Attack of the Sacred Cow

As I sat down to tell the story of how a farm girl from Iowa got attacked by a cow in India, I realized I don’t even know why cows are considered sacred in Hinduism. I did what any good post-modern cultural anthropologist would do (Googled it), and came up with an article that asserts, “Cows are guileless in their behaviour…” Forgive the pun, but…


The free-roaming urban-dwelling cows of India are one of the most visual representations to an American that, as we’d say, you’re just not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry. I’ll stop now with the agricultural kitsch.) I grew up on a farm in Iowa. I’m used to cows, but behind fences. And on my dinner plate, thank you very much. The prevalence of cattle in India is akin to the pervasiveness of yellow cabs in New York City. They’re everywhere, interrupting traffic, brash as hell, and just might kill you if you don’t watch where you’re going.

But they look docile enough. “Guileless,” as the aforementioned Guide to Hinduism claims. The things that amaze and astonish you on the first days of a trip to somewhere as different as India become commonplace by day 12. Cows on the street? No problem. They move slower than the mopeds. Weave past, dash around, stay standing, no problem. I walked past that cow in Udaipur like I had many a cow by that stage, at a safe but narrow distance, and kept along my way.

Except this time I apparently did something to offend, or terrify, or something, because she lowered her significantly-sized head and slammed it into my vulnerable thigh. Like an embarrassing, loud, and very uncool little girl, I screamed — at the top of my lungs — managing even to draw compassion from the street vendors who had previously been interested only in my rupees.

Someone asked me if she (He? I’m not sure. The cattle with udders also had horns, and I didn’t stick around to check under the hood to get my attacker’s history) had gored me. GORE? Rii-ight… I checked out my leg, which hurt like hell and was now marked by a cow-nose shaped dirt smear, but no signs of a “gore,” thank God. I quickly moved on down the street, though I was already lost at this point in the maze of Udaipur’s lovely winding streets. I’d been trying unsuccessfully to find my hotel, unwilling to pull out my map just yet. And I’d just been attacked by a cow.

Bruised and stunned, I stumbled around a few more side streets, encountering a couple vendors/touts/drivers who wanted to sell/scam/chat me up. Fifteen minutes ago, I’d felt completely confident and comfortable wandering around this strange new city, exploring the locals’ market and off-the-beaten track side streets. Fifteen minutes ago, I was digging deep into the cultural fiber of this amazing country, enjoying its differences, and stopping to chat to anyone who said hello. One bovine attack later, I felt like everyone who spoke to me was on the prowl. I started to think a man was following me. I was scared. And all because a stupid cow rammed me in the thigh

I stumbled on a German cafe called Edelweiss that had been written up in my guidebook, which was filled with Europeans reading guidebooks. I gratefully snagged a table, ordered a latte, and pulled out my Moleskine to write all about it. While massaging a bruise the size of a pint glass and talking to a German medical student backpacker. So much for the authentic Indian experience.

Would I have been so afraid if a taxi gave me a tap in the middle of Midtown? Absolutely not. The danger factor being equal, the unfamiliar will scare us much more than the threat that we know. I am queen of my domain in New York City. I have very little idea what’s going on in India. I think this vulnerability is one of the things I love the most about traveling. When we are out of our comfort zone, we have a choice. We can curse the unfamiliar, cast judgement, and walk away… OR, we can jump in, take a risk, and, well… get attacked by a cow. But we become all the better for it.

As for me, I’ll keep weaving in and out of the cultural and agricultural land mines. I love people far too much to stop learning about how the ones on the other half of the world live. I’d rather suffer a few bruises than a closed mind any day.


2 Responses to “Attack of the Sacred Cow”

  1. 1 Jackie 25 February 2011 at 17:53

    Bill worked with a man from India in Flagstaff, at W L Gore. He was Hindu (or is it correct to say Hindi? Sorry, I am not sure). He did, however, eat hamburgers at McDonald’s in Flagstaff. When questioned about it, he said that only Indian cows were sacred, not American cows. That always struck me as a bit strange. But then, who am I to question the beliefs of another. Just thought it was worth mentioning here. Glad you were not gored!!

    • 2 travelinglightjs 25 February 2011 at 18:03

      Ha! I am NO expert on Hinduism (and, yes, I think you say he was Hindu), but I think that it’s safe to say that he wasn’t a particularly religious Hindu. I can tell you that it is VERY hard to find beef on the menu in India. Something like 70% of the population is vegetarian. Chicken and lamb are the only easy-to-find meats on the menu!

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