Rafting Down the Ganges

When I woke up this morning, it was real windy and I imagined what it would be like to be rafting on the Ganges. I had grave reservations about going out on the water with that kind of wind. My wife was concerned that the raft would tip over and that I’d swallow some the water and get sick.

But it’s the Ganges, the most sacred river in the Hindu religion. It’s not just your ordinary run-of-the-mill polluted river: it’s mythical. Known as Mother Ganges, Hindus believe in its purifying powers, which is why they bathe in it, drink it, and pray to it. Once I understood the issue that way, I had to do it. But I would play it close to the vest and stay as dry as possible.

About 14 other students and I took taxis four or miles upstream. I had heard rumors that some of boat guides tipped over the boats and I prayed I didn’t want to get one of those guys. The guide sat in the back of the raft and the rest of us sat on the sides in our life preservers and helmets, paddles in hand waiting instructions from our guide on whether to paddle forward or back. The water was calm at first and then we hit some rapids and got soaked. I wasn’t scared because I figured they weren’t going to let us do anything that would get them sued and put them out of business. We’d go through some tranquil areas and then hit the rapids, where we bounced up and down and were doused by water. So I got wet, but not drenched. From the raft, we had a wonderful of the Shivalik mountain range of the Himalaya. Playful people in other boats would approach and use their paddles to splash more water on us. Between the rapids and sprays of water from other rafts, I got pretty wet but not drenched. I could deal with it. The guide deftly guided the raft around some hefty rocks in the middle of the river. About halfway through the journey, the guide invited people to jump overboard and take a swim. I declined, and was especially happy about my choice when I heard the people scream hitting the ice cold water. Let them have their fun. They re-boarded after their swims and the guide pulled them up by their life vests in a way they looked like big fish being plucked from the seas. Towards the end, the guide stopped the boat for one last time and invited us to take another swim. I initially declined, but after a sufficient amount of peer pressure (approximately 8 seconds), I felt my shamed social self push my nervous body into the depths. Living up to its billing, the water was chilling, but the chill was offset by the exhilaration of floating down the Ganges in the company of other people.

After the two-hour voyage, everybody wanted to express how great it was. I didn’t. In this case, words would ruin the perfect moment. In the Amrita-Bindu-Upanishad (“Secret Doctrine of the Seed of Immortality”) it is written: “One should realize the Supreme as the Soundless.” Sometimes a moment is sharable; sometimes not.

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