“Jisse dhunda zamaane mein, mujh hi mein tha….”
These words did not hold much of a meaning, until I decided to travel solo to celebrate my 30th birthday. Birthdays have certain significance in my life, for I believe that’s a reminder of how and what kind of a life one has lived. I’d decided to pull off a solo trip, because I wanted to be completely on my own, whether in terms of exploring a certain place or experimenting certain food or just experiencing being in an unknown land. I had my own apprehensions and fears, in terms of safety and companionship. But this trip to Rishikesh, gave a different meaning to “Solo” altogether. It is just that you’re not tripping with your “own” people. You are out there making friends and memories. Also, what I thought to be an adventurous Birthday trip, turned out to be a Self - Discovery solo one!
I had been planning for it two months ago. I’d figured down Rishikesh for my first solo trip destination, because that place has a combination of things to offer: adventure (I desperately wanted to try either flying fox or bungee jump to overcome my fear of heights); spiritualism (for the sheer love of meditation, for it ain’t called Tapovan or Devibhoomi for nothing); serenity (peace of mind that was about to prevail). After deciding the destination, it was easier to select the accommodation. Zostel Rishikesh (fondly known as RishikeshBackpackers) was my obvious choice, since I had good prior experience of staying in Zostels at other places. For my transportation, I blindly opted to travel by train as there is a direct train from Ahmedabad to Haridwar, which takes around 26 hours. Though I had to keep tatkal option open for my return (& also just in case I wanted to stay a day longer).
Upon reaching Haridwar railway station, I took a cab to reach Rishikesh. These are state owned and have a fixed rate (which one can check on the internet). Autos are also available, in which case you could bargain, which I wouldn’t recommend because the ride ahead is super bumpy. I was apprehensive and uptight throughout my ride, but the view out of the window made it up altogether. Here it was the onset of a journey that was going to open up many dimensions.
After checking in to Zostel and freshening up, I was informed by the receptionist, a lovely – smiling girl, that Zostel had planned a trip to Triveni Ghat for Ganga aarti & then on to explore the street food. I readily agreed to join the group. I happily dressed up and checked out for all nook & corners of Zostel. I decided to take pictures (preimagined), turns out that mob of tripod, which was gifted to me by my friends, was broken & I didn’t carry a spare one. Unhesitatingly, I asked staff boy to help me take my pictures. Calling him a mere staff boy was so demeaning, I thought to myself, because Amit turned out to be a talented photographer. He works as a freelance photographer and calls himself “Tasveerkaar” (so does his Instagram handle).
Our group consists of 8 people including Amit. Two chirpy and friendly girls from Mumbai, my dorm mate & her guy colleague from Nagpur, one guy from Mumbai & the other one from Jaipur. On our way to Triveni Ghat, 8 of us casually introduced each other and shared a little about our lives. Surprisingly enough, I found myself putting down my walls immediately & chatting out comfortably, maybe that’s what happens when you are out there alone or maybe you are just comfortable with certain people’s vibes.
Upon reaching Triveni Ghat, I gasped at the first glimpse of Ganga flowing amidst the mountains at Triveni Ghat. It instantly brought a sense of peace to both mind and soul. We and all the other visitors were asked to take our respective seats until they made arrangements for the aarti. We were then asked to perform certain vidhi prior to commencement of Ganga Aarti. It became a magical stage once the aarti started, with beautiful hymns & mantras being played. The synchronicity with which 16 priests performed the aarti, bowing down all the four directions was breathtaking. After the aarti, we were asked to pray and offer flowers to the holy & mighty Ganga. Dipping my feet a little bit, I just asked her to set me free.
Triveni Ghat has a ritual of singing bhajans in the praise of Lord Krishna after the aarti. It was a sight to behold. People of all age groups, ethnicities, cultures, countries, were dancing in pure ecstasy, loosening & surrendering themselves to their higher self. But there was this one frame that caught my attention – a tiny little girl, who an hour ago was begging for some money & food to whoever possible person she could, was dancing with so much innocence, so much joy & reverberance that one can’t stop smiling at her. Materialistically this girl seemed to have nothing, but what was there within her was something I always sought after.
We then went to local market and streets and tried some good local delicacies. After involving into some good humour and fun banters, all of us headed back to Zostel. For the rest of the evening, we gathered at the terrace; played card games and board games; indulged in conversations on anything under the Sun (though collectively decided not to talk on career & marriage, seemed these were the raw nerves for everyone). At the stroke of midnight, I was pleasantly surprised with a cake and some music by the people I had hung out in the evening. Yes, I had met them just few hours ago & they had planned it out so well. My birthday was celebrated with cake-cutting, fun, fervour & laughter. I felt a strange pang mixed of emotions; here I was with absolute unknown people & at unknown place celebrating life. “Strangers” have their own way of bringing happiness in one’s life.
While celebrating on the terrace, we bumped into another group celebrating someone else’s birthday. I found my Piscean sister. :P It became a huge herd of happy people just randomly playing card games; board games; some insane games till it turned dawn.
