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Published: September 1st 2008
WARNING: Do NOT take the train ride from McLeod to Rishikesh. It's hell! We were told 11.5 hours; it took 24 hours in stinking crowded bus and train. The train station is too far from McLeod, particularly since the bus driver stops too often.
The bus ticket was much cheaper, but we were told: "the train is so much more comfortable"! So, we bought an "AC/sleeper ticket"..., or so we thought!
The train station is in Pathankot and how to get there was a matter of "math": 90 Rupees for bus versus 1,500 Rupees for a taxi. The bus seems the logic choice, right? WRONG!! We know that because we decided to leave raining McLeod on a freaking public bus, the dirtiest we had gotten here in India, again packed way beyond capacity and with the rain dropping from the roof directly on our laps. Not a soul spoke English and the worst thing of all: The smell. I was a critic of the author of the book "Holy Cow" because she was harsh talking about the filth in India, but in this 6-hour smelly trip, which was supposed to last 4 hours, my advice of tolerance and patience
in India were being tested, and I fell. I tried perfume, body lotion, the bubble gum up my nose, but it didn't help. As much as I felt compassion for the very poor smelly family of 5 by us, I could not stand the odor. Yes, it was that bad!
To make matters worse, 3 hours into the ride, most people had gotten off, except for us and "the" family. The bus stops, the driver gets off, a man comes into the bus with a water hose and starts to wash the trash of the floor... with us inside! Now we have been stuck for about one hour and no one to explain why. Finally a guy with very poor English was able to explain to me why the bus would't move: "because the family was having chai and needs to return the glasses they are drinking from to the store by the road". The bus eventually moved again, stopped randomly inumerous times for the driver to eat, pee, smoke, donate to a Shiva Temple and to chat with someone. Thru villages, over rivers, watching monkeys by the narrow dangerous road we went.
We finally get dropped off
to the train station just to be told, in very poor English, that it was the WRONG ONE! No one to explain how to get to the right one. Panic strikes! We finally found a couple who spoke English and talked to an auto-rickshaw driver about taking us to the right station for 30 rupees. We get there exhausted and he wants to charge us 3 times as much. I was so tired of getting cheated that I absolutely refused to pay the asked amount, even thought it was nothing in dollars. I get off the rickshaw, give 50 rupees and marched to the packed train station, while the driver kept yelling at us, demanding more money.
It was extremely hot, smelly, tiring, confusing. I desperately tried to find someone who spoke English. It took a while, but I found an young couple, and when I asked them to look at our ticket, they pointed out that it was not on the air-conditioned car. That's when our "fuses" burned, exploded, and tears were about to roll down. Indian traveling had finally gotten to us! The nice couple tried to cheer us up and were " Vishnu-sent", (Vishnu is the peacemaker
Hindu God). They spent most of the time in the train with us, sharing their meal, showing pictures of their family, sharing their passion for dance, music, and their not-so-traditional life within a very traditional family and system.
People bring food, not just snacks, for the trip: rice, vegetables, the works. There is a lot of sharing among the travelers, which is very nice. But trying to sleep on the narrow "bed" on the hot train, with men staring at us all night long was very uncomfortable, to say the least. At stops, people came into the train asking for money with image of a Hindu Gods or selling food. Amanda buys some chips... always with expired dates, but at this point, she is sick of Indian food, and afraid of it too, after experiencing the dreaded "Delhi Belly".
RISHIKESH, at last, 21 hours later
Finally out of the lousy bad train. We spotted a western guy and followed him to a crowded auto-riskshaw, hoping we wouldn't be cheated again. Well, the driver did try to cheat us anyways, telling us R$ 50, when everyone else paid R$10. But, I refused to pay and succeeded. Yeah, I
have learned to stand firmly, and paid the same as everyone else.
The LP recommended the Swiss Cottage, but the rooms were bad. We enjoyed a very nice meal with a view there, but walked around looking for a decent room for our last night in India.
The "STAY WELL" guesthouse a few feet away was a jewel. The rooms brand new. Actually, I happened to witness the "blessing" of a room cerimony: a priest, the owner, and his son were seated on the ground, around a FIRE (yes, a fire, on the ground, INSIDE the room), chanting loudly. I took the room next to it, which had already been blessed and was ready to be open for business, and hoped that the blessing would extend to good luck for us during our last 2 days in India.
We rested for a while and headed to the market to get "mandi", the beautiful Indian painting done with henna on womens hands. As we got the mendi done by two men, for just 35 cents, a crowd surrounded to watch us. Somehow, the locals find westerns fascinating, and here we get even more attention since most of the time
Kids going in open air =cute...
... but the adults do the same = yuck
we are the only foreigners around. Hard to get it, as we don't look that insteresting at all, but the request to be photographed by our sides are inumeorus.
The Beatles were here in RISHIKESHI some years ago and put the city on the spotlight for westners, but this holy city has attracted Hindu pilmigrims for ages. I believe that for a trip to India to be complete, it must include some time by the Holy Gange (Ganga) River.
At the bathing ghats by the GANGES RIVER, we witness Hindu pilgrims bathing, offering flower pedals and insents to the river, doing "puja" (prayer) cerimonies, getting blessed by priest/guru with fire, water and holy sugar. There were many pilgrims, most in bright orange color.
I am particularly fascinated by the exotic looking shadus. A shadu is a holy person who has surrendered all material belongings in pursuit of a spiritual life. The meditate, study sacred texts, and do pilgrimages. They can been seen on the roads, on the markets, and even more so here by the river.
It was pouring as we headed to the suspended pedestrian bridge, so a stop for delicious banana lassi at a cafe was
in order. The streets flooded quickly and when it got a little better, we ventured back out. Cows, monkeys, motocycles, and scary us, crossing the narrow bridge over the Ganges. A little scary, particularly with the monkeys hanging from the side rails, ready to jump at any yummy treats they spot.
On the other side of the river, more shadus, beggars, cows and pilgrims under the rain. It was messy and uncomfortable, yet fascinating. We got to see a puja cerimony and left quickly to find peace and quiet at our hotel, but not before getting a much deserved foot massage. It felt so good that we overlooked the dirt of the place. But again, this is India and at $5/hour, we couldn't expect westerner-like spa setting, right?
We finished our stay in Rishkeshi with a delicious dinner and a very nice night on the spotless guesthouse.
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