By Samir

After Singapore, we flew back to India for two weeks, before returning to the States. The flight from Singapore to Delhi was on Jet Airways. We were in economy class, and the flight attendant came by to offer drinks. I asked for a soda and received it. Then she asked if I wanted alcohol too. I said sure. She pours me three shots of Johnnie Walker Whiskey in a plastic cup. Then she asked if I wanted more (!) because the drink cart may not come back for a while. Sure. So, I got three more shots. That certainly lasted the entire flight, and then some.

At one point, we decided to take a family road-trip to see the city of Rishikesh. The holy Ganges River comes from the mountains, and then snakes its way through India, to the ocean. One of the most easily-accessible places, still in the mountains, from where to see the river, is in Rishikesh. The water here is considerably less-polluted than in other areas of India (I could see 1-2 feet below the water surface), and probably 20-30 degrees colder.

Combined with continued commercial development, this has led to an increase in water sports activities. Upon a tip from my cousin, we decided to go white-water rafting. We quickly realized that there is no classification system for white water rapids as there is in America. The training took all of 5 minutes, and then we headed out into the water. We went over several small rapids, and a couple of big ones. I remember one that had waves of 5-6 feet that easily engulfed our small raft with a shower of cold, cold water. But, for most of the journey, we calmly floated along the water, occasionally paddling to avoid some rock or to re-orient our raft after some wind had pushed it awry. In a few places, we even got out to go swimming. We all jumped overboard and swam a bit. The first time, we were in the water for just a few minutes. The second time, some people were in the water for 10-15 minutes, including a couple dudes who didn’t even know how to swim (shouldn’t this be required?), which made getting them back in the raft a bit difficult. Near the end, we stopped off to cliff-jumping. There was a cliff that was about 25 feet high, with a shorter jump-off point that was about 15-20 feet high. Due to the crazy long line, I jumped off the shorter point, though Rachel and her brother took the higher point. It was during this jump that Rachel’s gold wedding band came off. Her first thought was, “oh [expletive], I lost my wedding band”. Her second thought was, “oh [expletive], my mom’s gonna be pissed!”

We’ve traveled for 4-5 months through Southeast Asia. I remember seeing her 40-50 feet below water, while diving, wear her silver hoop earrings and gold ring. She’s never taken off her jewelry, not for anything. She took a rope-swing from a bar in Vang Vieng, Laos, into the river there after having drank lots of liquor, as well as from a rope-swing from a tree in Luang Prabang, Laos into a waterfall pool below. Rachel’s parents had told us earlier about how they would toss coins into the river, in their younger days, as “donations” to the holy river. I guess Rachel really wanted to make a donation, albeit an expensive one.

One morning, I woke up at 5:30am. Not having much to do, I went outside to our hotel balcony breathing in the cool early morning air. Around 6:30am, the sun crested over the mountains in the distance, lighting up the valley and the city.

Somewhat distorted panoramic image stitched from my pictures

That same weekend, we also drove to the city of Haridwar. There are a series of temples that have been built here along the Ganges River, along with stone steps on either side. Because the river has been constrained into a narrow channel, the river moves fairly quickly. It is along these stone steps that you see images of Indians bathing in the river water, or performing small religious ceremonies. We also had a priest perform a small religious ceremony for us, though after admitting to the priest that we were from the United States, he started asking for ridiculous amounts of money to perform the ceremony. We agreed to the first bit, but after a second and third attempt to scam for money, we got disgusted. I carried on and finished the ceremony though. It meant far less to me than I imagine it meant to the scores of people around me, but I remember thinking that several generations of my family before me had either made the trek to this place, or had at least thought about it, and now here I was carrying on an ancient Hindu tradition. This was rather humbling, and I remember feeling a little proud that I’d gone through with it, even if the “donation” was a bit of a scam for money.

The chains are put in place to keep people from being swept away by the river

Enjoying the weather

Some days later, we were coming off an overnight train from Bhopal (where we’d gone to visit Rachel’s grandparents), and got picked up by the family driver. In the car was Rachel’s aunt, who’d also come in that day via a different train. Rachel’s aunt and her parents went later that day to visit Rachel’s uncle who’d recently been hospitalized (unfortunately, he died a week later while we were en-route to the states). Along the way, she was sweating profusely. The next day, the doctor noted she was having heart palpitations, severe swelling in her feet, and ordered some tests. Rachel accompanied her aunt to the hospital to have the tests done. Upon administering the tests, the hospital decided to admit her aunt for emergency surgery to install a pacemaker into her heart. Rachel’s brother and I had dropped them off for the tests, and then we had gone off to the market. Upon hearing of the situation, we raced back to the hospital. At one point, Rachel and her brother were off making some initial payment and doing the registration paperwork. I was alone with the aunt, trying to talk to her and keep her mind off the surgery. It’s a scary place, being in a hospital in a foreign country, with a relative you barely know, as they’re headed into surgery, though I imagine Rachel felt even more distressed when she was told by the hospital that the testing had revealed a need for emergency surgery. The aunt had the surgery, though the hospital made a mistake (and blamed the patient, of course), which meant a second surgery a few days later. The aunt was eventually released and is in better health.

We spent a good deal of time this time hanging out with Rachel’s parents and brother in their house, including finally learning to play an old Indian card game, called 29. We also spent some time visiting some of my family in/around the Delhi area for a few days. We got some great family bonding time in, which I think we both enjoyed. We also relaxed a bit and found time to bicycle around the neighborhood and go jogging in the local park. We also got in a second visit to see my nephew Aadi (a week before his first birthday). We even bought him his first car (a toy car that he can ride around in once he learns how to balance a bit better).

Happy with his gift

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