Early that morning, Anand had decided on getting a bike for the day. We were out early enough but got delayed because the rentals were not yet open until 10. We hung around and checked with multiple rentals till we finally settled for 2 Avenger bikes. Bikes are a significantly cheaper option compared to the cost, availability and convenience of taking autos there.
Pramod wanted to visit the Beatles ashram and I, the Rajaji national park for a change of scene. We followed the map for a pleasant drive passing by a sadhu starving himself, plenty of greenery, and several other pilgrims. The ashram was taken over by the Forest department and the guard told us we may not really see animals, so both our destinations were the same. Just beside the entrance of the national park was an area with 5-6 sadhus and plenty of college kids. They were surveying the area for a college project, and just beside this was the Ganga, yet again. We spent some time there and Anand (the introvert?!) managed to get friendly with the sadhus who even offered him a smoke at their home at the cremation ground! We whiled away some time there and then returned. We agreed that the beautiful ride was worth it even without even checking out our original list of places.
We were quite hungry by now and headed to Nirvana Café that was rated quite highly online. And it delivered, a cozy bamboo cottage reached by the bylanes of the town and yummy food in tow. Note : They are generous with their cheese. So we were full before we knew it. And we loved their music.
As tempting as it was to spend all day there, we made a quick pit stop at Laxman Jhula but the weather was too hot for us to really enjoy it much. We packed up and headed to the Dehradun train station for our return to Delhi.
At Delhi the next day we had just enough time to make a stop for an hour to shop and then were happy to return to a place that will always be beyond compare, home.
The weather in the past 5 years had been playing up with my travel plans to the Valley of flowers, and this year’s monsoons and stories of landslides in Uttarakhand didn’t help calm my nerves. However ,a friend had just returned and a quick call with her the night before gave me a bit more hope than I could have mustered myself. Getting on the flight I knew I had to have luck on my side since the great Rajnikanth was everywhere we looked! Painted on the neighboring flight and even “the movie”‘s music on our own. Prashanth, Shwetha, A and I reached Delhi and after a few jumps across Metro lines, reached Karol Bagh where Lout was waiting for us while doing his trek shopping, him being the last day addition to the trip. We picked a few rucksack covers and other miscellaneous items and decided to keep our luggage in the railway cloak room so we could roam the city a lot lighter since we had been carrying the unfamiliar weight of rucksacks with 10 days’ worth luggage.
Such a simple plan but of course, life lessons need to be learnt
New Delhi railway station has 16 platforms and we’d gotten in at the 16th one. The waiting rooms were in platform 1.
The cloak rooms will refuse to take your luggage unless you have a lock on it. It can be a flimsy lock and need not even need to actually lock all sections on your bag. But a lock needs to be present.
You will not be allowed to sit in the waiting room unless you are less than 2 hours away from your train’s departure time.
The last point meant that despite Delhi’s terrible heat (relative measure to folks pampered by Bangalore’s weather), we didn’t have the option of hanging around in the cooler waiting room neither did it support our initial plans of being touristy and visiting a few places. So we headed off to Connaught Place to kill some time.
A little after we got there, Prashant managed to see far off on the distance a structure, and A was convinced it was Humayun’s tomb. My interest in the Mughals notwithstanding, I was too dehydrated to want anything other than a drink at the time and so deserted them and headed to a coffee place nearby with Lout. Prashant, A and Shweta headed off in that direction. Just as we recovered, they headed back narrating their own adventure of following the sight on foot and not finding it, a rickshaw driver told them that what they’d seen was just a decorated entrance of a big sweet store there 😀 Ah well. So they joined us and some chaat , momos, photography and dinner after which we got back to the railway station.
This time, we were close to our train’s time to be allowed into the waiting room. A chat with a sweet Punjabi couple ensued who made for interesting conversation.After the long day, as soon as our heads hit the train berth we dozed off in exhaustion.
Day 2 : Rishikesh
We woke up as the train chugged into Dehradun and picked a bus just outside the station, to reach Lakshman Jhula at Rishikesh. Mercifully our hotel let us have an early check-in and we all could freshen up and feel human again after the previous day’s grime. We then headed off in search of a meal. Though it was the season to visit Valley of Flowers, it was not the season for Rishikesh. And restaurants though seemed open, informed us they weren’t. After several false starts, we stuffed ourselves silly at Hotel Dev Palace. It was also hot and humid here and so we decided to head back for a short nap. Early evening the rest of the group had arrived and we visited them at their hotel.
We decided to walk to Ram Jhula for the day’s aarti. The place had a decidedly hippie feel to it. A mini-goa with Sadhu’s, cows and yoga classes added to the mix. It wasn’t too crowded, for a religious place. We ambled along and found spots to sit/stand for a good view of the aarti. The air rang with sounds of chanting for about an hour and people had plonked themselves all around that point. We saw a wide platform jutting into the enchanting Ganga river and wondered what it was for. The aarti was performed facing the platform and the water, though enticing, was bitterly cold.
A quick search later led us to know that the platform had held a tall statue of Shiva in the seated posture but was washed away in the 2013 floods. Pictures show it to be a gorgeous structure but it’s quite a lesson in nature doing her thing. The aarti itself was not as dramatic as that in Triveni Ghat or Haridwar but it had a more intimate air to it with a smaller crowd.
Across the temples by the Ganga that we’d visit in the following days, we’d see folks selling plastic cans so people could fill in water from the Ganga and take it back home. The irony that they are polluting the same water by putting in huge amounts of flowers, incense, lamps and themselves in it before they do so, seemed to be blissfully lost on them. The place has people with varying levels of curiosity and devotion – from tourists hoping not to offend anyone, to people in a trance at the chanting at the aarti time. While I could appreciate the allure of the chorus filling up the air, personally I preferred the silence after it was all done. With the waves splashing up against each other, the murmur of people seemed far behind as we paused to really savor the natural treasures of the world we live in.
We took the prasad from the temple (sweetened water and some sugar) and walked back along the busy lane. We stopped at a makeshift oven on a cart for freshly made piping hot nankhatai (butter cookies) that were luxuriously crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth at the same time. The rest of them even tried some hot badam milk from another vendor and we went on foot in search of the German bakery recommended by Neethu.
It was a very long walk. Our first lesson in not trusting the hardened locals when they give estimates to places that they find easy to walk to! We walked and walked, past narrow bylanes, badly lit spots, seemingly endless pathways, and deserted areas. These towns close down early and so there were fewer and fewer people as we got there. There are multiple “German Bakery”s on the way and we were told to search for the Devraj Coffee corner German bakery. We finally got there and the walk was completely worth it. Lasagna, fruit and vegetable salads, vegetable steaks, fruit juices without sugar, and my French onion soup. They all got a thumbs up from the group and we were completely satiated. Another long walk and a shower later we embraced easy slumber.