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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Haridwar to Sri Lanka

INDIA | Friday, 21 December 2007 | Views [1600]

Wed 19th Nov - had a good night's sleep and needed it after the day I had yesteray. Also feeling better which helps. Off to catch bus at the UP bus station, which is only 20 minutes walk away. The bus station is the usual mess of buses with not a single one marked in english and not easily able to find out where to stand or where/when it will go. Ask a few people and get sent is different directions. After a short while, a german couple appeared also going to Rishikesh, so we shared the burden. Turned out to be going from somewhere else than where we had been told to stand. Luckily we only had to wait about 20 minutes until one turned up. 17 rupees for the hour journey and a nice one at that. Through some really nice countryside en-route. Unfortunately, the bus stand isn't that close to the main centre so forced to get a rickshaw. I separated from the german couple as they were staying longer than me and wanted a hilltop retreat, whereas I wanted somewhere central from which to explore the locale better. Chose a reasonable place at the Aggarwal guest house on the east bank of the Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge, one of the two crossing points over the Ganges here. The other is south at Ram Jhula. Aggarwal is a proper indian family home with the kids running around and grandmother sat in the lounge, the lady of the house scurrying around. OK for 200 Rs a night.

Time for breakfast at the 'Devraj coffee corner' German bakery across the bridge, which has a great view of the huge 13-storey 'Swarg Niwas' temple, which is quite different in design from other temples I have seen. Supposed to be good at sunset from here.

Walk south to 'Swarg Ashram', the main yoga and meditiation centre of Rishikesh. This is also where the nightly aarti pooja is held at the 'Parmarth Niketan' temple. A comfortable 2km walk through a fairly green area. This is also where the 'Ram Jula, suspension bridge crosses. To get to the bridge you have to past the 'Chotiwala' restaurant. This has been open since 1958 and is the only one of its kind. The one in Haridwar is a fake and nothing like the real thing.  Two brightly decorated 'Chotiwalas' sit outside on raised seats and regularly ring bells to draw attention. A Choti is a pointed hairstyle and coupled with the fancy face painting, makes for a unique attraction. The food looks good so will return later for dinner.

Onwards north before the bridge crossing to the beach area. On the way pass many happy people carrying rollmats and cushions and dressed in bright clothing. Must have come from the yoga and meditation centre or an ashram. From before the days of the Beatles, this place's main draw was its high concentration of ashrams, from where to learn the art of meditation and yoga. Nowadays, the place is crammed with travellers following the same route, and looking very happy in the process. Shortly after the bridge are the white sandy beaches, which seems hard to believe and a welcome relief to sit and chill on a beach inland in India on the bank of the holy Ganges! Seems a million miles from the noise and bustle of the congested cities which I now prefer to avoid. Many people come to sit on the beach with their mentors to discuss a range of topics. Spent a litte while overhearing a japenese guy being psychoanalysed. If anyone started to psychoanalyse me, they would be here for a very very long time. Probably beyond hope!

Walking south of here past the Ram Jhula suspension bridge leads into the busy part of the area; Filled with shrines, trinket shops, restaurants and lodges. Went to the location of this evening's puja but will return later to watch proceedings. Off to eat first at the Chotiwala restaurant. The two guys still sat outside ringing their bells and smiling for the camera. Had a nice bengali thali for 55 rupees...nice and cheap meal! Just fitted nicely with enough time to walk back for the puja. There is an international yoga festival here in march 2008 and ahead of that, a new platform is under construction in front of the place where the current puja is done. Unfortunately, that does spoil the setting somewhat. Instead of a nice view of the Ganges, the view is obstructed by a crane, two big circular pits for the platform plinths and loads of bags of rubble stacked everywhere. For the pilgrims to float their candle down the candle, they currently have to make do with a tiny stream and the main river has been walled off around the construction area. To top it off, the crane was still churning away when the puja started and the guy in charge had to plead with the crane operator to stop as there was a battle going on with the singing and the engine. Once stopped it was a bit more pleasant an occasion.

As this is the third puja I have now visited, I am getting into it...Harry rama, Krishna Rama, Krishna Krishna, Rama Rama...and on we go again! Good job the lyrics are simple enough!

There is a bit more to it than that, but by hindi isn't up to joining in when it gets complicated. The temperature plummets at night and when you are toasting during the day, you have to remember to carry enough clothing to stop freezing to death on the walk back.

Well, my time in India is nearing an end as the next couple of days are mainly travelling and making the connections to head south to Sri Lanka for Christmas. Confirmed my flights with the airlines today, so all in order.

