This trip to Rishikesh seemed to have brought me a lot of animal time and for obvious reasons, this first picture might be my favorite river-side photo. This kitty-cutie sat by my side for a long time before we both decided to get up, stretch and move on.
Less photographically notable but more personally impactful, is this photo with the doggies. After spending plenty of time at the busier parts of the river, that particular morning was my first venture into the quiet, secluded areas further upstream, and as I wandered down the empty path toward the riverbank, these three dogs perked up and sort of started gathered around… and my adrenaline immediately shot through the roof as I saw them looking at me.
After being bit by a dog in India last year, I’ve had an understandable apprehension around them since my arrival here, and in that early stage of fight or flight I found myself picking up a rock… just in case. I was not going to be caught unaware again. But then something really beautiful happened. Without letting my guard down, I stopped walking and started talking to them, and the big guy in front sort of walked around me, keeping the other younger, more rambunctious ones under control as they playfully tried to engage me. It soon became clear that they meant no harm, but still, unpredictability and a little ptsd had me on guard. But as I cautiously started walking again, they stayed by my side, the younger ones running ahead, then coming back, and it was as if they were happy for the company. When I found a place to sit… as that was my intent, to find a meditation spot… they planted themselves next to me in the water… and we stayed like that for a really long time.
The building of trust between man and animal is not unlike that between humans, and in many ways it is much more authentic… animals are always straight-forward with their feelings, needs and intention which cannot be said for a lot of people. I returned to that same spot on the river each morning, as it was such a peaceful place to welcome the arrival of a new day, but I never saw those dogs again. I truly feel they were like furry guardian angels, sent to help me get past my trauma, and as simple as it seems, it was a really special moment for me.
But enough about dogs… lets talk about the monkeys! In India, one gets used to seeing monkeys most everywhere, although less common in the busier urban areas. But here in Rishikesh, you don’t need to look far to see bands of them milling about. There seem to be two main species of monkeys here… and although I don’t know their names I simply call them the passive and the aggressive ones.
The aggressive ones are probably pretty harmless, but they hang out at the bridge, waiting for opportunities to steal food, water bottles, whatever they can get their hands on, from unsuspecting passerby’s… and they are not shy! The docile ones however, tend to be in quieter areas and this guy, for instance, was rifling through a discarded bag of chips nearby. Knowing these grey ones are pretty tame, I offered him some of my biscuit and he very gently accepted. It was actually kind of amazing to watch this very human-like animal (or are we monkey-like?) sitting, using his hands and eating in such a civilized manner. One forgets they are wild animals… but a treat to be in such close proximity nonetheless.
And of course… the sweet, sacred cows, which are everywhere. This guy was in a yard near my ashram, but you can’t take more than a few steps… even on the busy streets, without being detoured by one or more of these big, docile creatures.