I started out the morning with a trip to Jaisalmer Palace Fort; another outstanding example of Rajput architecture. 

“Hanging out” in the Palace. Yes, they are what you think they are. I walked quickly through this section, as there was no alternative.

I started out early in the morning to beat the heat and the shop vendors, but caught them on the return. As I said “Not shopping today” to one vendor, the next one says “Shopping is very good for your health, madam”. I had to drop the no-nonsense facade and just laugh, replying that I preferred yoga. That got a smile, and a reprieve.

At three in the afternoon, I joined a dozen people from Belgium, and a last minute add on from Portugal. After loading on sunscreen, we piled into jeeps and drove into the Thar (pronounced “tar”, but with a flat-tongued emphasis on the t) Desert. We first visited a deserted village. 250 years ago, the inhabitants were of a high priestly caste who offered things to the gods for the common people. One day the Maharaja came to the village, saw a young woman and asked for permission to marry her. The group refused because they were higher caste. The maharaja gave them an ultimatum: either allow me to marry this woman, or I will kill your village. He allowed them a three day decision operiod, during which they dispersed to other towns, leaving the village empty. No one moved into them due to fear of being haunted.

Next we met our camels and drivers and began riding. These were one-humped Dromedary camels specific to Rajasthan. Cushions were thankfully present, although after a while it still felt like we were sitting on bags of rocks. Camels are tall, with long gangly legs. When they get up from lying down, your body is lurched forward. If you’re not leaning back and hanging on, you will be pitched forward onto the ground (no, I wasn’t, and neither did anyone else).

If you’re not the leader of the pack, the view is pretty much the same
Picas, one of our camel drivers

We rode out to the dunes in about ninety minutes, where the drivers set up camp and and cooked dinner. The dunes themselves are not Sahara sized, but are still impressive, and fun to play around in. After we ate a dinner of lentils, vegetables, rice and chapati, one of the drivers shared his life story after being asked, and then we were audience to a Marwari concert, as we fell asleep under the stars. While it was delightfully cool when we went to bed, by early morning I was quite thankful for the blanket that had been provided. I woke early to see the sunrise, and we all rode back to the jeep after breakfast. It was a great experience, and the staff were wonderful.

Next stop is Udaipur, which will probably be my last stop in Rajasthan. I can’t see everything, but feel like I’ve already seen a good sampling of the state during this trip. 

Gloriously Golden

I arrived in Jaisalmer about noontime, and settled into my room at the hotel after they picked me up from the train station. I happily splurged a few hundred rupees more for AC, as temps appeared to be in the low 90’s. I took some time in the afternoon to walk around looking at the buildings. Many of the houses, called havelis, have central courtyards with the rooms facing inwards to allow for light and airflow. As the wind goes through the courtyard, it cools in the summer yet stays warm in the winter. Hava is the Hindi word for wind, hence haveli.

From inside the haveli
Such intricate design

I was impressed with the cleanliness of the streets that I hadn’t seen in a while. Apart from the odd cow patty, not a whole lot of garbage laying about. Such a beautiful city, it’s pleasing to miss the general rubbish display of other towns.

The haveli of “The men who stare at goats”, or perhaps “The goats who stare at men”

The next morning I planned to check out the fort…until I got out of bed and sped to the bathroom. My gut revised the day’s plans to alternatively staying flat on my bed and calling my attention to the interior of the bathroom (which is, btw, lovely with painted tiles). 

I’ve spent more time in much worse bathrooms!

The fever, chills, body aches, and an overwhelming urge to be horizontal came afterwards. I honestly felt like death was watching. After the fever rose to the point which I could feel my brains simmering, I resigned myself to the need for some pharmaceutical intervention, and sent the hotel guy with a list of medication to get. He returned shortly with medication that would have been at least $30 in the states. Here? About $1 (OK, I’ll skip the rant on how big pharma overcharges for their medications in the US). Eight hours later, the fever went down, and I managed to eat a few biscuits and take some water. By this morning, I felt like a new woman, and managed a late breakfast, lunch, and a wander in the afternoon spent looking at various havelis. And was rewarded by a golden view of the city.

