Rewalsar, India: Relaxing with the religions

Full set of photos for the road to Rewalsar and the town of Rewalsar itself

We picked up a slightly calmer driver in Mcleodganj who drove us to Shimla via Rewalsar. It was a revelation to be in a car that was not constantly honking, although others amply supplied the deficit. Once you get down from the foothills of Dharamshala the drive is fairly straight and hot. We stopped in at a couple of Hindu temples along the way whose names might be lost to the mists of time as I didn’t write them down, and there are a shitload of temples in India. The first one was part temple, part themepark, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. There was some drumming, chanting and dancing taking place in one of the rooms in front of a large idol. The men in the room were quite keen for Sarah to come in and join them but she demurred. In another large room with a shrine people were lined up to make offerings of food and cash, and beyond them was the lake with oversized statues of various Hindu gods. It was a trial by fire to get to them sans shoes on the blisteringly hot concrete outside, but worth it for the view of the Indian families in the tiny lake on crowded little paddle boats doing a tour of the statues down there. No doubt it was a holy pond fed by the nearby holy river.

The next Hindu temple was much older and more classic in style with stone buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in South East Asia. People brought in flower garlands to place on the cow statue. Despite washing our feet before entering, the stone ground was baking our feet and after I loitered in the shade while Sarah joined another Indian family for their holiday snaps, then we took our leave and continued the journey.

In the temples we noticed a phenomenon common across the parts of India we travelled in. Older men with greying hair dye it to stop the white hair peeping out, but they defeat the purpose of not drawing attention to themselves by dying the offending hair orange. As soon as you see anyone with orange hair you can tell they’re a bit older.

Although we had a much safer driver, this time Sarah didn’t make it easy for him. As she was saying, “It must be difficult to drive on these roads with all the distractions” she was bending forward from the back seat to rummage in her bag on the front seat, retrieve some snacks and offer some nuts to him, adding more distractions to his long list. The most dangerous vehicle on the road is the garishly coloured long-haul trucks that barrel through tight mountain roads, careening blindly around corners like brightly painted Hindu statues on wheels, emblazoned with signs such as “Oh god save me”. Despite the excess of honking already, these trucks have “Use horn when passing” painted on their rear which is conflict with the signs on walls in cities begging people to honk less.

In many ways India is human powered. In Delhi a house across the road from where we were staying was being demolished, but not with bulldozers. Four or five guys had sledgehammers and were systematically destroying it, carrying the rubble out in baskets. On a particularly stubborn bit of ceiling, or floor – depending on your perspective, they had two guys alternating blows of the sledgehammer, all in weather more suited to lying very still with a cold drink. You see this everywhere at the side of the road, gangs of people applying human numbers to jobs that would be done in developed countries with machines. Porters will carry huge loads strapped to their back or head – one guy I saw was carrying a massive water tank strapped to his forehead. However, there was one piece of local technology we’d never seen before: the co-operative shovel. With this piece of kit one person operates the shovel as normal but a second person tugs on a rope attached near the head of the shovel and assists in pulling the laden end.

Our destination that night, after winding our way through the mountain roads, was Rewalsar, easily the most tranquil place we stayed in India. Although a small town it has a big religious presence with the central lake being holy to Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus. The lake is seething with holy fish who just about leap on shore to convince you to give them a bit of food. They are menacing with their gaping mouths but probably what an angler’s wet dream looks like.

Walking around the lake you encounter quite sinister looking monkeys as well who stare with baleful eyes. We were warned not to make eye contact as they can attack. They didn’t look vicious from the window of our room in the monastery where we had a great view of the giant bell we hoped would not be rung at an ungodly hour in the morning, and the giant Buddha statue staring serenely into space. The monkeys had a nifty route they travelled from the monastery roof onto the bannister of the stairs which they slid down backyards before leaping over to the other roof. After our 5am giant bell wake up call, we noticed one monkey on the ledge outside our window was quietly being groomed by another and looking very satisfied by the experience.

It was in here in Rewalsar that Sarah started her ‘sleeping dog’ series of photos. Sarah just loves the peacefulness of sleeping dogs with their slack jaws leaking drool and paws curled up under their heads – and India meets her demands and more. The dogs seem to rest up during the daylight hours so that they have enough energy to roam the streets at night barking madly. You see them again the next day completely exhausted from the night excursions, lying in doorways or in the middle of the road, totally out to the world until night falls again.

We visited a Buddhist holy site nearby the next day, a cave where some serious meditation had been conducted in the past. We followed suit and spent five minutes merging with the darkness in the cave, centering ourselves before heading back out into the Indian road traffic.

Full set of photos for the road to Rewalsar and the town of Rewalsar itself

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