Saturday, April 14, 2012


The Ganges has always been held in a particularly high regard by most Indians. For me the fascination was mainly of the power of the great river flowing undiminished down to the plains of India from its high mountain origins. Rishikesh is the place where the Ganges descends down to the plains from its mountain abode, a place made all the more relevant as a holy place for the Hindus. Without any doubt the main attraction of Rishikesh is the Ganges. Here it is pure, unpolluted by all the wastes downstream.

Reaching Rishikesh in the early morning around 5, I was surprised to find the town asleep. I kinda expected the place to be abuzz with activity, being a temple town and all....but only encountered deserted roads and a few sadhus stirring awake. From the maps the place seemed small enough to explore on foot. So off I went wandering through the main road. The town was slowly awaking from the slumber...a few roadside shrines opened up with the priests cleaning in front, the tea stall person was setting up his stuff with a few saffron clad sadhus waiting impatiently for their morning chai...

New dawn at the Triveni Ghat

The Triveni Ghat along the bank gave me the first sight of the Ganges. Here, flights of steps extend down to the water running for a very long length along the bank. The water is still dark black, the sky hasn’t brightened yet. The flow is pretty fast here, made all the more conscious by the swift sound of flowing water. There are lots of people sleeping in the open plaza on the bank, in front of one of the dozen temples there...Bells are slowly reacquiring their voices after a night’s slumber...the place is coming to life. There are scores of sadhus here, most clad in their saffron robes, some in white. The air is cool, the sky still black and a full moon throws silver light down on the rippling water...


Soon, there are people wandering down to the water’s edge for the morning dip in the holy river. Men, women and children of all ages brave the cool air and submerge themselves in the water washing their sins away, as the Hindu belief goes...You feel a very frightening shock when you first step into the is as cold as ice!!!...and it hurts!

The fascinating thing here is that, there are sadhus or holy men of all sizes and shapes; in fact, scores of them. The only common thing that I could discern among them was their walking stick and begging bowls...most of the walking sticks are simple wooden ones, but there were some pretty amazing ones shaped like serpent heads, ones with ‘rudraksh’ inserted etc. Most of the sadhus are devoid of much worldly possession...their loin clothes, dhotis, stick and begging bowl constituted the universe for them...some of the better off ones had cloth bundles over their shoulders. All had ash or saffron markings on their foreheads, arms and chests. They throng the ghats, plazas and almost the entire town. A typical day for them starts with a dip in the Ganges...some meditate on the banks, while others head for the temples...
The sky gradually brightens as the sun slowly starts his daily journey from the east. The mountains form a mighty background of blue, partially hidden in the morning mists, while the river flows in between the slopes. With the daylight the ghats become abuzz with activity...there are sadhus, there are families splashing about the water, there are people meditating, there are even the morning joggers in their sneakers utilising the long flat stretches of the ghats...

The entire town actually arranges itself along the banks of the river. The Ram Jhoola offers the first sighting of the true beauty and power of the Ganges. It is fairly wide here. There are a couple of floating bridges across the river, just above the water level. You really appreciate the might of the Ganges standing on this floating walkway. The waters are unimaginably fast and furious. The sound created is almost like that of a constant roar of thunder. The walkways are a perfect feel like standing right in the middle of the flow, standing as it were merely a meter and half above the water - to feel the might, the force, the majesty that drives the water down from the mountains down to the vast plains below.

The Ganges is truly beautiful here. Pristine clear waters surrounded by the gentle slopes of mountains, with the odd eagle soaring above. But human greed is slowly taking hold here with the slopes gradually being raped for insensitive concrete jungles of resorts, ashrams and lodges.

The banks are littered with ashrams, temples and facilities for pilgrims. Narrow lanes with curio shops on either side, shops selling religious paraphernalia; creating axises of movement. It is crowded in these narrow lanes – pilgrims, tourists, sadhus, beggars, cows, dogs; all hustling and bustling along to create a truly vibrant ambience.
For the adventure junkies too there are lots on offer; right from white water rafting to mountain biking to trekking, camping etc.