Sunday, March 18, 2012

Heading Home

The last three days of our trip proved to be relatively quiet compared to the hectic pace of those preceding them.  The day after the conference was Holi, a very sacred “Holiday of Colors” for the Hindu folks to welcome in the Spring.  Not only do they throw bright colored tempura paint powders, but water.  Prudence and I stayed in late and when we finally decided to head over to the university campus To see who remained after the conference, We found that most of the activities had died down and only a few groups of rowdy young men remained, offering us no difficulties at all.   At the guest house, we found many of our friends bearing evidence of the festival we had just missed.  Two of our Indian friends said that we must not pass the day without being at least gently blessed and preceded two daub our foreheads in red and yellow tempura. 

I obviously missed the real party!

Prudence soon discovered another tour was afoot, but being afraid it would involve more walking, I declined and left Prudence to return to my room, once again playing Frogger racross the busy street.  I took the day to rest, and hand write the majority of notes for my reports as well as packing.  Prudence returned about eight that evening, estatic with her day's activities.  They had apparently visited two Ashrams, where they were treated like royalty, and Prudence finally was gifted with a prayer shawl; a really lovely thing which was very sheer and had green, gold, and red threads running through the border.  We completed our packing and went to bed.

The next morning about nine, we took our luggage down to the lobby, I paid the bill, and asked whether the cab we had ordered to Delhi was on schedule.  It was no surprise to discover that a new person was on the desk and knew nothing about the cab to Delhi, but said that he could order it forthwith and did so scheduling it to arrive at 10.  We had originally expected to share the cost of this cab up with two other people, but one of them discovered he had had to leave the day before, and the other simply fail to materialize.  The cab showed up at ten thirty promptly.  It was a minivan with comfortable seats and plenty of room for our luggage.

The trip back cost about $100 U.S.  But proved to be worth it as it gave us a wonderful View of daily life in Northern India.  It also took considerably less time and trouble than the train, as it dropped us directly at the hotel.  We spent the rest of the day at the hotel unpacking and catching up on e-mail and report writing as this was our first re-connection with the Internet.

The next day we decided to go to the mall which offered us a free shuttle from the hotel.  We were disappointed however to discover that this mall was actually a very high end European mall which offered exactly the same things at the same prices that we could find in San Francisco and would never consider buying.  We went to the auto stand and caught a tic-tic back to our hotel.  Then we decided to walk the neighborhood.  Actually, there was a method to our madness, as I feared it that my luggage would be over 50 pounds, and I was looking for a small roller board that I could carry on to help alieviate the weight.  A nice shopkeeper who spoke English directed us to a store called The Bizarre at the end of the block.  This was where the regular folks shopped, and we had a great time picking out Sori  fabric and some cute fabric combinations that were designed to be a skirt, tunic and a matching scarf.  These were running about $6.00 apiece and contained about 6 yards of material.  Oh,  and I also found a carry on.

Happy, walked and shopped out, we began a walk back to the hotel.  On the way Prudence discovered a pharmacy, and asked if it were possible to buy Valium.  It turned out that they would sell no more than 30 pills of 5 mg diazepam for 50¢.  Anything else needed a prescription.  As these cost me $2.00 apiece in the states, and I the only things that alieve the leg cramps and seizures, I purchased what I could, and Prudence purchased more.  It proved to be useful on the plane.  Once we dropped our purchases at the hotel, Prudence made one more trip out to the hardware store next door, and ended up bringing back the sillest light.  It was a white plastic shaped Om symbol with red and blue flashing LED lights.

The next morning at six the hotel called a cab to the Airport and we began a long trek home at the same hour of the morning in which we had originally started.  We reach the Airport way too early, having been told that check-in was a long and arduous process.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.  We had ordered wheelchairs, which was fortunate as it would've had to walk about a quarter of a mile, but because we had packed prudently and well, we zoomed through the check-in process, and found ourselves in the waiting area 2 hours early.  I must say that the New Delhi International Airport is one of the most modern and beautiful airports I have seen in my travels.  It even has lounge chairs for people with long layovers to lay back and rest, which we did. The rest of the trip home was uneventful.  Greg met us at the Airport, and we drove straight home, dropping prudence off on the way.
In retrospect, it's clear that most of the problems we had in India were a result of our own inability to prepare properly.  In general we found that the people were warm, welcoming, helpful and generous.  The conference was well planned, and I would not have missed it for twice the trials and tribulations.  The next conference will be held in three years somewhere in Southern India I believe, and already I find myself looking forward to attending.  I hope you have enjoyed the report and I leave you with a video of some of the entertainment that was provided by the indigenous populations of the world.

