Wetting the feet in the Ganges in Rishikesh
I just arrived in Delhi, at 8 in the morning after an excellent service of the beautiful hostesses. We rest and ate something to leave for the next flight to Dehradun and from there to Rishikesh. After the flight took off and was almost near to landing, the pilot tells us that we are going back to Delhi because there is a sandstorm and we cannot land! Now what do we do? We landed in Delhi and asked the steward who tells us that it is normal.
The safety of the passengers prevails first of all. For a while they do not let us get off the plane. Apparently they tells us that they are thinking whether to send us home and we get out. But, in these moments, I only think about the lap of Nanda Devi. She is the reason for my trip.
A crazy young taxi driver drops me off at the old Delhi station with my fat backpack with sleeping bag, and inflatable mattress. I carry the minimum clothes with another pair of pants, shirts, sweater, gloves and knee pads for the descents. I also carry medicines of infections, altitude sickness, diarrhea, and a dark chocolate bar.
In the small backpack I carry a camera, accessories, and a Delhi travel guide and the area where I go. In the belt pouch, I carry the cards and money. In addition to this, and at 35 degrees, the thick and old jacket of real goose feathers embraced against the chest. I get a ticket for the 11:30 train to Haridwar, but my name is on the waiting list.
My neighbor on the plane has reassured me that I will get a seat when I was discussing the possibilities. They reserve a lot for politicians, military and VIPs. I have a seat but I am exhausted by the effort of climbing the stairs with all the gear. Now I need to take out money. After asking half a dozen of those around me since I got off the taxi, I know that the ATM is on the other side of the tracks, but it does not work.
I find another on the other side that only gives 2,000 rupees. Between ups and downs I check the train time. Haridwar does not appear on the panel, but I get help. I board the coach. My seat is the one below. They are the same trains, the ones left by the British, but much older. I would sleep if it were not for the shrieks and the running of the two children in the compartment opposite.
I tries be alert for the next stop. The train stopped, but nobody is in the hall or the door. I tried to open the exit door, but it was so hard that it was impossible for me. It overwhelmed me a little as I could not see anything from inside and the train started again. I turned to my bunk from the top. Finally a man told me that there were still about 40 minutes left for Haridwar.
In Haridwar, my taxi driver hired through Internet, waits for me to take me to Rishikesh. This city is in chaos, with people going around everywhere. Rishikesh is the supermarket of spirituality since the Beatles came to a meditation course with the famous guru of the moment. There are classes of yoga, meditation and sacred dances for Indians and Westerners in search of the lost soul in ashrams.
There are half hotels, half temples, and spiers on the edges of the sacred Ganges, emerging from the Himalayas. And, in recent years, too, Rishikesh is the trekking and rafting capital of India. Most of all this is concentrated in Tapovan, north of the city and close to the Ganges.
After crossing a madness through narrow streets, ramps, stairs, stalls and temples I reach the narrow metal suspension bridge. Underneath there go by inflatable rafts full of adventurers. The Ganga is very clean and runs with enthusiasm. To all this I must add that the Kumba Mela is this year.
There is a crowd of people, groups of old people, pilgrims, whole families with children running away, sadhus, with their beards and dresses that come from any side, the gurus, the tourists, and the locals. I try to finding a rafting company for the next day. As I seek security first of all I decided to reserve for a higher price and more hours of travel.
First I took a Masala Chai and then I tried the momos in a street stall. The sauce that accompanied them gave them the perfect touch and the dish includes a separate soup. It is full and tasty. I then crossed the bridge, which moves slightly and arrived at the end of the street to the guest house.
My hotel is next to the river, but away from the hustle and bustle. As it is not ready yet, I go to eat at a nearby restaurant where the Beatles were supposed to have composed their White Album. The truth is that the place was full of tourists, with high prices, and western food. Although it is a place that has many western food dishes, they also serve some Indian dish. But I was soon to realize that they were all over Rishikesh in general.
