Two very different types of Yogi

Yesterday involved a very early start for a very special visit. Ever since before my arrival in Haridwar I had been hearing “not possible, see elephant, not possible” with the usual sideways head waggle. Fortunately, I persisted and the pictures here tell a rather different story. It is true that the Rajaji National Park does not open for another couple of days but Yogi, a ten year old orphan, lives with his adopted family near the park entrance and will meet and greet provided you are willing to peel his bananas for him.

Afterwards Anand took me to Rishikesh, a pilgrimage site on the Ganges where more traditional forms of worship have all but disappeared since the Maharishi brought the Beatles here in 1968. If I say Ayurvedic slimming massage and white water bungee jumping you will get the picture. But still, I needed a more tourist friendly place to change up my money and, if you want touristique, then here is a place that will oblige. My driver, who was so helpful in other ways, steered me into a couple of the ubiquitous New Age gem shops and getting out without buying or being rude was quite a challenge. I literally had to elbow my way to the door, not because I was tempted but because I was so overwhelmed by the bare-faced fakery and preposterous overpricing. So as not to create bad feedback for Anand I came away with a couple of strings of prayer beads. The only prayer that they are likely to inspire is “thank god I never have to go back to Rishikesh”.

The contrast between Rishikesh with its spirtiuality-lite and Haridwar (literally: The Gates of God) is striking and can best be summed up by the fact that popular comedian and broadcaster Paul Merton visited the location of the Beatles’ sojourn for his TV series about India whereas historian Michael Wood came to Haridwar for his. I don’t think that Merton was being deliberately ironic so perhaps Wood’s more sensitive choice just serves to prove that the BBC has better researchers.

The heat and the atmosphere were beginning to get to me so Anand made a detour on the way back so that his wife could serve me lunch. After a delicious meal, I was invited to take a nap under the living room fan during the hottest part of the day. Resting and chatting over chai, neice Surabhi told me how she was waiting for her exam results in the hope that she would be accepted for flight training with the Indian Air Force. She certainly seemed fit enough and was top of her class in physics so I teased her with a question about her proficiency on the x-box. Her reaction times are going to need to outperform an awful lot of hot-wired rapid-wristed young men before they let her loose on several billion rupees worth of jet engine. We exchanged e-mail addresses, I do hope that she keeps in touch.

Like many people living in this part of India, Anand comes from Nepal. He arrived eight years ago but his wife was born in India to Nepalise parents. A picture of the massacred King and Queen was prominently displayed but their dreadful demise and the country’s subsequent transition to democracy does not seem to have played much part in this family’s migration. I was embarrassed to discover that I had never understood that Nepal is a predominantly Hindu country and so the border is one of the most porous in this part of the world. I may have actually stumbled upon the one place that I can visit and still be able to get back into India on my so called “multi entry visa”. Another time.

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