An accidental adventure of sorts, a failed attempt at the SSB led me to the land of the orange Sadhus. About an hour from Dehradun, I rode on a rickety old bus through the perils of “elephant infested” jungles to Rishikesh. Dazed as I stumbled off the bus, the hills instilled that feeling of chaos. Unable to tap into any roots of the dormant city, a friendly charioteer suggested the Raam Jhulla. Perturbed by the lack of knowledge I had of the area I tried to put on a brave face. Swinging and winding through the many streets of the city we reached Raam Jhula. A sudden burst of people made me realise that I was in the heart of the ancient city and swinging with that carefree stupor in front of me was a humungous suspension bridge clad in iron, Swaying in rhythm as atleast two hundred people walked across it at the same time. Alarmed by its implied sense of carefree-ness I walked across the bridge in an attempt to catch the fleeting essence of this rapidly stationery city.
Separated by the Ganges, the banks on either side differ with a stark contrast. One side growing and developing, trying to cater to the needs of the tourist market, while the other remains in benevolent ignorance. Clustered around the “Jhulas” are Restaurants, shops, hotels, the works. With firangis walking by, clearly enthralled by the vivid colours this city seems to accommodate, I walked along the river from the Jhula of Raam to that of Lakshman, on the forgotten side. Weighed down by an unnecessarily heavy backpack, I walked in silent reverie of what the road ahead of me unraveled. The crowd started thinning, a veil of silence began emerging and it was plain ol’ serenity under the sun. A lone traveler, and moreover, an unprepared one, my limited resources hindered the ongoing perfect solo venture. Sans camera with the exception of the one embedded in my phone, my visual gifts from Rishikesh were, well, unsatisfactory. With My headphones in place I assumed my role as “Tourist” and stopped by my first local informant. A humble looking lemon juice seller made small talk as he prepared my “Banta”, a refreshing lime-soda drink. We spoke of the weather, and how Rishikesh is like Delhi but isn’t. Friendly banter I believe is instrumental to a solo traveler’s experience and thus I endeavored to engage in a few. Bidding adieu to the local thirst quencher I walked till I could finally see the other Jhula. A dying cell phone and a worrying family led me to a small craft shop, right off the road. Dinesh, a craftsman from Rajasthan, kindly consented to the prospect of charging my phone in his shop. As my phone lay, gathering power bars I indulged in a little shopping of my own. A variety of ancient coins saw my eyes grow wide with excitement as did the little trinkets Dinesh made in his shop. Dinesh told me about the tourists who came to this town and how almost every one of them shared common characteristics. He told me of his forefathers and how they came all the way from Rajasthan to earn a living here. Touched by his simplicity and kindness I gathered my bags and started on my quest to find something to eat. A few metres after Dinesh’s shop, I was startled as I believed I had found myself in a variation of one of Delhi’s popular flea markets. From printed pyjamas to leather accessories, pretty ear rings to cigarette shops, I was truly in the heart of Paharganj. With even more firangs pouring out of every shop, I couldn’t get over the similarities.
In an attempt to snap myself out of this amazing revelation I tried to remind myself about my groaning tummy. With just one name in my head, I asked a few people till I got to the “Little Buddha Cafe”. A quaint little café overlooking the river, I was impressed by the simple innovative décor they had managed to pull off. With straw hats doubling as lamp shades and the tropical ambience that the restaurant had to itself was unbelievably cute. One downside to Rishikesh, being a holy city and what not, was the ban on alcohol and meat. After an exhausting walk that delivered me to the Little Buddha café, I would have wanted nothing more than a beer and a platter of Tandoori Chicken. Sadly, I had to settle for a lemon juice and Humus. I wouldn’t call my meal a disappointment though, considering I drank 4 glasses of the lemon juice, after which my waiter finally asked me why I was so infatuated with lemon. A few hours at this picturesque Café and it was time to board another bus. I wouldn’t know if I felt extra strong or extra enthusiastic, but I decided to walk back the 3 kilometres to the Raam Jhula. Ummm, basically, BAD IDEA. I got lost. I went from daring explorer to “where-in-the-name-of-God-am-I” in a matter of minutes. One wrong turn had resulted into a special Houdini act by the Ganges and with the river missing I believe I had stepped in to an alternative reality. Quiet houses tucked away to cater to the quiet contemplation that a yogi demands, I found a plenty. Unnerving was the settling quiet and a few directions gave me the river back. Phew.
Another friendly/smartass charioteer dropped me off at the bus station with more surprises awaiting me there. In light of the recent decline in the tourist population from Delhi (Right.), the number of Volvo buses ferrying out of the holy city had been brought down to ONE. In this case, I believe I had found myself in a dilemma. Unless I was one of the first twenty passengers on the bus, I wasn’t going to be headed for Delhi that night. Thankfully, I was the fifth passenger. After standing in a queue for two hours straight, I would have been extremely unhappy had I been left behind. And through the odds of an impromptu anywhere trip, I had emerged well sort of “Victorious” and Rishikesh had given me my first tryst with Solitary travel. Honestly, I couldn’t wait for the next trip.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took the one less travelled (I got a little bit lost.)”