For Love of Cows

Written by Olivia Hilton, 2016 India: Gender and Religion

I don’t know where my love for cows came from, but it’s a very serious love and at times comical. Cows and India have always gone hand in hand; their sacred status in India seems to resonate with my love for them, and had a large impact on my choice to travel here. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Olivia’s love for cows” has become a running joke with my friends at home, as well as my OG group, because of the uncontrollable excitement I have whenever I see one. In our safety chats before the program started, I told our group about how excited I was to see and touch as many of the cows as I could.

For example, on our very first day in Delhi, after being picked up from the airport by our program leader Sarah, we navigated through the packed, noisy, overwhelming streets while sweating profusely (it was my first time experiencing heat like you find in Delhi). I nearly missed it. I was busy soaking in those first moments of the trip (and I may have been sleepwalking due to jet lag), but I glanced up and there it was. My first sacred Indian cow. If there weren’t maybe 50 people around me, all trying to squeeze by, I would have come to a dead halt. As I turned to look at Sarah, she smiled as if she was reading my mind and told me how exciting it was to witness my first cow here. After that, there were an avalanche of program moments where I was surrounded by beautiful things, as well as cows.

There have been many amazing memories of cows, including the one I sat on the side of the road with for half an hour petting, because when I stopped she would lay her head on my lap and lick my leg. There have also been extremely competitive games of I-Spy with my program leader Christophe (of course I always win), and naming the cows and putting them into categories. Please see the list below:

1. Gar-Cow (garbage cow)
2. Mountain Cow
3. Street Cow
4. Holy Cow
5. Village Cow
6. Angry Cow
7. Is-that-a-Yak-or-a-Cow Cow
8. Traffic Jam Causing Cow
9. Baby Cow
10. Bundle of Cows (2 or more cows)
11. Mama Cow

But of the many cows I’ve seen, there was one cow that truly took my breath away. We were walking down the stairs to a Korean cafe when I saw the big brown eyes of a fawn-colored mama cow with her baby nearby. I immediately stopped and said, “I need to touch that cow,” before continuing on to the restaurant. Halfway through dinner, Christophe acknowledged the travesty that I didn’t have many cow pictures yet, and said that I needed to come with him. Back by the outside of the restaurant, we walked to the beautiful cow from before. I immediately got this lump in my throat and started to laugh while this beautiful animal reached her head out for my touch. Like a dog, she pushed into my scratches, leaned into me, and licked my arm. A nun passing by stopped to experience the absolutely euphoric joy that mama cow, Christophe, and I were experiencing.

That’s the only way I can describe it. Joy. This moment was so beautiful and organic, it embodied so many reasons why I came on this trip. The sheer locally-grown, organically-sourced joy that you find in the simplest things, such as petting a cow who sends you the most loving energy.

Mama cow is now, and will indefinitely be, the lock screen of my phone. I carry the joy she gifted me on, from Dharmsala and back home to the States.