After continued failed attempts to get an Uber from Haridwar to Rishikesh we finally made it to our hostel for about midday.
Haridwar was incredibly busy and lively and we were the only westerners there. Rishikesh is very different. Well, Tapovan, the very northern tip of Rishikesh where all the yoga and tourists go. The streets are quiet, we are surrounded by western travellers and we can buy pizza! It almost feels like a Butlins version of India. You get the buildings, a pinch of culture but your croissants and burgers are still available. Which makes sense as a lot of people who travel here come to do 200-500hour yoga courses which take months and months, so the town has accommodated them well.
Our hostel seems good, 300rs a night for a bed in a 4 bed dorm in the basement. If you think the basement sounds bad, given its much colder here it’s nice to be in a room that holds its heat, friends in the upstairs rooms have all been complaining they’re cold!
After we dumped the luggage we immediately gave into the temptation of pizza and headed out for lunch. It was excellent. We both kind of sat at the table saying ‘what do you want to do’ ‘I don’t know what do you want to do?’ over and over again until we left the pizza place realising we had no idea where we wanted to go. I was shattered after 2 nights poor sleep and I was also really cold! (Not expected in India!!) So I put my thermals on and we headed to the footbridge that joins the two halves of Tapovan. As we got close to the bridge to cross there was a man hitting a cow with some bamboo (we’ve seen this a bit – stopping them eating stalls or rubbish etc). Then the cow entered the bridge… We don’t know if the man was trying to get him away from the bridge or on it, but the cow was on and most people just ignored him, but the cow had found interest in white a young woman crossing the bridge. She was almost off the bridge when the cow essentially kept following her has she tried to let it past, she ended up reversing and at least half way across the bridge with the cow actively following her until we lost view to the crowd of people on the bridge. We believe she was fine. We’d decided to not cross the bridge.
As we mooched around we couldn’t help but make constant comparisons with Haridwar.
Both are primarily tourists towns. Rishikesh – for western tourists, manly ‘hippies’ here for yoga and spiritual wellness. Haridwar is a huge tourist pull, but for Indian Hindus, like I said, there were no westerners.
In Rishikesh we can walk down a street ignored, perhaps a stall owner will try grab our attention, intent on making a sale on the hareems, tourist trinkets, the classic tourist satchels (one of which I picked up in Ecuador)… You get the idea?
In Haridwar we walk down the streets and evey third person would stare, we’d smile back and their faces would light up as they either laughed, said namaste, or asked us for ‘one photo’. We’d walk down whole market streets selling bangles, scarves, cosmetics, red powder and spices. Vendors let us peruse without much hassle, and most vendors who did say namiste did not push us to buy products, instead they just wanted to say hi and interact with them. We weren’t their target audience.
We’ve been here a few days, eating (mainly Indian food though it’s actually hard to find here!!), drinking real coffee (yum) and just slowing the pace after the last few weeks.
I was in need of a massage, my lower back had not enjoyed the comfy luxury mattresses from our tour and the long buses, and we noticed a very small room with blacked windows which advertised massage, as we looked curiously at the signs (thinking it was shut) a woman opened up the door to show us the price list. Full body for 1200rs (£13). I asked if it included head, tapping my head, and she replied yes, all body, gesturing hewd to toe. Gregor headed to the coffee shop down the road and I went in. I then understood why it had looked closed. It was one room, a massage bed behind a curtain, a small desk and chair in front and then the one way glass. She could see out, punters couldn’t see in. She brought my shoes in from outside where I’d taken them off explaining that a monkey would take them and we went to the massage area. I know the drill, just your pants, on the bed, face down. This was the same idea, however she did not leave the room for me to chance and there was no cover to get under. I’d had a similar experience in Peru and a friend on the tour had had a similar experience a week earlier so I wasn’t too phased, but I was still a bit worried about undressing in case it was a miscommunication, and she turned round horrified to find me removing my top!!!!
The massage was excellent, her hands were oddly rough, but she was an expert. My Delhi Belly from the week before had left me feeling a bit off, but as she massaged my feet I felt everything settle. She found my knotty shoulders, and like every masseuse ever commented afterwards about how knotty and tough they are.
I was turned over (I had a cloth for warmth placed on me but there was no discretion) and she massaged everywhere. I don’t think anyone has ever massaged my stomach before, I thought I’d hate it as it’s sensitive and I don’t even like lying on it due to my ibs, but again it was incredibly relaxing and settling. The throat massage was interesting. My reflexes kicked in twice causing a bit of hacking. I was ready to tell Gregor that she has massaged all of me but behind my ears, but she got there! Then my face, that was a shock. Also good though.
