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"Ganga in the mouth"

Accidental hydration and white water rafting

overcast 29 °C

Saturday night, Roshan had instructed all of the adventurous yogis (a handful of pansies stayed behind for various reasons) to meet at 9h30 on Sunday morning. So naturally we ambled out the back door punctually at 9h45 towards the center of town to catch jeeps upstream. As usual, our pack of non-Indian yogis in western clothes drew a hellofalotof attention. I was wearing shorts and a tank top and bringing up the rear with my ivory-skinned, blue-eyed, red-haired friend from Oklahoma. We dodged cameras left and right the whole way through Rishikesh. The new tactic: whenever some creepo points a cell phone camera our way (as if we don't know it's happening... puuuleeeaze), we stick our hands out, raise our eyebrows and insist on "Ten rupies!". The confused look on the amateur photographer's face was priceless. We walked on giggling to ourselves, stepping over cow dung, dodging motorcycles, oncoming rickshaws, and the man who seems to be on every corner selling bottles of henna ink.

After working up a little sweat we see G, one of our Indian friends from Yog Peeth, crossing the highway to a set of jeeps parked on the side of the road. Our rafts were strapped to the roofs, paddles in the trunks. We hoisted ourselves into the open trunk of the last jeep. I squatted among the paddles, and Nina made a bold move by sitting on the back door, feet in the jeep, arms holding onto the roof, red hair ready to fly freely in the breeze. The jeep lurches forward and we were off, winding away from the city into the hills, weaving around curves as if it weren't a two way street. "Six flags adventure!" yelled Nina through the roar of the petroleum truck our driver decided to pass. Some people hate being passengers in India. I kind of dig it--sure, it seems super dangerous and sometimes makes your stomach turn, but as one of our Indian buddies put it, "If you're too careful you can't survive on the road here. It's when you stop to think that you have an accident,". It doesn't make sense at first but the more you watch traffic here, the more you get it. You have to be impulsive and aggressive behind the wheel. If you're not, the other drivers who are will take you out. And with the ravines on either side of the road and the poor safety features on most vehicles here, it's not going to be pretty. Moral of the story, trust your driver, keep your cool and enjoy the rollercoaster.
I was having a ball in the back of that jeep, almost to the point where I didn't want to get out when we got to the rafting spot. I consoled myself knowing that the ride on the river would be just as exciting, if not more so. Plus, rafting was the reason I came out to begin with. So we jumped out of the jeep, put on some lifejackets and helmets by the side of the road, claimed our oars, and followed our rafts down from the highway to the river. After waiting for a while on the bank (everything is delayed in this country for no apparent reason if you haven't gathered that already), we formed a group of 8 and boarded our raft. Yog Peeth hired 4 rafts. We would be a motly fleet riding down the Ganga.

I'd been rafting once before, but for some reason I totally forgot the number one rule: DO NOT under any circumstances sit in the front. Sigh... I volunteered myself for destruction. As I took my suicidal position, clouds moved in for the monsoon to make its daily appearance. We were all instantly doused in a warm drizzle... mmmm. But before we could settle into the warmth and comfort of the rain, our guide yelled, "Paddle backward! Faster! Faster!" in his adorable Indian accent, and we were off. I guess learn-as-you-go is the policy here: note that we didn't really get an introduction on how to white water raft. Just a quick tip to sit in the "side compartment" of the boat, whatever the hell that means.

A couple minutes later we were coasting into our first rapid. "Faster! Faster!" screamed the guide over the gushing river. We complied, putting to use our well-toned shoulders (lots of sun salutations this week) and synchronized breath, propelling our raft forward into... "EEEEEEEEEEEEEHHH BIG FUCKING WAVE!!!". I was drenched immediately. "GANGA IN THE MOUTH! GANGA IN THE MOUTH!" screached Jessica from the position right behind me. Suppressing explosive laughter I tried to keep calm and focus on paddling, remembering my roommate Miles' warning that sometimes the guides tip the raft on purpose for comic value. I looked ahead to see what the rapid had in store for our inexperienced little boat just in time to see another giant wave coming our way. WWHHOOOSHHH. I might as well have been swimming in the Ganga. I was completely soaked.

"Anyone want to jump in?" our guide asked. Yeah, why not. I'm already covered in river water, might as well seal the deal. So I dropped my oar and leaped in the river after a few of my crewmates. Coldest. River. Ever. I screamed like a little girl and lasted about 15 seconds before making a friend pull me out by my lifejacket. It's shocking I didn't realize how cold it was when the rapids drenched me. I guess the adrenaline and excitement of lobbing up and down, side to side over the waves makes you desensitized from the icy quality of the Ganga. A couple people stayed in the water quite some time, hanging by a rope attached the the back of the raft. I have no idea how they did it. I thought my bones were going to freeze solid (In Anatomy class we learned that the bones are in fact soft! So this is not be being ill-informed about the consistency of bones, but actually a scientific observation!).

The rest of the rapids were pretty similar to that first one. They got a bit more intense I suppose, but generally I just took a lot of water to the face, in the nose, ears, mouth, eyes, and made it safely (save the bacteria I certainly ingested) back through downtown Rishikesh. We got to be those idiots that ride on rafts underneath the two footbridges-- I think I've described them in previous posts-- and scream up obnixiously at the people walking with our oars in the air. And then clearly we had to attack the other rafts to defend our honor as champions of the Ganga. I felt like a foot soldier on the front lines. Whenever anyone (including myself) launched holy water at other rafts, the retaliation hit me straight in the face. I ended up with a mouthful of Ganga in fetal position, copping out of the fight I had probably started. Not very tactful on my part. But I was cold and it was misty and I was tired!

Then the crown achievement of the day: G, one of the main instigators of the waterfights, fell overboard. HA! Talk about Karma...
Finally we pulled up to the shore of Ram Jhulla, dismounted our rafts, stripped off our lifejackets and hilarious construction-worker-type helmets, and walked up the steep stone steps from the shore of the Ganga. Whoo! My raftmates and I agreed that Sunday Funday was off to a great start. Turning down the path away from downtown Ram Jhulla, we walked the back route to the ashram, weaving past cows, old bearded men in orange robes, and stray dogs hiding under the trees from the rain. The monsoon was still going pretty hard, but at this point it didn't matter considering how wet we all were from the rafting. We strode through the flooded streets in our amphibeous shoes, trying to leap over puddles clearly infected with cow feces unsuccessfully. Gross, I know. So we stopped every now and then when a clear-looking water streamed off a tin roof to rinse our feet. Clean. Ish.

After a while we made it back to the ashram. "5 minutes and we're going for lunch," we decided. "So no dillydallying in the shower?", we joked, as if any of us wanted to be soaking in cold water again for any significant period of time. None of us were late, for once. We were going for a 'Hello to the Queen': a heavenly ice cream sunday with bananas and graham crackers about 50 meters from the front door of the ashram.

Vanilla ice cream had never tasted so delicious. We were dry (more like damp, actually), warm, and eating outside the walls of Yog Peeth for the first time all week. Sundays (ice cream) have now become a Sunday (day of the week) tradition. They are also my and Jessica's reward for spending 3 days this week offline. 'Hello to the Queen' makes it more than worth it. Yum.

This week we're upping the anti: 4 days offline, 2 of them consecutive. It's week 4, meaning I need to start turning even MORE inward to deepen my yoga practice. Not to worry, I have a couple new tools to help usher in the intensity: my new bag of spirulina and those giant gulps of her holiness, the Ganga.

Posted by pack_it_in 02:32 Archived in India

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