On Bhaiduj day, while chatting with my elder brother-in-law, the conversation turned towards the general boredom that has crept into our lives because of the covid lockdown leading to fear psychosis of the Corona Virus… and the need to go for a vacation. It is impossible for me to take extended break because of Rolf who with his advanced age has become clingy to me and needs care that perhaps only I can offer. After much deliberation, it was agreed that we will go for an ultra short trip of 2 nights to Rishikesh, Uttarakhand on the weekend of 13th November ’21. By evening, my brother-in-law confirmed the hotel (Ganga Kinare) bookings and we were all set to go.

On Saturday morning we started our long journey around 8 am from Anand Niketan taking the MG Road (Ring Road)-Barapulla Road to join the Delhi-Meerut Expressway. This road has made travelling to Western UP and Uttarakhand a much convenient journey.

My friend Ashish is a frequent visitor to Rishikesh and uses this route practically every 10-12 days visiting his project (Namami Gange) site, provided the details of road condition and pit-stops, so I was prepared when the 6-lane road narrowed down to 2-lanes for few kilometers. However, I was not prepared for the surge of traffic… it seemed that all of NCR is on way to wash their sin in the Ganges!!

We stopped at Namaste Midway, a food court that boasts of some of the well known restaurants. We decided to go to Naivedyam, a south Indian cuisine restaurant which we felt would be less crowded. We had Idli-Vada-Dosa in a relaxed atmosphere and charged up for the rest of the journey after a 45 minutes break. Ashish had suggested taking a right turn towards Cheela Dam-Rishikesh Road, however, because of the heavy traffic, the police had barricaded the turning and we followed the Google Map routing and reached Ganga Kinare just in time (2:00Pm) for check-in.

After a leisurely lunch and relaxation we went to see the Ganga Aarti at Paramarth Ashram, in the evening. The Paramarth Ashram is near the Janaki Setu (Jhula) which has 3 pathways, 2 of which is meant for up & down 2-wheeler traffic and the middle path is dedicated for pedestrian movement. The hotel car dropped us near the Janaki Jhula from where we walked the 1.5km to the Paramarth Ashram Ghat. By the time we reached it was teaming with devotees with ‘Havan’ in progress and 2 of the disciples singing Bhajans which were soothing to the ears unlike the ones churned out in Bollywood tunes. Deepika and others went down the steps to have a better view but in the end I had the most vantage position right below the arch to the Paramarth Ghat. After a while the head of the ashram HH Swami Chidanand Saraswati Ji along with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati Ji made their way to the ghat and offered Purnahuti at the Havan Kund. Thereafter, the duo regaled the audience with soulful rendition of Bhajans and meaningful sermons. Sadhvi Bhagawati Ji is an American by birth now devoted to Hindu spirituality and spoke of life’s journey comparing it to the flowing Ganga from Gomukh to Gangasagar through the ups and down, narrow and wide passes, shallow and deep gorges in its journey never looking back.

Deepika had availed the service of a youth (Guide) and he took us to the Ashram to see the Kalpataru Vriksha which had purportedly churned out during the Samudra Manthan (as per the Hindu Mythology). We also saw the 200 years old Banyan Tree which had an impression of Ganesha in inverse besides the Glass Temple of Lord Vishnu in Vishwaroop. From there Deepika and I went to a Govt shop to see Ekmukhi Rudraksh (a rare variety). We ended up buying couple of things from there ensuring the guide gets his commission from the shopkeeper (in full honesty he admitted that the shopkeeper pays him at the end of each month based on the customers he brings to the shop).

Back in the hotel, tiredness gripped us completely and we needed some sort of energizer… I was carrying a bottle of Dewar’s 12 years just in case… of which I and my brother-in-law had a peg each before dinner. I had a chat with Ayush before calling it a day and was assured that Rolf had been a ‘good boy’ eating, walking and doing his chores without any fuss.

The following day, Sunday, we had booked a taxi to take us to the Neelkanth Temple, some 25 km from Rishikesh. The way to the temple is through Rajaji National Park, a wildlife sanctuary inhabited by leopards and elephants besides other species. Though the road was narrow and winding it was scenic.

At the entry point of Rajaji National Park near the Barrage, the Govt. of Uttarakhand had installed a Camp for Covid19 Test… which I found farcical; they refused to acknowledge our Double Vaccination Certificate and insisted on the test (Rapid Antigen Test) which does not give accurate result. We were told that by the time we reach Neelkanth Temple, the result will be messaged to us. They gave us a ‘Receipt’ which was supposed to be checked at the Temple Entrance. THERE WAS NOT A SOUL TO CHECK THAT RECEIPT NEITHER AT THE PARKING AREA NOR AT THE TEMPLE AND I CAN BET HALF THE PILGRIMS WERE NOT EVEN VACCINATED.

About 2 km from the temple, the police stopped us and directed us to the parking lot. We were told that we have to walk rest of the road; however we could see many vehicles, primarily local taxis were freely plying on the stretch. We managed to reach the temple which was not just chaotic but confusing as well. As a principle, I do not go inside any temple, church, mosque, gurudwara etc., so I stayed back guarding the shoes of my company while they went inside to offer puja. After a while, my brother-in-law and Bhabi came out visibly shaken and disappointed that they couldn’t find the actual temple with Neelkanth Idol. However, Deepika continued her spiritual journey and offered her prayers and puja. On the way back we managed to get a taxi which dropped us at the parking lot from where connected with our taxi for the return journey. We had planned to explore the city of Rishikesh but it was already 3pm and we were hungry, so, the next stop happened at the Chotiwala Restaurant at Laxman Jhula. Some 30-35 years back this used to be open plan Dhaba but things have changed… it is now an air-conditioned restaurant with a digital access menu card and bottled water. The food is still good and we were hungry from the trekking to Neelkanth… as a result missed out taking the picture of the food!!

There are shops in the vicinity from where we bought stuffs like Pashmina mufflers, ladies suits and t-shirts besides brass sculptures for gifting purposes. None of us had any strength or inclination to explore further so decided to go back to the hotel. On our way back we got stuck at the Triveni Ghat and our driver decided to take an alternate route through the serpentine winding lanes of Rishikesh. Right fro Haridwar to all the way up is Dev Bhoomi and none of the hotels/restaurants/dhaba’s serve non-vegetarian food not even eggs…therefore, I was surprised to see a shop inside the lane openly displaying and selling eggs!!

Early morning, on Monday we went for a walk on the ‘Marine Drive’ a walkway created by the govt along the Ganga which for a change was not only clean but without the usual crowd one sees around the river bank. This may be because all the properties on it were privately owned with many being hotels/retreats for Yoga & Meditation.

We had a hearty breakfast trying out all the varieties… stuffed parantha, puri-aloo, chhole-bhature and even idli-dosa. I also tried the Matar Kachori which was quite delicious. At around 9 am we paid the hotel bill and checked-out…the journey back to Delhi was much smoother and as promised to Deepika, I dropped her home well before 2pm before going ahead to Anand Niketan to drop our companions.

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