rishikesh: india’s shangri-la

Wednesday, March 9Rishikesh:  Magnet for spiritual seekers. 1960s rock-out spot for the Beatles at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  “Yoga Capital of the World.”  Meditation and mind expansion.  Pilgrims and tourists.  Vegetarians. The Ganges.  Serenity.  Ommmm.

Hotel Divine Resort in Rishikesh

Hotel Divine Resort in Rishikesh

Rishikesh is a veritable Shangri-la.

It’s quite cool starting out in the morning at the Hotel Divine Resort in High Bank, on the west side of the Ganges. We eat breakfast and walk around our multi-layered hotel looking out over the Ganges River.  The river is hemmed in by mountains on both sides.  It  is perfectly utopian-lovely.  A cool breeze rinses over us.  We can tell right away we’re going to like this place.

Hindu gods and goddesses (?) at the Hotel Divine Resort.

Hindu gods and goddesses (?) at the Hotel Divine Resort.

We are now a day behind on our itinerary, due to yesterday’s disastrous trip.  We were supposed to have arrived in Rishikesh early yesterday afternoon, but of course we didn’t get here till 10 p.m.  The original plan was to spend some of this morning here as well, taking off for Corbett Tiger Reserve late this afternoon.  There is no way Jayne and I want to leave Rishikesh today for another long drive.   We want the whole day here and we want to spend the night here, but of course that will require some rearranging by our travel agent and by Singh.  We are so irritated by Singh at this point that we tell him we don’t want to see him all day; we will find our way around.  We tell him we will meet him back at the hotel at around 1:00, at which time we hope he will have arranged our second night’s stay in Rishikesh.  We emphatically tell him we DO NOT want to drive to Corbett today.

Ram Jhula (suspension bridge) ~ SUPPOSED to be pedestrian-only....

Ram Jhula (suspension bridge) ~ SUPPOSED to be pedestrian-only….

We walk down Lakshman Jhula Road for quite a distance, then cross the Ganges on a pedestrian-only bridge called Ram Jhula (suspension bridge).  Somehow no one else seems to know it’s pedestrian-only as numerous motorcycles roar by nearly knocking us over.  On the east side of the bridge is Swarg Ashram, the traffic-free “spiritual center” of Rishikesh.  In Swarg Ashram, we encounter cows on the street (surprise!), a man pushing a cart of these red carrots which don’t seem to be carrots at all but some unidentified vegetable, and guys selling glittery gold jewelry from their motorcycles.

red carrots??

red carrots??

We walk along an asphalt path where we can see inviting sandy beaches on our left and on our right closed gates overgrown with weeds and ruined, dilapidated ashrams.  There are too many cute shops with enticing and colorful clothes and textiles and beautiful jewelry.  We come across a large temple on the river bank called Shri Trayanbakshwar Temple that looks like a 13-story orange-iced wedding cake.

Near that temple, as we are preparing to cross back over the river on the Lakshman Jhula, an entire Indian family stops us and asks to take their pictures with us.

a jewelry store... the store being the bike

a “jewelry store” ~ the “store” being the bike

A teenage boy poses behind me and I’m worried that he will try to steal something out of my backpack, which is between us.  I feel that in India, people always want something from you, usually your money, so I have come quickly not to trust anyone.

Across the bridge, where once again we are nearly run over by motorcycles roaring by on the pedestrian-only bridge, we stop for a cappuccino and an apple lassi at the Devraj Coffee Corner, perched high above the bridge and looking back at the wedding cake temple.  This is a German bakery (these seem to be ubiquitous in India) that serves breakfast and fresh breads and cheeses, apple strudel and croissants, as well as the usual luncheon fare of soups, pizzas and enchiladas.

the wedding cake temple along the Ganges in Rishikesh

the wedding cake temple along the Ganges in Rishikesh

While sipping our drinks and enjoying the breezy view, we meet Nancy from Calgary.  She has spent the entire month of February in a yoga ashram for a cost of $3,000.  She’s decided to extend her stay through March, but she’s now staying in a place for 600 rupees (~$14) a day with all meals included.  The funny thing is that Nancy has never left Rishikesh to explore the rest of India, nor has she had any massages or tried out the many different types of yoga here.  There is a kind of “laughing yoga” which Jayne is dying to try but we can never find a place to do it;  this is only one of the many types offered here.  We are a little surprised that Nancy is not venturing out of Rishikesh during her entire stay.  Neither does she intend to.

