no amount of heat, smog, or intensely cramped traffic jams could detract from my excitement as we made our way through the city. That’s because we were here to cap our trip to India with a visit to the Taj Mahal, one of the 7 wonders of the world! Within an hour we had laid eyes on it for the first time, the marble domes appearing first through a tiny pocket of archway and then revealing themselves in their full splendor as we worked our way through the outer gardens and main gateway. Construction required more than 10 years and 20,000 people, resulting in the single example that best signifies the height of architecture for the Mughal empire.
Famous due to its selling point as the birthplace of yoga, Rishikesh has long inspired spiritual seekers. The city is also a draw for domestic tourists and pilgrims because it is situated in the foothills of the mighty Himalaya and serves as the origin of the Ganges river. Hindus consider this body of water to be a living manifestation of their god, meaning they will travel far and wide to pray at its banks and swim in the murky brown waters.
On the outskirts of town there were a few basic campsites, but as the population faded away nature began to dominate. The trees grew more tightly spaced and the undergrowth was thick with weeds and ferns. Eventually we came upon a small waterfall, which was gorgeously reflecting the morning light. Water rushed down across a series of two platforms, splashing and careening over smooth rocks to drown out all other sounds. Isaiah found the locale so peaceful that he almost instantly fell asleep, while I let myself become enraptured by the wild nature and solitude that is all too often difficult to come by in India.
While knees rubbed against noses, guns flew aorund shoulders, tight salutes were exchanged, and gut-wrenching screams were hurled across the border, both crowds exploded with energy. Despite the overwhelming feeling of competition between the two countries which have spilled so much bloodshed in defense of their storied border, there was a single moment of unification. A chant of "HINDU-STAN' began as a murmur and quickly surger to dominate both sides of spectators, a reminder that these two disparate countries share a joint past as a united empire.
We appreciated the seclusion and the magnificent beauty, but began to wonder, “who lives here?” and “where will we sleep?” Besides minor signs of altitude sickness, there wasn’t any physical dragon to slay; rather, just the mental concerns of where the next meal would come from. I sensed the day’s hike was coming to the end; thus, I exacerbated my NYC walking speed to ensure I could be the one to shout back “we have a home to sleep in!” After a slight hill, I turned the corner and saw a lady sitting amongst her barley fields sipping some tea.