Incredible Haridwar,Rishikesh and Lakshmanjhula !… Mom Writes. Part 1

Well you have earlier read Mom’s sepia tinted posts from faraway lands. Well this goes away from Yash Chopra territory and comes to the gritty India of today.

She Finely Chops Utkal Express, does a Highway on My Plate, makes an I am Khan-like reference to international terrorism  and writes a script which my sis in law proofed as I launched my brother on Finely Chopped. Doesn’t get more Deol’ish than this.

And where is my brother?

Ha ha his photos appear in the next instalment or after the intermission

Do write in with your comments if you want her to write more … K

“This is a travel story of a different kind from the ones that I had written earlier.

Times have changed, so have I.

The journey to Haridwar and Rishikesh was undertaken partly with the aim of tourism and partly with the aim of pilgrimage. In India, surprisingly enough, most of the tourist spots are also pilgrimage sites. For example, Vaishnodevi, Amarnath, Puri, Brindaban etc.

While in Gurgaon last autumn, this trip was planned on the spur of the moment. So we booked our train tickets on ‘tatkal’.

On a Friday afternoon, my younger son Sid, his wife Soy and myself, headed for Nizamuddin Railway Station in New Delhi to board ‘Utkal Express’.

The journey, however, did not start well. The train was late. After a six hours wait, the train finally arrived at Delhi. But the A.C two tier compartment was infested with cockroaches, mice as well as dirty linens and left over food. But do not be disheartened. Our return train ‘Haridwar- Ahmedabad’ Express was very good. Only be careful, not to take ’Utkal Express’ even if you get it for free.

We reached Haridwar at midnight. As Sid had already booked ‘Ginger Hotel’ on the internet, we did not have much difficulty.’ Ginger Hotel’, though a budget hotel, was quite decent. It had A.C, T.V and fridge in all the rooms. After having the buffet breakfast, which was included in the room tariff, we set out to tour Haridwar and Rishikesh in a rented car.

Haridwar, now a part of Uttarakhand, is situated at the foot of Shivalik Mountains. It is said that King Bhagirath brought down River Ganga from the mountains to the plain, by performing penance, to salvage the souls of his ancestors. The River Ganga revived the sixty thousand sons of King Sagar, who were the ancestors of Bhagirath. After that Ganga flew through the plains of India. River Ganga, Shiva and Bhagirath are the chief deities to be worshipped in Haridwar and Rishikesh.

Apart from their religious implications, Haridwar and Rishikesh are also notable for their scenic beauty, being surrounded by mountains and a gurgling Ganga flowing through the land.

Sid made up our travel plans. We thought of first going to Rishikesh, see Lakshmanjhula Bridge across the Ganga and then come back to Haridwar.

The car started moving up. It went through forests and passed by small rivers. The roads were good and there were quite a few five star hotels and resorts on both sides of the road. Dense forests and the mountains cheered up our mood.

The car stopped near a Shiva temple. A Govt. Emporium was next to it. They showed us ‘rudraksha’, a kind of dried fruit worn by the saints in the form of necklace. The salesman told us about its qualities. They also coaxed us into buying a necklace, made up of nine gems, which is supposed to cure all diseases.

image

Shiva Temple next to Govt. Emporium

By coincidence, it was the first day of the Indian month Sravana (from mid July to mid August). Pilgrims from all over India, especially northern India, come in the month of Sravana to Haridwar and Rishikesh to pour water over the head of Lord Shiva. These pilgrims wear saffron colored dress and carry wooden rods, decorated with plastic flowers, on their shoulders.

In West Bengal, too, we see such types of pilgrims going to Tarakeshwar temple to pour water over the head of Shiva.

These pilgrims were all over Haridwar and Rishikesh- hundreds and thousands of them. They walked mostly on feet. All roads were closed. Traffic came to a standstill. This would continue for the whole of the month of Sravana.

The car could not go up to Lakshmanjhula Bridge as all the roads were closed. The driver dropped us at Ramjhula Bridge. This bridge was built parallel to Lakshmanjhula Bridge on the river Ganges in the eighties. It is a hanging bridge like Lakshmanjhula Bridge.

image

Ram Jhoola Bridge

We got down from the car to cross the bridge. The bridge, which was only 4/5 feet wide, was very crowded. Not only that, quite a few men drove scooters on the bridge, which was very irritating.

One thing which surprised me most was that there was no security check either on Ramjhula bridge or on Lakshman jhula bridge.

