A Stroll along the Ganges River -- (part 2)
by Keveen Gabet
In Gangotri, I am offered a bed and a warm meal in an ashram (cult centre for pious people), and I use the last rays of Surya to randomly meet old men plunged into their everlasting mantras. I end my day at the foot of the powerful waterfall, where the Ganga unleashes its fury, to deliver a few extra prayers and thank yous. After a short night, I fill in my flask of Holy River like all the orange clad pilgrims. The latter start their walking journey here, and after having made the necessary pujas and ancestral rituals, they will then walk bare feet or with ‘made in China’ plastic sandals to New Delhi (some 650km away). They carry their bottles as pregnant women would carry their milk-filled breasts, and will eventually pour the precious liquid in their temple back home. As for me, I neither have a temple nor a final destination, but a simple idea in mind. Along the sinuous road, I meet many parties of pilgrims forming long orange caterpillars amidst the luxuriant green pine forest. The contrast feeds the soul of my empty stomach and gives me the will to go on. Shiva knew it, the splendour of what I see is priceless and even a diamond mine could not buy such a precious experience.
As promised, I long to see my little saddhu again (ascetic man devoted to the gods), and manage to find his cave where we celebrate a puja together followed by a home/cave made coffee. He is a beautiful wrinkled little man with a smile to bring joy back to a man wanting to die. He proudly shows me his artistic portfolio disseminated all over the forest and introduces me to his every invention. We love each other with no linguistics. A gesture and a slight movement of the head say more than a dictionary. I sourly bid him farewell as I would easily have enjoyed his company much longer, selfishly keeping him for myself in his smoky cave, while listening to him live.
I walked 22km on my own, with an empty stomach, improvising my own mantras and fully enjoying the present moment with Shiva and the Ganga when a car stopped by my side. An Indian woman with more gold than the local jeweller opens the window and invites me to hop in. I happily accept but soon realise that this luxury does not satisfy nor feed my soul. I am indeed no longer enjoying life. I am passive again. But how can I tell her that I no longer want to benefit from her kindness? Once again, I beg Shiva to help me out of this situation and once again he answers my call immediately. A massive landslide is blocking the road and although the cars keep honking (jeez I hate honks), the huge boulders will not roll away. It is the perfect opportunity for me to thank my host and get back to my mini ‘pilgrimage’. I manage to walk across the 6 landslides, but put myself in great danger as I am quickly surrounded by falling boulders that could easily turn me into chapattis (wheat based crepes served at each meal). I put a blind trust in Shiva. I walk straight while working on my vocal chords and praising the blue lord. I walk the next 19km under an antediluvian rain while turning my feet into lifeless soaked limbs. I finally reach the first camp where all my money got stolen / taken by the divine power, swallow a warm cup of tea and a banana and keep on walking. Luckily enough, a bus that waited 7h in front of the landslide has decided to go back and picks me up, free of charge, for the remaining 30km. I have a more than empty stomach, a more than drenched body, a soothed soul and not a single cramp in my calves despite the walk. I managed to live 3 days with less than a dollar. Fate made Marta, a Spanish friend be in town and come to my financial rescue for my return to Rishikesh. In the jeep, I feel terribly guilty seeing fellow pilgrims (the real ones) struggling in their venture to join the capital.
As of now, I am metaphorically ending my Indian journey where most Indians wish to end their life journey: Varanasi, the Hindu crematorium on the bank of the Ganges.
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