Runcationing in Rishikesh

A year since I ran my first Himalayan run, I sit down to write about my experience. I had been on a hunt for an exotic run in India when I heard about Running and Living’s Rishikesh Cross Country run. I signed up for the 15k trail run and geared up for the mountains. Most of you know how much I enjoy running (read: Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad). But when you throw in a vacation to the mix, you get a girl giddy with glee! 🙂

My private sundeck with a view of the chocolate-hills

My private sundeck with a view of the chocolate-hills

Austerity Before Indulgence

My first night in Rishikesh was an Airbnb find. It was a meditation centre run by monks from Spain. The place was slightly expensive, considering how basic the room and facilities were. But if you decide to stay here, don’t forget to use my Airbnb travel credit – www.airbnb.co.in/c/ode2 for a 1679 INR (~25 USD) discount.

My Airbnb homestay - with the Spanish monks

My Airbnb homestay – with the Spanish monks

Getting to Know the Ganga

Before the sun could set, I hopped and skipped over to one of the stepped embankments of the River Ganga. This river of national pride is rapidly becoming an open drain that carries garbage along its course. This garbage is of a special kind – full of paraffin, flowers, sweets (used as prayer offering) and toxic oils. It worries me to think of all the innocent fishes which are dying a slow death in what might otherwise have been a holy place for them to swim in.

Ganga aarti in full swing

Ganga aarti in full swing

Flavours from the Street

After the disturbing sight of the rituals at the Ganga, I strolled over to the inner sanctums of Rishishesh, to explore its street food. If you have been cheating on your workout, this is a dangerous place for you to be. There is gorgeous looking food peeping out of every roadside establishment – kachoris, samosas, pooris, and all of their cousins. I gave in to my temptations and sat down inside a shop where the man behind the cooking pot knew that his stuffings of sin were stronger than my weak spirit.

Deep fried street food - carboloading for the run! ;-)

Deep fried street food – carboloading for the run! 😉

Spanish Food in Rishikesh

After feasting on North Indian street food, it was time for me to eat some more! 😀 I had the Spanish dinner (read: Lleida – A Reminiscence) which a new monk freshly prepared for me. I had a bowl of salad, baked bread, tortilla de patatas and pisto (a ratatouille of sorts). This meal was indeed the best part of my stay at this homestay.

An appetizing Spanish meal cooked by a Spanish monk

An appetizing Spanish meal cooked by a Spanish monk

Rafting through the Rapids

I spent my next morning doing what every adventure junkie does in Rishikesh – RAFTING!!! 🙂 White water rafting was not new to me (read: White Water Rafting in Kolad). But rafting in the Ganga is an experience of a lifetime! We negotiated some really nasty rapids, some as difficult as level-4. At the end of the last rapid, our guide let us jump into the river and swim in water that was easily 90 feet deep.

Selfie from my raft!

Selfie from my raft!

Nature never stops showing me how small I am in the grander scheme of things. My existence and dreams and opinions simply don’t matter when I look up at the sky and see how big the real world really is. I smiled as I saw the Himalayas from inside the river – so majestic and inviting (and the reason why in a few months I did my first Himalayan trek).

A view worth rafting for!

A view worth rafting for!

A Luxury Retreat

My next two days were spent in the most opulent resort in all of Rishikesh – Raga on the Ganges. I will do a separate blog post on my stay there as I was thoroughly impressed by their hospitality. My lodging and boarding was fully sponsored by them. It is quite luxurious to have the waters of the River Ganga flow through your shower! 😉

My luxurious hideaway at Raga On The Ganges

My luxurious hideaway at Raga On The Ganges

The Day of the Run

My big day was finally there, and I realized I was going to run 15 kilometers with only a handful of other runners (15 to be precise). I have never felt like an elite marathoner, but that day, I felt special because I was one of  select few people who decided to get out of their comfy blankets on a cold wintry morning and show up in the middle of the mountains to run over stones and pebbles.