In her service and yours
R Watcher, National Interfaith Representative

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rachael at Pagan conference in India #2

The first day of the actual conference started with a few sunrise ceremonies, two of them indigenous pipes ceremonies. As I missed the pipe ceremony of the indigenous Canadian Dene (which was actually held at sunrise, go figure) I attended the Lacota Sioux pipe ceremony presented by Patricia and her daughter Lila.

They chose to hold this particular ceremony in a gazebo located in the center of a meditation garden. This garden was actually an acu-pressure walk in which every path was covered in some type of texture. The sides of the path were cemented in marbles while the middle of the path had tiny pyramids of points. Walking off the path was useless. It was covered in construction gravel. As it was required that you remove your shoes, by the time I got to the gazebo, I was in no small amount of pain. Henceforth Prudence and I began to refer to this “meditation” garden as the "acu-torture” garden. It even had pedestals covered in the same texturizing so that you could lean on them with your hands. I truly admired all of the people who did not make it into the small gazebo, and had to stand outside on the textured walks barefoot during the entire ceremony. I had a series of small round bruises on the bottom of both feet for almost the entire conference.

By the time that ceremony was complete, everyone was beginning to form up for the parade. Many traditions brought entire contingencies with costuming, banners and often musical instruments. The parade was led by the local university band, and followed by over 450 pagan and indigenous folks representing people from all over the world. We were supposed to walk three abreast, but as groups begin to sing, play their native instruments, and dance; things quickly broke down into a synergistic cacophony of sound, color, and motion. It was all great fun as many groups merged with others and everyone shared dancing and singing.

We moved along in this manner for almost a kilometer before we came to the auditorium at which point all the groups filtered in and sat down. While it's true that Patrick was there, he was walking with his own group that he had helped found, and Prudence was walking with her "homies", the Lithuanians, due to the fact that they needed a priestess and she had her cool outfit. This left me alone as one of only three Witches in the parade and the only Gardnerian. Note to self, next time bring a posse, or failing that at least a banner.

Once inside the auditorium, I headed directly for the "journalist" section in the front row hoping to be able to grab lots of photos. My hopes however, were soon dashed, as the president of the International Center For Cultural Studies, Dr. Radheshyam Dwivedi, one of the sponsoring foundations, came up to me, grabbed my bag, told meet remove my shoes, and lead me up to the stage where about 20 or so honored Elders had been seated. Before I realized what was happening, I had a prayer shawl thrown around my neck, and my forehead anointed with saffron and rice. I was then lead to a seat in the back row center where all I could see was the back of heads with bright lights shining in my eyes. So much for photos. Prudence tells me that there were 30 elders up on the stage with me but that at the time neither she nor Patrick, who was also on the stage, knew that I was there.

The opening plenary and the process by which it was conducted became the pattern for all plenary and workshop openings thereafter. This session was opened with everyone chanting a Hindu prayer of Ohm, while the sacred lamp was lit by a visiting dignitary. In this case prayers from each of the visiting traditions, ours represented by Patrick, and thanks for this opportunity to meet were offered up, and the session closed with another prayer in Hindi.

Once the plenary was over we all headed to a huge tent where lunch was served. Needless to say this was all vegetarian Indian food. The quality of food throughout the conference was excellent, if you liked vegetarian, Indian Food. There was plenty of help behind the tables to explain each dish, and let us know whether or not it was spicy (according to their tastes). Some of the foods that they assured us were not spicy… Well they tried. Rice was always present and there were an abundance of bananas and oranges that were fresh in a way that we don't often see here in the states. I would always grab one or two oranges and a banana, a little rice and something designated as "mild" to put over the top of the rice. This became my eating habit for lunch and dinner. I would have a banana and an orange for breakfast. Prudence and I ordered many plates of Spring rolls and French fries from room service at our hotel in the late evenings as well and often had left over Spring rolls for breakfast. Neither Prudence nor I ever seem to have had any dietary problems during the conference.

