Rishikesh…A trip and some memories

A name synonymous with the spiritual side of any Indian, this town is quite famous. Always spoken in conjunction with its twin-Haridwar..

Like Haj for Muslims, a trip to this destination is a must in every Hindu’s life before attaining moksha. Yes- that is Rishikesh.

Trip to Rishikesh was always on my mind, but materialised only a few years back. A straight 8 hours journey from Delhi(including tea break and traffic blocks) via Meerut and we were in the land of Gods(DevBhoomi-as it is better known) by midnight. My mind was blank except for the thought of a hitting the bed with a blanket..there was a cold wind blowing.

Next day morning, we were up and running for a tour of the place. Halfway from our guest house to the town in a tonga and then we decided to walk. Wow, now this is one place where you find Nirvana at every nook and corner, Sanyasis,seekers,foreigners(full of dope-that is their way of seeking enlightenment). Every second building is a babaji’s ashram or a jyothishi’s kothi(hut) or a meditation centre.

Orange robes,rudraksh mala,matted hair is the fashion statement there.

As we walked down the narrow lane, we could see the fruit vendors with their push carts. All kinds of fruits-freshest of the fresh, heaped on the cart. You ask them for a glass of juice and there goes the fruits into the manual juicer and you get awesome fresh fruit juice- no water added-pure fruit juice, putting Real and Tropicana to shame. We continued walking and come to a sudden dead end..sorry opening of the street. I look beyond and what do I see…It was her, of whom I have heard for years but had never chanced to meet.

The mother of whom we all hear from birth. Every drop of water we bathe in is imagined to be from her lap. Mother Ganga- flowing gracefully like silk, taking in all that comes to her-living or lifeless. A mere touch of her is said to wash away years and lifetimes of impurities and sins.

It was a lifetime experience for me- a kind of instant connection. As if I had gone back to the security of my mother’s lap. I took a few steps down the ghat and reached the rocky banks and sat down on one of the rocks. What happened after that is still a mystery to me.Those were hours of nothing but peace-no past, no future. Probably this what they called Nirvana.

Hours went by and my desire for a dip in the river remained. We planned it for the next day.

—-to be continued

Evening was very pleasant. There was a cool breeze and the atmosphere looked very charged with mantras and bhajans and arathis.We were planning to return to the room, enroute we stopped by at a local “fancy shop” to get some batteries and recharge the phone. Suddenly a man with a decorated thali in his hand comes into the shop. Camphor was burning on his thali, there were some flowers and teeny tiny sugar balls too on it. He extended the thali to all the people in the shop and everybody received the camphor and the sweet sugar balls from him gracefully. The guy did not seem to be even remotely interested in getting any money on the “thattu”. Soon after, he just left and we saw him entering the next shop. It became very obvious to us that he was not  begging. I was very curious and asked the shop keeper about this. He said it was the prasad of Ganga Maa after doing arti to her. It seems in the evenings, people living around the town go to the river with decorated pooja thalis n lamps and do an aarti to river Ganga. This is done every evening at sunset at Rishikesh, Haridwar,Benares etc. Much excited about the whole concept, we went back again to the river banks. It was indeed a beautiful scene. wherever the banks were visible, there were people doing Aarthi with utmost devotion, singing the famous Ganga aarti. On the banks were small temporary stalls selling cute little aarti baskets for people to buy and participate in the aarti.

Ganga Aarti

Arti Ganga maiya, man jai sursari maiyaa

Bhav-varidhi-uddhaarini atihi sudradh naiya, man Jai….

Hari pada-padam-prasuta vimal varidhaara,

Brahmadevaa Bhagirathi shuchi punyagara, man Jai…

Shankar-jata-viharini, hanoi trya tapa,

Sagar-putra-gana-tarini harani sakal papai man Jai…

Ganga Ganga jo jana uchchaarat mukha son,

Duur desh man sthit bhi turat tarat sukh son, man Jai…

Mrit ki asthi tanik tuv jal dhara pavai,

So jan pavan hokar param dham javai, man Jai…

Tav tatvasi taruvar, jal thal char prani

Pakshi-pashu-patang gati pavai nirvani, man Jai..

Matu, daya mai kiijai dinan par daya

Prabhu pad padma milakar Hari lijai maiyya, man Jai..

The atmosphere was charged with devotion and serenity-such a divine ambience.The gurgling river,sound of hymns,sweet fragrance of oil,flowers and camphor and above all the spark of devotion in each persons eyes.