Jayne and Nancy from Calgary at the Devraj Coffee Corner

Jayne and Nancy from Calgary at the Devraj Coffee Corner

Only in hindsight, after we finish our final two weeks of travel through India, do we think that maybe she had the right idea.  Because.  Rishikesh is simply lovely.  And the rest of India, at least the northwest of India where we traveled….well, it’s a hardship.

Right beside Devraj Coffee Corner is the Ganga Emporium Bookshop, packed with used books.  Jayne and I both pick up a couple of Kama Sutra gift books.  Jayne intends to give them to friends while I’m curious to read my books myself. 🙂

the snake charmer on the steps near Devraj Coffee Corner

the snake charmer on the steps near Devraj Coffee Corner

On the steps outside the coffee shop is a bearded and turbaned fellow playing some kind of colorful bulbous musical instrument and charming a snake.  I give him some rupees for his little performance.  I think this man is a sadhu, which I will describe later in this blog.

We then wander along further and come upon the Divine Ayurvedic Therapy Centre & Massage School.  Jayne feels we will finally get a deal here since it’s a school.   In fact, we get cheap 45-minute foot and leg massages which feel amazing after walking so much in India and being cramped up in the car all day yesterday.

the masseuse at the Massage School

the masseuse at the Massage School

As we leave the Massage School, we see another guru’s shop, the Ganga Astrology and Palmistry Centre.  We both want to check out the Varanasi guru’s prediction against that of another guru.  Kind of a check and balance.  We wander in and watch the guy, Astrologer (ex-Scientist) B.P. Uniyal, in action with another group.  He says he will be busy for a while with this group so he asks if we can come back in a half hour or so.  We watch him a bit and are quite impressed.  He is asking his customers all kinds of probing questions and is entering the information on his computer.  We like what we hear and decide we’ll wander up the street and then return to get another, possibly truer, reading.

having our photo taken with a big Indian family

having our photo taken with a big Indian family

We stop in various cute shops where we see gorgeous textiles and scarves.   There is definitely good shopping in Rishikesh.  We stop at a music shop where Indian beats are playing on the loudspeaker, and we buy some Bombay Beats at the owner’s recommendation.  Wandering into some little temples, we see relief sculptures of elephants dancing and Indian dancers with red dots on their foreheads.  As always, little shrines sit happily in their nooks, overflowing with brightly colored paintings of octopus-armed gods, flowers, leis, masks, feathers, ceramic tiger-lions, pitchforks, 6-handed goddesses, swatches of jewel-colored textiles and colorful baubles.

Bombay Beats anyone?

Bombay Beats anyone?

Back at the guru’s office, we give Mr. Uniyal the requested information.  He can do a more thorough reading for me (supposedly) because I know the time of my birth.  Jayne doesn’t know her birth time, so she gets the cheaper and shorter version.  He feeds all the information into a computer program and then prints out a multiple-paged document, after which he proceeds to read my future… as well as my palm.

the 6-armed goddess

the 6-armed goddess

The guru’s credentials are as follows: “He took education from Kailash Ashram, Rishikesh and from Acharya Krishna Nanda in Himalaya.  He has having more than 40 years of experience in these fields.  He gives a Vedic  horoscope, where he writes the predictions for whole life of the person about their Health, Wealth, Education, Enemies, Love Affair, future partner, Marriage, Childrens, Disease, Age Fate, work and job, Earning and Expenditures.  We suggest to wear remedial gems and Stones, Yagya (worship), Chanting of Mantra, Fasting, for positive effects of star and planets for gaining of cosmic energy for better health and luck.  We [also] do microscopic studies of lines on hands and do the predictions for your future.”

