Friday, July 22, 2005

Ganga, Mansadevi temple, drive to Rishikesh, Triveni ghats, and the Great Gonga (Day 18)

Upon waking up, I headed out of our grass hut and saw Indians everywhere in the river, bathing and swimming. Our group got up and headed upstream a bit to a bridge, from which we jumped 10 feet into the river. I think all of us got banged and bruised in some way; for me, my entire right heel is purple (and still was not entirely healed three days later). The ritual bathing done by the Hindus is in an effort to cleanse themselves of impure actions and thoughts. For us, it was maybe a bit of that, but more just fun. Lee decided to swim all the way across, which almost caused him to puke. It was amazing how many Indians wanted to take pictures with us, and I gladly obliged. The water is very cold and moves very fast. It's not nearly as clean as I thought it might be...

From there, we headed into the market. Lee and I picked up orange shirts, and he decided to get a streetside shave. While he was doing so, I talked to a guy around my age from Nepal, who had recently graduated with a degree in business administration. He was a smart guy, and we had some interesting conversation. Lee and I then shopped it up, and I bought a staff and a drum, among other things. The shiva shirt I bought was a bit too small, but was the largest one I could find (when I tried to stretch it onto me, the shoulders ripped, so for the rest of the day, picture me in a slightly undersized shirt with ripped-open shoulders.)

After this, we headed through town on foot to the Mansa Devi temple. All of the pilgrims are coming to worship Shiva, and just as the Vrindavan villagers worshipping Krishna said "raday raday," these pilgrims say "Bom Bolay!" Actually, you say "bom bolay" and they break out into dance and song of "bom bolay, bom bom bolay." The spin around on one foot, hit drums, dance about...It's so friggin cool. We proceeded to instigate them all along our walk to the temple, which was briefly interrupted by lunch at a hotel (that didn't actually serve food, but since the owner also owned our hotel and we were white, they pulled together tables in a room with a view of the Ganjes and retrieved our order from surrounding restaurants - seriously, Indians are SO hospitable.) After walking through small crowded streets, we arrived at a chair lift that led up to the temple. Riding this up gave us a magnificent view of the town and the river, the hills and the temple. When we got to the top, we entered the temple and got our bag of string, bindi, incense, and coconut with which to make our offering. After walking through the temple and giving away our offering materials, we headed back out and down. As we walked back, we were stopped severeal times for pictures, and it began to rain. The whole experience was reminiscent of Vrindavan, but not quite as amazing...just a little different, I guess.

When we got back to the Bhaj Govindam, we packed and checked out in order to head to Rishikesh. It's about 25km from Haridwar. When we got to the city, we headed straight for the Triveni ghats. As we walked up, we heard them saying "two minutes." At these ghats at 7pm, they ritualistically make offerings to Ganga, the river Goddess. All of India refers to the Ganjes as the Ganga, which threw me off for a bit. Anyway, the offering was a small leaf boat filled with flowers, a stick of incense, and a bowl of prasad with a small opaque square in it. The little square was lit on fire, and after moving the leaf boat in a circle a few times, I placed it in the water and let it sail away along with many others...Then we all headed to the ghat's center to make our offering. There were big pillars of fire here (and umbrellas, as it was stormy but not yet raining). The whole scene was backdropped by sporadic lightning, adding something to the experience. As we left, some children approached us and chatted for a while. Lee swung a little girl's hands back and forth for a while. She was real cute, but her tummy was bulging out and probably weighed more than the rest of her. Moses said she probably had worms or an intestinal disease, and that people in this area sometimes lead a very hard life. It was a sad thing to see.

Which made me feel a bit ridiculous heading to our first-class hilltop hotel, the Great Gonga. From our balconies, you could see the river rushing by. I actually took the wash buckets from the rooms, headed across the street, snuck in to a building complex, around the back, and lucked into approaching a locked gate at the same time that a guy unlocked it. He didn't say a word, and we went in with him. We carried the two buckets of Gonga water back on our heads, and left them in our rooms overnight to let the sediment settle. While all that was going on, Christy and Maria ordered a room service dinner for us that included, among other things, "buff cheese," or macaroni and cheese made from buffalo milk. The whole meal was great, and I think it cost about $2 each... It was a great impetus for passing out, which is what I did next. Bride and Prejudice was on, so I faded away to an Americanized view of India.

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