Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Trip To India: To Mussoorie and the end of the trip

Chapter Twelve - To Mussoorie and the end of the trip

From Naini Tal we continued to Almora and Kausani. There were good views of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks from Kausani but also from the way to Almora. We followed the road past Kausani to the very interesting temples of Baijnath. According to what I heard, the first temples were built here by the Panduvas. A magnificent statue of Parvati can be seen here. Locals told me that it is made of an eight metal alloy which is more expensive than gold. Originally, there was also a Shiva statue, but it has been stolen and carted off to Goa where it still is (or should be). Photography is only allowed outside the temple. It's a nice place, not corrupted by vultures (of the human type).

Just inside the temple grounds, by the lake in which big fishes swim (no fishing is allowed), there lies a highly polished granite boulder of about 45 cm. in diameter. A crowd of about fifteen people had gathered around it, men and women. A temple Brahmin told us that this particular boulder was very old and its presence is woven into the Baijnath Temples history. Legend has it that the boulder can be lifted to breast height by 9 people. The balance will be correct then and you'll lift it easily. Sounds easy enough. Only, you have to lift it on your thumbs which have to be clenched between your index and middle finger. Like this nobody can grab the boulder. Eight people will have the balance of the rock disturbed so one or two people will get too much weight and you won't be able to get it up high. Ten people : the same. Only nine can do it. We decided to give it a try. And, indeed, with nine we successfully lifted the boulder breast-high. With eight somebody shouted that it was too heavy and we failed (I wondered if imagination had anything to do with it). Ten of us also failed, but here it was more a matter of lack of space I think. Anyway, we had succeeded and the Brahmin was very happy, because this "rarely happens". One of the Indian guys asked him if it was possible for a person to lift it on his own. The Brahmin told him he had never seen anybody doing that. All the men available tried it. None of them could lift the shiny polished rock. I watched the happening and thought back to the car salesman in the garage in Gorakhpur : "You Westerners are strong and Indians are not. But, Indians have a lot of resistance and you Westerners have not." I wondered if I would really be stronger, because these guys looked strongly built and able to lift it to me. I gave it a try and to my surprise I pulled it up to my breast. I was stronger and the salesman had been right ! Everybody was baffled and suddenly an applause broke loose. The Brahmin was also cheering. Everybody started trying to lift it again, but all kept failing. My friend Suki also tried. He also received applause after lifting it knee-high. Shit ! The garage salesperson was wrong ! There were strong Indians. Of course, there were.

We decided to drive through the Himalayas to Rishikesh. We didn't know at that time, but we were actually embarking on some kind of adventure. This time of year sees a lot of landslides. So, we had to drive over a lot of rubble, through thick mud on narrow mountain track (I saw even jeeps turn back) and on undermined tarmac. One time we had to wait for almost four hours for the road to be cleared. It's a great drive, but you should get information about road conditions before setting out. It could be so bad that you have to return, which is a real bummer if you've made it that far. On the way you see signs to the nearest tourist rest house if you should get too tired or just if it's getting dark. They are put up at regular intervals.
You can also get through the Himalayas this way by bus. There seemed to be enough buses to be able to make the trip in a short enough period (and they seem to plough through all the debris on the way).

From Tharali river Pindar runs alongside the road and offers great views, all the way to Karnaprayag which is the bigger town on the way. It's a great place to enter just around nightfall, when it is very beautiful with all the lights shining. There are some hotels and guest houses to stay the night if you want. From Karnaprayag you enter a bigger road again. It winds past Rudraprayag and Devaprayag to Rishikesh. I found Rishikesh a pleasant town. I spent the night in the Baseraa Hotel which had AC doubles for Rs 500 (tax incl.). Quite a change from the 150 rupees a couple of years ago, as listed in the LP. The room was very good though and it should be for that money. Hot water in the shower was no problem. I wanted to share the room with Suki, otherwise we would have to pay for two singles. Or better, I'd have to pay, because Suki can't afford it. Strangely enough, it was forbidden for us to share a room on my name. An Indian and a Westerner couldn't share a hotel room. Indian officialdom had an easy way 'round this though : we just had to put the room on my pal's name and I didn't get listed.

The hotel has a restaurant downstairs, the DaanaPaani. There was of course only vegetarian food. The menu listed several dishes, but not many of them were available. What was there, was rather bland too. Not bad. Not great either. Breakfast the next morning was good, but expensive. Among what I ordered were six pieces of toast with jam. The waiter didn't bring me enough jam to cover six toasts, so I left the last one and asked for the bill. The waiter came up to my table and asked : "And sir ? Good service ?" I told him : "Yes, it's okay. Thank you." He fetched me the bill. I paid the amount due and added a nice tip. He looked very pleased and asked : "Do you want jam for that toast too, sir ?" I told him I'd very much like that. He returned with a spoonful of jam and asked : "And sir ? Good service ? Good service !" I confirmed again, but he wanted more; he wanted another tip. He had been a friendly and attentive guy before, but again this made me think nothing of him anymore. I know he's probably a poor guy looking for some extras, but everybody should know the limits.

The only place not mentioned in the LP book is probably the Rishikund and Raghunath temple. It's a tank where Lord Rama is supposed to have taken a bath. It's a popular place among pilgrims.

