Entering India: The Extraordinary World Part 1
Entering India: The Extraordinary world, Part 1.
I left for India on April 5th and the whole time I was preparing to go, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was going HOME. This was my first trip to mother India and the only intention I brought with me was to stay Present and do my utmost to drop all forms of ideology and the need to box anything or anyone into a neat little western structure with names and labels.
This is a tall order especially due to the fact that everything we see and how we think is directly related to the inner structures from our family, culture, society and language. It would have been virtually impossible if I had not been blessed to be in the great company and care of Shri Mahant Ram Puri Ji ( www.rampuri.com) at his ashram in Haridwar, surrounded by many other great Naga Babas , great ones, and gurus the entire time I was there.
There were countless hours spent around the sacred fire pit (dhuni) where stories were told and where we were given handles in which to hold and navigate through the extraordinary world we had been immersed in. This trip was not a trip of looking at the many personalities of Nature (Ma Ganga and the Devis and Devas) as a spectator from the outside in. We were invited into the inner circle of the oral tradition to engage in it-to participate and connect in an active and intimate way. You could say it was a baptism by fire.
My dear friend D.R. Butler posted a comment on my FB page upon my return that really summed up something so essential about the challenge of describing the extraordinary world, He wrote, "Give your self plenty of time to adapt, because it's like two different planets. India is one of those things that if you've been there no explanation is necessary and if you haven't been there no explanation is possible."
There is a deep truth to this. How could I begin to describe what I experienced, and yet unless I can articulate it, then the knowledge I have received is not really mine.
Before I left for india, I had been warned by many here about the plethora of things I would be confronted with that would create a strong aversion. Among the top few were, the lack of sewage systems, no garbage collection and therefore the intense smells, lack of "western" toilets and so the need to squat and extreme "poverty" and the inevitability of getting quite ill regardless of how 'careful' I was.
We arrived in New Delhi on Friday night the 6th, and took a taxi to a near by hotel in the city where we crashed hard after a 14 hour flight. The hotel was very western( nice beds and a western toilet and shower) and was a relief to come to after I had been violently ill on the second half of the plane ride. Let me tell you, the intensity of vomiting for 6 hours on a plane filled with 500 people "waiting" my turn to use the toilet was quite a wild start. At one point I went running around the plane desperately trying to find an open bathroom until it became clear I would have to go into the "no entry zone" of first class, but at that point I was desperate and could care less about the admonishments yelled at me as I made a bee-line for the only open bathroom on the plane.
"You can't use the bathrooms up here", said the air stuard firmly.
"I understand that, I said, but I thought it was better to throw up in this "forbidden" bathroom, than to puke all over the floor and anyone in the way. I figured it would be less clean up for you".
As soon as we landed in Delhi, the illness mysteriously ceased as quickly as it started, and I felt like after THAT ordeal, I could handle anything.
After a good nights rest and a hot shower, we met in the hotel restaurant for an Indian breakfast of chai, bread and a sweet lassi ( yogurt and mango).
We were then picked up by our drivers, Manjeet and Sanjay,who would be with us for the next two weeks. We all piled into two Toyota mini vans and began the long journey from Delhi to Hardiwar.
I had opted out of eating more than a few bites of anything as I had a feeling the ride to Haridwar would be like none other I had experienced. As we made our way through the city, I was fascinated by how many cars could "fit" on a two lane roadway. Most of the time there were at least 5 lanes of traffic sharing the two lanes of space. Due to the colonization, all the drivers drive on the left side of the street and the steering wheels were on the right. The left lane had people walking, bicycles and ox and horse carts. Then there were motorcycles and mopeds on which were 5 family members. The driver of the motorbike was the only one with a helmet, sitting practically in the lap of a driver was a child and directly behind the driver was another child side saddle. On the back of the seat was the mother, also side saddle, with an infant held in one arm and she held onto the back of the bike seat with the other.
