Runaway to Rishikesh

On the farm there isn’t any AC. Typically, this wouldn’t be a problem for me — I can stand a little heat (hello, it’s India, it’s to be expected) — but the heat had escalated so high and the electricity, which already doesn’t like to stay on very long, was taking breaks every five minutes, taking the fans down with it. Many of us on the farm were severely feeling the heat, unable to move from our beds we were so hot. One morning (details not for the weak stomach-ed) I even woke up and threw up five times simply from heat exhaustion.

That day we had only spent two hours weeding with Bindu and Sheila, two women that work on the farm, before they saw our extremely sweaty faces and told us to go inside. They usually do the weeding in the fields.
Them and one other woman, whom they call the Seed Goddess for her expertise on the seeds and their varieties, are they only women I have met on this farm (besides the interns). This I find very interesting and slightly disgruntling because Navdanya is supposed to be a woman empowering movement. To me, in a woman empowering movement, there should be a lot of women, no?

Bindu put on some fancy glasses and decided she was a superstar. She even signed my arm!!

Bindu put on some fancy glasses and decided she was a superstar. She even signed my arm!!

According to Dr. Shiva, Navdanya helps lots of women farmers start and maintain organic farms. While that is wonderful, it makes me wonder why her farm itself isn’t an accurate reflection of one of her main goals. This problem of lack of women workers on the farm is one I plan to address in my research.

Why is it that less women farmers work here? Does it reflect a societal norm in the area for women not to work (I mainly see men at the shops working, no women), or is it simply just a coincidence? Is it more typical for women in other parts of India to farm than others (specifically Dehradun versus other areas)? How could the Navdanya environment improve so that more women come to them looking for work?

I digress — one of the other interns knocked on my door and proposed this life-altering plan to beat the insane heat:!what if we went to Rishikesh for the weekend (and booked a hotel with AC)..?

My immediate thoughts: um… YES. Not only is Rishikesh infamous for being an amazing city, but I would also get to beat the heat. What more could I ask for?

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This was one of my first views of Rishikesh. I was in love instantly.

Rishikesh is one of the holy cities along the Ganges River and is also famous for being the yoga capital of the world (they say universe, but I say prove it). Tourists

The view of the Ganga cleansing people

The view of the Ganga cleansing people

from all over India as well as all over the world come to explore this city and soak in its holiness, dunking themselves in the River in order to cleanse their souls.

At first it was incredibly overwhelming. Not only were the bazaars packed with people, but they were also packed with people that had a special interest in us five white women walking around the place. Children and women and families and grown men would line the Ganges asking for pictures with us, and of course once one person started asking the whole congregation thought, “oh, I want a picture too!” And so would begin another line of paparazzi.

This monkey wasn't too happy about me taking pictures of its baby...

Speaking of paparazzi, this monkey wasn’t too happy about me taking pictures of its baby…

One man even came up to me and, without asking, placed his baby in my arms and started lining up for a family photo, the grandma adjusting the babies head for the perfect angle. “You know that photo is going to be in their family photo album for generations, right?” my friend Kat joked. How odd is it to think that handfuls of random white people with no connection to the family whatsoever would be in treasured family pictures for eons?
And this didn’t stop here. We went white water rafting in the Ganges (an amazing and incredibly refreshing experience) and the three random men that were also on our boat wouldn’t stop taking pictures of us. Not WITH us, only OF us. One of them even had the nerve to grab my butt when we were under water. Living in a bit of a bubble on the farm, this was my first experience with gender norms I had been warned about before coming. To say the least, I was displeased. Evidently, according to my friend Richa who is from Delhi, the men were from this city that is infamous for producing disgusting and entitled men. Nonetheless, that gave them no right to act they way they did. It was annoying and tarnished our experience; all we could talk about after was how horrible those men were and not how amazing the experience was.
Thankfully we turned it all around with some cold coffee with ice cream and banana pancakes with Nutella, the most popular meal on our trip, and began exploring once again with smiles on our faces. We found little cafes with adorable atmospheres and trinkets for friends and families and we even went to the Ganges River ceremony, called an aarti, at night. This was, by far, the highlight of my entire India trip.

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My favorite snapshot of the aarti ceremony.

We walked into a sectioned off stairwell of the Ganges, women were sitting on one side and men on the other. White men in robes came down around 6:30 and started chanting and burning things on little platters, swirling them in circles. We were all handed little bowls with flowers, a small clay pot, and a wax covered cotton ball inside of it and instructed by a nice woman besides us to follow the movement of the men in the white robes. As the sun went down, you could see billions of little flowers being thrown into the River, each one a prayer for the Ganges Goddess. Orange chrysanthemums and purple petals fluttered across the river surface, dancing in the disappearing light. And as the sun went down, we all lit our cotton balls, creating our own dots of light to bring energy to the night sky. All of swung out little lights in circles, chanting words that didn’t make sense to me, but the importance of them filled the air and the souls of the people surrounding us. It felt as if the Ganges really was cleansing our souls, just as it was rumored to do. With each flower thrown into the river, the more pure I felt.
I truly felt as if I something inside of me had surged up and awakened.
I was so overwhelmed and moved by this ceremony that I stayed for fifteen minutes after, despite my friends desires to move along, to talk to the women there. They all splashed around in the River, gripping the chain attached to the land (called a “Ganga Chain”) as the fabric of their saris soaked in the holiness.
Afterwards we went back to our room and I promptly burst into tears. There is this saying in India that’s “phir bhi dil hai Hindustan” which means no matter what we label ourselves as and no matter where we live, we are Indian at heart. I felt the full force of this quote at this ceremony, and it was incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t help but admit that ceremonies like this, so gorgeous and touching, are exactly the reason I love Indian culture.

There is another saying that goes “if you mix the hot with the cold, they fight in your body and you get sick.” This is by Jeet Paul, one of the workers at the farm. I’ve learned that this one is also all too true as all of the cold ice cream and AC fought with the heat and spiciness of India and ended in me having a massive cough and a never-ending stuffy nose.

Despite the never-ending use of tissues, it was all worth it for Rishikesh and all of the beautiful and life-changing experiences it brought into my life!

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About Morgan Fitzgerald

Morgan Fitzgerald is a freshman planning to double major in International Studies and Environmental Science in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Morgan is passionate about exploring the tension between economic development and environmental sustainability, particularly in the realm of sustainable farming. Morgan will be spending five weeks volunteering with Navdanya located outside of Dehradun near Bharpur. Navdanya promotes biodiversity conservation, organic farming, the rights of farmers and the process of seed saving. Morgan will spend her days sowing seeds, cooking food and strengthening camaraderie with other local volunteers on the farm. She will also have the opportunity to explore the administrative side of Navdanya. Morgan’s research will focus on Nadanya as an organization and will consider how it goes about fulfilling its mission, the extent to which it is successful and other strategies it may employ.

2 thoughts on “Runaway to Rishikesh

  1. Hi, Morgan! I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I remember discussing with you how your research topic may evolve once your feet were on are on the ground – I am so excited to see the outcomes of your research on the lack of women working on the farms at Navdanya! You did a wonderful job capturing your connection to the Ganges River Ceremony! Cherish that memory! I cannot wait to hear more!

    Liked by 1 person

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