Having reached Dehradun 2 hours behind the scheduled time, our plan went haywire. As per our original plan, we had to hire a cab to our camping site 30 km ahead of Rishikesh- a 2–3 hour journey by road. Suddenly, we had to reschedule our plans because it would have been extremely late if we had hired the cab and gone for Rishikesh.
You can always plan with even the remotest details, will things always go the way we planned? Not always. Every disappointment is a snapshot which prevents you from making a wrong choice or even a worse choice. To quote Leslie Garland, “ Yes we all need to plan, to have a plan, but life goes on regardless of our plans, and we know only too well what happens to so many best-laid plans of mice and men!”
This was when our friends from Chennai came to our rescue. Having planned to do this part of the trip together during the climb of Kedarkantha, the time had arrived to execute the plan. They were a day ahead of us, and we were playing the catchup game with them. Due to our one night halt at Juda Ka Talab, they were one day ahead of our schedule. With no mobile coverage available until we left Sankri, it wasn't easy to contact them. In our return journey, we got to know that they had halted at Haridwar for a night before moving to Rishikesh for arguably the best water adventure that was to follow- river rafting.
With our plan already gone haywire, we found a way out of the sudden mess that we had been in. Haridwar- Rishikesh was a 1-hour cab ride. Dehradun-Haridwar was an 80 min cab ride. We decided to abort the direct Rishikesh route and go the next day via Haridwar after halting here for a night. Having reached Haridwar at 10 pm, we checked in our hotel and finally met the Chennai group. After having dinner and fixing the next day’s plans, it was time for much-needed rest to the tired legs. We planned initially to wake up before dawn for the Ganga-Aarti at Haridwar and move out in the 5 am chilly morning to witness the serenity & the spiritual vibes of the Mayapuri (another name of Haridwar). We slept at the midnight hour after the end of our post-dinner conversations. But we got a colossal shocker next morning. Our stubborn bodies gave a rude shock to all of us. Our fatigued body did not obey our mind and got the much-needed sleep that it deserved.
A monstrous 9-hour sleep sounded like a Himalayan blunder then. Perhaps, not for the body. It was having these many hours of sleep for the first time in this tour. Probably, the wheels had started to come off now. But it was a matter of just one night before our return flight to Mumbai. This sleep removed all the body drain that had started to show its baby steps. Having missed out on the Ganga Aarti, we decided to visit the Har ki Pauri Ganga Ghat to take a holy dip in the Ganges. The atmosphere was terrific. The entire Ganga was shimmering as the rays of sunlight fell on its pristine water. Some floating diyas in the water made it a breathtaking sight to behold.
The atmosphere was pious and spiritually vibrant due to the presence of the holy river. It is a perfect place for artists, poets and writers to experience the tranquillity that this place offers. The intriguing bylanes of Haridwar had a serene feeling giving it a home-coming effect.
The water was too freezing to take a cold holy dip. So again, I abandoned this plan. The river was immaculate way beyond my expectations. So I drank a mouthful of water. Never before in my life, my taste buds had got this divine chance of tasting such sweet water. I had a practical experience of the purity of this water.
Having wound up this programme, the time had arrived to carry on the primary purpose of visiting Rishikesh- the river rafting. I was excited about this. It was always in my bucket list to do river rafting. One item was going to be ticked off, and a lifetime memory was in the making. I had always been amazed and fascinated by the thrilling videos of river rafting in Rishikesh that I had seen before coming here. It was entirely a different ballgame to experience it.
Then began the story of the most adventurous, thrilling and exciting water activity I had done till date. At around 2 pm, we reached the river rafting point. The Chennai group joined us there. I wore the rafting suit as we were supposed to get completely wet in this ride. The suit for too tight for my height but I managed to fit in somehow. We had to keep our luggage at the rafting office before departing for the final ride.
We left in a jeep to the rafting point- a 20-minute journey from the office. On reaching, there was the enigmatic river Ganga with its pure green waters flowing in its full glory making every person present there to fall in love with the sheer aura that the river generated as if it was telling the Universe to come, visit and take notice of its magical display of purifying holy waters.
It was a beautiful culmination of the mountains and the river- an eternal, rare & divine combination rarely found in our country's other parts. It was a chilling cold afternoon, and the freezing greenish Ganga waters were already waiting to make our spines shiver with the cold due to the sudden outburst of water splashing in our body and coming off from all directions.
The maximum capacity that could be accommodated in the raft was 8. As a result, the Chennai group had to be separated from our raft although their raft remained near us.
The below photos display the pumped-up levels and speaks volumes of the “High Josh” immediately before rafting.
Before finally stepping into the raft, we got the final instructions from the guide. His way of narrating was full of sarcasm, satire yet extremely important. He explained the importance of every rafting equipment and safety kit that we had along with us- right from the top starting with the helmet to the life jackets. According to statistics, eighty per cent of river rafting accidents happen either because of not wearing life jackets, not wearing life jackets properly (zipper done up and buckles fastened securely) or not wearing proper life jackets. Helmets are more to protect you from the paddles of our enthusiastic rafting companions, and the oars/frame on a raft (in case of a flip on an oar rig), and very rarely as protection against the rocks on a river. If anyone fell off a raft and were forced to body-surf, they had to remember the following:
a. Not to panic.
b. As soon as you fell off the raft, your life jacket would immediately bring you to the surface.
c. There is a ninety per cent possibility that you would surface right next to the raft. Grab hold of the raft.
