Trip Start Jan 18, 2008
11Trip End Feb 02, 2008
Riskikesh - a refreshing change!
The train arrived in Haridwar 40 mins late and it was was dark and cold outside, so I had all my warmest gear on!
As I left the station building, I noticed a backpacker with blonde hair and I asked him if he was traveling north to Rishikesh. He replied with a European accent (possibly Swiss) that he was going to board a bus to go south. At least he was headed to a bus station, so I also went to the nearby bus station, and asked one of the bus drivers "Rishikesh?" He shook his head and pointed towards the street....so I walked to the main street and noticed a few buses parked with their motors running on different sides of this main street and also noticed the tea stalls across the road, and their tempting whiffs of a chai brew. That was enough for me to cross the road, not too busy with traffic as yet, and order a chai from a smiling young man, and then I asked a man nearby, who had a clipboard - "Bus to Rishikesh"?, to which he replied "Yes, this bus"; and pointed to the nearest one. I couldn't believe my luck! The bus was due out in about about 5 minutes time, so I had just enough time to have and pay (5 rupees) for my chai (which was handed to me on the bus, as I was sitting just behind the stairwell) and it was one of the best chais I had in India! The man with the clip board was the conductor, and the bus trip (local public transport) to Rishikesh only cost me 22 rupees to travel 27 kms! (under 70c !) Dawn was approaching, and the bus ride was quite enjoyable, no overcrowding, and with no problems and apart from a few curious glances, everyone kept to themselves.
The conductor made sure I got off the bus at the right bus stop, and I responded with "Shukria; Namaste!" and a wave good-bye and nearly everyone waved back!... so here I was in Rishikesh, gateway to the Himalayas!
I still had nearly 5 kms to go before reaching my destination of Laxman Jhula, so I shared a tuk-tuk (a larger 6 seater) with an elderly Indian couple who were all smiles but didn't speak English, and who were well wrapped up against the cold. It was around 7:30 am, the sun was up in the almost cloudless sky, and the hilly, sealed road showed picturesque glimpses of the Ganges River flowing between the villages, and forests, with the mountains towering either side... and we passed many signs and banners aimed for the tourists as well!
I decided to walk a few kms, from the outskirts of Laxman Jhula, along the road nearest the river, crossing the pedestrian suspension bridge at Ram Jhula (though motorcyclists and the local monkeys use it as well), and up river 2 kms (now on the opposite side) to Laxman Jhula, passing markets, small villages, temples, gardens, a school, a hospital and pockets of natural forests.
I arrived just outside the main area of Laxman Jhula around 10:30 am and was looking forward to brunch! The Moonlight Cafe, much like a large verandah (owned by a Napalese family), which I had favourably read about online prior to arriving in India, cooked me the most awesome and filling meal - the 'Sizzler'! This vegetarian meal, presented on a hot, sizzling iron plate with a wooden base, consisted of 3 cabbage leafed 'bowls': 1st - fried bite sized chunks of peeled potatos; 2nd - torfu and eggplant pieces, with a chunky mushroom and spinach thick sauce with Mondella cheese melted over the top and garnished by a small grilled tomato; and 3rd - assorted vegies sauted lightly in butter. Yummmmy! That filled me up and all for the price of $4 AUD (including a juice drink).
About 100 mtrs further on, I found my accommodation for the night - The Jaipur Inn, which is almost across from the Thirteen Story Temple, and close to another Suspension Bridge (quite alot of monkeys at this one) and the shops, internet cafes, restarants and markets. The Jaipur Inn also has great views of the street scene below, the river and of course, the Temple from it's rooftop restaurant. My room (pre-booked online direct to the hotel) was clean; practical; plainly, but nicely furnished with ensuite; and had a view of the 'Ganga Ji' (Ganges River), although barred (in a pattern), and this is because of the mischeivous monkeys who visit now and then. I did see a few on the roof right next to the hotel and close to my window!
After a nice hot shower, I had a look at the markets - lots of CDs (incl. Indian meditation ones with and without mantras), and quite allot of clothing and items for sale at very reasonable prices and different designs to other parts of India.
