At 6 a.m. our small group makes our way up to the meditation hall for the morning sadhana. What a delight to be practicing yoga on the banks of the Ganga River. Sounds fill the humid air as the Indian sun rises awakening birds and monkeys from slumber. Morning Arti begins with clanging of bells and chanted prayers to Mother Ganga. We gently stretch our bodies and deepen our breath to accommodate all that is surrounding us and within us.
At breakfast we’re eager to eat and discuss plans for our third day as a group. We’ve already determined India has many experiences to give us. Today we’re hiking to a waterfall in the Himalayan foothills. An opportunity to experience the switchback Indian mountain roads and the natural beauty that surrounds us!
The trek is moderate and the trail is well kept. We hike up alongside a brook and cross a few walking bridges. Occasionally, goats will pass as they forage in the brush for leaves and berries. We arrive at a smaller waterfall assuming we’ve made it, only to be lead on by Vimal, our teacher and guide. Okay, so this trek was a bit more physical than we expected….we keep breathing and climbing up.
We arrive to a beautiful pool of water and the thunderous sound of the waterfall. All in for a swim! The force of the water on the body under the fall was exhilarating. After pictures, poses, laughter and drying off we’re gathered for a bowl of Momo, spicy Manchurian noodles and then….
The longest, blood curdling, hair raising scream, out of nowhere. Stunned – in silence we begin looking around. Above us on the mountain we see two people gazing down in shock with their mouths agape. Vimal and I spring to our feet and begin climbing up. Time just stops. I know as I climbed up through the bush and jagged rocks I may be unprepared for what I am heading into.
There in a narrow, rock laden gully is a young woman badly beaten from her tumble down the steep slope. She has several contusions, is unable to move her left arm and is challenged to breathe. A friend has scurried to her aid, supporting her head. They were from Egypt and their English is good.
The next several hours that pass are a gift. We need to get help fast, we are the only folks there. Cell phones don’t work… someone hikes down to call for help. Members of our group hike up with drinking water, clean her wounds and provide hope. Time passes. We need to keep her conscious and talking. We talk, pray and sing as our mutual faith in God eases the situation.
Finally, two men arrive with a cloth stretcher as others arrive to enjoy the waterfall. We recruit 5 men to carry her down. This was no easy task. The young men are from different cultures speaking different languages, we need to communicate with each other in a coordinated manner to ensure her safety and theirs as we make the trek down.
It is painstaking trying to keep her body evenly supported in the piece of cloth as they descend. Proceeding down the mountain, there is only silence – nine men focused on balance, strength and moving the stretcher along the steep, narrow, rock strewn, twisting path. The women are holding space behind them, praying. They have to take breaks to rest often…but need a flat surface, where they can move together to lay her down, shift their holds on the stretcher, care for her wounds, then in unison lift her once again from the earth. We all share what we have with each other – water, kleenex, snacks, and clothing.
Half way down the woman on the stretcher turns her moans of pain into a song praising God …we all join her and sing. WHAT A GIFT, to be part of this experience of community, sacrifice, and gratitude to the Divine with strangers and friends alike!
I wish you all peace, health and love throughout this holiday season and always.
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