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Reverence, Rafting, Realisation!

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By Roli S
When one thinks about the twin cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, the very first image that comes to mind is that of India’s holiest river Ganga and India’s gift to the world, Yoga. We decided to spend the first three days of our Uttarakhand Road trip in Rishikesh, at the GMVN Ganga Resort. Despite Google directions, we could find the Ganga Resort only when a helpful passerby showed us the way. We could finally reach the Resort via a narrow approach road. I was mighty impressed by the location of the property because one could experience the grandeur of the Ganga sitting in the balcony of one’s room. Not only the view but the sound of a fast-flowing river stimulates and refreshes one’s mind and this was no ordinary river but the holy, mighty Ganga River that I had been waiting to have a close encounter with for a very long time. Here it was just across the road, and I had to just open a gate to reach the river’s banks and take its water in my hand, touch it, feel it, and get familiar with it because it will take some time and a generous interaction before, both, River Ganga and I will get to know each other. That is it. That is what I wanted to do. Observe and enjoy the Ganga River, which looked clean and inviting. Everything else became less important from then onwards.

My companions decided to experience Rishikesh one day at a time and I decided to appreciate Maa Ganga one moment at a time. My moment with Ganga arrived when on day one of our stay – after resting enough as we had driven from Greater Noida – in the evening we walked across the front porch and a concrete road outside the Ganga Resort, down the concrete staircases, on to the concrete ghat steps and reached the cold pristine waters of Ganga Maiya. Stepping on the small round rocks, I let my feet touch the pure waters, bent down and took some of the water in my palm and what I felt at the moment is beyond words. I felt as if the power of all the ancient sages, who must have sat down here thousands of years ago trying to decipher the magic of creation, was now within me.

There was lot to recognise in the Ganga from the modern perspective and, in the next few days, I thought I would try to do just that. The ‘Aastha Path’, a walking track made along the banks of the Ganga was brimming in the evening with people of all ages. We took a stroll for some time and realised that the walking track is many kilometers long. People were not much worried about Covid, and many were seen without masks, although we were still following Covid appropriate behaviour. Since there was a steady build-up of the crowd we decided to come back to the resort, using a gate which connected ‘Aastha Path’ with it. The steady sound of the Ganga flowing, and cool breeze of early March was enough to relax us. We spread our yoga mats in the balcony of our room and decided to stretch a bit with yoga asanas. It was special because we were getting all the positive vibes of the Yoga Capital of The World! Having the Ganga flowing before us and a steady and distant sound of melodious bhajans were a bonus.

Next morning, sitting in our balcony, watching the sun rise from behind the mountains with the shiny pristine Ganga in the foreground was a once in a lifetime kind of experience. The source of energy, the Sun, and the life-giving River Ganga made me realise that it indeed takes two to tango! The Sun and the River!

I could see the much talked about ‘Beatles Ashram’ on the other side of the Ganga from my balcony and the Janaki Bridge to the left over the river. We decided to go walking around the river to the other side. We started at 8 a.m. and walked across Janaki Bridge, towards the ‘Beatles Ashram’, the roads were empty only dogs and cows were to be seen. There were many small dharamshalas, yoga training centres, home stays but we were disappointed as the road leading to the ‘Beatles Ashram’ was dirty (maybe due to the pandemic the area was neglected) but I came to know that the area around the Ashram is declared a forest area so is now out of bounds for people, not to mention that we did not want to go there as the approach road was deserted and in poor condition. It thought, was it not the Beatles who brought the attention of the whole world to the spiritual wealth of India?

We walked along the ghats. There were not many people, one could see few performing rituals by the side of the Ganga, a few others simply sitting and meditating, while a few more were bathing in the river. I sat down on the steps, closed my eyes, steadied my thoughts, and tried to make a connection with the Creator and the cosmos. I loved walking along the Ganga, going up and down the steps of the ghats in the peace and quiet of the morning. We took a walking tour of Paramarth Niketan from outside. It is still some time before I am ready to understand the ‘eternal truth’, I concluded.

Walking along the Ganga we came to the Ram Jhoola and crossed over to the other side. On our way back to the resort we crossed a small market street with many small cafes and tea stalls. When we reached back it was after 9 a.m., which meant we had been walking for more than an hour! It was a contemplative walking tour around mighty Ganga Maiya! Haven’t we learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present alone exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.

Back at the resort, we saw that few young men had come back after a river rafting adventure and were getting down from a small truck with their rafts. The Ganga Resort also organises rafting tours we came to know. So, Ganga Maiya is also a part of adventure and entertainment in this Yog-Nagri, I acknowledged the fact.

The cleanliness and housekeeping at the Ganga Resort of GMVN was lacking in standard. We asked for a change of room as the room given to us had too many issues with the toilet, also with the sofas as they were not clean. We had a friend coming over to visit us from Dehradun, so after some convincing we were allotted another one.

Our friends, who are local people, were very pleasantly surprised with the location and size of the property. We had planned to go out for lunch. Since our friends were also not very familiar with the area, we decided to follow Google Baba and Zomato Uncle to choose a place for lunch. When one gets away from Ganga and enters the city, then Rishikesh is a very crowded place with narrow lanes, and we were told that during weekends due to the holidaying crowds of adjoining states, the traffic situation is a nightmare. We reached our lunch place, ‘Sitting Elephant’, and we were very pleased with everything that this place had to offer. We sat there in an open-air rooftop restaurant, overlooking meandering Ganga River and forested mountains. The place presented an ideal spot for photography, which we did. The food and staff were also welcoming. Due to opening up of the places after the Covid Lockdown, one could see that all these places are on the way to recovery and taking measures to come back to normal.

Have you ever gone white water rafting with family or friends? I haven’t. So, I wanted to experience it. The adventure, the thrill, and the challenge of it all are not for everyone but I wanted to experience it as to me it comes with an unforgettable feeling of freedom. So, the next day, we decided to go to the very place which is the nerve centre of all the river rafting and adventure activities, Kaudiyala. This place also offers campsites by the riverbank and a GMVN resort is also there. Here I saw a different side of River Ganga. Swollen by the rains of the upper catchment areas, the river was a torrent gushing over rocky boulders as it hurtled out of the mountains towards the plains. The rapids provide the ideal spots for white-water rafting. The place was brimming with adventure sports lovers. After much deliberation we decided to skip the white-water rafting but for us Ganga had so much to offer. An action shot can still tell a story and will captivate my audience as long as I use descriptive language, I consoled myself. White water rafting photos can be especially striking. There is an abundance of movement, splashes, and mayhem that makes for great photography. We settled for a scenic drive meandering through the valley of the sages whose ashrams nestle in the surrounding forests along the holy River Ganga.

In the evening, we again walked for a long time on the ‘Aastha Path’ with Ganga Maiya for company. But I would not hesitate in reiterating this issue. Every time I see plastic, nylon/synthetic material and many other unmentionable things floating in the Ganga River, I want to ask Ganga Maiya, whether she had some advice to give to her devotees about their careless and ignorant ways? What exactly makes her happy? Late evening when I went to Triveni Ghat for Ganga Aarti, I kept thinking that not far from here is Muni Ki Reti, the starting point of the Char Dham Yatra, which is a blessed site since ancient sages meditated at this spot and this is definitely not the place for any sort of River Pollution. I took some water of the Ganga in my hand, bowed my head in respect and smiled to myself remembering the saying my mother used to mention often, ‘Man changa toh katauthi mein Ganga!’ This was our last evening at Rishikesh and we left for Dehradun the next day.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane.)

 

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