The afternoon sessions were generally set aside for workshops, and this first day was no different. However, as most of the workshops were on various discussions of Hindu practices, meditation, and yoga, I skipped them to try and secure a cell phone. This turned out to be a major undertaking. I could not simply walk into a shop and buy a cell phone. I had to present to them a copy of my passport, my original passport, a copy of my visa, my original visa, a second photo ID for which I used my driver’s license, and a second original passport photo. That took most of the afternoon after which I returned and my room for drugs and a bit of a rest prior to dinner. Have I mentioned that I was walking a lot?

After dinner we met in the auditorium once again this time for entertainment. During the following four days various ethnic groups presented dances, songs, ritual poetry, and recitation of traditional stories and epics. The sessions lasted until about nine thirty in the evening at which time everyone retired to bed. Exhausted, Prudence and I were soon fast asleep.

After the opening day, mornings were reserved for ritual ceremonies and explanations from varying groups, divided by regions of the world. One very delightful ritual consisted of a group of indigenous Kurdish people explaining the ritual of putting a baby into a crib for the first time. The most remarkable thing about this crib is that it is very large (though they used only a small model during explanations), and has a hole in the middle for urine to drain. Not only does the crib have a hole, but the padding for the crib has a hole, and the sheet that is wrapped around the child also has a hole. A hollow funnel made from a lamb’s bone is placed between the baby's legs, along with a small pillow to keep the legs apart and the child is bound in the blanket in this manner, and then bound into the cradle which is carried by the mother. Along with the mother, other female relatives are present to help, and all sing to the child as the father plays on an instrument.

After a couple of hours of ritual displays, tea was served, and then the sets of workshops began. As is too usual, in most cases it was difficult to choose which workshops to attend. Unfortunately this university was not handicapped accessible, and all workshops were being held up stairs, so it had to be a very interesting workshop indeed to entice me. Often I would forgo the workshop sessions in order to have private conversations among other attendees. It was during one of these conversations that I was informed that my long workshop would be the next day. I found this particularly interesting, as I had not planned a workshop.

All of these "workshops" were actually modeled on the academic panel with a respondent. The person acting as the respondent on my panel asked me what I would be addressing. The only thing I could think of that corresponded to the theme of the conference “Nourishing the Balance of the Universe” was why Wicca was growing so quickly in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia among a demographic of 18 to 30 somethings, which of course was pure guesswork on my part. I briefly explained traditional Wiccan practice, it's values and its ethical system of personal responsibility and least harm. I then proceeded to explain that it was my belief that many young people were choosing Wicca because it allowed them to be spiritual without the detritus of thousands of years of " thou shalt or shalt not" and also to integrate science and religion without cognitive dissidence. I chose to represent Wicca as a new religion rather than trying to explain how we felt about reconstruction.

I was challenged on 3 points. The first was what I meant by secular, as Indians have never experienced the secular in the manner that we have here in United States. The second was why a new religion would be necessary, and the third was why I was distinguishing my religion from "your" religion and shouldn't we all be working toward one religion rather than developing new ones. My answers were simple. First I explained secularism as we practice it in the United States, and that until recently no prayers were allowed in schools or any gov't function local or national. The audience was somewhat surprised. Secondly I explained that apparently a new religion was necessary as it was answering some fundamental need or would not be growing at such an amazing rate. Third I explained that one religion could not possibly suit everyone's needs as we are each of us, unique individuals of unique understanding and experience, and that many religions did not necessarily mean a segregation of people, but rather a means by which each person could connect with deity in a way that was most comfortable to them and that that was what we should all be striving toward rather than insisting that all individuals fit one mold.