Here is what this guru tells me:  I will live until I’m about 85.  He doesn’t say how I will die.  I will have a lover after July, 2011, and he will be someone I know (??). He says I had problems when I was 52, and that was about right because I think I had the worst year of my life in all of 2008  (I turned 52 in October of 2007). He says I will be okay as far as property and I will own my own house.  I will work two jobs, one in education and the other will be a creative endeavor, possibly writing.  I will have a peaceful later life and good health, except for a little trouble with my eyes in 2021 and again in 2032.  After 2023, I will have some trouble [on] my blood pressure.  I’ll experience some nervousness, but he doesn’t say when.  I will experience urinary problems (!) in 2030-31.  My financial position will be good (he didn’t say when!).  My children are supportive to me and they will do well in business or service.  I will live a long life.

our Rishikesh guru

our Rishikesh guru

He continues to say I will have a friend in life from June 2011 onwards (Hmm, is this the same person as the lover I will have after July 2011, whom I already know?).  I will do some side business after 2017, related to writing or teaching.  I will be active in my work until 2028!  Long awaited work will come in 2020 and 2028 related to children and other purposes.  I will have a few downhill periods in 2030, 2032 and 2037 and will be governed by old age factors after 2041 (At this time I will be 86.  Of course I will already be dead by then as he said I will die at 85).  I will have a period of strong spiritual growth from 2028 onwards to 2037.

He told me I should wear a ruby set in gold either on the ring finger of my right hand or as a pendant on my neck.  I should chant a mantra: Om Namaha Shivya (“Oh, Lord of the Cosmos, bless me by your cosmic energies.  I salute to you!”)

the Buddha German Bakery, where we have a lovely lunch

the Buddha German Bakery, where we have a lovely lunch

I will do social or charity work from 2030 to 2037, at which time I should wear a cat-eye or tiger-eye in silver.  I will work in 2013-2030.  On the first Wednesday of each month, I should fast.  I can take liquids: water, milk, tea, coffee, or fruit juice, but no food all day.  For dinner, I can eat a vegetarian meal, but no alcohol at dinner.

The guru tells me I am very emotional.

the front view of the cute Buddha German Bakery

the front view of the cute Buddha German Bakery

While we’re in the guru’s office, a bizarre dreadlocked man covered in caked dust and wearing a loincloth wanders in and touches Jayne on her head.  He then carries on a long conversation with the guru and then reaches to touch Jayne’s head again.  Jayne cringes and backs off, telling the guru, “Tell him not to touch me!!”  I find myself trying not to look at him in the hope that I’ll remain incognito to him and he won’t touch me!  He is carrying all kinds of paraphernalia, none of which is remotely identifiable.

The guru tells us the strange fellow is an Aghori ascetic, which is a type of sadhu.  Sadhu is a common term for a mystic, or ascetic, a practitioner of yoga and/or a wandering monk.  A sadhu is dedicated to achieving, in Hinduism, final liberation by contemplating Brahman.  He usually wears ochre-colored clothing to symbolize renunciation.

on the deck of the Buddha German Bakery... so pleasant

on the deck of the Buddha German Bakery… so pleasant

The Aghori is a type of sadhu that distinguishes himself from other sadhus by his alcoholic and cannibalistic rituals.  A real sadhu will pull human bodies out of the River Ganges or from the cremation grounds, and consume them either cooked over an open fire or raw.  He believes that a “dead man” is just matter devoid of life, and doesn’t believe anything is wrong with his practices. The Aghori goes naked or wears the shroud of a corpse, covers himself in the ashes of the cremation ground and always has his hair disheveled or in matted dreadlocks.  It is said the Aghori also lives in the cremation ground, drinks from human skulls and is on a search for salvation.

Tibetan spinach cheese momos

Tibetan spinach cheese momos

Since sadhus and Aghoris in India are common attractions, we’re not really sure if the guy is a poser, just a guy looking to make a buck by posing for pictures with tourists.  It seems the guru says something to this effect, but I’m not sure.  Either way, we don’t take a picture, nor do we want him in our midst, and especially not touching us.

We leave the guru holding our computer printouts and notes we’ve taken from his predictions. Now that we have our future in our pockets, we head for lunch at the Buddha German Bakery, where Bob Marley sings Buffalo Soldier on the sound system:

Jayne on the street in Lakshman Jhula

Jayne on the street in Lakshman Jhula

I’m just a buffalo soldier in the heart of america,
Stolen from africa, brought to america,
Said he was fighting on arrival, fighting for survival;
Said he was a buffalo soldier win the war for america.

