Jun 17, 2009

The Great Himalayan Getaway-2

Sunrise at Rishikesh
Next morning I was up and out at the river bank before sunup. The Ganges at that time was not turbulent or fast flowing but rather calm; flowing slowly and steadily like an old woman on a sedate afternoon drive. The reason I was standing there groggy and bleary eyed at that ungodly hour was that I wanted to capture the sunrise on my camera.
The first hint of the sunrise came when the dark blue sky slowly started turning a pale pink, the stars getting extinguished one by one as if someone was blowing out candles.
Then the sun peaked out from behind the mountains, as shiny as a newly minted coin, a hue of yellow with just a hint of red at the rim. Slowly it rose higher and higher, painting the sky first a rosy pink and then a bright orange. Rays of sunlight burst forth from behind the mountains as if someone had let go a quiver full of brilliant yellow arrows. Far away I could hear the priests blowing their conches and starting the morning Pooja in the many temples that dot Rishikesh. I sat their mesmerized;the sound of the conches as gentle and soothing as the breeze in my face,and watched the sun turn the sky and the river into a glorious molten gold.

The Great Himalayan Getaway -1

Rishikesh – Of Spirituality and Rain Storms!
Last month I escaped the burning blistering cauldron that is Delhi and went for a very well deserving holiday to Kedarnath and Sonprayag. So here's a glimpse into the adventure !
We started early enough from Delhi, and managed to cross the Meerut Muzzaffarnagar chaos without any major mishap and reach Rishikesh at lunchtime. The first thing we all did after dumping our luggage was make a beeline for the River bank. The place we stayed in was actually on the outskirts of Rishikesh and had its own personal ghat. Unlike the usual ghats in the city, which are frequented by all and sundry this was really clean since it’s privately owned. Across the bank was the Rajaji National Park and we could see herds of deer and a few elephants drinking water. After a dip in the refreshingly cool waters, we sat on the grass and desultorily argued about what to do in the afternoon- River Rafting or a visit to The Divine Life Society Bookshop. But a very sumptuous Rajasthani lunch left us totally sated and lulled by the afternoon heat we fell into a stupor all plans of River Rafting forgotten. In the evening we did go to the Divine Life Society to buy books. The bookshop was closed but we decided to stick around and attend their Aarti and Satsang.
The Divine Life Society was started by Swami Sivananda, a great saint and visionary. The last time I visited the ashram, I was just a child of 10.My most haunting memory of that time is the evening Satsang. The Satsang began with a particular hymn that had a very lilting tune and the person who sang it had a voice as sweet and pure as nectar. I remember sitting there fidgeting with all the restlessness of a 10 year old till he began to sing and mom told me to close my eyes and just listen. Although I couldn’t really understand all the words, something in his melodious voice slowly started to calm my soul and still my mind.Even this time the Satsang was really peaceful. Another thing I noticed was that majority of the people attending the Satsang were rather young (age group 25-45) and there were many foreigners – mainly Japanese.After the Satsang we went to visit a Swami ji living in the Divine Life society. He invited us to his rooms and the first thing I noticed was a book on his desk titled the” Beginners Guide to Japanese”. When I asked him why he was learning Japanese he said that there were many Japanese devotees visiting the Ashram but their English was not always very good and so he had decided to learn Japanese to make communication easier!
Later we decided to cross the river and go to the other side of Rishikesh. Now there are two ways to cross Gangaji at Rishikesh, you can either go by boat or use the Ram jhoola (a long suspension bridge across the river). We decided to go by boat. It was almost twilight when we started and we could see the lights from the temples twinkling in the distance and the reflection of the deeyas turning the water into gold as hundreds of devotes gathered together on the banks for the evening aarti.
We roamed around for a while; ate dinner at Chotiwala restaurant and then decided to head back using the Ram Jhoola.Now Ram Jhoola is the slightly less famous version of the very famous Lakhman Jhoola. This suspension bridge is rather narrow and sways precariously even with the slightest wind. I personally don’t think it’s safe for anything other than human traffic; but all sort of vehicles pass through it, be it scooters, bicycles, pushcarts and even cows. As a result you are left cursing and swearing as you try to maintain your balance on this swaying creaking piece of ancient architecture, while being jostled by assorted traffic from all sides.Since it was rather late by the time we got to it, the Ram Jhoola was mercifully empty with just a few people going across. It was drizzling and a bit windy when we left Chotiwala but just as we started to cross the bridge, the rain came sweeping down bringing with it almost gale force winds. The jhoola swung side to side and the River was suddenly dark and turbulent beneath us, its foamy waters crashing at the rocks. Laughing and clutching at our flying hair and clothes, with the rain stinging our faces; we ran across the bridge enjoying every minute of this adventure.
 

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