I realized that I am not going on holiday. I am going on a pilgrimage. Even when my colleagues at work wished me a safe trip and relaxing „holidays“ in India. End of September 2017 came and I found myself sitting on a plane to Delhi. Lovely memories followed me because exactly seven years ago in 2010 I started my trip around the world in Delhi, India. But still at this point I was not clear about the idea of a pilgrimage. I had a vague idea on my mind but I was not able to express it with words.
Arriving in Delhi felt like coming home. And moreover meeting our pilgrimage group in Delhi felt even better. Seeing familiar faces made my heart jump and the excitement suddenly rose. Our pilgrimage started in a 12 seater van from Delhi Airport.
Pure Joy and Love
Our first stop is Haridwar located on an elevation of 288m above sea level. Haridwar is famous for being one out of the seven important places of pilgrimage. Mother Ganga flows right through the city which is also one of the most visited cities when people are heading to the Himalayas. It was my first time seeing Mother Ganga. This picture expresses what I felt before, during and after the bath in the Ganga. Just pure Joy and Love taking over.
Heading to the Himalayas
We spend 11 hours on a bus chanting (singing), talking about the spiritual stories of Mother Ganga and getting to know each other. Besides this – to be honest – the ride to Gangotri was an adventure itself. Several times I have had the impression our bus was very, very, very close to the edge. But I guess our chanting was strong enough. There was no chance that we would slide down these steep edges.
Whatever takes your breath away
Gangotri as a part of Uttarakhand lies on an elevation of 3.042m above sea level (remember Haridwar 288m). A logical consequence was that we had to get used to the elevation. Thin air got a completely new meaning for me. Our hotel room was on the 3rd floor. After climbing the stairs to our room I felt like finishing a half marathon. And I know what I am talking about.
In addition we could all feel that the temperature dropped. We still took cold showers and took a bath in the Ganga. The atmosphere in Gangotri started turning me into a calm mood. Leaving a lot of thoughts, worries and heavy packages behind. Me and my life in Germany felt far away. Looking at it geographically it was far away. But also emotionally there was not much pulling me down up on 3.042m above sea level. Feeling small and humble between these giant mountains. A view that took my breath away.
But Gangotri is not our final destination. Our final destination is Gomukh which is also called “the Snout of the Gangotri Glacier” or “mouth of a cow”. It is the source of the Baghirathi River, one of the major headstreams of the Ganges River. The celestial Ganga splits into thousands of rivulets passing through Lord Shiva’s jatas (could be translated with: dreadlocks) and each one would hit the Earth on a different spot.
A head full of thoughts
Actually getting to the spiritual source of Mother Ganga demanded a lot from all of us. It was another 18km hike by foot from Gangotri. We divided this path and hiked about 12km to a mountain ashram called Bhojbasa where we stayed for one night. This path was physically demanding for me but also mentally. These questions were permanently on my mind: “What am I doing here?” and “Why am I doing this?”.
I went on this pilgrimage because I felt that there is more to life than what I experienced so far. There is something more meaningful and more fundamental. It is a feeling of suddenly finding a compass while hiking around without a plan. The place and time were both perfect for this mental confrontation. And that was maybe the reason why this was one of the most wonderful nights I ever experienced. Far away from everything. No reception. Clear air. A firmament full of stars. And a head full of thoughts.
How cold feels water of 4° degrees Celsius?
We got up early to hike the last 6km to the Source of Mother Ganga, to Gaumukh on an altitude of 4.360m above see level. The emotional and mental state of our pilgrimage group was a potpourri of everything. Exhausted, happy, caring, motivated, relaxed, focussed, tired…and each of us had their own struggle whether it was a physical thing, a mental or an emotional thing. The last bit was the toughest.
We were pushing us to our limits. Feeling our material bodies moving out of their comfort zones. And this was the point where we all had to rely on our inner voice. That voice saying “This is enough, stop” or that voice saying “Go on, you can do it.”
In the end there was a hand full of us taking the bath at the source. Water of 4° degrees Celsius feels like a thousand needles piercing through your body. But at the same time it feels like a complete purification, mentally and spiritually. But to be honest this is not so important to the story. Looking back to that day a year later I guess more important was that we all supported each others intentions. Respected all of our individual paths.
* There will be a post called the pilgrimage (II) about the second part of our pilgrimage to Vrindavan.