I was followed by a Swami who did a marvelous job of reiterating some of my more important points by saying that no one's religious practice should be restricted by traditions that might no longer apply and that spiritual growth was more important than following religious rules just because they were there, though she was much more eloquent than I.

I had not felt particularly good about my talk as it was rushed and I'd had no time to really consider what I wanted to say, but I must've made some kind of impression, because during and following lunch after the session many people came up to discuss points that I had brought up and I was amazed to see how many people had actually followed and thought about what I said. One young man asked if young people were not coming to Wicca just to learn magic. I said that I was sorry that he didn't bring up that question at the workshop as it was not only a valid but very important question. “Yes” I said, young people did come to Wicca thinking that they could just learn magic but when they realized that some years of training and self-discipline would be involved before they would even be introduced to the topic, they usually left. I was also happy to be able to clarify many of the points that I had not had time to do during my talk. The gentleman who had originally questioned me was absolutely certain that he was an atheist because he felt that god was an all things. I asked him if he felt that the god was still alive or had withdrawn he assured me that god was alive and manifest within all parts of the universe. I was then able to explain to him that in fact he was not an atheist but rather a Panentheist as was, in fact I.

After lunch Prudence and I headed back to the room to freshen up, it was inordinately hot and muggy that day, and decided to rest a bit before dinner. We rested right through dinner and the entertainment and probably would not have awakened for the rest of the night had the hotel not pounded on our door at 9:30 PM to ask for copies of our passports and visas. We were mortified. Worse, everyone was worried about us. You would think that two old women would not particularly be missed among 450 colorful pagans and indigenous persons, but apparently we were. And thus we spent the next morning explaining that we simply fell asleep and failed to wake up. Fortunately, everyone found this humorous and chalked it up to jet lag, which I suppose it may have been.

On the last morning, seven fire ceremonies from seven different traditions around the world were all held at the same time. It is utterly impossible to describe the energy that was raised. Everyone who was not directly involved in putting on one of these rituals, traveled from ritual to ritual observing, taking part in, and being energized by these wonderful rituals. The Lithuanians offered a traditional barley drink for us, and amber dust for the fire. The Lakota pipe ceremony smudged us from the smoke of the pipe, and my wrists were tied in many different twines and cords as blessings ( I still have one on each wrist which show no signs of fatigue). My forehead was painted bright red and people danced around me and Momma Nana, an eighty year old delegate from Ghana, because we could not dance for ourselves.

I was highly amused that, having raised all this energy, the organizers somehow thought that they could simply tell everyone to move on to the workshop sessions. It took almost an hour to finally get people to settle down and move toward the workshops. I do not know how to explain the difference in energy and attitude in this gathering and those interfaith gatherings of which I have been a part in the past. Of course in the past the primary religions present were Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. These gatherings are always circumspect and energy and even when they make an effort, is somewhat subdued. This could not have been further from the case at this conference. Dancing, singing, and sharing ritual were all open, spontaneous, and synergistic. No one was worried that they might hurt someone else's feelings, or shock them, or elicit unwanted proselytization. The only way I can describe it, and I mean no disrespect to any other religions, is that there was no fear—no fear to share, no fear to be heard, no fear to be seen as you really are, no fear of hurting anyone by saying something wrong—no fear; just joy in mutual celebration, love and respect.

Many of the speakers during these workshops were amazing in their ability to tie previous information together. One such example was the talk that Dr. Piotr Wensch gave. A professor of Anthropology in Poland, he too discovered that he was giving a talk only a few hours before he was scheduled. In a previous talk a First Nations Elder spoke of the Europeans having brought the killer bees to America. Not, he said, those South American Illegal immigrants that were replacing our own domestic bees but rather the three "B"s of European conquest, The Bible, the Bottle, and the Bullet.

Peter spoke of how in the 13th, through 16th centuries, people in Poland believed that they were part of a migration out of India. However when the Russians came in the 18th to 19th centuries, these old beliefs were denigrated and set aside. New DNA testing however, has proven that they were exactly correct, and in areas of Poland and Lithuania people share as much as 80% of northern Indian DNA. He then went on to say that here too the Europeans had brought their killer "Bs". However, he said, they brought a modern version; the bible, broadcasting, and still, the bullet.

