Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Getting to the Indian Himalayas

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India; 22nd September; Day 1

Kristian arrived at 2am this morning from Manchester with a trailer to pick up an ailing black Morris Minor which he will ransack for parts. He has a pale blue Minor of his own! He'll be leaving for Australia on Friday for a couple of races and some warm winter training. Next season he will again been riding for Rapha Condor.

Keith came up in the morning and we walked around to my Dad's garage to load the black Morris onto the trailer. Keith drove my Dad's green Morris around to take the free space in the garage. It started first time after 3 months standing idle. We wondered when it would be driven again.

When the black Morris was loaded and tied down we bade farewell to Kristian as he returned to Manchester. He'll be back from Australia in the New Year.

An hour later I said goodbye to Mum and Dad and walked down to Keith's place where we I picked up my bag and we walked down to the station to catch the train to London and on to Heathrow for our flight to New Delhi. Linford, Keith's son, walked down with us and we said goodbye to him as he left for college at Canterbury.

After struggling through London on the Underground Keith and I arrived at the airport to meet our fellow travellers James, Jim, Adriana and Jan. Keith hadn't met anyone before and neither of us had met Jan (Adrian's brother) before. I trekked with Jim, Adriana and James several times in the past including our last trip to the Himalayas in 2005.

As usual I had trouble at the check-in as I wanted my films to be hand-scanned. They refused even after I'd persuaded them to bring the manager down. So all my film went through the scanner and then to cap it all they hand-scanned my photography bag anyway. What a pointless waste of time!

India; 23rd September; Day 2; New Delhi

After an uneventful flight where I read the paper, slept and ate and drank we arrived in New Delhi at 6.30am. I stupidly left my camera bag on the plane and had to rush back to claim it! The cabin crew joked that they were just about to blow it up! Of course my hold luggage was last off the carousel too!

We were met by our travel company Himalayan Run and Trek and driven to the Connaught Hotel. In an attempt to avoid jet-lag we then all went for a walk around Connaught Place in the centre of Delhi. In the heat it was chaos though as much of the area is being rebuilt for the Commonwealth Games to be held here in a years time. Also, as is common in large cities in India, we were pestered by strangers trying to be helpful and show us around! We did however manage to change some money into rupees and ended up with huge wads of 100 rupee notes. It's important to get small denominations as it'll prove difficult to change larger notes in the villages of the Himalayas. In any case we won't be needing a great deal of money on the trek.

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After a brief rest in the hotel Keith and I, in a desperate attempt to fill the time in the afternoon by staying awake, catch an auto-rickshaw to the Delhi Railway Museum. This is a largely outdoor museum where the exhibits sit rusting in the baking heat. Apart from a small gang of schoolkids we were the only visitors. We wander around for a couple of hours and I get my first close look at the iconic Alco WMD2 diesel which is still the mainstay of the Indian Railways.

In the evening we all pile into a taxi and go to the Imperial Hotel for dinner. This is a very posh and very colonial looking place with staff strutting around in sub-military uniforms. Needless to say we were not allowed in the main dining room - some of us were wearing shorts - but we did have a decent meal in the plebs canteen!

India; 24th September; Day 3; Rishikesh

We were up at 4.45am for a quick breakfast at the hotel before getting into the bus to take us to the station. Our own minibus had left last night with our main luggage and would meet us in Haridwar. Instead of a 10 or 12 hour drive we were taking the morning express which would do the journey in 3 and 3/4 hours.

After some confusion at the station - we arrived at the wrong side and then had to drive right around town in heavy traffic - we piled onto the bustling station. I think we have a 1st Class Aircon coach which proves to be pretty comfortable. We are served tea and a second breakfast on our journey.

As the train crawls out of New Delhi we watch as the world awakes in the ghettos and Shanty Towns. As we then speed across the plains we pass mostly farmland and a few scruffy little towns. We see plenty of egrets in the ponds and ditches and also a peacock.

By 11am we have arrived in Haridwar and we stream out of the station with hordes of other travellers into the square which is also heaving with people. We scramble into our minibus and are re-united with our luggage! It's only a short 24km ride to Rishikesh where we are to spend the night.

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After checking into our dusty hotel Keith and I decide to go for a walk about town. Even though it's overcast the day is hot and humid and sweaty. It's a scruffy place but it's holy and it sits on the Ganges river. As we wander through the streets we dodge the cows and pigs lying around and try not to get clipped by the traffic. Amazingly we find an elephant and though the minder tries to persuade us to go for a ride we decline but give him a few rupees anyway for the photographs we took. At the river we walk along the ghats, which are empty at the moment, and watch a few people braving a swim in the holy river. The water is icy and a glacial grey/green colour.

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Further down we climb up to a road high above the river and then take some steps down so that we can cross on the suspension bridge. It's here that we see large troops of what look like Baboons. I think in fact they are Rhesus Macaques. We watch the males as they run around keeping control of their family groups and maintaining their territories.

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The bridge turns out to be a pedestrian bridge but this doesn't prevent the odd cow wandering across - and the cow pats you have to dodge - nor the locals coming across on motorbikes and push bikes. At the other side we walk onto more ghats and watch as devotees place ceremonial platters on the river made of fruit and coconuts and leaves and brightly coloured papers.

A small ferry is plying its trade from here and so we return to the other side in a small boat. Once here we find a large, but empty hotel, and have a lunch of lassis, toasted cheese sandwiches and sweet sweet tea in a room overlooking the river. We catch an auto-rickshaw back to our hotel at the other end of town thinking we may take a swim in the swimming-pool before dark. After peering into its limpid and faintly rank green waters we decide against it. In our room we doze and sleep and watch cricket on the TV.

We have dinner in the hotel. It's all vegetarian and we can get no beers. We will have no meat or beer for the next 20 days.