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Ganga Mai in the Rishikesh Valley

Sunset in Rishikesh Valley

For a moment, just a brief moment, when I focus hard enough, it’s quiet. My eyes are shut and my breath is shallow and calm. I tilt my head back, appreciating the warmth of the Indian sun on this chilly January afternoon.

My eyes open slowly and struggle to focus in the hazy light. I am alone. Completely alone on this secluded rooftop terrace, with only this magnificent, panoramic view of river and forest laden hills to keep me company. Here, nature seems to capture civilisation and hold it ransom. I watch a flock of birds, gracefully soaring over Ganga Mai, mother Ganges, the mighty spiritual river. She flows with strength through the town of Rishikesh; her sparkling waters barely touched by the pollution that taints her further south. Only faintly, can I hear her holy waters gushing and flowing; beating on huge rocks; carving out beauty. Such a distant, mystical trickle of sound; so calm and natural, yet powerful and dangerous.

Gorgeous Ganges in Rishikesh Valley

Gorgeous Ganges in Rishikesh Valley

As I shift my gaze to stare down the valley, I glimpse the remaining parties of the day’s river rafting expeditions hitting the last rapids. Excited thrill seekers, revelling from their journey through her wild, crisp waters. I smile, elated by a passing thought. Only yesterday we were there, in that fresh, energetic beast; crashing into turrets and exploding into the air as our raft capsized. As we were hoisted back in to the raft, one by one, monkeys on the river bank seemed to scrutinise our ridiculous scene. Excited, yet cold and shivering, I remember looking up from the valley. The sun peeked through the morning fog which lingered on the hill tops, casting beams of warmth on us. I wondered how one place could feel so tranquil. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that people come here to find themselves; to seek spiritual enlightenment.

River rafting on the Ganges near Rishikesh

River rafting on the Ganges near Rishikesh (courtesy Richa Jain)

The memory fades, much like a candle flame being extinguished, and I return to the moment. Another beautiful moment, in this beautiful place. The sun is now setting majestically, just beyond Ram Jhula suspension bridge. Rays illuminate the undulating hills of the valley in a glowing orange blanket. Temples, dotted along the river, some tiered like layers of a cake, catch simmering bursts of the fading light.

Temple on the Ganges in Rishikesh

Temple on the Ganges in Rishikesh

As dusk falls, the river banks will energise with the rituals of the ganga aarti, the river worship ceremony. Soon, pilgrims, spiritual men and tourists will gather, lining the concrete steps of the ghats along this a sacred river. Bright flames will dance to rhythmic sounds of bells and chimes; there will be singing and chanting. Mother Ganges will rejoice, as floating offerings of leaf baskets with flower petals and flickering candles are released downstream. Light, colour and music will fill the air with bursting energy.

Ganga aarti ceremony in Rishikesh

Ganga aarti ceremony in Rishikesh

For a moment, it’s as if I have seen this in my dreams, as if this place has been waiting for me. For a moment, it feels like home; it feels like this is where I should be right now.

Sunset in Rishikesh Valley

Sunset in Rishikesh Valley

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