I still took it easy because tomorrow is the big day: an overnight camel safari in the desert. And that will be my next post. Stay tuned and be well!

A Case of the Blues

Jodhpur is classically known as the blue city. Originally, blue was a distinguishing color of only Brahmin houses. Later, everyone else got into the act, and now a majority of houses in the city are painted varying shades of blue. IMHO, much prettier than pink, but to each their own. The blue color is also claimed to repel insects, but I have my doubts on that.

The first day there I headed to Mehrangarh fort. Nothing “meh” about it; like Amber fort it was everything I could have asked for in Rajput architecture. Construction of this massive fort was started in 1459 by Rao Jodha, and continued with successive rulers. The fort encloses gardens, massive gates, meeting halls, and private chambers. There’s a museum of elephant seats, palanquins, paintings and other items used and admired throughout the ages. I walked around for a few hours, and then fueled by a makhania lassi and pyaz kachori, wandered further to the Rao Jodha desert rock park.

In case you’re wondering, a lassi is a drink made from yogurt, combined with either spices, fruit, or honey. A makhania lassi is quite thick, sweetened, and made with saffron. The best ones in possibly all of India are served at Shri Mishrilal Hotel. They’re so thick they’re eaten with a spoon instead of sipped. Kachori are fried bread with various fillings. The pyaz kachori seemed to have potato and onion inside. Probably not very healthy, but tasty nonetheless.

Rao Jodha rock park is 73 hectares large, and located at the base of the fort, providing some great views and photos. It was also a beautiful retreat from the crowds. At first I wondered why there seemed to be no one else there, but it soon became apparent as the temperatures rose. Most people go there in the morning, but I was there from 12-2. But there was a breeze, and I had water, so it didn’t get bad until towards the end. Maybe I’m getting used to the heat here. Maybe.

The next day I set out with a short list of errands: get train ticket to Jaisalmer, get batteries for water purifier, get some medicine and a cheap prepaid cell phone. I of course ended up walking way past the train station, and thankfully went with a rickshaw after I felt like I should have been there (boy was I off course!). For some inexplicable reason, the rail  booking office is 300 meters away from the actual station. Don’t ask me why. But knowing this, I made my way there after being dropped off at the station itself. I patiently waited in queue and handed in my filled request form. 

There’s a waiting list. 

Even for tourists?

Tourist ticket ok. You have photocopy of passport? No? We don’t make copies here. Come back with a copy. Next in line please.

So I wandered towards the post office next door, when a man helped me find a nearby shop to get a copy. Returning to the ticket office triumphantly with ticket in hand, I got my ticket. Ha. 

The same guy also “helped” me get a cell phone, but pressured me into getting one withoutq a receipt (yeah, I know, you see where this is going, dont you?). He then “helped” me get a SIM card, but they wanted a photo for it. I didn’t have one, other than the picture on my passport. Feeling conned and frustrated at this point, I left, and headed to the main market for batteries and a pharmacy, but was unable to find either. No one had the batteries, and a pharmacy seemed nowhere to be found. I retreated back to the guest house and sulked through the afternoon, then thanks to google, at least found the pharmacy later that day (it helped that it was near the lassi shop).

Main market madness

The next day I went on a village tour, seeing a pottery maker, a block print maker, a loom weaver and Bishnoi tribal members. The Bishnoi, named for the 29 precepts they keep, are the original tree huggers. In 1730, in their efforts to protect local khejri trees, over 370 members hugged the trees to save them, and were beheaded in their efforts.

Block print fabrics
Woven dhurries
Showing how they filter opium
Going Rajasthani style

So in the grand scheme of things, the fact that when I returned to the phone store after the tour and they wouldn’t take the phone back seems relatively minor in comparison to being beheaded. And yes, rather foreseeable. A $20 lesson to follow my instincts. It could have been much worse. Anyone want to buy a phone?

