Waterfalls and motorbikes

Rishikesh Travel Blog

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The next day I get talking to the Nepali guys that work in my hotel over breakfast, and one tells me about a beautiful waterfall right near Rishikesh. He asks if I want to go up there with him when he gets off work. After the creepy guy the night before I am dying to get out into nature again, so I say yes. His mate rides us up there on his bike, then it's about a 45 minute walk up to the waterfall. We're armed with ganja and a bottle of whiskey, and every 10 minutes we stop for another smoke and a drink. We talk about opportunities for working in India and Nepal - my money's running low and soon it will be time to either find a job or go home. Finding a job sounds like a much better option.

We pass several smaller waterfalls on the way up, and I stop to swim in each one. I wade straight in in my jeans and dress and submerge myself in the icy water. This waterfall is one of many that feeds the Ganga, so for the first time I can really swim in holy water. It is beautiful, cold and crystal clear. I put my head under the waterfalls and feel it on my neck like a blessing. All around there is nothing but trees, hills and birdsong. It's hard to believe we're so close to the hustle of Rishikesh.

Finally we get up to the big waterfall, which sprays from quite a height into a deep blue plunge pool. I have another whiskey to ward off the cold and dive into this one too. I swim right up to it and let the water drum on my back. I feel closer to the Ganga here than I do around the temples of Rishikesh. And here there are no money-grubbing 'holy men' to sneak up behind me, dump flowers on my head then demand extortionate sums of money for the 'blessing'. In Rishikesh the Ganga has been exploited, cheapened by these predatory old frauds in robes. Here she is pure.

As soon as I get out of the cold water, the whiskey hits me like a brick in the head and I can no longer quite walk in a straight line. I slip and slide most of the way back down to the road - although this is partly to keep away from my 'friend', who is now quite insistently trying to hold my hand. Why? Why?? Is it such an alien concept here for a guy and a girl to go somewhere together just as friends? This is one thing I really miss from Thamel - how easy it was to make friends with the young Nepali guys. Proper friends, not trying-their-luck type friends. I hoped this guy was a nice one, without the usual ulterior motives, but clearly not. There's no getting away from them here - you don't need to be attractive, just young, white and female. It gets boring pretty quickly. I hitch us a ride back and lock myself in my room, ignoring the knocking at my door, resolving to leave the next day and go somewhere where people are more genuine.

But as with all my plans, it doesn't quite work that way. Next day I check my email quickly and find one from Mike - an Austrian guy I met briefly in Calcutta a couple of months ago. I also stayed with his best friend Mati in Varanasi.

"Think I saw you walking in Rishikesh - possible? If so come to Green Hills Cottage, Laxman Jhula, would be nice to catch up."

So I go and find him recuperating from some illness he picked up in Rajastan, has been stuck in Rishikesh for over a month. It's fucking good to see an old friend and we hang out all day smoking and chatting. He also introduces me to an English guy called Andy. The two of them are both in the process of buying and fixing up Enfields - the beautiful old retro motorbikes all the travellers in India ride. Andy is planning to ride his up to Leh in a week or two. It all seems too perfect. I was supposed to head up to Leh with Chris from Nepal, but he now has a girlfriend on the back, leaving me stuck with the fucking bus. I set to work on  persuading Andy to give me a lift, paying half petrol, obviously. But he has a broken foot and not much biking experience, and isn't sure if he trusts himself on the highest highways in the world with someone on the back. But the sweet talking continues and perhaps I'll succeed yet... I still have hope!

Over the next few days I hang out with Mike and Andy, going down to the mechanics with them where the bikes are being fixed up. I find I feel more at home among greasy motorbike parts than I do among the spiritual seekers of Rishikesh. We meet two Czech guys, one with a girlfriend, and a French guy, who are all wanting to bike up to Leh as well. I'm nearly going mad with the tension - I want a ride up there more than anything in the fucking world. But it takes quite a powerful bike and quite a good rider to cross those mountains with so much extra weight on the back, and no-one seems quite sure if they're up for it. I resolve that if I can't get a ride I will cycle, hitch-hike, even walk the damn thing. I am not missing it all in a fucking hellish bus ride.

I move guest house as well, to the Raj Resort. It's a bit cheaper than Swiss Cottage, and much nearer to Mike and Andy's place. And it doesn't have my 'friend' continually knocking on my door and calling me 'darling'. I'm glad to be away from that. My new room looks like some old granny's living room, with puke coloured old sofas and chairs covered in what look like giant lace doilies, a coffee table with a vase of flowers on it, yellowing old books on a book case, and a bed like a fucking rock. I love it. Although it's trying to be quintessentially English, it's trying way too hard, and ends up being quirky in the endearingly illogical way that really means India to me.

Another mate of Andy's and Mike's turns up as well, a Scottish guy called Ross who is funny as hell and also riding an Enfield. We're getting quite a gang going here. Hell's Angels, Indian hippie-style.

Mati should be turning up in a day or two, and by some time next week the bikes will be ready to head north. Whether I'll get a ride or not I still don't know but I'm hanging on here, hoping for the best, spending my days reading, smoking and riding up and down on the back of the Enfields. Praying that someone will be brave enough to give it a go.

Possibly I should pay these fucking holy men a bit more attention. Maybe if I gave them all my money they'd put in a good word to Shiva for me...

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photo by: Mezmerized