Feeling: HARRASSED, FRIGHTENED, UNSAFE
India. They say no other place on earth will fascinate you – or frustrate you – more.
Sunday; day off. Once again, Eva and I made plans to go exploring. This meant rikashawing to Rishikesh centre, then back to the smaller part of Lakshman Juala and Ram Juala which are accessed by massive footbridges.
The past fortnight has been home to the pilgrimage in Rishikesh, with hundreds of thousands of young men flocking to attain holy water from the River Ganges and rejoice at the Shive Temple. Think Spring Break in America, or Schoolies in Aus x 2000. Swarms of sweaty, overexcited males marching in packs through the streets. The waft of BO invading your nostrils becomes commonplace, and an armpit smushed against your face soon no longer makes you shudder; it becomes quite the regular occurance.
At first it was wonderful to watch. The atmosphere was buzzing, there was chanting and hand holding and the favoured orange clothing meant the crowds looked like flickering flames. We were asked for photo upon photo upon photo, where at first we always said yes. After awhile it grew extremely tiresome. Then, at one point, a little unsafe.
We’d trekked along to Ram Juala as the nearest ATM wasn’t working in Lakshman Juala. I have grown quite used to the constant staring and usually just ignore it or shoot a smile here and there, but as we walked down a slope of track the eyes on us suddenly felt menacing. I had just gotten some money out and it felt like thousands of eyes watched as I walked out of the cubicle, so my bag was clasped to my chest and I was on edge. Eva leant close and said, “I don’t feel safe here.” I agreed so we decided to scarper.
At the top of the hill another group approached us asking for “one snap please, one snap!”. A request for one always ends up being a full photo shoot, with each male in turn wanting his own of him with you. “No,” we said firmly, feeling bad; we are such a foreign concept to some of these people, they just want to capture us on their phone. I feel guilt at denying them a little bit of happiness. Usually the men disperse when you shake your head two or three times, but this crowd was persistent.
They swarmed around us, jostling us and made me lose sight of Eva. I’m claustrophobic at the best of times, and to be caught in the middle of a hive of men pressing in on me was terrifying. It was truly like one suffocating mosh pit. I managed to push my way through to the side, where a shop keeper pulled me into his store and harshly and rapidly spoke to the men in Hindi.
Eva got out too and we stood in the shop until the group finally went on their way. I was pretty shakey. I know they meant no harm at all, but I had felt really scared and fearful.
On finally reaching the footbridge to take us back to the ashram we were told it was one-way until 8pm.
Unfortunately, this “one-way” was the opposite flow of where we wanted to go. Begging to get through to no avail, men were starting to surround us again with phones out, snapping away. We were frustrated and just wanted to go home, so I invented a sore tummy and turned on some fake tears.
Vala! Instantly the unyielding “no”‘s on part of the policemen became beckoning hands to push us through against the tide. Eva and I had to stifle our laughter so as not to give away my pretence. The bridge rocked to and fro, absolutely crammed with people. When we reached the other side I felt like I could finally breathe again.
The streets were madness. Absolute and utter madness. Not just throngs of people, but also cows, dogs and monkeys scampering around. It was abuzz. It was awful. It was awesome.
India; it’s insanity.