In Ringo's footsteps
Trip Start Aug 16, 2005
63Trip End Apr 14, 2006
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Where I stayed
Sant Sewa Ashram Guesthouse, Lahksman Jhula
We stayed in an Ashram right on the banks of the Ganges and next to a temple. The view from the balcony outside our lovely big room was up the river and towards the mountains. It's all very green and scenic and the air smells fresh. There are far fewer cars and therefore less horn use. Although there is still some litter, it is much less prevalent than everywhere else I've been in India. Infact, Rishikesh is my favourite destination so far. However, it is an important religious centre (as it is at the point where the Ganges leaves the mountains and enters the plains) and attracts lots of pligrims. This means that at 6am we were woken by a conch shell being blown and loud bells that went on for 15 minutes
The town is very westernised and therefore much more chilled than other parts of India. You can go into shops and browse without the shop owner jumping up and shoving potential purchases in your face. This makes an atmosphere much more conducive to buying things, and I've finally acquired some nicer clothes. All the tourist restaurants seem to be jack-of-all-trades offering pizza, pasta, mexican, israeli, chinese, english (I have eaten a 'special' Indian version of mashed potato that was more like porridge), indian, tibetian and continential dishes.
I took 2 yoga lessons at our Ashram with 'Dr Das' - a young supple bodied and gorgeous Indian man with long flowing hair. Unfortunately, he has a droning monotone voice which I'm sure is meant to be relaxing but just amused me. He says things like 'inhale proper deep through your nostriles', 'Coooooome Baaaaaack' (when instructing the class to finish holding a position), and 'Put your the foot on your the thigh'. Having said that, I really enjoyed the classes but you can't really progress much on only 3 hours of yoga practice.
Mandy and I attended an Aarti ceremony at a ghat in the centre of town
On our second evening in Rishikesh we met up with Flic and Alex again, who had been joined by Sarah and Simon, 2 other friends from Brighton who have been travelling for 10 months. So, now we are 6, take up whole corners in restaurants, can share the cost of transport and do activities when we want instead of having to wait to join other groups. It's a very different feeling to travelling in a couple.
Being a vegetarian in India is an absolute joy. Rather than having a small section of 'Vegetarian' dishes relegated to an obscure corner of the menu, in India they will have a few options called 'Non Veg'. It's great! Infact whole towns, Rishikesh being one, are meat free. Unfortunately Rishikesh is also alcohol free but we got round this because Flic and Alex bought some bottles of vodka from the UK. We spent most of our 'special water' drinking time on the balcony outside their room. One evening we were sitting overlooking the street down below with a great view of the sun setting over the Ganges
My first white water rafting trip was great fun. Well, I felt elated just after we had got through each rapid, but the moments during them were a different story. I was pretty terrified of falling out. We travelled 25km down a grade 3+ river and went through 9 big rapids. They had names (which struck fear into me on the approach) like the rollercoaster, three blind mice, crossfire, return to sender etc. The largest was called the golf course (because of all the holes - it's preceeded by a smaller rapid called Tee off and followed by the clubhouse). Most of my screaming was due to being dowsed in freezing Ganges water but seeing a wall of white water rearing up infront of the inflatable dingy that I was perched on didn't help. And perched is all that I was. I assumed that we would be strapped in or something, but no. We had to sit on the edge of the boat and lean out to paddle. I soon discovered it was impossible to paddle and hold onto the safety rope. I was at the mercy of the river and luckily it looked after me.
We all felt the need to do some training for our forthcoming trek, so set off to walk up to Jungapuri Temple on top of a hill behind Rishikesh
Finally we arrived at a little shop below the temple and fell into it to buy water. Going through the entrance gateway we were dismayed to see hundreds of steps stetching up before us! Indians who had arrived in taxis and on motorbikes skipped up the steps overtaking us
We walked down the road a few kilometres and caught a bus back to Rishikesh. The road clung to the edge of cliffs and hairpinned back down to the plains. Trucks and other buses forced our vehicle to pull into ditches or swing nerve-rackingly close to the edge. Lots of signs warn drivers to slow down but they have a very strange way of doing it. Here are some for your amusement: 'speed thrills but kills', 'if you are married, divorce speed' and 'drive slowly and enjoy the beautiful nation'.
The next day we discovered we had done a 1300m ascent and felt marginally better about finding it such a slog. We had actually climbed the the height of Ben Nevis.
Our last afternoon in Rishikesh was spent on one of the river beaches away from the town - I never thought I'd be able to wear a bikini in India, but here I was
On the way back to Delhi we had a few hours to kill in Haridwar - another important pilgrammage site on the Ganges. The town is busy, dusty and confusing and we made our way towards a cable car which runs up to a temple on top of a hill. When we got there the sign announced 'ropeway to the Gods' and we looked forward to escaping above the busy town for some peaceful views and contemplation. It was not to be! On arriving at the top we found we were in a complex surrounded by chicken wire, heaving with pilgrims, crowded with shops selling prasad (offerings to the deity) and blasted by competing distorted whining Indian music coming from each of the stalls. Not quite sure why we had come all the way up here, we found an exit and escaped from the claustrophobic compound onto an outcrop of rock from which we could appreciate the view over the famous ghats
A word about the sweeping in this country. It is very dusty and dirty, but the roads seem to be continuously swept. Always you can see or hear someone sweeping in the street. However, the problem is that they seem to sweep things into piles but then don't move the piles anywhere. Shop keepers on either side of a street sweep towards the centre of the road, but then the traffic drives through the rubbish and it all gets spread around again. As a pedestrian you are constantly having clouds of dust swept into your legs and having to step over piles of previously swept dirt.
We caught a train back to Delhi where we would spend a couple of days before heading to the Eastern Himalayas.