Rishikesh was an interesting trip; there was a lot of material that gave me ideas for blog posts, and some addition to one I’ve been working on (cows). I think the most poignant thing about Rishikesh was interpersonal communication and interaction: you had beggars, both mutilated (such as one woman missing both arms; men missing both legs; swollen/broken/deformed feet, carefully covered up but under the sock made to appear swollen and malformed) and not mutilated (simply begging), both ‘normal’ and ‘holy’ alike.
Rishikesh is one of the major pilgrimage sites, because it is here, legend has it, that Lord Rama spent some of his time whilst exiled, and because Rishikesh spans the Ganga River. The Ganga, for our visit, was a brilliant blue with only the occasional bit of trash spotting it; you could see where the monsoon-levels would come, the various heights of the ghats, and the great channel and rocks carved out in the middle of a curve. Because of this, there are many, MANY ashrams and temples, and the associated folks with them asking for charity.
Contrary to the belief of some individuals, while Buddhism and Hinduism both encourage donation to charity: Buddhist monks traditionally do NOT handle money. If you have a “Buddhist monk” asking for cash for food – offer to buy them a meal, or donate rice or fruit or such. If they pitch a fit, they’re not obeying some of the rules of the monkhood. I can’t vouch for Hinduism, but I know that you cannot get better karma by donating money to get better karma: you donate out of genuine desire to improve a situation or wellbeing of an individual – donating money to improve your own karma is, basically, like the Christian practice of buying an indulgence, and from a greater scheme, wouldn’t “work as well” (the metaphysics of it aside), because you’re not donating altruistically; you’re donating for self-gain. Which is not a way to increase your karma in a positive direction!
So we ignored the beggars – though making note of the enterprising man at the top of a set of stairs who would make change from cash bills into Indian rupee coins (generally 1 rupee, 2 rupees, or 5 rupees) so that people could donate a plink in a metal begging cup at a time.
The touts were present, a mild preparation for Varanasi, following you from shop to shop if you showed even a glimmer of interest. We had one man who sold bindi-stamps follow us and put one on me, which I had Adam rub off only a few metres away from the guy; Adam expressed interest in some drums, and the man literally followed us about a half kilometre. I had some choice words, but sadly none in Hindi, for the drum-seller; I just effectively dragged Adam into the restaurant we were headed for, and had to remind him this is the real-life version of “don’t feed the trolls” on the internet. Unless you plan to buy, making eye contact with _anyone_ in a shop will likely put you into a position of being followed, or being heavily hawked from the shop’s door.
We made some purchases – a chessboard of (alleged) marble, a small carved elephant of the same (allegedly), Adam picked up a multicoloured jacket, and a Tibetan Singing Bowl and a pair of small Tibetan cymbals. The one thing I wanted but couldn’t get was a Tibetan-style orange cotton jacket; they wanted Rs800 for it, and I was limited to Rs500. I’m disappointed, but I think I can come up with a pattern or find some similar pictures, and get one made locally. There were some other “Christmas” purchases, and I have to admit that since I’ve never been one for the holidays, I was fantastically relieved to not hear Christmas carols, see holiday decorations, or any of the like while we were out in Rishikesh. We were there in the down season, so the worst struggles we had were not being able to get certain dishes at the restaurants, because they were mostly printed for tourist/high season – so no Israeli food(!?), mangos, or avocados.
There are langurs and rhesus here as well, though they’re much more well-behaved (since they get fed by the tourists). One rhesus did try to grab a bag of Adam’s purchases (the singing bowl, some other things) and was surprised when Adam said “Hey! Back off!” It scurried away, perplexed. In addition, we saw some ducks, cormorants (not sure what species), the everpresent cows everywhere, possibly a turtle, and various other wildlife. We did not see any river dolphins, but there is a sanctuary for them in Bihar that I’d like to visit sometime.
Rishikesh was a lot of fun to visit – the food was great, the hotel was reasonable and had hot water (though you share the tank with a neighbouring room), and where we were, the temples and all, was far enough north from Rishikesh-proper that we had a lot more quiet. We could have gone into Rishikesh town if we wanted – about 3kms south – but I was happy on our little hilltop. Except when the morning winds nearly pulled the windows off their hinges, but… Ah well.
With views like this in the morning, I can’t complain.