During the past four years, I have lived in Rishikesh India for a total of six months. I made many lifetime friends and have included a few of them in my recent book. This is a chapter about my friend Aprit Gupta.
I am co-hosing a unique yoga retreat in Rishikesh this year from Nov 4-13. If you have interest, we have seven of ten spots open. You will definitely meet my friend Aprit on this trip! We also have a day-trip planned to visit Devprayag. Click here for: YOGA RETREAT INFO
ON THE ROAD WITH ARPIT
Arpit’s father owns a local Rishikesh restaurant that serves traditional Indian dishes along with a wide variety of cuisines including Chinese, Israeli, Italian, and American. I still laugh at the idea of ordering thali, margherita pizza, fries, and vegetable chow mein from the same menu. Arpit manned the cashier station and was always friendly and inquisitive during our exchanges. At the end of my second trip to India, we became Facebook friends. Over the next year, we exchanged a few messages to keep in touch.
On my third trip, he was quite happy to see me and asked if we could spend some time together. We made plans to meet the following night at 8 p.m. I assumed that we would get a quick cup of java. Well, after eating a big meal, I met at the assigned time and was looking forward to some coffee and dessert at the nearby café. Upon arrival he smiled and said, “Hop on my bike. I am so hungry. We are going for pizza.” Moments later we were weaving in and out of traffic for a few miles on the way to Topovan.
We arrived at VJ’s Italian restaurant. The open-air dining area had a few covered tables, but the gems were on the grassy hilltop with panoramic views of Rishikesh. The mighty Ganges looked a bit tamer from this elevated distance. Arpit took charge and ordered pizza, spaghetti, and a sandwich.
Arpit then began sharing his plans for life—plans as big as his appetite. At the ripe age of 20, the only thing holding him back was his intense loyalty to family.
I asked him why he had so much interest in dining with me. “You are twice my age and have seen things I will never see,” he said. “I would like to learn from you.” I tried to put myself in his shoes at that age and could not imagine myself seeking anything other than self-gratification.
During our dinner, we made plans to visit Devprayag, the sacred confluence where the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers merge to forge the headwaters of Mother Ganga. Although Devprayag is located just 40 miles from Rishikesh, the trip takes at least two hours in a cab and is ill-advised to attempt without Dramamine. Arpit asked, “Mr. Kurt, would you mind if I brought my girlfriend on this trip?” I replied that I would look forward to meeting her.
A few days later, we met at the taxi stand behind Parmarth where a Tata was waiting to take us upstream. The car arrived at 8 a.m. and was reserved until 5 p.m. for a total cost of $30. Arpit, lugging a small blue backpack, arrived alone. “Is your girlfriend coming?” I inquired.
He said, “It is a problem you will likely not understand. For an Indian girl to take this kind of journey, she would need permission from her parents. She was afraid to tell them about you and was considering leaving that part out. I took back the invitation, so she would not be tempted to dishonor her parents with a story that did not match reality.” I tried to compare my modus operandi at his age and silently shook my head in awe of his character.
I asked, “How many times have you been to Dev?”
He shocked me by replying, “Never.”
After the stomach-churning drive, we stepped out of the car for our first view of the merging rivers. The Bhagirathi begins at the foot of the Gangotri Glacier. The glacial meltwater, cloudy with minerals, arrives at the confluence violently, as rapids. The Alaknanda begins at the Indian border with Tibet. This glassy river is a deep shade of teal. While smooth and graceful, the Alaknanda’s powerful flow has carved an ancient path into the solid rock canyon walls.
The merging occurs at a large ghat stairway built into the natural rock. From above and for about a quarter of a mile, there appears to be a distinct squiggly line as the gray and teal waters unite and eventually become a single body with gorgeous turquoise hues.
We descended about 50 stairs to the yellow suspension bridge that crossed the raging Bhagirathi. The bridge, built for scooter and foot traffic, was obstructed by a lone cow sprawled out, lounging. Like us, she was just enjoying the view.
After a quick chai break, we climbed more than 100 stairs to arrive at the Raghunathji Temple. This temple, established in the eighth century, had a cubed, chimney-like structure that towered above a myriad of pastel-colored homes. We were lucky to arrive just in time for a Hindu service that began with the ringing of the 15 large bells hanging from long chains.
To arrive at the actual river ghat, we descended another 50 to 60 stairs. I stripped down to my underwear, stabilized myself with one of the long chains provided for safety, and stood knee deep in the cool waters. For a small fee, a local Hindu filled my hands with marigolds and water while chanting a prayer for me. An uplifting spiritual energy flowed at this divine location.
We crossed another suspension bridge above the calmer river. Arpit bought a bag of peanuts from a local vendor and shared them with me, a cow, and a kitten.
After several hours of wandering, we reversed course and walked back to the taxi. After driving about half a mile, Arpit asked the driver to pull over.
“Why are we stopping?” I asked.
“We cannot make such a long journey home without a proper lunch,” Arpit answered.
“But we do not have any food,” I observed. “What are we going to eat?”
Arpit unzipped the blue backpack and spread a sheet of newspaper on the backseat of the car. He then pulled out several containers covered in foil. With a big smile, he said “My mom has prepared our afternoon meal. She told me to tell you hello and to enjoy the offering.”
We devoured Mama’s chana masala (chickpea dish), tomatoes, cucumber, hot chilis, and paratha (flatbread). With full bellies and enlightened hearts, we began the two-hour drive back home to Rishikesh.