Dreadie, woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!
Woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy,
Woy yoy yoy yoy, yoy yoy-yoy yoy!

the Naranyal Palace Hotel ~ our extra night in Rishikesh

the Naranyal Palace Hotel ~ our extra night in Rishikesh

While listening to this song on the thatch-roof deck looking out over the River Ganga, I sip on a pineapple juice while Jayne goes to a nearby jewelry shop to buy a silver coral ring, which the guru told her to always wear for good luck.  I don’t need to buy my recommended ruby in gold because I know I have one at home that I bought in Bangkok in 2008. 🙂

poolside at the narayana palace hotel

poolside at the narayana palace hotel

When Jayne returns, we eat Tibetan spinach cheese momos, ricotta cheese and spinach filled dumplings served with spiced sesame seed sauce.  A lovely breeze whispers through the restaurant as we lazily watch rafters negotiate the rapids on the river below.   I am feeling peaceful for the first time in India.  I could linger here a long time,  maybe like our Canadian friend Nancy.  I can see the appeal of chilling for months on end in Rishikesh.  But.  We have told Singh we will meet him around this time to sort out our plans for tonight.  So we head back to the Divine Hotel, nearly an hour late for our appointed meeting.  On the way, we buy some rudraksh mala, strings of beads used in puja made from the nuts of the rudraksh tree, which originally grew where Shiva’s tears fell.

our lovely oasis in rishikesh

our lovely oasis in rishikesh

When we meet Singh, he is smiling from ear-to-ear, obviously quite smitten with himself.  He has arranged a new hotel for tonight so we can stay in Rishikesh without a problem, and he thinks we will be more than pleased with his choice.  We can tell all day today he is trying to make it up to us for yesterday, and we can’t help but soften toward him as he is so contrite and apologetic.  He takes us directly to the Narayana Palace Hotel, which has quite a lovely setting, with rooms set around an emerald lawn and lush garden and a shimmery turquoise pool.  Our room is the British Colonial style with a parquet floor and paneled ceiling, beautiful woodwork, sage green curtains, and plenty of room.  The pool nestles in a lush tropical setting with a backdrop of coral-colored buildings and ruffled mountains.  We move our stuff into the room and then go lie out by the pool for an hour or two, napping and reading and chilling.

more rooms around the pool's perimeter

more rooms around the pool’s perimeter

It has been Jayne’s wish to do yoga in Rishikesh, and we can both use the stretching after our horrendous cramped day in the car yesterday.  So we arrange a yoga session with Rajkumari Chauhan, a serene Indian lady.  In a common room at the hotel, she gives us mats and we do stretching and chanting, more chanting and jumping up and down yelping.  She also sings some chants herself and we relax into our poses.  “It’s all about breathing and peaceful mind,” she says.

jayne, rajkumari, and me after our yoga session

jayne, rajkumari, and me after our yoga session

After yoga, we have Singh drop us in town as it’s too far to walk from our new hotel.  We find a lovely scarf shop where we buy more scarves to wear with our salwar kameez.  We run into our guru on the street and Jayne shows him her new coral ring, which he advised her to wear.  Jayne wants to find another yoga place, but none are open after 7:30.  In fact the whole town seems to close down quite early.

gurus galore in rishikesh

gurus galore in rishikesh

We find the most adorable restaurant ever, our absolute favorite in all of India, the Ganga Beach Cafe & Restaurant, with a riverside location, a spacious terrace, and a cushioned chill-out area.  Hippie music, very mellow, stuff of acoustic guitars and mandolins and sitars, permeates the cafe.  That interspersed with classic rock and roll.  We sit on cushions at low wooden tables and order pomegranate juice, mint raita, vegetable biryani and vegetable Jhal frezi that are both heavenly, accompanied by butter naan.  It is cheap and healthy and the mood here is otherworldly.  Around us are sitting dreadlocked Westerners with scarves wrapped jauntily around their necks or their hair and wearing colorful Himalayan patchwork jackets.  Like every restaurant in Rishikesh, it’s all vegetarian and no alcohol is served.  This spot is pleasant, the mood is chill, and the food is bursting with Indian flavors of coriander and cumin.  Every one of our senses is pleased beyond words. It’s so lovely that we don’t want to leave.  The music, the tastes, the sights (the colorful hippie westerners and the River Ganga below), the soft cushions and the tickling breeze, and the scents of all the food throughout create an ambiance we don’t experience anywhere else in India.

colorful Himalayan clothes for sale

colorful Himalayan clothes for sale

On our way back up the hill to meet Singh in the little town square, we come across an internet cafe and go inside. We note the price differential: here in Rishikesh, where everything is very inexpensive, we pay 20 rupees (45 cents) for 40 minutes of internet time, where in the Varanasi Ramada, we paid 221 rupees (nearly $5) for a half-hour.

my whole time in India, I am in love with the beautiful textiles

my whole time in India, I am in love with the beautiful textiles

We are each on a computer and I update my status on Facebook.  Jayne comments on my status and then she updates her status and I comment on hers.  We start laughing because here we are in India, sitting a few feet away from each other, talking by way of Facebook.  Some other Westerners in the internet cafe start laughing at this too.  Ah, the age of social networking online.