It is amazing on reflection, what I now take as normal in India.... Cows walking down the street (or just about everywhere); Everyone spits (aweful habit and to have to put up roadsigns saying 'no spitting' is not nice); People regularly clearing their throats in the most vocal manner they can in public; The chaos of the traffic and occasionally seeing someone get knocked over, brush themselves off and carry on as if nothing has happened; Permanently having to look at the ground as you walk, to dodge the cow dung; Not the cleanest country in the world; Some of the most disfigured people you will ever see in your life, to the point that you almost stop noticing them as you walk along as there are so many; So many beggars, that if I had given just 1 rupee to everyone that asked for money, I would be poor myself by now! Now that sounds like a lot of negatives....well, look at the positives..... The indian people are incredibly hospitable and friendly; They are over-the-top in many aspects of their day-to-day life.... They are extremely devoted to their faiths, whichever they believe; They carry everything on their heads - luggage, wood, straw, trays of fruit, etc; The women wear bold colours and jewellery and they look stunning; India has some of the prettiest firls on the planet; Copious amounts of chbeap fresh fruit available (bananas, apples, pineapple, guava, papaya, chiku, oranges, etc); They love their music loud - celebrate it, don't hide it!; The most incredible movies to lift the spirits; A quirky transport system that on one hand takes some getting used to for the foreigner, but on the other is an amazing mesh of cheap, go everywhere transport that works and seems to be self-adjusting as it runs on IST - Indian Stretchable Time! ; A country of extremes - mad cities but extremely beautiful landscapes and countyside; Great food - don't run away from street food, enjoy it. In many ways it's safer as you can see what you are getting!

I could spend much more time in India as many people do, especially working in the communities on volunteer projects. Maybe one day I will return to do that? But all in all, it is time to move on and I have seen enough to satisfy what I came here for. I do have a personal list of favourites that have made this a great experience, not say that others haven't been good too....Taj Mahal us stunning, Varanasi and its burning ghats will burn itself into your memories forever, Kerala backwaters is tranquil with its houseboats and venice-like canals, Pushkar camel festival was brilliant  - camels against a burnt orange sunset is unforgettable, The Golden temple in Amritsar and sleeping in the dorms, The theatrical attilla-Wagah India/Pakistan border crossing, The Maharaja's Palace at Mysore, so many stunning temples you lose count (Kapaleeshwar temple in Chennai is a superb one, the Bahia lotus temple in Delhi another), Staying in a palace and at a hilltop fort, Kathakali dance in Karnataka, Khajuraho, McLeod Ganj and the buddhist temple, The toy train ride to Shimla and the town itself, Darjeeling and tea plantations, The trip to Rhotang La and the stunning views. The icing on the cake has been the great people I have met along the way, who I hope to stay in contact with as it is they who have made each place that bit better. Don't ever be put off coming to India by some of the adverse comments you hear (and even my own at times). It is a country that has to be approached with the right attitude to get the most from it. Do that, and you will find it the most fascinating of experiences.

Mustn't forget the foray into Nepal along the way...expensive, but worth it. The himalayas are awesome. Chitwan NP is a beauty and not to be missed. Don't forget that Nepal is 15 mintes time diff from India! Seems like a small point but worth note. Take a breathing mask when visiting Kathmandu - but go there are there is lots to see and do!

Thu 20th Dec - Return to Haridwar for the overnight 4042 'Mussorie express' sleeper train to Delhi. By the way...for anyone comparing the benefits of using either 3AC/2AC class compared with ordinary Sleeper class. Save your money and go Sleeper (SL) class as it's a third of the cost and if you feel the cold, take a blanket in cold months as no bedding is provided, whereas it is in AC classes. The beds are exactly the same and there is a vastly increased chance of getting a booking. AC classes sell out quicker, and to be honest I found them colder as the AC is permanently on and often too cold and in your face. You don't need it anyway. Get yourself an account with www.irctc.co.in And do your own train booking rather than rely on travel agents. It's so easy to use and you can print your tickets and get get e-mail confirmation and pay by credit card through a secure payment server so no worries. If you have to cancel for any reason you only lose 60 rupees admin fee and that can be done on-line too. I only hope that other countries have such an easy to use system as has been the case in India. For extensive travel in India, buy a copy of 'Trains-at-a-glance' for 35 rupees from train stations/bookshops. Here endeth the Indian transport network sales advertisement! Do you think I should ask for commission for that little bit of advice! For further detail visit www.seat61.com

Got my camera cards on to DVD for sending back to the UK. The Italian restaurant and cyber café the other side of the Lakshman Jhula bridge is cheap and you can buy the packaging cheap in a bookshop just along the road from it too.

