At the break of dawn, in the month of December, we arrive at Haridwaar. As soon as we get off the train, the cool air starts casting its spell on us. With trembling hands, we rush to save ourselves from the clutches of cold and pull out our sweaters from our luggage. Okay, I may be exaggerating but when you are accustomed to live in scorching heat of 32 degree Celsius, even 10 degree can make you freeze.
We had booked a camp at Rishikesh for 2 days. Rishikesh is a small old town in the northern state of Uttarakhand in India. It’s situated on the banks of the Ganges River, surrounded by hills on three sides. The enchanting scenery along with pleasant weather makes Rishikesh an ideal spot for camping. Most people flock here in search of peace or adventure. Rishikesh has many names- Land of God, The Adventure Capital of India and The Yoga Capital of the world. This town is divine and daring with its scenic backdrop, the chants of Hindu prayers and the adrenaline-pumping adventures that it offers. Though Indians have been drawn to Rishikesh since ancient times, it gained prominence in the west when the Beatles came here many years ago. For us, we were more inclined towards adventure stuff, so skipped the ashrams and yoga.
Our camp organizer had arranged a cab for us. The ride from Haridwaar to Rishikesh was truly exhilarating. At 6.am, the roads were deserted with only few people on the streets. While driving, we saw colorful posters of the camps, treks and host of adventure sports. Our cabbie took a halt at the only available food stall for breakfast. We had nice warm Masala Tea and cauliflower bhajjis (little nuggets of cauliflower dipped in gram flour and deep fried) served piping hot with mint chutney. Being a religious place, you will rarely find non veg food here. In fact in most places use of garlic and onions in food is also prohibited. On the long and winding road, our car passed through majestic mountains, freshwater rivers, picturesque valleys and beautiful flora and fauna. We also saw a huge Shiva statue on the way. The route and the journey were just mesmerizing.
The driver dropped us atop a hill. Down the hill we could see our camp with their hoarding. We were at first bemused and thought our driver was kidding. This slope was steep and there was no way we could climb down and reach that camp in single piece. But the reality of the grim situation set in when we called the camp owner and confirmed the location. Apparently going through these perilous hills was the only way to reach the destination. So we prayed the Lords and started descending with labor and luggage. I made the classic mistake of carrying an extravagant amount of clothes in a trolley luggage bag instead of the rucksack which is obviously more conventional. We relived the poem Jack and Jill as me and my friends struggled to climb down, toiling and tumbling all the way down.
Finally we reached the site, bruised and bone tired. But soon our exhaustion was replaced by exaltation as we behold the beauty of the site. It was picture perfect, like you see in poster cards. The lush green trees, spotted grey mountains and gushing sound of river against the stones, the time stood still. So did us. We just sat there for an hour, in peace & quiet. Just absorbing the calmness and soaking in the sun. It felt like a natural therapy, listening to the chirping of birds and glistening in the sunshine, enjoying the sound and sight of nature. Our camp was located right in front of mountains and river stream. There were 8 tents, one common room, eight bathrooms (detached), one kitchen and a huge ground to play basketball, volleyball and badminton.
The hunger pangs & the gong of bell there made us spring and go to the common area where the lunch was being served. The food was simple yet delicious, with typical Indian dal chawal sabzi roti and gulab jamun. Cold days and hot food is best combination to brighten the mood.
After indulging in delicious desi meal and interacting with other members of the camp, we embarked on our waterfall trek at 4 pm. We were accompanied by two guide, two dogs and twenty other people. It was my first & only trekking experience so far. The narrow stream of water in the jungle was our trail which will lead us to our waterfall. I was wearing 3 layers of clothes (it was freaking 7 degree Celsius) and as the trek went on, a layer of clothing went off, till I was in my tee in tracks. The air was thin and my face was redder than the Little Red Riding Hood.After two hours and truckloads of sweat, we reached our destination. And the exertion was worth it. The waterfall was just wonderful. The shape of the waterfall looked like hundreds of little grass umbrellas are attached to the mountains. Nature never stops surprising!Now, if climbing up was difficult, climbing down was a disaster. We were the slowest in bunch of 20 people; our tour guide had abandoned us totally forgetting that we were part of the group. Four of us in the middle of the jungle stranded alone. We were scared and had to get out of there before the dark night sets in.
