Nili Gross came all the way from Israel to walk Narmada with us. Here, she shares her experience of walking with the river
1. Where are you from and what are you pursuing now in your life?
Nili: My name is Nili Gross. I am 61 years old, I am from Israel - born in Jerusalem, live in Even Yehuda. At this stage of my life, I peruse serenity, calmness, authenticity.
2. How did you end up with the idea of walking the Narmada?
Nili: I visited India twice before the Narmada walk. On the second visit, I came to Rishikesh. I didn't know what to expect, even though I have asked other tourists about it. None of them described Rishikesh's spirit, they all just talked about the physical aspects - "It is very crowded", they mainly said. So, I had no idea how Rishikesh is really like. When I arrived at the opening of Laxman Jhula, seeing Mother Ganga for the first time - I fell in love with Rishikesh. I was so excited standing on the bank of Mother Ganga, I just couldn't move. The rest is history. I stayed there for about a month, leaving it on my flight day to Israel, I made so many friends - mainly Indians, and I have created a big Mosaic in Moksh Cafe - an experience I will never forget!
I heard about Hitesh and Catalina, and luckily I also met them towards the end of my stay. We had one long talk in Freedom Cafe, and after that some short talks, and that's it. When I returned to Israel - we became friends of FB.
I have about 70 friends on FB, two-thirds are Indians. I only befriend people I met physically and liked them, of course. But friends on FB are still friends on FB, so I was very happy when Hitesh started messaging to me.
We had long talks on messenger and WhatsUp and I really enjoyed them. I really wanted to come back to India in December, when I have two weeks' vacation. I didn't know where in India I want to go since it is a short time for India.
I consulted Hitesh about it. I asked him where will he be in December, and he said the magic words: "I am going to walk along the Narmada".
I had no idea what the Narmada was. "A River", he answered.
I immediately googled it. She looked amazing! So I had to ask him for more details. I was amazed that he talks about the same dates as my vacation. He wrote about Sachin - a wonderful trekker whom Catalina and he will join.
I texted Sachin on fb. I was impressed. It sounded the perfect trip for me. But I had to ask Hitesh the last question: "Do you mind if I'll join you?" "You are welcome", he wrote.
I was very happy.
I went through many doubts about the walk since Hitesh welcomed me. I was very nervous, very anxious, telling people around me about the walk, just to assure myself that I am not crazy to join. Only when I asked Etan to join and he said "yes", I knew I am going for sure.
3. What is your idea of India?
Nili: It is a very big question. I can write a book about it, I think. India is something indescribable in so many ways. It has so much diversity, so many colors, so many cultures, so many languages, types of food, amazing nature, so many gods and wonderful values, mostly deriving from religion, which derives from nature. Those values are not always practiced, as where humans are involved - injustice will appear. So, yes - there is a lot of unjust in India - but somehow under it, she always touches my heart, and makes me feel happy and content.
I still haven't figure out what makes one feel happy in India, but my theory so far is that in India I feel very close to myself. The closest I have felt in many years. And why is that? Because India is so authentic in most places, that it makes me feel that way as well.
4. Before you started your journey, what were your expectations out of this walk?
Nili: To tell the truth I had no idea what to expect. Nothing what so ever. Etan was in a worse place than me since he has never been to India before. At least I had some experience, but this trip was in many ways beyond my knowledge. What saved us was the posts you posted on FB every day. Through your words, we could sense and picture some aspects of the walk. We also were in touch with you and got some information. I was nervous about the physical aspect of the walk more than anything.
But imagination and picturing were far from reality.
5. How did you prepare for the journey?
Nili: I usually swim a few times a week, but here I was facing walking. I decided to exercise walking every day. I must admit I hate walking. I was never attracted to this sport, so I had to overcome my rejection towards walking as well as the physical challenge.
I started walking about 3 km a day, and it was not so hard. Etan told me I need to practice with the backpack, but I was too lazy to do it. He, however, practiced walking with the backpack 5 km a day! I just suffered from guilt feelings. It was not easy for me to start like walking all of a sudden.
Then I got sick about 2 weeks before the walk. I had to stop practicing. I just hoped I will get better before leaving for India. I arrived in India not fully healed, but in a strange way, I trusted myself to do it.
6. What did you know of Narmada then?
Nili: I knew only a little bit about the Narmada - some facts from the Internet and photos. The first time I understood how the important Narmada was to the Indians, was when we landed in Jabalpur and got on the airport shuttle to the city itself. We were on the minibus with 4 more Indian men and when they heard we are on our way to do Narmada Parikrama - one of them started telling us enthusiastically all Narmada mythology. I think that was the first time I understood what the Narmada means to India.
7. How did you feel when you first time see the river? (You saw it just a water body or something else you felt)
Nili: With no connection to the Narmada - Rivers and any natural things are spiritual for me. Nature is my god. The only problematic natural thing I know are humans, unfortunately.
Meeting with the Narmada for the first time was in the Sangam. She was beautiful, merging with another river. Everything was magical on that afternoon-evening - from meeting you to the road leading to her with the pottery man, the people we talked to, the puppies and their mother, the boat, the temple, the fishermen's village. I loved her at once.
8. What happened on the first day of the walk? (You have lived many kinds of experiences in your life. Was the experience same or something different…if it was different…what made it different)?
Nili:No experience is like another.
The first day was amazing. We encountered so many people and places. It was loaded with amazing things, and the Ashram we arrived to in the end was amazing.
It is a long story to tell it.
Do you want me to go into details?
Pictures Credit: All Pictures are taken by Etan