A Blessing From the Gods

The team questions the Brahman’s intentions for holding a ceremony.

Either we’ve received blessing from the gods or we’ve just been married in a traditional Hindu ceremony. We’re not sure yet, but we’re told the paperwork is in the mail. Stay tuned.

It’s been nearly three weeks in India, and we’ve followed mother Ganga just a fraction of her length. We’re nearly 125-miles along on this 1,500-mile journey. From her glacial source, we’ve followed her precipitous drop from the Himalayas, and are now settling into the Indian plains. Our constitution is unyielding; though our immune system’s have been attacked several times. To date we’ve suffered 2 bouts with Gastro-intestinal distress, 4 cases of altitude sickness, 2 common colds, 1 sinus infection, and more smiles than there are gods in this beautiful country.

We’re thinking about doing something really crazy next—perhaps a cycle rickshaw…

Working on my health, I successfully complete a Yogi nasal purification.

The Dudes Do Yoga

Chandrakant Yogi helps JJ and Josh find their third eye

Rishikesh: Our guidebook tells us “It’s the Yoga capital of the world.” It looks that way too. Nearly every building in town offers courses in Yoga, massage therapy, herbal healing—any type of new age medicine you can imagine. Walk into any restaurant, and you’ll see the place filled with bohemian youth sipping pressed juice or drinking lattes.

Rishikesh is not like the India we’ve seen so far, and I like it!The Beatles came here in the 60’s finding inspiration for their famous White Album, and people still flock here seeking enlightenment.

“Yoga is for everyone,” Our instructor, Chandrakant Yogi tells us on the rooftop of an ashram overlooking the river. “There are 88 different styles.” JJ and I signed up for private instruction earlier that day. It’s my first session, but I’ve always thought I stretched with moves inspired by this body and mind philosophy. The first five minutes have got us sweating, and we’re still just warming up. The sun is setting over the Ganges River. It feels great!

We told our instructor that we’re naïve in the ways of Yoga, and we’re looking for an introduction, but if he feels inspired, to go ahead and lay some big moves on us. He does lay some big moves on us, but not until the end; like balancing on his hands with arms locked between his legs. A lot of the poses are named after animals, like the “Crow” pose, where we walk around on our toes while our butts or resting on our heels. Things shift in difficulty as soon as he takes on the “Lotus” position. Tucking our feet on the top of our thighs, near the crotch, is beyond JJ and I, but it’s interesting to see what our Yogi can do, and where nearly a decade of practice can lead. He practices “7hrs a day, everyday,” he says. When we asked him what his profession was, he tells us, “Astrology is my profession and Yoga is life.”

Taking the Plunge

Josh takes a dip in the glacial source of The Ganges

The mountain village of Gangotri was empty when we arrived. There was a small handwritten note taped to the wall of the Indian Forestry Office, which read “No Permits.” The next bus or taxi scheduled to either arrive or depart wasn’t until the following spring. Uttarkashi, the nearest town, was 100 kilometers away, across the heart of the Himalayas. Our Lonely Planet guidebook, which had claimed the trail to the Gamukh Glacier was open until the end of November, had proved to be decidedly and quite noticeably wrong.

“We might not make it to the source after all, guys” JJ aptly observed.

After a series of negotiations and bribes involving various forestry officers, a thoroughly inept mountain guide, and a shady-looking hotel owner who kindly was willing to give us a Jeep ride back to Uttarkashi for only 10-times the normal cost—we had our permits.

“We’ll make it by hook or by crook,” Vishal kept saying. We needed to both hook and crook.

Our “guide,” for lack of a better term, carried nothing and talked on his cell-phone for most of the trek, until he lost service; then he wandered off by himself. His “job,” as it were, was to make sure we came down the next day. Not that the hike was particularly arduous, but rather because the forestry officer wanted to leave the next day, and the previous American couple who had done the trek had taken over a week to complete the 36 kilometer out-and-back hike. For this service, we paid him $1,200 rupees a day.

JJ suffers from acute altitude sickness

All of the team got altitude sickness. It tends to happen when one travels from sea-level to 13,000 ft. in 48 hours, but we were on a tight schedule, and dealt with the discomfort as best we could. Josh and I woke up with splitting headaches at the ashram 4km below the glacier. JJ had a migraine and felt “like shit,” as he told us; and Vishal—well, Vishal only made it to the ashram after taking a long nap, and stopping to rest every 100 meters. He made the call not to continue up to the toe of the glacier with us the next day.

It was a clear, cold morning when Josh, JJ, and myself finally made it to the source of the Ganges River. The air temperature wasn’t more than 35 degrees F. and the only reason the river itself was not completely frozen was because it was moving rapidly downhill. We all still had headaches, and I could hear JJ occasionally moaning to himself “Oh, God…” That’s when we stripped down to our boxers and jumped in.

We made a friend on the trail; a British-Egyptian named Kareem. He had also negotiated his way into a last-minute permit, and decided to jump in with us too. Check out the video below.

It’s all downhill from here, right?