I was constantly amazed at the amount of new information I was picking up in the workshops I was able to attend. Amazed also that, like myself, many of these presentations were put together at the last minute. Just goes to show, an authentic elder can talk about anything at the drop of the hat, war bonnet, cap...insert other headgear here.

On the last afternoon, during the closing plenary, the first speaker spoke of old rituals, and a time to learn new ones. He suggested that we now engage in an important new ritual. "First" he said, "everyone remove your cell phones from your pockets or purses. Now everyone hold them above your head. Move them to your left, move them to your right, and now bring them down so that they are even with your eyes and look at them carefully. Now turn them off and put them away. With this new ritual we have learned respect." You Gotta love it!

During this plenary several young people, who are already acting as leaders in their respective communities spoke to the importance of continued efforts on behalf of indigenous people and the preservation of culture. They were both eloquent and impressive. Everyone who had anything to do with anything was thanked, the university and all of its students who volunteered so diligently were also thanked and four Indigenous leaders were recognized for their years of hard work in preserving their indigenous traditions by being issued honorary Ph.Ds. Two of these leaders are acquaintances of mine; Jonas Trincunas, leader of the Romuva tradition in Lithuania, and Tata, a leader of the Mayan elders Council of Guatemala. A Maori Leader was also honored and immediately the rest of the Maori contingent stood and danced the traditional ceremony of thanks. Their spontaneity and inhibition were fresh and a delightful breath of fresh air.

After the plenary, things ended quickly. Everyone went out to the buses and with hugs, brief exchanges of contact information, and waves of goodbye most of the delegates left and the conference was ended for another three years.

In her service and yours
Rachael Watcher

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rachael's first report from Pagan/Indigenous Conference in India

(This is Rachael Watchers report on her travels to a large annual Pagan/Indigenous Conference in  India. She traveled with Prudence Priest who represented  the North American branch of Romuva. Rachael represented CoG and the North American Interfaith Network. She was unable to file this report  any earlier because there were no reliable Internet connections where she was staying at the conference)
"I left home at 6AM on the 29th of February and today, March 5th, is the first moment that I have had to write anything. At that I am skipping presentations that I should be attending. Don always likes to say what doesn’t kill you makes a great story later. Nothing could be more true of our first night in India.

While our flight was uneventful, we started hitting speed bumps the moment we arrived at nine PM. Our luggage was the among the last off the flight and kept us at the wrong side of customs for over an hour. Once through customs at ten thirty, an hour later that expected, we could find no one there to meet us. Having no idea what arrangements had been made, we needed to call one of numbers left to us. Unfortunately we had no phone and the one that I had brought to put a new sim card in for use in India turned out to be locked. What’s more the sales person told us that if I were I to buy the sim in Deli, I would be paying roaming charges in Haridwar that were ridiculous. So now we had no phone, no idea where to go and no one to help.

Outside we met someone who suggested that we get a cab to the train station or just go on to Haridwar by cab since staying at a hotel in Deli would cost just as much and resolve nothing. We had no idea whether arrangements had been made for the train and we were told that it was booked weeks in advance so we decided to pay for a taxi.

Unfortunately Prudence had not called her credit card company nor bank to tell them she was traveling to India and so none of the machines would allow her to withdraw funds. We tapped my account out, scraped together the rest of the funds in US dollars, and caught a cab at what we later found out was a very high price. What we also found out was that this was probably the best thing we could have done. There were reservations for us on the train but it left at six in the morning and we would have had to wait on the floor of the station sitting on our luggage or whatever else we might have along with about a million other travelers. The train would have taken six hours to get to Haridwar and they stopped to check passports twice on the way, the delay adding to the time of travel. Add to that the fact that the seats were narrow and hard, and that the train was sold out and I really don’t think that my hip and back would and done well at all after 36 hours of travel, especially since I am told that there were many stairs and no one to help carry our luggage onto or off of the train.

