Tag Archives: Ganges

Backpacking India: Rishikesh and Haridwar

Rishikesh
Rishikesh is an eclectic city that attracts an interesting mix of tourists – including yogis, adrenaline junkies, foreigners, and middle-class Indians. The city is located at the foot of the Himalayas and along the banks of the holy Ganges River. It’s the epicentre of India’s yoga scene, with dozens of ashrams and hundreds of yoga instructors. It’s also a huge adventure sports hub, with river rafting, trekking, bungee jumping, and zip-lining all available.

Rishikesh

In early April, the weather is perfect (just when Delhi is getting hot and the hill stations are still cold). We were there for the Easter long-weekend, which we didn’t think would be an event in India, but apparently it is one of their busiest weekends. The streets and hotels were packed with thousands of Indians from Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana. When we got back from our trek, we had a panicked hour while we struggled to find a hotel, but eventually found a great place in the quiet Swiss Cottage neighbourhood.

Rishikesh

We squeezed as much into our time in Rishikesh as possible, but still left wishing we could have spent a few more days. It would have been nice to check ourselves into an ashram, do yoga, and explore the city at a leisurely pace, but we only had a few days with Dan’s tight schedule and the city was too busy with Easter crowds. In our short time, we managed to take a cooking class, raft down the Ganges, and do three yoga classes. When we did find time to wander, the city rewarded us with many interesting temples to explore, really good restaurants (including a cafe with vegan pizza), cute souvenir shops, and great views.

Cooking Masala Class
The cooking class was really good. This was our third cooking class and we got to choose the menu, so we focused on simpler recipes that we would be more likely to cook at home. We learned how to make aloo gobi, baingan bharta, dal fry, parathas, and a simple chutney. After the class, we went and bought a number of the masala spice mixes so we can hopefully replicate the recipes at home.

Rafting the Ganges
River rafting was a blast. The rapids were pretty tame, but we still had fun. We were able to jump out of the boat and float down the river for stretches. It was cold, but not unbearable. We also brought our leftover dyes and played Holi in our boat. It left a real mess, but I was happy our guide and the other tourists in our boat enjoyed it too.

Rishikesh
Rishikesh
One of Rishikesh’s claims to fame is the ashram that The Beatles stayed in while writing the White Album in 1968. It’s now abandoned, but you can bribe the security guard (we paid 50 rupees each) to let you go explore. It’s a cool space, with Beatles-themed graffiti everywhere and funky buildings slowly being taken over by the forest.

India - Haridwar
Haridwar is just downstream from Rishikesh and is one of the 7 most sacred sites to Hindus. We spent a day there checking out the temples and ghats. Skillfully turning away the priests who kept trying to bless us (and ask for money), we made our own aarti ceremony and offered a prayer to Mother Ganga while floating flowers down the river.
India - Haridwar

More pictures on Flickr: Rishikesh and Haridwar.

Backpacking India: Holi in Varanasi

India - Holi in Varanasi
Holi is the Hindu colour festival and one of the biggest holidays in India. A month ago we decided we wanted to be in Varanasi for Holi and planned our trip around that date. I’m glad we did, because our experience was unforgettable.

India - Holi in Varanasi
The day before Holi we bought our supplies – cheap, white clothing, green and pink dye, and water guns. Our hotel was a strict no-Holi zone and the gates were barred as if a riot was going on outside. In fact you could hear screams echoing through the streets. The security guard was reluctant to let us out, but we were determined. Within seconds of leaving the hotel we were swarmed by a mob of kids with buckets of dyed water. They soaked us and ran off with our water guns. All we had left was a water bottle with some pink liquid in it. We were almost defenseless, but it didn’t matter. There was no fighting back against the water balloons and buckets of dye that rained down on us from the roofs of buildings as we made our way through the narrow alleyways of Varanasi.

India - Holi in Varanasi
After the mobs of kids, we encountered gangs of young men who took delight in smearing powered dye on our faces. It seemed that most Holi participants were kids who stayed close to home, young men who roamed the streets, and foreigners who were everyone’s favorite targets.

India - Holi in Varanasi
Within an hour of running around, we were thoroughly colored and had had enough of near gropings from the increasingly aggressive and intoxicated young men. We retreated to our hotel to take pictures of ourselves and shower as best we could.

