Up in the air, down in the Ganges.
Ihung upside down, at a height of 88 metres, my legs tied together with weights on each ankle. My hands hung down straight, loose and flailing, and my body swayed in rhythmic fashion as I tried to come back to my senses from this super thrilling state of trance that I felt. Not to forget the feeling of every negative ounce in my body flowing out and away from me! Ah, that feeling is inexplicable but nevertheless one that doesn't escape my heart every time I think about it.
No, I had not been pushed nor had I been forced. It was a bungee jump, done out of my own free will, to quiet my quest for some heroic escapade. Having been on the lower side of my sanity since some months, with a pregnancy and birth of my second baby, in a new city, that I never grew to like or get accustomed to, and hence moving back to Mumbai and settling down again, low on energy and spirit, when the opportunity for a two-day break came as a suggestion from my friend and turned into an experience of a lifetime. Never to be forgotten, and always cherished.
So, well, nothing comes easy in life. Not even holidays. In the midst of raised eyebrows and some petty judgements, I decided to take the break with my friend. My daughter being five at the time and my son was eight months precisely. "Oh how can you leave them and go?” The best one came from my mother-in-law "Beta, how and when did you become so strong, so as to leave your children behind?” But who was to explain to anyone that it wasn't the strength that drove me but the desire to salvage the last bit of sanity that was remaining in me. I had to go for myself and be by myself. So with my children settled and comfortable with
my parents, I took off, with nothing but one bagpack on my back and a spring in my step. The rugged jeans and old t-shirt I wore had never felt better, giving me a certain sense of freedom and youth that was lost somewhere along the way.
Our chosen destination was Rishikesh. The thought of a bungee jump had kept us awake and excited all through our journey to Delhi, from where we were to be joined by a friend who would drive us to our camp site at Rishikesh. After beating the unbearable Delhi traffic we hit NH 58, as clear skies and open fields enthralled the horizon ahead. With winter just setting in, there was a slight nip in the air, and a comfortable enjoyable breeze beckoned. The drive was to last a good 7-8 hours and, though tired, the eyes refused to blink let alone rest in a nap.
THE ETHEREAL WAY
A nonstop banter continued in the car as we were briefed about the small towns we passed through, the myriad plantations of the area and its people. The sight of hoards of guava vendors titillated our taste buds and Bahadur Singh, our driver, pulled over on a side street, ran across and grabbed the freshly cut fruit sprinkled with salt and handed it to us quickly over the rolled down window. Also, with a warning that we were not to stop any more as dusk had already fallen and we had quite a few miles to cover for Rishikesh. Upon touching Haridwar, which is about an hour before Rishikesh, a sense of calm had gripped us all. With thick jungles on either side of the road, our car manoeuvred ahead at full speed, finally halting in front of Camp Sahaja Retreat, Rishikesh.
Nestled in the heart of scenic landscape, Camp Sahaja Retreat in the woodlands of Rishikesh seemed to me the perfect abode for the next two days. A backdrop of high-peaked mountains with changing hues every hour, the gush of the river flow with its soothing sound and chirpy birds tattling their own tales were a few of the many things that were going to rest and heal my mind in my counted hours of stay there. Cosy tents on the banks of the river, and a bright bonfire sat awaiting our arrival, as my friend and I bounced back and forth in girlish delight crossing the small wooden plank over a river that separated the camp from the road. Famished as we were after a long journey, we sat having the sumptuous meal laid out for us around the fire, warming up a little and exchanging pleasantries with our fellow camp companions. The look of surprise and amazement on people there when they realised two lone mothers had reached half way across the country in search of some adventure was priceless. No denying that it felt good. It felt good having a meal far away in the mountains in peace. The quiet felt good. The lack of pressure on the mind constantly that something needed to be done felt good. I felt happy. I felt peace. The feeling is so palpable, clear and vivid, it felt like I could literally touch that abstract feeling. The night pulled along and we finally sunk into bed inside our tent with nothing but a flashlight and an old fashioned lantern. The next morning was to be a big day. Our big jump of life peered at us through the other side of the night.
Waking up to a beautiful morning in the mountains, we set about preparing ourselves, mentally more than anything else for the bungee jump. Our smiles betraying the traces of nervousness felt inside. We had come a long way for this. We were brave and strong. And we had to live up to that. With a deep breath and sneakers in place, we boarded the "Van of Jumpers"! Everyone sat with sombre faces and I wondered why ! I wanted to shout at them, like guys
A BACKDROP OF HIGH-PEAKED MOUNTAINS WITH CHANGING HUES EVERY HOUR, THE GUSH OF THE RIVER FLOW WITH ITS SOOTHING SOUND AND CHIRPY BIRDS TATTLING THEIR OWN TALES WERE A FEW OF THE MANY THINGS THAT WERE GOING TO REST AND HEAL MY MIND IN MY COUNTED HOURS OF STAY THERE.
please at least smile, for the sake of your impending experience, who knows what's it going to teach you and how it's going to make you feel!”
