Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Himalayan (mis)adventure

When my friend called early January to ask us if we would like to join them for a holiday in the himalayas, both of us said yes at once. I was sure I would be able to make it but we were not sure if K (my wife) could join us for the entire trip. Although it was at the back of our mind, we did not think about it until we have a mail from our friend giving us the dates and the possible itinerary that the trip started becoming real. Booking the trains and the places was a flurry of activities, where I had a very small role to play. Even though the trip was months away, some of the train tickets were waitlisted. Talk about the country on the move during the holiday season.

Something that I should have done first was to ask my friend what kind of route we would be taking. Later on when I did eventually ask her, we were to be going through the pilgrims route of Kedar, Badri and Hemkund. This certainly did deflate me. I am not too religious and the last thing I would like to do on a holiday is to jostle around for elbow space with faith-filled-pilgrims. I have nothing against them, just that I, a faithless fellow, would like to avoid taking up space that can be filled by a devoutee. I have stopped going to the Tirupati temple for that very reason. Once in a while, I go visit my friend who lives very close to Tirupati, visit some nearby temples (usually Kalahasti) and then head back. I like to go to temples where I can see the architecture, look at the sculptures, soak in the ambience, watch devotees mill around. Basically not too popular temples. So I told my friend that this route was not too exciting to me. She explained that although there will be many tourists, the sights and sounds are out of the world and that I should experience them atleast once. Yeah?, I said sarcastically, but why on my first trip to the Himalayas. She said, "come on, dont be such a spoil sport". Although that conversation ended my sulking trip, I nevertheless was not over excited about the 'sights and sounds'

The day finally arrived when we had to get to the station and be on the move. The trip to Delhi was OK. Would have loved to take the Rajadhani but thought TN Express would be more comfortable due to the timings. Well I dont know how Rajadhani would have been but TN was certainly not the best of the trips. The train doesnt stop anywhere, the food inside the train was lousy and we were not carrying food like the most of the other passengers. The only two high points of food during the trip were, a lovely mango juice at Nagpur and a great puri-subji at Itarsi. Ater reaching Delhi and after managing to get a dorm for four at the Rail Yatri Niwas, we waited for my friends from Mumbai to reach. After they arrived, after we chatted, after we checked out what munchies we got for the trip, after we finished our baths, we headed out to check out the Delhi metro and get some food at CP.

The metro was great. It was swanky, neat and quite well worked out. We were very impressed. But then because we could not read the signs properly and because the local could not direct us to the right exit, we had to walk a bit before we got to where we wanted to go on CP: a food joint. It was too expensive. The next one was too dirty and also served meat. Since one of us was an animal rights activist, we did not want to hurt his feelings too much by hogging at these veg/non veg joints, although all of us were veggies. Finally ate a meal at the Nirula bar. We had a veg buffet and ran back to the station to get our train.

The AC in the train to Haridwar was too cold and the fan was right above my head. When I wanted to switch off the fan, the lady beind me complained that she was not getting enough air. Ended up having a heavy head. I wondered later, why did I not ask her to swap seats. It was while on train, I realised that we had our room in Rishikesh and that the train does not stop there. So, soon after we got off at 8.00 PM, we hired a strange looking autorick, which that northern part of the country is full off, to drop us at our hotel in Rishikesh. While A and R were bargaining, K went off to buy some litchis. I sat in the front with the driver while the rest squeezed at the back. We went past the Har-ki-pauri, past some temples and some forest before reaching the hotel of GMVN (garhwal mandal vikas nigam), the tourist wing of uttaranchal govt.

While getting here, my first sight of Ganga, was when we went onto a bridge. So, here was a majestic river, in full flow with ghats on my left and a lone lamp floated by, twirling in an eddy. Dont think I will forget that sight for long time. Then later I thought, there was Ganga, which for many people who come here, is a body of holy water that orginates from the lock of the god himself, that in the past has liberated the souls of many of Rama's ancestor, and who will wash away all their sins and help them relieve the burden of karma. But for me, a faith-less fool, what did I want to remember it by? A visual of a lamp floating by. Well I slept that night thinking there are many that make this world and I am one of them.

Anyway, early in the morning we were woken up by one of the GMVN staff , saying that our sumo has arrived. After a breakfast of tea and alu-parathas (which, incidentally we got sick of by the time the trip ended) and a small altercation with the driver, we were off to the hills.

So why was this a mis-adventure? keep watching this space for more... Here is a picture of the hills.

Looking down into the vales