India – Lost

I made it to Bagshu before the retreat, but got so lost trying to get to Darmkot that I hadn’t tried it again.  I saw the waterfall, and then the swimming pool, which was filled with the sacred water from the waterfall and men and boys in their underwear.  No women.  I walked past a lot of shops and came to a concrete area packed with taxis and Indian tourists.  I climbed a street where there were, what looked like, fancy hotels and lots more concrete.  I knew I needed to go up, so I kept following the road.  Less and less westerners.  The Indian women seemed to stay very close to the buildings, while the Indian men “hung out” street side.  I asked an Indian man how to get to Dharmkot.  He seemed to not understand me, even though I only said one word, Dharmkot, with an inflection that suggested it was a question, as I gestured in different directions.  I asked another, who waved his arm in a direction that I traveled for a bit, before asking another, who waved in another direction.  This pattern carried on for a while.  I traveled through wide and narrow rock paths, up and down steep inclines, through a very nice hotel with a pool.  I scrambled up dirt and weeds with great hope, only to land in a cow’s home behind a human’s home.  I became exhausted.  I then searched for a rickshaw, that I so happily found and breathily got out the words, “Darmkot, how much?”  Though I would have paid him whatever he asked.

Today I was determined to find my way there and back.  I got some initial directions from my guesthouse neighbor, the same one I asked to not chant at 6:30 in the morning.  A less than solid wooden door was between us.  I heard her netty pot her nose, hack, and spit, brush her teeth and turn on the teakettle.  These sounds seemed inevitable.  Snorting, hacking and spitting were sounds heard everywhere and most of the time in India.  Tea was a past time, and distant chanting was part of the landscape.

Every day at dusk and dawn the eldest man in the family, of whom owned the guest house, would ring the bell and chant in front of the small shrine to Shiva.  I imagined this ritual had been done for generations.  It was a part of the mountain, as much as the birds’ songs and the dew on the evergreens that evaporated when the sun shone on it.  This ritual would continue when the elder passed on, and through the next generation, grow its roots deeper down into the earth, while the chants would infuse themselves with incense and waft slowly upward, permeating the soft, moist sky.

But that was not what I was hearing six feet away, on the other side of the concrete wall and splintered wooden door.   I heard a single western woman, with the sincerity of a new devotee, diligently doing her practice.  She found a new way of living that gave her comfort and hope.  My forced eavesdropping seemed intrusive, like I was a part of someone else’s vulnerable beginnings of delicate self-discovery.  At the same time, these awkward sounds were finding their way into my morning dream state and making it difficult for me to delineate the fragile messages that were attempting to reach me in daylight.  There was a sense of urgency to write down any imagery and journeys experienced during the night, before they faded into the imminently emerging complex orchestra of sounds from the waking city.

 Feeling sorry that she disturbed me, my neighbor brought me a chocolate ball.  I felt sorry that she felt sorry, but I really enjoyed the chocolate ball.  Standing on our balcony, my neighbor pointed out where I should walk.  Go past the small temple, down the hill, and turn left before the water, and go through the wheat field, then down the steep rocky hill.  I started out feeling confident. I passed the temple, went down the hill, then saw a one inch pipe with water rushing out of it.  I paused, looking confused.  A young traveler weaved herself through a small opening in a pile of rocks to my left.  She said, “it’s this way.”

“How do you know where I want to go?”

“In India, we all want to go to the same places.”

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