One of the good things of residing near the capital city is that there are many getaways close by providing a drastic change in the sights and sounds, apt to calm the frayed nerves of a harried city dweller, burnt-out office goer.
So off I am, 8:20 am of a sunny, wintery, Thursday morning, cruising at 100kmph on the Delhi Meerut expressway. It was an impromptu decision to travel to Rishikesh, solo. Ah well, hired a driver so that I don’t have to keep using my wit and anticipate the whims of other daredevil travellers, who cared not of lives but bent upon experimenting how fast their vehicles can swoop and swerve through the bends.
But the road conditions were indeed good and within a couple of hours the landscape changed and I could see the sub-Himalayan ranges raising their lofty heads at the horizons, still hazy with dust and smog but not an illusion. That is where I am headed, to nestle in the valleys by our holy river.
Two more hours and a radical change in scenery. This is what I wanted, this is what I wanted to wake up to, and this is what I needed, a break from my real world, to dwell in some sublime bubble, at least for a couple of days.
View of River Ganga from my hotel room at Ganga Kinare
The scene was a treat to the eyes. The mountains in various hues of blue, grey and green. The farthest in light shades of greyish blue, the ones in between, a grade or two darker, and the closer ones wore an outfit of greens and browns. The river, happily gurgled along, sometimes taking on the hues of the mountains and changing its colour from green to blue to steely grey. I sat down at the bank and just regaled at the views.
For a city dweller who could only see buildings of various tones and whose ears were filled with cacophony of machinery and vehicles, my eyes soaked in the colours and my ears discovered the natural sounds around. The river, as if aware of a spectator, entertained merrily by adorning different colours. Near the opposite bank, it wore a teal and olive green colour, as it reflected the mountains towering over. In the middle, where it was most energetic, it was turquoise with the waves forming white trims, and closer to me, it was celadon.
The sound of the river as it caressed against the bank, was like a soft chuckle, and it flowed steadily along, not a beat to be missed, not a minute to pause.
But what is your rush? While you head towards the city, I am here escaping from one. While you, gurgling and splashing, drift towards the city, do you not know what is in store for you?
I did not have the heart to reveal. I am here to absorb the glorious nature, and carry my memory back, till I return for another break.
I was in harmony with the melodious twitters of birds of different colours, shapes and sizes, frolicking over the water and swooping in for their prey. My untrained eyes couldn’t name most of the birds, but I noticed the crows, kites, starlings, and sparrows, the common ones, the ones I recognized from my childhood, but who have become almost extinct from the cities. They looked merry, they looked healthy and robust. But there were many more I couldn’t recognize and they were too quick for me to click a photo or position Google lens. So I let them be. Not using electronics was also one of my ideas of purging.
If you focussed on the river, a natural way of meditation, rather than closing your eyes and forcing yourself not to be distracted by the city chaos, you could spot flying fish. They were too quick, gone like a flash. To give me company were some ducks, and some of them came quite close to me.
My gaze left the river as I looked at the mountains which seemed to cradle the river, which was still in its infancy. The sun’s rays played hide and seek in their crevices and protruding rocks. I could see some rooftops in the distance and evidence of modernity with electric transformers, perched high. But still the nature outdid these intrusions. The mountains were far for me to discern the types of trees but none of them were bare, the flora was dense.
I hadn’t noticed, the river water was almost touching my feet now. It was far away when I had sat down. Was it to draw my attention back? I figured the tides were changing and soon the steps I am sitting on, would submerge. The minutes my mind had been elsewhere, were enough for the river to adorn a different tint. The sun was going down and the colour was turning darker, almost viridian bordering on midnight blue. The last of the sun’s rays splashed on the water like pearls of red and yellow. The wind was becoming chillier, and I watched the sun dip behind the ranges. I drew my jacket tightly around me and bowed my head thanking mighty nature for the show it put up for me.
Back to my hotel room, to plan for the next day.
I woke up with the larks. I am glad I could say this in my lifetime. I did not wake up to the sound of my alarm but that of one of the unknown birds chirping outside of my window. As I drew the curtains away, I could see the mountains behind a drape of early morning fog. One side of the sky had a splash of crimson and that is where the sun will rise, so I got ready to find my spot and watch.
