Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Yamuna and Ganga

Two of the holiest rivers in India. Upon the banks of one, Krishna played and the other washes away the sins of anyone that bathes in it (even the dead). The Yamuna and Ganga, respectively, hold great significance to the Hindu masses. My mother took bottles of Ganga jal back to Toronto so that she can give a few mL to families when one dies. Such is the power of the Ganga. Thousands upon thousand of dead bodies are placed in the Ganga each year because of the belief that She opens the doors to heaven. (In fact, the government recognizing that it cannot stop the practice, has placed flesh eating tortoise in the river to eat the dead bodies and reduce pollution – side enginerd fact =)

There are striking differences between the rivers and its valleys. The Yamuna is fairly clear and blue, while the Ganga even at its source is turbid and brown to large large volumes of dirt. It seems very surprising that the Ganga is so "dirty" until you notice the differences in the landscapes through which each river passes.

The Yamuna Valley (or valleys I should say)
Beautiful mountains all around, reaching up and touching the skies, the peaks only obscured by cotton candy clouds hung from the heaven against the backdrop of blue skies, while the sun shines brightly upon the scene. The valley reminds Yosemite, but there is one big difference- the habitation of the valleys. All along the sides of the mountains, terraces have been cut away (I can only imagine the effort it took). Each terrace slightly different in appearance due to the level of water and growth of different produce. From the valley floor to 4/5 of the way up, terraces line the mountains, like stairs for giants, interspersed with homes. Innovation in irrigation practices that have been developed long ago are what I was fortunate enough to see first hand. The river curves her way through the mountains and one can only marvel at how the river has shaped the valleys through which she passes. The river meanders and braids its way amidst the terraces and rocks. Sometimes gently, sometimes with great noise and vigour alluding to its power.

The Ganga Valley
The Ganga valley was striking and beautiful, but in a different form. While the mountainside was terraced, it was to a much lesser degree. Rockslides were much more prevalent. It was as if someone grabbed a piece of the mountain and tore it away from the rest, leaving a huge gap amidst the trees and greenery. Thus much more dirt and particulate matter makes its way into the river. At its source, the first 2-3 km of terrain are barren. The only life that can be found are beautiful purple flowers that grow amongst the dirt and rocks. Even the glacial from which the Ganga emerges is full of dirt and could be misinterpreted to be a mountain of dirt instead of ice. In the picture of the river, you cannot even distinguish between the river and land as the waves are still.

Both rivers and valley did not cease to amaze me. Nature has a way of humbling individuals through its grandeur and power. When one looks at nature and attempts to fathom on the landscape came into being, the events in our lifetime do not hold any significance to time the earth has existed. Yet, as a species, we have changed so much about the earth we live in (but that's a topic for another day).

The mountains with its serenity and power are incredible. After being in the mountains (we stayed in motels in cities, but we didn't explore the cities), coming back to hardiwar/rishikesh and the cities and crowd in general was overwhelming and left a desire for the serenity and power of nature. Maybe I won't work in the slums and work in the villages only to be aware of the noise of the urban world. We'll see.

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