We arrive after an uncomfortable flight from
On the road to Rishikesh the next day – we get stuck in the mother of all traffic jams. Everything comes to a halt – colourfully painted lorries, Ambassador cars and minivans get mired to the spot. Bullock carts coming from the other direction are quickly the only form of moving transport to be seen. I weave through the standing traffic to find out what the problem is. Apparently, some school children are having a race further ahead, with no concern that a major route out of the capital has been blocked.. After about a mile, I come to a crossroads with chairs blocking the road, with no sign of any runners. The air is cool and fragrant, with woodsmoke mingling with eucalyptus. We reverse and take a backroute through a string of villages parallel to the main road, passing by a huge suger-cane factory on the way.. Eight hours later, we arrive at Ananda, in the blue-smudge Himalayan foothills above Rishikesh. All the way, the conversation bounces between entrepreneurship, development and spirituality. Although the journey was long, our excited talk stitched time together.
At Ananda we learn to say Namashkar to everybody and are driven about on golf carts from one part of the complex to another. The days are spent doing yoga, lingering in the spa and having treatments: Shiro Dhara ayurvedic massage (where hot oil is poured steadily onto the forehead), Lithos (an Australian treatment involving being massaged with hot and cold stones), as well as reflexology, Swedish massage etc. Our fellow guests are an interesting cast of characters, fit for a soap opera. A busy-body Aunty figure who likes to tell the people she meets about her global fabric business in Delhi, a handsome woman from the Punjab who introduces herself as a banker. I suggest (from the shape of her eyebrows and her regal nose) that by this must mean a high-flying investment banker, not someone working at Barclays in Hendon Central. She replies quickly – no, I actually work at Barclays in Hounslow. It is of course, a good humoured lie, although I silently gasp in embarrassment before I realise her humour.
One afternoon, we visit a Sati mandir high above Ananda, and catch sight with a gasp at the high snow-peaked
In Rishikesh, one dusk we go to watch the Aarti puja-ceremony on the banks of the
In the following days, we visit Old Delhi – the hustling bustle of the Chandi Chowk market area, a highpoint being a visit to the Jain temple near Red Fort, witnessing the fluid intricacies of Jain ritual devotion at the core of the most non-violent religion on the planet. We are also touristically obliged to visit the Red Fort – the huge magnificently walled space that was the administrative centre of
During our forays, I reflected on the oddity that so much of Northern India’s architectural heritage is Mughal in origin – and yet how sad that the Muslim heritage of
We fly down to Goa, to stay in a friend’s family house in the
In the north of the state, we try and fail to find our friends who are staying at a resort. The north is disappointing; amidst the verdant green paddy fields there are huge ugly billboards by the side of the roads, the roads are filled with Easy-Rider western wannabees buzzing around on scooters and bikes, there are many hippy-type shops that make the place look like Camden Market in the tropics. We are glad to get away.
On the same day, we visit Old Goa, a dead once-was city that rivalled Lisbon at the height of the Portuguese occupation a few centuries ago, as well as a well-known nearby temple. Old
The local papers are covering an important stakeholder/community meeting taking place in Panijim, the state capital, about plans for the development of the State. Some NRG’s (Non-Resident Goans) are up in arms about the failures of the past and the weak visions for the future – including Goans who have significant careers in government in
I spend hours at the beach studying the waves – the ominous incoming line that appears a few hundred metres out, the gradual gathering of speed and height, the formation of a crest with the light glittering off the upper folding curve, the left-to-right zipping rim of froth as the crest starts to break, the momentary tunnels created between the under and upper sides of the wave, the crashing of the wave nearer the shore, the bubbling and steaming froth as it peters out by the beach, the slow filmic retraction of white camouflaged seawater. I watch the tide’s effect on the waves, and meditate on all the different sound components of the sea. I imagine being there to witness a tsunami, the drawing back of the sea, the line of terror that appears at high speed on the horizon, the devastation on impact, the falling beneath, the drowning. I also study the patterns of the sand-crabs; when they dig their holes (as the tide is receding), the way they scurry to the edge of the hole as you approach, lingering at the edge for a few seconds, then vanishing as you get closer.
After days at the beach immersed in the subtle complexities of its being, with some more ayurvedic treatments at a local centre, we fly back up to
We visit our friend’s guru in morning session. In a Breach Candy eyrie, fifteen or so expats and one or two locals sit and ask questions. An old man, with a deficit of teeth launches into philosophical treaties in response to each question. His philosophy is one of ‘non-doing’ – as we are all bound by genes and conditioning, there is not much we can alter about ourselves, therefore we should simply embrace our true nature without pride or guilt, attaining ‘identity-consciousness’. I challenged his passive account of the subject by pointing out that we are each capable of being responsible for our own re-conditioning, he responded by saying that by conditioning, he also meant re-conditioning. At which point, I lost all understanding of his original concept of non-doing.. Still, it was pleasant to be in a well-designed
In between cities and places and experiences, the following reflections came to presence:
· The media (tv and print) is going from strength to strength. The nearly-free full colour newspapers are well written and designed, informative and challenging. There are many excellent quality Indian tv stations, with numerous CNN rolling-news type stations in English and other languages. Strangely though predictably enough, in a country which has the second largest Muslim population on the planet, Al-Jazeera is not available through the main cable and satellite networks