We will be sad to leave Rishikesh tomorrow morning.

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chandigarh >> to delhi (???) >> to rishikesh….14 grueling hours

Tuesday, March 8: Our day begins with a sprinkle of promise.  The sun is shining, the buffet breakfast is palatable, and here, in the hotel lobby, is my friend Neeraj’s brother, Rajesh, who has come to say hi before we leave Chandigarh.  Neeraj has told me he really wants pictures of me with his brother, so Jayne takes a bunch of photos in the hotel lobby and out front.  Rajesh tells me he’s Neeraj’s elder brother and that he has two young daughters.  He is quiet and shy and doesn’t say much.  He’s probably wondering why on earth his brother has sent him to meet this perfect stranger who just happened to alight briefly in his hometown.  But, he’s a good sport, and as we have to leave early for our “5-hour” drive to Rishikesh, he takes off and we load our stuff in the car and take off.  It’s 8 a.m.

Neeraj's brother Rajesh meets us in Chandigarh

Neeraj’s brother Rajesh meets us in Chandigarh

It’s a beautiful day and we are cruising along in the back seat with the windows open and dust flying into our faces.  The air-conditioner in Singh’s car has two speeds, either full-blast freezing or off.  We alternate between the two.  Singh seems like a decent driver, unlike Ajay in Varanasi.  Plus, he is a happy-go-lucky fellow and easy to get along with.  We think that if we’re going to be with anyone for 7 days, he is a good one.  At least this is what we think as we set out this fine, sunny morning.

Me with Rajesh

Me with Rajesh

We have a copy of today’s Times of India and I’m reading the headline story: Aruna Lives, But Others Can Die with Dignity: SC (Supreme Court) Legalizes Passive Euthanasia.  I read the entire story of how one comatose woman has been cared for by a hospital staff who loves her and doesn’t want her to die.  Their lives revolve around caring for Aruna, who does respond in some ways so does not seem to be officially “brain-dead.”  Interesting that India has made this choice to legalize passive euthanasia, while the U.S. is still in the dark ages on this issue.  I wonder if it’s because of their population of one billion people that they’re more amenable to letting someone go.

Along the road to Rishikesh.... every kind of imaginable vehicle :-)

Along the road to Rishikesh…. every kind of imaginable vehicle 🙂

Reading the paper gives me insight into the Indian psyche.  There is an advertisement for Lavana Tailam: For controlling excess body size and bellyfat.  Who should use? ~ People who are obese and have lost their body shape. ~People who [has] flabby thighs which rub together while walking. (I find this hilarious!)

Then, in a plug for Indian-style yoga, there is an article: U.S. Turns to Yoga to Make Troops Fitter. An editorial criticizes the Supreme Court: Attempt to suicide must be decriminalized: “A person attempts to suicide in a depression, and hence he needs help, rather than punishment.”

tractors along the road

tractors along the road

And then I come across a funny editorial: An Outlaw Hero: It’s Time to Bring Billy the Kid in from the Cold.  The writer argues that Billy the Kid should be posthumously pardoned.  He says that “Tricky Dick” was pardoned, he “who besides waging an illegal war against North Vietnam, bombing and killing millions, also brought disgrace to the presidency by lying, cheating, and abusing the vast powers vested in his high office.”  The writer goes on to say: “But former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, announced not too long ago that there would be no posthumous pardon for famous outlaw Billy the Kid who was shot down by gunmen 129 years back….Having investigated this case from the time he took office (this means American governors [has] less work than Indian ones), Richardson said people should not neglect the historical record.”

All of this I find highly amusing, one, because of the way the article is written, but also because I think it funny that an Indian newspaper should have an editorial on this subject to begin with!

rickshaws....

rickshaws….

