Monday, September 05, 2005

Rishikesh - The mystical city

Taking advantage of the fact that I am still near the hills (which, according to sources, I may not be in a while), I took off to Rishikesh last weekend. It is a very mystical place – and really like the India you read of in books, which foreigners are in constant search of (also explains why you find so many of them there). From sadhus in ochre robes to ‘holy’ cows wandering along at a relaxed pace, to the mountains nearby and most of all, the majestic gushing Ganges, Rishikesh is a place that is worth a visit.

The journey takes around six hours, and after the bus somewhat unceremoniously dropped us off at Haridwar but thankfully put us on a share-auto for the remaining leg of the journey to Rishikesh at 6 a.m, we found ourselves in the land of the pious. We crossed the imposing Ram Jhula, a huge suspension bridge which sways slowly though one steps onto it confidently thinking it is a solid structure. We made our way to the Green Hotel, a budget option for anyone wanting to visit, right at the end of a labyrinthine lane with restaurants and shops selling knick-knacks, and of course a number of temples lining the Ganga as well. Washed and ready for a day of adventure (which turned out to be more adventurous than I had bargained for!!), we proceeded to find a guide for a day’s trek to Kunjapuri, a temple of Goddess Sati (the only one in the country apparently), situated right at the top of a huge mountain. Of course, at the beginning, we thought it would be an easy walk of sorts, albeit a trifle rocky. It is a six and a half kilometer trek but after I finished it in five and a half hours, it felt like nothing less than 30 kilometres which is the actual distance if one goes up to the temple by road instead of taking the ‘short-cut’ uphill.

Two hours into the blazing heat of the day , two kilometers and many huffs and puffs later (I was still ok, which mistakenly gave me the bravado to think I could easily complete the rest of the trek), my 2 friends said they couldn’t do it and decided to return to the bottom. That left me to continue alone with the guide, a friendly and extremely trained chap who thought it would be an easy thing to complete for me. Ten minutes after I separated from my friends, the incline became much more steep and every step became a process. I had to stop and rest every few minutes. Thankfully there were a couple of fresh springs along the way with the clearest, freshest water I’ve ever sipped, and I was able to refill my bottle. Half an hour later I decided to steel myself to take breaks after every 15 minutes only and not sooner, or we would take much longer than expected to scale the top. My lower leg muscles and thighs screamed out for rest and every time I sat down on a boulder to rest, I felt like going to sleep. That couldn’t happen. I plodded on. The terrain changed from rocky mountain to forest and we didn’t see people for a couple of hours till an odd villager crossed us on his way down with some cattle. I negotiated narrow paths with tall green bushes on either side which had dubious-sounding rattles coming from them and then suddenly the land opened out into a barley field with huge stalks. I followed the guide determinedly along the cement drain path and continued climbing, past a village and school and five and a half hours later, reached the temple at the top. I stopped to catch my breath and insisted I could go no further, not even the 308 steps up to the temple. The guide however said that it made no sense for me not to go, having come all the way. So I doggedly went on, by now thoroughly exhausted and mentally dead. Physically of course, by some miracle I was still moving step by step. I prayed for a while and by the guide had come up as well. Apparently there was no taxi available at that height and we would have to trek another one and a half kilometers (downhill, thankfully) to get to the nearest bus-stop from where we could catch a bus back to Rishikesh.

I slid along the path that the guide led me on and, downhill being so much easier, reached in 25 minutes or so. Then caught the bus as it trundled up, and returned to Rishikesh, exhausted to the bone but dare I say, proud of myself.

The next day we took a bus to Shivpuri, about 14 km away. It is a rafting campsite but since the season hadn’t started, we couldn’t raft. Still, sitting by the gorgeous rushing river as the mountains loomed nearby was soul-moving, and I’m glad I could see Nature in its resplendent best. We went back half and hour later to Rishikesh and caught the bus back to Delhi.

My body still aches but that was yet another trip to remember. Awesome!


Sharad said...

Awesome ! The Beatles were in Rishikesh in the 1960s, with the Maharishi. One of their unreleased songs starts ' On the road to Rishikesh, I was dreaming more or less' huh ?

Good to know you had fun there.Do you still see a lot of hippies there?

wanderstruck said...

pretty cool, sharad! didn't know that. a few hippies in rishikesh, more backpackers than hippies. McLeodganj is where there are plenty of hippies!