Reluctant to leave the peace and solitude, I get up and climb back up the rocks to the path that leads back to the big Parmarth ashram where I’ve stayed in a simple but very comfortable room for five days. Before I start the packing process, I grab my camera from my room to take a few shots of the elaborately decorated gardens in the extensive grounds of the ashram. Out in the garden I position myself for a shot of the entrance. A small man with large glasses and a Nehru cap gets up from the cement bench he was sitting on and informs me in his few words of English that I should be taking the picture in the opposite direction. He points out the wheel of life depicted in the archway behind me. Okay, okay, I say… that one will be next.
Once I have taken the entrance photo, he takes the back of my arm in a surprisingly strong grip and steers me toward the wheel of life arch. He motions me to give him the camera and positions me in the picture. What the heck, I thought, I’ll go along with it. Then he steers me towards another tableau a little further along and takes a picture of me in front of the god Lord Shiva with Mount Kailash in the background. For the next fifteen minutes he leads me purposefully around describing various scenes and statues as best he can with his limited English and informing me which things I should photograph. I don’t mind, in fact I appreciate him pointing out some things I had missed or didn’t understand. At the end of the tour he sticks out his hand and says “Money. Guide.”. In spite of ashram rules to the contrary, he expects me to pay for his uninvited services. Since I have no money with me, I say so and explain that I’m going to my room to pack and will be back in fifteen minutes. I really don’t mind giving him a few rupees. But by the time I return, he has gone..
Rishikesh 3 p.m., April 1, 2004
With a bag hanging from each shoulder, I make my way down the crowded market to the small boat that crosses the
The train ride is a welcome respite from the heat - it’s one of the better trains with air-conditioning. A full dinner is served and bottles of water are passed out. I sit beside a retired schoolteacher from Delhi and his niece, a pleasant woman from Baroda, in the state of Gujarat, who invites me to visit with her next time I go to visit my favourite ashram there, with which she is familiar. We exchange contact information and I look forward to seeing her again.
I am very tired and anticipating a good sleep in
My heart sinks when I see a rumpled and spotty carpet in the small dingy room and smell a strong musty smell. The bed is like rock. No, I say, this will not do. What else do you have? We go back to the desk and he has his subordinate show me two more rooms, both more expensive, of course. One is just as bad as the first. The second had a softer bed and doesn’t smell as bad. I reluctantly agree to take that one since I don’t seem to have much choice at this point. I don’t want to go back out into the street at this hour to try to flag down another rickshaw and go to a hotel I know I’d like better.
I put on the ceiling fan, insert my earplugs and cover myself with a sarong I carry as an all-purpose sheet, towel, cover-up or whatever. I don’t sleep well and wake up feeling tired and cranky. Rats! Later in the day I have to clean myself up, get dressed and party! I can’t bear the thought of showering in the grungy little bathroom so I have a bit of a wash and get dressed. John and I are going to Nirula’s for croissants and raspberry jam, which is an expensive breakfast, but at this point, a decent setting and predictable food is necessary.
Once the Paharganj errands are done, we head back to the hotel to pay my bill and check me out. Since I’m short on cash, John pays the bill and we set off to find an ATM. John is carrying one of my bags but walking is still cumbersome in the heat. I pull out a cotton kerchief, wet it with some water from my water bottle and drape it over my head in lieu of a hat, which I should have, but don’t. Ah, that’s better. I may look strange, but at this point, it’s worth it to have a cool barrier between me and the blazing sun. After a long climb up a broad flight of stairs that could rival the entry to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in
Then off we go, tearing along the wide boulevards of
Delhi 9 p.m. April 2, 2004
We get into JK’s beautiful silver car with the leather interior and his driver takes us in air-conditioned comfort the few blocks to the Spanish Embassy where the party is being held in the garden. We are welcomed by the Spanish ambassador, Raphael, and are introduced to the Egyptian ambassador and his companion. I notice that the garden feels quite cool in spite of the warm evening and wonder if the in-house air conditioning is being blown into the garden through the windows. Waiters are circulating with trays of drinks and the many guests stand in small groups chatting and laughing. A dance floor is set up under the trees with fans at the corners to cool the dancers. A live band is playing surprisingly good popular 70s and 80s rock music.
Delhi, 11 p.m. April 2, 2004
We’re seated at a table with Miles and Juliet, a lovely English couple; JK’s friend Meredith and her husband Salim; Belinda Wright, who is a well-known tiger conservationist and another ambassador of somewhere-or-other. We’re eating a marvellous dinner we chose from the many scrumptious-looking dishes on the buffet and drinking a delicious white wine.
Later on, lying in bed back at the hotel, I can’t help but laugh to myself at the past 36 hours and the unbelievable mix and sheer quantity of events. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to be part of glorious, challenging, enigmatic
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