I need a distraction.

Upon attaining enlightenment, the Buddha’s gave his first discourse in the city of Sarnath, ten kilometers outside of Varanasi. Underneath a cloud soaked lead sky the rickshaw drops me in front of a Jain temple. Staring at the twenty-foot Buddha statue it begins to drizzle. There are benches so I sit under the protective cover of an awning and watch a dog carry a monkey on its back. After eating a few peanuts the rain subsides.

I cross the street.

Through a wide, paint-chipped metal gate, a Buddhist center anchors the far end of a circular stone drive. Upon ascending the steps, three golden Buddhas come into view. Perched at the back of the temple they keep watch over the marble floor and large pillars. Two monks sit in meditation and three others converse quietly in a small saffron circle.

After greeting the golden icons of liberation I move outside. The rains begin again. Avoiding the heavy downpour, I seek refuge under the protection of the large entranceway. From behind I hear a noise. It’s the guard, holding an umbrella. Upon accepting that there is more for me to achieve here, I again ascend the staircase. Bowing toward my escort I then gingerly step onto the cool marble, approach one of the thick pillars and lower myself to the floor.

Closing my eyes, I sit in silence listening to the rainfall. The tight knots inside my head begin loosening and within the air molecules of each out breath, tension slowly begins to dissipate. I’ve been resisting India. Since my arrival I’ve been tossing up walls to protect myself from the fray, a futile illusion depriving me of feeling her deep immeasurable beauty.

It’s still lightly sprinkling when I get antsy and make a break for it. As luck would have it, I step onto the street and directly in front of me a rickshaw is emptying of its passengers. I take a seat in the back. We negotiate a price and the driver’s arm waves wildly through the air as if conducting an orchestra, all the while laughing wildly at the punch line of a joke only he himself knows.

Cha Cha (Uncle), motions with his hand for me to sit in the front seat next to him.

“Nahi.” There is no reason for me to sit in front, or so I think.

He waves his arm and pats the seat. My attention is diverted; two women and a man approach; it is now that I understand. He’s sold me out. For the price, this is a private rickshaw, no doubt. But nothing but time on my hands and Cha Cha ji bouncing on the seat, whooping it up, I move up and squeeze in. And we’re off.

Rain is dripping onto my face and legs, cold against my warm skin, centuries old buildings speaking of their history as we pass. Deep rust bricks bear the remains of worn Hindi lettering; structures and cryptic looping script repeating, one after another. Men, women, bare-bottomed children, and cows share the unpaved road with rickshaws, trucks, motorbikes and vegetable carts. Graceful disorder in full motion. A thin woman draped in a sky blue sari, soaked to the bone, stands alone in the center of the swirling mayhem. She bends to the ground and picks up a bright orange brick the color of the soil and heaves it through the air, landing behind the moving rickshaw.

Cha Cha ji whoops on.

The three passengers exit and I am shooed into the back. Within moments we stop for another, a young woman. The road turns bumpy. An enormous crimson brick structure stands alone breathing under a roofless open sky. Massive chunks absent from the upper rim form a structurally jagged painting against a backdrop of translucent humidity. Great wooden doors matching in bulk are slowly pushed open from the inside by two men, one against the weight of each, swinging open time’s window and exposing hundreds of thick black cattle. Howling guttural shoves echo through the mass of hulken bodies.

Cha Cha ji whoops on.

I look down at the young woman seated next to me. Her brown skin glows in contrast to the sheer lavender fabric pressed against it. Her dark wavy hair pulled back, frames the features of a delicately sculpted effigy of a Princess past. She bounces lightly to the beat of the bumpy road and looks up at me.

Cha Cha ji whoops on.

~  by Christine Fowle