Sacred Waters: A Pilgrimage up the Ganges River to the Source of Hindu Culture

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9780151005857: Sacred Waters: A Pilgrimage up the Ganges River to the Source of Hindu Culture

This is an account of a journey taken in India. The destination is the source of the Ganges, the holy and most famous of Indian rivers. It is a physical journey, involving train rides across the vast plains and passages on foot far into snow-covered valleys and mountains. It is also a spiritual journey, taking a man deep into the heart and soul of the ancient religious culture of India.

Stephen Alter, who was born in the Himalayan foothills, crosses many miles, and several millennia, to search for the source of Indian religion. Along the way, as he reaches one holy spot after another, meeting grounds for pilgrims, remote towns, and forgotten temples, he delves into the myths and traditions of an antique land. He explores the tales of heroic derring-do, evil and good, and recounts the great stories of death, warfare, passions, and sacred wisdom that animate the vibrant history and religious traditions of India. As every pilgrim learns, a spiritual search involves travel but ultimately returns to the inner self. Sacred Waters is a richly told narrative of a beautiful land and of a man's interior journey, and is for readers everywhere who seek to plumb their own spiritual sources.

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Review:

Garhwal, boasting the four sources of the Ganges River in northern India, must qualify as one of the most sacred stretches of land in the world, and novelist Stephen Alter transports us there in his travelogue Sacred Waters. Countless pilgrims make the same trip every year, but whereas they now travel by bus, Alter does it the old-fashioned way, trekking to each of the headwaters on foot. Since this is also Alter's birthplace and childhood stomping grounds, we couldn't ask for a better guide. He knows each species of plant, bird, and beast by name and tells the grand tales of Hindu mythology associated with the ancient terrain. Fluent in the local languages, he also makes us privy to his chats with pot-smoking sadhus, greedy Brahmins, simple nomads, and pilgrims that he meets along the way. Although Alter has the tendency to slip into the emotionless detachment of a journalist in his descriptions, there remains enough wonder at the power of the natural landscape and color in the fantastic myths to make Sacred Waters a trek worth taking. --Brian Bruya

About the Author:

Stephen Alter is writer-in-residence in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT, and was the director of the writing program at Cairo's American University. He is the author of four novels and a memoir, All the Way to Heaven, as well as the recently published Amritsar to Lahore.

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