Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 30
With the road support team leaving in a few days, I needed to repack. And Garhmukteswar is just about a couple of hour’s drive from Delhi. I called home and requested for a few things to be sent to me, while I was looking at all the stuff that needed to go back. Now that everything would be in the canoe, and the expedition team would be down to one, not everything needed to be carried, or indeed could be carried on the boat. Home is just about a couple of hour’s drive away and my driver came in a bit.
I was hoping to see my family here, the opportunity presented itself, but things did not quite work out. The wife was sick, the elder daughter was partying in Goa, the younger daughter had work even though it was Sunday, and the son-in-law was busy with some construction work.
The next couple of hours were spent moving stuff around. A few things that were sitting on the fringe were stared at for many long seconds, with me looking for signs on whether I would miss it somewhere along the way. I wanted to be ruthless and I was, to an extent. One major bulk item was my assorted electronics. The laptop was replaced with a lighter one, though not too much smaller in size. The gazillion camera mounts and multiple cables were cut down to a fraction. The number of T-shirts came down from six to two, shorts were halved to a single pair. The gallon water container was too much to carry and was let go of. The canoe cart was definitely not working and was discarded. Maybe I am doing something wrong or the canoe is too heavy. I will take a look once this expedition is over. In any case, it is too bulky to be on the boat.
All the stuff was packed in two large dry bags. There were also a couple of smaller dry bags containing things that I would need on the canoe, snacks, for instance. The GPS, wallet, SD cards for the cameras, etc. I also had a separate food bag that had its own dry bag.
I had to transfer data from the old laptop to the replaced one. Electricity was iffy, the computer needed some major updates, and the internet connectivity was almighty slow. This took some time and by the time I was done, it was quite late in the night. In fact, by the time I finally went to sleep, it was four in the morning.
There was a person I met at the hotel who seemed quite impressed with my expedition. He called up someone in Delhi and made me speak with him. This person in Delhi runs an NGO and was also quite enamoured by what he learned about A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES. Call done, I let it slip into the folder called "Just Another Conversation". I was having these kinds of conversations with a lot of people.
However, lo and behold, he and a few of his friends landed up at Garhmukteswar in the afternoon. Another conversation ensued and he then went on to invite me for a function due to be held in Delhi in December. I was to be felicitated by his NGO for conducting this expedition. Hmmm.
Mr Ashok Sharma came by with goodies. I am extremely humbled by his many gestures. He was a lot of help when I first arrived, in the evening he came by with a dozen bananas, a dozen large apples, a couple of packets of munchies and a couple of tetrapaks of fruit juice. He would not take no for an answer and told me that I would need it for my journey.
He then invited me to witness the evening arati, the prayer to Mother Ganga that is staged every dawn and dusk. I went for a walkabout, strolled through the marketplace next to the river, had a cup of tea and was strolling bank towards the riverbank, when Mr Sharma beckoned me. He took out some newspapers and showed me that our journey was covered in two of them, both vernacular papers. The reporter took the liberty of mentioning that our journey started from Gangotri, the source of the Ganges, instead of Haridwar from where it had really begun.
I joined him once again, a little later, when the arati was starting. Then something happened that I was not quite prepared for. He had obviously told one of the priests about it, who beckoned me. I was from then on, an active participant in the ritual. I did everything that the priests were doing.
By the time it was over, about fifteen minutes later, I had willy nilly paid my obeisance to the river goddess in typical Hindu fashion, complete with sandalwood and turmeric paste smeared all over and across my forehead.
Unfortunately, since I was not expecting my participation, the camera was pointed where the priests would be performing the lamp ceremony. I would have liked my participation to be captured, because it was quite moving. Anyway, all for the best.
Once my participation in the ritual was over, I got back to filming the spectacular display of the arati, the choreographed obeisance to the river by the priests using huge lamps. This is performed at almost every important city, town and village along the Ganges, the most popular being the ones at Haridwar and Varanasi, both of which have become major tourism attractions. Even the one here at Garhmukteswar was awesome and, I thought, a lot more personal given that it was for a much smaller audience.
Sam and Tara had left early morning. They had some work in Aligarh, which they wanted to complete, and since there was little or no work here in Garhmukteswar, it was fine. They would be waiting for me at Narora, about seventy kilometres downstream.
It has been nice to have them around and it is with a sense of nostalgia that I will be saying goodbye to them, when they peel off from the expedition for a few weeks. I think they will rejoin somewhere in Bihar or West Bengal for the final stretch of the journey. Thank you guys for being around.