As we left the airport it became apparent that there is no such thing as a freeway. The toll road out of Deli was indeed two lanes in each direction, but even that late at night the traffic was heavy. I will tell you now that that white line in the road is just there to serve as a suggestion as is the speed limit sign, in case anyone might be interested, which apparently they are not. Our driver would zip around slower trucks, cars and cabs with the greatest of abandon, honking all the time to let them know of his intentions, (apparently a part of road practice) directly into the headlights of on-coming traffic while explaining that he drove for 24 hours straight and then had 24 hours off and had never had an accident since 1975. “Don’t worry,” he would say, “you are perfectly safe.” I later discovered that its much worse during the day when the small three wheeled vehicles that they use for cabs called moto-rickshaws, or tic-tics, are on the road. These and the ever present scooters don’t even count as vehicles apparently and drivers just pass them with no room on the road at all. All of the larger trucks are labeled in the back in English “Please Honk” and the sound of horns everywhere close to a road is constant and pervasive. During the day even the divided toll road lanes with arrows to point the direction are only a suggestion as we saw cars going the wrong way several times. We stopped twice during our ride due to our passage between states where our driver had to pay road taxes and prove that he was registered to drive nationally. These places usually consisted of a shack with a fire in front of it, a few men milling around and trucks coming and going. I’ve seen a lot of these types of places in Mexico but Prudence, now on her way to car sickness from all the weaving in and out of traffic, exhausted (as was I) from travel, and not at all certain what was going on, did not want me to get out of the car at all in order to avoid drawing attention to us. However by this time I was hurting so badly from not being able to stretch out without having the weight of gravity upon me that I climbed out of the car and back into the front seat in order to put the seat back way back and straighten out from the neck to the knees at last which finally helped a great deal with the pain management.

After a three and a half hour white knuckle ride, the taxi driver dropped us at the train station in Haridwar because we had no idea where else to go and knew that someone was planning to pick us up there eventually. Unfortunately, while I never felt unsafe, it turned out that this was not the place I would have chosen to be without a translator at three in the morning. This station, too, was packed with people who were sleeping on the floor (there were no seats installed in the place) waiting for the train to arrive the next morning. The building smelled of mildew and urine and was in general pretty filthy. The street was not much help in inspiring hope, with cabbies waiting for the train to come in while standing around 55 gallon drums with fires burning in them to keep warm. Still no phone and no one apparently who spoke English. The only hotel that looked like it might even be vaguely worth investigating was closed leaving two other choices that made the brothel district of Tijuana look good. I do not mean to say that they were covered with prostitutes nor that the men hanging around were particularly unsavory; it was just the construction, lighting and a dozen other small things that that triggered those memories for me.

We soon became the curious center of a group of cab drivers who could see that we needed to go somewhere but could not communicate. Did I mention that we were trying to accomplish all this while freezing and needing a bathroom at the same time? Finally one man who was a bit older than the rest and about our age walked over and asked in English if we needed a ride. I asked him if he had a cell phone and might call one of the numbers that I had to ask for instructions as to where we needed to go. He dialed the phone and gave it to me. I told the person that I was talking to that we needed to know where we were going and he said to take the train to Haridwar in the morning. I told him that we were already in Haridwar at the train station, we’d be traveling for over 36 hours at this point without rest, we were freezing and totally lost. “What!!” he said. “ You are already in Haridwar? Ok tell the cab driver to bring you here.” “I’d love to but I have no idea where ‘here’ is and we don’t have any money left.” “Ok,” he replied “tell the cab driver to bring you to…” “Wait” and I handed back the phone to the person to whom it belonged.

There were a few seconds of conversation and the next thing Prudence and I knew our baggage and we were herded into a tic-tic, (open to the environment except for a roof) and off in directions totally unknown to us. We did arrive at the University safe and sound and were met by a friend who said that he expected to pick us up at five in the morning when the train got in. He was horrified to hear our story, paid the driver, and took us directly to our room in the guest house of the University where other early arrivals were staying.