Minor as they are in the grand scheme, incidences like this make me want to just stay in my room and not go out, yet there is so much goodness out there that I miss by hiding. So the mind goes back and forth. I hide for a while, and then I give India another go. And I usually get rewarded for doing so.

0515, Jodhpur train station 

I step over a sea of bodies sleeping on the station floor and make my way to platform three over the stairs. The smell of machinery and human waste assaults my nostrils. More people are sitting, sleeping, or squatting on the ground, waiting for the train that’s thirty minutes late. Vendors walk up and down the platform with paper cups and teapots, chanting their popular mantra; “Chai, chai, garam chai, chai-chai-chai”.

This time I find a sign which shows where my train car will be on the platform. I have not always been so lucky, and have ended up race-walking/jogging from one end of the platform to another. India has very long trains.

The train arrives and I climb the steep steps aboard, already happy that I bought a ticket in the air conditioned section. I’m wearing my suitcase on my back, my backpack on the front, and a yoga mat bag slung over my shoulder. I look like a deformed turtle. I step aside to let some departing Sikh gentlemen go by, and they help me to find my seat without even being asked before they go. The goodness in India strikes again.

I watch the landscape roll by and am reminded of Arizona. The English planted a variety of Mexican trees here similar to mesquite, to provide a fast growing tree as wood supply. As foreign species often do, the trees adopted to their new environment a little too well, and are now an invasive species, choking out the native plants. The green of the mesquite-like trees and grass complement the sandstone rocks among the occasional hills, then the grass and the trees became more sparse. Thus was the moving picture I watched on my way to Jaisalmer, which will be my next post. 

Pretty in Pink

I’m finally in Rajasthan, where I’ve wanted to visit since I returned from my last India trip. I love the architecture here, and the surrounding hills are lovely. 

I arrived in the evening at the Rani Hahal hotel. Of course the rickshaw wallah tried to get me into a different hotel (where he would get a hefty commission), but sometimes, having reservations can be handy. The Rani Mahal is a beautiful building with spacious, clean rooms decorated in typical Rajasthan style. It’s a bit far from the center of town, but I was happy with it nonetheless.

My room an the Rani

The next day I hired a driver for the day through the hotel. It was pouring rain and I didn’t feel like getting soaked in a rickshaw. So we headed off first to the Birla/ Laxmi Narayan Mandir. The Mandir is a beautiful Hindu temple constructed with white marble, with intricate carvings. From the outside, the temple doesn’t look that large, but the inside is cavernous. It’s not exactly an ancient building though, as it was constructed in 1988.

Laxmi Narayan Mandir

Next up was the Albert Hall museum. This building was an interesting mix of Rajput and English architecture, and inside was an equally interesting assortment of carpets, paintings, sculptures and textiles. They were really nice to look at, but in large quantities, my interest wanes.

Yup. That pretty much says it all.

Afterwards I went into the gates of the old city. In 1876, the ruling maharaja had the whole city painted pink in preparation of a visit by the prince of Wales (I found no reference as to why pink and not some other color). Homeowners associations may not exist here, but everyone in the old city still has one choice for exterior paint color: pink.

Within the city walls are the Jantar Mantar, the City Palace, Hawa Mahal and several bazaars. The Jantar Mantar is a group of astronomical structures/instruments built by Jai Singh, a local ruler, in 1728. Apparently he was so into astronomy that he built five of these collections throughout northern India.

Jantar Mantar structure

The City Palace was also built by Jai Singh and has been built upon over the years. It remains the residence of the Singh royal family, and their quarters are blocked off. There’s still plenty to see in terms of stately architecture and museum items.

Palace gate. Girl not included.
“None shall pass!”

I looked in the old city for the Hawa Mahal, but couldn’t find it to save my life. Or a nearby restaurant that looked good. In defeat, I returned to the car and driver and had a late lunch without seeing the Hawa. But I think I saw a good amount without it, and was satisfied at the end of the day.

