Sometimes, when you’re tired or homesick or hungry or hot, it’s easy to overlook the beauty of India. All you notice is what’s different, what’s wrong: You might fixate on the lack of central heating or air, or the garbage everywhere you walk, or the touts and vendors who won’t leave you alone, or how careful you have to be about everything you eat and drink. The sheer press of humanity gets exhausting, and there are moments when nothing seems right, nothing seems enjoyable, nothing seems worth that 17-hour plane ride.
But then something will catch you by surprise: The saffron robes of a sadhu. A little girl sheepishly smiling at you from behind the folds of her mother’s sari. Marigolds placed in offering outside a shop. The smell of fresh naan. The clapping and singing of puja at a local temple. Stacks of red and orange and blue and yellow and green and purple quilts coloring the streetside. Two old men sitting side-by-side, silently reading the paper together. A new friend. The sun warming the back of your neck.
In that moment, what is wrong disappears, and you remember again why you are transfixed by this place. Even the beauty, though–both strange and familiar–can overwhelm. The jostle of a billion people can blind your American eyes to it, but when you see those details that make you gasp with pleasure and surprise, and then you look up from your narrow obsession with personal comfort to this pretty magical place, you remember: There is so much that is beautiful here.
You can never take too many pictures of the Himalayas. You just can’t. In the winter, they finally poke through the fog and haze and rain and whatever else keeps them shrouded, and then they rise on the horizon, towering over the 7000-foot ‘hills’ below. Sunrise, sunset, clouds, clear skies, from the south or the west…they never look the same twice.
We were supposed to land in Delhi around 4 a.m. But somewhere over the ‘stans, intruding into my wine-induced plane sleep, the captain in his thick Turkish accent said something about a storm and circling and a delay. Oh well, more time to nap. And I conked back out.
When I was in Japan, I could while away hours in 100 yen stores. Stationary, t-shirts, socks, bowls, candy bags, food wrappers, you name it–all were covered in ridiculously bad translations of English expressions, and in the 100 yen store, there were seemingly infinite bins of tear-inducing, gut-shakingly-funny mis-translations. In Japan, that made sense, but I guess I never really expected as much from India’s linguistic treasures.
Boy, was I wrong!
Forget all my PhD reading that I schlepped halfway around the world only to leave buried in the bottom of my backpack. In India, signage was the literary masterpiece of the trip.
Life moves a little more slowly in India. As an Indian American living in Dehra Dun reminded us, there is Central Standard Time…and then there is Indian Standard Time. And when you’re hanging out in the quiet towns ofUttarakhand, in winter nonetheless, life seems to whisper along.
Case in point: While in Rishikesh, we’d while away the first hour or so of our day sipping Nescafe in our hotel lobby, watching sensationalist Delhi news accounts and giggling over the matrimonial ads. Time inched along, not bothered by car horns or diesel fumes or much of anything, save a sadhu or two. Glancing up from our almost-coffees and newspapers, we’d spy a cow eating breakfast on our hotel stoop, ladies gathering for an early morning chat, delivery men desperately wishing cars were allowed in this part of town, monkeys making mischief. Life moved slowly (and dare I say: peacefully) on that Rishikesh street, aflutter with life at daybreak.
Ten minutes in the life of a Rishikesh street (including a cow who seemed to be inspired by our dawdling).
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
Like what you see? That's mostly Ross Freshwater. Check out my talented partner-in-life's photo gallery.