Evaluating Advice, A Ganges Adventure

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ADVICE. We can all benefit from advice given to us depending on how we take it. In fact, there are times when advice is particularly welcomed and we actively seek it out. However, advice on any particular topic can only display a rainbow of variations regarding its accuracy and relevance to our own situation. We need to question and evaluate the source of that advice carefully before we decide to accept it and act upon it.

Several examples from my own experiences clearly illustrate instances of advice that needed careful evaluation at the time it was offered. Each instance relates to my undertaking of a solo trek of about 300 miles along the banks of the Ganges river in India. The trek was motivated by my interest in this river having acquired such a high status amongst its religious devotees.

I had followed the river, in its upper reaches, down narrow gorges and somewhat wider valleys to the town of Haridwar. The Ganges now spilled out onto the plains of India and was no more a fast torrent of water. I was resting for a few days here and seeking advice and guidance from locals. I was intending not to follow roads but the very edge of the river itself - local farmers would, as I progressed, often describe my undertaking as being "Gangji yatra kinara kinara" (a Ganges pilgrimage along its very edge).

Advice I could have done without:
I had been repeatedly told as I left the road leading into Haridwar and headed into the scrubland near the river that there were crocodiles by the river and thus, I should be very careful during my journey. So, when the time came for a lunch stop, I chose a wide open area of stony ground, well away from both the river and the nearest bushes where a crocodile could hide. I cooked my rice with my eyes fixed on both the pot and my surrounding.

Over the course of the next 6 weeks however, I did not need to prepare my own food again. People living by the Ganges had so much respect for what I was doing that they fed me, even when they had little food of their own left. I gave away my cooking utensils and simply carried a water bottle. The people there also provided me with shelter for the night. Surprisingly, I never saw a crocodile. I was informed by several farmers living by the Ganges that they existed, but I never met anyone living by the river who had actually seen one. So, I gradually downgraded that advice. I was sure that many crocodiles had already been hunted to death and those remaining would most likely regard myself and other humans as 'enemy No. 1' and hide. I was unlikely to be a potential meal.

It was not long before I was being advised by a local farmer that there were poisonous snakes in the area and that he had personally killed one of them. Since he was a local farmer who was native to that area, I felt that I should heed his advice. Afterall, he had personally killed one. However I still needed further verification. I asked him when he last saw a snake. His answer was twenty years ago. According to his statement, he had not seen a snake in this area for 20 years, so why should I be bothered about their presence? He had seen and killed that snake in his youth.

Occasionally, we are also given advice that it would be best to ignore, but pressure is put on us to accept it. One such incidence was, the often repeated advice, that I should drink the holy Ganges water for good health. I was aware that sailing ships in centuries past could not sail from Europe to India without replenishing their onboard drinking water along the way. Whilst on the return journey, Ganges water would remain drinkable throughout the voyage. Times change. The river was becoming a sewer of human waste and my immune system could have never withstood the polluted water. The problem was that my motivation for this Ganges trek was often questioned. It was sometimes tested by offering me a cup of the holy water to drink to see if I was being truthful about my interest in the river. If I was, then I would drink it. Otherwise, I was a spy. There were too many times when I had a collection of highly suspicious eyes staring at the cup of water in my hand. I had little option but to take the advice and drink from it.

Advice I should have payed more attention to:
Some of the most reliable and authoritative advice is that which is based upon personal experience of the person offering it (though earlier examples quoted illustrate a need to still test it).

I was frequently requested to stay longer by my temporary hosts along the river and often advised to delay my departure until later in the afternoon when the sun was less on the offensive and the temperature more likely to be below 40C. However, I wished to press on as far as possible along the river. My load consisted only of a blanket in which were wrapped a few utility items and a camera. I wore thin material cut in the local style and had fashioned a crude turban from cotton cloth that I frequently wetted with water from the river. But, whilst locals had learnt to thrive in such a harsh environment, I think they suspected that I could not.

Later, as I was helped into a makeshift shelter by some field labourers, I reluctantly had to accept that I had not taken heed of their knowledgeable advice. I was suffering from nausea, dizziness and uncontrollable shivering, despite the intense heat of the sun. Heat exhaustion seemed to be the cause. I would need to seriously modify my plans if I was to follow the river down to Calcutta.

Author: Maurice Thurman

Copyright © 2012 Sandhya Maarga Holistic Living Resources

Holistic Living Annex (Volume 1, Issue 7 - AUG 2012 Edn)

4 Responses for “ Evaluating Advice, A Ganges Adventure”

  1. herman says:

    Did you suffer from dysentery after drinking the holy water from the Ganges river? A documentary once said that the water contains thousands of bacteria, which can even result in death. You're lucky you're still alive. How many years ago was this?

  2. Maurice Thurman says:

    Yes Herman, I did eventually become very ill. On reaching Varanasi I sort out the supervisor of a Ph.D. bacteriological study of the water there. Cholera organisms had been found to be present around the bathing areas. This was over 20 years ago. I took an immunoglobin injection prior to leaving the UK, but it only boosts the immune system a little. My belief has always been that an unchallenged immune system becomes a weakened one. However, on this occasion, mine was tested beyond my wishes!

  3. Hi,
    I like your post.
    It's very useful for me..
    I read some where that,
    Stories exist that talk of a special tea brewed with parts of a plant growing along the River Ganges that helped give people tremendous memories.

  4. aDveNTurER says:

    Oh no. Poor you. I would not even risk myself eating the food there, what more to drink uncooked water from the river? I've heard of crazy stories like drinking in the eggs from snakes. The eggs stayed in the body of the man and started to hatch, and those baby snakes began to attack the man's intestines. Never risk it!!


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