Ritual bathing in the River Ganges
When I tell people that I have bathed in the River Ganges, the revelation is usually met with horror as they imagine a rotten river where the bacteria of bloated floating corpses collide with the belief of a billion Hindus.
The truth, whilst less dramatic, is still profound.
I have bathed in the waters of the Ganges, but where it flows pure, green and unspoiled in Rishikesh, in the northern state of Uttarakhand in the foothills of the Himalayas.
It had been somewhere that I had wanted to come to for a long time, not least because it is where the Beatles wrote the White Album and because a spirit guide, in the form of Sir Paul McCartney, told me, in a meditation, to go. But that’s another story, and indeed another blog, altogether. I did this during a year away that I took to travel around India and Asia, on a spiritual journey, inspired by the book Eat, Pray Love.
Rishikesh is a study in pure beauty, flanking both sides of the beautiful green of the curling river. Two bridges, Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula cross the Ganga and connect both banks On my first evening, at sunset, I offered flowers and flames to the water by floating out a plate of petals and an oil lamp, in a ritual known as aarti. It joined floated out to join those offerings from hundreds of other pilgrims on the glassy surface of the river. I felt like I had come home.
I stayed in a peaceful hostel up in High Bank in the hills overlooking the river - a bougainvillea strewn terrace, a spacious room and two beautiful dogs and one puppy to keep me company. I was going through an intense period of contemplation during my spiritual journey in India and in Rishikesh, everything seemed heightened. Every evening I would wander down the hill and sit on the silver sand of one of the beautiful glistening beaches and watch the deep orange orb of the sun set over the water.
The Ganges, or Ganga as it is known, is considered by Hindus to be a sacred holy goddess, and to bathe in it affords purification. Every day, crowds of devotees gather on the ghats to take ritual baths to cleanse their sins. On Easter Sunday, I went down to the banks with Krissy, an American woman who had moved into the room next door to me at the hostel. We both had the ambition get into the Ganges and Krissy had scoped out the information. Apparently the ritual was to dunk under three times - one to cleanse the sins of the past, one for the present and one for the future.
As we got down to the glistening sandy beach, we met an older American lady who told us she had been recently bereaved. The grief was alive in her eyes as she recounted that a butterfly had landed on her hand; she had taken one look at it and known that it was her lover who had passed. We held onto her to steady her, and together we went in, three women, fully clothed, and immersed ourselves in the healing waters.
I took another dunk in the Ganga in my trip to Rishikesh in a profoundly spiritual moment that I was documented by a friend, Steve. You can see the moment that I walked in, fully clothed, in this video below.