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Tracing life-giving Ganga – Gangotri to Varanasi

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Tracing life-giving Ganga – Gangotri to Varanasi
One of the longest rivers in the world, Ganga or the River Ganges, is one of the most popular rivers in the world. It has historic and religious significance, as its banks are home to Indian civilizations since centuries. It has found references all over the religious scriptures of ancient Hinduism. In fact the river has prime significance in shaping the spirituality of the Hindu religion the way it has been manifested over the ages. This river has one of the densest populated and most fertile areas of the world along its banks. Hence the aptly chosen name ‘life-giving’ Ganga!
About the Ganga
Ganga is a perennial river which means the daughter of the mountain God, as per Hindu belief. It has great impact on the culture of the region, and it is believed that a dip on the holy waters can wash away a lifetime of sins and purify the soul of the true devotee. In fast the cremated ashes of Hindus are immersed in the river, believed to take the deceased towards salvation.
Tracing the frothy flowing waters
Nature and vibrant culture, along with spiritual enlightenment is what a trip along the Ganges can offer. This has been a hot favorite amongst foreign tourists into the country, but of late, even domestic travelers with a discerning eye to experience trips with a difference, have started to throng the Ganges. School and educational trips are also gaining heat along this route.
I had embarked upon one such trip recently. Here are some glimpses of my memoirs from this life-altering trip:

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.

Up close to the Gangotri and Gomukh
We drove up to the source of Ganga – the awe-inspiring Gangotri! It is located at a height of 3100 m. Nearby is where the glacier starts to melt into the river and it looks as if water is coming out from a cave of ice. That is why it is compared to the holy cow’s mouth in Hinduism and thus called ‘Gomukh’, located at a distance of 19 km from Gangotri. It can be covered via a trek to the glacier. Some from our troupe braced themselves to the trip. It takes one of 2 days for a round trip depending upon your speed.

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!

Devprayag

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.

Down to the Plains
There are numerous ghats along the course. A ghat is a place along a riverbank where steps are constructed leading to the river. Religious ceremonies, bathing, performing of rituals all are performed along these ghats because of the ease of access to the river via these steps. Most of the popular ghats have reverberating chants when a priest performs rituals with an elaborate diyas (firelit lamps) plate in the form of an aarti every evening. This is a wonderful experience, and we were lucky to witness this one more than one occasion along our route.
Two major towns as it enters the plains are Rishikesh and Haridwar.

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.

Prayag – Allahabad

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.

Varanasi
Next stop after Allahabad was Varanasi. Varanasi is also called Kashi or Banaras. It is one of the oldest living cities in India. It is considered as the cultural capital of India and is a city rich in music, culture, arts and architecture. Kashi is the oldest center for learning religion, philosophy, Sanskrit and astrology.
There are 2000 temples and 100 ghats here and it is visited by 1 million people annually! The city itself is amazing in retaining its old – world architecture and beliefs. Lord Shiva known as Lord Vishwanath has a famous temple here- the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is not very huge but a very beautiful one nonetheless, on the banks of Ganga. We toured winding maze-like narrow streets of the ‘Old City’ here. Vibrancy oozed from each nook and corner here!

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!

What we learnt
Wherever we went, we got the common sentiment that the people who live on the bank of Ganga consider themselves fortunate to be able to live there. Along our tour, we realized that Ganga supports the livelihood of millions of people; be it for agriculture, industry or any other means of livelihood.

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.

A painful thought

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.

However centuries of abuse is overbearing this life-sustaining river. Ma Ganga can heal but with a bit of help from all of us. That is why campaigns like ‘Save Ganga’ are gaining momentum with growing patrons from across the globe. We all need to do our bit to keep the revered mother pure and holy for our future generations.
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Author: A Lifeime Trip ...Creating colorful memories

We, A Lifetime Trip is a team of young minds. A no-frill company, providing the best of travel consultancy services across the industry at most reasonable prices. We deal in both Domestic and International tours. We specialize in bringing you inline with the real India – traditions, rituals, beauty, heritage, festivals, adventures, wild life, carnivals and many more different facets of our country. We work for you in a way that when you are back home, you cherish each moment of the trip making it A LIFETIME TRIP. Also Visit us at www.alifetimetrip.com

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