The sound of an explosion woke me up, and the thundering sound of huge boulders rolling down the hillside took care of any hangover that could have existed from last night. I got out from my tent to find those huge boulders rolling down the slope some thirty or so yards from our campsite. The camp manager who was passing by at that particular moment assured me that the explosion site is well clear from our campsite and would never reach us. He however added that I must wake up my friends who were still sleeping through all that noise in case we needed to run, and also since morning tea was ready. A little white egret flew upstream of the Ganga so close to the absolutely clear water that it looked as if two beautiful creatures were flying in a close knot, locked up in a dance formation paying an early morning tribute to the mighty river.
A morning ‘cuppa’, a hurried breakfast, a tight rope walk that would put monkeys to shame; few jumps and an iconic fall later we started on our small trek to the beautiful private camp waterfall we had heard so much about. The path was narrow and slippery and a broken foot would never be able to bring its owner back from that gorge, as discovered by a large bovine skeleton rotting at the bottom. Having crossed the slippery surface and the cavernous boulders we reached a tiny island of light with the small yet thunderous waterfall illuminated by the sun. The sound of the water falling numbed our ears and its fury strained our backs in trying to keep us straight. Its might made us oblivious to everything else that existed and in that moment it was just us and the water falling all around us. Right in the center of the fall was an emptiness, as if something was missing, creating a space that engulfed you in a wonderful silence; wonderful because its presence amidst the raucous created by the waterfall was a testimony to the prowess of nature.
Drenched to the bone and content to the heart we made our way back to our campsite amid sweltering sunlight and occupied with our separate thoughts. It was my second time to the land of white sand and river rafting on the holy Ganga and even though I was skeptical about this being as much fun as the last time I wasn’t to know that it would turn out to be better. The fact that the four of us were going to drive up there by ourselves seemed a bit daunting at first but became all the more pleasant as mile upon mile got rubbed by our tires and skepticism began turning into relief and then into a pleasant drive. It took us well above the estimated four hours to reach the city of Rishikesh primarily because we drove slowly and carefully and frequent driver changes and secondarily because Baba had to take so many bathroom breaks. The guy has made a hobby out of this whole drinking water business.
Back at our campsite we decided to quit the idea of lazing around for the day and go rafting that very instant. Though it was getting late and it was ill advised to go at this late hour but our minds were set now and we packed all our stuff at the earliest and geared to walk back all the way that had been swept by boulders that very morning. Like all things in life, there is no experience quite like the experience of doing anything for the first time. Rafting was fun and enjoyable but neither were the waves as mighty as the first time nor the guide as expert as back then. Also there was this hurry of completing it in time because it was getting late and rafting in the dark is not a very pleasant idea. But the best part of it all was that we were now free with one full night and a day to look forward to in the city of Rishikesh, and that in itself is a very different and unique experience than any rafting or camping session. Having changed our clothes in a quite questionable manner we took off on the narrow streets of the holy city where even the bridges to cross the Ganga are named after powerful Gods who alone have some power over it – Ram and Laxman.
It was a beautiful night and the cool wind was a respite to the aching muscles of our body which were overworked during rafting. The street side vendors were packing their wares and calling it a day when we began to stroll through those streets looking at the brightly colored shops selling all types of religious artifacts and memorabilia. The strong wind over the river caused the bridge to swing to and fro in a very delicate yet dangerous manner which probably resulted in it being called a ‘jhula’ or a swing. Walking over that bridge it was as if every thought, doubt and anxiety that ever bothered me was washed into the river and I was just about to be floated in the air with wind blowing, free of all that weighed me down. I felt quite free and lightheaded even without having eaten or drinking anything. It was as if the air of that place itself had something in it that would make you feel stronger and look and deeper inside your soul. I could have sat there for endless hours on the bank of that river listening to it endless gurgle of flowing water and feeling the sweet cool air in my face. It was not quiet there, but it was very peaceful. I was quite sorry to leave that bank that time.
We found ourselves a simple hotel room to stay in and after a handful of massages doing the rounds for all the aching sore muscles we bid a quiet but a very late good night to the already asleep holy city.
Breakfast at the Devraj café was something we were not expecting in a place like Rishikesh but we did manage to get a table there under the guidance of the lonely planet and our accompanying ‘Baba’. It is typically a German bakery where all the foreigners get together to have a meal and has an ambience that stands out from the rest of the city but also assimilates well the quiet and quaint atmosphere the city has to offer. A must visit for anyone interested in non-traditional Indian foods.
I discovered the wonder of salted strawberries on our way back. It was a huge surprise. Despite the I human experimentation with food that I am usually involved with, I never could have imagined that strawberries could actually taste so heavenly with the right amount of salt on it. It was as if the salt enhanced the sweetness of the berry making it all the more heavenly. My mouth waters at the mere thought of those moments back in time.
Our return journey was a mosaic of colours, with a breathtaking view of the sun setting down and bidding us adieu from the ‘Devbhoomi’, its radiance engulfing the entire countryside with myriad hues of yellow and orange. The bountiful green in the bottlebrush trees and the red colored flowers hanging from various barks drowned us in view so colorfully exotic that its imprints will never leave my mind.