I ordered a paneer butter masala and plain rice that was exquisite. After check in the room boy gives a towel. After a hot bath, I open the suitcase, and take a shawl out. It was 10 o'clock between one thing and another. Then I went go out to the verandah and see the himalayas sleeping in the dark. Of course, that's nothing for what awaits me in the Nanda Devi! I return to bed to go to sleep.
The first thing I did on the day was go to the satsang. I was there for half an hour with chants and mantras. Most of the audience were foreigners. I noticed certain rules that I had not been aware of until now. It is not to talk, not to show affection, and avoid physical contact.
I felt a little bad when I realized that a western lady had given me a kiss as a greeting, when it is something that is not due. Especially because she knows the rules, but she said she doesn't care. I would have preferred to respect the customs of the site. But in the face of ignorance, sometimes we do something inappropriate. Now I know. I go to go to the free yoga session at the Ashram.
I was very comfortable in the class. I did what my body allowed me, since it was like the third time in my life that I did yoga. I do not understand anything about the different modalities. The teacher explained me to hold my breath as long as possible.
I go out to see the town to the Ram Jhula and visit the ghats, where I put my feet in the Ganga (which is frozen). I turn on the dslr camera to take a picture and surprisingly after taking the first picture it turns off, marking exhausted battery. At the end without the powerbank that stayed in the room and with the battery discharged I could not use the camera. So I take some pictures with my phone of the brave people who are taking a bath.
The river appears very clean and brings a lot of strength. The Ganga as it passes through Rishikesh is famous for its rapids and therefore rafting business. It is also the entrance to the Himalayas. The accesses to the bridges are a spectacle, of light and color and of sound by the stalls that sell musical discs.
In the temples the prayers go on at full volume. The smell of incense is mixed with the sweet of the dessert stands. Near the bridge there is a restaurant where where I have breakfast. The waiter Chotu seems a character from the Japanese Manga.
The guide pick us up to go to do our rafting of 24 km. We go upstream and at the exit of the rafting they give us an explanation of the material and its corresponding use, they distribute us in the rafts. We start the adventure with a couple of maneuvers to coordinate on the raft. With us are beautiful girls, teachers and a little crazy boy who say that he is national sailing champion.
According to the guide, there are 3 strong rapids, and one of which is the maximum for recreational rafting. Between rapids the rafts are coordinated almost without any coordination. In a calm area, our guide takes out a few bottles of soda and a few bags of chips that come as a ring to the finger as the effort demands intake of something to follow.
At the end of the journey the guide congratulates us as he saw us very well coordinated and in shape and we take some photos for the memory. I have not found the reclining Vishnu and take the shared van that leaves me again near Lakshman Jhula. The Ganga divides the town and these bridges are used, only, by people and motorcycles and bicycles.
The cars have to go around the mountain, to get to this part of town, where the most important and visited temples are those that look like wedding halls. I wander around the west side of Tapovan to buy gifts and go to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram to the Aarti Sthall temple to see the ceremony. Like Benares, the priests sing and offer prayer to the Ganges.
They make people sitting around participate, whether meditating, singing, clapping. Then they offer fire to all the participants and offerings of flowers to the Ganges. It is less striking than that of Varanasi, but in my opinion, more spiritual. The people who are in Rishikesh really live it. In Varanasi it seemed more like a show, and only the locals lived it more intensely.
At 8, I went straight to the hotel where they will give me the Ayurvedic massage. In it I get struck by a western lady whose seems to be in a trance. For one hour two girls and one boy massage my whole body. The boys are slow and lazy compared to the girls.
After a little rest I take a shared van to the market and buy incense packs. I call home and mom tells us that everything is fine. Happily I go for dinner in a place with vegan alternatives that appears in the Lonely Planet guide. I order noodles, french omelet and mashed potatoes and rolls. I return to the hotel. The town looks charming in the night.
