Imagine you are standing on the banks of a pristine river amidst ice capped peaks. You gaze into the waters letting your mind gradually liquefy. Your thoughts ripple into a free-wheeling chat with the expansive blueness. Slowly and meditatively you dip your toes first and as you get a semblance of the grounding, you lower your feet. You let yourself dissolve into the cleansing flow of the river. Minutes later, you step out.
A few luscious moments pass by. You look at the trees littered around you and crank your neck while looking high up to find the top of the pines. You hear the flutter of a lone bird. The blue of the sky and the chill in the air makes you shiver and hug yourself. The river beckons again. You can’t ignore the call anymore. You let your feet slide into the flowing waters again.
Stop right there! Let me ask you a quick question.
Do you think it’s the same river you stepped back into, the second time?
I will give you a moment to collect your wandering thoughts…
If you think, hell yes, obviously it is! Let me break your bubble.
Okay. You are not off the path completely. But you are only partially right. I mean, technically the river is the same. Its name didn’t change in that snap of a minute. But name isn’t everything, is it? There’s so much more beyond the visible.
Tinkering a bit with a beautiful Marcus Aurelius quote, a river is like the passing thoughts of our monkey mind, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.
So a river is NEVER the same. You cannot touch the same water twice because the flow that has passed will never pass again.
If I got you into a knotty pretzel with my Q & A, I apologize. I promise you, it was necessary to where I am taking you today.
The trip had shifted gears. While the first half of it was purely religious, the second half was more esoteric, spiritual, close to nature and hence, obviously allowed a more organic growth if you are the kind who seeks it.
Travelling up a mountain is all about following the river. In mountaineering parlance, it is equivalent to the NorthStar. If you find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere, counting pine cones and scratching your balding head, look for the river and you will find signs of humanity, thus help. If you are the kind who is interested in rivers, their sources and everything in between like me then you already know this by now. If not stick with me and let me light a tiny bulb for you.
Now that the conventional, boring oldies had left, the group was lighter. Not just in terms of the number. The ones left behind were finally the ones who understood the essence of travelling in the mountains. Talk was unnecessary. Music,even less so. So each of us found a window seat for himself/herself, looked out the window with glazed eyes, connected the dots and went back to being a child spinning the word-yarn as the river coursed along us in pretzel- like loops narrating everything it had heard, seen and felt.
The River… It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! The times we’ve had together! ~ Kenneth Grahame
We were headed to Gangotri, a town on the banks of River Bhagirathi and the origin of the one and only River Ganges. Located on the Greater Himalayan Range at a height of 3100 metres, this is where Goddess Ganga descended, when Lord Shiva released the mighty river from the locks of his hair, according to popular Hindu legend.
Legend or not, the upper reaches of Uttarakashi, nestled between virginal valleys where some of the tallest of trees are seen attempting to kissing the sky does seem like a place touched by the Hand of God, whatever that means to you.
An unexpected halt took us to an orchard. Apples everywhere. Blissful Green, Gracious Pink, Bubbly Coral, Luscious Red! I felt I was in some sort of Heaven! Its one of those places where me and my Mum went crazy with excitement. Mum behaved like a little girl in pom poms posing with apples and making faces into the camera. A trip to some far off place is what gets the unexpected childhood out of my parents’ other wise normal lives and its a gift, a blessing for us, siblings to watch our parents behave like gleeful children in their wizened years.
After a whole day sitting on our bums in the bus, we finally reached the hotel we were staying for the night. It was bang opposite the river! Heck! it was so close to the river one could fall off into it if one didn’t watch their step at night! Apparently this river had swollen and breached its banks and took away everything that came on its path in the previous year’s flood. Which is why it was so close to the hotel! It had obviously grown fat in girth!
But its waters were olive green, heavy in flow and calm on top but growling underneath. It was a scary but pretty sight to behold. I spent the little time I had on the balcony watching the river. I sipped my tea. Ate my cauliflower fritters. And simply plonked myself on a brown chair…unable to peel myself off of the river.
I don’t normally function well around water bodies. I have had a phobia for them since I was young. But this trip changed everything. I became a life long convert. I fell in love with rivers so quick and so hard that not a day goes by without me thinking about rivers or reading about them or just looking at their pictures. As the sun set and the evening gave way to a lovelier night, the stars lit up the sky.
The town grew quite and so did life around it as it gently went to sleep rocked by the river’s lullaby. But the river kept flowing. It couldn’t stop since it had miles to go before it slept.
And I found myself on a soft traditional charpai*, drifting off to sleep listening to the sound of the river, its waters lapping by the banks whispering sweet nothings into my ear. Ah! True love!
As the alarm buzzed and I woke up the next morning, all I heard was the river…Alas! We had to move. A quick breakfast later I bid goodbye to the charpai that gave me the BEST sleep of my lifetime. Leaving the river behind was a tougher job. Especially since I had found love after many, many years. I toughened up. Or pretended to and hopped onto the bus and craned my neck till the bus made a turn and I lost sight of the olive garden of my heart.
Gangotri as one thinks, is not the source of the The Ganga per se. That would be Gaumukh( meaning cow face ) in the Gangotri Glacier which is a 19km trek from Gangotri town, the access to which is restricted to a 100 people everyday. But the town is where you will find a beautiful temple built in the honour of this sacred river that has been accorded a high position in the upper echelons of the Hindu Gods.
A visit to the temple and the banks of the River Bhagirathi, Ganga’s name at the source gives one an idea as to why the river is venerated and held in such high respect.
Shorn of unnecessary colour, hype and hoopla, the Gangotri temple is pristine white. Just like the holy river, considered to be so pure that she could cleanse all of humanity’s sins.
Finding my grounding, scrunching up my navy jeans as I dipped my toes and feet into the river, I first understood the meaning of the word FROZEN! The cold water literally took my breath away. A few minutes later it hit me! I understood the passionate yet unconditional Love of a river. The river that flowed here at the temple was the same river I fell in love with. And yet it wasn’t. She had the same name. But her waters were not the same. She had a made long journey meandering over life to get here. Her character had toughened up flowing over mountains, boulders, thorny foliage and rough edges clearing the trail and with the sole focus of moving forward towards its destiny. She had to carve a path for herself with no help from anyone. She made it here on her own.
Just like I did. Just like you did. Just like we all strive to do. Each day. Everyday.
5 months prior to the trip, on a Vipassana meditation camp, I had come across a teaching that our minds are like the river. Its flowing waters are never the same. Likewise thoughts come. Thoughts go. What remains the same are the Ultimate Truths of the Universe. The Truth of Impermanence. The Truth of remaining Impartial. The Truth of Detachment.
The truth of ever flowing like a river…And learning the most important lesson from her. The eternal quest to attain Equanimity to whatever the thoughts might be. However they might make us feel.
Incidentally my sister popped the same question to me while I was lost in my own world, loving the river to pieces before I could turn around and make my way home…
Do you think the river is the same, Lalu?
I had the brightest smile on my face as I looked up to her.
I had the right answer this time.
To be continued…
Charpai : is a traditional woven bed used in the Indian subcontinent. It is also known as Khaat, Khatia, or Manji.
Charpai is well known due to its natural qualities and mostly used in warm areas. Its net is made out of cotton, natural fibres and date leaves. It’s a very simple design that’s very easy to construct and repair.