The naga sadhu I stayed with

Nov 06, 2018, Fighting the elements

Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 42

Apparently I had taken up the sleeping space of one of the calfs. She was quite upset about it and constantly tried to shift the location of my cot by head butting it. Obviously she could not. She then went on to lick, then nibble, and then chew on anything that was within reach. This included my poor sleeping bag. Fortunately, I was still up and about when this started. Consequently, I gave up the comfort of the cot and lay down on the farther end of it, well away from where the calf was. I did not want to be woken up in the middle of the night, with half my sleeping bag consumed as a late night snack, and then have the calf licking, or worse, sucking my toes. I am more comfortable sleeping on the floor, than I am on a cot that has my knee to my toes hanging in mid air. Village cots are not meant for anyone my size and/or height, and even though I enjoy lazing around on a cot, when I need a good night’s rest, I am happier on the floor. And, the calf was happier too!

When I woke up in the morning, Nature called and I was hesitant to go out into the fields. However, Nature is not something that listens to reason and when the force started making itself insistent, and was almost at the edge of my alimentary canal, I had no choice but to head into a clump of trees. To be honest, I can see why people prefer to do their job in the open. It is much “freer”, for want of a better word. And for those who have been going out in the open for decades, getting confined in a small space that is a toilet, can be quite claustrophobic.

A glass of tea happened from a nearby house, but I had a long paddle ahead, and wanted to have some breakfast. I walked down to the highway, had myself two more cups of tea and some samosas. This would hold me in good stead through the day, replenished with some Granola bars and chocolates.

Off from Gidaso village
Off from Gidaso village

I would not reach Allahabad today, more than a hundred and fifty odd kilometres away, but with a little bit of effort ... and some luck ... I might make it in two days. The canoe was loaded up, again with the help of the local kids, and I was off.

Fortunately, I had some tail wind that helped me along and I was clocking about seven kilometres an hour, compared to the usual five. I was also happy to drift along with the wind when I wanted to rest a bit. On other days, every time I stopped paddling, the canoe too would come to a stop, without moving forward. Often it would just turn around in a wide circle, sometimes even start drifting upstream for some reason. Today was different. The wind was pushing me along quite nicely, and I was happy. In fact, the drift was almost five kilometres an hour, something that I had been managing with a fair bit of muscle power in the past days. I was quite happy to let the wind do the job. Fortunately, the wind was pushing me in the direction I wanted to go, and it was not a head wind. That would have been terribly tiring.

The wind picked up and the river became quite choppy
The wind picked up and the river became quite choppy

However, after a while, the wind really picked up and I was faced with a steady wind of between six and eight kilometres an hour, with gusts upwards of ten kilometres an hour. The water became choppy, to the extent that the canoe became wobbly. At times it became very difficult to manoeuvre the canoe, it seemed to have a mind of its own and would not listen to reason. Despite all the effort I put in, it would not stay the course and often would just spin around. The canoe is heavy with luggage and that adds to the drag, making paddling a lot harder. However, it also sits up in the water quite a bit, more than a foot, and this is what catches the wind, and tracking becomes extremely difficult. This became quite frustrating as the day wore on. If this carried on, I would have to beach the canoe and set up camp pretty soon somewhere.

Due to flooding the village have more inland
Due to flooding the village have more inland

For the moment I paddled on. Soon, I heard the now familiar sound of the dolphins. Soon, one appeared, and then the next. A half a dozen or so large dolphins started playing around the canoe, some pretty close. This was a nice sight and a good sighting, almost as good as yesterday.

The river was bare and I was the only person on it. The number of villages that I had expected to become denser, had not, and it still looked as if I was in pretty sparse country. This despite the fact that I was paddling through one of the densest geographies in the world. There were some villagers along the way, and I found a few of them fishing. Often they wondered who I was, whether I was someone from the Government or an affiliated organisation. Often I heard the word “steamer” floating in to me from across the waters. Many asked me what kind of boat it was. “Plastic” satisfactorily answered their queries. Almost everyone enquired where I was coming from, and where I was headed.

Is this where I can camp for the night
Is this where I can camp for the night

The wind continued to play havoc and I was actually doing a fair bit of distance not paddling, than I would be wasting my energy paddling and trying to keep the nose pointed downstream. The wind was way stronger than me and soon enough I gave up trying to navigate the boat, and let it do its thing. As long as I was going forward, I was happy. The question became, where would I halt for the night. The villages were few and much more sparse than yesterday. Every person I asked the distance to the next village, answered, “Very far.” That did not help. And neither was the wind helping. I decided to look for the next convenient village and park there.

The reason I was not seeing too many villages is because they are located farther inland. The Ganges is shallow and during the rainy season it overflows its banks resulting in flooding. A village next to the river would most definitely be underwater every year, and hence they have moved to a safer location. For me, I did not get to witness them along the shore.

The naga sadhu I stayed with
The naga sadhu I stayed with

Soon enough, about five kilometres away, I spotted the steeple of a temple. I headed for that. When I came close to it, it was around a bend, going upstream. A little further ahead, I saw what looked like a busy ghat. I headed for the ghat. As I approached the ghat, there were scores of people bathing. The current was strong enough to push the boat beyond the ghat, and I was looking for someone who could grab a hold of it and secure it. A sadhu happened to be right there, and on requesting him from a few feet away, he gladly caught hold of the painter line and pulled me to shore. I asked him whether there was a place I could have a cup of tea. He replied in the affirmative. I slowly shifted gear and asked him if there was a place I could sleep for the night, and he gladly offered me his place. He was a Naga sadhu called Maharaj Dev Giri 1008, and he looked like a million years old. I took him up on his offer. He told me to go have my cup of tea while he looked after my canoe and its contents. There is little else to do but to trust the innate goodness of people, and that is what I did.

Gokuna Ghat my destination for the day
Gokuna Ghat my destination for the day

Once back after being rehydrated, where incidentally I met another wonderful gentleman, the stall owner Arjun Mishra, the sadhu was waiting for me near the boat. He and a couple of other people helped me take the luggage to the sadhu’s cottage. I went on a walkabout around the village and when I came back about fifteen minutes later, there was a cot with a mattress and a blanket on it. He refused to let me use my sleeping bag and told me I would me I would me more comfortable in the blanket. Who was I to argue with that logic from someone who had been so good to me?

The naga sadhu and his companion priest conducted the evening arati in a small room and I was invited to witness it.
Arjun Mishra, the stall owner, offered me dinner, which I graciously accepted. One thing that I have found is that people are inherently nice. Treat them as human beings and they will treat you the same. You get what you give. The class distinction that is so apparent in the city, disappears in smaller hamlets and one becomes equals. Sure enough there are internal issues like caste, class, creed, etc, that I faced when they start talking about their local issues, but as an outsider visiting their village, I have never ever felt unwanted or unwelcome. Each and every person has warmly embraced me and welcomed me into their homes. This is gratifying and brings back the faith and trust in humanity.

Dinner over, I headed back to the cot, mattress and blanket that had been arranged by the sadhu, but before I could even think of tucking in, I was invited over for dinner. They had prepared a meal for me and insisted that I join them. I could not refuse after the hospitality extended by them, and I ended up having my second dinner of the evening. Finally, more than satiated that I had joined them for dinner, I was allowed to go to bed.

Night happened and I had a decision to make. A decision that I would make in the morning.

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