We reluctantly left Dharamsala a few days ago on an over night bus to Rishikesh. Dharamsala was quite literally a breath of fresh air, the mountains and gentle spirit of the Tibetans helped a lot as well.
We actually saw the Dalai Lama as well! Completely by accident we were walking close to his residence after breakfast, and there was a crowd of people waiting, we waited for a while and a convoy of cars came along with the Dalai Lama in one of the cars, waving (just like the queen!). This was as much as we could have hopped for considering his schedule and less than optimal health. It was a very special experience to see and have the Dalai Lama one meter away from you!
We arrived in Rishikesh at about 7am after getting multiple buses and rickshaws, the place is nice, but a bit cliche in all of it’s yoga/hippy vibe. It claims itself to be the worlds yoga centre, where every self-professed guru offers a class for the right price. Although i could imagine staying in one of the Ashrams might be rather more authentic. The place is probably most famous for The Beatles visiting an Ashram and writing most of the White album there. This is also the first place where we saw the Ganges river, and as such is considered a very holy town.
The surrounding hills out of the valley offer some nice walks, and it was on one of these walks that we encountered our first naked Sadhu (Hindu holy man), he was just walking along the quite cliff road, completely naked, walking towards us, he then proceeded to talk to us in maybe Hindu or maybe even Sanskrit, and either blessed or cursed me and Christina. It’s hard to tell, my powers of discern were blunted by the real fact that he was wearing no clothes at all, and covered in some kind of white powder, which I’m really hoping was not human ashes, as some Sadhus seem keen on this practice. In hindsight this should have been the strangest encounter we’ve had in India, but at the time it kind of made sense, which leads us to believe we’ve been in India for far too long!!!
We left Rishikesh quite happily feeling a kind of urgency to leave, you could call this being scarred by naked sadhus or the encroaching storm. By the time we reached the train station in Haridwar the storm had started with much rain and lightening all around, we got very wet and muddy in a very short time.
The train from Haridwar to Varanasi took much too long (22 hours), and as usual was filled with the joys of traveling sleeper class (cockroaches/beggars/weirdos…). It reminds me of a conversation Christina had with a Sikh in Delhi which went something like ….
“What! You’re taking sleeper class!!? But you’re white, you must have enough money for AC!”
We arrived in Varanasi yesterday to much hassle at the train station, as soon as we stepped off the platform, a guy tried to befriend us, asking us where we’re staying and which guidebook we have (tip: try and confuse them by saying you are traveling by the guidance of the gods instead of lonely planet!), he then proceeded to wait while we booked our onward train ticket, and followed me out to the main car park while i was scouting for the pre-paid auto-rickshaw booth, i made it very clear he was getting no money from us and we didn’t require any of his “services”, i also suggested a visit to the nearby tourist police, at the mention of which he turned and left me alone! Only to see him another ten minutes later waiting for us outside the ticket booking office again! When we left here he followed me, along with five other hustlers through the car park to the pre-paid rickshaw booth, where i made it very clear in public to all that i did not want to get into a Rickshaw with him. At some point we arrived at our chosen accommodation in Varanasi, without paying anyone commission, quite an achievement in Varanasi!
We leave for Nepal in two days time, and to be fair we’re done with India, it’s an amazing country but we’re exhausted by all the travel and (a minority) of the people, and most of all the crazed traffic!