Ganga Daughter of the Himalayas
Where Ambition is Forged by Penance
What does it mean to be in flow? To glide, in steady rhythm, through the crests and troughs of life, to embody the character of a quiet, yet unstoppable force?
Philosophers – and mindfulness app developers – have searched far and wide for answers. It is a question that fuels Stoicism lectures and Ashram brochures. Yet, the fact remains that the answer has to be felt rather than understood. Or in the case of rising mountaineer Devyani Semwal, experienced in all its natural glory.
Devyani is a child of the Himalayas, a daughter of Mukhba – a charming village cradled by the river Ganga, a spiritual force so powerful that she presides over birth, death and the business of life with equal aplomb, her winding course birthing civilizations, her mere touch offering the promise of salvation.
Growing up in her spiritual shadow, Devyani took inspiration not just from the placid flow of the pilgrim’s Ganga, but also the furious Himalayan torrent that reduces formidable rock to rubble, scaling mountains, sculpting valleys and gushing untamed over steep precipices, her primordial roar echoing in the wilderness.
Like their mother Goddess, the women of Mukhba have always had mountains to climb. Some of these are the subject of great expeditions, courted by adventurers all over the world. Most are sites of quiet struggle, of the seemingly endless quest for social equality, for self-determination and autonomy.
For Devyani, one thing leads into another. The great peaks of the world are calling her name. Every continent has a new challenge to offer. She has already conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro and has her eyes on the seven great summits: Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Elbrus, Vinson, Puncak Jaya, Mont Blanc and Kosciuszko. But before she can throw herself to the heady currents of her ambitions, she must heed the siren call of her spirit. She must find her inner power. Her flow.
To do so, she must turn to another daughter of Mukhba – the river Goddess who has watched over her family for generations. She must bow to the sacred, primal entity that has taught her both grace and endurance, to the spirit that permeates every pore of her life and longings.
Devyani must seek the Ganga.
And so begins a great adventure – where her ambitions have to be forged in the fires of Tapasya (penance), where this humble mortal, a mere dot on the magnificent mountainscape, has to submit herself to the will of the elements. For it is their blessing she seeks, as she prepares to take on the world.
It is a gruelling, lonesome trek. As the rocks crunch beneath her feet, it appears she has only her ragged breath and pounding heart for company. She rests, silent, on endless ridges, overwhelmed by the vastness of it all. But as night falls and a limitless galaxy beckons from above, shooting stars into the great unknown, her courage rises, emerging from her body as little puffs of steely determination in the -15 degree air.
Her journey takes her to Gaumukh, the glacial Himalayan womb from which the Ganga descends unto the earthly plane as Bhagirathi. As she pays obeisance to the mother Goddess, melting ice thunders and crashes into the headstream, now significantly thinned by climate change.
The wrath of nature is writ large on her surroundings, its unpredictable turns seemingly at odds with the spiritual constancy she seeks. Yet, that is exactly why she is on this journey – if she has to conquer the grand summits of her ambitions, she has to make peace with this volatility first. The elements, as wilful as they are, have to assure her of safe passage.
Hence the penance.