Friday, February 25, 2011

Haridwar + Rishikesh

there were a few holidays last week.. so on friday, anna and i traveled to Haridwar (about 3hrs away) and Rishikesh (about an hour into the mountains from Haridwar) for the weekend.  the two cities are in another state, Uttarakhand, northwest of our state, Uttar Pradesh.  melanie wanted to see some friends in Delhi before they left, so she wasn't able to come with us.  needless to say, we all took advantage of the time off and were eager to get out of town for a bit.  it was our first time traveling together alone, so we weren't positive we would make it there and back.  we took the bus.  the school driver dropped us at the "bus station", more like an area where buses happen to stop at a roundabout and people just run frantically to the buses before leaving.  usually there are so many people trying to get on at once that it looks like a bunch on ants crowding on top of each other fighting their way in.. i was lucky to make it on actually, since the bus was moving as i was pushing my way through the door.  i knew i had to make it in since anna was already on the bus.  it was crowded to say the least, but i was able to get a seat after only 20 mins.

even though the travel was direct, it was surprising that it took over 3 hours to go only about 90km.. should have been half that time the way the bus was flying down the road, nearly killing everyone a few times.  Haridwar is a crowded place.  we arrived in the afternoon completely disoriented on which way to go and where.. luckily we had anna's lonely planet book to help us find a place to stay and navigate the town.  the high season in Haridwar is from March to November, so we were there at a good time.  the city is regarded by hindus as one of the seven holiest places, especially the Har Ki Pauri ghat where apparently drops of immortality were spilled and where Vishnu's footprint is said to have been found.  the place clearly attracts lots of pilgrims from all over for the aarti, a form of the puja ceremony in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) and a basket (made of leaves and flowers) is offered to one or more god.  millions of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists congregate in Haridwar to perform ritualistic bathing on the banks of the river Ganges to wash away their sins to attain moksha (release from suffering associated with repeated death & reincarnation).  the river is incredibly polluted here and not particularly pretty.  the platforms around the ghats (steps that go down into the river) are surrounded by temples.  anna and i felt a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing.. we were harassed a lot by beggars and priests for money, and for pictures with locals (i now know how awful it would be to be a celebrity).  but once the aarti was over (after sundown), the crowds dispersed and the area was quite serene.  that night the moon was full and red (not sure still if there was a lunar eclipse), so it only added to the extravagance of the landscape.  we stayed in a hotel a bit farther down from the main area.. i think we were the only guests there so we got first class treatment complete with lunch and breakfast at our own private table in front of the river haha.

the next morning, we decided to leave and head out for Rishikesh.  i was more enthused about going since it was made famous by the Beatles in the 60s.. they wrote their White album there (my favorite), it's also the yoga capital of the world (not that that means much to me).. but i think anna was ready to go somewhere else and it was only an hour away on a vikram.  a vikram is a little car that goes about 30mph and is like a taxi.. it's made to fit about six people, but somehow they manage to fit ten.  the ride is up into the mountains. when we arrived we just walked around the bazaars where they had tons of little shops selling clothing, jewelry, and tourist things.  we saw lots of foreigners.. and for us, who hadn't seen any for a month, we were excited to talk to people.  we spent the day walking all around and back and forth between the valley.  there are two pedestrian bridges that connect the valley and cross the Ganges.  the river here was much more beautiful.. the mountains were larger and there were beaches along the river.  we found a guest house to stay in called Kamal's that was just off a road where i asked a lady for directions who just happened to be from Sao Paulo, Brazil!  there were people from all over at this place.. all foreigners. Rishikesh is a popular place for backpackers and spiritualists and pseudo-spiritualists.  people of all ages too.  the guest house was so nice because it looked out onto the river.. it was really peaceful there.  at night, we went to the aarti there as well which was held at the Parmath Niketan Ashram.  it was more intimate than the overwhelming parade that was held in Haridwar.  of course, anna and i caught the end of it, but we were still able to see all of the lights lit up and the many candle-lit flower baskets in the river.  i lit one for my grandpa.  we ate so well in Rishikesh too!  the food there was so good.. lots of paneer (made of milk.. texture is similar to blocks of cheese or tofu) in different flavors.  going there only made me want to travel more...  anna, melanie and i have already planned a trip during Holi (week long holiday in March) to Rajasthan (northwest India about 14 hrs away).. we're excited.

so it was a really nice trip.. and good to get out and talk to people.. hear about their travels and get to know another state.  we had to return to Haridwar on vikram to catch the bus there back to Dhampur.  we somehow made it back fine the next day after another 4 hours on bus.  lots of pictures.. 


                                                       ghats at night after crowds left
                                                 our hotel
                                        anna and i's private lunch table on the river

                                            flower baskets to place in river

                                                          Har Ki Pauri ghats
                                        people watching the ceremony

                                               down in the bazaar area.. street-filled shops
                                        kids placing baskets into river
                              taking light (positive energies) from flame (part of aarti)
                                                         red moon


                                                                    aarti ceremony

                                         lakshman jhula (one of the pedestrian bridges)

                                          the street that our guest house was on

                           view from our deck at the guest house! they also had pancakes
                                                      w/ bananas and nutella :)
                              a machine we walked by that could tell your future.. quite a machine
                                     walking down the hills to the river to view the aarti

                                                at the river before the aarti
                                    site of the aarti - parmath niketan ashram
                                                                      aarti ceremony
                                                         shiva statue

Monday, February 21, 2011


anna and i continue to take our walks.

                                the kids from the colony next to our school always calling at us

                                                   some girls we met

                                                wanted a picture with me

                                                    ...wanted us to follow them

                        meet their family who was working in the field

                                                anna in the middle of the eucalyptus
                                                           brown cow

                                                         white cow