Day 9, 16 Jun 08
Back to Hrishikesh
6.00 am, Rajo’s call ensures that we are ready for the long return trip back to Hrishikesh. Last night we’d asked Rana, Pratap Rana to help us get a taxi back to Hrishikesh. Around 7.00 Rana calls and says he can’t make it. He was unable to get this taxi in the union’s queue for the Uttarkashi-Hrishikesh trip. But he has arranged another fellow. He makes his presence at 8, and helps us host all the luggage on the carrier and drives the Maxx to the market area where he introduces us to ‘Bharat Gonsai’, our driver for the 5-6 hr long journey. He is a slim person with a typical gharwali skin, fair but pale, bony face with brown eyes. As we leave the Uttarkashi hills, the beautiful early morning just got better with the calm Sun being overshadowed by clouds which start to pour easily. Sun rays, Glowing rainfall, green backdrop, twisting roads and Himalayas, Beauty!!!
Almost half hour into the journey or more, the rains have started to fall hard. We’ve reached Dharasu band and all are hungry, and we pull the taxi near a road side shack. A typical North indian joint, Food items and its creation all at display. We have a heavy breakfast of chhole and Samosa, popularly called as ‘Chaat’ in many parts of India, But just a staple morning food here. With everybody gulping 2 plates each, energy replenished! In the car, everybody was enthusiastic about our future endeavours. We decided to have some conversation with the driver, Gonsai. But as opposed to yesterdays’ cabin crew, Rana, who was a dashing, street smart, well dressed fellow, today’s personnel wasn’t that great. Just a simple villager. He didn’t even answer our questions correctly, forget correctly in the right direction. I was just curious about the Car’s engine capacity,
इंजन कितने cc का है?
to which he replied
चार सिलिंडर का इंजन है
Me and Mallik were looking at eachother wondering if we should laugh, or not. We did in the end knowing that even our laughter wouldn’t put any questions in the driver’s mind. The long winding roads of NH 94 through the beautiful Himalayas make me feel bad as I’m not sure when would I be able to experience it again. A lot of last snaps of the ever towering hills and valleys keeps most of us busy for the first hour or so. After which the journey begins to grow monotonous. But soon we are amidst the ‘New Tehri’ region overlooking the deep blue catchment waters of mighty Bhagirathi. The catchment water view is well over a kilometre. The great expanse of the area, the beige coloured mountains, the eroded soil that creates a vast banks along the catchment, the huge blue water and all of that encompassed by tall hills of the Himalayas. Its a sight that one can’t just miss.
2.15 pm, We finally reach Hrishikesh, the climate had changed from cool 18-20 °C to around 21-23 °C. The taxi parked near the ST stand. Mallik had been here before, So we had a destination and a guide already. First was to look get into a Vikram to lead us to Ram zhula or the swaying bridge, we were to cross the Ganga and then have some food and go looking for accomodation in the Dharamshalas or the ashrams. We somehow get into a Vikram with all our big backpacks and the vikram’s 3 min. long journey comes to a halt near the bridge’s foundation. The bridge is steel cabled bridge with bindings only at the very ends. The plying area of bridge is just about 5-6 feet in width, with huge steel cables empowering the bridge. The whole structure reminds me of the Geometric figures in which two perpendicular lines were joined by set of lines. Our first steps on the bridge, and we knew why it was called a ‘jhula’ or a ‘sway’. Everytime it just vibrated with the heavy footsteps and at times swayed laterally. I was astonished to see 2wheelers making through the crowded 5 feet wide bridge in the crowd. When we were at the dead center of the bridge, we stood there while we witnessed the Ganga, or the Bhagirathi (name changed after Devprayag’s confluence with Alakhnanda) breezing past below our feet. Beige colored with the color of the rocks of the himalayas that it has been eroding from its journey from the Gomukh, Gangotri and so on. The monkeys at the bridge made sure that nobody is careless with belongings. The monkeys come down pick, snatch food items and climb back along the cables to the top of the bridge.
