty to rescue my wife from the inability to shop.

Retan led the way and soon he found someone who thought he could help us change travelers checks in to cash.  We went to a small white water adventure rafting shop.  White water rafting is a big business on the Ganges.  The shop keeper, the young man and Retan talked it over, then the young man came up to Mo and said you come with me.  This seemed pretty suspicious until the young man pointed out that he only had a motorcycle and that it why only one person could go with him.  Mo politely made it clear that she would rather run naked down the main street of the Holy City than ride on the back of a motorcycle in India.  That is not exactly what she said, but that was the gist of it.  Finally we arranged for our driver and us to follow the motorcycle man in to the old area of Rishikesh where he knew a shop owner who he thought could cash our travelers check.

About 20 minutes of slalom driving later we pulled in to a small dirt lot and parked the car.  From there we walked down a shop lined street until we came to small jewelry store.  We were welcomed in by the proprietor who fortunately spoke good English.  Even though he was a little short on cash he was willing to cash our check with no strings attached and at a better rate than the bank had given us in Delhi.  We had a nice visit with the shop keeper and then set off on our own to experience Rishikesh. 

Rishikesh is the Hindu Holy City.  There were many Hindu Holy men, or Brahmin, walking the streets in their long orange robes.  Their hair and beards had not been cut in years and around their necks they wore many stands of Rudraksha Bead Malas, which are prayer or holy beads. 





Rudraksha Malas







The Rudraksha beads are seeds that grow on trees that are only found in a few areas of the planet including the Indian and Nepalese Himalayas.  They are believed to possess great power in healing (especially lowering blood pressure) as well as protecting the wearer and assisting them toward enlightenment.  The myth and power of the Rudraksha is very prominent in the Hindu way of life.  To read more go to RUDRAKSHA BEADS.

Last evening as I read my Hindu book while listening to the Ganges River flow by, I again marveled at the practical nature of the religion and the universal timelessness of the teachings.  The chapter I read was on the stages of life. 

Stage 1 is called Student.  During this phase you acquire knowledge.  You learn about the world including the spiritual and the scientific.  You listen and pay respect to your teachers and parents (seems we have gotten a little off track in the US on this one). 

Stage 2 is called Householder or Domestic.  During this stage you attend to raising a family.  You marry, work and teach your children well.

Stage 3 is called Retirement or Going to the Woods ( I am not making this up).  This seems to be where we are at in life. Once you have raised your family and worked you simplify your life.  You shed many of the material trapping of life and travel to the woods to commune with nature and observe the world in a new way.  During this time, a person contemplates their life and attempts to formulate an understanding of "what it's all about."

Stage 4 is the stage of Sannyasin or Enlightenment.  Here we move beyond all the burdens of everyday life and form some higher link that brings us a true understanding of what it is all about.  This stage also requires that you become an ascetic and are willing to deny yourself some of the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, sex and shelter. Often such a person goes to the extreme of rejecting all social norms and expectations. These last requirement may be the reason that Hinduism has not caught on big in our western culture or our house.  All of us can achieve this stage in our given life, but the old Brahmin Holy Men are like triple set points in tennis.   They are about to win game, set, match and the ultimate tournament. They have lived so many good past lives that they have ascended to the highest of the four casts and their entire life is devoted to enlightenment.  Once their current life is complete they will transcend to the One and will not return to labor in the human form again.






Brahmin Holy Man on bridge over Ganges in Rishikesh











Wandering the streets along with the Brahmins were the first western tourists we had seen in weeks, and the first hippies we had seen in decades.  Rishikesh and a couple of its neighboring holy centers are where the people from the west come to drop out of the rat race and become enlightened.  The Beatles were here, Kate Winslet (recently) was here and Richard Gere was here.  Less celebrated 20 somethingish kids wander the streets today in saris and beads trying to capture a piece of the mysticism and maybe irritate their parents.  The amazing thing about the true Hindus is that they accept anyone.  They make no judgment about their someone’s level of faith or how they may chose to practice it.  I on the other hand experienced some very un-Hindu responses to the young people walking about (which I later retracted).  My thought was that it was somehow disrespectful to pretend to share or live the Indian experience with out having been born in to it and lived it your entire life.  When I took the time to consider my self at 20, I could see how I could have easily been caught up in the romanticism of living at least selected portions of this ascetic life. I could see my self with a beard and long hair wearing my loose fitting madras shirt and pants with hardly an extra dime in my pocket…wait, that is what I was doing, only I was in college in Colorado.

Not to be a hypocrite, but we couldn’t leave Rishikesh with out doing a little shopping for traditional Indian clothing.  We had a wonderful experience get Mo fitted and instructed in sari wearing by a very kind and patient shop keeper.



Mo getting fitted for sari in small shop in Rishikesh
















Construction project in Rishikesh.  The many ton  concrete roof slab and rebar are supported by hundreds of wood poles and a Brahmin.  The poles are propped up on stacks of bricks.







Tomorrow we head back to Dehli.


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