– Shayak Mitra
My perfect vacation at any point of time would probably be sitting in a nice hotel room, sleeping in, and leaving the room just for meals and the occasional trip down to the sea. Basically, my ideal holiday would be to a seaside, and this is not just because I love water. The only reason I like seas more than mountains is because of one major defining factor –level ground. It’s not that I hate mountains – I actually really like mountains – it’s just that I hate that they’re so high up! I’ve always been so scared of heights that there’s this staircase in my school, the one I’ve studied in for 14 years, which I haven’t used till date.
So when my group of friends from college started planning a trip for the Easter weekend, it was really exciting, right up to the point I got to know the destination – Rishikesh, India. A small town in the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is famous for being one of the most religious places in Hinduism. Rishikesh and Haridwar are right by the Ganges, and are home to an almost uncountable number of sadhus. Despite it being around 250 kilometres away from New Delhi and a 5-6 hour road trip, we had decided to take a morning train to Haridwar, and take a cab to our camp.
While planning for the trip, we found that riverside beach camps had been recently banned by the government, because of a judgment by the National Green Tribunal, as these beach camps were hindering the thriving of wildlife around the area. So, all major beach camps had shifted to the Neelkanth Road, along which a small tributary of the Ganges flows. We finally found vacancy in the Outbound Adventures camp that was in the same area, but quite detached from the other camps.
I must say, I was impressed to see the train arrive and depart from the station right on time! More so after some of my college friends, recently, having faced a situation where their 17 hour journey was extended by a further 9 hours! Reaching Haridwar was a smooth journey, with most of the group sleeping through it, having left at 4:30 in the morning!
After reaching Haridwar, we found that local cab-drivers aren’t the most trustworthy individuals, and will do almost anything to receive a fare higher than had been agreed upon, and if you want to use a cab for travel anywhere, book the cab yourself. For example, we were supposed to go to our camp, Camp Outbound, in an area called Paliyan Gaon, on Neelkanth Road, after visiting the cab agency office, on the main motorable road of Rishikesh, Tapovan. The proprietor of the cab company had spoken to one of our parents, and had agreed for a cheaper fare to get us to Rishikesh. The cabbie, on the other hand had other plans, and told us that it would take Rs. 1200/- more, to get to Neelkanth Road. So, after a lot of time spent haggling over a reduced fare, we settled on a fare marginally higher than the original agreement, and much lower than what the cabbie demanded. And this fighting over the fare was not restricted to just one way of the trip. We had to resume the quarrels once we were on our way back to Haridwar station, with a seemingly pessimistic cab-driver who gave up on our hopes of making it to the station on time, even though, there were more than 4 hours left for the train, when we were leaving Rishikesh!
Having been dumped by the cabbie on the road leading up to the camp, we had to walk down to the main camp area, which was around 70 meters downhill. As we got down to the level area, we were greeted by a beautiful stream, clattered with rocks, running by serene hills, in a stunning blend of colours. The camp had served lunch by the time we reached, so after lunch, we sat on the rocks by the stream, watching the distant mountains, and the small fish swimming around the moss-covered rocks, until we had to leave for a trek to a waterfall some 4 kilometers away.
I admit, almost half of the 4 kilometer long trek to the waterfall was on a proper asphalt road, but the next part was like a proper trek, which led to the Patna Waterfall, which I found out is one of the easiest-to-access waterfalls, even though I could not see how it was easy to get to! There’s a small pool that has formed there, and people often bathe there.
After having been up to the waterfall, we decided to go by the riverbanks right under the place where we had to enter for the waterfall, and to enjoy the sunset. The sunset was enthralling, and none of the members of our party wanted to leave the place. However, we had to get on the road before it got dark. So we left, wanting to return to that very place again, for another sunset. It was here that I had a moment like Hrithik Roshan did in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (you know, on the boat, after having finished with their deep sea diving procedure), on a rock, having scaled, although not completely, a major fear of mine – heights – with this trek to the waterfall.