After lunch we stopped at the Jal Mahal, or water palace. It was a summer home for the royal family, in the middle of a scenic lake with a beautiful backdrop. And closed to visitors.

Last stop was Amber (pronounced “Am-mer”) fort. Amber fort is a majestic mix of yellow and pink sandstone with white marble. This was really the crown jewel of Jaipur for me. Grand courtyards, towering walls, giant doorways, inlaid stone artwork, and spectacular views made it definitely worth the trip.

Fear and Non-Loathing in India

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Do something every day that scares you”. I would say I’m definitely doing that, just by being here.
What am I afraid of?
Bodily harm. Being robbed. Killed. Gang-raped. Or all of these at once.

Coming down with some multiple drug resistant illness, or something like chikungunya.

And there’s also a lesser fear – more of an underlying wariness really, of being ripped off or overcharged for things. 
Other than being careful about when or where I roam, there’s not much I can do about the first things, and aside from being moderately cautious about my health and eating habits, I have equally little control about the next. 
As for being overcharged, well, even if I’m overcharged a dollar or two more for something just for being a tourist, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? To me, not really. And to someone who is struggling to survive, that charity may make a huge difference.

These fears aren’t something that keep me up at night, and they certainly haven’t stopped me from coming here. Knowing that I have little control over these things helps me to relax to a degree. As a teacher once said “Don’t worry. Everything is perfectly out of control”. Yet I would be lying if I said that the fears didn’t exist.
With each day, and with each time that I do something that brings that fear upwards in my consciousness, the smaller that fear becomes. There is still a great deal of goodness in the world that the media ignores. I have already seen so much kindness and generosity during this’s trip, and have faith that it will continue as I go onward. The media ignores this goodness to a large extent, and we’re encouraged on a daily basis to be afraid. Part of my hope for this trip is to continue whittling away at that fear. I’ll let you know how that goes, if it’s not apparent at the end.

I made it to Jaipur tonight a bit late to do any exploring, but I’ll post more colorful, exciting things next time.

And cockroaches. Definitely cockroaches.

Disconnected in Delhi

When planning this trip, I decided that while in India I’d treat myself to a nice hotel once a month instead of the backpacker/budget accomodations that I usually go for. And since the budget places in Delhi seem to be on the sketchy side, I decided this was the place. 

In the US, $80/night gets you a wide range of hotels, from the dingy dump to a nice, comfortable, yet generic place. Here, it got a very nice hotel. Ritzy, schnazzy, hoighty-toighty, whatever you want to call it, this was it.

Upon arrival they took my luggage through an X-ray machine and then brought it to my room. The lobby had dance/”uncha-uncha” music playing and was quite sleek and modern. My room was spacious and plush, and the bathroom had a tub large enough to throw a party in (well, a few people anyway). I took advantage of the bath despite the hot and humid weather. I guess you could say I’m a sucker for being in hot water. The room also came with an incredible breakfast buffet including continental and Indian dishes.

I must admit it felt odd to be in such luxury in the midst of poverty around me, and I’m still keeping it in my mind to think about. I will say that this body appreciated it. The first day that I planned to go out, my body said “Yeah, no. Not going to do that”. Since I had been dealing with stomach issues the last few days, I listened, and rested the whole day. It made a world of difference, and the next day I had energy to walk all over town.

The hotel is on the very outskirts of town, but near the Delhi metro. Delhi’s metro is awesome. It’s like the London Underground, only cheaper. They even say “Please mind the gap”. For less than $5, I got a three day pass that took me anywhere in town. The cars are clean, air conditioned, and they even have separate cars for women, which is nice when things get crowded.

So the first day I walked through Chandni Chowk, a major shopping street, to the Red Fort. Built by Shah Jahan in 1638 to 1648, the Red Fort is a magnificent example of Mughal architecture. It’s’ built of red sandstone and marble, with pietra dura stone inlays and intricate carvings. An easy place to spend a few hours. Afterwards I walked by the main Mosque, the Jama Masjid, and through Chowri bazaar, a street with stationery shops covered in grime, electrical wiring, and lots of people. Not something I’d do at night time.

