NO OTHER RIVER IN THE WORLD is as closely identified with a country as the Ganges is with India. Its very name evokes the extraordinary panorama of Indian history – the rise and fall of its great empires as well as the continuous stream of its cultural and religious movements. The Ganges flows like an outpouring of sacred knowledge that, over the centuries, has become crystallized in a number of very important cities and pilgrimage centres along its ancient banks.
Slowly Down GangesTHE GANGES is regarded as the holiest river on earth, not only by the people living along its length, but also by Hindus living in all parts of India and abroad. The river is worshipped as Ganga Ma, Mother Divine in physical form, the abode of purity, and to have the sight (darshan) of her is to receive the blessings of the Great Goddess Herself. To visit the places of pilgrimage situated all along her course, to bathe in her, to use her healing waters for religious ritual, and finally to have one’s ashes scattered in her – these have been among the deepest desire of practically every Hindu through the ages. But her appeal is not only to the Hindu - even visitors from outside India have unfailingly been deeply moved by the majestic power of the river and the eternal drama of her changing moods – now playful, now rushing fiercely, now silent and serene.
THIS TRIP will give us a taste of the different stages of the Ganga’s stately journey to the sea, as she winds through a lovely landscape suffused with legend, myth and mystery. Our journey begins at Dev Prayag, where her two principal tributaries, the Bhaghirati and the Alakananda, meet to form the named Ganges. Next we shall travel to Rishikesh, sacred to Shiva, Lord of Transformation, that point in the Himalayan foothills where the river enters the plains and for centuries an important pilgrimage centre with many well-known ashrams.
Ganges in India WE SHALL CONTINUE on to Haridwar, dedicated to Vishnu, and listed in many texts as being one of the seven mokshapuris, or sacred towns in the subcontinent most conducive to liberation. On to Allahabad, the ancient city of Prayag, where the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the underground Saraswati meet at the holy confluence, the Triveni Sangam and where Brahma, Lord of Life , is said to have performed a ritual fire sacrifice at the beginning of creation.
FROM HERE WE EMBARK on five days sailing down the river, camping for four nights on the riverbank. We shall be looked after by the wonderful team who handle all the camping on Trishula’s Himalayan tours and we shall sleep in luxury tents with camp beds and bed linen; have wash- and lavatory-tents for our comfort, and enjoy the delicious vegetarian food for which our team is famed – including home-baked cakes and biscuits, washed down with Kashmiri herbal tea each afternoon. We shall make many stops to visit the patchwork of small villages with their sloping steps [ghats] leading down to the water. Our leisurely days will allow us to enjoy a tranquil panorama of local life as it unfurls before our eyes in a scene that has hardly changed for thousands of years, sights full of human interest as only India can provide, interspersed with sparkling vistas of emerald paddy-fields teeming with colourful bird life.
WE THEN ARRIVE in Varanasi, perhaps the most ancient city in the world, held to be the earthly abode of Shiva. This is a truly extraordinary place, with an extraordinary atmosphere, an entire city laid out as a sacred mandala. We shall have ample time to explore the network of hidden streets and the ghats leading down to the river’s edge, and enjoy what is pre-eminently a priestly place, with all the contradictions that implies, with a culture and tradition that is unique, even by the standards of India.
THE LAST STAGE OF OUR JOURNEY will be to Calcutta, capital of British India until 1911, but long renowned throughout the subcontinent for its artistic, political and intellectual vitality. Calcutta boasts a mine of historical and cultural sites, and we shall end our tour with three days in this fascinating city western tourists have yet to discover.