Finding the Source

Nearly three weeks into the trip and we’ve finally started. The team made it to the source of The Gagnes River. Plane, train, and automobile wasn’t enough, we also had to hike, bribe, and barter—even get a little altitude sickness. 25 hours in a plane from Alaska to Mumbai, 24 hours in a train from Mumbai to Delhi, 24 hours in a kidney-bruising car ride from Delhi to Ganogtri, and an 18 kilometer hike reaching an altitude of about 13,000 feet, followed by a brisk jump in the river, where it melts from the Gamukh Glacier. All this and we barely made it…

14 hours into the train ride to Delhi, Josh and JJ need some air.

A long winding drive up the foothills of the Himalayas.

JJ pays homage to mother Ganga after taking a dip in her icy waters.

Tense Threads

“I think I am just going to go with a button-up shirt,” JJ says, as the four members of our team stood awkwardly in a clothing store no bigger than a compact-only parking space. Josh’s jaw dropped. “WHAT!?” His tone suggested JJ had committed some horrific social faux pas—on par with shoving somebody’s grandmother down the stairs, perhaps. “Okay,” Vishal says.

This was two days ago. We were dress-clothes shopping for the engagement ceremony that Vishal’s friends had invited us to. We had only brought along nylon hiking pants and a few button-ups to India. Not exactly appropriate attire for any sort of ceremony.

Vishal had suggested we purchase kurtas—the traditional Indian men’s formalwear— a combination of pajama pants and a long poncho-like shirt. Josh and I thought it was a good idea. JJ, for a reason unbeknownst to us, was uncertain. We decided to go buy them anyway.

All eyes inside and outside of the small shop were on us. ” We walked all the way here to buy kurtas,” Josh says, sounding like a high-pressured, but small burst of steam coming from an angry tea-pot. “And now you’re NOT going to get one!” He rattled a little. (In Josh’s defense: the walk to the shop had consisted of roughly 30-min of dodging motorized rickshaws, taxis, rogue cows, buses, carts, kids, and large holes in the street we could not see the bottom of). We moved the brewing argument outside, to the more crowded and chaotic street.

“I just want to wear what I have,” JJ snapped back. “We wouldn’t wear Native American Head-dresses to a powwow back in the states. Why would we wear kurtas here?”

His reasoning made sense, but we were already at the store, and I still had not really come to terms with the fact that we are arguing about our clothes.

“It’s okay,” Vishal says. “You can wear whatever you want, so long as you are comfortable.”

“I think you’re being very rude,” Josh told JJ.

It went on like this for some time, until Vishal assured us that, whatever we decided, it would be “okay.”—so long as we decided soon.

JJ bought his kurta, and Vishal was right. Everyone at the ceremony just wanted us to feel welcomed and comfortable, if not overfed. It wasn’t until halfway through the ceremony that we realized we were the only ones wearing kurtas. All the men were wearing button-up shirts, and Vishal was wearing hiking boots and blue jeans.

Wedding Season in India

It’s wedding season in India, and it’s impossible to avoid the ceremonial excitement. It’s an auspicious time of year, when the stars are aligned. Weddings are extremely important in India. Their presence is ubiquitous. The Engagement Ceremony is one in a series of festivities to formalize a union. This is when the couple formally announces that they are to be married. It is a jovial artifact from a time when boyfriend/girlfriend relationships were unheard of. At that time, after the engagement, it was acceptable to see the couple-to-be together. It is a sacred ceremony, reserved for family and close friends. We felt honored—and a bit surprised— that we were invited to attend. At the party, we were lead around the reception hall, being introduced to the fiancés and their families. We were given copious amounts of delicious foods. More than we could eat. So much food was offered, in fact, that the only way we could stop more from being put on our plates was by outstretching our hands, blocking access to them. “No, thank you” didn’t work. Everyone greeted us with smiles, and it seemed as though they were willing to do anything to make us feel more comfortable. We had an absolutely delightful time. All of us felt like we couldn’t provide enough thanks to justify their unyielding kindness.

12 Hours in Mumbai

Preparing to head north, the crew joins a snake rescue team, learns to play cricket, and explores Mumbai on motorcycle.

Many Indians believe in fate. That is to say, the path you are on is the path you must follow. Well, we must be on a strange path.

Our day started simply enough; a shave and a haircut at the local barber, an attempt to buy train tickets to Delhi so we can be at The Ganga’s source for Diwali—the festival of lights—followed by some chai. Then suddenly, Josh is playing cricket in an alley with school kids and before we know it, we’re off chasing after 7ft. rat snakes on motorcycles.

Vishal and his friends, Zeeshan Mirza, a Researcher in Mumbai, and Rajesh Sanap, an economy student turned researcher, voluntarily capture unwanted snakes and other critters and release them back into the jungle. “We do it because we love animals,” Vishal says. “All kinds.” They have a lot of love. “It is very hard not to get bit when rescuing sea snakes,” Zeeshan told me. “And they are almost all poisonous…the cobras aren’t that bad.”



They got a call reporting two “big snakes” that needed to be removed from a local business park, and invited us to come along. There was six of us altogether, including Zeeshan and Rajesh, and we had two motorcycles. JJ, Josh, and Vishal rode together on one; Rajesh, Zeeshan, and myself on the other. We captured both snakes. They were big; six-foot and seven-foot long rat snakes, respectively. JJ and Josh got to try their hands at snake handling, while I chose to concentrate, on handling the camera.

It’s hard to say what exactly the next step on our journey will be, but we’re going north, to the source of The Ganga River for Diwali. That’s the plan, anyway. It is fated.