I always wondered about the outside world, people across different parts, their culture, rituals, cuisine, thought-process, and how things work outside our comfort zone. Travelling teaches all of this. It broadens our perspective of looking at the things. Every time I try to plan a solo trip I come across advice like- “Hey! Ekta, travelling alone is not a good idea. Go with someone reliable.”
I remember making group travel plans with friends that were seldom implemented. The lesson here is, make yourself your exclusive travel partner and you’ll have an awesome journey with zero betrayals. You’ll realize how stupid it was to ditch it only because you had no companions.
It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. “Ekta, you’ve to travel.” I didn’t want to dodge my urge for travelling. However, now I realize that it had something to do with my pre-menstrual mood-swings too. But travel to where? How? Budget? Hmm!!
Where is my phone? Let’s explore options on the Internet and make few calls for suggestions. Done. Now travel agents to get quotes. No- no, firstly it’s tight on my budget, and secondly, I don’t want to follow a fixed schedule.
Woah!! I can get a Tatkal Ticket in this train going to Haridwar. I readied my backpack with all the essentials and left for the train station. By the time I reached Haridwar, it was late at night. Fellow passengers suggested that it’s safer to stay in Haridwar for the night and go to Rishikesh the next morning as it will be difficult to find transport and accommodation in Rishikesh.
Not possible. I’ve to reach Rishikesh before it’s 12 AM. It’s a challenge now. I knew that Bus Stand is somewhere in front of the Railway station but where exactly? Bhaiya, bus stand ke liye kaise jayenge? (Bhaiya, how to reach Bus Stand?) “Madam 50 Rupees lagenge, door hai, drop kar denge”. (It’s a little far. Pay ₹50, I’ll drop you.) Whaaatt? No, man, you can’t befool me this time. Another man told, “madam, aage jaake right lelo, 5-minute ka raasta hai”. (Go straight, and then take a right. It is only a 5-minutes-walk away) Many a time, Autowalas duped me, so I rejoiced my little victory. It took me one hour and only 39 bucks to reach Rishikesh from there.
It was late at night; google map showed my place near Laxmanjhula was only 10-minutes-walk away. I kept walking on empty and silent roads following the map. I could hear some strange footsteps following me for too long. It was a ghastly guy dressed in shabby clothes. He growled when I dared to stare at him. I ran and ran even after I knew that I am far away from him. I could listen to my heart palpitations in that huge silence. He was either drunk or insane. I was reciting Hanuman Chalisa all this while with my fingers crossed.
Google maps led me to a very strange place. I wasn’t able to trace my place. A group of boys was sitting there and probably drinking. “Ma’am, it’s not a nice place for girls. Where do you want to go?” I told them the address. “Sit on the bike, I’ll drop you.” I was already scared and distrustful. I sat in a ready-to-jump-off position anytime the danger alarm rings. I was sharing all my details on a call with a friend until I safely reached my destination and they left. Thankfully they were nice chaps. I took a sigh of relief. By the time I was doing an entry in register it was 12 AM. I celebrated another little victory. Wow, on this day I had decided to be in Rishikesh and yes, I’m here. Hurray.
A good night sleep boosted me for the rest of the trip. I checked out from that place at Laxmanjhula and left for Ramjhula as I wanted to shift there in some Ashram. It was windy. The task was to find an Ashram, put luggage, and chill in Rishikesh weather. Sounds easy, but it was not.
I checked Quora for suggestions. So, you can’t book Parmarth Niketan on the spot. Hmm, okay, Baba Kali Kamli Vanprasth Ashram and Ved Niketan are few other good choices as per some users. “Where do you want to go?” Asked the security guard at Vanprasth ashram. “I need to book a room here.” “Single?” “Yes.” Sorry, ma’am, none of the ashrams including Vanprasth gives room to a single girl as one tourist girl staying alone in an Ashram had committed suicide. I tried to convince the management for a long time but to no avail. I received the same response in Ved Niketan and other Ashrams. Darn, I’ve not come here to commit suicide!!
I had already wasted almost three hours searching for tidy accommodation. The decent hotels were exorbitantly priced. Instead of wasting more time in searching for accommodation I decided to visit Beatles Ashram and Rajaji National park area with my backpack. This time I needed food more than a roof so I took out a packet of my favourite green Lays not even slightly anticipating that I will be attacked by holy cows. Luckily a local guy helped me escape but warned me against eating anything on the street.
