The Road to Rishikesh

An early start – necessitated by the building morning New Delhi traffic – got us out of the city heading north in short order. Rishikesh is known as the Yoga capital of the world: was a favourite visiting spot for the Beatles and is also the gateway to the Garhwal Himalayan Mountains. The pollution gradually decreased as we headed north and by the end of the 5 hour drive snow capped peaks appeared over the Himalayan foothills.

Once clear of Delhi, the drive north began transversing huge tracts of sugar cane as well as brick making facilities. Most of the labour in both is manual, with cane field workers using bullocks and wooden carts to transport cut sugar cane from the field. In addition to supplying a refined sugar industry, the canes are turned into juice at numerous roadside stands, as well as jagery. Jagery is sugar cane juice cooked down to a solid yellow mass sold in markets as an inexpensive sweetener, much cheaper than sugar. Our guide Harrish stopped at one of the numerous small roadside factories making jagery and gave us an impromptu tour. The process begins with sugar cane being crushed to extract the juice, the juice is then poured into the first of a series of evaporative vats that are kept boiling by an under ground fire. The fire is fed by dried crushed sugar cane. Left over cane is also used as animal bedding and feed. Once the juice is boiled down to a yellow paste it is rolled into softball size portions for sale in the markets. Any residue is put into pits in the earth, which are covered when full and turn to compost. A perfect closed system.

The conversation over the drive covered a myriad of topics including the tribal divisions in India. There are 63,000 villages in the country, together with 17 distinct languages. Hindi is predominantly spoken in the north, the rest of the country is covered with a patchwork of languages, many quite different from the others. Education is a constitutional right for children but not a rule. Literacy throughout the country varies from Kerala which has a literacy of 100% to other areas of the country with very low literacy rates. As always, literacy is closely tied to socio-economic status. Although public schools are free, the quality of education is not good. Private schools are very expensive, convent and muslim schools less expensive and the quality is good. There are a few good universities in India but most are mediocre. If financially able, families try to send their children abroad for post secondary education. In addition to the conversation, photo ops presented themselves along the way – we have included a series of them that give a feeling for the drive.

As our transport traveled north we passed through the city of Meerut, which was of interest to me as it was here that the 1857 rebellion against British rule in India began. The Indian Sepoys of the Bengal Calvary regiment rebelled against using new rifle cartridges: the muslim members of the cavalry regiment believed the paper around the cartridges was greased with pig fat, while Hindu members believed they were greased with cow fat. Their imprisonment by the British for refusing to use the cartridges caused an uproar and they were quickly released from prison by other members of the regiment. They then mutinied, resulting in a wide spread revolt across northern India as they marched on Delhi.

Some contemporary images of the mutiny

Our last stop before Rishikesh was Haridwar, a holy place for Hindus located in the foothills of the outer Himalyas, on the Ganges river. People flock to the area to bath in the Ganges and obtain a release from sins they have committed unknowingly. The spectacle as we rounded the last corner of the walk way (through stalls selling everything you can imagine) was an assault on the senses: thousands of people yelling and talking, horns, loud speakers all joining in a cacophony of sound and colour. Slowly the area came into focus and we spent an hour watching the sights unfold below us. An amazing experience.

We are now in a lovely older hotel on the bank of the Ganges in Rishikesh, facing east.

Plans are to attend an Arti this evening and then have a quiet morning tomorrow with coffee on our riverfront balcony enjoying the sunrise before heading back to Delhi for our last night. An Arti or Arati is a Hindhu ritual employed in worship, often part of a puja, in which light (usually from a flame) is ritually waved for the veneration of deities. Arti(s) also refers to the songs sung in praise of the deity, when the light is being offered. The Arti we will attend tonight is for Mother Ganga – the Ganges River. Before heading over we sat on the causeway and watched the setting sun light up the Ganges and surrounding mountains – magic. Monkeys and cows lined our way across the river to the Arti location.

The Hindu religion is quite different from Buddhism. In Buddhism there are multiple gods and some goddesses. In Hinduism there is the Trimurti (three forms). Three of the significant forms of Brahman (the Ultimate Reality) are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is the destroyer. The Giant statue in Haridwar is of Shiva the destroyer. If you are interested there is lots of literature about the Hindu religion that makes for fascinating reading.

And finally – a last word for today from Jam Jam….

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