River Rafting is entirely a team effort. There are two teams — Team Left, people sitting on the left side of the raft and Team Right, people sitting on the raft's right side. Two strong rowers must be seated in the front on either side, rest of them in any order. There has to be a collective team effort from both teams to ensure the boat's balance remains steady. Every person has to focus on the rowing of the person ahead of him and row in tandem with him. Any miscommunication there and the next moment you could find yourself in the water with the entire boat toppling turning upside down. It was needless to say that if your friend fell off the raft, you jump out to save him/her from drowning. That was the most stupid act anyone could do because you would be putting all the other people at the risk of falling in this process.
The guide would be seated at the back telling instructions of rowing- forward implying everyone to row in tandem, backward indicating everyone to propel backwards in tandem and stop implying everyone to stop rowing. It is deemed that our upper body should simultaneously move along with the direction of the rowing instruction.
This ride was a 16 km journey of 3 hours with eight thundering rapids- a part of a river where the water flows very fast over rocks precisely similar to the ocean's rough seas or high tide waves. A spine-tingling adventure began shattering my pulse records in every rapid that went across. Due to these rapids' high speed and size, they appeared to be foamy-white whenever they crashed against the rock surfaces. Paddling looked extremely easy until we came across the first rapid. We could see the rapid from a distance, the violent waves, the roar of water and the stones in between. But our adventurer’s spirits took us right in the middle of the rapid, and soon we found ourselves combating the strong current by rowing in sync and paddling as hard as we could.
The first rapid was a naive one, although extremely captivating. As we just got over the first taste of rafting in rapid feels like, there came the second rapid.
The beauty of rapid lied in the fact that the boat could turn topsy turvy, moving up and down, left and right and every time you felt as if it was going to topple, it hanged in there showing its resilience making its way through the rapid passing through some of the sharp edges and unique turns.
After the end of the first two rapids, we could offer to relax a little giving some rest to our shoulders and prepare for the next three back-to-back rapids. The third rapid passed through one of the most strenuous and roughest phases of the river spicing up the level of thrill and excitement. The fourth rapid was, in my opinion, the most thrilling of all the rapids due to the current flow, rocky terrain, the humongous shark sized waves and the rising turbulence. As we completed this, I got an adrenaline boost after which suddenly all other rapids felt a little easy. It was the phase as if we had completed the exams and were waiting for the announced results. The fifth rapid had been done, and we had completed more than half of the ride.
A small loner rapid awaited where we just paddled our way through. Now there were only two rapid pending. It was time for photography sessions, and all those who wished to jump in the river for some time to experience the chilling cold of Ganga were allowed to do so. Given the chill, it was not affirmative from my side. Some of the people in our boat did jump in for some time. Meanwhile, our guide clicked some photos.
We had a maggie breakpoint wherein every raft halted for 15–20 minutes before completing the last rapid and remaining 200 metres. I was so hungry that I decided to have a feast. With wet clothes and chilling cold nip in the air, we were initially extremely lazy to get out of the raft, but the empty bellies got better of the mind's reluctance. I had a plate maggie, two cups of hot teas, two chips packets and two biscuit packets. The exercise probably had made the stomach more hungry.
After getting back on the raft, the last rapid was done and dusted after which this iconic ride came to an end. This was one of the most memorable days I had lived to experience in my life. I sat on the bus with thoughts like these and promised myself to do more adventure sports in the future. After all, I finally knew that the enigma thronging this world would turn out to be one of the most exciting things to decipher. We reached the office and later started our journey back to Dehradun. After reaching Dehradun, we bid adieus to the Chennai group who had made this trip extremely fun, joyful and added more spice to this incredible trip. Hats off to them for forever keeping the Josh and morale high with hearts and head pumping full of energy.
The last part of the trip taught me a lot about planning. Most of the plans, as mentioned above, did not take off the way they were supposed to be. But there was always a backup available that didn't disappoint us on lack of alternatives not being available. Later after reaching the hotel, I just dozed off to sleep as an early morning flight to Delhi was waiting to be boarded. A 7 am flight to Delhi awaited us. After reaching Delhi, it suddenly started raining with little hailstorm in some parts fearing that flight could be delayed. Some flights had already been delayed. I checked onto my flight which was luckily on time. Again, this time my return flight to Bombay had the middle seat allotted to me.
Probably, the middle seat loved me every time I had to board a flight. This middle seat mystery is the one I haven't been able to decode to date. After my flight landed finally in Mumbai, all the memories of all the days gone by started flashing in my mind. The trip had finally come to an end, the days could fade, but the memories of it would continue to stay in some pocket of my heart forever. This trip was one for the ages-had, so many memories that it would have been an injustice had I wrapped it up in short because there were so many things to pen down due to which I had to divide the entire nine days into four parts. As I sat in my one final cab ride from the airport to home, slowly and steadily, I started to come into terms with the reality of my trip had come to an end. The fairytale had ended, and life was back to normal.