The blue and white memories of Alokananda and Bhagirathi have mingled now. Up, about thirty kilometers up that twisty road, hanging precariously by its teeth from the treacherous Shivaliks, they had met at Devaprayag. There, where sadhus and motorcyclists with saffron headbands and flimsy pennants have been arriving throug hout the day. To behold and perhaps enjoy the breathtaking creation of a mighty star: the Ganga; our bread and butter, the water of our lives, nurturing cities and shoe factories, flooding villages and egging us on towards salvation.
We are about thirty-five kilometers below the confluence. Kaudiyala is the name of this tiny hamlet nesting between forest and stream. This area is the Mecca for white water rafting says the brochures. We have reached early, the sun is fresh and the birds energetic. The bus from Dehra Dun, battered as it was, had a good man at the helm. For last night it had rained and the mountain roads were not quite friendly.
The bungalow where we are to stay is described as a rafters’ camp on the signboard though we are not into that sport. At least I can speak for myself though I am not so sure about my friend’s tendencies. Well its neither a bungalow nor a camp (not the kind with tents I mean) but a set of well-appointed rooms and cottages spread out on the riverside. We thank the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam that manages this and several other properties spread out over the hills, as we find ourselves being booked into a deluxe room with all the basic amenities and the river and the hills a few feet from our windows.
Though we are hungry (and yes thirsty!) we feel drawn out of our room to the riverside. It’s a baby river that flows by, but even at this early stage, in its mighty gushes and roaring music it whispers to us about its future. In its infancy, cradled between wooded and smoky hills, Ganga, still flows with the authority of an all-knowing adult. And we are happy to behold and wonder. For sometime.
The road from Rishikesh that took us here follows the river with its load of trucks and tourists. As the day grows old the hills change colour and character, much like my friend who goes for the gin. The wine, which I had wanted to drink, my friend says, has gone missing.
I leave my friend gazing through the glass window at the splendid torrent gushing along, a few feet away. I climb higher, to the road which is flanked at one side by steep forest-covered hills. A few cigarette shops, a temple, Coke signs greet me. Glory be to Ganga, my mobile service provider has failed to reach Kaudiyala. I walk along the road a kilometer, a little more. How effortless is nature in the creation of beauty. In flashes, at sudden twists in the road, the crystal river smiles at me from the deep gorge through which she flows. The diesel buses howl by, the motorcyclists disturb the moodiness of my incipient reverie.
Its time to turn back. I buy a map of Uttaranchal from the cigarette shop and a bottle of cold drink. I will not share the cold drink with my friend for ditching me with the wine. Lunch is however delicious and somewhat eases the slight friction between us on the matter of the missing wine bottle. We eat buttered rotis with chaunsa – a Garhwali dish made from urad dal and khicahdi, which is not far from the khichudi we know here in the east. My friend peeps into the menu and proclaims that we will have rosogollas at dinner. No problem there. The gin and the bus ride from Dehra Doon puts us of to sleep.
The evening opens with magic as the hills glow amber in the falling Himalayan light while the sky preserves the blue of a curaÇao drink. I like this magic of colours and stay enthralled for long minutes. Other boarders are on the green banks photographing this. As evening falls, the river seems to get bolder and talkative. The sound seeps into all the rooms of Kaudiyala Camp, rises to the road and having defeated the buses and the Coke sellers, fades somewhere up in the forests. The bottlebrush and pines dance as fresh gusts of breeze flow in through the gorge and pat us lightly on our cheeks. I feel gin-thirsty.
Great clouds have begun to descend from the north and are swathing themselves round the hills. The hills are like old men in brown capes smoking their evening pipe. That smoke slowly descends, lower, till the old men disappear and the baby river seems to be evaporating and turning to mist. But the talkative toddler keeps reaching us throughout the night. The cicadas join in sometimes and weaves a complex serenade which only dies when my friend begins to sing a Mohiner Ghoraguli song, that one hopes would never end. The words go:
Tumi cholecho dheue dheue kothae…
Where do your waves take you…)
Where is the gin, I ask. Sheepishly my friend crawls under the bed and fishing out a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from his sleeping bag, places it in on the table with a sorcerer’s flourish. Ah! You had been lying I say, with some irritation. I had suspected he had been hiding the wine for some reason he knew best. But I shouldn’t have minded at all. He’s going higher. To Devaprayag tomorrow, and then up further, always with his gin and always following the crystal river, while my own journey leads me down; a bus to Rishikesh, a bit of landslides and cloudbursts on the way, and then the long road to Delhi via teeming Haridwar and the university town of Roorkee and the small towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh, and from Delhi again an endless ride, another fifteen hundred kilometers through the night, to Calcutta; my home and the forest of all my memories.