Thursday, July 21, 2005

Driving to Haridwar (Day 17)

I was the first to wake up this morning from our group. I head downstairs to find that Mary had just finished breakfast. I got a quick bite to eat (Ashok, the cook, is fantastic), and Mary and I headed out to do just a bit of sightseeing. We first headed to the Lotus temple. This is a bahai temple, and while the architecture was very interesting, the rest really wasn't. From there, we caught a rickshaw over to the Kolkaji temple. This was a definite NONtourist temple. There were about 30 images on the first floor, with a pool of water in the center. Upstairs was a market and a small inner sanctum. Mary and I were most certainly the only white people there, and the experience was just cool.

Around 3:30pm, we were packed and ready to depart for Haridwar, which is about 200km from Delhi. Our driver was a Christian man named Moses, and in time he proved to be cool as well as a valuable resource. Lee had left two Kingfishers (beers) in the freezer, and instead of forgetting them, he put them in his camelbak backpack (a backpack with a pouch for liquid with a hose that you can drink from). So on our way to the Hindu pilgrimage site that allows no meat or alcohol consumption, we chugged 2 40s out of a backpack...=P

As we drove, we kept passing men dressed all in orange, carrying intricately designed carriers with buckets at each end. Moses informed us that these men were performing "kavardi," or the ceremonial walking of Ganga water back to their villages. The ceremony lasts 22 days, and some of the pilgrims will walk up to 300 km back to their hometowns. Particularly, they must carry the water back to the exact site from which they made a wish to Shiva. All along the walk, they must keep the water from touching the ground. Little huts are built all along the return routes, where the villagers can rest and eat for free. While doing so, they must place their carriers on wooden stands. The water is viewed as a holy healer - it can be sprinkled on houses to keep away demons, given to sick people to nurse them back to health, or dropped into the mouths of the dead to help their souls escape their transmigratory paths. Seeing groups of men dressed all in orange carrying buckets of this stuff while singing really got us excited about the trip.

In addition to these Shiva devotees, we also saw a number of tree farms, where the flora had been planted into neat rows. There were many fields of sugarcane. Cannabis grows wild, and is such a hearty plant that it actually dominates much of the countryside. Seeing weed leaves in every direction for miles upon miles is kind of a trip, given the amount of regulation that exists in America.

When we reached Haridwar, we made our first stop at a large Shiva statue right on the side of the river. It appeared blueish-green, and hundreds of people were napping under it. We walked in, and many of them approached us. We ended up sitting down with them, each of us with separate groups, and talking about their voyage, and Shiva, and our purpose there, and music and movies and life, etc. Soon enough, we were being told that we had to leave because our driver couldn't stay parked, so we regretfully departed.

From there, we went to our hotel, the Bhaj Govindam. It was situated, no joke, 20 feet from the Ganjes. The hotel was a row of little air-conditioned grass huts. They were fronted by a small grassy courtyard, and then ghats and the river. It was SO cool. The river was rushing by very quickly. We sat and took it in for a little bit, then headed into town to get something to eat. During our meal, the electricity went off twice, which is really nothing new at this point. We then headed back to our hotel. As I was in a double with a total of three guys, I opted to let them have the blankets, and used towels as mine. I ended up waking up and sitting by the river for about 30 minutes in the middle of the night. It was a very esoteric, zen-ish experience.

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