So it’s been Diwali here in Delhi since Tuesday, which to me – like every other one-of-hundred Hindu festival – just translates to vacation party time.
Soon I found myself on an eight-hour bus ride with other Sri Lankans to Rishikesh, a trip organized by the Sri Lankan High Commission in India for Sri Lankan students and employees here.
Rishikesh is beautiful; it is all that mysticism and ethnic allure that you imagine when you visualize the spiritual side of India that they sell to tourists in brochures. It is a land of ashrams and meditation, and dark-skinned men in white robes and thick braids, and beautiful women in colour and gold piercings, and those white guys in the cotton pants who travel the world to ‘find themselves.’ It is a vegetarian city by law, an alcohol-free city, and has banned the use of plastic bags by shopkeepers.
The place is now famous for white water rafting – and lately, bungee jumping. The former I sampled yesterday, it was epic – more on that later – and I suggest every aspiring adrenaline junkie try it out even back home in Kithulgala. For the hijabis who want to conquer the rapids, I suggest wearing a swim-cap beneath the helmet and a turtleneck-swimwear top beneath the lumpy lifevest, cuz the regulations and the crazy waters are not shawl-friendly.
I was too busy having fun to take as many pictures as I would have liked to.
Camping By The Ganges
The place we set up camp at was a nice quiet spot next to the Ganges River. Tents were set up at length all along the bank – which, by the way, was made of white sand – so when the water of the Ganges slowly receded and then lapped up the bank and receded again, it felt like we were camping at the beach, our toes wiggling in cool sand. Except at this beach, if you strolled about 10 feet into water you’d find yourself 50 feet below the surface, plus it was circled by a mane of huge monster mountains.
Had my meals in an open tent next to the river, and spent my time either skipping barefoot over the mix of big and small rocks on the bank or sitting in a bamboo chair under this nice white canopy they’d set up in the sun where I’d bury my feet in the sand which had turned super cold under the shade, or sitting close to the bank and skipping pebbles over the water. Occasionally I’d prance around and yell stuff at the mountains in a bid to make conversation.
Me: What’s up?
Mountains: What’s up?
Me: I asked you first!
Mountains: I asked you first!
Me: No you didn’t!
Mountains: No you didn’t!
Me: Oh I see what you’re doing!
Mountains: Oh I see what you’re doing!
Clearly the mountains around the Ganges have the maturity level of an annoying preteen.
In the night, the temperature dropped. We wore sweaters and sat around a bonfire under a billion stars, with the faint sounds of firecrackers in the distance and the rapids roaring far away.
Defying Death On The Rapids
We wore ridiculous pink helmets and puffy orange lifevests and got into blue inflated rafts, each of us armed with a bright yellow paddle. The guide was fun, yelling commands like we were some spartans going out to battle. FORWARD! he yelled. And we’d paddle forward. LEFT BACKWARD! and we’d perform a reverse. ATTACK! and we’d attack the team in the other raft by paddling water into their faces. Good times.
The rapids are so much fun! I wished we’d gone through more. Altogether we passed through about six rapids – only three of which were fierce, and only one in which I was whispering to myself the last prayer you say before you die. Basically, you’re travelling over large waves which– wait, this calls for a Paint illustration.
All along, we’ve got to paddle forward really fast so that we don’t get carried away by the rapids. Adrenaline pumping action right there, bruh.
During the long flat pauses between rapids, the guides said to get into the water. At first I was like, BUT WHAY? Because this water was damn well frigid. Also, sea monsters. But eventually I was like, when will I ever again get to float around in a 60-something feet deep river? So I got in – albeit, life jacket is on, so no fear of death (except by the sea monsters possibly grabbing my foot and pulling me into the dark abyss below) – and it was literally like sitting inside a freezer! Must have been close to zero degrees or something. Two minutes was enough for me and the guide pulled me back in. Pulling people in from the water is funny, they looked like big floppity fish as they were dragged back onto the raft.
Jumping Off A Motherflipping Cliff
We stopped by this spot halfway through, that had a natural miniature waterfall and cliffs hanging out onto the river and such. Some people chilled, had some namkeen (i.e. murukku with some onions and chilli), while few others contemplated leaping off the cliffs. One cliff was about 15 feet over the water and the other some feet taller. Only three grown men dared jump off the 15 foot one. I don’t know what it was – whether it was the altitude or the madness that had crept into my brain after flying around over wild waters – but I found myself climbing towards that cliff. I looked down, and the cliff-guide-man said ‘don’t look down, look over there, otherwise you’ll get scared.’
Actually, when I looked down, I wasn’t that scared at all. It’s just jumping, what’s the big deal? I have a poofy floaty lifevest to save me from drowning also. In my head I was thinking of it like all those times I used to play that staircase-jumping game at my grandma’s where I’d jump from the 4th step of the staircase to the bottom and slowly work myself up to the 8th. So he said one, two, three.. and I paused for a four, and jumped. I think the first few feet (the eight steps on my grandma’s staircase) felt like ‘oh okay, whatever’ and then beyond that point — you know that feeling, just before your car is about to crash into something, just before you’re about to trip and fall on your face, just before receiving a hard punch — that feeling of total dread filling you up — where you’re like ‘oh no, this isn’t right!’ — it hit me. The feeling of helplessly falling! It’s indescribable! ‘OH NO THIS ISN’T RIGHT AT ALL.’
And then a few helpless moments later, I crashed into the ice cold Ganges and re-emerged two seconds later which felt like ten seconds. I think the fact that I didn’t see it coming was what did it – I was in the water, my heart pounding and I could feel panic taking over, and I closed my eyes and said breathe, breathe, breathe, and finally opened them and it was over. Swum back to shore, and I was shaking slightly, I’m not sure whether from the cold or that feeling of dread. I don’t know why I absolutely loved it! It sounds awful in words! The second time was much nicer since I knew what to expect – but that feeling of your limbs flailing to the mercy of gravity was still chilling. I can barely imagine what bungee jumping through 80 meters must feel like! But after doing something like that, it does something to you; I felt much more reckless and entirely cocky as we paddled over angry rapids afterwards.
Back To Camp
After the rapids and all that jazz, we slowly paddled our way back – passing a scenic masterpiece. Huge ashrams and temples, bells being tolled for prayer, bridges overhead with curious stares from pedestrians, children bathing by the rocks, men and women descending stairways to get to the river below, to make offerings and set afloat their dead in handmade caskets (unfortunately we didn’t really see the latter, though some fool claimed he saw a skull floating over the river’s surface), kids back-flipping into the water, and mountains, magnificent mountains, towering over everything and everyone.
I felt sick on the way back to camp, teeth chattering for a whole fourty minutes I think, SO very nauseatingly cold. But after getting back to the bank and our tents, donning a furry sweater, eating some warm rajma chaawal and digging my feet into hot sand, it was all good.
We drove back home in a big bus, watching the multi-coloured bulbs and the mad fireworks of Diwali – which feels like the Vesak of India – light up the streets on the way.
And now all of a sudden I have to go back to normal life. For some reason, after camping next to mountains by the Ganges, after surviving treacherous waters, after jumping off a freaking cliff – sitting here and having to do a shitty college assignment and making french toast and eggs for lunch just feels wrong. I should be standing atop a building, red cape fluttering in the wind, staring into the horizon with dramatic music playing in the background. Sigh.