I'm on yet another one of my yatras, a Hindu pilgrimage, with my mother. Our quest for spiritual enlightenment started the second we got off the plane starring our customs officer. Upon hearing of our purpose in India, he waxed enlightened poetry informing us those who bathe in the Ganga* in the town of Haridwar wash away all their sins. From this life & past lives. Making it an ideal place for murderers, thieves & general criminals to live, doing their mischief by day & bathing away their sins every night. Our customs guy thought this sounded like a sound way to live life & was contemplating a move to Haridwar to live such a life.
This made me wonder if (a) my Hindi is not as good as I think it is & I simply misunderstood him or (b) he was waiting for us to agree with him, giving him a reason to deny stamping our passports.
After simply smiling & nodding our bobble-head doll heads at him, our customs guy stamped away & we left our enlightened teacher behind. Only to be stopped by another customs guy behind the desk of our original customs guy demanding our passports to check if they were stamped. Which they were. Five seconds previous.
This made me wonder if (a) we looked like the kind who would walk away from a customs desk without getting a stamp or (b) our new customs guy knew of our original customs guy's life of crime retirement plan & was trying to catch him already practicing his criminal ways.
The purpose of this specific yatra is to visit 4 temples perched at 4 different mountaintops in the Himalayas. First one involved a 5k trek. Straight up the side of the mountain. Doable by just putting one foot in front of the other, thinking of all the future gym sessions I'll be skipping & taking one scenic snapshot after another. After 2.5 hours of huffing & puffing & sweat dripping off my nose like I'm a U.S. Open winning tennis player, landed at 10,500 feet up to dip in an ancient hot water spring, followed by a dip in the icy cold source of the River Yamuna, aka the river that flows past the Taj Mahal, & then a prayer ceremony honoring the the Goddess Yamuna.
And as with all things that go up that must go down, so I did. Kinda figured going down would be easier than going up. And easier it was if easier is defined by sprinting head first straight down a mountain propelled by something called gravity. Not easier if defined by the necessity of dodging other yatris (people doing yatras), loose rocks & horses. Lots & lots of horses. And where there are lots & lots of horses, there is lots & lots of horse poo. Must confess I was not as sure footed as I envisioned I was & almost face planted into a pile of it. And not the old, dry kind. The fresh, new kind. Also must confess I am more nimble than I envisioned I would be in said moment & managed to make it down the mountain without giving myself a complimentary facial.
Onto the next mountain.
*Hindi, Gujarati, Panjabi, Bengali, Tamil, basically every Indian language word of the day...Ganga, the holiest of holy rivers in India. But Ganges River to those who follow the British naming system. Also one of the most polluted rivers in the world from millenniums of bathing people, bathing animals, sprinkling of cremated ashes & dumping of the half burned bodies of those not fully cremated. Started our first morning in India by blending in with the locals on a sunrise walk to bathe in said river. 6 years ago on my first yatra, the heavily polluted water & my preference for all things hygienic only allowed me to dip just my feet. This time, I decided to go all in. My foot dip of years past led to a riverside chat with Shiva, a Hindu god, a realization of my humanitarian photography career & the founding of a nonprofit. I expect my full body dip of today to lead to either (a) becoming a new research specimen for the CDC or (b) a Nobel Peace Prize. At this moment, it really could go either way.