Day 102 – Rishikesh
We woke up the next morning to what has now become the usual drill: find a way of getting the bikes on to the next destination as quickly as possible. Breakfast was included with the price of the rooms, and it was indisputably the most unusual breakfast that we had had yet: paratha’s (a type of Indian savoury pancake/pita with a vegetable stuffing), plain yoghurt, mango pickle, and roasted cumin seeds. I was feeling more under the weather than a tsunami victim, and so unfortunately most of the descriptions of the day were relayed to me by the others, as I had to keep myself within a quick dashing distance of a functional toilet.
John left just after breakfast for a drive around the area, which we could now see in the daylight was a stunningly beautiful location, with the Ganges river, still green and clear from its journey through the mountains, flowing sedately along the length of the town, and flanked by soft hills which almost manage to conceal isolated temples close to their peaks. The area was given a boost in popularity as a favourite retreat of the Beatles. It is still a major yoga centre in the country, and there is no shortage of ashrams where one can take classes.
We unfortunately had more urgent concerns. We had spoken to the manager the night before about our predicament, and after breakfast, Shan spent a couple of hours talking with him and and a friend of his about the various options. These included:
1) put bikes on a train to the border just south of Kathmandu and then we also catch the train
2) put bikes on a truck to the border just south of Kathmandu and then we catch the train
3) put bikes on a truck to Katmandu, then we catch another van
and so on, all accompanied by plenty of the uniquely Indian gesture, the head wiggle.
After debating the merits of the options for a while, we had a stroke of good fortune. The manager had spoken earlier to a mechanic, but that hadn’t borne any fruit, but it seems now he was free and came round to have a look. He looked at the shock, and told us that he was confident that he would be able to fix it. Once again, hope played our emotions like a yo-yo, as it is always much preferable to actually drive ourselves from place to place. With nothing to lose, we gave him the go-ahead and Shan and Dad followed him with the bikes back to his workshop just down the road. There he quickly got to work, and told them that it should be done in about an hour, our most optimistic time-frame that we have yet been given for a shock repair. Once he had started, Shan took a walk back to the hotel. On the way, she passed by a tent that had some women inside performing some sort of religious ritual . When she asked them if they would mind if she filmed some of the ceremony, they invited her inside to come and see what the fuss was about. What an eye opener that turned out to be. In the front of the crowd, a woman was working herself into a trance, and soon began thrashing about, throwing out the crazy eyes at everyone walking past. Once that finished, the women took turns dancing while the rest sang and clapped along to a rhythmic drum and tambourine beat, and some of those women seemed to have more hippy movements than a Woodstock concert. After each person was finished, an elder woman would wave a note around their head and then hand the money to them. Shan was even pulled up to bust a few moves, and when she was finished, she thought that they were just pushing leaves in her direction, and so missed out on the chance to do some fundraising for the trip. Another unexplained part of the event was that every now and then a man would wander in, and the women would take turns splashing water in his face. After this happened a few times, he would then turn around and leave.
When the fun and games were starting to die down, Shan was invited by a couple of young girls to come and visit their house. After a short walk down to the river, she arrived at their place, where she was welcomed inside. The house turned out to be a simple, small concrete room, with little more than two beds in it. Although a far cry from the houses that many of us are used to, a lot of life here happens outside, and so for many people, a house is simply a place to sleep. The girls themselves spoke fairly impressive English, and Shan had a great time chatting and playing with Maneesha (aged 11) and Niha (aged 9).
By this time, the mechanic had finished working on the bike. Impressed that he had managed to get the job done that quickly (whilst he had promised it would take under two hours, our experience has altered us such that the actual time, which turned into more like eight hours, still impressed us), the bike was taken for a test run. And after the first bump in the road, the oil started dripping down.
Bugger! Time to look at another plan.
Our mechanic then offered Shan a very bold suggestion. If she wanted, he could weld onto the bike a set of two shocks from an Enfield motorcycle. This would be quite a radical solution, but in the words of innumerable pre-disaster victims “It’s crazy. So crazy it just might work”.
With very few other viable options, she decided to go with it, and so left him to start his unholy, Frankensteinian work, which he assured us would take no more than an hour.
By this time, I had recovered enough to realize that I didn’t want to have wasted the entire day indoors, and so when Dad got back to the hotel, we walked down to the Ganges. Now, on a previous visit to India, I had visited Varanasi, a holy city in India famous for the number of cremations that take place along the river, and by the time the river passes through here, it is so filthy that companies are encouraged to dump their chemical waste in order to bring up the average cleanliness of the water, and stones skipped across the surface tend to just float on top, too scared to descend into the depths. And so with this impression in mind, it was with some amazement that we stepped up onto the walkway to see one of the most idyllic scenes I have ever witnessed. The water sparkled and glistened with a tranquillity not often seen outside of a Disney movie. On the opposite bank, the mountains were covered in the muted greens and browns of an inpatient Spring. As we walked along, we passed many people out for a walk in the cool of the late afternoon. Along the steps down to the water, groups of women chatted while placing garlands of flowers in the water, many of them showing expansive sections of midriff, with an unselfconsciousness that is completely foreign to most of the countries that we have passed through. We talked about the trip, and it almost came as a surprise to realize how close we are to the end. If the mechanic manages to get everything done by this evening, then we could be in Nepal by the next day, and once we get to Kathmandu, it’s really the beginning of the end.
We walked back to our hotel as the mountains finished devouring the sun, past a truly impressive crop of marijuana growing in someone’s garden. For supper, we ordered a very similar set of dishes as the previous night, and were quite bemused to discover that almost everything that arrived at the table was completely new to us. It seems that there is definitely a lot left up to the chef’s discretion. The one thing that both meals had in common was that they were absolutely delicious, and it was a very full quartet that finally staggered from the table. We still had no word from the mechanic, and our surprisingly naive hope was that if he managed to get things finished in the morning, we would still try and get as far as we could in the afternoon.