The running trail

The running trail

This was one of my scariest runs so far. I had wild langoors and mountain dogs for company. I remember stopping on my tracks a zillion times as I ran into monkeys who looked liked they wanted to snatch my cellphone. There was also the danger of getting run over by a truck on the national highway.

We had macaques to cheer us on the way

We had macaques to cheer us on the way

I met some stray cows too after I crossed a bridge after the 9k mark. But all of this was nothing compared to having a herd of wild mountain goats block my path on a narrow trail. I was praying I’d meet their shepherd somewhere, but I was plain unlucky. I wanted the Earth to open up and swallow me because there was the vast expanse of mountain behind me, a group of crazy goats in front of me, the vertical wall of rock to my right, and the endless river (which I’d get to only if I rolled to my death down the steep escarpment) below.

The bridge to victory was finally visible!

The bridge to victory was finally visible!

I was saved by another runner who tore a branch, herded the goats away, grabbed my hand and led me across the trail. I cannot thank that man enough! He was my angel that morning. I had some much needed potatoes and eggs with electrolyte after my adventure, and even managed a grainy picture at the finish line with Rahul Verghese – the organizer of this scenic run. He happens to be a veteran runner himself.

At the finish line with Rahul Verghese - the organiser

At the finish line with Rahul Verghese – the organiser

The bounty of nature provides a nice space for us humans to sit and ponder over why the world was created and who we really are. I ended my trip by gazing into infinity and thanking God for revealing the beauty of His creations to me in the lap of my favourite mountains.

I indulge in some self reflection by the Ganga

I indulge in some self reflection by the Ganga

For more pictures, follow my daily micro blogs on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/oindrilade/.

You can also find inspiration from my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/OindrilaGoesFootloose/.

I am on Twitter too! 🙂 https://twitter.com/OindrilaDe

Let me know if you too are into runcationing. Have you been to Rishikesh? Has your experience been any different? I’m all ears! 🙂

Advertisements

Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains

I can open your eyes

Take you wonder by wonder

Over, sideways and under

On a magic carpet ride 

The carpet of smooth road welcomes us to Lavasa

The carpet of smooth road welcomes us to Lavasa

These lines from my favourite song in the Aladdin movie rang in my ears as we zipped through the mountain trail on our first monsoon roadtrip for the year. The road almost sang for me as it curved and split and sloped with alarming swiftness beneath us, almost taking us on a magic carpet ride over the Western Ghats!  I slid the car window down to feel the winds getting stronger as we gained altitude on the road to Lavasa. And after about five hours of playing hide and seek with the rains all along the path, we reached our destination. Hidden somewhere between the hills of the mighty Sahyadri range, a charming little city gleamed in the afternoon sun. I could not believe I was still in Maharashtra!

Just before the thunder split the sky

Just before the thunder split the sky

As the car eased into the driveway of our hotel – Mercure Lavasa, I made a mental note to find out why this city looked so Mediterranean. Weary as I was from the long drive, I almost flopped on my bouncy bed, but I realized I hadn’t had lunch. So, off we scurried to Mercure’s Celebration restaurant, and got hold of a table by one of the French windows. A view like that could only be enjoyed with Italian mains! After the appetizing meal of spaghetti and mushroom, we gathered our camera lenses and tightened our shoelaces – it was time for action!

Spaghetti with olives and grilled bread

Spaghetti with olives and grilled bread

As we walked through Lavasa, I learned that this planned hill station is modeled on the Italian fishing village of Portofino. Orange, yellow and brick red coloured buildings dazzled from afar. This was the Waterfront Shaw which framed the shimmering blue waters of the Wasargaon Lake. These waters are boundless in the scenes they reflect, yet restrained by the Wasargaon Dam. The mountains that guard Lavasa have an appeal of their own – they are gentle in their incline but strong when it comes to carrying entire villages on their backs.

The waterfront at Lavasa

The waterfront at Lavasa

My train of thoughts was broken by a little kid calling out to her father. She insisted on getting on the trackless toy train that chugged along Portofino Street. It was only then that I took my eyes off the mountains and looked around me. The lakefront promenade was lined with a host of counters that let one try everything – from miniature golf to adventure sports. Instantaneously, I broke into a smile as I knew just how I would spend the rest of my evening!

