A story has been passed from person to person, from friends to friends, acquaintances, family members and etc — maybe like a real life telephone game. Natalie in our yoga course told us the story in a jeep as we drove up the windy mountain roads on the way to an ancient meditation spot today. She heard it from talking to someone at a café. The story goes, there was a shrine nearby Rishikesh that protected the pilgrimage sites on the Char Dham Yatra. It was moved in the name of development and its original spot was paved over as a road. Three days later, the flooding happened and the hardest hit included the holy pilgrimage sites.
Maybe the movement of the shrine angered the gods. Maybe the movement of the shrine disturbed energy patterns with far reaching consequences. Maybe this story is a way of understanding the disaster and maybe there wasn’t actually a shrine in the first place. What is important, I think, is the moral message behind the story: natural forces are powerful and we need to consider the costs of what is done in the name of development. It is perhaps salient to think back to the Ganga Aarti on the first week we were here when a prominent social activist and a famous guru came together to talk about pollution and industrial chemical run off into the Ganges River and also about deforestation. A lot of the talk about the heavy, early monsoon rains also discussed global issues of climate change.
We went to the ancient meditation spot today on the Ganges River about an hour drive outside of Rishikesh. There are caves there that mediators have been coming to for ages to find self-realization. In one cave that was attached to the temple, the cave stretch back into the rock so you are completely enveloped in Mother Earth, encased in stone and it is pitch black and completely silent. On the beach of the Ganga River, there were other caves that overlooked the flowing water and the tall mountains on every side. We all sat and meditated. I sat on a rock with my feet in the cold Ganges water, considered the river of flowing consciousness, and the sun’s energy heating my back. It was a very beautiful moment and beautifully shared with all of the other people in our yoga course. Apparently, the peaceful energy cultivated in meditation attracts cows. Lo and behold, when we opened our eyes after the meditation, we had a whole herd of cattle lounging on the beach all around us.
The drive to the meditation spot was beautiful, winding on the side of stunning tall mountains after mountains and the road dropping off on the side down to the fast flowing Ganges below. Some of the mountains were terraced with farms and homes and temples nestled in the vibrant green. Our jeep driver weaved through cattle and swerved around monkeys on the road – sometimes making me feel a little like I was in a video game wondering how we were going to make it through without hitting any. Bryan would be proud – our driver knew the dimensions of his vehicle perfectly and the cows didn’t even move or blink an eye as we drove past.
However, the darker side of our drive was that I became more astute on reading landslides. You could tell which old landslides were because they had plants growing upright on them. You could tell which were fresh because the trees tumbled in them still had green leaves but no bush had started regrowing yet. The road becomes very narrow at times with one side of the road crumbling into a steep cliff down to the water below and the other side narrowed in by the encroaching rocks.
All together, we were a group of three jeeps. As we were driving back, we came to this rock overhang where a bus stopped before it. We could see some hand sized rocks on the road. Our driver stopped to assess the situation and then gunned it through. I remember looking up at the roof of the jeep and thinking that our driver must be good because it was dent free. In my mind, I had only considered the possibility of more falling hand sized rocks that we had avoided.
The second jeep, which was about 5 minutes after us, were met with soldiers on the other side who were starting to stop traffic.
The last jeep in our group did not make it through. They were about 10minutes behind us and when they got to that section of the road, it was completely blocked. The whole overhang had come down. They ended up hiking over the tumble and then catching another taxi on the other side.
Thinking back to the story about the shine at the beginning of this blog, it’s ironic that a shrine was moved for a road and in the aftermath of the rains, the roads are moved by mountains.