By Jack Newton
I can’t say for sure this was our second day in India or not, but after today I am certain we are indeed in India. Traveling takes a lurching motion—there is a rush of action, and as soon as it comes, there is nothing but rumbling and perhaps a little motion sickness for a few hours. India does not convey immediately a sense of unfamiliarity. Trees? Familiar. Buses? Familiar. Even dogs in the streets are familiar to an extent, as is a wide river.
Thus, I begin to think to myself, “How different can another place on Earth be?” Of course, this lack of awareness stemmed from my mysterious illness, which (ironically enough) we suspect had something to do with culture shock if not food poisoning.
And so I spent the first day and a half in the most foreign place I have ever been in a state of surreal quality, slipping in and out of lifelike and misleading dreams. Even swimming in the heinously cold waters of the Ganges, I remained unconvinced.
It was only the local terraced village that caused a change—I am here. I followed five cows across the river on a precarious suspension bridge, its asphalt floor bouncing merrily at the every step. The cows were going home for the night; I was entering a foreign country. The village is built into the hillside. There is not room to expand, given that the location is perched on a hillside between cliffs and a river gorge, so the buildings, the terraced crop-gardens, and the livestock pens coexist on top of each other. Stairs branch off the main path and lead to rocky alcoves and more doors. Irrigation canals run parallel to the path, and at one point, water flows over our feet because someone has temporarily diverted it using rocks. A woman with a bundle set impossibly still on her head marches passed the wall of the local primary school. A holy man, sworn to twelve years of total silence, speaks his mind through a brass bell at the cave shrine.
And all the while, I draw sense from this natural order, just as the villagers draw sustenance from mountain springs that feed the Ganges. Once I crossed over with the cows, I woke from a chain of dreams. I am here, back in business. We are nose and tongue-deep in India.
Cross your bridges as they come, and never be afraid to follow the cows, even if there is only one inch or two separating you from a perilous drop into glacial water. Dig in to the sand, and stack a few river-tumbled stones, feeling the power of the Ganges in the palm of your hand. Take in everything because even that which looks familiar can wake you up upon a closer look.