A Storm in Rishikesh, a Ceremony in Haridwar

Trip Start May 18, 2008
Trip End Jul 20, 2008

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Flag of India  , Uttarakhand,
Sunday, May 25, 2008

For some reason, we hung out in the morning and didn't leave to Rishikesh until after lunch. It looked like it was going to be a hot day, but over the hour-and-a-half drive, dark clouds rolled in. When we got off of the bus to enter the city, it started raining. Most of us got rain coats to protect our cameras from someone walking around selling them for 10 rupees. They were barely worth that as they fell apart within about 20 minutes. If you're driving a larger vehicle, you have to park and enter the city via decent from a narrow, winding, and crowded staircase, which was interesting. Dr. Z (Professor Leo Zann, Geography Dept. chair) was furious because the amateur travel-guide-in-training, VJ, walked really fast, and split up the group. It started pouring, and we huddled on the front porch of a temple for about 20 minutes while the storm blew over. It finally thinned out enough for us to cross over the bridge to the other half of the city where we were supposed to go to find the "Little Italy" restaurant. The city is beautifully set up between two mountains, and a foot bridge over the Ganges river connects the two halves. The bridge is pretty long and crowded, and it took at least five minutes to cross. It was an exciting event as the wind blew hard, rain battered on us, and motorcyclists and scooterists honked through. It was the first time we really were exposed to a mass of Indian people, and apparently a rare occasion for many of the Indians (lots of them were tourists from around India) to be exposed to foreigners. They were very interested in us and said "hello, how are you?" and "what country?" They shook hands with us, followed us, and also asked "tell me something about your country." Most had lots of excitement in their eyes and took pictures of us. We probably looked the same as we took their pictures. It was a fun exchange. I was on alert for people trying to pickpocket, but surprisingly, they really just wanted to talk to us, which was really refreshing. Finally, we got across the bridge, and the group reunited in a clothes shop. VJ, who supposedly knew where the restaurant was, kept asking people, and announced it was 2km outside of town. We were pretty fed up with following him at this point, and it was pretty unbelievable that the supposedly centrally located restaurant could be even a kilometer away. Dr. Zonn finally just insisted we skip Little Italy and go to Little Buddha which was nearer to the bridge. The menu for the restaurant was pretty diverse, from guacamole to lasagna to banana pancakes. We all ordered and then VJ decided to cancel everyone's order without asking us. This was such a bitch move, because we only had about 40 minutes before we were supposed to leave for Haridwar. He received a call from the Italian restaurant, and they said they pre-prepared lots of food and didn't want to waste it. He had the pizza and spaghetti delivered to our bus so we didn't have to go find the restaurant. We found an awesome clothes shop on the way back to the bus and I bought a few shirts. After VJ tried to lead us the wrong way to the bus, we found it with our own instinct and had our spicy spaghetti and pizza. Not even non-Indian food here is devoid of spiciness. We took off for Haridwar to catch the nightly Ganga ceremony. We arrived at Haridwar just before sunset and some of the girls (or maybe just Sarah) used the incredibly stinky bathroom in the parking lot. There is a short stretch of vendors selling religious things, then an elevated walkway leads to the huge ceremonial grounds where thousands of people in every color dress waited for the nightly ceremony. There were lots of children selling the flower offerings and putting paint on people's foreheads (while muttering a Hindu prayer). There were more shady-looking people here, and I was on alert for hands trying to reach in my pocket or camera bag. Fortunately, nobody got anything stolen although Lauren got a scare when she handed me her camera and I forgot it was in my pocket for a half-an-hour. VJ, once again being an idiot, tried to gather the group in a spot where you couldn't see the ceremony, so by the time people realized it, it was really hard to get a good spot. I jumped on top of this 8' tall concrete structure next to the river where a few guys were sitting and got a better view. The ceremony was surprisingly short. It consisted of one song over a loudspeaker and a priest giving a prayer.
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