I gaze outside the window of our taxi and consider what it must mean to be born in India. As a human, as a street dog, as a cow– holy and with a God-given precedence. A country who’s capital has roughly the same number of inhabitants as all of Canada, India is crowded. The concept of this– “crowded”– is brought to a whole new level here. Survival of fittest– survival in any sense of the word– is seemingly a matter of existing within the ebb and flow, finding your place among the chaos of thousands of others just like you.
Driving on the highways of India is like a game of Russian roulette. There are no lanes, horns are used instead of turn signals, and directional patterns of traffic are abstract.
The journey from our hotel in New Delhi to Rishikesh spans from the center of the bustling city, to the outskirts of Delhi and into a vastness of bare trees like skeletons standing in their monotonous gray, crooked corn fields and flat grass expanses dotted with an occasional cluster of marigolds. Every now and again we come across a little town, made up of thatched roof huts and brick houses with gray shade structures caked with soot. The pollution resonates in every particle of air, putting Los Angeles smog to shame.
A myriad of motorcycles, trucks, bicycles, cars, cows, sheep, mangy dogs, and tuk-tuks, with occasional Ox/bull/yak-drawn carts– either full of sugarcane or people, mostly– share the road with us. The landscape seems unchanging and I wonder when we will begin to ascend above the cloud of gray into clearer air of the Himalayas.
Another couple of hours, we are told. We play a game of spot the monkey– a rare road-side sight, somewhat difficult to discern from a dog. A dog in a tree ! No, according to the laws of science, it is definitely a monkey.
Many of the vehicles, despite being a level of filthy which hints at never having been washed, are quite festive– ornamentally hand-painted with lotus flowers, genies, roosters, Om symbols, and my personal favorite: “I Love My India.” They are mirrored and tasseled, exuding a sort of friendliness as they whiz past you at hair-raising speeds and proximity– from in front or from behind, in no order whatsoever– blaring their horns, each horn unique to, I assume, the driver’s preference.
We pass more towns. Brightly colored signs for resorts and “palace” hotels: five stars most certainly; half-built houses, chai-wallahs and fruit stands, swarms of people, bricks, tires and bamboo, dust, dust, dust everywhere. From time to time, we pass a modern building, all glass and metal, looking like it had been uprooted and placed there as a practical joke just to confuse everyone.
The journey feels as though we are going in circles of chaos, never making concrete progress. From vast open spaces into small towns, and back out. I close my eyes and doze off, hoping I will wake nestled against the Himalayan giants– my safe-haven in this mad, incomprehensible, intoxicating country.