Rishikesh and the Red Chilli Experience


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Asia » India » Uttarakhand » Rishikesh
September 20th 2008
Published: September 21st 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

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this is supposed to be a pedestrian only bridge.. but it is bustling with cows, monkeys and motorbikes
After finishing the Rajasthan Tour we were anxious to get up north to Rishikesh where we assumed the weather would be cooler and where tourism for westerners was a little more rife. We caught an early train out of Dehli to reach Haridwar 4-5 hours later.. Shortly after we were seated on the train I began to get intense stomach cramps.. My paranoia of getting sick here was becoming a realisation, luckily we came prepared and I searched my backpack for some medication and quickly swallowed 2 tablets and just half an hour later the pain subsided.. And that was that. From Haridwar we took our first public bus to Rishikesh. The bus cost us just 30 rupees and although it was only 25 km to Rishikesh the trip took almost an hour.. The bus ride was interesting, a bit uncomfortable you could say and the ancient bucket of rust was falling apart at every bump.. But we were amused.

We arrived in to Rishikesh and took a rickshaw to the ‘High Bank’ area which we had read about in our Lonely Planet. It was a couple of kms from the centre in an elevated spot with a view and
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A Sadhu looking for a donation
had a more relaxed atmosphere. We checked in to the Bhandari Swiss Cottage and were delighted to pay just 200 rupees a night, or $ 5 Aussie dollars, for a comfortable and sizable room with an en suite and fan. It was a welcome relief to the finances which are slowly dwindling. After checking out the restaurant we realised that we could live here on less than $15 dollars a day…between us! Obviously without any further amusements. But I was becoming unwell with a cold and after the rapid tour of Rajasthan we were keen to just chill out and catch our breath.

The food at Bhandari was exceptional. They had a ‘German Bakery’ that offered some nice little treats like cookies, cake and fresh brown bread which was a comfort. The menu offered traditional Indian dishes, Israeli, Tibetan and continental food…and cheap, and with no apparent obligation to tip. The feel here was surprisingly different from Rajasthan. Far more relaxed and welcoming for tourists. Just wandering around the streets we would mostly go unnoticed and without harassment which was nice.

There were some great restaurant options around Rishikesh. But what was really amusing about the menus was
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On our way out to the Ashram made famous by the Beatles
the similarity between them. Some were almost identical, offering exactly the same variety of dishes right down to the food being served. It was like there was a pioneer in Rishikesh who discovered what the westerners liked and then went and sold the recipes to other restaurants… or, they just followed his lead.

Rishikesh was made famous by the hippy movement and by the Beatles who came here back in the 60’s to stay in an Ashram and to get in touch with their spiritual side. Whilst they were here they actually wrote a lot of songs from one of their albums. After this celebrity visit loads more westerners flocked to this area. It is the yoga capital of the world and offers classes and courses everywhere. They have lots of Ashrams where you can stay and practice meditation, do yoga and attend cooking classes. Rishikesh is a holy place, it is perched on the sacred Ganges and has some imposing temples right by the waters edge. As it is a holy place many pilgrims visit to be cleansed of all of their sins by washing themselves in the holy river. There are also many Sadhus here whom are
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A typical lemon juice stand, found everywhere
on spiritual journeys.. You can easily identify them as they wear orange cloths around their waists, have long hair and beards and carry a silver tin to receive food and money donations to support their cause.

So we were happy to be here. The days were still quite hot so we stayed out of the sun during the middle of the day and we were not very active otherwise. We simply relaxed, read, ate, slept and recharged ourselves. Sarah did a bit of yoga and we both booked ourselves in for a massage. Same sex masseuses are the norm in India which was a little awkward for me as I was completely naked during the massage. It was a good massage actually but I decided not to repeat the process whilst here.. Unless I subject myself to a head or foot massage only. We’ll see.

So a week or so had passed and we were becoming anxious for some more excitement. We had done some exploring around Rishikesh. We visited the abandoned Ashram where the Beatles had stayed.. Now overgrown with vegetation and inhabited by loads of monkeys. We also did a walk out to a Waterfall which
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a waterfall we visited not far out of town
was a few kms out of town and then up a steep slope for an hour or so. It was good to be active and sweat a little as we were about to go on a 6 day trek. We had visited an adventure company ‘Red Chilli Adventures’ a little earlier after arriving and found an impressive trek to Kuari Pass up at the beginning of the Himalayas. It was about 72kms from start to finish and the high pass was a little over 4200m..the brochure showing all details including photos was very motivating, we just had to wait for some more people to sign up to meet the minimum persons required.

We had returned to see Red Chilli and found that there was another interested person who was actually staying at the same guest house, in fact, the room next to ours. So we met with Danielle, from Adelaide, who was keen and the arrangements were made to leave in just a couple of days.

