Mumbai - Delhi - Rishikesh
07.03.2013 - 16.03.2013 25 °C
My flight from Israel was at night. I arrived safely in Mumbai airport on Thursday, the next morning. On the flight itself I sat next to an Israeli girl whom I ended up talking to for most of this eight hour flight. She was younger than me and on her first trip after her army service. Eventually, after landing in Mumbai, she went her way, to the south of the country, whereas I was heading to Delhi. I had a five hour connection in Mumbai and not much to do there. I spent my time reading and listening to music, while waiting for the flight that takes me north, to Delhi. After five hours that I felt like they wouldn't end, I flew to Delhi on a short domestic flight with Indian Air.
When I landed, my survival instincts took over, I quickly detected the first Israeli I saw, and we banded together because Israelis are stronger when in numbers. We ended up gathering seven people. A pack. While talking, we all said we need to get to the same place, the main bazaar in Delhi. We all split two taxis out of the airport and in to the city, I was with two other guys. This is where we met India for the first time. A billion people in cars, bikes, rikshas (small bikes with three wheels that acts like a small taxi), wagons carried by donkeys and yaks, on the same road, overtaking each other from all directions. No road rules at all.
Omer told me in which guest house he and his girlfriend, Noya, are staying in, and this is where we went, Hotel Harre Ramma. I got there while they were still asleep, after a night bus that they took and had no sleep in. I woke them up, and they were surprised to see me like this without any warning and very happy as well. They showed me around in the bazaar area, which is basically a street market. Leather shops, tailors, shoe and spices shops of all kinds, and souvenir shops. The alleys were very cramped and narrow, and everywhere you go someone is trying to sell you something. Omer took me shopping after we ate dinner. We went in to a leather shop, and I bought a leather belt for less than 15$. The next shop was a very nice Indian man's called Uri's shop (an all most Israeli name, but probably a short for some long Indian name), he took my measurements and made me overnight jeans for less than 20$. I can finally buy a new wardrobe on my own terms. It's been five years since the last time.
Anyway, after walking around some more, and just looking, we had to find a way to leave Delhi as soon as possible. Omer led the way to another nice Indian man, called Charley. Charley is a travel agent, and is the man to see if you need to get somewhere. Everyday at 15:30 a train leaves Delhi to a city called Rishikesh, and that is where we wanted to go, so we asked Charley about train tickets, but he said it was overbooked until the 11th. We didn't like the idea of being stuck in Delhi for more than a day, because Omer and Noya had precious little time left here in India. We both came back to the guest house beaten, but still not defeated. We spent the rest of the night eating and drinking and just talking about our options for the following day. The next morning we came back to Charley, this time re-enforced by a woman that knows what she wants, and how to get there. Noya finally asked Charley if he can set us up a taxi all the way to Rishikesh, fours hours away by train, by car it should take six, he got us a young driver, and two hours later, we checked out of the guest house, and were already on our way to Rishikesh. We left Delhi at four in the afternoon. Our driver may have been young, 23-24 we understood from him, but he knew the way perfectly and took his job very seriously. We felt completely at ease with his driving. The ride dragged on for just over seven hours in the end, because the ride was mostly slow paced because of all the traffic. It was very often slowed down by wagons full of wood, people, materials, goods, by big trucks, buses, and pedestrians completely obstructed by the dark. On one particular break, about halfway, we stopped to refuel. This is where I saw what kind of an effect a pretty blond girl could have on people who probably had never seen one before. Indians like to stare, if its worth stopping anything and everything they were just doing, they can just group together, stand there and just look. It's kind of eerie when dozens of people just stand and stare at something or someone. As quickly as the tank was full again, we took off from there, because Noya was starting to feel Very uncomfortable with the whole "show". Lucky for us we had cookies that Omer's mother home-made for us, we shared with our driver of course, and carried on with the journey. On the way I had a long time to observe and absorb. On a drive like this you get to really see, hear and, more than anything else, smell India. It's very hard to breath here while on the roads, because of all the fumes and pollution. We stopped only one more time for Indian chai, and asked the driver to get us there as quickly as possible. Well, actually we mimed it more that anything else, because our driver couldn't speak a word of English.