Lahore Gate of the Red Fort
Photobomb by pigeon and chipmunk
Closeup of stone inlay

I went further by metro to the Janpath area of town to visit the National museum and the Gandhi Smirti. Sadly, the Gandhi smirti was closed for some reason, but the national museum was an interesting trip.

Today I went to the Qutub Minar complex. The first buildings in the complex were created by ancient Mehrauli sultans, and then later rulers built the rest. The large tower, the Qutb Minar, was started in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din. Unfortunately he never got to see its completion, as he was impaled during a polo match. Later rulers finished the construction with the tower topping 73 meters in height.

After wandering around such beautiful structures, I decided to make that my last tourist stop. Fatigue was lifting its head again, and I didn’t see how visiting more buildings would have been more enjoyable. So I called it good, stopped on an errand, and went back to the hotel.
The errand is a long story in the search for getting a local SIM card for my iPhone. Let’s just say it hasn’t been successful, and I am without a working phone. But I have had wifi at the hotels, and in some ways, it’s not so bad to not have connectivity 24/7. So I remain disconnected – sort of.

As one last note, I’m putting in a charity plug. One of the things I’ve noticed is that my observations about the trash here may not have been correct. It seems that plastic water bottles don’t get recycled as much as I thought. I see them everywhere. Of course the problem is multi factorial, but between seeing the bottles and suffering ill effects from questionable sources, I really see how important clean water is for so many in the world. I found an organization trying to change this, so I’m putting in a plug for them. I get nothing out of it, other than knowing more people may have access to clean water. So here’s my fundraising campaign, contribute if you’d like.

See you next time from Jaipur!


From Rishikesh I took a shared rickshaw to Hardiwar. The couple I was sharing the rickshaw with were going to another location there, so the driver arranged for me to get in to a very shared vikram for the last bit of the trip. To those that don’t know, an auto rickshaw is sort of like a golf cart with the body from a tilt-a-whirl instead. There are larger shared ones called vikrams, which have three benches: one for the driver and two behind facing each other for the passengers. Apparently it’s possible to fit at least fourteen people in one vikram. Maybe more if the people know each other, we did not.

I arrived at the train station and people-watched for a while since my train was scheduled for a few hours later. While waiting, a family that was sitting nearby “adopted” me. They offered me some chai, then some biscuits, and the son-in-law spoke with me mostly, although I managed some meager conversation in Hindi. The family was a couple maybe my age, and their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild. The mother had the kindest face, and they were all very sweet and helpful. Another advantage to traveling alone is that you’re much more likely to be spoken to than when traveling in a group.

The train was a “sleeper”: An overnight train on which you get an open bunk with some sheets, pillow, and blanket. Sleep, however, is not something you get much of, as the bunks are hard, and you’re in a cabin filled with lots of people who invariably snore.

I arrived in Amritsar and found a reasonable hotel, and rested for a bit. My main purpose in coming to Amritsar had been to see the Golden Temple and Jallianwalla bagh. The Golden Temple is the most venerated temple of the Sikh faith, housing their scriptures, the Adi Granth. It’s actually part of a large compound with several buildings, in which the main temple sits in the center of a large pool of water, connected by a bridge. There is a museum, hostel, and a community kitchen that feeds the 100,000 visitors that come on a daily basis, free of charge. I had read about the temple and seen it in films, and although the actual experience was a bit different, no less satisfying.

Here’s a great Bollywood film clip of a visit the temple.

Here’s a link to my experience.

And the best photo I got:

I went first on a Sunday, which was pretty crowded. But when I returned the next morning, there were fewer people, yet the sense of devotion was just as powerful.

Another powerful visit was to Jallianwalla Bagh. During the struggle for India’s independence from England, several thousand men, women, and children had met for an observance in a large courtyard in Amritsar. General Dwyer ordered troops to assemble in and block the exit points and then ordered the troops to open fire on the peaceful group. Many tried to climb the walls or jump in a deep well to avoid the volley of bullets which lasted for ten minutes. After the munition was expended, the official count was nearly 400 dead and over 1400 injured. Now the courtyard is a peaceful park commemorating this senseless tragedy.

