My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Day in the City of Saints

Yesterday I took a greasy Indian bus from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh. I have always wanted to see the Ganges River, known to be a very holy river. Rishikesh is about 50km from Dehra Dun and it is full of ashrams, jata-matted sadhus and temples. The river runs through the city with suspensions bridges at various parts of the city. Rishikesh as far as know is pretty old and has a great significance to the Hindu religion. Rishikesh is also not far from Hardwar where many people will take ashes of those deceased to be spread in the Ganges. This is place is also one of four important pilgrimage spots for the Kumba Mela, known as the largest religious festival on earth. I met a French photographer in McLeod Ganj who has attended several of these major and minor melas and some of the photos he has shown me of sadhus and ascetics are truly stunning. Anyways, Hardwar is the place where the Ganges exits the Himalayas. According to Hindu myth, The Ganges (who is a Goddess) was descending to Earth. As she was passing Mt Kailash (the abode of Lord Shiva). Shiva for some reason had decided to not let Ganga pass. He trapped her in his ascetic matted-jata hair. Finally for some reason that I have forgotten, Shiva released Ganga by squeezing her out of his hair. So Hardwar is the place where is comes out. Now back down the river to Rishikesh. There was not to much going there. Of course there was a lot bhajans and chanting going on. So I first of all took an auto rickshaw to a section called Laxman Jhula, and walked a bit out of town and went down by the river. I found a spot where next to the river was a concrete made platform with a small Shiva lingam. I sat there for a bit and afterwards I took my old matted hair that I had carried here from the States and set them free in the Ganges. This was an special moment for me and afterwards I felt that I had lost some weight. For some who read this will think that I am crazy, which I am, but I felt that to place my old hair that I had carried for ten years into the Ganges will be a act of renewal for me. With the river been holy for so long I truly believe this to be so. I guess this is an aspect of me that gives in to suspicion. Also, I took a boat ride on the river and took some pictures. The scenery was pretty. As I was leaving, crossing the Laxman Jhula bridge, I was stopped by a sadhu, and he quickly did a puja on the bridge, placed a red bindi on my forehead while he said some mantras and blew a couch shell. I offered some marigold flowers to the Ganga and the puja was over. The sadhu then asked for a hundred rupees for his services (approximately $2). I told him that that was an outrageous price and that I will give him 10 rupees which he wasn't to happy about and refused my ten rupees, so I left to get something to eat. Now I am thinking, "Great, I came here for renewal and I am probably leaving here with a curse for not paying the sadhu". After I had eaten I saw the sadhu again, in which he again asked my to give him a hundred rupees. I told that I couldn't give myself to giving him a hundred rupees and offered ten rupees again which he neglectedly (is this a word?) accepted and I went on my merry way. I still might be cursed though. On the greasy Indian bus ride back to Dehra Dun, I was the source of entertainment for the other riders. The ticket man picked on me, and spoke to me in Hindi, which I know only very little of. The other riders where having a kick out of me and I too was having a good time with them using the little Hindi that I knew. Well this is short entry; hope that you like it, if you don't...... I have a few more days in Dehra Dun before I am back to frozen Dharamsala. See you then.