On returning to the camp, we started playing games like Mafia, which can get really addictive, and Antakshari, which continued late into the night. We then had to sleep, because we had to go for rafting quite early in the morning.
On reaching the place for rafting, I discovered, and had to accept for myself, that to go anywhere in Rishikesh, one had to do a fair share of climbing, whether he liked it or not. So, after a few minutes (for the rest of the group, it was not more than a couple of minutes) of climbing down rocks, we reached the banks of the Ganges. Here, Kushal and his group of instructors, who taught us exactly how we were to raft, met us. They assured us that we were not at any risk of drowning, because of our life-vests. Our 10-persons group was divided into two, with two other groups sharing space with us, in two rafts.
At the beginning, we were greeted by mild rapids, called Mickey Mouse, which apparently were the welcoming committee to rafters! As we progressed, we had to get through gentle rapids like Three Blind Mice (where we were told to stand on the raft and balance ourselves); Sweet Sixteen, Black Money, and Body Surfing (where we were told to jump into the water and go with the flow, literally); and intermediate rapids like Golf Course, Clubhouse, Double Trouble, Roller Coaster (which I found out later was right beside the place we were resting after our trek to the waterfall); and, Crossfire and Return to Sender. It was as tedious as it could be, but it was completely worth it! From the minute you get on to the raft, to the very last minute when you’re off the raft, there is an abundance of energy, and adrenaline. More so, maybe because even a little bit of lethargy can end up in adverse situations.
Soon we reached an area with some high rocks, and Kushal asked us if we wanted to jump from the rocks into the water. The current overflow of energy prompted us to answer positively, and we started on our upward climb to the top of the rocks. Our group started with Shiv, who dabbed as he entered the water, and went on to Samvit, who decided to change his pose mid-air, and ended up landing flat on his back, causing him excessive amounts of discomfort over the rest of the course. Soon after the cliff-jump, our rafting course of 26 kilometres came to an end, with aching arms, bruised backs (only for one of us), but I still wanted to go on, because for that much time, it was just me and all my friends trying to survive, leaving behind all other problems of the world.
After rafting, we went to Zostel Rishikesh – our abode for the night – to bathe, and take a couple of minutes of rest, before we went out for lunch. We went to a restaurant called Café de Goa which is right by the Laxmanjhula, the best possible landmark of Rishikesh,. The food was good, but what made me love the place was the service, with the waiter-cum-manager (who may also have been the owner) showing us that restauranteurs in Rishikesh were not made of the same material as cab drivers.
After lunch, some of us went across Laxmanjhula, to watch the Ganga Aarti which we were told took place at Laxmanjhula, Ramjhula, and Triveni Ghat, but when we reached the place in Laxmanjhula where the aarti happens, we found out that the aarti only happens at Ramjhula and Triveni Ghat now. And both those places were at least half an hour’s walk away! Dejected that we had missed the aarti, some members of the group went shopping at the roadside shops, while the rest of the group went to an ashram that our friend Kamakshi had to visit. As we returned to the Zostel, after a long walk, we had to decide where to have dinner, as it was already quite late. So we decided to go to this restaurant on a hill called Bistro Nirvana, which is apparently one of the only places in Rishikesh that serves chicken.
Other than that, we went to the Ganga Beach Restaurant that is quite a nice place if you want to laze around all day, with a book and a cup of tea, with some snack, maybe. 60’s Café, also called Beatles Café, is another really good restaurant, and is recommended by the locals too. Chotiwala is famous for its Indian thalis, and Bhandari Restaurant is known for its cheap, good quality South Indian Food.
Although time did not permit us to visit either the Beatles Ashram or Triveni Ghat, those are two places that must be seen if you go to Rishikesh. And even though we missed out on these two points of interest, for me, it was compensated by the experience we had while rafting.
Visit Rishikesh between the months of March-April and September-October, especially if you want to go rafting. However, you can visit all around the year if you want to go for calmer methods of relaxation, such as yoga.
The author Shayak Mitra is a law student in OP Jindal Global University, Haryana. This article is previously published in www.allpathsoflife.wordpress.com