Around 2.30 we get to the otherside and into a very crowded, noisy restaurant, ‘Chotiram’. Even though its a Monday, its extremely crowded, We had to wait for few minutes before we could get a seat to sit. I was amazed to look at the Menu card. The rates were as high as a decent Mumbai hotel, which means that for a localite this hotel was way to expensive. Or perhaps it was not meant for the localite but just for the visiting tourists and foreigners. We had a thali, and we moved quickly from the choking place, out on the narrow streets of Rishikesh. Outside the hotel there was a ‘chotiram’ mascot, a fat, bald man with lots of makeup sitting right at the entrance gate. Man !!! this hotel knew how business was done in the Metros!! Our next aim was to find accomodation. Every ashram or dharamshala that we visited was way to crowded, which also meant Mallik and Vijay came back with ‘no vacancy’ response. We failed in our first 3 targets, all these ashrams were lined up parallely long the banks of the Ganga, the road about 12-15 feet wide dividing the Ashrams’ boundries and the ‘ghat’ on the banks of Ganga. We were not too worried about accommodation, we had a lot of problem while trekking related to sound and dry sleep. So we knew we could manage anywhere. But ‘Parmarth Niketan’ didn’t disappoint us. It was almost 4.30 when we finally made an entry into the rooms. We had booked 2 rooms with 2 beds each. One person in each room was extra and we had to manage. But the neatly laid soft bed with bedsheets, pillows was like heaven to all of us who had endured wet, cold nights in Bebra and Manjhi sleeping in wet sleeping bags. We got fresh, washed many clothes and moved out for ‘Hrishikesh Discovery’.
Our first stop was to see Laxman Jhula the first bridge @ Rishikesh. We took a Jeep to laxman jhula. Mallik was disappointed at the sight. He said the Laxman Jhula too was now made of Concrete and steel cables. Initial it was made of wood and cables which made it sway even more. It now was similar to the Ram jhula. We made sure we didn’t lose any opportunity of snaps on the bridge. At the other end we saw a vendor selling ‘shikanjhi’ or lemon juice with the added attraction of ‘Goti Soda’ (that was just for us!). Goti Soda is a Soda in glass bottle which is sealed with a use of a marble or a ‘goti’. The idea is that the air pressure within the bottle pushes the marble otwards to the nozzle, but since the diameter of the marble is more than that of the nozzle, the air pressure locks the marble at the nozzle. To break the seal is just to push the ‘goti’ inside with a thumb, which creates an odd sound, that like plucking a finger from the cheeks.
Next up was a gem shop, none of us wanted to purchase any but.. we were tourists and had to behave like wise, so window shopping. The shop boasted of Gems, Rubys, Turquoises, and many more, even that of a single headed ‘Rudrasksha’, I didn’t even know what ‘single headed rudraksha’ means till Amey explained it to me. I and Mallik were now interested by this cyber cafe, It was Euro 2008 and just like every Euro competition I was missing it. 10 days had past and I hadn’t made any match. So Mallik and I were browsing at this ‘broadband’ cyber cafe, checking emails, etc. While Vj, Rajo, amey and nikhil moved ahead into the streets and promised to be back at the cafe by another hour. There seemed to be another set of bad news, The train problem was still on, Gujjars making sure that we couldn’t sleep easy. Yet again we were considering Flight options.
An hour later we were back crossing the Laxman Jhula and on the streets window shopping, it was taking away lot of our time. We had to make sure we were back in Parmarth Niketan by 10.30. Another shop of shawls gobbles away more than an a hour. Rajo, Nikhil, Mallik, Vj all busy checking whats good in Shawls, kurtas, and host of other ‘khadi’ items. By the time we were again on streets it was almost 10.15. Which meant that there wasn’t enough time for food, So we decided to have sweetlime juice, each one of us had 2 glasses full of the juice, and on our way back even purchased biscuits, 4 packets of maggi, etc for a quick meal. At the ashram, me and Vj get out our eating apparatus and people cook maggi. I don’t feel like eating so sleep is next till our next day’s venture of Mussoorie.