I was about to take a photo of a elegantly tall and beautifully orange temple by the shores of the Ganges, from the very same bridge I crossed in Indiana Jones style yesterday, when a man in orange robes approached me. “Hello”, he said, “My name is … [I forgot]. I am a monk, could I speak with you?” Well, of course he could, I am here partially on a spiritual quest, aren’t I? In a rehearsed English, he began to describe that we are soul, the One soul created by Krishna and that we inhabit this body for one lifetime only, but the soul lives on. His English was difficult to understand, but since I knew the gist of his message I could guess the content of his speech and ask questions in the appropriate places, the kinds of questions that tricks a monk into thinking you understand him fluently. He was so delighted with me that he invited me to sit on a bench. We must have been quite a sight because tourists, India and otherwise, used the excuse of a 60 Lbs monkey behind us to take out photo. I wasn’t fooled. I have used that trick many times myself to photograph people and places without permission. After he exhausted his basic speech, seeing I was still interested, he started to recite some of the yoga sutras and translating them with commentary. This was great because the yoga sutras are required reading for the teacher training, and I have only made it half-way through the book. My homework done for me. Finally he said. “The body is temporary, life is temporary, everything of this world is temporary, but a monk’s blessing is permanent. You have a good soul. I would like to bless you in my temple.”
So I followed the monk in orange robes to his temple. Yes, I expected there would be some funds involved in this, there always is. But, a little cash to get into a temple where entry is only allowed when accompanied by a monk seemed a worthy investment to me. My curiosity would not have allowed me to quit the conversation then.
Once inside the temple, I was introduced to the deities. Shiva and Krishna and friends. Sorry, I was in a bit of a “this is soooo cool” overload and I forgot the names of the deities as soon as I had repeated them, as instructed. We walked down a long dark corridor that circled the chamber of deities. About 3/4 ways around the chamber, the monk stopped and leaned his head against the wall towards the deities. He said a quick prayer and we continued on, popping back out into the main entrance. Once there, we sat in front of a picture of what looked like a Yogi master with a Hitler mustache. I’ll get back to the Hitler thing if I have time … I saw other strange Hitler images in town. We sat crossed legged and in a very ceremonious way, the monk blessed me. Then he explained that his mission was to bring knowledge to the people about their true nature but also to help the poor and the orphans through donations, like mine. 500 roopies is customary. “Could I take photos” I ask – this is a trick I learned when I was a photographer. Sometimes a little cash will get you the best photos. I think of it as a modelling fee. I probably would have donated without the added incentive of photos, but it was nice to be allowed to document the temple, if nothing else for my own remembrance of the adventure. He was so pleased with my donation that we went through the whole blessing ceremony a second time. He then taught me a sacred series of pressure point that will guarantee my eyes stay healthy and a breathing technique to calm the mind, which actually seems to work very well.
Apparently, once you are blessed by a monk of this order, you can stay for free for up to a month in any of the mission house they run anywhere in the world.
That was that. I went back to the bridge, took the photo of the orange temple, walked down to the river, sat on a rock for a while, had an amazing meal of palaak paneer at a small restaurant overlooking the Ganges. I wish today was a groundhog day.
What else happened?
I walked everywhere I could walk, and everywhere I went people were incredibly friendly, saying Hello, smiling, waving. In a few occasions they asked if they could have their photo taken with me. Was it the dragon hat? I later met Carolyn, blond blue eyed German girl and we wandered the streets of Rishikesh together in search of an ATM for her (I have a map – there is a story just in how I found the map, but you already got the monk story, so that’s all I’ll have time for today). She always was a choice model for the locals.
We took a boat across the Ganges, filled with women in colorful robes who sang of Om, shanti and Shivaya all the way across, while the men amused themselves by spashing each other with the water (I partook in the second – this earned me more photo taking).
A beggar asked me, “Excuse me, can you help me?” I said “Maybe, what do you need?”. He said “I am schizophrenic”. He said this so sadly and truthfully. I said “I’m sorry I can’t help you”. He nodded, understandingly.He was still there this afternoon, and he still was asking for help.
A man walked onto the bridge with a sandwich. Balanced on a thin cable, this monkey comes running to him, jumps off, climbs the front of the man’s jacket, steals his sandwich literally out of the his mouth and runs away, back to balancing on the cable, well out of reach. I was most impressed with the maneuver and made a mental note to not eat a sandwich on the bridge.
I also figured out why I was lost yesterday . There are TWO bridges and their names sound identical to my foreigner’s ears.
Carolyn and I are making hiking plans. Rishikesh is in a very scenic area. We are surrounded by small but steep mountains, possibly climbable in a day. I feel that just past these are the ones I long to see, the majestic snow capped jagged Himalayan peaks.
The yoga teacher training starts tomorrow evening, with an opening ceremony. I will likely not have as much time for outside adventures for the rest of this weekn (but who knows what inner adventures I am about to embark upon).
An hour sure goes by fast when you have stories to tell.
Love to all. Namaste.