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My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - My Big Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [235] | Scholarship Entry

What was supposed to be about a 6 hour cab ride turned into 10 hours—India time, rather than being infuriating, reminds me of my own inability to be punctual so it would be hypocritical to slander it too harshly. Besides, the ride was almost comfortable in our Ambassador taxi—known fondly as the King of Indian roads, we careened gracefully around the curvaceous turns and tight hairpins of the Himalayan highway. The separation between pavement and cliffside was as thin as mango skin—no barrier between us and the freefall down to the Yamuna River, except for the driver’s nuanced maneuvering of the smooth, bulky mass of classic Indian car.

Our destination? The source of the Yamuna itself: Yamunotri. Located a cool 3,300 meters above sea level, Yamunotri is tucked high up in the Garwhal Himalayas where sharp peaks kiss skies a hue of blue that Crayola hasn’t even seen. Yamunotri itself is actually a temple devoted to the Hindu goddess Yamuna, sister of Yama, the god of death. Hindu legend has it that a dip in the crisp waters of the Yamuna will protect them from Yama’s hell—though submerging oneself in Yamuna’s glacial offspring is a kind of hell in itself. Though quick relief from the cold is found in the natural hot springs within the temple compound.

We began our 6km trek from Janki Chatti to Yamunotri, after a night’s rest from the previous day’s ride. We shared the paved path with a multitude of pilgrims, sadhus swathed in sunburst orange and sherpas bundled in scarves and skullcaps. Nearly all people who undertake the trek to Yamunotri are pilgrims retracing an ancient tour circuit known as Chota Char Dham. I was not one of them. I simply wanted proof that the Yamuna is not a fetid cesspool from the source, as the river that flows through Delhi would have me believe. Those who opted not to walk rode horses and the oldest pilgrims folded their fragile limbs into body-engulfing baskets strapped to strong sherpas’ backs, their smiles bouncing in step with their carriers’ footsteps.

We reached the temple after a chest heaving hour and a half climb and headed straight for the hot springs, seeking relief from the biting cold. The men’s bath was on a deck in the open air; the women’s bath directly underneath. Intensely steamy, dark and cavernous, the musky pink painted walls were a perfect structural analogy for the gender divide that defines India. Rejuvenated by the playful splashings of prickling hot waters from my fellow trekkers, I offered puja to the goddess and dipped my hands into numbingly fresh Yamuna. Drinking from my palms, I re-hydrated, satisfied that the Yamuna was not the sewage subsidiary that I knew in Delhi. Close enough to touch that blue yet unnamed, I stretched up to the sky, preparing for another winding ride following the Yamuna from the source to the south where the pure is adultered, but no less sacred.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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