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.
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.