Spending time in the company of the Ganges.

The river banks of Ganga, our temporary home.

“Ganga’s very forgiving”, Vikram, our raft guide from Aquaterra, proclaimed as we paddled vigorously down the river, out of breath and watching in horror as our fellow paddlers from other rafts were carried past us by the currents. She didn’t seem very forgiving at that point, I can tell you that much, but as we continued to raft down the rapids of the Ganges, I could understand what he meant. The waters and the 15-foot rapids might scare the living daylights out of you, but they won’t kill you. (Not unless you do something stupid like panic, or disregard the instructions of the pros.) Instead, they’ll take you along on a joy ride – a very cold, liquidy, watery kind – injecting you with an instant adrenalin rush, and then let you drift gently in calm waters. The river has many moods: persistent, with waves gushing, rushing past and over each other constantly – one can almost hear them go ‘move, move, move, move, make way, make way, make way’; passionate, as the water rushes furiously over eddies and currents to form its famous rapids; and quiet, as it softly rolls to the river bank and slinks back slowly, riding the crest of the oncoming lap of water.

A neighbouring camp on the sand banks.

Rafting on the river – getting high on hormones

Rafting on the Ganges is an experience one must have in one’s lifetime. We covered 36 kilometers in two days, complete with many rafts toppling over, many paddlers washed away in the river, and many, many stories of horror and awe from our instructor. Resisting the water’s force to draw us into its depths, seven people paddling as one to catch the crests of the rapids, almost losing my balance (and my sanity) as the raft leaned dangerously to one side and nearly gave in to peer pressure from the water, taking me with it – these are memories I will savour for a long, long time. In those moments, I felt alive. What an adrenaline rush!

I shared a quiet moment with my feathered friend here, who derived vicarious pleasure from alternately posing for, flitting away from and flying back to tease me.

But the one thing I will cherish the most is the quiet evening I spent with just the river for company. Ganga and I said nothing to each other. She went about her routine quietly, flowing calmly while I sat on the banks with folded legs and watched her. There was only the tinkling sound of water, occasionally interrupted by the chirps of a flying bird or two. I must have sat that way for hours, I think, because when I dragged my eyes away from the river, it was dusk. I have now found my happy place to go to in my head when things around me get chaotic.

The Adventure Journey Nature Camp at Gujjar Dera.

Nature/eco camping – going back to the basics

Eco camping is not for the faint of heart or for those who love their luxuries. The camps are set up along the sand banks of the river and are miles away from Rishikesh town. The first time our jaws dropped when we saw the camp – three leaps away from the holy river, and without floating bodies too! – and the tents that would be our home for three nights. The scene was breathtakingly beautiful. Our jaws dropped a second time when we saw the bathrooms – longish tents, the kinds you find illustrated in Asterix and Obelix comics to show Roman camp settlements, with a deep hole dug into the sand for a toilet and a bucket of sand-limestone mixture for a flush. It. Was. Traumatic. Our expectations from the nature camp weren’t fully calibrated, so despite our ‘make-the-most-of-what-there-is’ attitude eventually, the first few hours were a total shocker. But let me be a good soul and set the dial of expectations to ‘Real’ for you. Here’s what you’ll find at nature camps in Rishikesh:

  • No electricity
  • No hot water
  • No ‘modern’ toilet facilities
  • Giant spiders, and very venomous-looking at that
  • Great food
  • Great views
  • Absolute peace and solitude
  • An opportunity to be one with nature

Evening aarthi at Parmarth Ashram.

Evening aarthi at Parmarth Ashram – a sea of yellow by a river of grey

As I left my footwear and walked past the arch, I was greeted by innumerable devotees donned in yellow. A little beyond was the Ganga, above whom loomed a large statue of Lord Shiva. Notes from the bhajans swirled around me as I took my seat behind a family who were wrapping up a special pooja. Non-Indians sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Indians, all of them clapping in sync to the tune. Disciples of all ages, dressed in yellow dhotis and kurtas with stoles of the same colour, closed their eyes and chanted away. Some others offered flowers and incense to the river, hoping for a blessing in return. Brass lamps took centre stage, waiting to be lit. As the evening progressed, the bhajans increased in fervour, reaching a crescendo as the lamps were lit and passed around for people to do the aarthi. The heady combination of the fire, the bhajans, the riverside, the rush of people and the feeling of godliness made for a mesmerising experience.

The crescendo.

Rishikesh was full of adventures, the likes of which I’ve never had before. The camping was different and memorable – despite the bathroom bit, the rafting was brilliant and the trip to town for the aarthi was just as good. In the three days that I spent there, I was more me than I have been in a while. If you’re interested in that sort of discovery, you should go too.

Ram Jhula caught in the sunset.

Getting there: Rishikesh is a six-seven hour drive from Delhi. There are no direct flights to the town. There are also day trains from Delhi to Haridwar, from where you’ll have to hire a cab and ride for about an hour.

Go if: You seek adventure, peace and yogic knowledge, want a tete-a-tete with the Ganges, love rafting, wants to see what stillness and silence feel like, want to do high rope courses, like nature camping and are a sucker for cultural experiences.

9 thoughts on “Spending time in the company of the Ganges.

  1. Pingback: More Liebster Love and a little more about me. | Adventures of Potli Baba

  2. Wooooooooooooow! This is my first time here. I totally loooved this post.
    and, this–
    “But the one thing I will cherish the most is the quiet evening I spent with just the river for company. Ganga and I said nothing to each other. She went about her routine quietly, flowing calmly while I sat on the banks with folded legs and watched her. There was only the tinkling sound of water, occasionally interrupted by the chirps of a flying bird or two. I must have sat that way for hours, I think, because when I dragged my eyes away from the river, it was dusk. I have now found my happy place to go to in my head when things around me get chaotic.”

    gave me goosebumps. I haev always wanted to sit by Ganga and reading your experience makes me want to do it right NOW!

  3. Rishikesh and the Ganges sounds intriguing and mesmerizing as you describe it. I can’t wait to explore one day. I have to say I don’t know if I’m quite up for the Ganges perhaps wanting to toss me around in her slippery embrace while I try to control a raft. I’m sure I wouldn’t stand a chance against such a force. Brave of you to stay upright and give it a go. I hope the guides are quick at extracting hapless eco-adventurers from the river? I do like the idea of having a quiet reflective sit on her banks though just being still…..

    • I can assure you that the Ganges i experienced was more than happy to not swallow a person and keep them in her depths. :) And yes, experienced guides definitely help because they know where the danger zones are and always keep an eye out for everyone.

  4. I’ve had the whole eco experience too, so i know exactly what you mean! :P But sometimes, even those little uncomfy things can be overlooked when compared to the bigger experience. This one seems incredibly peaceful and mystical…I almost sat in on the evening arathi with those pictures :) I hope you keep travelling and filling us in!

  5. I LOVE the sound of this trip! Being to the evening arti at the Ganges has been on my must-do list for a long, long, long time.

    I don’t know if I am up for the sand and limestone flush thingie, though. Can we find some other accomodation there other than nature camps?

    • :D TGND, there are plenty more ‘civilised’ places to stay. I saw a few interesting places on the way, but i would suggest you go with Aquaterra’s Atali Ganga, which is away from Rishikesh. Also check out resorts/lodges in Shivpuri – that’s away from Rishikesh town.

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