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   Once upon a time I was travelling by the Varanasi Express from Benares to Bombay. (January 15, 2000)

Bombay would see the end of a journey which had taken me to Delhi and Dehradun, to Rishikesh, and to Kedarnath, Tungnath and Badrinath, then, via Rudhraprayag, to Almora and Naini Tal, Lucknow and Benares. Allahabad was the first major stop of the train from Benares. Then, as we crossed the Ganga at its confluence point with the Jamuna and the mythical Saraswati, mustard oil-scented bhaiyas on their way back to their jobs in Bombay's dairies, prayed in one voice to the receding Ganga It was like a compartment full of men bidding farewell to a grandmother they were leaving behind in their native town and whom they would not see again till they returned. And it was at that moment that I realised how Indians en masse felt about the Ganga. It was not just a holy river, it was the rhythm of their lives. This same feeling I get at the time of the Maha Kumbh. The dip in the ice cold river at 4 o'clock in the morning is not just a ritual, it is a rhythm of their lives.Of course, on the earlier occasion, I was in the right frame of mind for such spiritual interpretations. I had just come from the source of the Ganga, saw it grow from the source of its three original tributaries into the mighty river.

You don't have to be a Hindu to visit this source Though, if you are not an Indian, you would require a permit for this region. Reasons of security as it is a forward area.

The visit is to experience an adventure. Unfortunately, since my time, more roads have been built, killing some of the experience and most of the adventure.My journey began from Rishikesh, which is the end of the train line, and the road starts climbing into the Shivaliks immediately from this point. The road runs alongside the rivers, the Alaknanda, the Bhagirathi and the Mandakini, the tributaries, one by one, joining one another, their waters swelling. From the east comes the mighty Brahmaputra, turning the Ganga almost into a sea with broad stretches of water and steamers to take people across.My favourite is Mandakini, rising from the Kedarnath mountain, as it sits there like a pyramid behind the Kedarnath temple. When I visited, there was still a lot of climbing to do, and I climbed steadily for two days, the mountains always focussed in front of me, and the river rushing past me, splashing the water about as it jumped from rock to rock. It was a happy river, it had risen among the Gods and was going to the Sangam at Allahabad.

 
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