We met at 8am on our start day and were introduced to Arvind, our tour guide, and the rest of our team, Som, Harry and Rakesh, our cook, cooks assistant and driver.
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Me next to the suspension bridge at Lakshman Jhula with temples in the background
We had a full days driving to reach the start of our trek, about 9 hours give or take some. The roads in this area are extremely bad.. The region is very mountainous and the roads wind along the ridge of deep valleys and alongside white water rivers. It was just after monsoon season so all the roads are in the worst shape of the yearly calendar. All along the way there were land slides both miniature and some big enough to completely block or remove the road from in front of us. In a few stages alternative routes were taken. Sometimes the roads are blocked for hours or days until they get cleared. It doesn’t help that the road workers methods are very primitive and the infrastructure is just not there. It seems like they are forever chasing their tails to barely keep the road drivable. Apparently these landslides cause a huge number of deaths each year, so it just becomes another part of life for the locals.

After a few stops along the way to stretch our legs, demolish a Thali and to carry out a small or big job, as Arvind would put it, we arrived
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Our first glimpse at snow capped mountains, the peak here was over 7000m
to our starting point late in the afternoon. We set up camp. The kitchen soon sped into action and the local villagers were swarming around us. Arvind was arranging for our mules that carry all of our food and equipment, they were also accompanied by two mules men who arrange the loading and unloading of our gear and generally look after their welfare. The villagers were in good spirits, some extremely happy, or, you might say drunk. It was the eve of local elections and this meant a nice little pay off for each eligible voter. Arvind told us that each vote is worth about 1000 rupees at the moment. So if you have enough money to make such an investment, which it is, not a cause, you can get elected and then be on the collecting side of government, or the corrupt side. This is just the way things are done here. Apparently the candidates don’t really even make too many promises, they do their little bit of acting as expected but most importantly they bribe the locals - and they are happy enough with this arrangement.

We set off on our trek which was a steep climb
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We found these witty signs everywhere. Another was 'After Whiskey Driving is Risky' or 'Go easy on my curves'
up from about 1800m where we first camped to our second camp at 2500m. Soon after starting the hike up some 7000m snow covered peaks came into view and we had condors flying overhead. As you can imagine we were in good spirits. We passed thru our first village which was full of solidly build stone houses with heavy slate roofs. Women were working in the fields and carrying loads in woven baskets on their backs. The kids were running around us with excitement and yelling ‘Namaste! Namaste!’ as soon as we came into sight. It was a nice experience and the people here were genuinely warm and friendly, without the cities money grabbing attitudes towards tourists. It was a welcomed change. These people seem happy, they are totally self sufficient, growing a range of different vegetables on their terraces. They have flocks of sheep, cattle and fresh water that runs off the mountain. There were all smiles.

Over the next few days we walked up steep mountains from one valley passing over ridges into the next valley. We passed lush green meadows, oak forests, waterfalls, rivers, gorges, more villages and herds of sheep and goats coming down from
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Arriving to one of the first villages, the children were entertained with our presence
high altitude for the winter. The views were incredible, constant high peaks in sight, flourishing valleys, condors souring about and catching the thermal winds and plenty of fresh air. The route we were taking was mostly a slate path with steps which occasionally broke off to a heavily trodden dirt track. It was part of the old silk route which runs all the way to Turkey. Our days were pretty easy going. Arvind walked quite slow which was fine. Occasionally we went ahead to walk at our own pace but mostly we just took out time as we didn’t want to arrive into camp to early. Usually we’d set off at about 9am and would make camp by about 2 or 3pm. Most days were roughly 15kms or so, some were shorter. The only difficult bits were the steep climbs back up the other side of these valleys, some were almost 1000m up. We were crossing from ridge to ridge until finally on the 5th day we arrived to the foot of Kuari Pass to set up camp at 3500m. There were condors flying above and to keep us entertained, they were landing and taking off from the cliffs around
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Me with a typical village abode.. stone wall, slate roof..
us. These condors were white breasted. A little different to the one’s we saw in Patagonia. But still as big and impressive.

The next morning we made a slow ascent over the pass. This time the altitude didn’t seem to bother us unlike ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ on the Inca Trail, also at the same altitude. Perhaps we are fitter now. We rested at the top and enjoyed views of several new peaks. The largest of them being Nandi Devi at 7800m which is the 2nd largest peak in India and 22nd in the world. It is a very impressive peak which for last 2000m is a sheer rock face stretching up to the summit and with an overhang, making it a very difficult ascent for climbers. Currently, no expeditions are allowed on this mountain and it has been this way since 1972 when supposedly the CIA left a radio active device at the summit which melted it’s way deep into the glacier. ‘CIA buggers’ …aptly put by Arvind as he finished telling the story over the campfire.

We were within a Forest Reserve which made lighting fires illegal but we still enjoyed a camp fire each night after
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Sarah walking thru the village and passing a women in a traditional and colourful dress
our mules men would collect dead wood from the forest. It made such a nice atmosphere. As soon as the sun went down it became cold quickly, one night must have reached near to zero as we were just warm enough with our thermals inside our sleeping bags.

