After so much excitement and nerve-stretching situations, Baba and I were looking forward to our honeymoon. Just the two of us! Anonymous and without having to satisfy anybody’s expectations!
We decided to visit the Hindu pilgrimage town of Gangotri, where the holy river Ganges has its source and therefore is said to be the abode of the goddess Ganga. When we mentioned our plan while sipping on our cup of chai at Kashi’s Chai Shop, our good old Baba friend Sita Ram suddenly started to wallow in self-pity:
“Me always want to go Gangotri, but never possible… Now me now very old, possible die and never see Gangotri…”
I guess that he was in his late sixties. He was this particular Sadhu who reminded me so much of Rumpelstiltskin; he was small, thin, wrinkly and brown. Usually he kept his grey hair matted into a couple of thick dreadlocks under a turban. He always showed a toothless grin and with his sly glance you could never be sure if he was joking or talking in serious. He uses to complain a lot about whatever and enjoys saying his piece; a habit some people could not deal with too well. But I kind of liked him and in the end, Baba and I decided to take him along with us to Gangotri. The deal was that once we would arrive there, he would go his own Baba-way and we would enjoy our longed-for honeymoon.
Many Sadhus travel to the Pilgrim places once the passes are open to the public from May to September and the heat gets too intense in the plains. Some few go there to retreat and meditate, the rest of them basically to collect their annual “salary” from the pilgrims.
At some point, after a long time of bumping up and down in the local bus with a complaining Sita Ram Baba in our back, people started to pull out shawls, woolen caps and gloves.
I thought. Well, only twenty minutes after I understood. We must have passed a certain hight level, because suddenly it became freezing cold. I was not prepared at all for that, actually I wore my flip-flops and a thin sweater and felt incredibly cold.
The first thing I did after arriving in Gangotri was to buy a woolen shawl and socks. The place was already very busy and it was not easy to find a room. There were only a few guesthouses and they were more expensive than what I use to pay while traveling. Sita Ram stayed in a Sadhu spot under a balcony where other Babas were sitting around a fire pit. I felt a bit sorry for him due to the cold, but in the end he was a Baba and probably knew how to get along.
It was really tough to leave the warm bed in the morning. As I opened my eyes I could see my breath. The water was so cold that I wasn’t sure anymore if my teeth were still there after I had brushed them. We decided to have a warm breakfast and a cup of chai.
Sita Ram was already waiting for us in front of the guesthouse and invited himself to come along with us. Like usually, he was complaining. The three of us sat down at a window place in a restaurant at the narrow main road that lead to the temple. I agreed with Sita Ram, the chai in deed tasted horrible, it was made with powder milk and a lot of water. All groceries have to be brought up to this hight of 3100 metres which made it expensive and the choice was limited and of poor quality. In the off-season, nobody lives in the village.
I looked out and saw the holy men sitting in a long line begging for money and witnessed how some of them were getting really angry when a pilgrim gave them only a few rupees or nothing. Here, it seemed there was not much of a difference between being a Sadhu or a simple beggar; this made me really sad. My Baba must have read my thoughts and said
“Yes, many Babas sitting here all season. They begging much money for living the rest of the year; like job. Good Baba not doing like this. Good Baba sitting possible, somebody giving than he can take. He taking what god giving from heart, not asking, asking…”
We decided to take a walk through the area. Sita Ram followed us like a puppy, it was like being on a honeymoon with the senile grandfather. Anyways, the nature was amazingly beautiful. The holy glacial water rushed through ivory colored rocks that formed beautiful shapes. The dense forest with its rocks, mushrooms, small caves and high trees seemed to be enchanted and with the muttering Rumpelstiltskin in our backs I felt like strolling through a fairy-tale landscape. We came to a big rock with a cave entrance. A Sadhu was sitting silently inside the cave at his dhuni, the holy fire-place. He invited us for a cup of chai and the Sadhus had a respectful conversation. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the place and was happy to meet at least one Sadhu who seemed to take his chosen path seriously.
In the meantime our quiet guesthouse had been invaded by a large Indian family of about twenty members of all ages. The terrace was crowded with playing and crying children, women in sarees were running from one room into another banging the doors and grandmothers and grandfathers were yelling at each other. Our room was in the middle of all that chaos, which was pretty irritating. I guess that the family was on one of the typical pilgim-marathons, where they book a bus to visit several holy places. They don’t stay more than one night; they wake up, pray, eat and chalo!.
At 4 a.m. we awoke by the sound of rattling dishes, yelling and singing sounds coming from the bathrooms in the neighboring rooms. The pilgrim family also had brought along a complete kitchen equipment! It takes quite a bit of time until about twenty people finish with their shower, breakfast and wash all the dishes. No way to fall asleep again! After half an hour I gave up and sat in the first rays of sunlight on the terrace watching the family clan rushing to the temple.