Monday, March 28, 2011

Walking in Rishikesh (Sight)

This is the first in a series of pieces I wrote about taking the same walk on a street on the outskirts of Rishikesh. Each of the four snippets focus on one of the senses (I didn't do taste, as I was not really tasting much on these walks). I hope they form a good picture of what its like to walk on this street, and that you are able to imagine yourself there as well.


When I first emerge, there is a yellow house across the small road and over the dirty manmade river for drainage. Its not so much a house as it is a two-story building with several doors facing outward, and a concrete half wall to make it an outdoor hallway. Often, monkeys hang off the concrete sides of the drainage chute or in it, and today, kids played at the end of it outside their house. I could tell they lived there not only because of their proximity, but because of the small clothes that hung across in a line and indicated the presence of children. 

As I walked into the street, I immediately saw a man in front of a large cart. Inside were clear bottles, filled up with lemon juice, and in the center was a juicing contraption. The streets were lined with small shops and these little carts, and in places, black tarps held up by thin trees covered tables with prayer beads, dark wooden boxes, and sometimes small toys. Most people without a store had either a black tarp overhead or a large umbrella to shield them from the sun that was pounding down hard, seemingly shining in from the openness of the water. 

The water stretched a block over, accessed by staircases that ran all the way into the churning abyss. On a round stretch of road, in front of a partly built building that I had watched men work on (several stories up, across from my room, I wondered what kind of safety laws were present in building code as I watched them climb the rebar), there was another small wooden box stand. I thought the things, which consisted of many typically Indian patterns and some small statues, seemed incredibly cheesy and touristy, but the people perusing the items were Indian. I was further surprised as I saw more Indian people look at the holographic pictures of Hindu gods, brightly colored with that scratchy, shiny finish common in cheap depictions like this, that I for some reason associated with children’s trading cards. A cart full of mostly green vegetables and red carrots stopped in the middle of the calmer part of this street and a woman scrutinized the produce and purchased something, then allowed the man to continue pushing the wooden cart, yelling out his presence. 

Across the way was one of the taps for water that were scattered about the city. On my walk this first day, I saw three or four sets of taps where people washed their hands or faces, or drank. At this solitary tap, a cow licked beneath the faucet for a drink. It was white and not starkly thin like some cows, but not fat at all. And I couldn’t look away as the pink tongue extended and lapped at the clear water. On my way back, the cow had sidled on and buckets were beneath the tap, but nobody seemed to mind that the cow was lapping away. The ground was worn and scattered with cow dung from the presence of so many of them, and soon the primary scene became shops with clothes hanging out front, shoes left haphazardly in entrances, and men reading newspapers or helping customers.

Some of the shops sold bangles or jewelry, and a few had prayer beads and statues of gods. The clothing shops were colorful and often had one side dedicated just to the color white. At the end of the block, past signs for restaurants and upstairs areas that had people peeking out for customers, was an area under an overpass, filled with large blue rickshaws. They were bigger than rickshaws, in reality, and closed in. They held a lot of people, and I understood that they were a form of public, communal taxi. 

I ended up walking farther and finding more shops, less dedicated to clothing, more focused on other things. I saw more taps, dodged more motorbikes, and worked my way to the end of a strip along the river and a pedestrian bridge that often heard the blaring horns of motorbikes attempting to sidle through. 

It’s hard to describe in accurate detail how each of these sights come upon you. There were tarps with women selling magnets, sitting in front of walls with postcards. There were stores that oozed out onto the road. When I passed back it became mostly a covered walkway, peeking out only onto buildings with gaps into blue. Most everywhere I looked was a postcard.

Back on the terrace, out the window of the cafe, was one distinct tree. So green against the backdrop of blue, it obstructed my vision. It stood out like someone had carved it into a masterpiece, so unaffected by the chaos of below. So vibrant like everything else.

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