India, Part 7
The manager told us the main bungalows were full and sent us to a rustic inn on the “back forty.” There was no running water and no electricity except a 15-watt bulb that lit up stacks of blankets on the bed. The driver told us to be ready to go at 5 a.m. the next morning and went off to sleep in the car.
After dropping our backpacks, Linda and I took a stroll downstream to the Tibetan village. The teak houses with elaborately carved doors looked out of place in India as did the dark brown oriental faces. The villagers had fled their native Tibet when Chinese troops took control decades ago. The Tibetans had kept their language, customs, and Buddhist religion ever since.
He was right. The first people we saw were falling-down-drunk men. We avoided them.
Children, on the other hand, were running around everywhere playing with homemade wooden trucks and airplanes. The women were spinning wool thread and knitting sweaters. Young girls toted water from the river in buckets on their heads. Everyone was very friendly, and we enjoyed our brief trip back in time.
The morning alarm sounded at 4:30, and I bathed from a bucket of water. To bathe when the air is 40 degrees and the bath water has trickled down from a Himalayan stream is a shocking experience. Linda stayed under the four blankets for a few extra minutes of sleep. By 5:15 we were back on the road in our taxi, the first vehicle on the Haridwar-Gangotri highway.
We arrived in Gangotri, the end of the road, at 6 o’clock just as a line of buses was pulling out down the mountain. The town of about 2,000 is a major shrine, purported to be the site where Mother Ganga descended to earth when Lord Shiva squeezed a drop of sweat from his braided hair.
The dominant building was an 8th century temple dedicated to the Goddess Ganga. It was next to a waterfall that plunged through a narrow gorge. Pilgrims told us the source of the Ganges used to be at the waterfall before the glacier retreated 19 kilometers (12 miles) up the valley to Gaumukh, our destination.
While we enjoyed a breakfast of cinnamon tea and curried rice, I got a reading from my GPS (Global Positioning System). We were at the same latitude as Savannah, Georgia, and at an altitude 4,000 feet higher than Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina.
Linda searched out a bathroom and after 15 minutes came stumbling back.
“That is the worst bathroom I have ever used. I had to lean against one wall to keep from falling in the hole. Then, when I loosened my clothes, I dropped one earring down the hole. I am surely the only person from South Carolina who has ever had to use a bathroom like that,” my wife said proudly.
We bought two carved walking sticks, went through the temple grounds, and walked up a flight of 220 steps to the beginning of the trail where a hand-painted sign read KM 0.00. Nineteen kilometers up the trail was the source of the Ganges River, the destination of our pilgrimage.