I found Rishikesh on a Sunday afternoon. After thirteen hours of travelling with an unhappy tummy in a hazy, glazy forward motion, I arrived. Unshowered, unkempt, weary and worn. And all I could think as the car wound around mountainous roads, rich and lush in landscape, was…
I have arrived.
I stumbled down dusty avenues in search of the hotel I had booked on a whim. With no more evidence of its existence than the faded memory of a crackling phone call, and a distant voice in broken English saying:
‘Yes mam, we have a room’.
But there it stood. Nestled in behind fruit vendors, Ayurvedic promises and poles plastered with enlightening delights. There it stood. Marked by cracked paint and a faded sign. Yet somehow in my withering state, laden with what I continue to deem the bare necessities, it looked almost as grand as the Taj Mahal.
I have arrived.
I stumbled in and found Pradeep, who greeted me warmly. He showed me a few rooms (hot water, a clean bed and I’m in heaven these days).
So there I sat with my new-found friend, having the precursory ‘cricket’ conversation.
‘Please Amy, any problem, you see me. I am happy, if you are happy.’
And he folded his hands together beneath his soft chin, nodded slightly, and was gone.
I sat in a feverish stupor, unable to wipe the smile of awe from my face. I looked out from my balcony, across a yoga hall and down the Ganges. A monkey sat by the stairs and watched me, his cheeky head tilted coyly to one side. A flute played. It’s resonating song bounced between the luscious green hills that jutted up from the river and stood tall and proud by her side. And as the sun went down, the air became cool. Not quite cold, but fresh. Lights danced across the hill opposite me. And the bridge connecting one riverbank to another, glowed softly. Fireworks crackled and bounced into the sky sporadically. And from behind the dark shadowy mountains, the full moon rose – warm and soft, yet cool and hard – all at once.
Voices shouted and horns beeped. But behind them, there was silence. I heard it immediately. It screamed in like a brand new day. Screamed in, then stopped. Silence.
There were chants and drums, echoing rhythmically. And behind those, there was calm and still.
The chaos, I am learning, exists on the surface. When you are tired, it is all you can see. When you are fresh and aware, you can feel behind it, reach within it, and find something else. Something deeper.
There is calm in the chaos. There really is.
I have been in India for a month now. I have travelled many miles. I have crossed deserts and mountains, and rivers and cities. I have travelled in cars and buses and trains and planes, by boat and bike and tuk tuk. And my feet have walked further than I thought they would ever be capable of. Yet every step they have taken, has been a small one.
And here I finally sit, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The water from their pure white peaks flowing softly past my feet – washing them clean.
I have arrived.
Since landing in Delhi over four weeks ago, I have had many moments where I thought I was beginning to understand India. Each of these moments has been superseded by another – which has been simultaneously more profound, more significant, more shattering, and more real than the one before it. I have finally resigned myself to understanding India is not a place to be understood. It is a place to be experienced. And you must discover and move with that experience. You must allow yourself to be changed by it. You cannot own it. You cannot hold it. You must rise and fall with its greatness.
And these moments still find me, more and more often. Little slivers of awakening and realisation. I am becoming more comfortable with them. And as they wash over me I can only hope they continue to jolt me awake – at just the right time. Again and again.
It took me a month to get this. It took me a whole month to stop compartmentalising things in my mind as a strategy of coping with the differences, the suffering, and the confrontation. It took shitty hotel rooms. It took the most amazing, delectable, fattening foods. It took getting sick at the most inappropriate moments. It took witnessing starvation, death and cremation. It took facing fear. It took making friends with people I never thought I could make friends with. It took making friends with myself. It took forgiving. It took letting go. It took tears and hurt and sadness. It took laying in the desert and wishing on stars. It took sitting in a boat on the great River Ganges and sending out love.
And only now can I say, I am beginning to embrace the chaos of India. Her greatness cannot be contained. It is unpredictable and wild and free. It will buck and throw you the minute you think you have a firm hold. All you can do is dance your way through and resign yourself to the moment. And only then will you find your happiness. Amongst all the things that brought you heartache. Nestled in with the suffering and confrontation. And you needn’t fight for it. For hardness does not necessarily equal strength.
I am learning there is also strength in softness. Great strength.
And I can say with certainty, I will be leaving this place a very different person, than when I arrived.