Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Rishikesh Ahoy!

[Note: This post started out from a question that entered my mind JLT. But when I actually started to write, the words just flowed and flowed. Will be completing it in two, maybe three parts. This, of course, is the opening salvo.]

Over the years, I’ve found myself taking a weekend breaks from the madness of it all to the cooler climes of the foothills of the Himalayas in the lap of the mighty Ganges just beyond the holy city of Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. Have been doing so religiously(?) every six months for a little over 2 years now. And the best part is that every trip leaves me feeling so fulfilled, so refreshed that I tell myself every time, “That’s it, I’ve finally had enough; this trip was the best ever – next break to a different station.” But six months down the line, it’s that same familiar itch and the SMSing and e-mailing commences in search for partners in crime.

Sometimes – at the most random of times too – I ask myself what draws me to the place? Why can’t I tell myself to experiment with a different destination? Or give in to my parents’ pleas to visit them in nearby Dehra Dun instead? Why do I utilize the precious license of leave from a hectic job for the same experience spanning the same activities at the same place time and again?

Or is it the same thing every time?

I certainly DON’T do it for a number of reasons: Am I religious? No. Most certainly not. (Am a teetotaler, hence not even ‘spiritual’ so to speak!). Is it the climate? Negative again. It’s great weather year round up there, but the same can be found at myriad hill stations. The food? Nothing exceptional. Lodging and living comfort? Hah, no chance. Drive must be terrific? Nope.

Then WHAT?

I’m in story mode now.

Once one decides to set out to Rishikesh for a weekend of adventure sport (read: rafting) and camping, the first thing that hits you is the pathos on the highway. Old-harboured notions of a road cutting through fields of mustard take a back seat as reality hits you hard in the face (uh-okay, at least in the nostrils and ears). The exit from Delhi-NCR ranges from bothersome to torturous. Traffic snarls, blaring horns, tempers – heck, it’s like driving to work!! Once out of the capital, the highway never seems to break free from the shackles of urbanization, it’s mile after mile of townships, industrial areas, even bazaars, educational institutions. Small positive is the famed Shikanji (lemonade) of Modinagar, where generations of families have been dispensing this refreshing drink to highway travelers. After a couple of hours from Delhi, the road opens out and you ease the car into top gear but not for long – the township of Meerut is surrounded with sugarcane fields and one has to put up with massive convoys of bullock carts and tractors ferrying the reaped cane to nearby sugar mills. Back to 2nd gear. Foot on clutch. Palm on horn. Patience on edge!

Slight digression here:
Being in Delhi, one is pampered by the developments made by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI); it is an absolute pleasure to cruise on the National Highways towards Jaipur or Chandigarh or Agra (okay, okay...the pleasure commences once the chaos of the NCR satellites of Gurgaon/Faridabad has been overcome, though nowadays the drive to Gurgaon gives one an idea of why the things are called ‘flyovers’ in the first place). The drive to Rishikesh is the same distance as Delhi-Jaipur but takes a little over 6 hours. I think that conveys the point!

Back to narrative: Finally, after a snack break roughly halfway down the drive, we leave behind the pothole-ridden road behind and head for the UP-Uttarakhand border and the drive improves. After the towns of Roorkee and Haridwar (one gets fleeting glances of the IIT and Har Ki Pauri), one moves through the jungles towards Rishikesh. It’s a magical drive – dense forest interspersed with open spaces where you catch the occasional neelgai grazing, crystal clear babbling brooks, butterflies (and glow worms at night) along the road, clean and cool air. You hit Rishikesh and then begin the ascent beyond (all campsites are located along the river going upstream for about 20-30 km).

And that’s when it hits you for the first time. That’s when you feel that all the discomfort during the drive has been worth it. It’s not just the sight – the pristine waters of the majestic river winding through the gorge – or the slight nip in the air, or even the brightness of the sunshine and blueness of the skies above. It’s all that and much, much more. What truly hits you is the sheer magnificence of Mother Nature at her very best – the lungs fill up just that little extra with the mountain air, the eyes adjust to the wonderfully bright sun as you stretch your limbs. All senses go “Wow” at the same time.

[to be continued...]

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