Today I have turned 24 in Delhi, another point reached in a rotating world.
The weekend just passed we have been rocked upside down by the beauty of Rishikesh. This small town tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand state is nearby to Dehradun airport and pilgrimage town Haridwar characterised by its huge statues.
We swam in the Ganges, played volleyball with Indians, heard them debate every point ‘KITNE?’ (How much?) and waited for the stars to break out into the night sky. The campsite on the shores of the river bank was home to tiny green two man tents, with beds inside. The flash of a torch took us to the bathroom along a stone and sand path.
By evening, the sky opened up and the edge of the mountain threatened to fall out of its axis towards us sitting small and incredulous at the beach edge. In the morning there were life jackets scattered by the rocks, the softening ashes of our camp fire, and the memory of marshmallows cooked on forest twigs.
Rishikesh was as it always is, a glittery yoga haven, with more Germany bakeries (26 in total) than a German town I suspect. It is also a peaceful place with a beaming mandarin coloured ashram at its epicentre. At all hours pilgrims spiral up and up to its roof, ringing bells and praying as they move chanting ‘Om-nimashivaya.’ It is the first thing you see when you stand at height and glance across to the other side of Lakshman Jhula, this spine of travellers world weary and apricot looking for their G-d, flagged by scores of monkeys clinging to the iron bridge.
There are mala beads, leather shops, and prayer flags, hung jauntily from building columns, jewellery stores selling statues, Ganesha, Durga, Lakshmi. There are men with alms bowls and a stick, sitting at your feet on each corner. They dress in orange and have given up all possessions. Soon they blend and become part of the character of the place, and once or twice you stumble across their stick, or fail to notice the asks directed at you and her and him: ‘chapatti’ and ‘water’.
Then it is back to Delhi, seven hours later on a bus, the city where it is safer to walk on the street than the pavement. Sinkholes and dogs, litter and sleeping folk consume the street edges. It is prudent to watch where you step, what you touch, who you talk to and where you go, say Delhi-ites. But Delhi is a journey of exploration that is best undertaken alone, with a pocket full of rupees, a sense of humour give or take a camera. It is the bravest travellers who leave their camera at home and dare to see a city face on without a lens to filter, compromise the picture or falsely zoom. Our eyes are the zoom already. It is the city you stand in and breathe in the day that enters your dreams at night, and usually with close observation and being fully present, there is always a way back.
This week, I have felt the corners of Greater Kailash Colony (GK) early in the morning. The Sivananda Yoga Centre at A41 welcomes yoga practitioners for drop in classes from 6.30 every morning. It is a small piece of calm, fenced with white and signposted above the entrance way ‘Silence please, observe your true self’ with manicured lawns to each side. In the wide street nearby just five minutes from the metro are bread and tea vendors. Yogi’s fill up on puri’s after their morning practise, mat rolled up in a carrier over one shoulder, freshly baked bread steaming from their hands, a tiny glass cup filled half with chai resting at their feet. Inside the studio, candles are lit and incense shimmers a lemony aroma. The chants of OM echo and vibrate through your core towards your heart and take your mind to the point behind itself. The sound of inhales and exhales, mats being shuffled and readjusted and exhales again fill the room.
Later in the evening, we hear the beat of a drum out of the Jasola apartment window, open up the pane and stare out, drinking in the sound. An impromptu group of women and men, dancing and hitting drums move slowly down the street. For a while they are hidden by the trees, so all we can have are the rhythmic pounds of stick against drum skin, while a secret shadow moves on in the gloaming, past the ice cream wagon and onwards into the night apropos of nothing.
Namaste friends, join me as I explore again….