I then went for a 'jungle' walk, N/E of the hotel, for a few of kms on a dirt, unused, narrow hilly road through the forest, away from people, away from any cars and traffic, and partly along the mighty, cascading river. Simply wonderful! Coming back, I dipped my toes and hands into a still part of the river - refreshingly cold, as I was quite hot after my little trek. As I only had 1 full day in Rishikesh, there wasn't enough time to participate in fun advenure sports like white water rafting, canoing or a day tour at the nearby National Park (where tigers may be sighted); or to visist an Ashram to learn yoga and various meditation techniques or be 'cleansed' healthwise, or learn tabla drumming or any other Indian insrtrument (lessons can be arranged), as you really need 3 or more days to fullly particpate and/or feel renewed from the experience.
Late afternon, I headed back downstream to Ram Jhula, (not crossing the bridge) hoping to see the Aarti, (at dusk) where Hindu devotees gather and light an Aarti plate made usually of metal, with a lamp made of kneaded flour, mud or metal, that is filled with oil or ghee. A cotton wick is put into the oil and then lit, or camphor is burnt instead. The plate also contains flowers (yellow, orange, red), incense and akshata (uncooked rice) and is moved in circles clockwise around a person or idol and is generally accompanied by the singing of mantras of that deva or person (many versions exist). In doing so, the plate itself is supposed to acquire the power of the deity. The purpose of performing Aarti is the waving of lighted wicks (ussually by priests) before the deities in a spirit of humility and gratitude, where faithful followers become immersed in God's divine form. It symbolises the five elements: 1) space (akash), 2) wind (vayu), 3) light (tej), 4) water (jal), and 5) earth (pruthvi). If a priest is present, a bell is rung, and he circulates the plate to all those present. They cup their down-turned hands over the flame and then raise their palms to their forehead - the purificatory blessing, passed from the deva's image to the flame, has now been passed to the devotee. Smaller Aarti plates are then put on the water and it floats down stream, and when allot of small Aartis are lit and on the water, the effect is quite stunning.
As it turned out, the 'community' Aarti took place on the opposite bank of the river to where I was, so I was too far away to really witness it, though I just heard the lovely singing of the mantras, however, some of the locals (and other visiting devotees) took part in their own Aartis.
On my return to Laxman Jhula, it was dark and the moon was out, which provided just enough light to see the pathway. I had a snack dinner at a crowded (with tourists) cafe - the Purple Dhaba, as it has a reputation of serving a variety of good food. I found a seat and ordered a 'Maaza' bottle of mango juice, dhal (tastey) with rotti (rounded, almost flat bread), and after taking my first bite, I bit into something hard, and out of my mouth (trying not to be too obvious) I pulled out a black small nail (oversized tack)! I called out to the waiter, who came to my table, and showed him the nail and mentioned (diplomatically) and in simple English that I wasn't happy about it and was concerned to find this in my meal, and that I'd like to see the Manager please, and the waiter wasn't to pleased about it either and promptly turned around and aproached the Manager. Other diners around me glanced my way, but continued with their meals. I ate every other mouthful of rotti slowly and carefully, and thankfully, didn't find any other objects in my food. When I was ready to leave, and asked again to see the Manager, he came to my table, appologised, (promptly taking the offending nail away) and didn't charge me for my food, only for my drink. It was obviously just 'one of those unfortunate things' and the Manager assured me that this had never happened before in his restaurant; so all was forgiven, and I wasn't sick afterwards. I then walked across the road to an internet cafe, and after trying to send emails (some of the computers were having problems with the internet providers) and not getting anywhere, I called it a night, and went back to my room, watched some interesting and entertaining Indian TV ads (allot like ours in Aus!) and a movie before catching up on some sleep.
* Accommodation at the Jaipur Inn (Hotel) - 990 INR or $32. AUD
* Tuk-tuk from Rishikesh town centre to Laxman Jhula - 20c
http://www.jaipur-inn.com/liesure.html Info and tarrif of the Jaipur Inn, and also info on Rishikesh and other tours of the area (incl. Rajaji National Pak) and leisure activities (raftiing and treks/hiking).
http://www.rishikesh.org/ Lots more info on what to do, where to stay, and all about Rishikesh.