The food that we ate during the trek was absolutely incredible. We had traditional Indian dishes that were dahl, pakora, okra, and others accompanied with rice and chapati. We also had some Chinese noodles served with spring rolls and vegetable cutlets, Italian pizza and pasta and also a famous Tibetan dish of chicken and vegetable momos, which are a kind of pastry dumpling steamed and served with a spicy sauce, now a regular dish whenever we find it. Dessert was also on the menu every night, just to stretch the stomach another few cms. For breakfast we would be served omelettes, porridge, pancakes, toast, tea and coffee and for lunch we had a surprised packed dish which was usually a combination of continental food with Indian, and always boiled eggs. The amount of eggs consumed caused a few gas issues amongst a few of us during the trip. Overall, we were
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this little girl was so shy..
spoilt to a high degree and we all managed to add weight during the trek rather tan lose it, but it was indeed worth the sacrifice.

Our last camp site was amongst an oak forest next to a stream. We endured another heavy night on the intake and surrounded our camp fire, enjoying each others company. Usually Arvind would end up telling stories all night, it was hard for him to keep quiet. Other than his stories he would always claim that whomever was joining us from the team was a famous singer and would insist on them singing for our entertainment. Apart from making them squirm, sometimes we would receive a local song. It became a regular phrase as everyone were very famous singers - it was very funny. That night we even sang a few Aussie songs for them.

On the last day we passed one last ridge that was extremely steep with clouds filling the air around us. Sarah had a small case of vertigo which soon subsided as we passed onto less scary territory. We slowly descended, stopping for lunch. We passed one of India’s premier ski resorts, Auli, which consisted of an old
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more peaks with a condor caught in the frame
cable car that ran from a small town below (where we were finishing) up the slope for 3kms to about 2800m. There was one chair lift that ran very slow and a short surface lift. Skiing is not so popular here as it is simply not accessible for most Indians, the expense is too high. However the potential for the industry is incredible and work is underway to improve resorts. This resort was being heavily worked around the clock in order to prepare a giant slalom run for some international games next season. Maybe in the future India will be a cheap destination for good skiing. We were collected at the bottom of the ski village and were driven to our hotel at Joshimath, just at the bottom of the valley, but still at 1900m above sea level.

It was good to have a hot shower and freshen up after the trek. The soft mattress of the bed was a nice welcome after sleeping on thin foam mattresses for the previous 6 nights. Our teams set up a kitchen in a smaller room out near the terrace and they repeated one of our favourite dishes for us, the momos.
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One of our mules crosses a bridge
Arvind managed to arrange some whisky and beer from his friends at the army barracks, so we enjoyed our final night together by polishing off a couple of long neck beers and a bottle of ‘Officers Choice’ whisky. Although Arvind did manage most of it himself.

We were all really impressed with the trek, we were very well looked after by Arvind and his team. After arriving back from our long return drive we hung out at the Red Chilli office and arranged to book a rafting trip next day as we would leave Rishikesh the following day to go to Manali, further north.

Arvind is a very popular guy in Rishikesh. He is also a very experienced rafting guide and has chartered new rivers in India for commercial rafting. So we felt very safe with him whilst tackling these grade 3 rapids. We had a full boat of 9 people, myself and a German guy Lars lead the paddling from the front as we wound down the Ganges for 26kms. It was great fun as the rapids were constant in some sections with large volumes of water. We were knocked around a bit as we smashed thru
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a cooking lesson from Arvind with curious village kids looking on
these huge walls of water. It was great fun and fortunately we didn’t flip. Although we did have 3 kayakers with us the whole time should be have anyone leaving the boat for a dip. It was a great day. We were able to body surf down some rapids and we stopped for a break at jump rock towards the end. After a splash we battled a few more rapids and finished just past the suspension bridges of Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula.

That evening Arvind, being the party starter he is, the Indian ‘Playboy’, organised for us all to meet at the New Bhandari Restaurant for a drink. Convenient for us as this is where we were staying for our last two nights in Rishikesh. Arvind knows the owner here who will allow him refuge to consume alcohol, as Rishikesh is a dry town. He had arranged 4 bottles of whiskey for us to polish off. So we sat and chatted and drank until there were only a few of us left. Sarah, Danielle, Arvind and his business partner Vipim and two guys working with Red Chilli, Sean and Isaac.. And me, out of 12 starters. It was
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another shy village girl hiding behind a small tree
1.30am and we had to be up at 4.30am for our 14 hour car journey to Manali, so we called it a night after a sad goodbye. We really enjoyed Arvind’s company, he was truly a unique individual.

As I finish this blog, we are now in Manali…where it has been raining constantly for the past two days… hence this update so soon off the back of our last blog.

Hope you are all well…CYA

Ben and Sarah


Additional photos below
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Our third night camping...
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One of the many hurds of sheep and goats that we passed, they move down to lower altitudes for the winter
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we couldn't find any rollies so we decided to smoke the hash on the fire
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Me, Sarah and Danielle
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A couple of one day old lambs being carried by the shepherd


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