"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it. " ~ Mahatma Gandhi



Travelogues

Haridwar: River of Time


Romola Butalia, Editor, India Travelogue, writes an impressionistic piece on what Haridwar really means to her.

The first time I went to Haridwar was by default - as part of a 2-day College trip from Delhi, long years ago. I went under duress and could not imagine a less fun place to visit. I noticed the dirt and the dinginess of the crowded streets. I saw the pilgrim seeking absolution, the mourner come to perform the last rites of the dead and the mendicant who sought to break away from the chains of living within the bondage of birth and death. I shut my eyes to the emotions with which the oblations were being performed on the banks of the Ganga, I closed my mind to the fears and the tears. I did not participate in any of the activities, holding myself aloof with intellectual superiority and the arrogance of being 17.

I passed through the town of Haridwar, more than once later, on my way to different destinations in Garhwal, including Gangotri and Gaumukh. I felt a strange twinge of connectivity but was able to hastily put it aside.

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Much later, I went to Haridwar and crossed the bridge at the dead of night. There were enough people going about the business of living. I steered myself through the path of the yogis, the bhogis and the rogis, all of whom respond to the hours of night when the rest of humanity rests in slumber. There were people sleeping all around, people living and dying beside the banks of the holy Ganga. I was at once a part of them and yet a bystander, a witness.

I spent the best part of a night beside the river. I was deeply absorbed in the moment and the moment itself was an eternity of living. The waters of the Ganga roared as the river sped past in haste and it seemingly carried me along in its wake. I felt a strange sense of deja-vu, as though the Ganga itself was the river of Time, and I was swept into its currents with no control of my destiny. And yet, I felt anchored to something that remained when I lost myself. I felt a hand clasp mine to hold me aloft as I drowned in the river - I felt a strong grasp steer me to another shore.

It was a faith in eternity that transcended the ephemeral transience of living. It was an intuitive truth that neither rationalisation nor all of living since, could destroy. It was beyond the ken of thought. We live in different realms at different times. Yet something about us remains steadfast, unchanging, if we can only believe.

When we strip ourselves of all the layers of living that are dictated by the impressions created in our minds by a barrage of inputs, we suddenly find ourselves face to face with what we have always known. Quite suddenly we are no longer afraid. Neither of living, nor of dying. We are no longer desperately clinging to what we have always imagined should be. For a brief moment we live in the eternal present and we remember who we really are.

What power draws me to the Ganga at Haridwar? I have already paid my debt of having once ignored it. Why does it beckon me still? What living has to be surrendered there that still belongs to me?

I did not know it then and have barely grasped it yet, but my connection with the Ganga, the source of which I had sought as I trekked from Gangotri to Gaumukh, is as old as time itself. It is the river of my life whose course I once believed was guided by an unseen hand that would always protect me. No matter what happens between, I know the river will inevitably return to merge with the very ocean of living. I know now that I will return again to the banks of the river at Haridwar and seek answers to the questions of eternity that I held briefly in the palm of my hand and that have eluded me since in the mire of living.


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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.