The hunger had become intolerable so I stopped at a nice restaurant near the Ganges for lunch. After that, I was walking aimlessly on the main street looking at posters of guest houses and hotels. Suddenly I noticed a messy-haired non-Indian guy was carelessly walking parallel to me. Maybe he can suggest something. Should I ask him or not? Will he really help? Hmm. “Hey, I’m looking for an accommodation close to the Ganges. Can you please suggest something?” “Oh, yes- yes. I stay in the backside of Swargashram.” He was not an English speaking guy so had some difficulty in guiding me to his place but luckily I found another decent accommodation near Swargashram road. I put my luggage there and rushed towards the bank of the Ganges.
I kept walking on pathway adjacent to the bank of Ganges for a long time observing and capturing nature with my almost obsolete phone. “Do you want me to click your pictures?” offered an old British lady sitting on a bench beside her husband who was busy reading some novel. I was thrilled to know that he was an attorney in London. I thanked both of them and moved ahead until I found a less crowded and more serene spot to sit and meditate. Young chaps were doing river-rafting, a monk was taking a dip in the holy Ganges, and a couple was dancing on some Bollywood music while bathing.
Before I could close my eyes I was interrupted by a guy. “Hey, nice. I have been observing you. Can I please sit here? What is your name?” “Sorry, but can you please leave and not bother me?” He left but sat on a stone from where he could see me. I immediately moved from there to find a lonelier but safe spot.
Sitting at the bank meditating was the best part of the whole trip. I clicked some nice scenic pictures and a few selfies with the help of my phone’s timer. I later noticed that two non-Indians were also meditating there.
It was dawn and the cold had only begun, my woollen sweater was just not enough. I took a walk around the pavements to explore the rest of the area. Again I encountered an angry baby cow on the pavement. “Baby cow, I swear that I left my packet of Lays in the room. And, I promise to not to eat it until I reach Delhi.” I managed to escape. Phew. Then there were cute little monkeys playing cheerfully and a monk was meditating under a tree. Everything there was so exciting and full of life.
I attended evening Ganga Aarti near the Ghats. A beautiful white statue of Lord Shiva is installed in the midst of the river. A guy was selling a fruit called Ramfal in front of Parmarth Niketan Ashram. The fruit was named after Lord Rama as locals believe that he ate those fruits. One should definitely not miss tasting it. It was dinner time so I had yummy Masala Dosa and hot milk at Neelkanth restaurant on the main street. Then I spent some time exploring market stalls.
It was 10 PM and I was shivering with the cold so I headed towards Nirvana Yogasthal where I was staying. “Hey, you found accommodation”– asked some friendly voice. I recalled it’s the same Spanish guy Natxo who guided me to this place in the afternoon. He was going out for dinner. “I already had Dosa at Neelkanth but I don’t mind having tea.” “Okay, let’s go then.” We went to Parmarth canteen.
“I have a friend in Andorra who’s a ski trainer.”
“Achha, Andorra is very close to the place where I stay.”
“Great, then you must be knowing about Catalonia crisis.”
You are aware of all the little countries and political conundrums in there, he exclaimed. “I’m actually a Catalan but carry Spanish identity as not everyone knows about Catalonia.”
“So, you’re not Spanish? You’re a Catalan!! Hey! Man, you’re the first Catalan I ever met.” I was thrilled. I wanted to know how a Catalan reacts to Catalonia’s internal crisis, politics and recent referendum. I was listening to him with utter curiosity. Words like Achha, Power, Ja-Ja, Chalta hai made him sound more interesting. He looked like a firangi Aghori dressed in modern clothes.
Diwali crackers had begun bursting. “Happy Diwali and Goodnight”. I returned his shawl which probably had some airline’s logo imprinted on it.
Next morning I got up early to see the sunrise near the Ganges. I bought a beautiful set of pearl earrings from a jewellery shop on the main street. He put it on fire to prove its originality. “Don’t wear now. You’ve to first dip it in the Ganges water.” Hmm.
I had a lovely and refreshing time in Rishikesh. I felt contented. Natxo came to see me off. Before leaving I wanted to salvage the serene beauty into my memory.
Natxo gave me a nice treat in a Japanese restaurant in Connaught Place before leaving for Spain. This time he told me about houses he built on wheels.
As a woman, we often underestimate our strengths. But, once we realise that we’ve infinite potential then everything which seemed impossible earlier turns out to be easy-peasy. 😉