I have officially been here 7 days and so far the best way to describe it is….. Overwhelming. India amazes me and also exhausts me.
I never really put together just how many people are here…. There are a lot of people here, one might say too many people in fact. My senses have been assaulted with all kind of extremes, especial all the smells (let’s just say there are high points and low points to that one in particular). There is constantly something to see, touch, taste, hear and like I said before - smell (whether you want to or not).
So far I’ve been to Delhi (twice), Jaipur, Agra, Haridwar and Rishikesh (where I am now) in only 7 days. It’s been a week filled with long days, early mornings and lots of time on a bus with a hilarious your guide named Raj.
Raj has not only shown the 15 of us all the sights to be seen around the Golden Triangle, but had also had many little stories and fantastically great sayings. He also explained about traditional culture and current affairs (there is an election going on in the next two months) and talked a lot about religion as well (my favourite part!). He talked about the caste system and the people named Hijeras or “the 50/50’s” as Raj affectionately called them.
Hijeras were something I’ve never heard of before and their history and culture was quite a shock when I heard about it. Now, being in Thailand for 2 and a half months this summer, I had seen my fair share of lady boys. With that said Hijeras are a whole new ball game. The history of Hijeras dates back to the time where India was ruled by Rajas and Maharajas, they each had many wives and the wives wanted to be entertained, enter the Hijeras. The Hijeras, to explain the way Raj did “the man born in the man body but is feeling like a woman” would dress up in extravagant saris and jewels and dance around and entertain the Maharani (head wife). Here is where the twist comes in, to make sure there was no “risky business” going on between the Maharani or other wives and these Hijeras, to be employed as a Hijera you have to undergo a “surgery” (yes, that kind of surgery) to make sure nothing physical will ever happen, it’s done to show devotion the their lifestyle and craft, making it a permanent and irreversible life career. There’s much more to the story - so google it.
All in all the sightseeing was great, long days and a little tiring, but great. We went to so many forts, palaces, and cool restaurants and I even got my palm read by a wise old man. Very cool. We saw the Taj Mahal at sunrise which was breathtaking to say the least. We’ve also rode in Tuktuks, rickshaws and, horse drawn carriages. We’ve shopped at giant western shopping malls, quiet village shops and main Bazaars so full of people it was hard to breathe.
It’s been a crazy first week and I’m glad to be settled now for the next ten days in a peaceful ashram nestled at the base of the Himalayas, where the Ganges first starts to flow. Our days start at 5am with meditation and then yoga until 7:45, then breakfast followed by fire chanting and then free time for me! I’m using a little free time now to write this very post! The best part so far of Rishikesh is the amazing deal I get on ayervedic spa treatments, yesterday I got a full body hot oil massage for an hour for the smoking price of….. 15$! Needless to say I have found a good use of my 3 hours of free time in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. We have 3 yoga classes a day taught by the resident guru Vishveji and so far I have had a wonderful first morning.
India - the land of extremes. Or as Raj puts it “Incredible India!”
Now, OFF TO THE SPA!