At 8:30 am I start for trekking route. Another guy and girl joined us. The truth is that they were not very prepared with the clothes for trekking. When we were already on the road, the guide told us that the road was 23 km long and that we can travel by car, and that the one on foot was farther away. He tells that people used to get in a shared car and walk down the path.
I decided to drive up and walk down joined by another couple and we share the expenses. I climbed up to the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, which I was disappointed because I do not know why I had made the idea in my head that it was going to be a nice little place in the middle of the mountain. The only thing to highlight is a thousand-year-old tree that grows in the walls of it, and a fire that, according to what we have been told is burning for 1500 years.
I bought something to eat in a nearby stall and eat it on the fly. The descent has been all along a cement road that runs along the forest. Between that, and the amount of garbage and flip flops that were at the sides, the ride has been less pleasant than I would have expected. But hey, I have walked 3 hours. And I had almost another hour from where I got to yoga class.
I went back to the Yoga class they offer for free. Today we had another teacher with another totally different form of yoga. I dine at the restaurant with open door in the street, which was perfect and delicious. I see them cooking with the open stove and the truth is that it has been very fast, and good. I ordered onion masala dosa, aloo matar and a lassi. The lassi was nothing special.
The car was waiting for me on the way to Joshimath. The landscape is very beautiful. The road runs hanging from the steep mountains and three hundred meters above the river. Forests are still very green, monkeys jump among the trees and the inevitable cows lie down or walk through the irregular asphalt. There are small villages of colors settled on the slopes and white temples crowning the hills.
There is a lot of traffic. It is the time of the Char Dham Yatra, the annual pilgrimage to the four temples located at the headwaters of the rivers that form the Ganges. Soon I arrive at the first detachment that cuts the route. The monsoons have retreated only a few days ago and their torrents gut the ground. A mechanical shovel pulls rocks and dirt to the edges while we wait.
Then, all of them, from both ends, want to go first. Trucks, buses, cars and motorcycles rub against each other and take off the site with a horn. But nobody gets upset. Joshimath continues with the same aspect. The road is its main street and only that it has tripled its length from one point to another.
I see stores on both sides, and one in four sells mobiles, as in the rest of India, while trucks, taxis and other carriages make their way through the crowd with the sound of their horns. And everything is very peaceful. I stay overnight in one of the hotels, the highest one.
I climb a couple of hours more through a magnificent and lonely forest, almost enchanted, to a wide meadow to take some pictures of the Nanda Devi as the eternal white divine queen of Kumaon, as they call it here, is radiant and wonderful.
I stayed in a stupendous wooden cabin located under the ridge just in the upper limit of the level of the forests. I lie down for an hour. It seems that I am acclimating very well to the altitude. Before dinner I talk to young guys from Bangalore, the other inhabitants along with their porters from the cabin.
They were tired with cold and running water from their noses. I have a great hot soup with vegetables. I sleep fully dressed inside the jacket.
In a collective taxi, I go to Badrinath, one of the four most sacred temples in India because there, at the foot of the Nilkanta, is born the Alaknanda, one of the cited rivers. After visiting the colorful and crowded temple and ringing the bell of the entrance to get away from me the evil spirits, I launch myself up the mountain to test my legs.
After so many hours of plane, train and road, I am now in my element. There are some sadhus living in stone huts or under a rock topped by red flags near the path. We exchanged greetings and I keep ascending. I feel still young, but I have to admit that with much more effort.
Again, after the first long climb, the hard crossing of the rough gorges, at times wrapped in fog. I decide to descent. When I see the rocks crowned by orange flags that announce the cabin, I feel a good time to say goodbye to the great mountains. I think aging is like climbing one of them.
I feel younger. Already down the forest I thought about my trekking next year. Or do I keep it for when I'm about to turn eighty? In the afternoon, my smiling, educated, modern guide for the trek, comes to see me at the hotel. I keep acclimating to the altitude. So the next day I'm going to Auli (3,000 mt), a meadow above Joshimath recently converted into a ski resort.