The Gates of God

That is the literal meaning of the name Haridwar, the place which marks the spot where the River Ganges transforms from a series of rapids into the stately and bountiful Mother of India. Like so many places in this part of the world, has special resonance for Indian pilgrims. Up in the mountains there are nearly as many “true sources” of the Ganga as there are holy men to attest to them but this is without doubt one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Hindus from all over the world.

For the last couple of days I have been resting due to a bit of a head cold that I brought back from the mountains along with a considerable amount of rain. I did manage to do some work though, learning an unfamiliar photo editing system and collecting my thoughts on two of last years trips. The stark simplicity of life at the Ashram contrasts with the amount of cable spaghetti spread across my bed. Yes, it is a hard one. Laptop, camera & mobile phone all need separate chargers, none of which left much room in the rucksack for clothes.

When I was last in Haridwar five years ago I had no grandchildren and now I have four, a good enough reason for a personal pilgrimage if ever there was one. Last night I went back to the ghats for the evening ceremony, dressed in a borrowed sari and carrying tiny pictures of each of the grandchildren for the puja, or offerings; in this case the little candlelit boats that are pushed out into the stream so that they float off down the river. The only white face in the crowd attracted a bit of unwanted attention at first and one or two boys made a nuisance of themselves with broken English offers of “help”. But I have my secret weapon for times like that and so out came the miniature family album and off I went to sit with a friendly looking gaggle of grandmas.

Igniting and floating off six little banana leaf baskets on slippery steps in a by now soaking wet and somewhat drooping sari was just not going to be achievable with any degree of safety. Even if I was confident that the grandmothers would take care of my bag, the river flows very fast here and several people drown every month. I just had to give in with good grace and accept the help of one of the urchins. Did I say six baskets? Well, that was for the four babies and their two mothers, one of whom was very nearly lost in the process. That’s a lot to be grateful for.

This evening I get the night train to Amritsar and, as I only have three days to enjoy it, I don’t think I will spend much of the time tapping away at the screen. Hopefully, I’ll take lots of stunning pictures and post some when I return to Ahmedabad next Tuesday.

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