The white squares surround the bullet holes in the wall
The well people jumped into to avoid being shot…and where they were shot anyway. You can see bullet marks and old blood here.
Another tragic wall

My last tourist attraction was the border ceremony. Amritsar is about 30km from the India-Pakistan border, and each day the border closing is enacted with much fanfare. It’s a well-attended event by tourists and locals, at least on India’s side. So I and 9 other tourists climbed into an suv taxi, rode for nearly an hour and then walked through numerous security checks to get to the open seating near the border gate. The ceremony started with women volunteers running up the road to the gate with flags, and running back. Patriotic songs started playing over the loudspeakers, and women started dancing in the road. Even western women from the audience joined in, and I thought, “Looks like fun, I’d love to do that”. I stayed put for a few minutes until I realized that staying back would be something I’d regret later. And the next thing I knew, I was dancing along with about fifty women in front of thousands of people in 95 degree heat. It was a surprise even to me, but a lot of fun, and there was a sort of sisterhood between us women that felt quite sweet.

When in Amritsar…..

Next was the marching. With great pomp and posturing, the guards on both sides took turns high-stepping to the gate and making exaggerated stances of might on their respective sides, lowered their flags and slammed their gates shut. Sure, a lot of it is for show, but I’m pretty sure the assault rifles that the soldiers carried were very real.

And a funny YouTube video of the ceremony. This is much better than what I got with my little camera from the nosebleed section in the stands.

I haven’t said much about the food here yet. There’s been no shortage to talk about, although recently my appetite has been less than usual. Goddess Kali has been poking me in the belly saying “Don’t think I’ve forgotten you. We will meet before you leave.” But I did manage a Punjabi specialty that is definitely worth sharing.

Kulcha is a flat bread with a hidden filling. It can be potatoes, cheese, onions or spices alone. The bread is rolled out with the filling inside, and then cooked in a little bit of oil, served with a lentil sauce, an onion sauce, and a heavenly splat of ghee on top. Oh my goodness. I went to the Kulcha walla section of Amritsar and saw this hole-in-the-wall place that had people in it (people eating are a good sign). The mixed kulcha had all of the fillings, and one heavenly kulcha was less than $1.00. You can’t beat that with a stick.

“Why do I get the feeling I’ll regret this?”
OMG. So worth it. And I didn’t even suffer for it later.


I’m now in Delhi, chilling out in a schnazzy hotel with great internet, but that story is for my next post. Be well and happy, dear readers!

Yogi going onwards

Today after one last yoga class I’ll slowly make my way to Amritsar.

I seriously considered staying here longer, but there are other places I really want to visit on this trip.

I realize that my initial report wasn’t glowing, but the town has really grown on me. The people here have been very friendly and helpful, the surrounding landscape is quite beautiful, and there is a spiritual vibe here that one can sense once one settles down long enough to notice. Staying here has helped me do that.  Two yoga classes a day have helped this body become more flexible, and spending time just watching the Ganges river flow by has been great for the mind.

I’ve been told the best time to come is in the early spring, and I have to admit that coming back here for further yoga training at some point in the future sounds pretty appealing.

But for now I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Monkey mayhem

Another amazing sunset

Rishikesh at night

Watching the river run

Avoiding the void

The rain has stopped, leaving the air a little cooler and misty clouds drifting over the forested hills. Monkeys make their way on rooftop railings to observe their domain. Families splash in the water at the ghat (steps going down to the river) next door. Pujas sound from loudspeakers across the river and horns honk steadily from nearby roadways. A procession of locals and tourists alike walk to and fro across the Lakshman Jhula bridge. The mighty Ganga flows through all this activity, like time, waiting for no one.

And I sit on my balcony, watching it all.

