Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holy Haridwar and Rafty Rishikesh

I went to the Himalayas!! How cool does that sound? This remote place that always felt like a million miles away with the highest mountains of the world and I have been there… Turns out I didn’t make it beyond 500m above sea level but I’ve checked a few times and we were in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Let me take one step back though and actually tell you about our first trip in India. I happened to have to travel to a place called Haridwar with work so Indiadam decided to take some holiday to come along and make it a long weekend. To get to Haridwar, it’s a bit of a track in European standards. A 2h flight to Delhi, change planes, one hour flight to Dehra Dun and then a good two hours in a car. One thing I have learned pretty fast here is that distances work very differently. Travelling in Germany, you could be pretty sure to cover at least 100km in an hour (likely more thanks to the Autobahn). In India, that is probably closer to 30km per hour so distances that don’t seem very far can actually take quite a long time. So door to door, it took us around 8h to get from Mumbai to Haridwar – not sure we would have ever taken 2 flights plus a couple of hours in a car for a weekend trip in Europe but it was definitely something we were willing to take on for our first trip since moving to Mumbai.

So while I spen some time working in Haridwar, Indiadam had a chance to explore Haridwar. Turns out it is one of the holiest places to Hindus. It’s right on the river Ganges, which itself is considered a Goddess in Hindi culture and every year millions of people come to the town to take a dip on the holy waters and perform the “Ganga Aarti” – a religious ceremony in the morning and evenings which unfortunately I could not attend because of work so sadly no pictures. Every 12 years, there is a special festival (Kumbh Mela if you want to research it) and my colleague told me that 80 MILLION people come Haridwar for that. EIGHTY MILLION – that is the population of Germany and believe me it’s not a small place. Just type in Kumbh Mela Haridwar in Google and you might get an idea. It sounds mental…

Indiadam had a look around during the day and went up a hill on a cable car to visit Maya Devi Temple. He said he would recommend it. What he would not recommend though is buying a Samosa from a dodgy looking shop that knocked him out for the next two days. Another rule in India – if you have a bad feeling about a place selling food, best to leave it. Most places are fine and we have eaten at many stalls and cafes that probably don’t look great at first sight either but if they have some proper cooking facilities and somewhere to wash your hands, that is usually a good sign. Here are some snaps Indiadam took as well as some from the next day when we had a quick look around before heading to Rishikesh.

So from Haridwar we got a driver to drive us to a place called Atali Ganga that we had booked for the weekend which is a 45min from Rishikesh into the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s a beautiful drive as you can see, a very well maintained windy road right on the Ganges. If you can enjoy it… As mentioned before I get very car sick but on this journey I was so focused on hoping we would make it around the next corner that I only realised I felt sick when I got out of the car. The driver was truly crazy, overtaking on blind corners, speeding, hooting and although the road is very well maintained, it doesn’t really have barriers everywhere. Luckily we were on the “mountain side” of the road and we made it in one piece.

Atali Ganga is an “active” holiday home with around 20 cottages overlooking the river. It serves very nice food (buffet for breakfast, dinner and lunch) and offers different activities like wall climbing, hiking (more of a walk) and rafting on the Ganges, something Rishikesh is quite famous for. I first thought it was quite pricy but we called up a few days before and got a good quote plus all food and activities are included. We had a very relaxed two days there with yummy food and lots of chilling (Indiadam still recovering from the Samosa) combined with a few fun activities thrown in. The best thing though was the cool and fresh mountain air and quietness of the nature around you. Sometimes Mumbai just consumes you with its constant noise, pollution and heat that it becomes quite normal – so it was really refreshing to get out of it and I just love the mountains so waking up on the morning to the view below was just so nice. 

On our final day, we went rafting on the Ganges and it was great – we had gone rafting in Canada in the summer on Kicking Horse river and although this was different, it was just as much fun. The cool thing is that you can raft non stop for close to three hours without having to get out of the raft. The rapids might not be as thrilling as some of the ones in Canada but they were strong enough that we hit the wall pretty full on with our raft in one of the rapids. Nothing happened but if I thought the rafting was a bit more on the chilled side until then, it gave me a wake up call. We also got the opportunity to swim through one of the rapids which we both happily did. Unfortunately most other people decided to get in the water as well but hand on to the raft which meant it took the raft about 20mins to collect us from the freezing cold water. My feet were white…

After the rafting, it was already time to leave – 8 hours after all to get back to Mumbai. Despite the long journey, it was definitely worth the travel and I really enjoyed seeing a very different part of India. Not that I have a bucket list but if I had one, the Himalayas would have been on it. Not sure I could tick this off with Rishikesh but at least it’s a start.

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