The balancing act and trust involved in that kind of seeming circus act was astounding, especially when you also factor in that NO ONE drives in a straight line. There is a constant weaving in and out of traffic all the time with a steady stream of honking horns. To say it was noisy is an understatement and yet I soon discovered that the horn honking was not random or hostile by any means, it was a way of saying things like, "hey there, I am coming up on your right about to pass you and there is an on coming truck that is about to hit me head on, so please move over"
There was a marvelous and accepted 'ordered chaos' and I was amazed that even with the sudden slamming of brakes and seeming near death escapes, we never hit or were run into by anyone in the two weeks of travels.
Amidst the sprawling landscape of temples, apartment buildings, and tiny shop- keeper stands made of plastic tarp, cardboard, wood and an array of discarded trash used for building materials, there were huge bill boards with pictures of luxury condos in front of construction sites of huge sky scraper housing. The billboards were advertising pictures of Indians dressed in Western clothing, playing golf, swimming in pools, and standing in rooms with Western furnishings inside of spacious dwellings. The juxtaposition of the strange natural beauty, massive ruins of the Old Fort in Delhi, and the western consumptive billboards, was assaulting.
As we made our way out of the city and into more rural areas there was a repeating theme of sugarcane fields, and ox carts piled high with bricks, or other materials whose drivers steered the oxen not with a rope, but by using the tail of the ox like a rudder. We passed through many little villages whose streets were lined with vendors all tightly in a row of little box-like structures about 6 feet wide by 6 feet high by 10-15 feet deep. They were stocked with little attached square packages( that looked like a roll of condoms packages, hanging from the ceilings(we found out later that these were chewing tobacco.) and a man or two behind a big steel pot cooking chai or some food. Sometimes there were a few plastic chairs out in front of the hut and then next door would be something similar. Some huts were workshops where recycled bicycle tires were fixed, or marble and stone was sold, or dried cow dung.
In the fields we passed women were making the cow dung patties used for fuel to burn in fires to cook with, they would be stacking the dried out cow patties in huge piles in the shape of large Shiva lingams (bullet shaped). Some women in brightly colored saris, had massive baskets on their heads carrying what looked like hundreds of pounds of materials.
The bulk of the trash that littered the streets and landscape was plastic- bags bottles, wrappers ect. Any other trash that was not able to be used for building or other things was being eaten by cows, horses, pigs, monkey or oxen.
I learned that it wasn't until very recently that plastic bottles were introduced into India, before that, all drinking and eating vessels were made from clay. They were made from mud, dried in the sun, used once and then thrown and smashed back on the ground where they would turn back into mud. It was overwhelming to see "western" progress in plastic infecting the land everywhere you looked. There is a wild built in recycling program..almost everything is used again and again, but now with the age of plastic there is too much plastic and nothing to do with it and no concept or help from a government program to educate about "greener" living.
After 6 and 1/2 hours we arrived In Haridwar. Haridwar is named as such because it means and is the doorway or threshold between the Extraordinary world of the gods and goddesses who live high up in the Himalayas where the mouth of the holy Ganges river originates and is crystal clear and pure, and the ordinary world below Haridwar past the foothills of the mountains. As we crossed the threshold into Haridwar, we were welcomed by the magnitude and POWER of the Mother Ganges. At Her edges were brightly colored buildings, hotels and temples and as we crossed a large bridge, sitting in the middle of the water was Ma Ganga herself personified as a beautiful goddess standing on an alligator. On the other side of the bridge, a large Lakshmi sitting in a huge lotus flower stood in the middle of the river. These signs that marked a crossing over into the Extraordinary world continued as we passed the largest standing murti(statue) of Shiva himself I had ever seen, all 100 feet of him gazed over us and the city with a quiet, protective expression.
It was not long after that we pulled down a small side street and stopped in front of ornate deep red wooden doors trimmed with gold, the entrance of Gokarn Dham, the family home/hostel of the Naga Babas, were we and many pilgrims would be staying for the next few weeks.
Stay tuned for part 2.....