RISHIKESH - for other reasons
I have to confess that i am not the overly religious type that hits the pilgrimage trail with every waxing and waning of the moon. But, inexplicably, i end up visiting places known primarily for temples and tirthas. Rishikesh was another such.
I went because i wanted to meet Ganga.
I definitely wasn't looking to make an advance booking for moksha or angling to earn brownie points from divine account keepers. Nor was my longstanding, intense yearning to dip in the Ganga nourished by any concept of purification or merit-making or self- realisation. The river Ganga has always fascinated me because it has been the base-camp of a civilization from its infancy to its present state of confused debility ; a civilization whose essences at a molecular level permeates my own stem cells. Its like wishing to see my DNA.
The river has run through much. And is cheerfully running on. Its alluvium is composed of the detritus of a million sagas, both glorious and inglorious. The water, recycled endlessly, must be unbearably rich in stories of the human experience. I wanted to dip in those waters and dissolve myself into it, so that i could also be part of it, recycled endlessly, flowing perpetually. I would have liked nothing more than to have quietly flown away with the smooth, silky, swishing current of the fleet footed Ganga.
But, i am here. Safe and solid. To obsesses another day about Ganga. Instead of my scattering into Ganga, Ganga has flown into me. After Rishikesh.
It was too early for frost. Too late for flooding . Just right. Cool enough to evoke a gasp as i dipped in. Full enough to seem like pralaya from a fisheye-view. Clear enough to see the gemlike pebbles underfoot. And lonely enough to embrace it all as MINE !
Yes, truly, that was the feeling I got in Rishikesh. That the mountains are mine, the water is mine, the evening air, filled with the comforting smoke and steam of snack vending carts, is mine, the monkey snatching packets off unwary shoppers is mine, the pale quarter moon hanging in the inky sky is mine, the sound of conch and gongs is mine, the people of as many colours as in a Benetton ad., milling around cafes and trekking- tour offices, are mine.
I slept very well after the rather tedious road journey from Delhi thanks to the nice room given by the Omkaranand Ashram's Premier Guest house. One small flight of steps in its backyard ends in Ganga. The sadhus and sadhvis who run this facility feel like family and are ever helpful.
Ofcourse, we did the Jhoolas - Lakshman and Ram. Had absolutely no spiritual experience in any of those shrines feted to be millenia old. Colour washed cottages with vermillion smeared rocks in tinsel drapery; framed calender prints of garish gods; claypipe smoking ascetics with rastafarian dreadlocks ; pop-music tunes masquerading in bhajan lyrics. Holy and hallowed by great sages, no doubt, but Naaah ! Not my idea of Temples.
Took in the Ganga -Arati at Haridwar's Har-Ka-Pour. Crowding and jostling . Little children selling tiny arati sets ( a leaf cup with a candle-slice and a yellow flower ) for just one rupee keep badgering everyone with words too lofty for their mouths. Aunties and Uncles hollering to family to occupy the best-view seats along the steps. Blasts of chill breeze. The furious roar of the wildly tumbling Ganga just under the massive security chains on the other side of the bridge.
Finally the loudspeakers blare the tinny female voice of a popular singer belting out the Arati song . It brings on no piety in me. Only fleeting associative mental images of some filmy female trailing yards of chiffon veils as she runs down the alpine meadows .
Suddenly, a hush. Like the entire world is holding its breath. A bright flame shoots up in a shrine on the other bank.Then, one by one, pyramidal ,tiered lamps start dancing round and round. Gongs and cymbals ring out an enchanting beat. On and on goes the Arati. Truly mesmerising. Sense of time is lost.
The clamorous cry of Har Har Mahadev ! breaks the spell. Arati is over. Crowding, jostling and clamouring again. Much pushing and pulling to fill the plastic take-away canisters with Ganga.
Bumpy ride over slushy, pig unfested, unlit, narrow roads back to Muni-Ki-Reti in Rishikesh ; and to the cosy ashram room.
Visited the excellently located Omkaranand Ashram . The newly built dravidian style Kamakshi temple looks luminously colourful against the surrounding green peaks. Pretty like a Dasara Gombe artifact.
Then , to more of Ganga. Yet more of Ganga. And some.
I have a handful of pebbles picked from the riverbed. And a packetful of the speckled and shimmering white sand. They sit at home now in a niche above my cooking range, where i see them everyday. The sadhvi at the guest house said those pebbles will ensure that i make a repeat journey to meet the river again.
Its been 5 years.
I'm waiting.I'm waiting.