But anyway, with my excitement in my pocket I sat down waiting to reach the cliff. We stood in a queue watching the huge hoardings and pictures of the cliff and those displaying photographs of various bungee-jumping episodes. A live video of the fall played on a huge screen nearby. A chill ran through my spine really. With my acrophobia hidden inside my belly, I calmed myself chanting the " I can do it" mantra all along. Making your emotions public, and that too fear? No way, I couldn't let that happen. I pulled myself together and signed the indemnity form that my friend handed over to me. We looked at each other, each giving a reassuring smile to the other. With all the formalities done, we were on our way to the cliff edge, where the entire bungee set-up was maintained.
As luck would have it, I happened to be the first woman jumper of the day! I smiled and waved at my friend, displaying a confidence that I didn't really feel inside. With every step I took towards the plank from where I was to jump, I felt my knees going weaker and giving way. And then, I heard a "Hello there", not a familiar accent for sure. I looked up facing a foreigner who was in charge that day. In no time, he made me feel at ease, asking me silly questions and adding humour to the situation. I was made to sit down there for a little briefing and then wear the harness and the weights on my ankles with feet tied together. All set now, the men there cheered and thumbs upped at me. With dragging feet I was taken on the edge, and made to stand with my hands on the side like the wings on a bird. The man next to me said, "I will count till three, madam, and I will not push you, you have to take the plunge yourself.” Now, there was no time to back off even if I wanted to. I licked my lips and simply looked ahead instead of down, just the way I was instructed to. And then, A One, A Two and A Three, they shouted, “JUMMPPPP!”
In no time it was over. I took the plunge and flew like a bird, shouting half in delight and some in fear, as I went into the air turning upside down finally and hanging in loose, face down, my arms no more like a bird's but free flowing. My eyes flew open as I felt my body swaying pendulum style and I looked up from where it had all started. Muffled voices of everyone who stood there cheering and shouting filled my ears. For a while, I was in a different world, I didn't want to look at anyone or hear anything. I wanted the feeling of numbness that had come over me to remain forever.
But obviously, that was not meant to be! Down below another gang of receivers waited. As my rope went lower and lower I saw the riverbed and a long stick coming towards me asking me to hold it. I stretched out my hand for it and got pulled down below and made to lie flat on my back to regain my lost senses and the worldly balance. A small batch with a "I've Got Guts" painted on it was primly pinned on my T-shirt. I was exuberant. I mean I had guts all right!
Next after me was a girl who I could see was taking a lot of time and coaxing from the instructors. However, I saw her shaking her head and giving up and walking back. My heart sank. For my friend was still up and I had no idea what was going to happen. But in the next two minutes I saw her jump and sway in the air too, all my anxiety fading away now. Our mission was accomplished.
Yes, we were two lone mothers, far from home, and happy after a soulstirring experience. The way back, we decided to walk downhill instead of the bus ride. We had the entire day to ourselves before heading back to Mumbai the next day. Our minds were racing. What next to do to fill up the hours? First and foremost, we had to fill our empty stomachs which were kept empty in preparation and anticipation of the fall. At a humble tea shop, we saw a blackboard chalked with a meal of dal- rice and some “pahadi pickle" at ` 50 per plate. On the roadside, we sat on a wooden bench and enjoyed a hearty delicious home-cooked meal and then walked along.
We were in Rishikesh, a holy place, thronged with tourists who come from all over for pilgrimage. Neither of us being overtly religious decided to skip the temple bit. But without a dip in the Ganges, our trip would remain incomplete, said our camp manager. That's where our rafting
IN NO TIME IT WAS OVER. I TOOK THE PLUNGE AND FLEW LIKE A BIRD, SHOUTING HALF IN DELIGHT AND SOME IN FEAR, AS I WENT INTO THE AIR TURNING UPSIDE DOWN FINALLY AND HANGING IN LOOSE, FACE DOWN, MY ARMS NO MORE LIKE A BIRD'S BUT FREE FLOWING.
encounter took place. We didn't have a lot of time and hence opted for a short-distance rafting which would take us about 45 minutes into the ripples of the Ganges. Two of us along with a young boy who was to be our rafting guide embodied our tiny raft. With oars in hand we followed him, as he gave us instructions on what to do when and what not to do.
The current not being too strong, we moved on comfortably, our oars moving to and fro, trying to keep pace with the boy and matching his movements. Every now and then he stopped the raft and let it follow the river’s currents, and allowed us to get out into the chilly water holding onto a rope attached to the raft, so as to prevent us from flowing away with the ripples !
Not to forget that there are "noodle joints" every few metres along the Ganges, where rafters can take a halt for a quick bite of noodles and regain their lost energies. Rafting in the Ganges is, by far, one of a kind experience. If not rafting, just to be by the Ganges and enjoy its peaceful ambience, especially once dusk sets in and the priests come out to chant mantras and light holy fires, is a sight to behold.
Calm and sated, we had given some meaning to the saying "All in a Day's Work". With all our energies coupled with the limited time we had, we explored what we could in this little city. It was past seven in the evening and we had to rush back to the camp to pack our few things and get some rest before travelling for the next day. The last few hours of our adventure were left, and we had become suddenly quiet. In the rush of all our activities, there had not been a moment to sit and ponder over our experiences of the last few hours.