“On the road to Rishikesh I was dreaming more or less,
And the dream I had was true Yes, the dream I had was true”
Indeed the Beatles were successful in putting words to the feelings that one gets in fascinating Rishikesh. The emerald green water, the equally green hills and the shimmering white sand… I thought only Goa could spur such magic… But I was completely wrong.
“Bungee Jumping! Cliff Jumping! Rock Climbing! Fox Flying! Rappelling!” I could hear these words off and on in the office; in hushed voices most of us were planning on what we were going to try other than white water rafting. Our office trip was scheduled for March 28, the last weekend of the month and may I say that it is one of the best months to go rafting in Rishikesh, when water temperature is moderate (still cold) and the weather is neither too hot nor too cold; other than that for best rafting experience one can either go in the months of March to May or between October and November.
After finishing office on Friday, we planned on leaving for Rishikesh. Our train New Delhi-Dehradun AC Express was scheduled for Haridwar at 11.55 pm. There are about 8 trains from Delhi to Haridwar, which takes 4 to 7 hours to reach. From Haridwar, you can either take a bus to Rishikesh or a three-wheeler auto-rickshaw. Another way to reach Rishikesh from Delhi is to take a bus or book a cab.
Rishikesh is an ideal weekend getaway from Delhi; the place leaves you completely rejuvenated, and helps you conquer your fears and fulfill all your adventure fantasies. So, the best tip for a Rishikesh tour is to leave on Friday evening, reach Rishikesh on Saturday, enjoy the rafting and other adventure activities and then return on Sunday. You are guaranteed to start the new week with a fresh mind and lot of enthusiasm.
The four hours journey to Haridwar left us with little scope for sleep, so we decided on taking pictures, chatting and playing cards… our group of 9 people totally bustled the entire train compartment with of course Shikha’s over the top voice. Boy! She chirps like a lark, only too frequently… LOL! We managed to get some sleep and being right on schedule we reached Haridwar at 4AM. Haridwar’s platform was clean and nothing like in Delhi; one thing that I have noticed is that smaller the city, the cleaner its railway station is. I regret to say that Delhi being the capital has one of the worst railway stations in the country. Even though we could see people lying on the platform here as well, but it was still relatively in better condition than the one in the Capital.
It was still dark when we reached Haridwar; it seemed almost mid-night to me. Our eyes were puffed with partial sleep, but the cool air had started to cast its spell on us, and we craved for tea and a pair of uppers as well. Haridwar welcomed us with sugary tea, beckoning a sweet start to a spicy journey!
Rishikesh is about 20kms from Haridwar. We took an auto and started early for Rishikesh. The dark sky hindered the view, however, and the cool breeze was telling us that we were heading closer to the hills. Our 45 minutes journey was definitely a delight, especially for Swairik who was sitting on the step of the auto… Swapnil with his usual cheerful spirit and clown like acts entertained us all through our way. The auto dropped us at Shri Radha Krishna Mandir, from where we had to take another vehicle to reach our camp, Alaknanda River Rafting Camp located in Byasi, which is approximately 38kms above Rishikesh. Swairik’s foreigner friend Lisa, who was staying at Lavazza Café, was supposed to greet us at Lakshman Jhula at 6.30 AM. Since it was just 5.15 AM, we decided to take a little hike to Lakshman Jhula and other nearby places.
We ran and cut through the meandering alleys of Rishikesh, which were almost empty at the moment with few small dhabas and restaurants open. The first glimpse of River Ganga stunned us… WOW! Was all I could say… I am certainly not a morning person, but if every morning would allow me to get such a spectacular view, I might just stop sleeping at all… LOL. The emerald green river accompanied by lofty mountains takes its usual walk. The pebbled path, along the river added to its beauty. I finally dared to soak my feet in the water, Gosh! there was nothing that I can compare the feeling with. Just like the Beatles said it…
“I’m just a child of nature I don’t need much to set me free”
There are buses and jeeps that take you to Byasi from Rishikesh, although sometimes, you have to wait for them for too long! There are a few travel agencies situated at this location as well, but they charge unreasonably; so it is better to wait for a jeep or a bus. We took a jeep, which charged Rs 50 per person. Due to insufficient seats, we decided to split the group and travelled in two different vehicles. The road to Byasi is quite good; one can see the gorgeous River Ganga flowing below. Few cuts and bends, left Rahul, Kapil and Diwakar out of breath and their expressions said it all, as it was their first journey in the hills. The jeep driver had put up some good music and despite the stuffed jeep, I could finally relax.
Byasi stop has few shops where basic stuff was available. We had to climb down a 250m long and steep unmettaled trail; the view of the camp from the trail was spectacular, I mean it was something that I hadn’t seen for a very long time. An array of tents on the white sands overlooking the gorgeous green Ganga… now I know, what is BREATHTAKING! The set of stairs were utterly dangerous, however the view and the excitement to reach such a beautiful location made us forget all hassles. So, here we were, stepping on the white sands, walking in the sun, greeted by the other group from our office, who had already reached before us. The camp was beautiful, the location was beautiful and the ambiance was even more beautiful, Paradise Unparalleled!
There were two types of camps, one that had three beds and were spacious and the other ones were typical camping tents, with most people occupying larger tents, we were left with the option to settle into smaller ones, Swairik took a bright orange tent, next to it Swapnil and Bhaskar occupied the comparatively spacious tent; with Shikha and I ending up in a smallest tent amongst the three, where you had to creep in and similarly creep out, no space for standing or even sitting properly… Our Adventure had begun!!
