Sayali Goyal is the editor of the travel zine Cocoa and Jasmine. In their recent Himalayan Issue, the team collected their observations after traveling through the Himalayas for a month. Below is a sample from the issue.
Saffron, or “Kesariya” in Hindi, the golden orange color holds a special place in Hinduism and can be seen everywhere in Haridwar. Like an undecided code for an overcrowded gathering, I see saris, dhotis, threads, vermilion, painted temple tops, flowers and diyas, Jalebis and ladoos, the sky and sun, all belonging to this orange.
Hindu saints have always been inspired by nature, and experimenting with nature has formed components of the Vedas. It’s clear importance has been given to the time of sunset and sunrise in our rituals, and fire is the cleanser. I wondered, maybe the color saffron is symbolic of these important elements of Hinduism. It may be symbolic to the purity and divine strength, light, and salvation, hence maybe all that’s why the sadhus wear it. Maybe in the path of seeking the ultimate truth, the color holds some importance.
Walking through the streets, there is a whiff of burning oil mixed with cardamom and ginger from chai being made. This place is anything but quiet. As I walk along the Ganges, I see wet, naked people. All are here to wash off their sins. Some of them are seekers. Some are like me, just wandering.
Following a flight, a car ride, a walk, and a helicopter, we reached our destination. Jammu, a city mostly visited by spiritual travelers, is located in the western part of the northern most state of India, Jammu and Kashmir .
A coolie whispers “ghode loge?” (“would you like a horse?”) in my ears and a most overpowering smell of horse poop fills my nose. I see sharp-jawed Himalayan men carrying people’s bags, taming horses and even lifting older men and women. There are many shops on both the sides of the road, all selling coconuts and sweets in a jute bag to offer to the goddess in a cave on top of the hill.
Most service providers, local shops and businesses are run for spiritual visitors. So could we safely say, that religion is a strong base for the local economy to run? Does the Hindu belief of “Teerth Yatra” help the local vendors earn their bread and butter? According to mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, Teerth Yatra was a way for people to travel in the days when there were no automobiles. The idea then was to explore the world outside, just as it remains today. For years, Indians have taken journeys across to country to be closer to God. The increase of journeys taken to spiritual destinations like Jammu, Haridwar, Varanasi and many in the south of the country has given birth to a flourishing industry.
Fruit and flower vendors as well as sellers of include Vermillion, plastic stickers, threads and idols of gods serve these seasonal customers. Motels, dhaba shops, and local taxi services have increased tremendously in the past few of years. Jammu is also known for its authentic nut shops for walnuts and almonds from Kashmir. I see families shopping in kilograms, and the supply has increased with the demand.
But what about the conversations around sustainability in this kind of tourism? In the temple, the connection with God remains largely ritualistic. Visitors pay the priest and a security guard to get ahead in the line. It was apparent that these travelers had given rise to many jobs and opportunities for the locals. But we are a country that is overpopulated and needed these opportunities. So is this a vicious cycle? I see families coming together in the name of this spiritual journey. Exchanging snacks, singing religious songs, buying souvenirs – it’s an ideal family getaway. They hope that God will now be now pleased with them. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, I tell myself, and maybe the issues around spiritual travel will be solved over time.