Days 8 and 9……………Sailing peacefully down the River Ganges for 2 idyllic days.
Aaaaahhhh just what I needed – time away from the crowds and madness of the Kumbh Mela. On the day that we visited estimates were that there were 10 million people who attended.
Four people to each boat – Jan and I shared with Louise and Sue. We were the “Girl Power” boat………great time for some female bonding – and some fantastic jokes which just couldn’t be told in the case of mixed company!
Our river boats had mattresses, blankets and cushions spread on the deck and we sat or lay next to each other – two on each side, for balance. We had two boat/oarsmen who looked after every need. Spread over our heads was a green tarpaulin to protect us from the sun.
As we floated down the river the tranquility settled into my whole being from head to toe. On each river bank we could see before us the real Indian way of life. People came down to the waters edge from the villages to bathe, praise the sun, swim and wash clothes, pots and pans.
Children ran and jumped headlong into the water and the sound of their laughter was uplifting. Men were all soaped up from head to toe whilst they scrubbed as hard as they could to remove the dust and grime which is ever-present here, People seeing our boats waved in greeting many shouting “hello” one child shouted “how are you?” we replied “very we’ll thank you”‘ and everyone laughed happily. Fishermen went about their work industriously and quietly and herds of buffalo enjoyed their daily bath, their attentive herder splashing them with water. Brightly coloured cloth lay stretched out on the banks to dry; the reds, yellows, oranges, greens and blues standing out in stark contrast against the buff coloured ground. Gold circles of marigold flower necklaces floated undisturbed on the surface of the glassy, glinting water ahead of us, the bright orange stood out vividly and as we approached they began to bob up and down disturbed by the action of the oars.
Every so often I could hear chanting from the many temples situated along the banks, the mystical sound seemed to glide towards me over the water.
Splash, splash, splash…..the only sound was from the oars hitting the surface of the water, and the creaking timber. My body moved in a rythmical motion in tune with the pull of the boat. This was the first time I’d had to really think about anything since I’d arrived in Delhi, and my thoughts turned to home, and John, and all of my wonderful family and friends and I suddenly felt homesick.
We rafted our four boats together for lunch and the many dishes of delicious local food prepared by our boat crew were passed from boat to boat. As we sat floating on the river, tied together, perfect harmony pervading everything, their was a sudden splash and a rare Gangetic Dolphin leapt out of the water. Eyes peeled we all hoped for just one more sighting of this wonderful endangered species. We must have been very lucky that day as around us dolphins leapt out of the water periodically…….probably to take a look at the strange foreigners floating along in a state of complete relaxation on their Holy River. I felt very privileged, not for the first time since my arrival in India.
As we ate and watched the dolphins, birds swooped down barely touching the mirror-like surface of the water, and rose up to the cloudless, bright blue sky quickly again. The air was full of trilling birdsong and in the distance the familiar sound of the Hari Krishna Mantra, repetitive, hypnotic, evocative floated through the air.
As we continued on our journey with the sails unfurled, swollen with the wind, the Hari Krishna mantra gradually grew louder and it was as if we were being pulled down the river towards the source of the chanting. Eventually we reached the temple on the river bank where a cremation was taking place, and listened to the chanting become more excitable accompanied by drumbeat, as smoke spiralled up into the sky.
The large empty spaces were a world away from Delhi, Allahabad and the Kumbh Mela. This was pure relaxation, and I felt eager to experience the next escapade on this amazing trip……..the camping!!