Friday, 26 April 2013

The Ganges River as Sacred Geography

The Ganges is hugely significant for Hindus because they believe that bathing in the river remits sins and releases the soul from the cycle of life and death. That’s why people travel to the Ganges to immerse the ashes of their loved ones in her sacred waters. How did the Ganges become so important? There are several reasons. 

The Ganges is the personification of the goddess Ganga, who represents purity and holiness because she first existed as the pure water of the heavens. Bathing in her waters is very powerful, and even simply looking at the Ganges assures sanctity. Like rivers everywhere, the Ganges is a symbol of plenty and prosperity because she provides sustenance for many people. Added to all of this is Ganga’s association with the gods Vishnu and Shiva, which makes her even more potent.

Birth of Ganga 
Ganga was born when Vishnu stretched his left foot to the end of the universe in order to measure it. The nail on his big toe pierced a hole in the covering of the universe and out poured heavenly water. The water washed over Vishnu’s feet and entered our universe, becoming the Milky Way. Befitting her celestial origins and her association with Vishnu, Ganga was extremely beautiful and extremely proud.

Several years later, there was a king named Sagara who had 60,000 sons. The sons, while searching for a horse for Sagara, managed to disturb a hermit sage while he was meditating. The sage, by the name of Kapila, was so enraged at having his peace shattered that he burned the 60,000 to ashes with a single glance. Their unfortunate souls wandered the earth because their final rites had not been performed. 

Ganga and Shiva
Sagara’s great-grandson, Bhagirath, wanted to purify his ancestors’ ashes so their souls could enter heaven. To accomplish this, he needed Ganga to descend to earth and flow over the ashes. However, Bhagirath knew that Ganga was so powerful that her strength would shatter the earth as she fell from the heavens.  So he convinced Shiva to let the heavenly waters land first on his head and then flow through his matted hair.  Shiva agreed, and Ganga, annoyed and insulted at being ordered to perform the task, decided to drown Shiva. But she hadn’t counted on Shiva’s great power, so instead of wreaking havoc and destruction, Ganga found herself trapped within Shiva’s hair. Once trapped, she flowed benevolently to earth and became the all important Ganges River.

The story of Ganga is an important theme in Indian art and culture. You’ll find her on the doorways of temples across India. In the south, she appears on both jambs, and in the north, she is on one jamb and Yamuna (the personification of the Jamna River) is on the other. You’ll also find Ganga in the caves in Ajanta and Elephanta. So the next time you find yourself in the waters of the Ganges, treat the goddess with the respect she deserves!

Photo: Sunset over the Ganga by mckaysavage, reproduced under a Creative Commons license from Flickr

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Running the Ganga Gorge - Different Classes of Rapids

If you're new to white water rafting, one of the terms you'll learn is the Grade (or Class) given to a river or a stretch of water.  This grade indicates the level of difficulty of the rapids.

The Ganga gorge above Rishikesh has 13 exciting white water rapids ranging from Grade I to Grade 4 on the International Scale of River Difficulty.  All have catchy names which feature in rafting folklore. Here’s an introduction to the rapids of different grades you can tackle from Himalayan River Runners Ganga Base Camp.

Sweet Sixteen (Grade/Class 1)
This gentle rapid features an easy, slow-moving current. The waves are small, passages are clear and there are no serious obstacles.  You only need very basic skills for Sweet Sixteen.

Double Trouble, Hilton and Terminator (Grade/Class 2)
The stretch of river from Brahmpuri to Rishikesh has a range of Grade 2 rapids and is an excellent introduction to white water rafting.

Double Trouble, Hilton and Terminator are among the famous Class 2 rapids on this section. The whitecaps are bouncy enough to be exciting but not large enough to need more than basic paddling skills and this section is perfect for beginners and children. You’ll hear squeals of excitement from the kids as the raft bucks through the waves and everyone gets a splashing.

Three Blind Mice, Cross Fire, Roller Coaster and Golf Course (Grade/Class 3)
These are thrilling rapids requiring some technical manoeuvres. Three Blind Mice is actually three rapids in quick succession, hence the name. Expect churning waters and a bouncy ride.
There are also exciting waves at Crossfire, a small rapid with a narrow passage and a small whirlpool.

Roller Coaster lives up to its name. You’ll certainly go up and down on this stretch of thrashing whitewater. It’s a more difficult Grade 3 rapid and could be Grade 4 at certain river levels. It has high and unpredictable waves plus hazardous rocks and boiling eddies.

Don’t be fooled by the gentle name of Golf Course. With its fast-flowing current and powerful breakers, this is a heart-pounding run rather than a quiet game of golf! It’s one of three rapids in succession with a golfing theme. Start with Tee Off (easy Grade 2), go into Golf Course, (Grade 3 plus) and end at Club House.

The Wall (Grade/Class 4)
The legendary Wall is the Ganga’s most thrilling and challenging rapid. Rafters are tossed around like a cork on wild chaotic water before facing a huge trough and the monstrous wall of water that gives the rapid its name.  An adrenalin rush is guaranteed even for the most experienced river runners!

Safety for all
Keep in mind that the grade of the rapids is a broad indication and is not linear or fixed.  Individual rapids can be more or less difficult depending on water flow in the river.

Himalayan River Runners pays careful attention to the ranking assigned to every river we raft or kayak.  We emphasise safety for everyone and ensure that you have the skills needed for any river adventure. 

On the Ganga it is easy to get out of the raft and walk along the bank. So if you feel nervous about any rapid, you can just walk around it.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Welcome to Our Blog!

Welcome to the blog for Himalayan River Runners!  Since several of our trips take place on and around the Ganges, we thought it fitting that our first post be on this magnificent river.  In case you've never been on the Ganges, or you've forgotten all those fun facts you learned in geography class, here’s a refresher!

The Ganges is 2,525 km long (1,569 miles) and flows from India to Bangladesh.  It rises in the western Himalayas, in the state of Uttarakhand, at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers.  The Ganges flows 250 km (155 miles) through a narrow Himalayan valley and emerges from the mountains at Rishikesh, where there are splendid rafting opportunities.  The river then flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain, passing through the pilgrimage town of Haridwar, and continues on its way to Bangladesh, where it empties into the Bay of Bengal.  

The Ganges is the longest river of India and the most heavily populated river basin in the world – over 400 million people and a population density of about 1,000 inhabitants per square mile!  It is a lifeline to the millions who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs.  The river has also been important historically, with many former provincial or imperial capitals located on its banks.

Pollution, unfortunately, has come to certain stretches of the Ganges below Rishikesh.  Sewage, industrial waste and religious offerings wrapped in non-degradable plastics are the culprits.  The pollution harms not only people, but also fish and amphibians, as well as the endangered Ganges river dolphin.  This dolphin, by the way, is one of only four species of freshwater dolphins in the world.  Various environmental initiatives to clean up the river are underway, and in December 2009, the World Bank agreed to loan US$ 1 billion to India to help save the river. 

However, at Rishikesh and above, the Ganges is lovely, clean and perfect for rafting.  Our Ganga Base Camp, near Rishikesh, is located on the largest pristine silver sand beach in the area.  Here, the waters of the Ganga are clear and emerald green.

Here ends your quick intro to the Ganges.  In future posts, we’ll talk about its spiritual and religious significance and why it is the most sacred river for Hindus.