For most of us, this was our first camping experience. Swapnil and Bhaskar who had trudged to the washroom (tent with a western toilet seat), which was situated at the end of the camp returned with sarcastic smiles on their faces. “There is no water in the washroom and beside there is buckets full of sand in there. I wonder what we are supposed to do with it” said Swapnil in a cynical tone… Indians as we are, we can’t do anything without water!! Well, for me it did turn out be that way, for two days I had to convince my stomach, telling it to calm down for we are going to have a great time when we return to Delhi… Thank You My Survival Instincts!!
After changing clothes and having a refreshing breakfast, everyone started to splash in to the water… followed by screams… uhhhh huhuhu… the water was DAMN cold and the sun was merciless. Although our group had different reasons to scream… there stood a guy in strange green t-shirt and blood red MICRO shorts…it was soooo not a pretty picture, Swairik Das took us all by a disgusting surprise! We girls felt inferior with the length of his shorts and the boys felt uncomfortable with his level of confidence in carrying his bizarre attire… Swairik was now a Superman Redefined!! Anyways, I don’t want to go into the details of this… let me give you few tips on essentials of camping in Rishikesh…
If you are planning to go to Rishikesh and staying in a camp, here are few things that you must carry, first, a sunscreen (of course if you don’t want to get tanned as you are going to spend an entire day in the sun), sun glasses, portable mobile charger (although, few camps provide these), flashlight and lip balm (as the dry air gives you a lip-crack!)
After exhausting ourselves in water with body surfing and kayaking, we headed for a sumptuous buffet. There was no greater feeling than sitting under a shed and munching on some delectable Indian cuisine, while we chatted and laughed crazily. At 3 PM, we were finally called for river rafting.
The adventure took a toll on us, the 250m climb up to the main road from Byasi was literally impossible without breaking a sweat, and by the time we reached the main road we were exhausted. To come to think of it, what a great drawback it is to stay in a city, where motor vehicles are available and everything is available at a short distance. Alas! We all are falling victims to convenience and comfort, allowing our bodies to become delicate and unhealthy. The best thing about hills is that it reminds you that it is still possible to live without many amenities that we consider necessary…
We took a bus, headed for Marine Drive, from where we had to start our 24kms rafting expedition. There are four major stretches for rafting in Rishikesh, Brahmpuri (9kms stretch for family and beginners), Shivpuri (16kms stretch for youngsters), Marine Drive (24kms stretch for daredevils) and Kaudiyala (36kms stretch for experts). Our rafting expedition was from Marine Drive to N.I.M Beach with 4 major rapids (grade III+) namely, Money Maker, Three Blind Mice, Club House and Roller Coaster.
Dropped at a wrong place by the bus, we had to trek to find our rafts. Swairik and I took the main road and after following the same route could find our raft. On the other side, the rest of the troop hiked through a different route, with Rahul, Akhilesh and Diwakar walking barefoot (unfortunately their footwears also decided to take up adventure and dived into Ganges and submerged) on a rocky trail, it must have been killing! Anyways, adventure began for Swairik and me here as we were the only people who had to take the raft on the opposite side of the beach, where rest of the group was waiting. Let me tell you, it is not so easy to row a boat anyways and rowing it against the flow takes a great deal…but we managed! Successfully reaching the other shore, we all geared up for the final adventure… River Rafting in Rishikesh!!!
By now, the sun started to go down, with patches of light here and there on the river and mountains. Cold breeze welcomed us on the raft, and everyone was ready with essential rafting gears like helmet, lifeguard and paddle. I on the other hand was given the privilege of only sitting with the rope to control, NO ROWING! That sounded nice, we started with some gentle rowing, laughter and smiles… The first rapid was a mild one…the best was about to come! I could hear the sound of the second rapid and it seemed dangerous, our guide instructed that we need to row together and faster when we reach the rapid…that was alarming… We finally faced the second rapid that gave us the taste of extreme adventure; the front of the raft dived in to the river, with Kapil, Swapnil and I literally drinking the water of Ganga with both mouth and nose… BIZZARE! We were out of the rapid and were alive! On the third major rapid the raft completely turned towards the right, I once thought that Swapnil might fall off, but he survived, he was rowing hard, with his eyes closed, which made me laugh…he was doing everything he could to survive in this particular rapid. By the fourth rapid named Roller Coaster, which was the longest, everyone was a bit tired but DAMN the monster rapid put everyone in an alert position, Swapnil again rowing with closed eyes and Kapil waiting for the tide to come to him, as he didn’t want to row in the air… LOL! I felt someone was throwing bucketful of water on me, the warm weather and cold water made for a strange combination. It was at least 10 minutes of fast rowing that pulled us out of the gigantic rapid…the quite water followed with few minor rapids to N.I.M Beach… We had just faced death and lived a life!!
By the time we finished our rafting adventure, it had got dark. Drenched, tired and cold, now we desperately wanted to reach the camp. What was looking as an easy descent in the morning was now the hardest trail with no lights at all. We managed to reach the camp without breaking any of our bones and teeth. The beach was dimly lit with two bonfires, one was for us and the other for another corporate group from Delhi. The other group was drinking, singing and lighting up and releasing the Chinese lanterns in the sky… what a beautiful view it was!
After changing clothes, we circled around the bonfire, sharing experiences and laughter. The night had started to become cold and we could no longer hear the sound of the river. The multitude of stars was shining brightly, a rare sight that we don’t get to see in cities… I was in love with Rishikesh, not love at first sight, but love that has grown and multiplied in the course of time, love that may become unconditional someday…