WHILE starting for Rishikesh on December 30 to spend the New Year’s eve on the banks of the Ganges, I had made a secret resolution: to overcome my fear of height and to an extent, water. But when we checked into Ganga Vatika, the cosy villa located in the Himalayan foothills, the warm host — an Italian lady unknowingly disappointed us by saying white water rafting in the Ganges is closed during winter months owing to freezing waters. If white water rafting was off, reaching the ‘ Maggi’ point to jump off the cliff into the Ganges would have remained a far-fetched dream for us.
Ganga Vatika is not a hotel. It is basically a colony of small villas managed by Yogalaya Ashrama. The volunteers are followers of the organisation who manage the daily operations. Our villa was a two storied house, with a kitchen on the ground floor and two bedrooms on the first floor. The backdrop of Buddhist chants of Aum Ma Ni Padme Hum and the aroma of incense sticks fills the villa with a pious atmosphere that continues to accompany you days after your trip.
The chants of “Har Har Gange” charge the atmosphere in the evenings in Rishikesh. The Ganga Aarti, meaning worship of the holy river is a daily ritual that takes place across various locations along the banks. The most recommended — purely in terms of its grandeur is the Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan. The walk from Ganga Vatika to the banks is a five-minute stroll — exit through the rear gate and walk down the winding hill road. Cross the only main road in the town and you are on the banks of river Ganges. The Ganges. It is impossible to not feel enchanted while at the banks of the Ganges. She is not just a river but an ecosystem in herself. From here, she flows for about 2500 km touching lives, souls, weaving religious beliefs and enlightening spirits.
The Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan is a grand affair
For reaching Parmarth Niketan, we had to cross the Laxman Jhoola. Ferries ply frequently between the two banks and we decided to return by a ferry. The Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan is an elaborate affair. Reaching early is the key to grabbing a front seat which ensures that you get to witness the Aarti from up close. The Aarti concludes with the ritual of releasing diyas into the river and I had a little wish while doing that — white water rafting, please! The ferry brought us back to the banks and we spent the evening shopping. Seems the Ganges listens to the prayers because the receptionist at the famous Chitiwala restaurant told us that white water rafting is still going on in the river despite the winter. Delighted and enthralled!!
Next morning, we were at Shivpuri, getting ready to concur the rapids over the 15 km stretch. Narrating the experience of white water rafting in the Ganges is a worthless effort. Instead, I suggest you experience it yourself. Life jackets are mandatory and are provided by the operators who arrange white water rafting tours here. Quick 10-minute familiarisation sessions are carried out before the venture begins. Interestingly, the trainers of all white water rafting clubs encourage you to jump into the water even as the inflatable boat continues to twist, turn and negotiate the rapids. Floating in the ice cold waters holding on to the ropes attached to the boats is an experience. There are about 15 rapids along the route that starts at Shivpuri and children below the age of 12 are not allowed on this route. There is a smaller 9 km route where children can join.
Just as we neared the Ram Jhoola, the trainers suggested we stop at a cliff — about 35- 40 feet high. A decent swimmer, I have never ever jumped into the water from a height. But then this time, I had a commitment to keep to myself. I have observed that at times, just blocking your counter-thoughts is the best way to get tough personal tasks done. So, I did not think. I just climbed. I looked down and jumped. About 6 seconds under water and I buoyed up. There the boat was and all I had to do now was swim. I swam, reached the boat and rewarded myself with a Maggi and a hot cup of tea. And now the thoughts — what a ride it was! I had overcome my fears and concurred my mind. I realised that the fear of jumping off the cliff was just a mind game. Frankly, nothing of what I thought ‘would happen’, happened at all. There simply was no time. It all got over in 30 seconds — and I had been countering it for 30 years. Funny!
Please visit the Beatles Cafe in the night. The Beatles were in Rishikesh in 1968 before they achieved the fame. The cafe, created in their memory, overlooks the Ganges and is best advised visited for dinner or evening coffee. Mornings — The German Bakery is a must visit before you say goodbye to the Ganges and thank her for the enlightenment. My enlightenment was overcoming fear, visit Rishikesh to find yours.
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