Finding Me in Rishikesh

All these years i was restlessly traveling, setting foot in remote villages and places all around India. I was obsessed with traveling to all the 28 states and 600+ districts in India. I was in Rishikesh, right after my graduation. The holy city made me think of the purpose of my life, and i thought it was to explore India, to go see places, understand people and culture. My friend Anand came up with the idea of exploring the North East. The most unexplored part of India. Due to threats from extremists and the lack of proper transportations, it was difficult to travel through the seven sister states. The first unplanned journey of my life. Without an aim, we traveled. After a month or so, we were left with no money, and returned home. Later i traveled to other parts of India. Worked in Gujrat for a year. I was not satisfied, i always wanted to visit more places. So, i left my job and travelled for a year through India.

Now i am back in Rishikesh, the place where I started from, realising that, its not about going to places and it was never about understanding people and culture. It was all about understanding me, looking into the self.

The plan was to rent a bike and go to the mountains. Either to Kerdarnath, Badrinath or Tunganath

I reached Haridwar, the holy city in Uthrakhand, Inida on a fine morning around 2am, the UPRTC bus from Delhi dropped me infront of the Haridwar Railway Station. It was cold and Haridwar was sleeping. I had a coffee from a nearby stall. The famous Ganga Aarti in Har Ki Puri will start around 5:30am. So I went inside the Railway Station to find a comfortable place to sit. People were sleeping in the floor and on the benches. I found a small place just to place my butt, slept there for an hour keeping my head on the bag. Then i started walking to Har Ki Puri, the place was not crowded. But i could see few bathing in ice cold Ganges, taking Holy dips. The Aarti was about to begin. The priests/ poojaris worship river Ganges with oil lamps reciting mantras and ringing bells. I was waiting for my friend Athul who was coming from Himachal Pradesh. We met there around 6am, and decided to go to Rishikesh after the breakfast.

We took a passenger train from Haridwar to Rishikesh which takes around 2 hours to reach. The route goes through some tunnels and jungle. Very few uses this train service. We were the only passengers in the Compartment. We were not sure about what to do in Rishikesh. So first we went to the Triveni Ghat, which is also famous for the Ganga Aarti. But the place is crowded only in the mornings and evenings. We sat there under a banyan tree, to plan our next step. The first option was to stay here in Rishikesh and chill for 2 days. Second option was to rent a bike and visit nearby places like Dehra Dun, Ninital, Mussorie. I been to all these places few years back. So i didnt support this. The third was to rent a bike and go to the mountains. Either to Kerdarnath, Badrinath or to Tunganath. Tunganath being the easiest to get to, we opted the third option and decided to search for a bike.

We started to go from shop to shop asking for the rates of bike. We couldn’t find a good bike around INR 1000. Everyone was telling us that we won’t be able to complete Chopta in 2 days. People usually do the Chopta ride in 3 days. We only had 2 days. And then we met a guy who told us that we could reach Chopta in 6 hours if we took his bike. Everyone was just doing business, nothing personal.

I met Himanshu when I was looking for rental bike for a ride to Chopta, some 180kms from Rishikesh. He owns few bikes and we left his place when he convinced us that we won’t be able to complete the ride in 2 days. But then we returned to his shop when the other guy convinced us that we could complete it in 6 hours. Atleast Himanshu was more practical. He explained us the road conditions. It was around 5 in the evening. And he told us that if we left Rishikesh soon, maybe we could stay in Srinagar, some 120kms from Rishikesh. We Googled, and from what we understood, the ride will be smooth, and we could possibly reach Chopta by morning, even if it took 12 hours. We told him that we only need the bike only for 2 days.

Our spirits were high, so he allowed us to take the bike, and told us not to rush back, and to take proper rest, if we are tired.

We left Rishikesh around 6pm and after few kilometres, the road condition was really bad. The government was constructing new roads from Rishikesh to the holy places of Kedarnath, Badrinath, and Tunganath, which will provide year round access to those regions. The road from Rishikesh to Chopta is very beautiful. Its carved on the side of mountains along the side of river Ganges. One side you have this mountain and the other side you have valley. Half of the existing road was torn and the hill was carved further in, to make broad road. Most of the construction was active during night, and there were restrictions for vehicles at night. Lucky no one stopped us, except at few sites, for few minutes, when the earth movers were moving the rocks and mud from the road. The road was bad, and tougher than what we expected. So we ended up taking a room in Srinagar around 2 in the morning. We slept till 10am and left for Chopta. Our backs were aching. We reached Chopta by 2pm without wasting any tine we started the Chandrashila trek when everyone was returning back. It was getting dark. The trek was just 4kms up. But with sudden rise in altitude, we found it hard to reach. We took rest for few minutes at the Tunganath Temple 3kms from Chopta. As we hurried from Chopta, we forgot to have food and only had 1 bottle of water, which we finished in the beginning itself. We were tired from the ride and now we are left on top of this mountain without even a candy to eat. We were fucked up. No one lived there and all the tourists went back when we reached the top. We even asked few guys we found on the way for water and something to eat. But they were left with nothing.

The funny thing was that we only had thin jackets which were of no use in that cold. And we were riding, it made us freeze in the wind

So, that trek made me a savage. I started to pick up the garbage from ground, thrown by other tourists, found few packets of Lays with some bits and pieces in it. And a few bottles of sprite and amul cool with few drops left in them. I was so happy and was dancing like a kid, when i found them. I dig into the waste basket kept near the temple, but couldn’t find something to eat or drink. Things i did when i was hungry and no one was watching. That was some sort of moment of truth, which made me think about the purpose of life for the next few days in Rishikesh.

Somehow we managed to reach Chopta finding path in the dark. We had only our phone flashes, and we reached down around 8:30pm. There were only 3 restaurants in Chopta and all were about to close. It was freezing cold. We ordered some rotis and ate few chocolates. We also tried few other ready to eat items, as we were too hungry and couldn’t wait till the roti is made. Some coffee and we left Chopta at 9:30pm. The next day we had to return the bike before 8am. No time to waste. We rode as fast as we could. And realised the fuel is almost about to finish. There were no fuel pumps nearby.

Another challenge before reaching Rishikesh. As it was down hill, we took advantage of gravity, and somehow managed to reach the fuel pump. Again we were too tired. Slept in a waiting shelter around 2am, in Devprayag overlooking the Ganges. It was so cold by the river side. We couldn’t sleep much. So, we started again at 3:30am. The funny thing was that we only had thin jackets which were of no use in that cold. And we were riding, it made us freeze in the wind. But we had a destination to reach on time.

We reached close to Rishikesh around 6:30am, and we had almost 2 hours to return the bike. So we took another break and sat at a spot close to Lexhman Jhula, watching people on morning walks and foreigners doing Yoga along the bank of Ganges.

Himanshu was very kind, and he used to call us to enquire about the ride. He was waiting for us at the shop when we reached. Happy to see us, he appreciated our efforts. Only we knew the things happened in between. We showed victorious face to Himanshu, but we were broke inside. I was so desperately looking for a bed to sleep.

We asked him about a cheap accommodation, and it was he who suggested me about the Andra Ashram. He had his friend working there. Soon he arranged a room for me.

The Ashram was very large and no one was staying there apart from few staffs. I was the only guest. It made me happy that, no one will disturb me in my sleep. I needed some rest, a deep sleep.

Lost in Sleep.