We finally left Rishikesh around mid-day yesterday. Our original intention of leaving at 5am got delayed because there ended up being a last-minute recording session with one of the two other people accompanying us to the Himalayas. They were a very sweet down-to-earth couple from Trinidad. The man, Michel Montano, is an extremely popular singer there, kind of like the Michael Jackson of the Caribbean. I had just missed a 2-day music festival they had all been part of in Rishikesh with the ongoing chanting of a song akin to “We Are the World” with the words: Om Shalom Salam Amen. I now have a recording of it as well. 🙂
I felt so fortunate to make it in time for their pre-planned Himalayan excursion. Serendipitous divine timing indeed as I booked my flight with no prior knowledge of this journey. I knew there was a slight chance of connecting with Tashi in India but I booked my travels not knowing any timing or location. Absolutely meant to be! Or as Tashi concluded, part of my karma.
This first leg of the journey was a true blessing and definite adventure. We took off in a rented mini-van with a hired driver. By this time, I was getting more accustomed to the driver on the right side of the car and the cars virtually anywhere they seemed to like on the road. And thanks to other third world travel, the crazy speed and erratic driving of nearly everyone on it. I was in the back with some of our luggage but luckily am not much affected by car sickness as the entire 6-7 hour journey was on steep and very windy roads.
About two hours or so into our drive, we stopped at one of the most auspicious places to go into the Ganga, where two of the rivers that flow into it meet, called DevaPrayag. Thanks to my dear friend Tashi, I had a swim dress/top to wear, my first very considerate and useful gift of authentic Indian clothing. It happened to match the pair of pants I wore into the river as well, my first official outfit (though I have since been told by an Indian man that my pants look like bellbottoms which they aren’t, just wide flowy straight leg pants you don’t see anyone here wear). Men can immerse in underwear but you will never see a woman do so. And you will never see full nudity, ever. India has an extremely modest culture.
We were lucky that it wasn’t very crowded that day as it can apparently sometimes be. We removed our shoes to approach the steps leading down into the water and I changed my clothes in a little hidden nook nearby. A few spiritual looking men were standing and seated nearby. Even before having the time to make my own prayer which I was just about to do, one of the men approached me and it became clear I was to recite the prayer he was offering phrase by phrase after him. Of course, I had no idea what I was saying but it felt like the right thing to do. So after reciting both his prayers and silently saying my own, I grabbed hold of one of a few thick iron chains connected to rocks under the surface of the water. These are clearly placed out of need as the current of the Ganga at this juncture is extremely fast flowing! You would very quickly be wisked away down the river if you were not to hold on tightly. Many people drown in the Ganga all the time… I was not about to become one of them.
I had already blessed myself with her waters my very first night in Rishikeh. Tashi had brought me to the river’s edge where I placed my hands in and blessed my head, face, ears, throat, heart and belly with her sacred water. But this time, I emerged completely head to toe. And she literally took my breath away! Most of that was likely a result of the cold temperature. But each time I dunked my head, I felt like it was almost hard to breathe when I arose — a humbling experience in her strength and power. I kept repeating Om Namah Shivayah, which was all that was in my head. And after feeling complete, emerged. Wet dress. Full heart. And fairly quickly, with my first red bindhi on my third eye, placed by the man I’d prayed with at the water’s edge.
Blessed by the sacred Ganga in such an auspicious place on my very first day in India! Thank you my brother. Thank you Great Spirit! Thank you Ganga. Thank you Life.
We continued on for another 4-5 hour drive, stopping for lunch along the way where I learned if there are water droplets left on a restaurant’s dishes or silverware, it is best to dry them off before eating/drinking. India is one country where a foreigner does NOT want to be drinking the water. I was also told to stay away from many of the sauces served in restaurants as they often use non-filtered water to make them. Good to know these precautions as I am taking probiotics, grapefruit seed extract and oregano oil pills to stay healthy while I travel. I don’t need to make a careless mistake to put myself in harm’s way.
We eventually made it to the village where we would be having dinner and spending the night. Similar to the ashram, the room was super no-frills but not as clean. It had the necessities though — a bed, warm blankets which were needed and a bathroom inside — with the first toilet I’d seen with places to put your feet built into the actual porcelain seat itself. India is all about ergonomic pooping, usually with those foot ridges simply beside a porcelain hole in the ground. Little did I know that the sounds of the raging river right outside the room would be a welcome change to the super loud sounds of people and scooter horns to come in Rishikesh. I should have welcomed this peaceful sound of nature while I had it!