Since the river is too long to travel along from its source to the mouth, we decided to enjoy it from the source to a mid-point – Gangotri to Varanasi (or Banaras it was known as earlier). This required us to traverse two states – Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Nature is at its best display here! The snow clad peaks all around, reverberating with the chants of holy men, is truly mesmerizing. In such cold, there were lots of pilgrims who were not deterred from taking a dip in the purest waters at the very origin! There is a temple here, a national park and hordes of small and big religious landmarks, each one rich in history and a marvel to visit. There is something mystical surely here! We wanted to soak in this picturesque scene forever and never wanted to leave!
Winding down the Himalayas, the river gushes down and gurgles down, as it is joined by more tributaries and rivers. At the source, the river is actually called Bhagirathi. After merging with many rivers it becomes the Ganga. Each such major confluence is called a ‘Prayag’ in Sanskrit terminology. We were lucky to visit Devprayag, the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda. The natural beauty here offers the perfect backdrop for the stark contrast between the two rivers. Bhagirathi comes gushing down with a frenzied force, whereas Alaknanda flows smoothly and unperturbed on the surface till the clear meeting point when the frenzied frothy flowing river swallows her and both rush forward in harmony. Devprayag is where Lord Rama is believed to have attained salvation. There is a peaceful temple here to mark the same, along with many other temples, each signifying many other events of religious importance.
Rishikesh is the town which came to exist because of the sadhus(religious ascetics) who went on to settle here along the banks of river Ganga, just at the foothills of the mountains. The most famous places here are the Laxman Jhula, and Ram Jhula, suspension bridges which lead you to the conglomeration of ashrams on the other side of the river, tucked into the hillside. The Muni Ki Reti, Geeta Bhawan, Swargashram and ashram of Mahesh Yogi are most famous here. People come to live here for days for spiritual and simple living experience.
Haridwar is a religious city teeming with tourists as well as locals looking for salvation in the waters of Ganga. There are numerous temples along the banks, and of extremely holy significance, thronged by pilgrims throughout the year. People come to cremate their loved ones and perform pooja for their salvation. There is the famous Har Ki Pauri ghat along a canal dug out of Ganga here. Also famous are the Mansa Devi, a temple a top of hill, to be approached by cable cars, Sapt Rishi Ashram and numerous other ashrams all over the town. Haridwar is one of the places where KumbhMela – a massive religious congregation – is celebrated every 12 years and is the holy place of North India.
We left the Deva Bhoomi of Uttarakhand and entered the plains of Uttar Pradesh. Our first stop was Allahahad. It is here that the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati takes place (Prayag). This is the second oldest city in India and also hosts the grandest KumbhMela every 12 years. Allahabad is an industrial and business center as well. There were fewer temples here than our earlier stops, but with their own unique charm. There are many museums here as well.
This is where our exploration of Ma Ganga, as she is fondly called by Hindus, ended. We decided to trace the other half next year for completion of our journey!
Everyone loves Ganga Ma in India. They embrace her with open arms and find solace in the rituals performed on her riverbanks. She is their prayer, their salvation. She is the source of hydroelectric power and she is the source of livelihood. She is the destroyer as she floods and she is the food provider at the same time, providing vast, fertile plains for growing crops.
The millions who take a dip in Ganga also pollute her with their offerings, washing clothes, and factories dispose industrial waste into her and mixing the sewage water with the holy water due to improper planning of sanitation and drainage system in the very areas it nurtures. People believe that Ganga is so powerful in itself that it can cleanse itself.