The toy train is coming!

The toy train is coming!

“Burma bridge crossing” was first on my list. This adventure sport can actually mislead people into thinking all bridges in Burma are made of ropes and only luck can help you go across. The operator from XThrill Adventure Sports warned me cheekily not to ask for help if I got stuck on the bridge. He hurriedly plonked a yellow helmet on my ashen face, straightened the harness around my waist and told me he’d see me on the other side. I held on to the rope railings for dear life as I wobbled across the rope bridge, stepping on one knot at a time. Zip lining, the next thing on my list, was a breeze after the Burma bridge ordeal. Zip line is also called Flying Fox, though you don’t quite feel foxy as you fly from one point to another, suspended only by two ropes. We tried our hand at archery and shooting before heading back to our hotel.

I tight-rope-walked across the Burma bridge

I tight-rope-walked across the Burma bridge

This hill city has a handful of business hotels and resorts, but not much for the budget traveler. In Lavasa, be prepared to loosen your purse strings! There are some cafes that dot the waterfront. If you love people-watching, you can sit and sip a different coffee under a different awning every time you pass a café by. For visitors who like to “feel” a place as opposed to tick things off a checklist, I recommend alfresco dining. No music is more melodious than the whistle of the wind, and no décor as enchanting as the mood of the sky.

The soothing sounds of water against rocks

The soothing sounds of water against rocks

Back at Mercure, we realized we still had some light before dusk would swallow the place. So, we decided to walk on the other part of Lavasa. Right outside our hotel, we heard a stream gurgling loudly with no other sound adulterating it. We walked past rows of single storey and double story houses which had no occupants but a guard to keep an eye on them. I guessed that many real estate investors have second homes here, but choose to stay in bigger cities. I cannot fathom why one would prefer noisier cities to the tranquil tunes of nature. In some time, the sky darkened with clouds and we strolled back to our hotel. I was a little upset that water-sports was closed in the rains. I just could not get the image of that expanse of hypnotizing blue out of my head.

The sky darkens

The sky darkens

To get my spirits up, we ordered Italian again. We had ravioli with some wine for dinner and then went out one more time to look at the diamonds that had scattered all over the night sky. The best thing about a weekend getaway to the hills is the crisp air and the clear skies. Stargazing is a luxury one cannot afford in big cities where light pollution is rampant. Over a bottle of Bordeaux and under a sheet of stars, we exchanged stories of our past and toasted to a brighter tomorrow.

Washed by the rains, the city gleams again

Washed by the rains, the town gleams again

We were greeted next morning by an intermittent drizzle that kept most of the tourists indoors and left all of Lavasa to us. With no group to trek with, we explored the place further on our own and spotted many a rare blossom and insects crawl out in the rain. Monsoon, I have observed, is more beautiful when you get out there and explore. A warm mug of coffee can only soothe your throat, not your soul. Rains are not for us to sit and watch from the confines of our glass walled homes. Rains are the Earth’s way to communicate with us. And we must reciprocate – by walking, running, driving and dancing in the downpour.

The hill station from the top

The hill station from the top

From where I stood, I saw at a distance, all the touristy cottages perched precariously on the hills. I knew then that I had escaped the tourist trap and wandered where only travellers could! I could then hear the true song of Lavasa.

Blessed by the heavens, Lavasa is crowned by a tiara of hills

Blessed by the heavens, Lavasa is crowned by a tiara of hills

Useful Information:-

  • Arrange your hotel bookings in advance, especially if you plan to visit over a weekend. Tourists start trickling in mostly in the monsoon.
  • Lavasa does not have an airport. The closest international airports are in Pune and Mumbai. There are also no trains or buses that connect Pune / Mumbai to Lavasa. Travelling by car is recommended. Besides, the enthralling views along the route are best enjoyed on a long drive!
  • If you are travelling in a bigger group, do not miss the morning tour conducted by Nature Trails.
  • For running enthusiasts, the Lavasa Hill Run is the cherry on the pie! Even if you are training for another marathon (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad), the hills of Lavasa could be your practice pit!
  • If you have more time on your hands, squeeze in a visit to Bamboosa – the bamboo factory. You can also request for a tour of the entire area, interact with the workers and see how a bamboo product is made – start to finish.

