Wandering Up the Ganges – Part 2: Buses that aren’t buses

by Gabriel Palmer

Mansa Devi TempleWhere am I going to find a guru? This is the question I pondered as I sat in my hotel room watching the army of roaches edge ever closer in their attempt to reclaim the room from the occupying force (aka me). I suppose I could have just stepped on them, but I felt some degree of hesitation killing a living being, yes even a roach, in a city that is considered sacred to a religion that believes in reincarnation. In Jerusalem, Rome, or Mecca, maybe it would have been okay, since I could have justified it as some kind of religious war against the forces of evil – a frequently used claim by all the western faiths. But, since the roaches were there first, and my desire to be reborn as one of them is roughly equivalent to my desire to be reborn as Justin Beiber, I decided to cede the majority of the territory and sleep in the bathroom.

The next morning, after extricating myself from the bathtub and signing an armistice agreement with the roaches, I decided to climb up to the hilltop temple which I had visited last time I was here for a bit of inspiration as some people believe that the goddess to whom to the temple is dedicated will grant the wish of anyone with a pure heart. While doubtful of the purity of my heart (and for that matter my soul, mind, and body) I figured that it was at least worth a shot. The climb up to the top of the hill might not have been that bad if it hadn’t been for the 117 degree temperatures, complete and utter lack of shade, my forgetting to bring water, and the boy who followed me the entire way up the hill at first begging for money, and then having realized I wasn’t going to give him any, laughing at me as he watched me sweat through my clothes.

The further I climbed the more I sweat, the more than boy laughed, and more I realized that I seriously needed to start exercising when I got back home. Finally, I arrived at the top and approached the temple gate, only to find that it was closed. My unwanted companion, found this to be so amusing that he actually fell over on the ground laughing at me, which at least provided me time to get away and think about my experience. I was beginning to see a pattern. It was time for me to stop looking for the past, continue my journey, and leave Haridwar and my roach infested hotel before I contracted bubonic plague, yellow fever, chikungunya (yes, this is a real disease), dengue, or some combination thereof. I headed straight to the bus stand.

After waiting in line (a misnomer to be sure since it was more of a flood of humanity all trying to reach the one open window by angrily pushing and trampling one another in 105 degree heat, that resulted in a sweaty mass of bodies pressed so tightly against one another that were a piece of coal to be inserted between them a diamond would soon emerge) for around an hour and a half I finally climbed over enough people to reach the ticket window.

“A ticket to Rishikesh please.”

“I’m sorry sir but there are no buses.”

“Ummm, what? Wait, did you just say there aren’t any buses?”

“Yes sir no buses.”

“Do you just mean there are no buses today?”

“No sir, I mean there are no buses.”

“Oh, there are no buses the Rishikesh?”

“No sir, there are buses to Rishikesh.”

“But you just said there are no buses.”

“Yes sir, that is correct.”

“So there are no buses but the buses that there aren’t do run to Rishikesh.”

“This is exactly right sir.”

“Well if there aren’t any buses, why not post a sign so that people don’t have to wait?”

“Because sir, if something were to change between the time you start the line and the time you get here the sign would be dishonest sir.”

“But… why…couldn’t you… I…”

As I stammered out these last few words while trying to make some measure of sense of what the man behind the counter had just said, he just smiled and wobbled his head. I would have tried to continue this cryptic dialogue but I was sucked back into to the tide of sweaty bodies. Confused yet somehow undeterred (I have an unusually high threshold for the absurd and frustrating) I made it outside and sat down on the curb to think what to do next. There has to be a better way. Just as I had this thought, whichever god in the Hindu pantheon that is responsible for fixing problems – I think it is Ganesha – offered me a solution: a taxi driver came over and offered his services.

Unfortunately I think Ganesha may have been making fun of me, because the ride did not go so well…


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