India is a place of paradox, of contradiction, a place of commerce and spirituality, chaos and tranquility. I’m in a small yet busy town in the northern crease of the Himalayas, the emerald river Ganga runs majestically past the hard knees of many towns and it’s devotees. The constant buzz of traffic and squawkers is interrupted with pockets of meditative, hypnotic sounds spilling from the hearts of temples and ashrams. Audible evidence of sacred practice kept alive in these mountains. There are real gurus smoking hash among the Ganga here.
I rest by bike against a tree and down onto the sandy banks of the river. People around seem deep and sentient. The evening breaks out with mantras from the temples and people migrate from the narrow streets down onto the shaws for that final golden, sacred hour. They sit and play music, meditate, give out prayers, contemplate.
To sit alone beside the Ganga in twilight is to experience undisturbed tranquility, a very powerful place and time to be alone. It is a truly peaceful experience that can lead to a sort of inner centering. The river flows as it has done for thousands of years and like it will for thousands more when I have gone. Like many rivers around the world the movement continues with or without me. The transient beauty inspires my sense of time and space, it brings me into appreciation of the joy and power of now in a serene and sedate way. I contemplate where I am in the world and how I got here. What a rich, beautiful opportunity taken with both hands, I feel so grateful to be all the way out here!
I sit in a languid stoop, my tight and strong legs folded underneath me and dive into thought, a deep reflection helped by the flow of the river. I contemplate on where I am in the world and how I got here, the journey so far, the amazing challenge, the daily novelties, the new found enthusiasm for my incredible life on the road. I turn to see monkeys jumping between mossy arms of a pine tree. The first wave of thoughts already wound round the corner of the river, lost forever taking with it soil, debris and ash and along with it, hopes, dreams and gratefulness. Everyone has their spot and time to sit and think on the banks of the Ganga, India’s holiest river, where millions of prayers are dashed out to it everyday, feeding the hearts and mouths of so many millions who devote and depend upon it.
Just like the pace of India, my journey can often be quick, flashing past intricate sections of life, a thousand stories and lives pass by every day; a face behind the trees, a man in tattered suit and hat under a palm, a group of children crossing a bridge holding hands.
All these details and wonderful intricacies of life in India surround me everyday, surrounded by so much noise and activity, beautiful silences in the whirling chaos of India.
They are people in their moment, their own little fragile worlds. I am most fond of these moments, they provide the most wonderful, short lived experience of the real people and moments of the journey, caught in the quick flash of the eye. Just two individuals passing through two different lives, each one so vastly different from the last, our circumstances so different, our cultures so different, our attempts at life, so vastly different.
I filter down through the rough, winding track of a cold forest, and into an old mining town where a few small bazzars selling only chai, omelets and cigarettes are sitting in the constant shadow of the valley.
From above a busy bridge I look over and down on to the banks of a river, its flanked by a surface of ragged rocks on one side and dense, over spilling forest on the other. A woman in a bright orange lungi walks down the steps to the river and lights a candle in a dried coconut husk, there’s a guru smoking in the sun perched on the crumbling lip of a temple balcony. Across the river an old paunched man with his worn body is praying in the water, lifting his hand in the air and bringing them back down to his heart. All the while, rickshaws, and rattling, chocking lorries and buses steam over the bridge and pass by noisily and relentlessly.
Diggers and men with chainsaws smack and saw and rip through metal, stone and wood in a nearby quarry. Life here, eve in the most remote of places is industrious, loud and dirty. A great pall of black smoke rises from the construction area and drifts up and into the arms of the tree-armored cliffs surrounding me. India is so alive and I feel grateful to see it’s ever changing face, and the worldy different lives and intricacies that life within its ancient lands.
Later on that day, while descending rapidly though a stretch of forest in the northern slopes of Himachal Pradesh, I tie together beautiful, smooth sweeping s-bends and lean into the corners, feeling the weight of the bike shift underneath me seamlessly. The sun streaks through the tree line and warms the side of my face, giving it a warm glow. I stop for a moment and enjoy the fingers of amber light breaking through the trees. The trunks are covered with soft moss and alive with the nesting habits of small birds.
I see a movement across the path. An adolescent girl is combing hair on the balcony of a small, stony house on the side of the road. Her back arched slightly, head titled to the side as she brings the mass of wet, black hair into a knot. It's a beautiful site. The wall behind her is turquoise and peeling like old stucco, smudged black with smoke and grease like an old Cuban fresco.
Behind the chaos, the mess and the struggle, India is a place full of beauty, and cycling allows me to capture these beautiful moments as they unfold naturally.