The roads that I have traveled to get here.
Dry and cracked. Thirsty for the monsoons that will soon come.
These roads, narrow, dirt and cobblestone, weave deep into the belly of India. Lined with palm trees and herds of water buffalo.
Landscapes smudge past my window. Blurred visions of lush green marshes popping with colorful saris that squat in rice fields.
Broken towns held together by laundry hanging out to dry. Canopies shade from the hot sun, as children play and mothers cook.
The door between train cars opens and thick air smacks me in the face. Dahl and fragrant spices waft inside, sucked up into my nose. Families pull containers from shoulder-strapped satchels and smiles of bright teeth, wrapped in bronze faces, light up around me. Train whistles blow and a young boy, selling hot chai, beckons for his rupees. A sweet shot of milk and bits of ginger mingle with the tannin of weak tea. It is exactly what I need after the forty-hour train ride to Dehradun.
My train comes to a stop and a cloud of dust swallows us up and spits us onto the platform. I have arrived. I lift my heavy pack onto my back as another train shoots by me kicking up what I know is not mud.
The station is small, wooden, and painted what looks like a vibrant green after years of worn, weather, and dust. I shuffle through the crowds, small steps, so as to not step on the travelers resting on the floor. I convince a van for hire to take me up the mountains and into Rishekesh. Discomfort is a constant in India, so the way the front seat presses into my knee is another reminder of where I am.
Winding fast through chaotic streets we reach the base of The Himalayas by dark. We inch up to the official directing traffic. He tugs at his dark green jacket with tarnished buttoned sleeves. He leans into the van and his large automatic gun slips off his shoulders and thumps against our window. It scraps the exterior when he commands another driver to get back in his car. His hands rest on the van as he speaks Hindi to the driver. He nods and rolls up his window.
The driver sits in silence until another passenger in the van asks, “Excuse me. What’s going on?” The driver yawns and says, “convoy”. The large woman wipes sweat from her brow and sits back in her seat. A few minutes more before she breaks through the awkward silence. “Excuse me. What’s ‘convoy’?” The driver does not answer.
I keep my eyes looking out the window over the mountain’s edge but not down. The men furiously wave the cars over. One by one tires lift off the edge of the road. A line of cars is coming off the mountain. Then we begin our ‘convoy’ up the mountain and into Rishekesh.
What the driver knows, and we do not, is that there is a landslide on the mountain that had washed away three-quarters of the road. Every switchback and sharp turn of the mountain, we climb, and I pray.
The driver stops at the next town over and says “this is as far as I can take you.” He jumps out, pulls our bags to the street and speeds away. My fellow travelers complain but I take off on foot.
My thin flip flops and my life on my back, I walk towards the peaks of the northern mountains. The moon is full and I slip on cobblestones polished from pilgrims before me.
The road ends and I am standing at the bank of The Holy Ganges. It takes my breath away. Crystal holy water pushes through the glacier to the north and a weathered walking bridge swings in the wind is my last leg of this adventure.
I can see Rishekesh on the other side of the water and my heart pulls me across. I made it and disappeared into the streets littered with lazy cows and Shivites. Holy men, draped in thick red wool robes. Toothless grins, and dirty hands. Mumbling a drowsy “namaste” on the banks of The Ganges in India. This is an excerpt from my most recently published memoir Broke Open a journey to health and happiness.