We chatted for a bit afterwards, she’s been massaging for 40 years and has had her own place for around 20, she was a very kind and friendly soul… I want to go back for a reflexology massage.
I walked into the coffee shop high as a kite on zen to find Gregor high as a kite on caffeine.
We wondered around deciding what we were going to do, trip advisor suggested trekt India as a good place to book tours, we fancied a day or two up in the hills, so we headed over to it. A lovely man with good English showed us his tours, a few 1 day tours and a 4 day trek, 2 and a bit days hiking, camping in -8°C and up to the highest temple in the area. We walked away to make sure we didn’t act too rashley, but both decided we wanted to do it. We’d need to hire thermals and boots but what an opportunity!!!
We also needed to add money to our Caxton card, so I went to do this. Uh oh.
I will do a sperate blog post about this, as it might be useful to other travellers and it saves them reading my waffle but in short Emma and Lizzie are our heroes. I decided Lizzie must have helped.
We spent two days finding all sorts of good food spots, the free spirit cafe was an excellent find, we popped in for lemon honey ginger tea (yum) planning to have dinner. It was beautiful and zen, we sat there reading and drinking tea, then the waiter sat behind his desk and started watching a loud violent (guns and women screaming) TV show on his phone. The zen was broken. So we headed back to the hostel where we’d forgotten here was a free dinner on Tuesday. We’d been sat in the common room for a while when a lovely Irish lass asked us if we were there for dinner, so we decided we were. Quite a few people turned up, the Irish lady, Sian, who had done a week in Goa at a yoga school then headed up to Rishikesh to chill. Literally. She was finding it very cold after Goa!! A young lad (hoping to get into Edinburgh university) who had had an awful journey. He’d spent a week in Nepal on an organised walk, but due to an avalanche the walk had been cancelled 4 days in, so he’d then spent 3-4 days doing nothing in Nepal feeling a tad lost. Then he arrived in Delhi on Republic Day, arrived at his hostel to be told that due to the celebrations all the hostels were closed and it was best he got out. He was organised a taxi out to Rishikesh for £250 with a £50 tip that seemed compulsory!!! 😣 Apparently the government has organised his return to Delhi in a few days?? I imagine if I’d been traveling alone and this had been said I’d have done what he did, but we’re pretty certain he’s been badly scammed. 😔 It was hectic in Delhi, but we had friends still there and they could find places to stay, and our bus cost £15 for the both of us to get here!
Another girl is here, however, as she is meant to be studying in Delhi, but they’re shut down due to the protests against the new legislation against Muslims. So it does feel like everyone is escaping Delhi up here!
We all decided to do the yoga the next morning, it was interesting. Sian, who had done quite a lot of yoga agreed that it was more like a strength class. We spent a lot of time rotating our wrists, and it was not particularly fluid. It was not like any yoga I’d done before, but my experience is limited.
When Emma saved the day we went out to the free spirit cafe for dinner with Sian which was lovely. We’d already given it another try at lunch and loved the food and the atmosphere (no violent TV, and reggaton playing over the speakers). Banana assi, jalfrezi, palak daal, aloo gobi and garlic naan. Yum.
2 days later now our finances have finally been sorted and I have gone back to zen.
We went to a 7:30am run over the bridge (no cows this time) and ran though he completely quiet town. No stalls open, few people on the streets and beautiful morning views. We didn’t run far. Were both aching from yoga and I’m horrific at running. It was wheat start to the day though!!
Coffee and breakfast then a walk up a path I found on my komoot app. It was meant to head to a viewpoint… We only found a bush. But the views on the way up were lovely and it was an excellent morning all the same!
We then headed back to the trek company to book onto our tour. I was worried about getting cold so the lovely guy took us to the hire shop next door to show us what they had (so we could see what we’d need to get). They had everything we’d need, my worried disappeared entirely about the cold, I could have 2 sleeping bags if I wanted and 3 down jackets!! 😂 So we picked out some hiking boots uh oh. My partner has gargantuan feet. No boots would fit, the guy called his mates, no boots would fit, he called hire companies everywhere, no boots would fit. So, were doing a 1 day walk, 5am start driving up into the mountains and then a 11km walk. Booked for the 5th Feb.
Were booked onto a 3 day yoga retreat on the 2nd of Feb, and thanks to Emma we can book trains to leave here around the 7-9th?
We’re going to post our cycling stuff home and pick up a few things at the market (I was going to use the trek as an excuse to buy crazy warm tourist trousers, but now I’ll have to settle for a scarf!) And then see where we end up! Varanasi or Jaipur depending on trains. It turns out you need to book them about 3 months in advance… Oops.
I imagine I’ll do another post after the yoga. We’re happy and full of curry. It’s great.