I could hardly compete with the heavy fog, torrential downpours and land slides. I only got as far as the North-East of West Bengal, where I had to satisfy myself with climbing a couple of rocks and passing some mediocre monasteries. After briefly considering becoming a monk, and quickly dismissing the idea, I wasn’t ready to give up on finding myself, and decided to venture further up. Himalayas ahoy!
When I proposed a weekend trip to my two best friends in New Delhi, they agreed. Although very employed, apparently they could “spare [me] the Sunday.” So, at 3 a.m., on a dark Sunday morning, we crossed the “Welcome to Uttar Pradesh” archway from Delhi and made our way to Rishikesh to river raft. White rapids hurtling down the mountains, assurance of the raft over-turning- now that was a sure shot way of finding myself! What better moment than the one right before drowning?
Time 6:45 a. m. “I have three friends who have lost their brothers to river rafting,” said Best Friend 1, looking very worried while munching her Aloo Paratha at Happy’s Dhaba on NH 58.
“I know five friends who have lost their brothers to road traffic accidents. Maybe we should just stop walking on roads,” I said grumpily. My Mooli Paratha rubbery in my mouth.
BF1 didn’t look convinced, as she continued to eat her Paratha, worry plastered on her face. I saw it was going to be a battle all the way up. For the next 3 hours I elaborated on the virtues of a life-jacket, the talents of a trained life-saver- both part of our package rafting deal. But most importantly- “You had 26 years to learn to swim. And if you didn’t use them wisely- not my problem!” In this July heat and humidity, I could not wait to strip down to my shorts, get into a raft and feel the spray of cold white water on my face. My fantasy of winds whooshing past my face as my raft floated down the Ganga, was interrupted by a police man stopping our car.
“कहा जा रहे हो? ”
“Bloody git!” I muttered under my breath. “Rafting करने जा रहे है, जी |” What the hell else do people come to Rishikesh to do?
“आपने booking करके रखी है?” the cop asked, raising his right eye-brow- a skill I thought only Kathak dancers possessed.
“We’ll get there and get a raft,” Best Friend2 snapped, irked by this interruption.
“Umm…rafting season was over yesterday,” our cop friend stated.
“Tsk! I called them. They said rafting season is on till 30th June and we could come any time we want!” BF2 asserted.
BF1 and I froze. 30th June was YESTERDAY.
When we reached the rafting kick-off spot on the Ganges beach, it looked like a deserted battle-field, dotted only by the last locals packing up their tents-on-rent. What do you do with a best friend who can’t decipher a calendar?
You laugh long and hard with them over her stupidity, and discuss Plan B.
Plan B: Lachhiwala. Our driver showed us golden dreams of a sparkling river there, where the current was soft enough to swim in, the water chilly and clear. BF2 might have killed my chances of finding myself through a near death experience, but the heat had soaked my clothes through and through and as the day progressed the humidity was hugging me tighter and tighter like a blanket until I almost couldn’t breathe, so just a dip in the cool flowing waters, was all I really wanted now.
Our first warning sign was when we couldn’t find parking at Lachhiwala. This was some forest reserve on a hill in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t have network on my cell phone. How did all these other cars find their way here? we entered the forest reserve and started looking for sign boards towards the river. Eventually we just started following the wet people loitering in the forest, letting them guide us to the source. As we walked, the number of wet people got thicker, the children whinier, the men fatter and balder, until we could finally see the river.
The river had been curtailed into a cemented pool, stuffed with fat punjabi men in their Lux Cozi chaddis, thick black strands of hair plastered on their bodies with water, and screaming children jumping in it like it was a puddle.
So what do you do when Plan B dies a slow drowning death and its 3 p.m. already, with no Plan C in sight? You eat a huge lunch, make fun of your discalculic friend and Google “river rafting+Himachal Pradesh”.
(To be continued…
Lesson 3 # In Manali, There Are Things Other Than Rafting)