The next day early morning, very early morning Bhim woke up to take a dip in the Ganga, it was an auspicious date and according to his community’s custom he had to donate to the poor in his father’s name. By the time I woke up he was back.
It was truly early and cold so he was glad no one was around to take a dip. We had a whole day to go. Normally we would rush towards Ram Jhula, go to Beatles Ashram which was like a tradition literally for both of us, this time we decided to take it easy and go with the flow.
Bhim hired a bike and later in the morning, after having breakfast in leisure we set off towards Parmarth Ashram. The evening Ganga Aarati was very popular pre Wuhan Virus days, it was also densely populated and commercialised to an extent. I remember the number of selfie sticks around me when I attended it for the first time. The sanctity of the Arati is gone. After that experience I started going to Triveni Ghat, Bhim did the same. So in the evening we would go there.
As we went on the bike, we saw so many policemen on the road, barricading certain areas, checking vehicles if people wore masks, at one point we had to detour because of a road block and we had to go through the forest road to reach the other side. It was beautiful though, with fewer vehicles, Bhim breezed through and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Bhim was also able to manoeuver his bike in Ram Jhula.This would be unthinkable if the usual crowd was around with lots of chaos but it was possible now yet thrilling! Bhim’s arms were aching braking all the time trying to avoid hitting people, this happens only in India! 😊
After we did our usual shopping we decided to go to Rajasthani bhojanalay. This one and Vishal bhojanalay was our favourite in old market road. We were craving for Kesar Lassi. After all that talk of being cautious and not going this time to that place because of the virus, we decided we must go, we couldn’t resist anymore. And we needed any excuse to be there and this time it was to beat the heat.
The place remained the same except now there were fewer chairs and tables with social distancing. And how could we just have Kesar Lassi? We also ordered Chaat and sumptuously enjoyed it. Aaah! Even now when I think of that Kesar Lassi, I salivate. Worth every bit of it! It was getting too hot and we were tired already, the crowd was also increasing in the old market area. The best thing to do was to go back to our comfortable apartment. Previously we would have braved the sun and spent a whole day out, this time we wanted to relax. No more backpackers stuff, just comfort right now.
I remember us watching Aamir Khan’s first movie, ‘QSQT’ on TV and wondering how the songs in it sounded fresh even after 30 odd years. We were chatting, lazing around until it was time to go to Triveni Ghat for the evening Ganga Aarti.
Let me tell you it’s pure magic there. The lamps, the prayers, Ganga flowing gently, you can hear her talk to you, there is a calmness that comes inside you. It doesn’t matter there are people around, it just happens. The intent is pure.
We reached the Ghat a little earlier than usual and we had to go through rapid Antigen test before entering. And am glad we did it because it gave us a boost when it showed negative. We sat on the steps very close to Ganga. It was serene.. Far away was the Himalayas. So far away..
We were waiting for the sun to set so the Arati could start, and at that moment I don’t know how or why I felt the presence of Bhim’s father.. I didn’t tell him I was feeling it but I could only ask him, Do you feel the presence of your father? He kept quiet. Truth to be told, I never met him. But I heard so much about him from Bhim and had his recorded voice when he was singing in the background during Ekadashi, a video which Bhim sent last year. At that time he was hale and hearty. Why was I feeling his energy so strong now?
I let it be and soon the Arati started. Every single time I experience this, the divinity of the mother Ganga. Devotion it is, it is an experience deep within and it’s not a ‘feeling’. And it’s only after my visits to Rishikesh has my faith deepened. Ganga Arati was purely that. Thousands and thousands of years old faith and devotion that can’t be standardised or try to bring it into some sort of uniformity. Our civilisation, our culture and faith is unique and let me put it bluntly, do not ‘Abrahamise’ it nor even try to put a ‘communist view’ to it. This is tradition, this is unique. Period.
We were completely entranced by the Arati, and after the Arati ended, it took us some time to come back to this world. We took blessings from the Arati and the priest tied a holy thread to our wrists. Bhim and I made our way out and he gently said, ‘I am emotional right now about my father, I don’t know why you asked if I felt his presence’. ♥️
It was our last evening and we made our way out of the crowd and got back on to the bike. We wanted to sit in a cafe after all that buzz and I saw a board that said ‘The 60’s cafe’. Why not this one? And the moment we walked in, we felt right at home. Pretty outdoors full of greenery and a whole lotta knick knacks and posters of the 60’s flower power era and rock and roll. Why didn’t we come here last night? The gang would have loved it.
We sat eating our last dinner of pasta and of course Bhim and mine’s most favourite snack of all, Chilli paneer and chatted. It was very pleasant, with our favourite music playing in the background, a group here and there in other tables. Two dogs who belonged to the cafe were playing around. It was truly the best way to end our night in Rishikesh.
Bhim and I had some travel plans chalked out this year but in 2019 itself before this Wuhan virus mayhem started, we were thinking of quality travel. Spend more days and not rush around here and there. I still remember in Dec 2019, sitting in a backpackers hostel in Guwahati one morning, we planned a whole month of backpacking across Germany. I had my maternal extended family there, my German relatives so to speak, plus we wanted to do a series of workshops together as we went along. Me with yoga classes and Bhim’s chanting and mantras workshop. Since I had been there before and we had made some friends from Germany too, we could visit them. And then life happened in 2020. But as usual we were always hopeful for the future. It was always there and who knows it could happen one day.
As we ended that evening in that beautiful cafe, we decided to stay there the next time we were in Rishikesh, they had a lovely 60s themed boutique hotel attached to it. I went to the counter and complimented the manager and the staff. I loved every bit of the place and the food was really good. I remember his words even now, ‘Thank you, it’s a labour of love and in these difficult times it really motivates our staff to know our guests love this place.’
These were really difficult times, economy wise, employment and livelihood. It’s easy to say Lockdown and be cooped up in our comfortable homes without having to worry about the next meal or worry about next month. But what about the millions of Indians out there.. Was lockdown a solution? How much can any government do? There would be a 3rd, 4th, nth wave but life has to go on. Once it opens it would start all over again, isn’t it time we accepted that this is what it is and keep living life even more? Virus or not, what life was this sitting inside home and living in fear? I will leave those thoughts with you to ponder..
Epilogue for this blog series tomorrow..
Until then, stay positive, let not fear overcome you, let there be light. Jai Hind 🇮🇳
PS: Do check out videos of the Ganga Aarti below