Our eyes locked as soon as I turned the corner, liquid blue on black, like staring down a double barrelled chocolate brown shotgun with eyelashes. The cow stood perfectly still, right in the centre of the narrow dirt road. We stared at each other, unblinking, for a long moment. As I took another tentative step, it lowered its head slightly, snorted and flicked at an errant fly with its rope like tail. I nervously eyed the horns curving long and twisted from its brow, tipped with lethally sharp points.
I looked around. To my right sat a couple of chattering Italian women, basking on a low wall in the sunshine; to my left a solid sandstone wall. The temple I was headed for lay further down the road, I could see the gate over the cow’s murderous gaze. There was no way to go but forwards.
The cow paced towards me, its bony haunches protruding underneath its threadbare hide. It looked seriously pissed off. The realisation floated almost lazily into my brain, a little voice saying incredulously ‘I’m pretty sure that cow is actually going to go for me’.
In a couple of lumbering steps it charged, swinging its horned head and grunting through its nose. I heard the Italian women gasp. Like a badly directed movie, the world slowed down to a single moment – swirling dust motes, my heart pounding in my ears, and the cow’s brown tipped horns levelled at my stomach.
Side stepping quickly against the wall, I put a parked motorbike between us and flattened myself against the warm stone as the cow crashed towards me. Visions of my entrails spilling into the dust swam across my vision, interspersed with a vague regret that I wasn’t wearing full matador’s garb and swinging a red silken flag.
With a kind of macabre amusement, I considered the irony of travelling halfway around the world, surviving various life endangering activities, only to meet my end at the horns of a malnourished Indian cow with an attitude problem. Hysteria mounting, I imagined a variety of hilarious ‘death by cow’ headlines in the local news – ‘homicidal holy cow rampages through Jaisalmer, girl disembowelled’ – in bold letters above a picture of the cow’s murderous grin.
‘Please don’t gore me’ I whispered under my breath. Deaf to my pleas, the cow swung at my exposed midriff. I reached out in terror and grabbed the horns, wrestling with it as it snorted in anger and butted at me with its heavy head. Finally I managed to wrench the horns to one side and slipped past, sprinting for the temple gate in a totally undignified fashion as my assailant lumbered on down the road.
It took about two hours and several cups of sugary chai for my hands to stop shaking, at which point I began to appreciate the humour of the situation – along with a kind of stunned amazement at my super quick cow wrestling ninja instincts – but I gave sacred cows a very wide berth for the rest of my time in India. The lesson to take away from this experience is this: just because a cow is sacred, that doesn’t mean it’s not still a total dickhead.