Memories are strange. At times, you find yourself under the Lockhart Memory Charm, not being able to recollect memories even from the recent past. There are other memories from 10, 15, even 20 years ago which stay crystal clear in your mind, as if it had occurred yesterday.
I have one such memory from 20 years ago, when I was a 5 year old kid. We had gone to Haridwar for the first time then. I remember taking a dip in the mighty Ganges, tightly clinging on to my uncle with one hand and holding on to the steel ropes with the other. The temperature of Haridwar and that of the Ganges was as contrasting as CSK’s and MI’s performances in IPL games. Ma Ganga was freezing cold. I remember my body and teeth shivering even 20 minutes after the ordeal I had with Her. I vaguely remember walking across Ram/Laxman Jhula, feeling accomplished after crossing them, as if I had conquered the mighty Velliangiri hills (Of course, I was a 5 year old then :P). Well, that was 20 years ago.
Last week, I went to Rishikesh again, this time with a set of 6 colleagues-turned-friends, mainly for whitewater rafting.
A lot can happen over lunch. Our two day trip to the adventure capital of India (yes, that’s what Wikipedia calls Rishikesh) materialized during one of our lunch sessions between Office. Over the past one year of my stay here in NCR, I’ve heard a lot of people talk a lot of good things about whitewater rafting in Rishikesh. So when Parkavi Vasan (referred to as “Paaru” going forward) initiated talks about a two day trip to Rishikesh, I was more than game for it.
Nothing about the trip was planned, apart from the onward train from Delhi to Haridwar. I quote my Guru Bhaskar NH, when I say, “If you want to see the real India, travel in a sleeper class train”. We reached Haridwar Junction, early in the morning.
The roads were deserted and the climate soothing and breezy, with a sense of holiness attached to the Holy city. Tour Managers Adwait and Sumeet found us a makeshift room near the banks of the Ganges.
Ganga hadn’t changed much in 20 years; it was as cold and mighty. All of us barring Lijo took a dip in the Holy river.
Manasa Devi Temple was an enjoyable climb of 30-45 minutes, barring the heat, which had set in by then.
After munching piping hot Puri with Aloo and Choley for brunch, we left for Rishikesh, which is an hour’s drive from Haridwar.
At Rishikesh, our tour managers started scouting for the tourist agency guys, to book a package for us. We wanted to take a “Camping + Rafting” package which is generally the most sought after package for visiting tourists. There are a lot of other things one could do at Rishikesh – kayaking, rock climbing, flying fox (800m journey on a rope between two cliffs, with Ganges flowing 80 meter below you), among others.
The tourist agency guy took us to a horrible place initially – a nothing place with our tent facing a small hill, with Ganga nowhere to be seen. I was like, “My two colleges (Amrita and IIM Shillong) offered better views than this!” Others were of the same opinion too. So we ditched that guy and started scouting for camps on our own. Deepanshu, Adwait and Sumeet managed to find a beautiful camp, river facing and breezy.
We spent most of the evening playing in the waters and lazing around within the camp premises. It was a great setting. Hundreds of tents on the banks of the river, white sand, cool breeze and a breathtaking view. Remember those “Diu tourism” ads? Something like that. Welcome break from the drudgery of daily life and the noise of the cities. I didn’t want the clock to tick. Sitting there on a chair outside my tent, facing the river, I let my thoughts take over and felt at ease with myself. It was a good feeling.
Meanwhile, the likes of Lijo, Shyam, Sumeet and Deepanshu were having a ball in the waters, doing some solid stunts. Adwait was showing off his fitness and gymming skills by doing “push-ups” in the water.
While the only thing Paaru was doing was shuffling his hair all the time and clicking selfies. Reliable sources reveal he clicked at least 400 selfies of just himself in the tour span of two days.
There was enough room for all seven of us to sleep in the same tent. The photo session continued in the morning too.
We had booked for a morning rafting session. We had chosen the 18 km package, which had 9 rapids (part of the river where the waves are high, irregular and fast).
I had to deal with a lot of butterflies in my stomach just before our rafting begun. I had heard stories about the boat capsizing in between a rapid and had visualized that happening to our boat. Our instructor’s introduction didn’t help my cause in any way. He warned us that the waters here were mighty and dangerous and if we didn’t follow his instructions to the word, there were chances our boat would capsize.
I kept chanting the “Darr kea age Jeet hai” thing in my mind to ease things up.
For the first 3-5 minutes when we were riding on still waters, our Instructor trained us to the different commands he would be chanting throughout our journey.
There are, I came to know, 4 different grades of rapids. Our first rapid was a Grade I rapid and was supposed to be easy to negotiate. We failed. Our motions were not synchronized and the waters took control of us rather than the other way round. We were pushed to the shore and had to start all over again. This time, we successfully surpassed the Grade I rapid.
I was just thinking what Grade IV rapids would have on offer.
The second rapid was Grade III and the most thrilling of them all, I realized later. I can’t quite put down that experience in words. My mind went blank. I closed my eyes out of fear, and realized water splashing onto me from all directions. All of us were shouting our lungs out. Then a lot of other things happened and finally we were out of the rapid, onto the still waters. Our instructor shouted “Ganga maiyya kiiiiiii” and we screamed “Jaiiii” in unison. Somewhere in that rapid, my fears drowned and I felt liberated. We came across a few rapids which were trickier, faster and narrower that that one, but now that my fears were conquered, they were all completely enjoyable. Each of those rapids apparently have names too. Roller Coaster, Hilton, Golf Course, Double Trouble and Club house are few names I can recollect now.
We went to a nearby Gurudwara in the evening. My first. Felt good. They offered free food too. That mess hall reminded me of my Amrita mess and the Amrita culture of respecting food above all else.
“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”.
Cheers to more such trips with awesome set of people.