It was a long wait. While I waited, I saw the priests busily preparing for Sunrise rituals. Soon they stood at the bank and offered their prayers and sang their hymns. The aura was stunning, and the river gurgled happily like a baby with this renewed attention as it continued its drift.
Our Ganga, for zillions of years, has held a very special place in the hearts of the teeming millions residing in the northern part of India. When a child is born, it is customary to have the baby dip in the holy water, within the first few years of its life as a way of being blessed. When one leaves the earthly abode, the mortal remains are immersed in the river. It is said that three dips in the river will cleanse one off their sins and sprinkling its water at home is considered to bring in good omen. Our Ganga is revered like a mother and cherished like a child.
The sun peeped from behind the mountains, noting everything is as it should be, and then it came out with full vim and fire, and splashed a drape of golden trinkets on the river. My eyes, unused at this gilded splendour, wanted to gape in awe, but I was blinded as the blaze was so intense. I vowed to return another day to recap this wonder.
Sunrise on the banks of River Ganga
The day was to take a trip to the highest peaks in the neighbourhood. I have been promised a scenic beauty from atop. Can anything get better than what I have already witnessed?
The drive was risky and dangerous with serpentine mountainous roads, sharp bends, undulating paths, mostly uphill and sometimes sudden downhills. I clung to my seat and forgot to look at the view outside. The road condition was good, and that is what makes Indian drivers carefree, and cars and jeeps hurtled mightily up and down the two lane road. I was back in my city mode mentality of driving with utmost caution mixed with intense horror. The driver used to mountain roads was calm, unlike me, and managed very well.
Reached the top and was told, I had to climb 300 stairs to reach the peak. Woe beset me, but if I have dared the treacherous road, what is 300 steps on foot? I started climbing. This time I stopped a few times to notice the surrounding. We were surrounded by tall fir and pine trees. It was serene and silent except for unseen insects buzzing, and playing amidst them all were langurs, families of them. A distracted moment and you risk being snatched of your possessions. I trudged up the mountain and reached the top. And it was worth it.
From atop Kunjapuri Devi Temple top. Snow clad Himalayas in the distance
The sky was azure with specks of clouds here and there. The mountains surrounding were higher than the ones I had seen before, and in the horizon, I was startled to see snow capped ranges. They were the Himalayan ranges of Gangotri, Swarg Rohini, and Chaukhambha, frigid boundary of the terrain which will change again drastically. The wind was in full force and very cold and howling in the Bhagirathi valley below. I stood there in awe and soaked in as long as I could and then began my trek downwards, mindful of langur babies, who were keen to know what I held so dearly on my arms.
Having experienced the perilous upward trek, I was calmer and braver while going down. This time I captured everything I saw with my camera and my eyes. As we were neared the base, I again heard the now familiar sound of gushing water. Stopped to see what it was and saw my river as it came down the mountains dashing with full vim and vigour, now wearing a hint of cyan and turquoise. The current was strong and as it rushed and lashed through the rocks, mighty white waves arose. In between, there were river rafters. Daring I might say. I watched in awe and then gave way to nature to continue its merry making.
The River Ganga flowing through the valley, majestically in its cyanic hue
My time with nature was coming to an end. So, I nestled down at my familiar site to take one last look of a glorious sunset and store it to my eternal memory.
Sunset over River Ganga at Triveni Ghat
My impromptu visit to Rishikesh was worth it and I would recommend this to anyone in need of a short and quick unplanned break. I stayed at a boutique resort called Ganga Kinare (an unoriginal name which means on the banks of Ganga), a very comfortable stay. I put up in one of their suites overlooking the Ganga and the mountains.
Rishikesh city was overcrowded with vacationers like me, gazing at the Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula. Built in the early parts of the last century, these are sturdy ropeway bridges connecting both sides of the cities. But an hour or two drive will take you to the midst of nature away from the bustling city, which is what I did in my two day stay. I visited a peak which had Neelkanth Mahadev temple. Legend has it that Lord Shiva swallowed the poison which came out from the churning of the ocean by Gods and Asuras, and his throat turned blue. My other stop was at Kunjapuri Devi temple where legend says part of Sati, wife of Shiva, had fallen.
There are many more picturesque spots and I left without seeing many of them, for I plan to return soon and often, to be in the lap of nature.