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As he started off from Hotel Arati sitting in a cycle rickshaw towards Hari ki Pauri – the banks where thousands bathe every day, Mr S felt the drizzle on him – he had expected searing heat – this was so cool – literally! The rickshaw puller experienced considerable agony in pulling Mr S’s bulk through particularly one part of the market where the rickshaw-wallahs can no longer cycle but have to pull the rickshaw and the customer sitting on it as they walk along!
Now we can see Mr S walking across the bridge across the Ganga (Ganges) walking down in the drizzle and then there he is standing on the red paved platform on one side. That’s the Hari ki Pauri. We can see him now as a tiny dot among thousands of worshippers. He seems to be saying “Wow, I love this place, it is drizzling and that makes it even more breathtaking”. Camera in hand he gapes at the thousands of bathers, some changing clothes, some dipping in the holy waters, some getting ready to jump in, some fully drenched. Can you feel the tingle in Mr S’s spine? No - you won’t, you can’t if you have not gone to this place – Hari ki Pauri – Lord Hari’s tank in Haridwar an area where the gushing waters of the Ganga are utilized for bathing and worship.
Mr S speaks to two Sadhus asking them what they are doing here, they retort back to him the same – then they all have a hearty laugh! After looking in wonderment all around for a couple of more minutes, Mr S walks down to the water front and is bending gingerly to take a handful of water in his cupped palm when he hears a strange sound. A Hisssss.
Mr S looks around and doesn’t find anything, apart from people frolicking in the waters - he continues to try and reach the water since if he slips he is going to be in the water, so he is very careful.
“What is it?”, thinks aloud Mr S.
He turns to his left to find a strange creature now visible just above the water surface. It is a strange creamish color water creature – small rounded head, a cup shaped lip, and several tentacles – red tentacles.
“Ah this is something I have seen somewhere”, says Mr S and that’s when he recollects browsing through the Lovely Planet magazine in the airport in Thimpu, six years back. He had gone on a tour through CorningSpar tours and travels. He distinctly remembers his guide Nomit Dhasu. Dhasu was a smart-alecky know-it-all kind of a man, at least in his subject, but had the air of an Indiana Jones about him. He had felt reviled first but the man was knowledgeable.
Anyways here and now he remembered the magazine talked of a Haripauli Gangeticus, scientific name for an octopus - rarest of rare non-oceanic breed found in India and seen only once in four years in and around the Hari ki Pauri. People used to fondly call it ‘Hari ki Pauli’. So this was it, and as the notion went only the most fortunate had sightings of this frothy, odd-looking creature. And apparently it had soothe-saying powers.
“Hey what is it that you are saying”, said Mr S trying to listen more keenly.
“You mean inches?” asked Mr S looking at his pot belly, frowning; then straining his ears, bringing them closer, slipping once almost on the verge of a fall as careful as he was.
“Princesssss, you will see the princess,” said Pauli distinctly.
“Tomorrow,” he added.
“Who, where, when?” shouted out Mr S amidst the deafening roar of the mighty river, his interest now sufficiently piqued.
“The princess in disguise. However there is a condition”, said Pauli – a smile spreading across its brown, grainy and white bulbous head, eyes blinking.
“What condition?” Mr S yelled, unable to control his excitement now.
“Don’t yell. Let me tell. You have to climb the stairs to reach the Manasa Devi temple. There that way”, Pauli raised one of its blood red tipped tentacle.
“Oh really, great!” said Mr S, blood now rushing up to his face.
“Bye then, have a great time ahead”, said Pauli now waving all its tentacles.
It was a wonderful sight that is still etched in Mr S’s memory. He waved back and within seconds it had disappeared as if assimilated within the spray of the gushing waters.
He ran up the stairs and back across the bridge and started walking towards where the rickshaw wallah had told him the stairs to the Manasa Devi temple began. No big deal he thought, he had no idea why Pauli had thrown him this challenge. Was it a joke? Or was it true? Who was this princess? In disguise he had said. Was he sleepy and day dreaming? He could hardly wait till tomorrow…
He started climbing up the stairs, and he went on climbing, and climbing and climbing and climbing! At one point he got so totally breathless that he gulped down a bottle full of water mistaking his breathlessness for thirst! There were hawkers asking him to buy Prasad or holy offerings to the goddess every few hundred or two hundred steps. When he reached the destination it was a revelation. People thronged in great numbers which meant they had all climbed too. Had they?
After the visit to the temple, he asked and someone informed him that there is a ropeway but it was not operational for the next two hours due to gusty winds. That meant he had to climb down the stairs. He was much more prepared now, once he was near the end he asked two people and they told him that he had climbed eight hundred and fifty steps. The stairs had become slippery and muddy in the rains and he could slip anytime so carefully he came down and promptly walked into an eatery in the market place. He could hardly eat anything when sleep started to envelop him. He now realized that he must have slept for one or two hours in the train from Delhi. He quickly finished gulping down some food and hurried back to the Hotel Arati.
Sleep overcame him as he locked the door of his room from inside; he lay motionless in bed, after having tossed the camera on one side of the bed. None of the photographs had picked up any trace of Pauli – the octopus Gangeticus, he discovered later. In his dreams he jogged through the alleys of his memory, Nomit Dhasu and the adventures at Thimpu.
It was evening. Princess Sa Ri Ta had reached Rishikesh the same day, the dusky complexioned, full bodied beauty, with dark pouty lips was staring at the distant something, sitting in the balcony of Hotel Ganga across the table with her mother and they were sipping tea. The two of them were to tour Rishikesh the following day in a bus booked by her dad back in Gwalior. The same bus that Mr S would take – he didn’t even know if he was going to Rishikesh the next day or somewhere else, but then coincidence or otherwise, things happen...