Now I would love to say that at last we had arrived and our trials were over, but that would not quite be the truth. When we got to the room we discovered that it was actually group of guest rooms clustered around a common room which held the sink, toilet and shower to be shared in common. Well, said sink had a leak that had totally flooded the carpet in the room and, having removed our shoes as good visitors do, our socks got sopping wet. When I sat down on the bed to take them off I nearly broke my hips. The ‘bed’ consisted of a piece of ¾ inch plywood with a one inch thick horsehair pad on top. I swear to you on all that I hold holy that this ‘bed’ was harder than the floor in my living room which is cement with a foam pad and carpet. The one blessing was that the toilet was an American style commode. We were finally in bed by four AM and despite sleeping on such a hard surface and though I was freezing most of the night I finally got to sleep around six just as the sun was rising and morning chants were beginning all over campus, just 48 hours after leaving home.

Day 2
It seems that I have just closed my eyes when a helpful gentleman is knocking on our door telling us that breakfast is ready and there will be a tour to Rishikesh leaving at nine. NINE I wonder, what time is it now? Well that proved to be eight in the morning just two hours after I finally got to sleep.

I staggered down to the room where “breakfast” was being served to find that this consisted of a piece of cake, as in dessert cake, a rice based, tasteless, sort of mushy cake, a sourdough and caraway seed cake,and a horrid sort of instant Chai. I passed and because I didn’t want to miss the tour returned to the room to put on dry socks, (having forgotten that the floor was wet from the night before thereby getting my socks sopping once again while trying to get to my shoes outside the room).

As it turns out I needn’t have rushed. It took another couple of hours to get under way during which time Prudence and I made our own tea out of the hot water tap available on the Chai machine and ate some soda crackers that she had had the foresight to bring along. (I should mention at this point that most places in India seem to have installed reverse osmosis filtering machines in their buildings which purify the water within the entire building.) While trying to wash our faces and brush our teeth, we discovered that the sink did not work at all and that there was no hot water available in the shower. Heavy sigh.

While awaiting our transportation and our guide we met others who had arrived early and I discovered that I already knew one of our fellow sojourners; Elizabeth is Mayan and part of the Council of Mayan Elders with which Don and I are already working. We met in Barcelona during the Parliament there in 2002.

On the sidewalk we were passed by two young men walking monkeys that were about two and a half feet tall at the shoulder (on all fours) on ropes. These turned out to be the “monkey patrol” that regularly walked the campus in order to chase away a smaller type of monkey that turns out to be a real pest. We were told that occasionally these smaller monkeys even get into houses and attack and eat newborns but more regularly steal anything not glued down. The larger monkeys are a lovely shade of very light beige and referred to in the common vernacular as “black assed” monkeys.

The van finally arrived and we all piled in. Due to my inability to crawl over and around I got the front seat and promptly climbed aboard. Everyone laughed and the cab driver politely told me that I wasn’t allowed to drive in India. That was when I realized that the steering wheel was in front of me and I was on the wrong side of the car, or rather the driving mechanism was. Slightly embarrassed I changed sides and off we went.

Driving had not improved but now I had a first-hand view of the chaos from the front seat of the van, up high, close and very personal as it were. This morning instead of just headlights (which everyone leaves on bright by the way) there were massive lorries heading directly for us as the driver ducked quickly at the last minute between two tic-tics missing everyone on all sides by a foot at the most. This might have been complicated by the pedestrians, cattle, and monkeys in the street, but our driver carried on undaunted, as though these obstacles were invisible, which, it turns out, to him they were. I doubt that the pedestrians, nor the monkeys would have made much of an impact, but I still shutter when I contemplate the damage that one of the large Brahma bulls sleeping in the middle of the road would have done. They tell me that cattle like to sleep in the middle of the road because the constant passing of the vehicles keeps the flies from settling on them.

In due course we arrived in Rishikesh which is located in a steep canyon on either side of the Ganges. We parked on a hill above the town and began a walk down to a foot bridge (I use the term very loosely here, as Prudence refers to it as a motorcycle freeway). By this point I knew that I had pushed my luck as far as the walking went and so I said that I would wait on this side of the bridge while everyone walked across.

