The 7477+ Mile Pilgrimage to the Holy Ganges
Today’s story is a guest post by Lloyd Greene, a fine art photographer.
One of the Holiest Places for Hindus is the west bank of the Ganges River in Hardiwar, India. Many people pilgrimage yearly to pay respect at this “Gateway to God.” This spiritual center is where the Temples reside and evening prayers are conducted. Upon entering the area, all shoes are confiscated. Everyone must walk barefoot on the cool wet tile. There are benches where you can sit behind the altars, but my favorite spot is to kneel along the steps in front of the Ganges.
From this location, I had a direct view of the altars and the pilgrims sending tributes in the river. I didn’t understand Hindi, but easily understood the solemn intensity of Pilgrims getting ready for prayers. As the afternoon light turned into a royal blue, the music started and the sweet smell of incense got stronger. I tried to ignore this wonderful assault on my senses, because I came to the Ganges to make imagery.
My name is Lloyd Greene and I am a photographer.
My thoughts of traveling to India started several years ago. I read stories about Pilgrims traveling great distances for the spiritual cleansing and healing in the Ganges River. So I researched and planned my expedition. The result was that Haridwar, India was a great place to visit, learn and commune.
Haridwar is a long way from my home in Beaverceek, Ohio. Getting there took more than a full day, but the transportation was straightforward.
The trip effectively started with American Airlines in Chicago. They have nonstop 777 flight service into New Delhi, which is 7477 miles away and it takes approximately 14 hours. I got a window seat and was constantly rewarded with exciting scenery. We flew over the polar ice cap, Finland, Russia and Afghanistan. I mentally whispered my gratitude to the Boeing engineers and AA flight crew as we safely touched down at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
The ground transportation in India was more fun than any amusement park. Immediately outside of the airport, I noticed that traffic proceeds on the left side of the road. That was an easy observation. The harder part was figuring who had the right-of-way (or is it the left of way). There were trucks, buses, cars, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, motorcycles, horses, oxen and pedestrians—they all share and compete for space on the same roads. The tuk-tuks (auto rickshaws) were my preferred travel method in Delhi, because they were convenient and easily able to deliver me to my photographic spots. However, these three-wheeled open-air vehicles didn’t seem very safe on some boulevards. There were times when I couldn’t muster the courage to watch the vehicles driving in what seemed like a real life bumper car ride. The vehicles routinely passed each other within inches, but I never saw an accident in Delhi during my short stay there.
After an incredible week in Delhi, I eagerly boarded a train north through the countryside to Haridwar. For the first time in many days, I had comfort and quiet from the hustle-bustle of Delhi. Well, every now and then we could hear the train’s horn. Even so, it was a relaxing morning of tea, biscuits and vistas of the Indian countryside. In general, the Haridwar countryside was charming and peaceful. There were still lots of people, but there seemed to be more room for everyone. Yes, all the familiar transportation vehicles were in the country also but the activity slowed to a much more comfortable pace. In addition to the baths, the town has an airport, business, hotels and industry like many other small towns in the world. But—the Ganges makes Haridwar unique.
My daily trips to the banks of the Ganges were always different and emotionally rewarding. The view from the bridge caused most pilgrims to stop, gawk and take a picture—I did it myself several times! I saw a wide variety of activity including weddings and funerals. Parents ensured that young people were appropriately dipped in the Ganges. Children carried water up to the Elders who weren’t able to traverse the stairs. Many people stripped down to their undies and jumped in the cold water. Some people splashed and others completely immersed themselves and a few even drank the water. This activity continued throughout the day until it was time for the prayers to start.
Usually about 4:30 in the afternoon, people start making their way towards the altar for evening prayer. While making my way down to the banks, I met one woman who has made the pilgrimage for 60 years. She smiled at me and said, “these days, the trip takes a little longer.” She asked me to allow her a few minutes for a prayer ritual and then inquired about my journey. Since I live in a farming community, we had a short discussion about the need for a bountiful crop in the fall. For us, the crop is profit, but each year it is survival for her. Then she stopped and whispered prayers for my village in the United States.
There are many unofficial and genuine spiritual leaders welcoming you for prayer. A man in yellow robes saw me from about 50 yards, and made eye contact. I was a little cautious as I approached. Then, he extended a warm greeting and I went straight towards him. We chatted for a few minutes (with the help from my interpreter), and I learned that he wanted to provide a blessing for my family. He then posed so that I would have images to bring home to my village—after all, I was also on a pilgrimage of sorts.
Once at the ceremony, we were instructed to sit “Yoga-Style.” All Pilgrims wanted a good view down front of the Priests and fires, and so did I. However, I noticed one night that there was an old woman sitting behind me. I motioned for her to get in front of me, and she got a big grin on her face. She moved up, and so did the other 15 members of her family J Even from behind, there was still plenty to see and experience. There were Priests circulating through the crowd who sprinkled water and blessed the Pilgrims. They also offered tribute prayer boats for people to send down the Ganges.
I also received blessings and floated my tribute down the Ganges. Then, I shot pictures of my new friends and other Pilgrims as they celebrated well into the night. We left with a good feeling in our hearts and smiles on our faces. If you choose to visit, I’m sure that your experience can be spiritually rewarding like other pilgrims–and photographers.
– At the Ganges in Haridwar, visit both Banks
– Always look to your right BEFORE stepping off a curb
– Stay on the Hotel’s highest floor possible for the least noise
– Skype is a low-cost way to stay in touch back home
– Maintain a folder of itineraries, addresses and contacts; I used mine routinely AND needed the plane information upon return to the airport
– Keep the Embassy’s phone number in your shoe in case of emergencies
– Remember that India has more than 1.3 billion people in a geographical area about one-half of the U.S.-There is always competition for space, seats and rooms.
Lloyd Greene is a fine art photographer. To view additional imagery from this expedition or others, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at http://www.greeneone.com . The expedition lead and interpreter was Mr. Hardik Pandya email@example.com.
I am sincerely grateful for the people supporting my expedition: Hardik, my guide; He kept me safe and sound. The Hotel Manager at the Rivera Ganges who insisted that I share tea with him during the mornings. The cab drivers who tolerated me hollering “stop here.” The scores of Pilgrims who posed at the Ganges and prayed for my family and village. The hundreds of kids who wanted me to take their picture. And, my family and friends.
All Images copyright by GreeneOne Photography 2012–All Rights Reserved