If, by chance, there was any bomb explosion on the bridge, all the pilgrims would have fallen straight into the water without any other escape route.

It was a different world on the other side of the bridge. Pilgrims were thronging different temples like Baba Kali Kamli Mandir, Ganga Mandir etc. On both side of the Ganges, there were high mountains with black clouds on the top. The river was full of big chunks of rocks. The scene was simply idyllic.

It started drizzling after we crossed the bridge. We took shelter in a shop. Sid suggested that we should have lunch first as it was raining. We all agreed and moved on. The path was quite rocky. There were not many eateries. We found only two restaurants, both named “Chotiwala”. We went to the first one. There was a person, sitting on a chair in front of the eatery. He painted himself in light pink skin color and had a choti/tiki (thin hairy tail) on his shaven head.

image

Chotiwala's live mascot

This “chotiwala” restaurant served excellent food. We had ‘naan’ (fresh and crisp) ‘daal makhani’, ‘handi panir’ and ‘potato curry’. We all remembered my elder son K when the food was served. He would have specially liked the ‘potato curry’. Panir was very fresh and each chunk measured at least four inches. In the whole of Haridwar and Rishikesh, you are not allowed to eat non-vegetarian food. Only vegetarian food is served in the restaurants. But the food is mostly very tasty.

image

Chotiwala Restaurant

My parents had gone to Rishikesh in the eighties by crossing the ‘Ram jhula’ bridge and had food from ‘chotiwala’, which was very tasty even at that time. After lunch we set out to see the temples. There was one kali kamli wala temple. Inside, there was a big chariot, in which Lord Krishna was counseling Arjuna. There were also the idols of Sankaracharya and Balmiki, the author of ‘Ramayana’ inside the temple. These are not the usual Hindu deities, who are worshipped in the temples.

The Kali Kamli Wala Trust has many guest houses for the tourists around Ram Jhula Bridge. After that we started walking by the River Ganges as we had to reach Lakshmanjhula to get to the car.

It was a beautiful rustic winding road by the river Ganges. On the both sides of the hilly road, there were many ashrams belonging to the Sadhubabas/saints. There were quite a few foreigners in the area. Some of them were getting themselves photographed with the saints. A few souvenir shops were selling things at a throw away price.

image

Rustic road from Ram Jhoola to Laxman Jhoola

We walked and walked. It was more than 3 km. My whole body started aching but it was the most beautiful and memorable walk that I had ever walked. The high green mountains, the river Ganges and the lovely weather cast a spell on us.

image

Scenic beauty of Rishikesh

Finally, we reached the high road which would take us to Lakshmanjhula Bridge. At that time, suddenly it started raining very heavily as it is usual in hilly places. We stopped in a shop for half an hour till the rain became less.

Soon we found a few hawkers selling raincoats costing Rs20/- each. These raincoats were made of thin plastic, having two arms and a hood. The only exception was that it did not have any opening in the front. You have to wear it like a vest through the hole in the neck.

Sid and Soy doubled up as my parents and decided that only I needed one for the rain. They bought one pink colored raincoat for me, which made me look like ‘Pink Riding Hood’. However, I enjoyed myself being pampered like a child by my children at the age of sixty plus.

image

Pink riding hood

Finally, we started crossing Lakshmanjhula Bridge. Of the two bridges, this is the older one. It is said that this bridge was built by Lakshman in ancient time to cross the river. The bridge became so famous that the whole area came to be known as LakshmanJjhula.

image

Laxman Jhoola Bridge

The bridge started swinging as we walked on it. We became apprehensive at first. Then it occurred to me that probably because of this swinging motion, it is called Lakshmanjhula/Jhula Bridge. ‘Jhula’ or ‘Jhula’ ‘means a swing.

Luckily, the bridge was not very crowded. Both Ram Jhula bridge and Lakshmanjhula bridge look almost the same from far but RamJhula does not swing like the other one.

After crossing the bridge, we looked back again to see the beautiful Lakshmanjhula Bridge and the high mountains at its back. On this side of the bridge, we noticed a restaurant on the hill named ‘German Bakery’, where a few foreigners were having coffee. You remember the ‘German Bakery’ in Pune, where there was a blast a year and a half ago? God willing, no harm will be done to this one!

Finally, we reached our car and started for our hotel. From the hotel, we were supposed to go to ’Har ki Pauri’ in Haridwar, which was not very far from the hotel.”

To be continued

5