Those pesky monkeys known as “pink assed” monkeys were everywhere and totally fearless. Though they left people alone for the most part they would run right behind me on the wall upon which I was leaning while reading, brushing my head and the back of my neck in passing. A man with two dogs came by and I watched as two monkeys stood off against one dog, then the other dog joined the fray and the monkeys chose the better part of valor seeking sanctuary in the high towers supporting the bridge. Of course as soon as the dogs were gone they were back, a large male showing his distain by scratching his balls and then proceeding to jack off.

By the time they got back from the walk across the Ganges our young guide decided that we needed to go shopping and have lunch, which apparently was best accomplished on the other side of the bridge…go figure. So despite my best efforts to avoid more walking the party re-crossed the bridge. At this point one of the multitude of honking motorcycles caused Prudence to back into the side of the bridge to get out of the way and into a monkey that took a healthy swipe at her with its nails catching in her sweater and connecting with her skin. Luckily no skin got broken.

Once safely across the bridge our guide told us he wanted to show us two temples, and I told him that walking was fast becoming an issue as we had already covered about one and a half klicks and he appeared to be planning about two and a half more. His solution was to hire a jeep that drove us about 10 blocks to the temple that he wanted to show us.

He lined us all up and before entering the temple he gave each of us a Hindu name. This was not just an idle game for him but a sincere effort to honor each of us. He considered each of us carefully before naming us and continued to call us by those names for the duration of the conference as which he was ever present to help me get from place to place most quickly and easily. Me he named Upasna which he told me means Worship or Worshipful..

Digression alert! I’ve been a working hand on cattle ranches in my life and Brahma bulls were always something to be respected and kept at a very safe distance, preferably with a very sturdy fence between us. Keeping this in mind you can imagine my surprise when, feeling something nudging me from behind, I discovered a young bull pushing at me begging for a handout. I almost soiled myself right on the spot. Prudence later assured me that it would have been alright as it would doubles have been holy defecation. Cattle of all ages and surprisingly different breeds were all over the place. They were in good health and weight for the most part as well. I watched as street vendors fed them the remains of ground sugarcane stalks, dried out fry bread and other food stuffs that could not be sold. With pickins this easy its no wonder that they beat feet back to the city as soon as they can after the government rounds them up and tries to move them out to the country.

We walked through a maze of shops and shrines to various Gods. At one restaurant apparently named after some minor deity whose image was enclosed in a glass case, we saw two men totally painted, dyed and dressed to look exactly like that god and sitting in high chairs. They had bald heads save for one braided queue right at the crown of their head that stuck straight out for over a foot in length, enough to give the spiked punk hairdos a real run for their money. I am told that they sit there throughout the day during the operating hours of the restaurant and I have the impression that they are monks of this dignitary god serving him in this way. Two attendants stand at either side of these two men. The only thing that was not clear to me and still cannot be answered due to language barriers is whether it is presumed that these young men are actually considered to be carrying the God during this time.

And still we walked on. The young guide was kind enough to offer me his shoulder but I was clearly reaching my tolerance for further travel by foot and finally threatened him with having to carry me back if we went much farther. We finally stopped for lunch at a restaurant that allowed a view of the Ganges or Gange (both ‘g’s are hard in this pronunciation with a soft ‘a’ and ‘e’) as they call it, from the roof. Prudence and I told everyone to go ahead but we were NOT climbing the stairs as the large picture window was view enough thank you. We ordered a bottle of water and I ordered a spicy tomato and herb soup which was as good as those long ago Peruvian potatoes Don and I once had after a hard couple of days of travel. Hunger really is the best spice.

Hydrated, sated and rested we began the trek back. This turned out to be not half so grueling as we took a boat across the river where, after but a very brief walk our taxi was waiting to take us home.

We arrived around three in the afternoon and I immediately did drugs and laid down. At some time during the rest of the afternoon Prudence wandered out and I awoke with the usual result of too much exercise. Poor Prudence, never having actually witnessed this before despite long years of acquaintance, was beside herself trying to help. She finally got my drugs to me and then covered me up again with all the blankets she could find.

I remember nothing else until the morning when I was awakened by the morning chanting from around the campus.