The crisp morning Himalayan air whips through my hair. I look out at the first glow of sunrise from my hotel balcony. I have been coming to Rishikesh every year and the stay at Divine Ganga Cottage is becoming a norm. I particularly love the fact that, in this hotel, I find the quiet and tranquillity that I have come searching for here. The hotel is at the end of a narrow lane, away from the centre of the Laxman Jhula area but at a walkable distance, and from my balcony, I can look out over the River Ganga and the Himalayan ranges.
The water this morning is a deep blue gently flowing along the sandy river bank. A lone temple where I have hardly ever seen anyone, stands on the other side of the river. A little further ahead in the distance, rows of camping tents are set up and people have started to emerge out stretching their bodies. The sun is hidden behind the mountains – which are a blend of brown mud and rocks covered in green vegetation – and streaks of rays spill out on the clear blue cloudless sky. Mr. Pandey, the caretaker, greets me and I turn around to see the familiar face of this middle-aged man who is wrapped up in his usual monkey cap, gloves, et all.
“Good Morning Pandey ji,” I respond, “Vivek aaj yahan nahi hai kya?” (Is Vivek not here today?)
“Nahi madam, who aaj sham ko Delhi se aayenge,” informs Mr. Pandey (He will be back from Delhi in the evening today).
“Acha,” I say (okay) as he scrambles into his living quarter next door and I thank the kitchen boy who has brought my ginger tea and placed it on the red and whitewashed bannister. Light steam rises from the see-through cup.
I notice that a brown cow and a black goat have found their way through the open gates into the grassy compound below. The goat bleats as it tries to jump over another fence. The vehicles on the meandering mountain roads look like a miniature Lego set of toys on a thin ribbon strip. As I take a sip of the tea, a soothing Spanish song playing somewhere nearby catches my attention. The ballad type music reinforces the calm and peace of the surroundings.
Suddenly a fleck of ash falls on my arm and startled, I look up.
“¡Dios mío! Did ash fall on you?” says the man standing on the balcony above, in a broken English with a rare accent.
“No worries,” I respond to the man with blonde hair and a stubble. “Are you playing that music?”
“Oh, the song? Sí,” he walks back into his room and comes out with a small hand-held speaker.
“It’s lovely, would you mind giving me a copy of it?” I request.
“Sí, sí,” he nods. “You listen more? Come up.”
“Sure!” I pick my cup and keys and head towards the overlapping staircase that connects the two wings of the hotel with the central courtyard style terrace.
“Hi, I am Tanya,” I say, approaching him and noticing that even on this cold morning he is clad only in beige knee-length shorts and blue t-shirt.
“Chilano,” he says.
“Where are you from?” I ask him.
“Chile,” he says.
“Chilano from Chile,” I remark, at which he breaks out into a laugh.
“And you?” he questions.
“I stay in Bangalore,” I answer.
“Oh! I was there last week,” he says, as his blue eyes light up, “its nice city.”
“Are you going to light that?” I ask him, pointing at the unlit cigarette dangling from his lips even as he speaks.
“No, I train my brain,” he responds smiling, “make it feel I will light but I won’t, so it crave less.”
“You have more songs like this?” I ask him, smiling at the answer I had just heard.
“Sí, but I like Indian songs,” he says scrolling through the iPod and flips the song, “like this.”
The calm of the morning is suddenly filled with foot tapping drum beats of a famous Tamil song and I am mildly amused.
“I watch Indian movies also. In Bangalore, I saw Jamla Pagla Jamla,” he says.
“You mean Yamla Pagla Deewana?” I correct him.
“Did you understand it?” I ask him.
“No,” he says with a desolate look, “but I look around and when everybody laugh, I also go, ha ha ha and when everybody quiet and sad, I also do, boo hoo,” he says mimicking to cry, “but I like song and dance. Everything so bright and colourful.”
I laugh aloud at this and he joins in the laughter.
“So what brings you to Rishikesh?” I ask.
“I am in India for 6 months. I leave next week. My exams will start,” he informs.
“Exams?” I give him a quizzical look.
“Sí, I study Psychology in Chile. Here on study break. After this I go back and have to choose major,” he continues.
“So what will you major in?” I throw in another question.
“I sure before, but now I not so sure,” he says.
“Why?” I ask.
“After meeting you, I confused” he replies with a blush. I throw my head back and let out another hearty laugh.
“You have breakfast?” he asks, grabbing his opportunity to put in a question.
“No, not yet. I will go to the German Bakery in some time to grab a bite,” I reply.
“I join you?” he asks with another smile.
“Sure, let me change out of my pyjamas,” I answer smiling and heading downstairs.
“Muy bien, I meet you in lobby in 10 minutes,” he responds hurrying back into his room.