Soon after the aarti, we were given prasad of some flowers and sweets.People whom we have never met before in life and probably would never again meet. It was indeed a lifetime experience. Thus we went back full of bliss.

After a good night’s rest, we were prepared for the much awaited “Dip”. A cute little local auto took us to the ghat near Swami Swatranand Ashram at Purani Sheesham Jhadi. The ghat from where I first saw the river. But somehow, we decided to walk further up the river side or preferably across the river to the other shore. This also meant that we could cross the famous and beautiful Ram Jhula. It is actually a hanging bridge, which takes us across the holy river. It was almost a 2-3 km walk.  As we crossed the bridge, there were so many small children, who came running to us asking to buy a pack of small balls from them”. They said it was to feed the fish in the river. We took a few packets and looked into the river. There were huge fishes moving around in the water as if waiting for the feed. We threw the balls(made of wheat dough) into the river and could see the rush to gobble up the food. We continued walking and reached the ghat. The street along the river bank was full of shops selling books, fancy jewellery,astrology centres,cafeterias and even spiritual stuff like crystals,agarbathis,rudraksh etc.On the way, there were some beautiful ashrams like Geeta Bhavan, Parmarth Niketan, Swarg Ashram etc.The end of that walk brought us to a crude ghat, but the sight there was very depressing. A body was burning in its pyre. We decided against bathing there and walked back. On the way, we found the beautifully built bathing ghat below the Swarg Ashram. We went down the steps and changed clothes. At that point, I realised that the water at that particular point of the river was very deep…neck deep for my height. But the thrill of the dip was so intense that I went ahead.. There were thick rods fixed to the last step on the bank and heavy iron chains hung from the rods. It was for people like me who cannot swim. I caught hold of the chain and stepped into the river. Once DH ensured that i was safely floating in the water almost suspended on an iron chain, he took a deep plunge from the bank…I too wished for that..but alas!

As expected, water was neck deep. I ventured forward as far as the chain went. Now was the time to take the total dip. To describe the water as freezing would be an understatement. Hubby had aleady taken the first dip and came out pink…gosh the effect of the water. There were no more thoughts, just closed my eyes, and went ahead….not once, but thrice. By the time I came out, i was brain frozen :-).But the feel was out of the world-as if all the weight I carried has been washed away and I was light like a feather. A few more minutes in the water and we got back to the banks and changed…We were already craving for something hot to drink.On the way back, we visited the Iskcon temple. There was a small restaurant in their campus, serving all the satvik(no onion,no garlic) fare. A yummy meal of masala dosa,sambar and chutney was awesome and fulfilling. We got some lovely rare pictures of the famous Iskcon series from their shop and also a slow chanting CD of the Hare Krishna mantra. Our journey was coming to an end-the car for our trip back to Delhi was waiting at the guesthouse.

Back to the world after a few days of bliss at Devbhoomi- indeed it lived up to the name.As I bid goodbye to the lovely town, I wished to be back there again and again and a small prayer:

At the end of this journey called LIFE,

I wish to be back in your lap.

And float away to eternity

From where I came

To where I go.

Fallen Bridge

Post by NandaKishore Vijayakumar

Bharathapuzha, Cheruthuruthy & Shoranur lying on it’s opposite banks, and the bridge which connected both shores, all had something to flaunt. Cheruthuruthy adorned by Kalamandalam is connected to the largest railway junction in Kerala, across the longest river of Kerala by this bridge, which had the historic significance of being the connecting link between the erstwhile kingdoms of Cochin & Malabar. Some of these titles have lost sheen since – while Kalamandalam continues to shine bright & Bharathapuzha continues to be the longest river, Shoranur has lost in prominence as a railway hub & alas, the latest news is that the bridge has fallen.

Old Cheruthuruthy bridge fallen – what used to be our ancestral place is visible at a distance, lost in the greenery (picture courtesy: Deccan Chronicle)

For some of us, this river, bridge & this place stokes myriad memories of zillion hues. A place where we spent a good part of our childhood & vacations! We used to have a great time running around in the vast sand dunes near this bridge, playing flying disc, sculpting crude shapes with the moist sand & bathing in the small puddles dotting the riverbed. An evening trip to the river was considered a welcome break from the dark rooms & corridors of our huge archaic riverside bungalow.

