There are cows everywhere. Of course I've seen them in other cities, but for some reason Jodhpur has a particularly large population. Here, sacred cows roam the streets freely, sneaking up behind you, sniffing saris for sale in shops, munching piles of lettuce in the market. Between the cows, scrapper dogs, garbage heaps, tuk tuks, and all the other moving parts that make up Indian streets, it's a chaotic ecosystem out there.
Outside our hotel room overlooking a garbage-filled lake, about a dozen cows roam regularly. A few even sleep there at night. During the day, the fountain is turned on, and water spray causes piles of plastic junk to move into different configurations. There is something strange and eerily beautiful about this mess of dancing garbage forming patterns.
Despite the abundance of unsightly garbage, Jodhpur is beautiful. This cityscape full of cows and colorful blue hues is all that makes India so special. Although personally, it's hard for me to overcome the cultural practice of trashing one's home. I think about this topic a lot while here. People use public space as an open-aired waste pit, but mom isn't around to clean up after them because she's littering too. I'm not quite sure we're doing a better job in my home country though. Our garbage is out of sight out of mind, but Americans still produce the largest quantity of trash in the world. Besides, we enable corporations to wreak havoc on our home turf in a more insidious format (carcinogenic pesticides, oil spills, toxic chemicals, etc).
I understand there are cultural reasons Indians litter. For generations, before plastic existed, it caused no harm to toss waste into the street. Banana leaves as food wrappers eventually disintegrated. Maybe junk piles didn't grow so big then. Probably the booming population doesn't help either.
But enough about garbage in the streets. Let's get back to cows.
I have so many questions about the sacred street cows who roam free amongst the garbage heaps: Who do they belong to? What do they eat? What happens if they get sick or injured? Isn't all that cow poo in the street annoying? Does it ever get cleaned up?
One day, I ask a local shopkeeper about all this. Maybe he can put an end to my bafflement.
Sipping a small, plastic cup of hot chai, he explains that the many street cows belong to people, of course. And guess what? The cows even know their way home. Each night all the street cows return home to be milked, he says.
I have serious doubts about this. Many of the cows I've seen are in terrible condition. I can't imagine that they wander home every night, and then back to the same garbage heap come morning. Yet the shopkeeper insists this is true. He even says that city life is better for a cow than country living, that they are lucky to live here.
Why is that? I ask. Because of the garbage snacks, he says. They have plenty of trash to eat, so they are never hungry.
And so I leave you with a baby goat that looks like a cow.