The next day I spent languishing in bed, under attack from a misdirected case of Delhi Belly. It somehow lost it’s way and found me in Rishikesh. And this, combined with a day hotter than mid-summer in hell, resulted in a day of great discomfort for me. At least the monkeys had buggered off so I could scuttle back and forward between room and toilet without having to arm myself with anything long and whackworthy. Who’d read about it though – me in an absolutely beautiful and terribly auspicious place and all I can do is look at the ceiling wall fan and the barely-hanging-together toilet door from the inside – not exactly the view I had in mind when I came here. What’s more, to really make it sickening, it was full moon. And not just any full moon – a Blue Moon. Sigh. Oh well, at least we enjoyed the moon last night, rising over the Himalayas, whilst listening to Pink Floyd. Of course, there was the obligatory indian dog barking it’s head off just outside our gateway for ages on end, to add a grounding touch to the scene. It was funny though, ‘cos about every 10 minutes when we’d all lost our auspicious patience with the mangy cur’s chorus, I’d mutter under my breath that someone should throw a rock at that dog. And sure enough, about 3 seconds after I said this each time, a rock would land on a piece of corrugated iron beside it and it would shut up for a short while. Me and somebody out there were obviously in sync.
NOTE: Even in the Western world Rishikesh is auspicious, as the Beatles wrote about 38 of their songs there, including “Obladi, Oblada” (what on earth were they thinking with THAT one??!!).
Needless to say, the day of the toilet was very uneventful, and the things that did eventuate I doubt you want to hear about.
Moving right along. Yesterday morning, we awoke to the blessed sound of thunder and rain. This lowered the temperature so much that I actually left our room and skipped a little rain dance, so happy was I not to be broiling alive any more. The green was greener than ever, the air was fresh and as yet untainted by the landrovers revving their engines by the gate below, the dog had lost it’s voice and I could actually move more than 3 feet without heading for the great white telephone. Ahh, the little joys in life.
We had a nice morning yakking and “taking chai” (in other words, lingering as long as decently possible over tea in a cafe while forking out as little money as possible) with a German couple also staying at our gueshouse. Our train wasn’t leaving until 11pm last night, so we had plenty of time on our hands. We also had a dip in the Ganga (Ganges River). You just can’t come all the way up here and not pay homage to the river – Ganga Ji. Surprisingly cold actually. Well, maybe not so surprisingly, considering it comes straight out of a glacier or something in the highest mountain range in the world. Funny how I should be so surprised. (Rolls eyes at self.)
Finally, we prepared for takeoff, having procrastinated at top speed, reluctance enhanced by the fact we now had to walk up very steep steps in the sun wearing backpacks. Remember those steps we meandered down when arriving here? Yes, there they squatted, patiently waiting, knowing full well that we would have to return and do the ‘up’ thing. And it hurt about as much as I expected.
We comforted ourselves, once recovery of breathe was retained, with a ride in a rickshaw all the way back to Haridwar, where the railway station is. The sort of rickshaw that one would normally think six people would squeeze into comfortably, and Indians can get at least 16 people into. We forked out enough rupees to have the darned thing to ourselves. Such opulence! Such indulgence! It felt great. Several people tried to flag the driver down along the way, but we had paid full fare ourselves and they looked on with disbelief as the driver went on by with only TWO PEOPLE IN IT!! It wasn’t nice of us to be smug about this, but we were anyway. The sides are open in these rickshaws, so you get a nice breeze. And also, if you can time them between the judder bars and potholes, you can take some good photos from out the sides. And to top off this fabulous experience, you have an almost front row seat of the driver playing chicken with buses, trucks, cars, other rickshaw drivers. etcetera. Quite exhilerating really – makes you feel alive. And lucky to be so from one second to the next.
So we obviously made it in one piece, and found ourselves with several hours to kill in Haridwar. Turns out it was an auspicious day of some sort (there are many of these throughout the year – if you miss one, another one will happen along shortly) and there were crowds of people thronging the banks of the Ganga. We wandered through the bazaar, which really looks like it’s name – full of shiny pretty things, stall after stall, lane after lane. We ate, we watched, we took photos, we ate some more, we took chai, we resisted touts and we saw only 3 other white faces that we could count. At dusk, the crowds gathered at the ghats (steps down to the river) and various and sundry things were going on – don’t ask me what because I really don’t get Hindi over a fuzzy microphone at the best of times – but it all looked like fun.
We did manage, however, to stay on the edge of the crowd and get a seat in a dhaba for dinner before the madding crowd turned up there. So we sat at a table (open air) and watched people, and they watched us. We figured some of them probably thought we were djins (ghosts) with such pale skin. Paul reckons most Westerners pass by this town and go straight on to Rishikesh, which is the Yoga capital of the world. We certainly were the object of the curiosity of many. After a while you learn to stare somewhere over their shoulders and look slightly bored, then once they’ve had their visual fill, they move on.
We only bought one thing each at the bazaar – I bought a shawl (rather proud of my powers of resistance to shopping here) and Paul bought a DVD which is really, really corny Indian music but features much of the local landscape. While he was buying it the powerpole a few feet away blew up with a spectacular shower of sparks. India is never a boring place.
Finally, back to the dreaded railway station, where of course the train you are assured many times over will leave at 10.55pm isn’t even at the station yet at 11.15pm. At one stage we wandered outside to sit on the steps and were suddenly surrounded by a reasonably-sized crowd of Indians who wanted to take a photo of us. We sort of shrugged and said O.K. (fair’s fair, we take photos of them) and before we knew it, a gorgeous woman was snuggled up next to Paul and posing, then a man tried to snuggle up with me for the same thing. I stopped in in his tracks with a stare and a “Noooo” that could have frozen lead, and hauled out the old “Tum bahut sherati ho!” (You are VERY naughty) routine. Well, that did it. Now they were even more fascinated. So that was another quarter hour of entertainment – more wonderful for them than it was for us. How do you explain to a babbling crowd that you speak no Hindi, even though you just spoke some to them? And one woman wanted my $2 shop japanese fan, although she couldn’t have bought it off me for $50 at that moment, in that heat. Various expletives did come to mind near the end of all this, but we managed to stay polite until they drifted away, then we ducked back inside the station to the comparative privacy of just being stared at by the hoards, as opposed to being babbled at also.
The train finally turned up and we climbed into the blessed relief of Air Conditioned cells. This was more upper class than we’re used to, and made even more attractive by the fact that noone was interested in us. The Railways actually provides sheets, blankets AND pillows in this section, so we were almost beside ourselves with ecstacy at this unaccustomed luxury. I told Paul my cunning plan of letting him do the worrying about what station to wake up for and promptly fell asleep. Aahhhhhhh. If only we could afford to travel like this more often. Still, you don’t know what luxury is if you have it all the time, huh? There’s nothing like roughing it to hone your sense of the fine things in life.
Speaking of which, I might go and wallow under the fan again and save up some energy for the next foray into the depths of Paharganj, Delhi.