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The saying, ‘Saare teerth baar baar, Gangasagar ek baar,’ implies that while other pilgrimages shall be visited multiple times, Gangasagar is an exception – meant to be visited only once. I believe this is not only due to the challenging route to Gangasagar but also its profound significance in Hindu scriptures. I truly understood the depth of this phrase when I experienced it firsthand.
Gangasagar is known for its annual Gangasagar Mela (festival), a prominent religious festival that takes place during Makar Sankranti, where pilgrims take a sacred dip to purify themselves spiritually and cleanse their sins. Its significance is mentioned in various Hindu scriptures like the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Puranas. The profound importance of Gangasagar can be traced back to the legendary tale of King Bhagirath, who performed intense penance to bring the sacred River Ganges to Earth. As a result, he purified the souls of his ancestors to attain Salvation and bestowed blessings upon all. Gangasagar is the sacred landmark where the holy River Ganga meets the mighty sea, symbolizing a powerful spiritual convergence. Today, I am excited to share a part of my journey to Gangasagar with you.
How did it start?
It was a time when my mother and I used to travel frequently, given her profession as a journalist. This time, a few days before Makar Sankranti, we were on the way from Ajmer to Kolkata for a press conference via train. The journey was quite lengthy, so I occupied myself by playing games and watching movies. I was relieved that I had brought my laptop along.
Upon our arrival in Kolkata, it was already nighttime. The conference host personally came to pick us up and took us to his home, where we had the opportunity to meet numerous journalists from all corners of India. We engaged in dinner and conversations, particularly with the senior journalists present. During that evening, one distinguished senior journalist shared the intriguing narrative of the divine Gangasagar and its profound significance. He emphasized that this time, around Makar Sankranti, was the most propitious for visiting Gangasagar. It felt as if destiny had guided us to this moment, being in Kolkata, so close to the sacred site. I believe we were in the right place at the right time. Captivated by the tales he recounted, Intrigued, and inspired; we decided to plan a trip to Gangasagar. Other journalists expressed equal interest in joining us. As the hour grew late, we finally slept.
After attending my mother’s conference, we set out to explore Kolkata for the remaining half of the day. Our first stop was the renowned Kali Temple, where the energy was palpable as if Maa Kali herself was trying to communicate with me. As we strolled around the market near the temple, we couldn’t resist trying the incredibly delicious phuchka and some seasonal fruits of Kolkata. It was my first time tasting Cashew Apples, and the experience was truly delightful.
As the evening painted the skies in hues of pink, we arrived at the iconic Howrah Bridge after the city tour. Captivated by its stunning architecture, we could not resist capturing the moment with some photographs. Upon our return to our host’s residence, we engaged once more with our fellow journalists. Seven of us reached a decision and planned for The Great Gangasagar Mela, resolving to set out early the next morning.
We embarked on our journey by car, completely unaware of the adventure that awaited us. Packed with an extra set of clothes, a toothbrush, comfortable footwear, and a towel, we bid farewell to our host after enjoying a hearty breakfast, setting off for the sacred Gangasagar teerth.
While we were forewarned about the journey’s length and difficulty, we had no idea just how fascinating it would turn out to be. We got the chance to enjoy every available mode of transportation to reach our destination. Our journey started with a train ride to Kakdwip station, where the crowd was beyond our expectations—there was scarcely room to set foot! Fortunately, some friendly locals helped to secure a seat for my mother, while I squeezed into a tiny corner to make the most of the available space.
That Ferry Ride
After leaving the station, we walked a short distance and then hopped onto a cycle rickshaw to reach the ferry terminal. The ferry, too, was densely packed, and we had to wait in a lengthy queue to board. Eventually, we found our way inside and settled in for a nearly two-hour journey to our main destination. I had the privilege of sitting on the top deck, with a panoramic view of the vast sea stretching as far as the eye could see. Despite the crowd, the ferry ride was an enjoyable experience.
After leaving the ferry, we found ourselves in great difficulty. Due to the grand festival and the large event, we could not find any cars. We had to walk a bit until we stumbled upon a rickshaw, but even that mode of transport had its limitations, with barriers set up everywhere to manage the crowd. By this time, evening had descended, and our hunger was growing. We managed to find a spot to sit and enjoy some snacks along the way.
Deciding to take a short break, we resumed our journey by foot, visiting various temples and even attending the evening arti. We still had quite a distance to cover to reach Ganga Sagar, and the crowd was crazy! We had to settle in the middle of a big queue, waiting for many hours without moving an inch. Finally, when we reached our destination, it was 4 am, and it was darkness anywhere we looked across the sea. However, I could sense the powerful and positive vibes emanating from the ocean.
At that moment, all our problems, stress, and fatigue melted away, and we hurried toward the ocean, eager to immerse ourselves in its rejuvenating aura.
The management during the whole pilgrimage mela was truly commendable. Despite the enormous crowd, we experienced no difficulties. I was surprised to see that there was no trace of any misbehaviour or any instances of theft. There was only pure devotion. There were numerous temporary changing rooms which ensured our comfort. After our sacred dip, we sat by the sea and performed a ritual (pooja) to pay our respects to Samundra Dev (the deity of the sea). Soon after that, we left the sight of the ocean.
As it started getting colder, we decided to get a shawl from the local market. To our delight, it was both reasonably priced and of excellent quality. It reflected the purity of the local people’s hearts and their genuine intentions, devoid of any intent to exploit visitors for profit.
Window seat in crowded bus
As we returned, the bus was quite crowded, and we had to patiently wait for the 11th bus at the 11th hour to secure a seat. There were no other transports available at that time. I was fortunate to claim a window seat, allowing me to watch the mesmerizing sunset as we returned. By that time, I had gotten into deep sleep. I had been awake the entire night and the weather was cold. It was the perfect condition for a nap.
We arrived in Kolkata the following day around noon. I could not help but wonder if destiny would grant me another opportunity to visit Gangasagar. Such an opportunity, I believe requires both good karma and unwavering devotion. As we departed, I glanced back at the sea, hoping that Gangasagar would call me back once more. Needless to say, I would eagerly embrace the chance to return for a second visit.