Let me resume the story after my minor detour…….
As the boat chugged happily in mid-stream of the river Ganga, the one with the three flows (What? Patience; the explanation will come) I sat on the deck with my daughters, and looked around; breathing the crisp winter air, feasting my eyes on the landscape which I have loved so much, and missed even more.
The city of Varanasi lies on the west bank of the river Ganga, which flows south to north at this particular point in her course. The eastern bank of the Ganga, across from the famed ghats of Varanasi has, traditionally, always been left uninhabited for several kilometres from the river’s edge.
This deserted stretch of the Ganga’s eastern bank has, for millennia, been used by the ascetics, the renunciants, the tantrics (practitioners of occult arts), and the aghoris (the fierce, meat eating, violent, and oft naked sadhus inhabiting the area around Varanasi, and claiming direct descent from the followers of Shiva himself) for their meditations, and other practices which are best left unspoken. These strange characters can often be seen lurking on the other side of the ghats during or after sundown, and hence it is forbidden to cross the Ganga, or alight on its eastern bank after dark. Tradition forbids it, and the government often issues warnings against undertaking such foolhardy ventures.
When we were students and used to visit the ghats frequently, often at night, we would sit on the western bank, on the stone steps of the different ghats which line the Ganga, and would wonder about what went on the other side. Rarely, during those lonely, deserted, night vigils, would we spy a faint light flickering on the other bank, in the absolute darkness which used to shroud that side of the river after sundown. Sometimes the light would be stationary at one place for a long time, and we would sit staring at it till it flickered into oblivion. At other times, it would move around the bank of the river, up and down, far and near, round and round. We would wonder who it was on the other bank, and what was he or she doing?
Our fertile imagination would conjure up all sorts of fantastic stories about aghoris indulging in their orgies and their bloodthirsty rituals, and our blood would curdle at the thought of what would happen to someone who was accidentally left behind alone on that side of the Ganga during night?
The one night, we did it……..
What? One may ask.
And the answer would come – ‘Crossed the river at night!’
To be continued………..
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