“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When I touched Ganges

The photo is dulled with age. 4x6 in size, the print’s edges have been affected by some kind of chemical reaction. On touching, the image comes off as soft powder. Yet, it is one of the most memorable moments of my life. The picture shows a pair of feet partly submerged in swirling waters of a river. I took the picture, the picture of my feet touching for the first time, the waters of Ganga.

24 years ago, in 1986, I was in Haridwar, for the Poorna Kumbh Mela. First time north of New Delhi, first time on the foothills of Himalayas. It all began on a lazy evening in the lodgings I was staying in Ernakulam. My room mate, a novice sub-editor in a daily newspaper had brought the latest issue of Frontline magazine which carried a feature on the Maha Kumbh Mela that is held once in twelve years in Haridwar. I loudly wondered how it would be to jump into that melee of thousands of people. People from all over the country, Sadhus from the Himalayas, beggars, the rich and the poor – a veritable cauldron of the nation gurgled over Haridwar during a period lasting more than a month. It would be an unique experience to blend into that crowd, to experience firsthand the exotic flavour that India is. My taciturn roommate said – ‘Well, why don’t you? You can go to the Himalayas also if you wish’. In a week I was away on my way to New Delhi - 3000 rupees, an autofocus camera and a sleeping bag all borrowed, a small travel bag , a pair of ‘Hunter’ shoes, an eternal corduroy and a couple of Khaddar kurtas, a copy of the Gita, a string of Rudraksh beads ornamenting my neck, a saffron dhoti ( I wanted to blend with the crowd– I already sported a lush black beard).

In Haridwar I managed to get a cot in a dormitory for Rs.40/- per day. The bare cot had a wooden box attached to it. It had a a top-opening lid that could be locked. One could keep one’s belongings in it. As soon as I could, I changed into the saffron dhoti and Khaddar kurta. A cloth bag (Jhola)hung on my shoulder, I walked to the banks of Ganga where there wasn’t any crowd.

Ganga! For an Indian, the name conjures up many images, feelings and emotions unexplainable. It is in our subconscious mind, in our blood, in our culture. Physically it may look like any other river, but for one born in Indian soil and brought up listening to the lore of this country, Ganga is much more than a river – it is a presence that goes back to the origin of his ancestors and will extend till the extinction of his genes.

I sat on the bank and looked at the river for a long time. I couldn’t step down into the water. I felt I would be defiling it if I did. So, I bent down and took a palmful and splashed over my face. Mind you, Ganga at Haridwar is not the Ganga at Varanasi. It is not polluted yet with half-burnt carcasses and pesticides and fertilizers and industrial discharges. The waters are still clean and pure glacier melt.

The river enters the plains about 25 km before Haridwar, at Rishikesh. Channelized here in Haridwar, Ganga flows at a fast pace. I slowly stretched my feet and touched her. Here began a lifelong affair, a passion unparalleled, devotion, a yearning like for nothing else – with Himalayas. I have seen many of Ganga’s tributaries deep in the mountains and glaciers. Truly, a single day hasn’t passed since then, when I haven’t thought of the snowcapped mountains. Whenever the tensions and predicaments of this mundane life in a world that I barely survive gets too much, I run away to the consoling lap of Himalayas.

All I wish is that I had the courage and strong conviction to take refuge there for the rest of my life.



  1. Hi Balanji,
    I remember I went to haridwar with my grand father when I was just 12 years old. i can still recall the expressions on my grandpa's face when he would take some water in hands. I was too young to understand anything at that time. And now I know what it means to see the ganga. your peice was quite interesting

  2. Kalpana: Yes, millions of Indians share with us this love for Ganges. It is not purely religious. It is something more deeper and sublime.

  3. Very interesting and memorable.

  4. may be one has to go there and experience it. wish i could go someday.
    PS. how are u B, long long time no news?


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