Midway through a bumpy and traffic-clogged bus ride from Delhi to Rishikesh on Friday, our bus swerved into a parking lot along a roadside restaurant in western Uttar Pradesh, not so far from the city of Muzaffarnagar. A rest break. Stumbling out of the bus, my legs slightly cramped, I stepped into the outdoor dining hall and reached for a menu, swatting away the flies along the table. “I’ll have a thali plate, please,” I said to a waiter, and soon a silver tray was produced with rice, chana (chick peas), dal (lentils), and roti. Eagerly tipping the bowls of chana and dal into the rice, I tore the roti into bits, dabbed them with pieces of rice, chickpeas, and lentils, and chowed down.
This decision proved to be my undoing. I was so ill that I was hardly able to leave my (admittedly comfortable) room in Rishikesh and walk around this lovely riverside pilgrimage town on Saturday. By good fortune, my body managed to purge itself of whatever bacterial menace had so consumed me within one day, and I was able to enjoy Sunday by walking around the town.
A sick vacationer
Strolling along the two footbridges that pass over the River Ganga, Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula, one is able to look out on temples dedicated to Shiva, river bathers along the many ghats, and the the Himalayan foothills of Uttarakhand. Every so often a group of whitewater rafters passes underneath on the sweeping currents of the Ganga. Like dogs in Delhi, cows freely meander the streets and enjoy the attentions of anyone who will pet or feed them. Furry monkeys with pink, puffy faces creep around the edges of the town, sometimes along the main streets and other times along the cables of the jhulas (see if you can spot them in the photos below). Their presence usually means mischief. As I walked across Ram Jhula, one such simian leapt down and snatched a bag of nuts from the old man in front of me. He watched helplessly as his tormentor devoured them from on high.
Rishikesh has its fair share of granola head culture. It is the yoga capital of the world, after all. More abundant than cows were Israeli tourists smoking in the lounge-style restaurants, and tourists of all nationalities sifting through handcraft gift shops. However, the walk between Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula along the east bank of the Ganga almost instantly takes one away from such a scene and into the tranquil forest.
In the evening, I attended an aarti in which saffron-clad musicians played gently hypnotizing music that echoed throughout the valley. The crowd sang, swayed, and selfied along as the sun set. Lamps were then lit and carried around to be touched for blessings. The crowd slowly dispersed to light their own lamps and, after saying a prayer, place them in the Ganga to float downstream.
A scene from the Ramayana: Hanuman tears open his chest to reveal Rama and Sita within his heart