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INDIA | Monday, 22 September 2008 | Views [2782]

17/09/2008 - 22/09/2008


Very used to the trains and their setup now, we settled into our spots on the early morning train. It was a long journey for the distance - all the express trains were booked, so we were on the 'all stations'. That particular train had been going for 2 days, so it was the final stretch for it's occupants. We pushed into our cabin and took to our bunks. The already occupying family was great - it was 2 elderly sisters and their husbands, happily moving so we could set up our beds, stow our things etc. Still not feeling 100%, Didi and i both crashed, sleeping half the day away to the gentle rocking of the train. I awoke to the chai baba's cry, and went to enjoy some platform food - we had stopped. That's the only good thing about all stations trains - you get a chance every 1/2 hour or so to get some hot food from the platforms. I came back to find Didi engrossed in conversation with our cabin mates. They were laughing and joking and they had put a bindi on Didi's head.. I'd only been gone 5 minutes! And so it was for the next couple of hours; Didi and her new Indian grandmothers. And as they got up to leave, a new family moved in.. Well, 4 families actually - not everyone could fit in the cabin! Just curious people, wanting to talk, find out where we were from, etc etc. 20 minutes into that, and yet another man gently interrupts, and asks us to join him and his friends in their cabin - we seemed to be the talk of the carriage, and everyone wanted a piece of us!

We disembarked at Haridwar, escaped the waiting taxi drivers, and found ourselves a chai baba. And just in time - the rain started coming down as soon as we entered. And it wasn't pretending either - within 5 minutes, the gutter became a river. After 10 minutes, it was a torrent covering the whole road, and everything inside our tiny chai stall was nearly as wet. I cradled my hot chai, and prayed it would stop before dark, which was approaching faster than i would have liked. As i finished my second cup, i decided it was time to brave it - it had died down a fraction. Still having to wade through shin deep water to leave the stall, we ventured up the road to the bus stand, easily found an imminently departing one, and got in. All in all, we had done rather well - only the very extremities of our packs were wet. I was of course drenched (my emergency poncho being packed at the bottom of my bag - stupid), but i would dry out...

Unfortunately, most of our time in Rishikesh was spent playing tag team for the bathroom. Still not well after Delhi, at least we were in a beautiful spot, amoungst the trees and in a clean hotel. With hot water, and room service. It made all the difference. Even with sore stomachs, we managed to get down to Laxman Jula area, check out the temples, drink chai with the baba's, cross the amazing suspension bridge along with the cows, monkeys, motorbikes and the myriad different people. I was blessed, threw an offering into the holy Ganga, watched white water rafters desperately try to regain their boat, and of course, brushed up on my hebrew. In the area at the top of the hill where we stayed, the ratio of Israeli's-Other Tourists was about 20-1. More signs in hebrew than in english, it's pretty incredible. An entry in the elusive Israeli Planet can really change a place.

One experience i love when being in such a foriegn place, is when someone calls out your name. When you are so far away from home and anything familiar, it can be a shock. It happened to me in Margao with my Keralan friends from the train. And it happened to Didi in Rishikesh. Walking back from a jaunt into town, in a busy part of Laxman Jula, an elderly woman calls to Didi and starts waving - sure enough, it's one of her Indian grandmothers from the train! And she led us to say hello to all the family again, which was of course a spectactle for all the Indians around.

And i don't have much more to say about Rishikesh, except that i wish that we weren't ill. Even being such a busy little place, so full of activity - pilgrims, tourists (Indian as well as foriegn), rafting, trekking, temples, yoga and cooking courses - even with all this, it is still so easy to feel the relaxed atmosphere. The fresh air, the forests, the river, the history of the town, the reverence the people have for the river, the beauty, the people themselves - it all makes Rishikesh an amazing place to be. Even with stomach cramps. But enough about that. It's time to put stomach complaints behind us, and brave the Indian Railway network again - to Shimla in Himachal Pradesh. Shimla is to be our gateway to Himachal Pradesh, where we will buy some shoes, socks and warm clothes. After 3 months of scorching summer i was desperate for the hills, but i would need to supplement my meagre wardrobe. And get some shoes... While an overnight bus would have been the easier and more direct way there, i was really obsessed with riding the small guage cog train from Kalka to Shimla. This meant a train from Rishikesh to Ambala Cant, then another to Kalka, then of course the small guage from Kalka to Shimla. But do you think there was connecting trains? Of course not. There were a few hours involved in both waits. In the end i settled for an overnight stay in Ambala Cant. Surely there would be a hotel near the station. I have decided against overnight travel unless necessary - it's just too tiring, and i'm in no great hurry....


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