India - Varanasi
The rest of our time in Varanasi was more subdued. The city is a major pilgrimage destination for Hindus and the ghats along the Ganges were used for bathing, washing clothes, and burning dead bodies. We walked along the riverbank and took a sunrise boat tour. We only saw one dead body floating down the river.

India - Varanasi
Every evening, there is a prayer ceremony at the main ghat with Ravi Shankar music, bells, Brahmins with torches, and large crowds. It was interesting to watch but the gathered crowd was in many ways more amusing. We had cows wander by and some people tried to shoo them away, some fed them popcorn, and some petted them. I never knew cows enjoyed having chins scratched.
India - Holi in Varanasi

Away from the river, the old city was a maze of twisting alleys that was nearly impossible to navigate. It reminded me of Venice. Maps were useless and GPS didn’t work. The only way to get around was to look for ads painted on walls pointing the direction of hotels and restaurants.

India - Varanasi
There are dozens of famous temples in Varanasi, but many don’t allow non-Hindus in. A lot of the temples near our hotel had long lines of people trying to get in and armed police officers keeping an eye on the crowds. The only one we visited was a Durga temple out of the old city, one of the more calm ones in the city.

India - Varanasi
I’m sure a lot of people visit Varansi and all they see is dead bodies, smoky air, poop covered streets, and aggressive salesmen (like the street-masseuse who ambushed me). We saw all that too, but were able to look beyond it to see the humanity and deep devotion of the pilgrims in one of the oldest cities in the world.

India - Holi in Varanasi

India - Varanasi

India - Varanasi

India - Varanasi

Salt Spring Island By Bike

Loading Bikes onto the Ferry
For the September long weekend, Emily and I decided to have car-free adventure on Salt Spring Island, using our bikes and public transport to get around. It was cheaper not having a car and a lot less stressful not having to worry about ferry reservations but it was hard work biking up all those damn hills.

We stayed at the bike-friendly Duck Creek Farm. We were planning on tenting, but we couldn’t resist the chance to stay in their cozy bus. We were able to travel lighter without camping gear and we stayed completely dry.
Bus by Day
Duck Creek Farm Cozy Bus Lounging in the Bus Bus by Night Magnetic Poetry
The bus was a unique experience. It took a bit of detective work to figure out where to “check in”. Once we finally found the owner Sue, she commented: “I should really give better directions, but I figure if people were meant to be here they’ll find their way”. Sue is a true hippy and a lovely lady. The bus didn’t look like much from the outside, but the inside was really comfortable – with a double bed, a well-stocked kitchen and gas stove, hot water for washing up, electricity, and mood lighting.

Biking Long Harbour Road Bike Route Salt Spring Bike Lane Separated Gravel Path
Biking around Salt Spring Island was ok. The hills can be a challenge, especially when you’re on heavy city bikes loaded with gear, but it’s manageable. The infrastructure on Salt Spring Island is really varied and inconsistent. There’s a few sections with bike lanes painted on the shoulder or separated gravel paths, but they never last for long. Most of the time you’re sharing the road with fast moving traffic. We logged over 50 km biking riding from Duck Creek to Ganges, out to Beddis Beach, and to the ferry terminal.

Salt Spring Island Market Fruitsicles   The Gathering Place
Ganges is a great little town. The Saturday market has lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, prepared food, and local crafts. The whole town is compact and walkable, with lots of great restaurants and stores along the waterfront. We had good dinner at the Tree House Cafe. We wanted to try out The Gathering Place (a cool looking tapas place with a huge selection of board games) and Rawsome Living Foods, but both had really limited hours and were closed whenever we wanted to eat.

Waiting at Bridgeport Bikes on the Bus Ferry Bike Loading Zone
The hardest part of the trip was probably getting to/from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. It’s easy to take your bikes on the Canada Line to Bridgeport, but from there you’re competing with a lot of other cyclists for 2 bike spots on each infrequent 620 bus to Tsawwassen. We were lucky on the way down to have a bus driver allow us to carry our bikes onto the bus, as the front rack was already full. On the way back we had to wait an hour before we got our bikes onto the third bus.
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