Bus trips can be really boring. Our overnight journey to Rishikesh was anything but. Nothing extraordinary happened, but there was plenty going on to keep me awake the whole night. For one, I was seated directly across a middle-aged Indian man whose mutterances were enough cause for amusement. He didn't speak Hindi and his English was broken.
When we go?
Very late. Very bad.
This continued till our 7 am arrival to the holy city. The bus attendant often ignored his queries which frustrated him even more.
The foreigner I was sitting next to was also ignored many a time. At one point she had to relieve herself and asked the attendant to stop the bus. The plea went to deaf ears. He went into his cabin and shut the door. Imagine an India where requests are acknowledged. Would that leave a better impression on tourists than implanted flower beds and fancy footpaths? Since the latter seems to be the government's idea of portraying a 'world class city' to the world, that's something we need to think about.
The A.C. was too cold, and the driver was on a racing spree, constantly overtaking slower vehicles. The sharp swerves led to bus tilting, making me think we were done for. When we pulled into the Rishikesh bus stand, I was relieved. I would live after all.
Unfortunately, we had another long journey ahead of us. From 7 am to 6 pm we sat in a rented Maruti that took us to Joshimath. The drive was a magnificent display of Uttarakhand's larger-than-life landscape. Lush forests defying gravity to grow on vertical slabs of rock, families of langoor watching traffic pass by, and a thin road curving along the gushing Alaknanda river. Every once in a while, the twisting road sloshed my peptic juices to the point of nausea. But then I would simply tilt my head back and stare at the clear blue sky silhouetted by overhanging mountains. Local women carried stacks of long-stemmed grass on their right-angled backs, their hair tied back with colorful scarves. Their features were sharp with a tinge of East-Asian, their skin taut, the color of frothy mocha. This was an India I'd never seen.
The zig-zagged road carried pilgrims and tourists alike, travelling to Rishikesh, Badrinath, and other holy sites. I saw many Sikhs travelling on motorcycles, their heads bandana-ed with saffron colored scarves. Our driver informed us they were traveling to a particular Gurudwara in honor of Guru Gobind Singh, a pilgrimage called Hemkund. There were also a few sadhus clad in orange robes walking along the road. These were the holy men of Rishikesh and Haridwar who made an annual journey to Badrinath...on foot. It took them two weeks to get there. As we drove along, the spiritual significance of northern India showed its full glory. I look forward to exploring this new world for myself.
The winding road and spectacular scenery (Courtesy: Nikhil G)