Luckily for us, the two dogs were blessing in disguise. They never left our side. The waited for us, one leading us and one following us, loyally helping us get out of there. I felt immense love and gratitude for them. It was heartwarming to see such loyalty and love by these furry animals. I was never a pet person but this incidence changed my minds for dog. It was the first time I petted a dog. Unfortunately one of my friends is really scared of dog, and she was terrified the whole time. At one point she was so scared that she just broke down. And we tried to shoo away the dogs for her peace but they would not leave us alone.Somehow we managed to reach camp with sweat tears & torch. So pissed with the tour guide; we blasted at him for the lack of care and responsibility. He apologized and tried to pacify us. (He had too)
We went for a bath & let the hot shower melt our angst & anger. The camp had arranged for a bonfire, and we were most excited for this. Sitting besides the river, under the twinkling stars, accompanied by the bonfire and bunch of friends is bewitching at its best. But our dreams were shattered thanks to some drunken moron guys who started behaving weird out there. They constantly tried to hit on us making us uncomfortable, and played loud brash music and we just did not get good vibes from those people out there. To spare ourselves from eve teasing and eve ruining, we furiously locked up ourselves in tent. We were sulking and bitching that nothing is going right today. Soon the bitchiness, turned into craziness as we started partying and dancing inside the tent, with our phone flashlights. That’s the beauty of friends. Even lockup can be fun with them.
FYI these tents were quite big and comfortable, not those tiny portable ones which you use while trekking Next morning, the camp owner felt really bad that we had skipped dinner after all the bad experience out there. Next day he made sure that we faced no troubles and enjoyed our stay there. This day was reserved for white water rafting. Rishikesh’s proximity to the upper Himalayas along with the passing of the Ganges through this city makes it an ideal spot for river rafting. For adventure junkies, this is one should be on your list of things to do in Rishikesh
Mounting the raft boat on our cab, we set out for the ultimate mission. Our raft route was from Shivpuri to Lakshaman Jhula. Shivpuri was an hour away from our site. And this place was surprisingly exotic. The emerald jade water, the green hills and the shimmering white sand, never knew Ganga can be as cool as Goa.
On the banks our guide was pumping air into the raft. Before starting, he shared with us important tricks and life saving tips packaged with large doses of dark humor. Donning our life jackets and helmets, we jumped onto the rafts. Four of us were accompanied by 6 other guys, including two expert professionals, for rafting. With the chant of ‘Jai Ganga Maya Ki’ we embarked on our raft and left the banks of river. The water was icy cold. At first it was like kayaking, and all of us were singing and chatting and admiring the beauty around us. But the humble boating soon transformed into a monstrous ride when the boat started wobbling & we had to battle against the strong rapids of Ganga. I was excited for the new adventure. We could see to giant wave coming nearer with full force and together we start paddling harder. The giant leap of water smacked us with full force and all of us were completely drenched. It was scary yet exciting and I couldn’t stop screaming or laughing, both at the same time. Eventually we got better with every rapid, and literally outperformed ourselves. That’s the beauty of adventure. It makes you stronger in ways that you would never anticipate. Such a surreal experience.We took a halt at a cliff called Maggi Point. (They sell hot Maggi at that point, hence the name) Cliff jumping was part and parcel of what I had signed up for. Now, more than heights, I was scared of this icy cold water. So, I was reluctant to try it out. But my daredevil friend just went for it, devoid of any second thoughts or hesitation. That sheer boldness, her exuberance and the fact that even 15 year old were jumping; all of these helped me muster the courage to take a leap. I just closed my eyes and went for it. And that free fall of nano seconds seems like forever. The anticipation of water that’s going to hit you very soon, and then it does. I drowned into water due to sheer force and no sooner than I knew, I rise above. Above the water and above my fear. The feeling was magical. The thrill as your heart beats to hyper-drive when you take a leap of faith from the height of a mountain range into the river. It is hard to explain this in words.And then we continued on our raft, no more rapids though. It was calm and relaxing after the cliff. This was my last day here. After rafting, we left the town, but its memories never left us.
I think for me, Rishikesh lived up to its name. A true adventure capital as there was not a day without a crazy adventure. And spiritual city because the moment we stepped in, we were shaken, surprised, awed by the spiritual awakening in ways we didn’t expect nor sought for.