The most awaited day had finally come. I woke up with so much enthusiasm. I would finally try something to overcome my fear. We were taken to Jumpin-Heights office and spot where these adventure activities were done. The entire route up there was breathtakingly beautiful - the sparkling Ganga flowing through those lush green mountains.
Upon reaching Jumpin-Heights office, we were introduced to the activities - thrill it gives, dangers it exposes to and safety measures to be taken care of - though they had professionals to guide us through. While everyone else opted for all the three activities (one can choose to go for all three activities i.e. Bunjee Jump; Flying Fox & Giant Swing one after other) I chose to do Flying Fox, I could only accommodate this much amount of adventure in my system).
We had to hike up to reach the spot for Flying Fox activity. There were five of us - a Bengali couple with their 10 year old daughter, my roommate and I. The estimated time to finish off this activity was barely 15 mins. We were pretty sure we would finish it off early and come down straight to cafeteria. Upon reaching the spot, we were informed that machinery which carried dangler had broken down & needed some repair (which meant not only we would have to wait for an hour, but also have to be worried whether the repaired one would actually work).
I decided to hike up further in the woods having an hour on hand and considering it to be blessings in guise. Climbing up furthermore, I decided to sit at a particular spot and try meditating. Surreal would be an underrated word to what I felt - Eyes closed, basic breathing, taking in the chirps of the birds, orange sun rays piercing through the branches of the trees. Yes there was a spec of moment where oneness with the Higher Self was felt. Fourty five minutes had already passed by the time I came down for our turn to go on the Zipline. Nervous pangs hit so hard while I was being tied to dangler (I was not ready for this, there were ifs & buts playing in the background). Before I could shush away my thoughts, I was all there lying horizontally and ready to take on the zipline. On the voice of 1, 2, 3, go…zapppppp me and my dangler went in the middle of the mountains over a running stream of water….flying like a bird….free, observant and happy. We were swayed like a pendulum for few minutes and then were made to stay there. Embrace life as it comes…in its upheaval and downfalls, only thoughts that came to my mind then. I was alive, living in and taking in every moment as a fresh perspective.
We were dropped to Zostel, once everyone was done with their respective activities. Exhausted, we bid farewell to the girls and made plans to visit one of the famous cafes for our “Br-un-er” (Breakfast, lunch & dinner as we had neither of it). The obvious choice was “Little Budha’s Café”, suggested by people there and also was internet favourite too. This was one place where you could order anything just blind-folded, because anything you order would turn out to be the best dish. The shakes were heavenly especially Avacado – this paudha shake is a must try and “chai” was outer worldly (the fact that even foreigners couldn’t resist it). One could leisurely spend three – four hours & if you are lucky enough you would get a riverside view. Returning back to Zostel, the four of us decided to play poker. This is something I did not know. Not only did I learn well, but also I played well and won smartly & luckily. Ah! The sheer joy it brought.
It was almost around 11.30 in the night, the boys & I decided to take a stroll and randomly “chill” into some café. But we didn’t know all the cafes as well as street food rekdiwala in Rishikesh close by 11 for “whatever” reasons. We just walked into random streets, approaching every other food outlet, crossed the Laxman Jhula (being here during the daytime is all touristy thing everyone does; but to be here in the middle of the night with just no crowd around & chilly winds gushing through you was all hearts & an offbeat experience), walked through the old city. Finally, we came across a small shop and begged bhaiya to make us some chai & noodles. He did accept our request but asked us to find another place to eat. Andddddd the place we could manage to find was better than any cafes in the world. We sat on one of the Ghats, opposite to Laxman Jhula. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better closure of my birthday. The cool breeze, the thudding silence, the tinkling of water, the calmness that Ganga offered, the conversations on love & life, the glitter of Laxman Jhula in the middle of the night – I couldn’t have asked for more. Obviously, had it not been because of the three boys who had accompanied me, I wouldn’t be able to experience this (for safety reasons & otherwise). I had always, always believed that it’s the people who you are with, that make your experiences richer & fulfilling. And coming back to Zostel, we continued with our board games till dawn….
The day finally came to pack bags, but not before I could tick off certain things. I was stressed because I couldn’t wake up on time (courtesy the two sleepless nights). It was already 11 and I had to reach Haridwar by 1, since I wanted visit Mansa Devi temple there. I had backed my bags and finished the formalities of checking out, but then came a knock on my door - these guys said you aren’t leaving before having a good breakfast. We quickly zeroed down on “Pure Soul Café”, however underrated we considered the Café to be, it didn’t disappoint.
At last, came the time to bid adieu to Rishikesh (however much I hated it). Like it happens with any other trip, a little piece of heart always stays at the place. Rishikesh had offered everything I thought it would – adventure, enlightenment, peace, fun, laughter and dollops of memories. But I refused to say a goodbye to this place because there were still certain things yet to be done and certain places yet to explored.
I reached Haridwar on time. How different are these two places from each other, only few kilometres apart. I could visit Mansa Devi temple, since it wasn’t much crowded. With a belief that my wishes would be fulfilled, I return home with heart full of gratitude!
A sense bestowed that what I had always dreamt of, is now my happy reality!