The notion of ‘solo travel’ has been an upcoming vogue in the travel industry. More and more people are subscribing to this idea nowadays for myriad reasons. The answer lies in the question itself as I ventured out with my ‘wandering shoes’ on my first ‘solo travel’ to the land of uncountable gods – Rishikesh and my experience compels me to advocate this nascent trend.
I boarded the Uttarakhand Roadways Bus heading to Haridwar for my first solo travel. Although journey through tattered roads could not be termed as ‘comfortable’ but the transition in the surrounding was vivid and enjoyable.
The scene outside the bus window changed significantly with every kilometre and appeared to be an assortment of many different things — there were posters of political struggle, AAP workers procession, lush green fields undulating with crops, apartment culture creeping into small cities, ladies with ‘ghoonghat’, hawkers clamouring for selling water bottles & other stuffs and the unending list goes on.
This wonderful assortment of people and things were in existence even during my earlier journeys but I kept snubbing at them as I only cared about reaching the destination. But the the concept of ‘solo travel’ aided me to focus on the journey which leads to the ultimate destination making my travel more exciting.
Market near Ghat
Finally braving all the odds pelted upon by the craggy roads, I arrived at the Triveni Ghat in Rishikesh. Since it was evening hours, the ghat was overwhelming with devotees, youngster, kids, saints—all gathered for their own reasons before the sacred Ganga.
The very sight of the perpetual flowing water of the Ganga and the devotees taking holy bath resurrected the religious part of mine. I bent on the stairs caressed by the azure Ganga and showered a ‘holy splash’ on my face. The ‘holy splash’ took away all the tiredness of the journey along with it and completely refreshed me to my core.
I spent the next 20 minutes simply watching the constant drifting of the river. My mind was devoid of any thoughts during those soothing 20 minutes and it helped me enjoy the moments with all my senses.
There were people all around busy in their chores but I could sense an idiosyncratic peace and calmness transpiring throughout me. All other noises went in background and an enjoyable quietude invaded my mind.
Soon, it was time for the evening aarti. The sadhus, the ladies, the men, the children, the priest– all assembled on the ghat facing the river for offering the daily prayers. I saw the priest circling the lamp with numerous small fires in clockwise directions and devotional songs were sung in chorus. While the aarti continued, I gazed at some elderly ladies floating flowers and small diyas in the river as offering to the goddess Ganga.
The evening aarti is a normal routine across all the major ghats in Haridwar and Rishikesh. Although, the aarti at Harkipauri ghat in Haridwar is termed the most outstanding one; but somebody who cares for some peace; Rishikesh is the ideal one.
After the aarti was over, the priests moved around with the lamp among the devotees to enable them to take the blessings. Being a Hindu, the ritual of aarti is not new to me but the ambiance and essence of the place catalyzed the experience making it more charismatic and amazing this time.
Since, the aarti was over and it was already dark, I started my hunt for a suitable dwelling for the night. I urged for a cheap accommodation from where I could see the perennial drift of Ganga waters.
My urge took me to area near the famous Ram Jhula. As I walked down a steep road from the Ram Jhula parking, the melodious jangling of the bell and thumping of drums from nearby Prachin Hanuman Mandir (Ancient Lord Hanuman Temple) conquered my ‘dome’. The sounds emanating from the temple became more prominent and significant as I moved nearer. When I reached in front of the temple, I saw some bald head teenagers dressed in white dhoti similar to the priest. Those were the face behind that mellow jangling.
Their uniformly shaven heads with a small tuft of hairs on back (shikha or sikha in Sanskrit) were a symbol of them being the students who would probably become temple priest in future.
It was quite interesting to see that in the time where parents wish and push their child to become doctors, engineers and spent exorbitantly on their plush English education, these children parent’s chose to send them to Sanskrit Mahavidyalayas (Sanskrit University) to make them priests. I can only see it as the part of diversity of our country.
I strolled further and the impressive iron suspension bridge- Ram Jhula began to appear from the cobbled lanes. The suspension bridge (also known as Shivananda Jhula) constructed in 1986 connects the other end of river where most of the ashrams and temples are situated. I could literally feel the suspension while marching on the bridge. I reached the other side and was glad to find a room with the panoramic view of the swirling Ganga at Bharat Sadhu Samaj Asharam at a very nominal price (Rs. 200). I feasted at one of local restaurant and went for a sound sleep.
Next morning, I woke up early to give a treat of fresh breeze to my lungs. I walked down to the ghat to have a closer feel of the morning waft. The wind was blowing at much higher speed than I thought. I saw many orange clad sadhus who had nestled themselves in some corners on the open ghat last night performing their daily chores. Some were taking baths in frosty Ganga water while some were enchanting some mantras and simultaneously cleaning the ghat.
I went down on the steps till the water kissed my feet. I parked myself on one of the steps with my feet in water for some time but it was so chill that I had to take them out after few seconds. I spent some time silently adoring the quietude of the surroundings and incessantly travelling river. I looked around for the giant Lord Shiva statue in middle of the river but soon the memories of last year catastrophe which wiped away the many towns and the statue too grabbed my muse. But I guess people have moved on and the place was returning to its pre-catastrophe charm again.
I continued to sit and adore on the step of the ghat till the orange rays appeared in the sky. I was now mentally prepared to take the holy dip into the sacred waters. I brought my clothes from my room, placed them on one the steps and gradually descended into the divine river with the help of metal chain attached to the pole. The first step into the river- I could feel the cold sensation throughout my body- second step- It was getting little comfortable – third step- I dipped my head into the river. I dipped three-four times hurriedly and later it became more of fun. While I was in the river, I could feel the massive power of the river and if it had not been the chains, I might have gone with the drift.
A few more dips and it was time to get dressed. When I was taking the bath, a sadhu was sitting on the steps murmuring the Sanskrit verses in the praise of Ganga. I sat with him and soon an interaction clicked between us. On being inquired, he proudly narrated how he turned into a sadhu 12 years back and how his life has been since then. His story was really captivating insights into the life of these nomadic sadhus. His immense faith on the Goddess Ganga was visible on his face and words. I offered him to join me for tea to which he readily agreed and shared some more stories and moral driven theories.
After the short tea sessions, I turned back for heading back to Delhi. During my recourse, I analysed how nature has balanced everything and treats everybody equal. It does not discriminate between the societal barriers created by us. The river embraces and offers the same water to everybody irrespective from where he hails. I think we all need to imbibe the virtues of nature in ourselves and act accordingly apart from just worshiping them.
In the end, I can confidently tell that ‘solo travel’ is not boring at all and there is large possibility of discovering a new side of yourself. It has helped me, so it can help you too.