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A must read on River Ganga

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Chanchal Kumar Ghosh’s ‘Ganga- An endless journey’ takes the reader along the 2,525-kilometre journey from Gaumukh to Gangasagar covering stories of sadhus living for years in snow capped mountains, documenting folklores associated with the river, photographing the Ganga in its myriad hues and telling us why the river is revered in India By T P Venu.

Author Chanchal Kumar Ghosh

As a child, the author Chanchal Kumar Ghosh would accompany his paternal grandmother to the Ramakrishna Math at Belur and spend hours at the river bank. “Those visits had imperceptibly instilled in me a strange kind of fascination and love for the river,” he says in the introduction and further adds, “I have been toying with idea of documenting her 2,525-km journey, from Gaumukh to Gangasagar but the expenses deterred me.”

His long cherished dream, however, became a reality and today readers have a 284-page book on river Ganga that encapsulates the cultural, social, economic and ecological aspects. The most interesting part of the book is the author’s interactions with hermits who he accidentally meets in his journey. Take for instance, Prabhu Dayalji, a chief engineer from Delhi who gives up all the materialistic pleasures and decides to stay meditating on the banks of the Ganges near Uttarakashi. When asked ‘Aren’t you troubled by the loneliness? Prabhu Dayalji answers, ‘but the beauty of this place is its loneliness’.

 Bengali baba has been living alone in Gangotri for the last 30 years

Another interesting hermit he meets is Bengali Baba who has been living alone for 30 years in Gangotri devoid of all material cravings. Then there is sadhu Krishnashram who lived in Gangotri till he was 104-years-old and people have seen him walk barefoot in snow and he remained stark naked throughout his life. It is said that he would sit on ice, meditating for hours.

Another sadhu Gangadas baba who lived across Amritghat Ashram on May 20, 2000 after his usual ablution returned to the hermitage and quietly informed his disciple that it was time to depart and not to touch his body till everything was over. So saying he quietly sat on the floor against a stone wall to leave his mortal frame.

A tourist in a solemn mood

The beauty of the book is the journey itself and there are still unspoilt areas such as the Gangotri glacier and how he trekked 18 km on foot to reach the Gaumukh cave.

Along the way, he narrates the life around sacred sites of Gangotri, Uttarkashi, Deoprayag, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Kanpur, Allahabad (now Prayagraj), and Kolkata, encapsulating not only the multifaceted temperament of the Ganga but also the benevolence and generosity of the locals who live around and nearby. He is saddened when he reaches Tehri to find a lifeless flow of water down Tehri via Deoprayag. He says, “I was really disappointed it did not match the picture in I had in mind.”

A lot has been written on the destruction wrought by dams and man’s greed but the book should be read for the little known stories such as how an apple orchard that was planted by a British soldier Fredrick Wilson (1917-1883) who procured apple seeds to Harshil near Dharali. The orchard still thrives.

Chanchal Kumar Ghosh also mentions in detail the explanations of well-known earlier travellers including Diana Eck, Portuguese missionary Antonio de Andre who followed the Alakananda River to Badrinath in 1624, Azevedo, another Portuguese priest who supposedly reached the legendary Manasarovar Lake, Lt. Webb who trekked up the River Bhagirathi in 1808 and Capt. Hodgson who finally reached the grail in 1817.

Originally written in Bengali, Sarbani Putatunda has translated into English and has done justice to the work. Chanchal Kumar Ghosh said that river Ganga was his first crush, read the book it shows why.

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