Hari Om Hari Om,
While I have yet to complete my ritualistic full dip into the Ganges, I feel that over the past week we (David, Kenny and myself) have been fully immersed and submerged in the Ganges lifestyle – a unique blend of ancient and modern ways here on the waterside. Our miraculous (and free) accomadations are in an ashram/living community which lies on a slightly remote edge of Haridwar, bordering the river and Rajaji National park. Our neighbor is the generous and respected SwastiJi, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in terms of hosting (arranged drivers, tours, food, etc for us). Our driver is the softspoken and half Bengali (like me) Naresh, who has proven to be good company and a bit of a shield against swarms of hawkers.
Though I have been here before, I am always continually awestruck by the vast ghats that line the whole city. People from all over India come to use them for bathing, washing, worship, and Arati. Even though it is not Mela season, there are sadhus everywhere – even if only 1 out of 100 are genuine, that means there are still dozens of genuinely pious souls here. The awesome skyline is unlike any we have seen on our travels- a cluster of normal buildings and temples rest beside endless ghats, and an elegant modern suspension bridge is complemented not by skyscrapers, but by an epic monolith of Mahadeva. It is refreshing to see more ashrams than office buildings.
A couple days ago I went on my first jungle trek in India, via Rajaji National Park. Sites included wild boar, spotted deer, sambaar, blue buck, black faced and red faced monkeys, eagles, parakeets, hornbills, and ELEPHANTS. Yes, we saw a WILD mother elephant and her tiny calf, both of which walked within 20 feet of our open Jeep. The slow majestic strides of an elephant, in the wild, made for a definitely a surreal moment.
Our first day in Rishikesh passed too quickly for me. I think most people that come here discover there are two types of people: Haridwar people and Rishikesh people. Kenny is a Haridwar person, I am definitely a Rishikesh person. Rishikesh is smaller, quieter, and less populated. It may lack the ‘intimacy’ or the ‘traditional’ feelings that Kenny described during Haridwar’s Arati, but I enjoy its closer tie to nature. It is further upstream so it is colder, the water is vibrant blue and the mountains are higher. A highlight for me was the statue of Shiva that overlooks the Rishikesh Arati (which included a Hanuman Chaleesa).
Day after day the trip keeps unfolding in near-miraculous ways. I am sure by now you all are sick of hearing me say this, but everything always truly works out if you let it. Examples:
-We landed in Delhi and realized that we had to stay there until the next morning (our train was not until 6am), with nowhere booked. This led to Kenny calling the parents of our good mutual friend, Bramachari Shekar. They were great company and fed us well. Best detour ever.
-Kenny was quite disappointed our second night that we missed an Arati because we were driving, but when we arrived at Keshavananda’s ashram they were performing a small Arati for Lahiri Mahashaya – probably the only Arati connected to an SRF line of guru’s in all of Haridwar.
-After a day of struggling to speak Hindi to our driver, we found out the next day that he is in fact half Bengali… which allowed us to speak to him! For those of you that are geographically challenged, the odds of Bangla being useful in Haridwar are extremely low. Naturally I have taught Naresh some English, he now enjoys exclaiming “Shortcut! Shortcut!” anytime we go somewhere fast and unorthodox.
-Today we arrived at AnandamayeeMa’s ashram only to find that the majority of it was closed (her room, the museum, etc). But after staying for a bit we met the head Priest, who befriended us and gave us Prasad (blessed food) and opened the museum for us to view – privately!
I continually think of new ways to repel hawkers – it has become one of my favorite pastimes. One of my favorite conversations went as follows:
Bunch of 8 year old girls: Hello!
Bunch of 8 year old girls: Hello? please sir, hello? *tugs my clothes
Bunch of 8 year old girls: HELLLLLLOOOO!!!!! SIR!?!?!?
Me: …. ….. HEEEEEELLLLLLOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bunch of 8 year old girls: …. … … hahaha
Anyways, there have been dozens of amusing anecdotes the past week, but I suppose the videos will explain more when I return home. The food alone is worth 5 more blog posts…
We have two more days to explore Rishikesh and then we are off to Devprayag, the conflux that creates the Ganges.
Ji, Babuji, Ji (Naresh-Hindi for ‘Yessir, RespectedSir, YesSir’)