The Kindness Of Strangers

Well I’m finally in Rishikesh which means I’m not sweating like a blind lesbian in a fish shop for the first time in four days. Not that I’ve used my ability to walk around whilst not losing a litre of fluid an hour through my face much. I’ve had a bit of a stroll, photographed lots of cows and consumed large quantities of green tea because I… I don’t like chai. There, I said it. Ok, so it’s not that I don’t like it. I do. I just can’t drink it in the quantities that I usually drink tea in, it’s too milky, and I need some manner of hot fluid that isn’t comprised mainly of nipple juice to consume in quantities my bladder would severely disapprove of. Green tea appears to be in abundant supply. That’ll do, then.

Ganga River

The mighty and sacred Ganga River

Also I met a Yogi during my stroll who walked with me a while. We went down to the Ganga River and put our feet in before I realised I still had gaping blister wounds and made a mental note to buy anti-bacterial cream. He told me that yesterday was the full moon but also it marked the beginning of winter and that’s why he was in the region which is holy on account of the river. He usually lives in Delhi. Or Venice. Or any one of the other places he has Ashrams. He even tried to start one near Stoke On Trent of all bloody places but he said the weather was “too rainy and cold” in the UK. Fair comment, Yogi. Fair comment. Looks like Stoke won’t be getting in touch with its spiritual side any time soon unless they can find a waterproof Yogi. But yeah, trust me to choose yesterday to be stuck on a train.

Yogi with an aversion to bad weather

These grabby little buggers will have anything that isn’t stapled to you. Sunnies, cameras, offerings meant for Mother Ganga. Everything.

Anyway. That thing where you’re sitting on a train staring mindlessly out of the window when a family offer you an Indian sweet, chat to you on and off throughout the journey, invite you into their lovely, big home, feed you incredible food and give you a place to crash for the night. You wouldn’t get that in the UK unless it was someone trying to harvest your organs to hock for crack. Ajit, Manisha and their three kids live just outside of Haridwar which was where the train was dropping us and I wanted to get to Rishikesh, but by the time the train rolled in two hours behind schedule it was late and dark and I decided to accept their invitation to stay with them like they’d decided to trust this complete stranger they’d just met on a train.
I’m so glad I did, it’s only day four and they’ve made me so happy to be here with their hospitality. Ajit told me they have a word which means “guest is god” and inviting me back to their house to share their dinner wasn’t about “me or my wife, it’s about India.” Clearly I can’t remember the word. I’ve only just learned how to say thank you in Hindi and I’m too scared to use it in case I say it wrong and inadvertently insult someone.

Ajit & Manisha

Ajit & Manisha

We talked a lot that night, about their lives and religion, my life and the differences in attitudes towards marriage and children in our respective countries. They said that by 25, a man is expected to have a job and a wife and whilst Manisha is my age, she could never hope to do what I do and just travel. Marriage and kids by your twenties is “compulsory,” she said. Ajit works in computers and has a lot of contact with people in the West and I got the feeling when I told them about Tarrant (I said she was my flatmate) they knew she was more than that. Ajit asked me if she was my friend or partner? I said friend. I mean, they might have been alright with it but what if they weren’t? What would have happened? Even the next day when he asked me if I was on Facebook I said no because as much as I would have loved to have them on Facebook, that would mean them knowing I’m gay. I feel like an utter twat for lying to them though. I also hate not being able to be open but I’m not in my Brighton bubble anymore. That time me and Tarrant went to Portsmouth, we felt uncomfortable just holding hands. Maybe he guessed though, at one point the next morning when she came up in conversation again he said, “And she has no boyfriend either?” I said no, and he smiled knowingly.
The next morning I woke up early with the family and after chatting with Ajit for a while and swapping contact details he walked me to the main road, put me in an auto-rickshaw and sent me on my way with a packet of biscuits. Legends. Just such an awesome family.
Rishikesh

Random cow. It happens.

And this eating thing is fun. Indians eat with their hands which I can totally get into. Ajit said it was just better for you, better for your body. Have you ever tried eating wet food with your hands? I watched how they did it and it’s an actual fucking skill. This shit takes practice. The only way I can do it is to tear off a piece of chapati, hold it in a curve with my thumb and ring finger, scoop the food onto it with my middle finger then shovel it rather ungracefully into my facehole before the whole thing falls apart. The trouble is, despite the fact I have a gut that makes itself at home on my lap as soon as I sit down, I can only eat two chapatis before I’m full so if I haven’t eaten all the flavoursome goodness by the time I get to the end of my second one, I have no idea what to do. Is it acceptable to tip it into my gob? Do I have to force more bread down? Or do I have to resign myself to gazing at the remnants forlornly, wishing I had access to some manner scooping device?

₹130 thali. That’s about £1.30, exchange rate fans. Wouldn’t get a cup tea for that in Brighton.

Though to be fair, the restaurants and cafes I seem to be ending up at at the moment give you a fork with your meal. I usually try and eat as local as possible but I’m finding myself at tourist restaurants, perhaps on account of a subconscious desire to keep the contents of my bowels in place for a respectable amount of time, or probably more due to the language barrier. If I find a cafe or street food stall in South America, for example, where the signs are totally in Spanish I can walk in with confidence, ask for el menu del dia, more or less understand what is said to me (apart from that one time where I had no idea what the second item was, ordered it anyway and ended up feeding the strips of whatever internal organ it was to the cat sat at my feet), order and pay without any worries. Here, if the signs are in Hindi and the guys serving the food don’t speak English, I have no idea what’s going on or what anything is. Hopefully I’ll stop being such a soft shite once I’ve been here a while ay, and accept the “pointing and shrugging” method as an acceptable way to order food.

Lakshman Jhula

Photo shoot on Lakshman Jhula. Turns out people asking for their photo with you is kind of thing out here.

So anyway. Tomorrow I guess I should do something Rishikesh-ish. It’s a renowned centre for all manner of spiritual yoga type things but I just don’t bend that way. I can barely touch my toes and I’m still psychologically scarred since that time I did a particularly loud fanny fart during a downward dog and hope to fuck no one knew it was me. Maybe not yoga then ay. Maybe something infinitely less stressful, like white water rafting.

Some random spawn

Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
Stayed at: Hotel Ishan

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