Summary of India diary entries by Rob Shackleford
Diary Entry 7 – North to Rishikesh
Read the other India Diary entries:
Start in Mumbai
Up & Down
Into the Desert
North to Rishikesh
Kathmandu and Home
As we arrive from Bikaner into Delhi via our overnight rail trip, the predawn is surprisingly chill. I’m awoken in our crowded sleeper carriage by someone hawking and spitting in a most spectacular fashion, so I get up and walk to the nearby open carriage door and watch the smog-shrouded pastoral scenery pass by. Unfortunately, we visit when the weather has changed towards winter and Delhi’s pollution becomes truly apocalyptic. For some years now, the mighty city of Delhi has received the questionable honour of being one of the most polluted places on earth. At times, Kyle and I have been assaulted by air pollution that is so bad that, at the airport, we can’t see the tail of the plane we are boarding.
Some put it down to farmers burning harvest chaff, inefficient coal fired power stations burning Australia’s exports of ‘Clean’ coal, or too many cars on the roads, but this isn’t just about Delhi, or even India. The entire Asian continent has a severe air pollution problem, plastic pollution problem, and social inequality problem. Sure, Delhi’s population is around that of Australia’s, at 24 million, but of all cities in the rapidly developing nation, Delhi would be the wealthiest, with highly educated Indians changing the world. In fact, I understand that India has more millionaires than Australia has people. Here, I can’t help but see a dark future if we continue with unchecked consumerism and fossil fuel consumption , for the results will begin to show, even in my beloved Australia. We may ignore it and governments will continue to try to distract because they are in the fossil fuel industry’s pockets, but when we can’t take a clean breath, the consequences will be tragic. Western nations try to ignore the process, for our rubbish is quickly buried. When you ride these roads it’s obvious. In Asia, especially India, it’s plain to see. It’s only a matter of time for us all.
Check out more on Delhi’s Air here.
We arrive in Delhi and there’s the usual struggle as we jostle and carry our bags. As predicted, there is confusion as to where our bikes actually are, but in the end we find them, get the permissions to remove, and then wheel them from the railway stock area. the bikes arrived in great condition and on time. What can I say – and great value too. But here is the rub – we couldn’t leave fuel in the bikes, it’s illegal to buy fuel and place it into a portable container, so we can’t ride our bikes to a garage without fuel.
Kyle and a tuk-tuk driver manage to get to a garage and illegally buy about a litre of fuel. they return in celebration and pour that into our fuel tanks, but it’s not enough to start the big bikes. All loaded up as they are, we are compelled to do what the rail guys told us, which is to wheel the bikes through the insanity of Delhi traffic to the nearest garage.
Imagine pushing a fully loaded 500cc Royal Enfield through 4 undisciplined lanes of Delhi traffic and, after almost a kilometer, hoping to arrive in one piece. At one stage a friendly tuk-tuk driver encourages me to mount my bike and he then gives my bike a kick with his foot as he ride behind. That sound great in theory, but each kick threatens to send me careening into the parked cars, bikes and tuk-tuks that line the road.
Ultimately, I have to do what I don’t want, which is manually push my bike through the traffic. Despite Indian drivers’ murderous tendencies, drivers wave me across in the friendliest fashion, pausing in the traffic snarl to give me access. Miracle of miracles, I finally arrive, sweating and really pissed off, at the garage to fill my bike. I see Kyle crossing the same gauntlet. Naturally we are soaked in sweat and had been freely cursing the ridiculous system that required us to do what we just did. With our broken sleep, it does not bode a good start to our journey.
The bikes take a lot of fuel – about 1000 rupees worth which for us is a princely $20. that’s a lot of money here. Now we do what neither of us ever wanted to do – which is ride into Delhi’s peak hour traffic.
Just as a reminder, remember we don’t really know where we are going. Too often we have to find a space by the side of the road to stop and consult Guru Maps. With no places to stop, that is not an easy process. The traffic becomes increasingly more insane. Think of two lanes fitting 4 – 5 lanes of traffic. There is no real structure. Every gap is taken by bikes and scooters, while the bigger buses and trucks barge on through. Thanks to Kyle and I having experienced Indian traffic for a few weeks, we are unfazed and make our way through the choking fumes and jostling cars. On more than one occasion I accidentally strike a review mirror with my handlebars, folding it forward as I pass.
Somehow, we stay together.
I know, I continue to make a big deal of India’s urban traffic, but when trying to ride a motorbike in it, the whole thing feels dangerous and ridiculous. It’s a case of adapt or die! I’ve included these images to give some idea on what the congestion can be like. For us, in the stew of it all, is much worse.