We as children used to gaze at the bridge traffic from the shore & used to pick fun in identifying the buses crossing the bridge just by the growl of the engine & its honk. I remember that my cousins used to have an amazing ability at this. And the bus services we had those days also bring nostalgic memories – Rajeev, Karippal, T.R.Nair, Mayilvahanam, Raj, Maya, to name a few. Most of these are still running, I believe.

Talking about this single lane bridge, brinkmanship by bus drivers coming from either sides were commonplace. Many a times, one of the buses had to back up, sometimes even from up to the middle of the bridge, after being caught in this game. Even with no pedestrian pathway, we used to have evening stroll along this bridge with elders, enjoying the evening sun flaunting his colors at the vast horizon.

Even as children, Shoranur – our across-the-bank town – which had the claim to the busiest railway junction in the state, where even the fastest express trains had no option but to stop, which had 7 platforms, which could boast of being a 4-way junction, was our unmistakable pride. We used to feel awed by my father’s childhood tales of how Shoranur used to be a railway hub buzzing with activity even back those days. I remember him explaining the facilities railway had stationed in Shoranur, which included a hydraulic system used for shunting. I should say that the pride we had in the railway legacy of Shoranur was a natural extension of our childhood fascination for trains – those powerful machines running on a thousand horses, ferrying people to those faraway places & big cities which we as kids had only heard in bed-time stories. One such train which caught our imagination was Himasagar express, with such a poetic name, which connected Kanyakumari with Kashmir.

Coming back to Bharathapuzha, we were witness to her being relentlessly bashed & bruised and brought to the brink of death with mindless & relentless sand mining. Truck lanes through sand were paved using dried coconut palm leaves. From our place, we could see endless streams of trucks lining up to fill sand, day in & day out. From the time I remember her, she had dried up & had ceased to be a flowing river. She just had puddles of water scattered across, most of which would be no more than knee deep. As sand mining went on unchecked, she began to grow sick, with the sand giving way to slime in many places. Vegetation began to grow & there was every possibility of the river turning into a vast bushy marsh. Thankfully, since the restrictions in sand mining were introduced, things have changed for better.

Once the new bridge came up, the old bridge was being used by pedestrians. As this historic relic – a colorful image closely linked to the childhood memories for some of us – fell victim to a long legacy of unabated environmental abuse, it creates a stirring which may never find a proper expression.

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Hey all….I know. Not updating the blog is a cardinal sin. Especially after installing a new app on the BB etc, things should have gotten a little more easier. But I promise…from now you shall see more from this side of the world. Anyhow, todays post is a very sepcial one. It is a beautiful memoir by Nandakishore Vijaykumar ( my close friend  brother). So, while I get ready to start writing all over again, please enjoy yourselves with this beautiful piece)

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi and some ramblings

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“There is a time for everything” is one ol saying I believe a lot.

Exactly three days back, I woke up in the morning with something new in my mind. Something I have never ever attempted before – a piece of fiction. Words were simply pouring out and I couldn’t resist. Jumped out of the bed, brushed and I settled down with my lappy, logged into WordPress to tap away all that came to my mind.

As I tap away blissfully…I hear a rumbling from my tummy..Oops…In a hurry, had forgotten to fuel it with a hot cup o tea. What else could compliment such a perfect morning of creativity than a hot cuppa! There I decide to get up for making one and thought it would be better to save the post in drafts….just in case.

Click – Save Draft….I see the small “Wait” thingie going round and round….waiting. Panic got over me…I am eagerly waiting for the notification from WP – “The Draft has been Saved” or whatever..

Then I saw something and couldn’t believe it was happening to me…The one damn stupid moment when my internet connection decided to conk and there goes my hard work down the drain 😦

Now…what is the point in cribbing and crying when I could have used one of the most easily available things in the world- Common sense. But this is what elders say…When time is wrong, everything goes for a toss. Anyways..to cut a long story short, the flow of words is still with me and I think I could refine it more before I publish. And what better time than this auspicious Ganesh Chaturthi to begin something new.

You can expect a piece of fiction penned(sorry typed) by yours truly in the coming days.

And I also want to wish you all a VERY HAPPY Ganesh Chaturthi.
He is a favourite of mine for various reasons. We share a kind of deep bond within…Here is some detailed info on the symbolism of the elephant God

He is a favourite of mine for various reasons..and we share a kind of deep bond.

“I pray to you Lord Ganesha..to whack me with your trunk at the right moment. So that this dumb head gets its dose of common sense when it is needed and not have to regret (not forgetting things like saving a blog post in a note pad etc)