With 1.4 million employees, the Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation, IRCTC, is the largest employer in this country and a fantastic mover of people. As a foreigner, learning how to book and travel on Indian trains is, to quote the Bible of Lonely Planet, “the quientissential experience.”
There are websites and guidebook sections dedicated to explaining the train classes, IRCTC registration system, waitlist process, RAC tickets, and a process similar to rush theatre tickets called tatkal.
Most trains in India fill far in advance. Even when I booked with 4 days notice, I had waitlisted tickets on two trips. These tickets were confirmed 4 hours in advance of the train’s scheduled departure when the final passenger chart was created. Through the IRCTC website I was able to loosely monitor my wait list status. After the chart was finalized, I was notified via text message that I had a berth on the train. The popularity of trains in India is helping me achieve my goal to be less planned and structured!
On each journey I enjoyed meeting my fellow travelers. I have chatted with Indian videographers, a South African traveler, a family of four headed to a wedding, a single mother, and a medical doctor. I am grateful for the friendliness and company of strangers.
The flight to Haridwar, about an hour from Rishikesh, was delayed 3-4 hours in Delhi. Arriving at night I was especially delighted to meet two other travelers at the baggage carousel who were also heading to Rishikesh from the airport. One of the travelers had a driver waiting so we journeyed together.
Rishikesh is located on the Holy Ganga (Ganges) river. There are many ashrams for yoga practices and classes on ayurvedic massage, meditation, and mindfulness in this town. I practiced yoga every day and tried one meditation class. The city mantra seemed to be shanti shanti or peace peace which also described the chill, relaxed way of life.
Milk delivery via scooter. There were many animals on the street in this city.
Daily in Rishikesh I enjoyed a long walk with stunning views.
I met a group of 4 Australian travelers (one of whom studied abroad in Iowa for a semester) in the hostel. They invited me to join their cooking class. We made chapati and a curry.
I shared a dorm room with Andrea and Jon from Spain. We spent a day together exploring Maharishi Mahesh’s ashram, a place also known as the ‘Beatles Ashram’. We climbed over a gate to enter this abandoned compound where the Beatles came in 1968 to practice transcendental meditation.
A CNN story explains how the graffiti was preserved when the Ashram was re-opened to the public in 2015 after being closed for more than 30 years.
Meditation chambers in the ashram complex.
We all agreed the abandoned state of the ashram added to the mysticism of the visit.
Fabulous street art in the painting gallery of the ashram and other areas.
With Jeff, a new friend from the U.S. I met in the hostel, we walked about 3km to the Parmarth Niketan ashram located on the Ganga River to experience an Artie (see it for yourself on YouTube). An aarti is a religious worship ceremony performed by Hindus. One element of the worship is to offer flames to the deities. Many Indian people were visiting this aarti in pilgrimage. The worship experience was moving.
The cash crisis continues although the situation is improving. I walked to 3 ATMs near the hostel but none had cash. At the 4th ATM I met this man (bandana, blue shirt) who was on a scooter seeking cash. I jumped on the back of his scooter and we rode into town where there was an ATM with cash. After about an hour in line I had rupees!
With new friends from the U.K., Naomi, Tom and Mike, I enjoyed 2 nights and 3 days of glamorous camping and outdoor activities in a town called Bayasi about an hour into the mountain from Rishikesh. The other glamping guests were Indian families and younger, single, Indian men. I appreciated vacationing along with people from this country.
Kayaking and relaxing next to the Ganga. The smooth rocks and river banks reminded me of the North Shore in Minnesota.
We rafted 23km on the Ganga through Class I, II, and III rapids. After each white water section there was a long, calm stretch of river. The water was cool and refreshing.
The sand on the banks of the Ganga in this area is called ‘silver sand’. It really did glimmer!
Mike and I enjoyed a 6km hike from the campsite, into the mountains, and through a local village. We smelled fresh lemon leaves and learned about this plant that has a sap thick enough for bubble blowing.
The landscapes along our hike.
The best bits are always at the end. Here are advertisements from a national newspaper in the community room of the hostel. It is a different culture in India when it comes to marriage!