About 95 km outside of Chandigarh, suddenly the engine of our Maruti Suzuki Esteem LX starts hissing and spitting out steam. Singh pulls the car over and opens the hood, or the “bonnet,” as Jayne, who is British, calls it.  Apparently, there’s a problem with the radiator.  We sit alongside the two-lane road as trucks, tractors, donkey carts, auto-rickshaws, cars, bicycles, and motorbikes whiz by tossing dust in our eyes.  I get out of the car to take some pictures as Singh pokes curiously into the engine trying to figure out the problem.   He takes our water bottles and empties them into the radiator.

Singh and the our broken down car

Singh and the our broken down car

Two filthy boys sharing one bicycle ride up, and Singh gives them our now-empty water bottles to take somewhere to fill up.  They zip off and return back quickly, although it seems we are out in the middle of nowhere, and I give them a 100 rupee note for their troubles.

these two boys help us by riding ahead and filling up water bottles for our radiator...

these two boys help us by riding ahead and filling up water bottles for our radiator…

An auto-rickshaw driver pulls over to offer his help.  There is apparently nothing to be done with the car on the side of this far-flung road, so the driver pulls out a frayed rope and he and Singh tie the bumpers of the two vehicles together.  Jayne and I are both incredulous that an auto-rickshaw could possibly pull an auto.  They instruct Jayne and I to get in the auto-rickshaw, and Singh gets into his car.

hooking up the car to the auto-rickshaw

hooking up the car to the auto-rickshaw

We start down the road only to have the rope come untied after a short distance.  They re-tie the rope and we’re off again.  Finally, after what seems like 10 miles but is probably less than 5, we stop at a filthy auto repair shop in some small town.   The auto-repair guys bring Jayne and me two plastic chairs and we sit out on the red dirt floor and wait for them to resolve the problem.

a goddess watches over us in the auto-rickshaw

a goddess watches over us in the auto-rickshaw

jayne in the back of the auto-rickshaw with Singh and the car being pulled behind

jayne in the back of the auto-rickshaw with Singh and the car being pulled behind

After about 1 1/2 hours, after one of the mechanics vanishes and finally returns with the necessary part from some other place, the car is finally fixed and we are on our way.  We settle in, pretty annoyed at this point from the hold-up.  Singh has been making excuses that this is not his car, that he borrowed this car from someone else, that his own car is currently in the shop for some kind of maintenance.  We don’t really want to hear his excuses, but he is making them anyway and we are captive.

at the shop

at the shop

We are finally cruising along again, if you can call driving in India cruising.  The potholed and decrepit roads in India are choked with every kind of vehicle and animal imaginable.  On this particular route, there are all two-lane roads, and since a myriad of  slower vehicles are always blocking the road, constant passing is required.  It’s so funny, as I’ve gotten older I have come to fear fewer and fewer things.  Years ago, I would have been terrified by this road trip.  Since every minute we are passing someone, and hurling head-on toward other vehicles, I would have probably had a heart attack within hours.  But “nowadays” (an English word Koreans love and use constantly), I seem to have become a little fearless.  It helps that the guru in Varanasi told me I would live till 87 or 88 and die a quiet death in my bed.  I keep reminding myself of this as we travel on this long day.   Strangely, even though I’m of course skeptical of the guru’s predictions, his words soothe my fears on this torturous day.

jayne waits.....

jayne waits…..

Jayne and I are just sitting quietly in the back seat, trying to get comfortable, and watching all the crazy people on the road.  Soon, we enter a road that is blocked off by gates.  We seem to have no trouble getting through the gate, but a little way down the road, a guy alongside the road waves us down.  He doesn’t look like anyone official, just some random-looking guy.  But Singh pulls over, pulls some papers out of his glove compartment, and gets out of the car to talk to the guy.  This takes quite some time, so we are getting irritated and wondering what the hold-up is.  Finally, after about a half-hour, Singh comes back and tells us that we cannot take this road because he doesn’t have the proper permit.  We have to turn around and take an alternate route to Rishikesh.  Again, he starts making all kinds of excuses about how this isn’t his car, how his car has all the proper permits, how it’s not his fault that this car is not properly documented!  Here, an argument ensues where we, especially me, start griping and complaining that he should have known what permits are required for this road, and he should have checked this car before he brought it from Delhi.  He is unabashedly unapologetic, and just keeps making excuses as we turn around and get on another overcrowded road going in some other unknown direction.

i wait.....

i wait…..