Next destination: Mussoorie. The trip from Dehra Dun, up the winding hill road to Mussoorie will cost you if you come by car: Rs 15 to be precise. Once in the town, I wanted to go to the Valley View Hotel. Suki wanted to park to car somewhere near that place, so we were forced to drive up The Mall. Thing is, that you can only drive in The Mall on certain hours and it costs you dearly : the price they wanted from us was a totally ridiculous Rs 150 !! No, I'd rather choose a different place then. Of course, we could have walked, but my friend wanted the car close-by. So, we went to see a few places. I chose the Classic Heights Hotel. The receptionist who showed us around was a friendly Sikh. We saw three different rooms, all with different prices: (doubles) Rs 450, 550, 650 (inclusive of all taxes). It's hard to describe the difference of the rooms, they all had a totally different character. The cheapest was the most standard of the lot. The bathroom was the smallest of all three. The second one was a much bigger room with thresholds; to get to the bed you had to step up a couple of steps. The bed was big and so was the bathroom. The third room was very similar, only it looked a bit as if it had been a honeymoon suite in a long distant past. The bed was round and was completely surrounded by half-translucent curtains. I found the second room representing the best value for money, so I took that. And besides, the third room was a little bit too romantic for two guys (that is, if they are not gay !). Food could be had, but you had to take it in the room; it was only available from room-service. The food was good and the service friendly. The rooms were clean although a bit worn down. The views to Dun Valley were absolutely great and you could gaze at them either through the window or from a balcony.

The Mall was a great place for an evening stroll, although it was rather cold at that time. There's a good book shop and a record store (actually tapes and CD's). We also went to see the Camel Rock, on foot. A rickshaw from The Mall was between Rs 120 and 150.

By car, we went to Kempty Falls. They were quite high and worth the trip. On the way thither, we had to stop at a check point. I had to take my backpack out of the trunk and have it inspected. This was to see if I was carrying any liquor. I wasn't, so I can't say what happens if you do. I really didn't see the point. We got in the car again and continued... for about fifty meters. There we were stopped again. Car papers were inspected and we had to pay another fifteen rupees road tax ! The Mussoorie town council certainly knows how to collect taxes. Maybe they're just trying to keep out as many cars as they can, which is probably not a bad idea, but that's probably thinking too far for Indians... I suspect they're just after the money.

There are other falls in the Mussoorie vicinity, none of them as spectacular as the Kempty Falls though. They are : Mossy Falls (6 km. by road), Bhatta Falls (6.5 km. by bridle path, 12 by road) and Hardy Falls (NW of Vincent Hill and harder to reach). There are also some places with good views. One of them is Benong Hill, ten kilometres away by road from the Library Chowk. It once was the site of an observatory. It is gone now, but it is still a very good viewpoint towards the Himalayas above and the Yamuna river below. Another one is Lal Tibba (5 km.) at an altitude of 2440 meters. There is a coin-operated pair of binoculars here that provide an up-close view of the Nanda Devi-, Gangotri-, Sri Kanda-, Chaukhamba- and Kedarnath peaks. The Gangotri is the actual source of the river Ganges. Trekking there is possible. At just over 3000 meters, one can try to visit the famous Goddess Ganga Temple on the right bank of the river. Seven kilometres from the Library Chowk is Sir George Everest's House, the first Surveyor General of India after whom the highest mountain in the world is named. The place which is also known as Park Estate was his residential office. It once was a fine example of colonial architecture by the East India Company, but unfortunately it is now in ruins. There are, however, good views of the Himalayas and the Dun Valley.

We also went up Gun Hill by ropeway. As far as I can remember, it's still ten rupees. There are good views of the Himalayas, but only in the morning. We also came here in the evening and everything was hazy. At the top, there are some good cafe's where you can have some vegetarian snacks or just warm yourself with a cup of coffee or tea. One particular place is run by a friendly French guy who came to live in Mussoorie years and years ago. He's really cool !

Unfortunately I will also always remember this hill station as the place where I started suffering of dysentery. So, there won't be all good memories. I started suffering during one night in the hotel. I got very sick and didn't sleep for one minute. In the morning I decided I would need a doctor. Suki went to the reception to ask them to call one. The Sikh came up to our room and told me that the doctor here wouldn't be able to do very much for me. He said to take it easy the coming day, to take something like Rennie's (against acid stomachs) and to eat white rice and curd. No matter how sick I was, it flashed through my head that I had to get out of this place and return to Delhi where I could have decent treatment. It would be different if I had been alone and in a place where transportation is almost absent, but here I had good road connections with the capital and I had a friend who had a car. And besides, I would have had to return to Delhi the next day anyway, because I had only three days to go (including the flight day). I checked out and we immediately drove off. I remember that the trip was a real hell for me. Fortunately and strangely enough I could sleep most of the time. Like I just told you : I had planned to - under normal circumstances - to leave Mussoorie the next day. On the way, I would have paid a short visit to Haridwar, maybe even spent the night there. Suki woke me up when we passed it. Even in all my agony, I decided to take a look and some pictures. It was a great place and it's really too bad that I couldn't visit it properly. It looked a bit like a miniature Varanasi, but that's seen through tormented eyes. After an hour or so, we continued and I can't tell you how glad I was to arrive in the Connaught Palace in Delhi. The rest you know, I already told you before.

End note

That was something about my holidays in India. It's not always easy to write about a trip. The best things that have happened to me I just can't write down, because it's so damn hard to express feelings in words, and feelings are all what India is about. It's been a total experience and although I can't say that this was my best trip regarding the friendliness of the people, the impressiveness of the sights or the quality of the food, I can certainly say that this has been the most special one and don't ask me to explain that. Hopefully you somehow enjoyed reading this.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please feel free to write me !

1 comment:

Amrita said...

I lived in Mussoorie for 4 years. Enjpyed reading your blog