Getting Out of a Megacity to Rishikesh

Big cities compared to smaller cities and towns are  different dimensions within the same land.  This holds true all over the vast earth, and it’s even truer when you’re comparing a megalopolis to a smaller city, town or rural area.

When I bought my train ticket at the Tourist Information Bureau at the New Delhi Railway station, they only had one seat left.  It was in first class.

After hiking around a bit in a station that seemed like many large warehouses blending into one another, I finally found my early morning train. This was thanks to a couple of kind souls that were happy to help a bewildered foreigner.

The air-conditioned first-class journey was an auspicious start to the day.  The ride was tranquil. The views were dreamlike due to the newness.  I felt that I could have sat on that train for days on end.

In the premium train car we were served tea twice, bottled water, and breakfast that consisted of two spicy veggie patties.  Little packaged snacks were also included.  I relaxed and read Shantaram.  I also gazed out at old, dilapidated, trash-strewn towns with dirt roads not much wider than alleyways, and many people. Some were smiling, waving to the train.

We passed farms and workers.   I thought: Drudging in humid, 100 degree plus temps can not favor the life expectancy of these poor, underpaid souls.

The journey took four hours to get to Haridwar, where I crossed through congested traffic and inches of mud to get to a huge chaotic lot of congregated buses.

The comforts of the train turned to a compromising, two hour
stop-and-go bus ride, standing, holding on, and looking out the big windows at a brand new India.  We crossed wide rivers, and saw a giant Shiva statue while brushing up against one another.

After taking a rickshaw to near Lachsman Juhla, which is across the Ganges
River from Rishikesh, I walked and found the guesthouse which I’d researched to have wifi.  The man showed me a non-working modem while looking at me in a somber gaze.

I decided to move on, in search of a place that provided the elusive Internet service.

When you start to cross one of the two suspension bridges to get from Rishikesh to Lachsman Juhla, the idyllic views bring forward memories of fairy tales.  You’re walking high above the holy Ganges River.   A high temple sits across the river on your left.  Hills rise on either side of this renowned river, in parts reminding me of a Norwegian fjord.

Seas of people in colorful, loose clothes and western attire mob the bridge this time of year.  You’ll see a couple of tourist faces while making your way with the pilgrims, cows and people.

There are a couple of caveats.  People  on motorbikes use their horns to say:

Get out of my way pedestrians.”

You must be careful to not have your leg burned by an exhaust pipe.  Be on guard.

You can get a wonderful view of the pilgrims bathing down below, if you’re so inclined; however, this can cause vertigo.

Cute but scavenging monkeys look down at you from the wires, waiting for the next food offering.

Cows slowly meander across.  You just have to be patient as they exist wherever they please.  Having these bovine, grazing meanderers everywhere has become second nature.

Apparently the Beatles came to Rishikesh and recorded the
White Album” in a now defunct ashram way back in the day.

Nobody hassles you in Rishikesh.  This tranquil vibe is a godsend after wandering in
the streets of Delhi.

Rishikesh is a holy city.  Like other sacred cities in India, flesh food doesn’t exist,
nor does alcohol.  They’re both illegal.  The many restaurants that cater
to tourists, pilgrims and locals are vegetarian by default.  Interestingly, the majority of travelers that I’ve talked to here are vegetarian.  This is the place for treating your precious body like royalty.

The FDA recommends nine servings of veggies each day.  I’m probably getting 18.   I’ve discovered a delectable ginger lemon honey tea which has been served everywhere I’ve eaten in Delhi and Rishikesh.  It’s the next best thing to my own elixir.

This time of year the international tourist numbers are scant compared to the fall and spring, when locals have much higher revenues.   However, this time of year there are pilgrims from all over India, walking to an ashram, filling up the two bridges, and bathing in the cool, sacred river.

Rishikesh boasts itself as the Yoga capital of the world.  Travelers come here and stay in ashrams and practice yoga for many hours daily and for weeks at a time.  There are  many options.  You can easily cater to your own time frame.  There is Reiki massage.  You can practice meditation.  Adventure sports like white water rafting and bungee jumping can be set up.  You can trek, visit temples, study Hindi and take cooking classes.

Before coming to India I planned on Yoga, trekking and cooking classes.  Rishikesh is the perfect place for me.  However, the irony is that I haven’t engaged in any of those activities.  Someone, I don’t know who, once said:

Everything in life is a paradox.”

So far I’ve wandered capriciously along both sides of the river, seeing all walks of religious life.   As monkeys, cows and stray dogs are ubiquitous to Rishikesh, I’ve fed them all with whatever leftovers or treats I could muster up.

I’ve sat in a wonderfully relaxing yet hot and mosquito infested restaurant in the hills on multiple occasions.  There I researched a complex and diverse India.  They have a copy of the super thick Lonely Planet India.  I find it very helpful in planning modes of transportation throughout this huge land, or northern region for now.

I’ve sat in other restaurants and enjoyed the wonderful vegetarian cuisine.

I’ve realized that a little bit of Hindi can go a long way.  Of course a lot of Hindi would go much further.  I’ve been trying to study new words and half phrases.  The people
always correct my pronunciation and try to teach me more.  I see pleasant astonishment painted on locals’ faces when I give them a simple:

Shuba rathi.”  (Good night).

I then think: How many tourists try to speak even very basic Hindi?

Randomly, I ended up with an incredible view of the Ganges from outside the door of my $11 a night hotel.  One highlight of my stay was when the Monsoon rain started in the middle of the night.  I stood from my open door and heard the thunder.  I saw the river illuminated by lightning at least 10 times over.  I’d never seen anything like it and found myself uttering in awe:

Woh… Wow… Woh.

It was one of those priceless travel moments.  You had to be there.

As Rishikesh sits at a mere 372m (1,745 feet) above sea level at the foothills of the Himalayas, it’s excruciatingly hot this time of year.  Since arriving from Delhi, I’ve just about gotten used to the time difference, hoped to acclimate to the extreme temps, and have spent longer time than planned to acquire my
internet card.

I don’t regret not taking a cooking course, yoga class or long trek.   I’ve felt the need to get myself settled mentally first.  I look forward to venturing farther north to a higher altitude where it’s possible to breathe crisp mountain air while escaping the oppressive lowlands.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Rishikesh is a great place. I’m just not into these humid 100 degree days. I’m leaving here in a little while to head a bit north to a place called Chandigarth that’s supposedly slightly cooler than here. From there I wanna achieve some elevation where the climate is definitely pleasant.
    Yes the food situation is pretty good. Right now I could not imagine biting into a fat, juicy. fleshy, bloody steak.


  2. Posted by Annie on June 23, 2011 at 19:49

    Nice to read that you were able to relax a bit on your way to your next stop. Decent train ride with AC a bonus! I’m happy that this place is not as crazy as Delhi and besides the heat, i think you will be able to enjoy the area and the culture more without having to be constantly on guard to protect yourself. You must be in heaven with all the veggies to eat too.
    The thunder storm with the lightning lighting up the river must have been awesome to see. Another plus for this stop. 🙂
    How long do you plan to stay in this area? Enjoy!


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