The Road to Rishikesh and the Land of Om's

Trip Start Jan 28, 2011
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Trip End Feb 15, 2011


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Where I stayed
Aggarwal Guest House

Flag of India  , Uttarakhand,
Monday, February 7, 2011

The alarm first went off at 4:35am. Then 4:40, and finally 4:45. Off to Haridwar. After the confusion of the cab driver not even knowing which of Delhi's train stations "DLI" was, a combination of my Blackberry, Google, and IndiaMike.com came to the rescue. Thank goodness for my backpacking predecessors' blogs and internet posts. When in a foreign place and something goes wrong/is difficult to figure out, just remember: someone has dealt with it before you, and the answer can probably be found on the web. *Note to lost, Google-ing backpackers: DLI is Old Delhi, also called Delhi Junction.
Haridwar is one of the most spiritual and religious places of India, and pilgrimages are made not just on Holy days, but daily. There seemed to be endless people boarding the train. Wooden trunks, dufflebags, backpacks, flour sacks, and large cans filled with belongings all made the march from the platform onto the train even trickier than just pushing through all of the bodies.

By now I've learned some Hindi words and phrases and have no reason not to use them. So I started shouting "Cello!" (Let's Go!) Just as loudly as the locals, and eventually made it onto the train. Off to Haridwar.
I slept uneasily for about half of the trip and passed time drinking chai for the other half.
On the train we passed towns where children were sitting in circles in dirt fields wearing school uniforms and cradling books on their laps, with who was presumably their teacher in the center of the circles. There were train stations where the platforms were packed with families laying shoulder to shoulder on the ground under blankets. I would guess that train stations are probably the most opportune area for these people to collect food and money when busy trains empty out. Sad, but interesting to see. I gave some more kids pieces of chocolate when they knocked on my window and they ran away smiling.

Haridwar. For the first time since I've arrived, the sky is not clear blue, but instead cloudy and grey. Some of my layers start coming in handy here. Now comes the fun part, the continuation of India: Unplugged. No place to stay. I was trying to contact an Ashram or hotel before coming, but with no luck. The increasingly familiar game is played of telling the rickshaw driver that I already have a place to stay. Yes, I am 100% sure I have a reservation. Yes sir, I already spoke with them. No sir, they did not overbook, I do have a room. Yes, I am very sure I don't want you to bring me to a crappy hotel so that you can make commission. Then I get dropped off and start searching for a room. I told the driver I'd like to go to the Mohyal Ashram, and on the way there I felt like something was a little off. I was dropped off at the Ashram and greeted at the entrance by a group of teenage boys who didn't fit the part of hanging out at a peaceful yoga and meditation center at all. They looked at me like I was lunch, and started laughing. I didn't see any women around, and I felt suddenly very uncomfortable. Change in plans.
Plan B: Rishikesh. A town 18 kilometers further up the road, and supposedly the yoga capital of the world. Also known to be far more touristy than Haridwar, which is why I hadn't planned to go there. However, considering that I haven't seen or heard a single American since I've been here and seen maybe a total of 75 "Westerners," I'm starting to think that the "touristy" areas aren't so bad. Am I cheating? Maybe, but I enjoy life very much, and would prefer to stay alive at least a bit longer. Something just didn't feel right in Haridwar.

Back in a rickshaw, I was heading to Rishikesh and passed a sign that said, "Elephants do have the right of way. Please do not attempt to obstruct." Best sign ever.

I arrived at Plan B and my driver told me he couldn't drive any further, that it was a pedestrian path only. Turns out he just didn't feel like driving anymore (there were plenty of vehicle driving further), but I could take the workout anyway. I walked down an extremely steep set of extremely deep steps and roads that were like rollercoasters, across a bridge and back up a hill until I found a patch of hotels and guest houses. I stopped in at a guest house to see about a room, and I was shown a small cement cubicle with no windows and a bed the size of my living room table. Next. Aggarwal Guest House. An old woman named Ghita runs it, and the "reception" area is actually her bedroom. I took a room there and headed out to see the town.

Rishikesh is beautiful- it lays at the base of the mountain range in a valley where the Ganges River runs through, and the hillsides are dotten with amazing, bright Buddhist temples 30 stories high. When the wind blows, you hear chimes, and bells ringing when prayers begin. It's very pretty and calm. There are two suspension bridges tying the banks of the river together, separated by about 3 kilometers in between them. I walked a big loop across the bridges, around and back again. On the way back I walked through the woods and came across some outdoor meditation sites where men in orange robes were sitting. Everyone I walked by greeted me with "Namaste." It was kind of cool and nice.

I passed dinner time in a treehouse cafe eating Tibetan dumplings and watching the daylight disappear while listening to chants of "Om"s from surrounding Ashrams, and then headed back to my room.

Not much else to do or see here in Rishikesh- the town is small and there's a very concentrated area of interesting sights. Tomorrow begins my long travel day up into the Himalayas to Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj, which will be my home for the last week of my stay in India and a jumping off point for a trek a little further up.

Tonight there will be dreams of snowcapped mountains. Almost there.

Namaste.
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