I’ve been here in Rishikesh for a few days now, visiting restaurants, looking in a few shops, and going to yoga classes. I’ve developed a schedule of sorts, and in the heat of the day I’ve also been reading, sending emails (when Internet is available), napping, and otherwise killing time.

Some of this latter activity has been necessary as this body adjusts to the monsoon climate, and I’m not beating myself up over it. But take away the ability to walk for miles or to be engaged in any long-term activity, and I’m faced with….the void. 

We’ve all got it. The itch to do something, anything, versus be with our own mind. That roommate that never shuts up. The yearning for more: having more, seeing more, doing more. And I’ve realized I’ve been avoiding it instead of just being with it. Taking time to just be.

It’s going to be hot and humid wherever I go. I was going to go to Shimla or Mussoorie next, but I’ve settled into a rhythm here. My room costs less than $10 a day, two yoga classes less than $7, and food less than $10. The room isn’t the greatest I’ve stayed in, has no AC, but this balcony view is priceless. The first day I got here I was ready to go, but perhaps now my clock is being reset to Rishikesh time. Eventually I’ll move on, but for right now I think Rishikesh may be as good a place as any to slow down and just be for a while. 
Me and the void.

Ah, that’s the India I remember

I said goodbye to my friends in Delhi, and took a taxi to the bus station. The taxi driver had been asked to help me find a bus to Rishikesh, but little did we know that there’s a system in place: one usually takes an AC bus to Haridwar, then catches another bus to Rishikesh, an hour away. Unarmed with such info, I ended up on an old, non-air conditioned, crowded public bus for the seven hour ride to Rishikesh. Well, I did want the experience of India.

The bus idled at the station until the driver felt there were enough people to make it worth his time. We pulled out and crawled eastward out of Delhi traffic at an inchworm’s pace until we reached Ghaziabad. After squeezing through, traffic opened up a little bit, and more greenery appeared by the side of the road, increasing as we headed north until we got to Haridwar. 

Here are some of the things one sees on a north Indian road trip:

Punjabi dhabas: the original McDonald’s, Indian style, at which one can expect to find tea, biscuits (cookies or crackers), bottled water, and all manner of Indian snacks and fried food. There are probably millions of dhabas in existence.

Houses in varying states, ranging from palatial to merely consisting of a tarp stretched over poles, all mixed higglety-pigglety with stores.

Cows, donkeys, chickens, goats and dogs. 

Trash thrown about. There are no collection bins to speak of, yet there is a system, as the loose garbage provides food for the wandering animals, and a livelihood for those who go through it for recycling, cloth, metal, etc.. Garbage processing happens in India , it just isn’t hidden away like it is in the west.

Oh, and of course, the thousands of buses, lorries, cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians all with somewhere to go.

So add plenty of dust, the smell of burning things, open toilets and who knows what else, and plenty of honking, and you have the basic North Indian driving experience.

Having done that on a crowded, vibrating bus for seven hours, I disembarked in Rishikesh with my luggage, 85*F temperatures, and 95% humidity. I soon felt like a used washcloth, and after walking for about a half hour, waved the white flag and hired a rickshaw. Since I never would have found the hotel I was looking for, and it was up on a hill, I’m glad I did. It was definitely worth the $1.20 I paid. 

The town of Rishikesh itself is a bit run down, dirty and crowded. The nearby Lakshman Jhula area just north of Rishikesh, is nestled between the banks of the Ganges and forested hills. It holds most of the ashrams and is slightly more appealing, but still has a little bit of a seedy aspect to it. I tried a hotel on the first night, and the Shri Sant Seva ashram the next. My rooms at both places were pretty sparse and the bathrooms were a bit dingy. But my room at the ashram is right next to the river, and if I jumped over my balcony railing, I could go swimming (I wont). I was looking at how to move on at first, but after spending the first day recuperating from running around in the heat with luggage, I feel much better and think I’ll stay for a while. 

My room at the ashram

The bathroom. eek.

But check out these views!

Yup. Its the monsoon season.