I was in love with Rishikesh and everything in it. I’d walk around in bliss looking at everyone and everything as little pieces of divinity. The cows would approach me. The dogs started following me and I’d joyfully pet them all. On my morning walk a sadhu approached me with broken English.
“You are so beautiful! You look like Indian girl! I have a present for you. Can I take your picture?” I laughed and agreed. He gave me some beautiful mala beads, “Today is your lucky day!” he said as I walked off alone.
An hour later I was at Prem Baba’s morning satsang. I sat in the usual spot Nick and I sat at when a young woman approached me. “Would you like to sit in the front row today?” Sadhu was right, I thought, today is my lucky day. I grabbed my cushion and sat to the left of the great teacher. All during his satsang I wasn’t even paying attention to what was being said. Instead, I was basking in his presence, it felt as though my cells were being flooded with truth, bliss, peace; the essence of being at that time. I finally approached him for darshan and I kissed both his feet so tenderly. I gave him the mala beads I’d received earlier to bless. As he put them on me we looked at each other and I experienced this divine joy being reflected back to me and we just laughed. It was such a beautiful moment – better than any high I’ve ever had. At the café that afternoon I described the experience in my journal as “tripping over my own joy.”
That’s how I spent the remainder of the day – with this inexplicable energy to just keep walking and wandering and exploring. I followed a cow up a hidden trail off the side of the road and saw wild buffaloes roaming. I couldn’t stop walking; I couldn’t stop taking in the grace in those mountains. I wanted to continue but I thought better to come back the next morning. I came across a bank of the Ganges River I never visited. There were no tourists there, just locals. It seemed like the perfect place to sit and meditate as the sun set. It was there that I met Kailash*.
“Hey, are you a Punjabi girl? You look Punjabi!” I smiled, “No, American – I’m from Chicago. How about yourself?” and just like that I had a new friend. Kailash was a tour guide – his family was from Rishikesh but he had worked all over India – in the south, the capital and Rishikesh. Kailash was also an Ashtanga yoga practitioner. My teacher in Chicago was of that lineage and we spent a good deal of time discussing yoga.
“I want to show you the real Rishikesh – not just the touristy part. Come with me on my motorcycle. I promise I will get you back to your ashram by curfew.”
“I shouldn’t – I have meditation there at 6 p.m. I really shouldn’t miss it,” I said. Kailash persisted and I finally gave in – I’m on an adventure, I thought, meditation will be there later.
Every pothole, every blast of cold mountain air and Kailash would cry out, “India!!” We headed up the mountain and the drive alone felt like it took an hour. I was freezing. When we got to the temple along the river I was in awe. I ate the prasad and kneeled then went out to watch the Ganges River as Kailash explained to me the order of things in Indian culture. “First comes the mother, then the father because they give you bone. Then comes the teacher because how else could you learn about anything? Fourth, comes God because without mother and father you wouldn’t have bone to worship God, and without the teacher you wouldn’t even know God.”
The “real” Rishikesh was packed full with people wandering the streets. Markets and streetlights from the evening rush. “You can buy things here at a fraction of what they charge where you’re staying,” Kailash informed me. I wasn’t in the mood for shopping and the mountain air was cold at night. I had worn an Indian style outfit I had bought in the south of India which consisted of very thin material – fine for Rishikesh during the day, where the temperatures got up to 80 degrees, but at 50 degrees now and on a motorcycle riding fast, I found them lacking. Kailash gave me his hat and I pulled my fleece hoodie out of my bag. It wasn’t enough, but better than nothing. Freezing, I felt so alive riding up and down the mountains of this sacred city.
Kailash took me through a nature reserve with roads seldom used at night for the wild elephants present. We stopped at a vista point there despite my protest because of the cold. We walked up this tall rock until we could see to the other side. In the mountains and overlooking Rishikesh I took in the beauty of the small town lit up at night with its long bridges overlooking Mother Ganga. The view was worth the cold. The brisk mountain air of the night felt magical. Kailash and I sat and he showed me pictures of the tours he had led through the Himalayas, the secret temples and unknown waterfalls and all the foreign friends he’d made from all over the world. I showed him photos of my life in Chicago. We exchanged snippets of our lives and took in the moment.
After sitting Indian style (no pun intended) for half an hour I needed to alleviate myself. “The bathroom is all around you,” Kailash said smiling as he glanced at the mountainside. I started down the rock. It was dark and that’s when it happened.
I must have screamed because before I knew it Kailash was there and he was freaking out. I looked at my leg and saw the bone, white and broken through my skin. “Oh shit.”
“Kailash, you need to go down to Rishikesh and you need to bring an ambulance back here,” I said far calmer than I would have ever expected to act under the circumstances.
“How could this be?!?! Oh my God!! How did this happen?!? Oh my God!!” Kailash was hysterical and if I could have stood up and slapped him, I would have. Fortunately for him my mobility was limited.
“Kailish, shut up! Calm down! I’m not going to die. I need you to help me. I need you to go and find an ambulance right now,” I said sternly.
“You don’t understand, this is India – it’s not America! How am I going to find an ambulance? The nearest hospital is far away; can you get on the motorcycle?” His phone had no reception in the mountains. My only chance was for him to bring help back to me and given his hysterical condition, I wasn’t sure what the chances of that were. I had no choice but to take them.
“My bone is sticking out of my body, I cannot get on your motorcycle. Find help! Go, now!” I responded.
With his hands over his mouth in shock he got on his motorcycle and I was left alone on the in the Himalayan mountainside. I was uncertain as to whether I would see Kailash again – he was quite hysterical and in the time we’d been along this road I hadn’t seen or heard another car pass by. I was enveloped by a silence only broken by my screams. “Help me! Somebody please help me!” I had never known my own voice until that night – the shrill sound, the desperation and the sheer volume of it. Not one headlight shone; not one hint of anyone listening to my cries. The white of my bone was sticking out of my bloody shin. The night was silent and unresponsive to my calls and I was alone. It was at that moment that I remembered the reason cars didn’t drive down this road at night: wild elephants.
So I prayed. I grabbed the mala beads around my neck that Amma had blessed and started chanting the mantra she had gifted me. It was all I could do to not pass out from the pain. I realized at that moment something so profound within my soul and within my body that I never really understood until that moment. You can call it God, you can call it surrender but to me it will always be wordless, formless and limitless. I have no control – this notion of control I had with all my fancy travel plans and intense excel sheets listing my itineraries and sights to see, my imagined trajectory for my life, marriage, children, jobs rendered meaningingless in one moment. It’s all an illusion.
I don’t know how long I was out there on that mountainside, staring at the night sky, chanting between my cries and then soothed by surrender, remaining present with my breath. If I desert my body I am lost, I thought. I have to stay here, in the now, in the present, in the pain.
The word “relief” cannot even describe how I felt the moment I saw a white square truck on the empty road. The ambulance had arrived.
To be continued…
*Names have been changed