A journey to the root of the Ganga.
She gushed forward. Her wild locks flying behind her as she maneuvers treacherous twists and turns with relative ease. She bounds along, dealing an outward blow to anything and everything that comes in her way. Crashing against her rocky confines and intimidating bystanders with her choppy eddies and swells. Her arrogance is as naked as it is unapologetic. Why should she mask her pride?
With a hue that matches the cloudless sky, this river is exceptionally beautiful. Bhagirathi travels alone through the Himalayas till she reaches Devprayag, and this is where she meets her paradoxical sister Alaknanda.
The taming of the shrew
In contrast to the turbulence of Bhagirathi, the deep green Alaknanda is a picture of tranquility. There is not one break on her glassy surface as she flows smoothly, but swiftly, down her path. She lives a gentle existence, caressing her banks and being kind to those around her.
However both these entities cease to exist at this peculiar little fork in the course. At Devprayag they merge to give birth to the chief of all Indian rivers, the Ganga. Who is not only deified but considered the model of an ideal river. The Alaknanda cuts into the Bhagirathi like a knife as they both jostle before becoming one.
I stand at the axis of these rivers as the mind wanders. This confluence is one of the finest demonstrations of the duality of nature – how one state cannot exist without the other. Darkness and light, good and bad, large and small; they all complement and need each other to survive. A hero is only born as an answer to the existence of a villain. Like in the movies (Have you watched Megamind?), they may even switch places with a little tilt in perspective. While a river as aggressive as Bhagirathi could ease up a little, Alaknanda could do with a little more passion. It might seem as though they wouldn’t get along but instead they strike the perfect balance in one another when they meet.
Preachers are never the best teachers
Devprayag, like every other religious place in India, is swarming with self-professed servants of god who artfully try to get you to spend money on conducting a puja. Indians being a superstitiously inclined race, spare no thought as they let themselves be drawn in by tales of power and promised prosperity.
Ganesh Maharaj in his cave
Father of fish
Ganesh Maharaj is a sanyasi. He sits in his cave right at the tip of the intersection with a large vessel filled with balls of dough. He occasionally walks around handing them to people and urging them to feed the fish. “They are my only family. Here feed them more”, he says handing me my fifth ball of dough. As soon as I throw a small bit in the fast moving river, twenty fish rise up majestically swimming against the rough currents. One can’t help but marvel at the strength of these fish. Few who enter the Bhagirathi in full flow have lived to tell the tale.
Ganesh is their father, he feeds them 10 kilos of dough every day. He left his religious career as a Purohit at Badrinath to live near the Ganga. He claims she asked him to. Now he chills all day, smokes pot, prays to the river and takes care of his fish.
Before I left, he pulled his iPhone out and we exchanged numbers. He tells me he doesn’t know how to use it properly. He has a few well-to-do benefactors who save him from having to peddle his praying skills on a daily basis.
Cows occupy the bridge over troubled water
Cows make good models
I liked the cows of Devprayag. They were the most photogenic bunch I had ever come across. Not only did they have a free run of Devprayag, they were thoroughly spoiled by all the visitors and locals who provided them with a continuous supply of food.
This proves, yet again, that it is better to be a cow in this country than a human.
Cow foraging for food in a cave dweller's home
1. Don’t go there to pray but to see the natural confluence of two very distinct rivers.
2. It is 330 km and 8 hours away by road from Delhi.
3. The fake babas are persistent, don’t fall into the puja trap.
4. If you’re a girl and want to take a dip in the water, carry appropriate clothing.
5. Don’t forget to feed the fish.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Karishma Goenka
Photographs by: Karishma Goenka