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Published: July 13th 2010
This Haridwar trip had been cancelled many times before, but this time we pulled out all stops to make it happen. It was turning out to be too embarrassing for us to inform Anupama's parents of all the cancelled trips. This time tickets and bookings were done just in time to grab the last six seats available in shatabdi express from Haridwar. Things moved like clockwork with the taxi for the station arriving on time, everybody reaching well before the departure and the train too departed on time. It was getting too boring with all this perfection when the Indian Railways did its bit to spice up the occasion. I was calmly sitting on my seat when suddenly I felt as if was raining inside the compartment. Water from the air conditioning system was dripping on me, narrowly missing the keypads of the laptop.
The hotel had sent their special rickshaw to pick us up from the railway station. Their representative stood at the exit gate with my name written on a piece of paper. I nodded to him and he took the bag from me and off he went towards the rickshaws. I scampered after him asking Akshat and
Anshul to keep an eye for the rest, but they were busy in their own discussions and by the time we reached the stand the others had vanished. They ended up on the other exit gate. I traded charges with Anupama about whose fault it was and why she was not picking up the phone while she countered that it was she who was calling me and that my phone was busy and that I had given them wrong directions etc. With her parents following us we were arguing with a smile on our face.
The hotel Haveli Hari Ganga was tried and tested by us. We were there in 2008. Anupama had carefully chosen it to give the best experience of the holy city to her parents. Joshi Ji was not overly impressed. They have just renovated an old haveli with the bare minimum of cost, he remarked. He looked nonchalantly at the glorious view of the mighty Ganges flowing just in front of the terrace. Whats the big deal !!!. We had a sumptuous lunch at the Chotiwala. Nice spicy food which was liked by all of us. It was some distance away from our hotel and
a walk in the extreme hot and humid July weather was an experience in itself. "Bas thoda sa aage aur hai" everyone would say whenever we inquired about it in the crowded streets. The long walk did work up a good appetite.
Planned to see the Ganga Arti at Har Ki Pauri in the evening. I planned to be at the bank of the river opposite to where the Arti would take place. why are they crowding at the ghanta ghar when they can have a splendid view from the opposite bank. Maybe they are not as smart as me. It was only when we reached near the venue that we realised that the arti was to take place at a location that I had not envisaged in my plan. We were about to turn back seeing the huge crowds when we were goaded on by my F.I.L. Bheed me chalne hi to aaye hain. Chalo chalo. There was no turning back now. We were made to sit with our faces away from the place where the main arti was to be performed. I was constantly scanning for escape routes in case of a stampede. Rat t tat t
tat , it sounded like machine gun fire, its a terrorist attack ! It turned out they were pushing the heavy iron barricades.
We could not see a thing when the arti started. All were standing now, straining our necks but all we could see was a sea of humanity. I spotted a temple nearby which could provide a good view if we could manage to climb it. I pushed my way in the temple and was stopped by the priest. Aise hi darshan nahi hote, dakshina lagti hai. A 100 rupee note proved to be my ticket to the vantage point from where there was a glorious view of the arti. Akshat and Anshul too followed me with " hum unke saath hain". They took advantage of the matching kurtas we had got stitched specially for the Haridwar visit. We took the crowded lanes back to the hotel. Its such a colorful hustle and bustle in the crowded ghats and markets of Haridwar. I just love it. Even though I am not a staunch believer of the traditions, I do feel a connection with the Hindu religion. So much non violence and tolerance. So much peace and bliss,
in life and in death.
The dinner at the swank hotel was a disaster. The group was expecting a spicy treat with an array of sweet dishes to follow. Chotiwala had stirred our taste buds into action, and long walks in the crowded bazaars whipped up our craving for food. Maybe the hotel avoided spicy food as foreign guests were staying there too. While Akshat enjoyed the macaroni with boiled vegetables the elders looked at it in horror. The chapatis were served half at a time and they were paper thin. They would delicately serve them and we wondered how many dozen servings would they have to make to satisfy our regimen. Then the expected saving grace of sweet dish vanished. The lone mango custard simply disappeared under our very first onslaught. They tried something like vermicelli in hot milk as a quick standby. We then proceeded to hot coffee on offer and finished their entire stock of milk. We were leaving the dinner hall when we saw them replenishing the stock of mango custard. Literally had to stop ourselves from going back and finish it off. The poor fellows were running helter-skelter to somehow satisfy this bunch with
gargantuan capacity to consume nutrients. "ye sab na lutere hain" commented Anupama's Father. "500 rupaye le kar bhi 5 rupaye ki cheez pet me nahi jaane denge". The breakfast next day was much better liked by all. The complaints of "baasi chai" was promptly looked into by Mr. Gyan Singh at the restaurant. Exemplary service by the man under extermely trying conditions. He was there serving with the same alacrity two years ago too when we previously visited the hotel. I am here since last six years, he informed me. He got an exceeding expectations from me in the feedback form.
The next day was supposed to be a leisurely visit to Rishikesh and Shivpuri. We would be back in Haridwar with lots of time to spare for our evening train. Coffee at country suits and inns was on the menu on return from the excursion. Laxman Jhula was usual with long walk on steep slopes in unrelenting hot sun. Shivpuri was just a few minutes drive away. We would sit on the rocks on the bank of the river at the scenic shivpuri whitewaters. The driver had other thoughts though. He took us beyond shivpuri to a place
with good sceneries all around but much above the Ganges on whose banks we had planned to sit. It also took valuable time from our buffer stock and by the time we reached there we were already in a hurry to go back. A few hasty snaps and we were back on the road for the return journey. That was when disaster struck. There was a minor landslide in the way and the traffic was stopped. It was to take a few hours to clear the road. There was a real danger of us missing our train. The mental calculations of the cost of the tickets and another night stay in Haridwar and the taxi to be taken to Delhi the next day had already started and a depressing figure was arrived at. The Border Road organisation did an exemplary job to clear the road in a couple of hours. Many truckloads of debris was cleared as they worked without a break. We owe it to them and the policeman on duty who maintained order on the road for being able to catch our evening train. The only thing we had to cancel was coffee at country suits and inns.
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