My wonderland bubble was about to burst!
The town was getting crowded; pilgrim season had started. Each year people arrive from all over the country to pray on the shores of the Ganges, visit their Gurus in the Ashrams and to offer holy water to Lord Shiva in the Neelkanth Temple. The bridges leading to Ramjhula and Laxmanjhula were so crowded, that crossing them could easily take more than half an hour.
For a foreigner this season can become kind of annoying. There are many villagers among the pilgrims, who probably never saw a Westerner in all their life, not even on T.V.
To leave the guesthouse for a cup of chai, turns into a challenge. Once you are out on the street, Indian women point at you giggling and groups of young fellows look at you in most uncomfortable ways whispering behind your back. It is not a good idea to get yourself into posing for a souvenir snap. If you do so, you will be expected to stand there for hours, because the entire group also wants at least one shot with a smiling Westerner. In the meantime a long queue with more pilgrims is waiting for their turn. Indians can be really persistent and it is almost impossible to break out of the situation without getting rude.
If you did not give up and eventually made it to the chai shop, you will probably be sitting in the middle of a lot of young male pilgrims, who will be staring at you constantly without even blinking. To us this might feel pretty uncomfortable, but staring is actually not considered impolite in India. As a foreigner you turn automatically into the center of attraction. It is irrelevant what you wear or what you do and it doesn’t make any difference if you are just sitting there doing nothing or if you are performing a hula dance; people will just stare. Feel free to do the same, there is no need to feel shy if you want to find out more about an unusual situation that attracts your attention.
Another fact is that if you have spent a longer time in Ramjhula, you automatically become part of the local society and its gossip. Sometimes it is better not to understand Hindi, I guess.
I was pretty surprised, when several strange Sadhus approached me in a funny way to give me some unasked spiritual advises about how to reach illumination and telling me stories about their superpowers. Each time the encounter ended with this guideline, referring to my Baba:
“This Baba no good, you take care! You better no meet!”
Actually they wanted to convince me that hanging out with them instead would be much wiser and they were more than likely trying to woo away a Western sponsor.
Things are really not easy when you (are a woman and) befriend a Baba in Rishikesh. The police was constantly annoying us. Some said that their duty is to protect the female travelers from getting into trouble, but my impression was rather that they tried to make life impossible for us to get some baksheesh out of the situation. The police would stop us on the street and sternly insist that I was not allowed to go along with this Baba. We were not even doing anything wrong or unmoral such as holding hands or kissing in public.
The police even appeared out of nowhere to make trouble when we were just sitting at a chai stall with friends or playing an innocent game of LUDO together with a couple of Sadhus in the shadow of a tree. I started to wonder if they were spying on me. I tried to convince them that I am a grown up and may walk with whoever and wherever I wished. This did not impress them much and they even threatened to beat Baba up or to put him into jail. I wondered with which reason they would imprison Baba. But if they really wanted to do so, they would probably invent any silly motive. I already had learned that the Indian police doesn’t waste much time with talking, they don’t hesitate to pull out their clubs and proceed to the so-called “Bamboo-massage”.
Eventually we ended up walking on the road separately to meet up somewhere later on. What happened to our freedom?
All the signs were pointing to the same direction:
The time had come to move on!