Just in case anyone wants to get from Lakshman Jhula to Haridwar, there is one bus a day that goes from the market square for 23 rupees that leaves at noon, so saves you having to get a rickshaw to the bus stand first. Lonely planet doesn't mention it. Typical of most buses here...get on an empty bus and watch it fill to over-capacity before your eyes, with people hanging off it and sitting on your luggage. If it's in the way, they'll chuck it on the roof without asking you. Just take it in your stride as it's all ok.

If you have big hair and a beard then put a picture up somewhere and they'll think you're a guru of some kind - it helps if you can contort yourself into totally impossible positions and hum a nice tune at the same time. The place is full of so many gurus to help you meditate...it would be easier and cheaper to just remove the horns from every vehicle in India.   With the ensuing peace and quiet, you wouldn't need to escape the stresses of everyday life here!

Back in Haridwar to the steaming heat....scorchio! Got some posting done, which is always a pleasure as shedding any weight from one's backpack helps. The post office in Haridwar is friendly enough once they stop sending you to different counters. Now the waiting game to see if it all arrives in one piece. Like most places in the world, if you mark something 'fragile - do not bend', that means jump up and down on it, throw it across the sorting office and generally abuse it to see if you can get some noise out it - If it doesn't rattle afterwards then try harder!

Lots of time to kill whilst waiting for my train (4042 Mussorie express to Delhi), which doesn't depart until 23:05. Cup of coffee at one of the fake Chotiwala restaurants on Upper road, nice and quiet though with all that noise going on outside in the streets. Later on dinner at the Big Ben restaurant, which is part of the Azure Ganga hotel on railway road near to the station. Really good quality food and priced ok, helped by a nice time chatting to a brazilian girl from Switzerland, who couldn't make up her mind whether to spend 3 or 4 weeks in India as was missing home already after 3 days! Mmm tricky one that.

Adjourn to the cold draughty and noisy environment of the upper class waiting room at the railway station for what seems like a lifetime. Not to bad really as it gave me time to start reading up on my next destination of Sri Lanka. More to come on that later, but excited about it. Chatted to an Indian family from Delhi on their way home. Such a friendly bunch as I have come to expect, complete with annoying kid, who had the fidgety habits of a worm until I had a word with him, or else physical torture would have followed!

Why are station waiting rooms always freezing and full of people with more ailments than a doctor's surgery waiting room - sniff, cough, fart....and that was just me....jokin!

Whoopee...train set off on time at 23:05 and straight to bed.

Fri 21st Dec - Decided to get off the train at Old Delhi Instead of going through to Sarai Rohilla, where I was supposed to get off, as SR is a mess and not the best place to have to spend any time ir pick up a taxi. Old Delhi is a crazy place but at this early time, a better option as you can get breakfast here in the foodcourt, plus there is a pre-paid booth for sorting out transport. Picked up a rickshaw to the domestic airport for 120 rupees. A taxi would have been 300 rupees. A point worth noting here....the airport is still locally known as 'Palam' although it was re-named 'Indira Ghandi International (IGI)' some time ago. Even the domestic airport is called IGI. The international and domestic terminals are separated, so it is important to know where you are going and also there are two domestic terminals 1A and 1B depending on which airline you are using. I'm flying to Chennai with Indian Airlines, so terminal 1A.

Loads of time to kill as my flight isn't until 16:45, but I would rather sit in a warm airport than a cold railway station or a noisy city. Good choice as this one has a nice choice of food stalls and is clean and organised. The only problem is service without a smile as airport foodstalls seem incapable of pleasantries!

What a difference a decent internet connection makes. The communication centre near the entrance to the domestic departures is really fast and 50 rupees an hour (plus wi-fi). Booked my return flight to go from Sri Lanka to Maldives for a few days and some accommodation too. Also managed to get a good deal on a subsequent flight to take me from Sri Lanka to Bangkok in Thailand for the start of my South East Asia adventure as well as managing to pick up a guide book in the travellers store in departures. Major progress, so time well spent. After all that activity, time to relax ahead of the now delayed flight to Chennai. Lovely sunny day outside, so time to do some plane watching and catch up with the abundance of free newspapers.

As is normal for India, my flight got delayed, so longer wait. Indian Airlines are a good one to fly with. One of the best in-flight meals for a long time.

Free picked by the 'Heera hotel' shuttle waiting on arrival (the nearest decent reasonably priced hotel to the airport at only 3km away), along with a father and his daughter that came in on another flight. The uncanny thing is that we are going on the same flight to Sri Lanka tomorrow morning. It's been a  long day, so shower, shave, catch up on the news on BBC world and bed.

Tags: Sightseeing


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