After an interesting, fun, and tiring ride we arrived right at the river crossing inside Rishikesh, and another Israeli friend of Omers was waiting for us to show us the way, across the bridge to his guest house. He is about to finish a six months trip, with his girlfriend, across half of Asia. They gave us mattresses to sleep on for the night, and fed us in their guest house apartment.
The next morning we moved in to our own room, with a double and a single bed, a kitchen and a bathroom. We spent most of the day getting to know the area around us, and mostly doing nothing. We bought some cloths, and food to cook.
The town itself is very small, it lies on both sides of the Gangas river. Most of the town is just one big market, and the area is full of tourists for one reason. Rishikesh is where The Beatles visited India in the '60. There's a big yoga ashram just two or three km away, so we walked there. The way to the yoga temple is horrible. You pass through town, and all of the town's garbage is just lying there in the streets, cow crap litters the paths, the place is a mess. On the way, we saw yoga temples and even a big sign for an International Yoga Festival. Who knew they existed. The Gangas river flows from the north, and is extremely clean at that particular area. The water is freezing because it flows from the Himalayas. The ashram we went to today, is an abandoned complex of buildings and shrines. Houses and small hangers lie dead among the foliage and growth. It is so overgrown with vegetation, it's hard to walk from building to building. Inside the main temple (if that's what it was), there are signs of a small community that used to live there, looks more recent than The Beatles' visit. The people who lived there made their mark by painting on the walls, and leaving also a dedication. There's not much to do there, the place is exactly what it sounds like, abandoned and filthy. It's too bad nobody took care of the place all those years, it could have been something really special. We didn't stay there for too long, because Noya, Omer's girlfriend, couldn't handle the walk for too long, she had a hard time there so we started to make our way back to the guest house, meeting three other Israelis that went to the ashram as well on the way, so we walked together. The people of the town make it a habit of washing themselves in the river, it looks mostly clean, and it comes all the way from the Himalayas, so the water is freezing. At some point on the way back we stopped to rest right on the riverbed, we washed our heads and feet in the freezing water until the police came. Maybe it's not allowed for tourists to enter that particular spot, who knows, we couldn't really understand what they were yelling at us.
The next two days we spent on motorbikes. We rented two, from a small agency around the corner from our guest house. We took them across the bridge to the other side, we saw monkeys roaming the streets like they own them. On the bridge, we saw them pray on the unsuspecting, snatching food out of their hands. We went across town looking for interesting things to see, finding only one small, insignificant waterfall. It hasn't rained here in ages, so there isn't much water in the river and streams. The "waterfall" was very sorry-looking. Other than that, only scenery was left. That was something else, let me tell you.
We found a vantage point overlooking the entire valley, from east to west. The Gangas river flowing gloriously from the east, slithering it way below the city. Above that, the mountains towering, leading it away in to distance, finally curving away to north behind another slope. The city, from afar, looks completely different than from within. Magnificent temples in various colours, stand above the rest of the buildings. Hotels, restaurants and shops can clearly be seen. We ended those two days having dinner in a Nepali restaurant, talking about what should we do next.
After a few more days of basically just relaxing, sitting with people and getting to know new friends, we decided we should continue our movement northward. Our next destination will be Kasol. We planned a late night mini-bus ride across countryside, for Saturday night. We gathered our companions and reached 12 strong. Before that, we still had Friday night to take care of. We cooked a great big dinner for fifteen people, each one did something else to help with the group effort. Omer and I went shopping for veggies in the market, and seeing on the way two cows fighting over a scrap of garbage. When we returned, we joined the cutting and the slicing and the cooking. we sealed the evening with great food and company. We didn't stay up too late, because tomorrow morning we needed to check out early.
We spent the next day, Saturday, in chai shops, eating lunch, and playing card games the whole afternoon. Toward evening, we started to gather all the people who were coming with us.
So far, I find India quite disappointing. It really wasn't what I was expecting, but I do have experience in countries that have neglected themselves. The things I experienced in Bolivia are not much different than some of what I've already seen here so far.
I am still Intrigued by what people find India so special. Maybe Kasol will show me some thing else, but that I will know only tomorrow, after the gruelling ride still ahead of me.
Until then, Happy Birthday to Oran, Adam and Yuval who had their birthdays the same week I left for India.
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