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Week of 4.17.09

David's Journal from India: Day 12

Faith and Physics:
Hardiwar to Delhi

We pay our final respects to the Ganges back in the flatland city of Hardiwar. It's a Sunday morning and the ceremonial bathing ghats are still busy and the small boys are out in force selling prayer mats made from plastic coated paper that came from a Skittles candy factory. A fog hangs over the river.

After another six hours of driving on what is, at least, a straight road, we make it back to New Delhi for a quick shower before running to the airport. Conrad wants one souvenir of this trip and one souvenir only: He's looking for a down home, certified Indian wok, the pan he needs to recreate in his Montana home all the great matar paneer and chicken korma we've been getting at dark little restaurants on the side of the road. Khem Singh, our expedition leader, connects him with an industrial sort of kitchen supply place where the woks are sold by the kilogram. The wok he brings back to the hotel has been worth the hunt, fashioned out of iron and bronze probably at the anvil of a blacksmith.

A brief return to Hardiwar on a misty Sunday morning.
A brief return to Hardiwar on a misty Sunday morning.
At the hotel, we're met by our India based producer Rohit, just in from Pakistan where he got an interview for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation with a senior Taliban commander. Our U.S.-based producer Bill Campbell is staying on for an extra week to talk to farmers affected by climate change and to witness first hand what is apparently a regular morning spectacle in parts of Delhi, middle-class folks getting up early to fight for a place in line at mobile water tankers. Delhi residents say too much Ganges water is going to agriculture. Farmers say too much is going to the cities. And that is happening now before the forecasted effects of climate change have hit with full force.

A traditional shave prior to a dip in the river.
A traditional shave prior to a dip in the river.
Expedition company chief Mandip Singh Soin comes to wish us goodbye and confer ornate certificates, testifying to our trekking stalwartness. Conrad, Mandip, and Rohit are putting their heads together to see if there is any path forward for a peace trek. Conrad is pushing to climb high into the Himalayas to call attention to a decades-long border dispute that has thousands of Pakistani and Indian troops glaring at each other on the high Siachen glacier. It is said to be a truly awful deployment, with the costs in hypothermia and frostbite appalling over the years.

As we sit in the departure lounge in Delhi airport listening to famous American climbers of yore, a man with the red dot on his forehead spots me in the crowd. He is an India-born finance guy now based in New York who has the very honorable occupation of regulating Wall Street broker-dealers. He says he watches our television program with keen attention, which is why he is able to recognize me in my just-back-from-a-trek state. He says he is just leaving India after the death of his mother.

Sunday morning in Hardiwar.
Sunday morning in Hardiwar.
He carried out her wishes, scattering her ashes in the river Ganges. The ceremony was performed at Hardiwar. On which day? June 12th. Conrad checked our itinerary. I knew the answer already. June 12th was the very day we were also on the banks of the Ganges, spending all those hours at Hardiwar, almost overwhelmed by the pageant, trying to understand it's meaning. The man noted something about which we now had much direct experience—the Ganges is, for now, one swift river. The man said most of the ashes were carried downstream in an instant, all except for one last cluster, which spun in an eddy for quite some time before departing, a confluence, the man said, of "faith and physics."

Visit "On Thin Ice" to watch the hour-long NOW on PBS special and learn more about global warming.
*Note: All photographs by John Siceloff unless otherwise credited.