At this point in the trip, we are still able to be a little giddy because we are clueless about what is happening.  We are under the impression that we are taking some parallel road toward Rishikesh, and we think it may take at most 4 more hours.  We keep trying to get comfortable in the car and we both stick our legs straight up, propping our calves on the tops of the front seats.  My feet are right over Singh’s head.  We look like two check marks in the back seat.  We start giggling about this and Singh asks us what’s so funny.  We say, nothing, just the way we are sitting.  He is relieved, maybe, that we are at least laughing through this situation.

After quite a long time, I pull out my India map and I ask Singh what town we are in.  He tells me we’re in Karnal.  I say, What??? You’ve got to be kidding!  We’re heading toward Delhi! Why are we heading toward Delhi??  He goes on to explain that we are heading to Panipat, another 34 miles south, where some people will bring his car and we will exchange vehicles.  What???  Another big argument ensues where we are yelling at him that we can’t believe we are heading back toward Delhi!!  He continues to make excuses and to say, again, it’s not his fault because this isn’t his car and he didn’t know it didn’t have the proper permits.  We make our way slowly to Panipat, which takes over an hour to travel the 34 miles.  Every distance in India takes double the time it would take to travel in the U.S. or other civilized countries.  Sometimes it takes triple the time!

on the road again....

on the road again….

As we finally get to Panipat, which is 85 miles north of Delhi, Singh tells us that he thinks it is better for us to go all the way to Delhi to meet his friends with the car because if we stop in Panipat, we’ll have to wait 2 hours for them to meet us!!  Again, another argument ensues, where we are reaming him out for this disaster of a day.  Again he keeps saying it’s not his fault, it’s not his car, and when he gets his car it will all be okay.  I’m thinking, didn’t he say his car was in the shop? What if we get his car and we have more problems because it’s not in good shape??

By this time I am so furious that I want to jump over the front seat and strangle him.  But what can be done?  We plod along another 3 hours or so to go the 85 miles to Delhi.  My blood is boiling, but there is no solution to the problem other than to sit and take it.  We are hot and uncomfortable in this small car.  Our legs are cramped, our backs are hurting.  There is nowhere to stretch out.  Pure misery.

typical brightly-painted Indian trucks

typical brightly-painted Indian trucks

Finally, in Delhi, Singh’s friends come with his car and we move all our luggage and ourselves to Singh’s car.  It turns out that his car only has one seat belt in the backseat.  So Jayne and I will have to alternate wearing this seat belt and just hope we can reduce our odds of getting killed in a head-on collision.  We get on the road toward Rishikesh, which means we head southeast (we’re supposed to be going north!) to Ghaziabad, then we head north to Meerut.  Once we are northbound at least I begin to feel some relief that we are finally heading in the right direction.

At 6:00, we stop at a roadside cafeteria that is a kind of all-purpose place: it has a coffee shop, a “party lawn,” a swimming pool, and bathrooms.  I order some vegetable samosas with a chick pea sauce, and Jayne orders a chicken tikka that is so soggy that it sticks to the roof of her mouth. This is the first proper meal we eat the entire day, as we had only stopped for some chips and drinks around Panipat.

We poke along the long route, passing through Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee, Hadiwar, then to Rishikesh.  This trip from Delhi to Rishikesh takes another 5 hours.  When we arrive at 10 p.m. in Rishikesh, to the Divine Hotel, the place seems truly divine to us despite its notably un-divine appearance.  We are irritated beyond what any words can describe because we have just spent 14 hours in a cramped car traveling a route that would have taken no more than 3 hours in the U.S.!!  Our relationship with Singh has started out very badly and we have 6 more days to spend with him!  And Jayne’s and my friendship is being pushed to its limits.  The tension between all of us is thick and sticky and uncomfortable.  It’s as if we’re all stuck in a huge spider web made of taut metal threads.  I think we all want to kill each other.   I know I want to strangle Singh, and I feel frustrated because there is tension even between Jayne and me.  I fear this may not bode well for the rest of the trip.  I wonder how long it will last.  All I can hope is that the trauma of this day will dissipate with each passing day.

Finally.. a taste of the "divine" at the Divine Hotel in Rishikesh... the end of 14 grueling hours!

Finally.. a taste of the “divine” at the Divine Hotel in Rishikesh… the end of 14 grueling hours!

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