Admiring the Clouds below – in Coorg

This is my entry for Prismma Holiday 2014.

This year, I spent the ‘month of love’ falling in love with nature… in the least populated district of Karnataka – Coorg.

IMG_2536

My journey began from Mysore and we drove for a couple of hours through an empty road that lent us views of leafless, lanky trees and lush coffee plantations alternately. Once inside Coorg (Kodagu), it took us a good hour to reach our resort.

I stayed in a chalet with a valley-view at Porcupine Castle. This is an eco-friendly property that sits at the end of a long-winding road that cuts through a coffee estate. The bedrooms, walk-in closets and bathrooms have sunroofs that let in light during daytime and restrict the usage of electric-lights to nights only. The only sounds you hear in the serene surroundings are those of the winds, whistling (and perhaps your own self, gasping at the charming sights).

I sat on my balcony over the clouds, sipping on Coorgi coffee as I watched the golden sun dissolve into the silver clouds till the sky was painted in a riot of warm colours. I could see the Western Ghats curtained by the diaphanous clouds from where I stood, and an entire world of dark green trees that hid the earth that lay several feet below. The night was equally enchanting as the fireflies and bumblebees filled the air with more sounds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next morning, it was time to trek! We decided to tour the coffee plantations on foot.

Hot Tip: Wear shoes and clothes fit for rugged terrain if you plan to trek through the plantations. If you can’t manage professional hiking gear, studs or even basic keds will do. Wear cargoes (that have multiple pockets to hold your things so you don’t have to carry a backpack) or denims with comfortable a tee and avoid jackets/sweaters (it only gets hotter as the day progresses and you work yourself up).

I must tell you now that nobody gave me the aforementioned tip, and my ignorant self assumed the coffee plantation would be like tea plantations – almost like a garden I could leisurely stroll through. I showed up in peep-toed flats and a fancy summer top with a knit jacket. I also took my dangling handbag along. I was in for a rude shock when I saw the trail.

Our trekking-guide handed us each a walking pole and took us through narrow clearings in the dense foliage. I soon realized my jacket was of no use when the temperature kept rising along with my body heat. After an hour of non-stop walking, our guide showed us a lake – way down the sloping hills covered with coffee trees. Our goal was to reach at the foot of the slope. Sweat trickled down my forehead for I was sure I’d end up with torn shoes and clothes if I ever managed my way down. But the adventure-enthusiast in me rose to the occasion. The rest of the trek was physically gruelling as we slid and scraped through the land with only the coffee shrubs for support (walking poles are of little help in this kind of terrain).

There was a point when I was ready to give up and I had mentally decided to never trek again if I only made it through this time. But after I reached the lake at the bottom of the slope, I knew the effort was worth it. The view from below was so humbling – all the trees dwarfed us and made me realize how insignificant humans are in this grand world. We observed many plants other than coffee (life saviour for its strong stem that keeps you from rolling down the hills into your death) – orange, eucalyptus & cherry-tomato, to name a few.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before I left Coorg, I made a detour to Bylakuppe. This area houses many Tibetans in exile. It feels like you’re in a new country as you absorb the distinct culture around you. I walked into the Namdroling Nyingmapa monastery (locally known as the Golden Temple) – a majestic monument that struck me with awe with its sheer size and beauty. The statues of Buddha and others inside the monastery are imposing and send a signal of peace to your heart. I was lucky to witness a prayer-session during my visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My trip to Coorg ended with a torn shoe and a strengthened heart. And I hope my story will teach you not to repeat my mistake :). Write to me about your trip to this heavenly place, and if you haven’t been here already, let Coorg be your next vacation!