Monday, September 21, 2009

No Alcohol Permitted

On our way to Gangotri, I witnessed something that I haven’t still fully come to terms with.

After having found that traveling by buses in these mountainous roads was too perilous, we were traveling from Uttarkashi to Gangotri in a shared Jeep. Locals would wave the vehicle to a stop and squeeze in no matter how jam-packed we were. They’d go for a few kilometers, pay the driver and get down.

A priest who worked at the Ganga temple up at Gangotri traveled with us right from Uttarkashi. He had a small two-inch curly ponytail in his hair. He was really nice to us, suggesting places to sit in the Jeep where we might be comfortable and the fare we should pay. He said that his family lived in Uttarkashi, the district headquarters, where his children went to school. He lived and worked up at the temple in Gangotri, and came down to visit his family when he could.

It was slow going and at the pace we were traveling it would take us close to 4 hours to travel the 80 kilometers. When we reached Harsil, a town that was 18 kms away from our destination the priest spoke up.

Roko, gaadi roko. Jinhone bhi pee rakha hai, wo uthar jao. Kal aana." ("Stop the Jeep. All those of who have consumed alcohol, get down right here. Come tomorrow.")

I hadn’t realized that some of my fellow passengers had consumed alcohol. But somehow, the priest had known. To my surprise, two men obediently got down. They were being ejected from the vehicle early but were asked to pay the full fare.

I had heard that many of the dhams (towns that are sacred to the Hindus) were alcohol-and-meat free. In Haridwar, for example, no shop will serve alcohol and no restaurant would serve meat.

Gujarat was a so-called “dry state” but it was often said in wink-wink tone. So I was surprised that in India with its very adaptable philosophy of sab kuch chalta hai (anything goes ) the people in our Jeep were taking the prohibition extremely literally. It wasn’t as if these two people were carrying liquor into the town. It was just that they had consumed some before getting on the vehicle.

But that was affront enough. The priest wasn’t done yet.
Kyon Aisa karte ho? Sharam Aani chahiye.” (Why do you do this? You should be ashamed.)

I was unprepared for this high handedness, and even more surprised at the docility with which the two men accepted what was meted out. They even smiled sheepishly, a tacit acceptance of their guilt.

Eighteen kilometers before their destination, we simply discarded them by the side of the road so that could spend the night somewhere sobering up. Thus free of inebriated heathens who would have polluted the holy dham, and with a little more sitting room for the rest of us, our now-virtuous Jeep lumbered upwards, towards Gangotri.


  1. Hi Ram,
    You have a very nice blog here.
    This was a very interesting piece. I did not know that about the dhams.

  2. Thanks, Vamsee.

    Yes, I too was surprised about the strict no-alcohol policy.

    I took a quick look at your blog and was very impressed with your photos.