We struggle for hours to travel the 41km to Ghaziabad, where we eventually find a bypass which escapes the main highway for a few hours. While busy in some places, it passes through country that is pretty and green, a relief from what we left behind. Somewhere we stop to buy water and a few pieces of fruit. We rarely eat breakfast when on the road, and sometimes only have one meal a day. On this occasion Kyle is annoyed as a particularly persistent female beggar repeatedly grabs at his arm.
We reach Haridwar, then push on to Rishikesh. This is another long, hard ride. We then have the usual struggle to find our booked accommodation. Somehow we end up at what looks like a run-down retreat for old women, where the rooms are monk cells and monkeys fight on the roof. Kyle looks to me in dismay at my accommodation choice as women stare out at us and our noisy bikes in horror. Thankfully, it was a case of wrong destination. One of the staff from our stay rescues the women, for our real stay is only a short, convoluted path away.
Our guest house is worth the tiny cost, but little more. Travellers’ tip: Sometimes, in India, it doesn’t pay to save $10 a night. Make the extra investment!! But we did have hot water, which was a relief, so after our day and night and day without any wash, a warm squat bath made me feel much better.
A tuktuk takes us to Ram Jhula, one of the two epic Rishikesh bridges that span the mighty River Ganges. We found a cafe and had a very poor pizza. Indians are amazing at their own food, but unless you are desperate, stay away from the pizza. Unfortunately, Kyle is initially not happy with the vibe of Rishikesh, with the aggressive shop keepers, but it’s a mood thing I put that down to tiredness. For us, sleep is vital. Our accommodation has dogs. One our initial arrival, one barks as if afraid, while one is tied up and savage. They are just suitable for a facility for tourist guests. you can tell we have been on the road when it is exciting to complete a pile of washing (ie stomp and rinse using shampoo in the bucket) and hang the sorry lot on a line outside of our room. Alas, the dogs bark for most of the night.
Compared to many places we have been, Rishikesh is chill and yoga. There are quite a few westerners with scarves around their necks and in yoga pants. The yoga and mindfulness industry is booming and on many occasions we notice young, attractive women with a ‘guru’ who is chatting over dinner in an animated fashion. The women seem flattered and the ‘gurus’ look calculating. Kyle comments with a smile, “Looks like that dude’s going to give her more than a little enlightenment.”
I look across and laugh. It’s so transparent. “Hell yeah. He’s going to pound that enlightenment into her.”
Kyle groans, so I ask, “Too far?”
He shrugs. “Maybe. It’s pretty obvious though,” he adds as the ‘guru’ pays and hurries his pretty student away.
We find an pleasant dining place called the Café on Goa. It has an excellent view over the Ganges River at the Lakshman Jhule Bridge and the manager is quite a joker. He advises of a suitable place to swim in the Ganges. We had planned to go to Haridwar but other guests, Indians, advise otherwise. “Not Haridwar!” they warn. “It is too filthy and crowded. Swim here, in Rishikesh!” When in India, you just have to swim in the sacred River Ganges, or the Mother Ganga as it is known locally. the trick is to find a place that i clean, safe and free from bother. So, we later grab swimmers and swim from a small, sandy beach. Here, in Rishikesh, the Ganges rushes like a massive, mountain stream. If you swim into the current, you can be whisked away. It turns out there are a lot of excellent swim places in Rishikesh. The water is clean and so chill I am flat out staying for a few minutes. Kyle and I each duck under water five times for maximum blessings.
A place we like is the Beatles Ashram, now largely abandoned but once a training place for Transcendental Meditation and where the Beatles and many other of the famous stayed and wrote much of the greatest music. It is home for some pretty cool graffiti and, if you can dodge other tourists, a quiet place to think.
There are too many good little shops, so our jaded mood evaporates. There are charming music and jewellery stalls aplenty, so we buy our girls a few little things before we jump on the bikes and ride to Neer Falls. It’s such a narrow, windy road to falls that are hardly worth the effort. Dressed in a t-shirt and keens the ride feels light, especially without my baggage. Yes, the ride as fun.
Tomorrow we ride to the great mountain, Nanda Devi, in the Indian Himalayas.
Rob Shackleford is author of Traveller Inceptio, published by British publisher, Austin Macauley.
If you read Traveller Inceptio and like it – please place a review on Amazon and the Austin Macauley site Here
Kyle Shackleford is musician Milo Hunter Band and a Chef.