In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh

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Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan
Photo of In the lap of Ganga at Haridwar and Rishikiesh by Abhishek Bhan

As the raft set out from the bank into the frigid and inclement waters of the Ganga, the four of us looked at each other, with a feeling of trepidation etched clearly across our faces. All of us did a fairly bad job of trying to disguise this fact. Beside us the soft ripples of the Ganga lapped at our raft lightly. However, we were well aware of the fact that this mellow nature of the river will be preserved for but a fleeting moment. We chuckled nervously.

Later in the day,as our clothes dry in the air conditioning of 'Chotiwala', the last trace of the Ganga leaves our existential self. But in our hearts we know that Haridwar and Rishikiesh have carved out a niche for themselves that would be difficult to deconstruct any time soon. Like the path it had carved through the heart of these towns, cutting innumerable mountains along the way, the Ganga now flowed through our hearts too. Only by visiting Haridwar, can you truly grasp the extent of the spiritual halo the people of India grace this river with. Somewhere along these two days, the effect had rubbed off on us too and we left for Delhi wiser for the wear, the faint smell of the river still emanating from our clothes. 

We set out from Delhi in the wee hours of the morning so as to avoid the morning the rush. Since it was a long weekend people would invariably be heading out of Delhi and we didn’t want to wind up with them in wishing we’d let that extra half hour of sleep go. One UP Roadways bus ride and a thousand yanks and thrusts later, we got down at Haridwar. After a hurried lunch, we picked up two Scootys and set out to explore the temple town. The roads of Haridwar are teeming with people, vendors and three wheelers all the time due to which the Scooty has become so ubiquitous here. A Scooty ride down Har Ki Paudi is nothing short of an adventure. Having to avoid the people walking, the facades of shops, hawkers and then some more people, while swerving left and right has ‘more video game quotient’ than you can imagine. After eating a plate full of the famous chole-puri at Mohanji Puri Waale we settle in for the Ganga Aarti that happens every evening at about 7.30. The spectacle of the Ganga Aarti is so awe-inspiring that even the discomfort of sitting cramped amongst tons of other people seems distant, almost relegated to oblivion. You don’t even need to be of a religious inclination to enjoy this event. Just sitting there on the bank of the Ganga with hundreds of diyas floating along the river, you could close your eye and be transcended to a world that’s your own. I’ve never seen so many Indians congregated at one place so quietly. All of us were just too awe-struck to make any noise. During the day we also took a trip to the temple of Chandi Devi and the temple of Mansa Devi. Both the temples are located on hilltops and the drive up is absolutely brilliant in both cases. The temples, as most other Indian temples were crowded to the hilt so we decided to give them a pass. In spite of purchasing prasad from the cutest little girl, we didn’t make it inside and instead sat atop a rock and ate the prasad. It’s the thought that counts, right?
The next morning we were to leave for Rishikesh. The short journey from Haridwar to Rishikesh took us about 2 hours on account of the heavy traffic on the highway. Had the Scooty not been as maneuverable as it is, those couple of hours could have been stretched into even 4 or 5 and we couldn’t help but a feel a tinge of 'schadenfreude' as we passed one car after another, zipping through the alcoves afforded to us. The trip to Rishikesh had been planned with the sole purpose of rafting and every car we passed had people whom we would now beat to Rishikesh and as a result we’d have to wait a lot less for our turn to raft. Smiling like Cheshire cats, we merrily continued on our way. Pulling into Rishikesh, we noticed there was no dearth of touts, one of whom we contacted and asked about the rafting trip. A half hour of haggling later we finally agreed on a price and he asked us to get in the jeep that would take us to the Shivpuri rafting course starting point, a good 18 kilometers uphill. A treacherous trek down from the road to the river bank and we hopped aboard our raft, our lifeline and closest friend for the next two hours. As our raft descended a few meters downstream that friendly handshake extended to us by the river had been withdrawn and the affable ripples tickling the raft had now transformed into tempestuous rapids throwing the raft from side to side. Strangely enough, the feeling of trepidation, instead of worsening, began to taper away and we began to enjoy every challenge the river threw at us. That crescendo your adrenaline levels reach when you’re riding the crest of a rapid and your raft faces upwards for a just a short moment, is very difficult to describe. There is hardly a moment to catch your breath because the next rapid is just around the corner. Or in this case right ahead, where you can see it gurgling treacherously. Once you’ve negotiated all the rapids over the range of the 16 kilometer safely, the meandering, friendly side of the Ganga returns and you can rest those aching hands of yours and take a dip in the river. Float and your back and let the river carry you downstream. The gentle pitter patter of the late June rainfall on your face feel like little pouches of happiness. For a moment there, you forget all the worries you left behind to come on this trip. I never thought there could be such a moment, but lying on my back in the Ganga, flowing with the raft alongside, I knew it to be true and real. The rafting journey had left us exhausted and exhilarated in an equal measure. We wished for some warm clothes to change into and a warm bed to collapse into but we instead, decided to stay True to Mr. Frost’s words and travel for many more miles before entertaining such a thought again. Next, we decided to Zipline across the Ganga because rafting through its choppy waters wasn’t just thrill enough. Or so we thought. The few minutes when you’re being harnessed to the Zipline and your friends are joking around about getting your last remains home safely seem like the longest ever. As the attendant pushes you off in the prone position the butterflies in your stomach soon give way to a feeling much worse (or better? It’s a matter of perspective, really). As you float over the gorge, through which the Ganga flows, time seems to slow down just enough for you to take it all in. The solitude you experience is of the highest superlative; you’ll never be as alone as you are now. The ride is all of 2 minutes or so, but as you clamber on to the platform at the other side, you’ll be forgiven for feeling an eternity has passed in the meanwhile. The cool mountain wind in your face, while numbing all your senses, also does an equally good job, strangely enough, of making you more aware of your surroundings than you’ve ever been. Next up our list was the holy grail of thrill seekers, the bungee jump. We had had thoughts, then second thoughts and counters to those second thoughts about actually jumping off a cliff 83 meters into the heart of the valley but in the end we decided chant the names of all the gods we could muster up collectively and take the plunge. Reaching the jump spot, we glanced nervously at each other for the umpteenth time. The elephant in the room was dangling with a bungee cord. One final glance down the valley and all the bravado we’d managed to capture flitted away slowly. Begrudgingly we accepted that we had lost to the fear of heights and walked away. The failure to get our legs to jump off a cliff into the rocky gorge below didn’t really dampen our spirits much and we headed in to the famous Chotiwala to satiate our hunger. Its located right on the bank of the Ganga and a great view greets you as you dig into the best food Rishikesh has to offer.
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