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! 🙂

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White Water Rafting in Kolad

“Rain, Rain, go away! Come again another day!” This is what most of us mutter under our breath when we are caught in a bad weather on a vacation. There are occasions though when rains bring out the best in the world around us. It is during monsoon earlier this year that my gang of girls and I decided to do something that is best done in the rains – river rafting!

The white waters of Kundalika

The white waters of Kundalika

Few places in Maharashtra have river rafting options, and Kolad happens to be the most popular. After many days of coordinating and searching for rafting-packages, we came across a perfect one offered by Mask Group. For as little as Rs.1700, they would take care of the commute from Mumbai to Kolad, arrange for the rafting activity and provide lunch and snacks.

What to Wear

For water-based activities, you must pick fabrics that don’t get soaked easily. Lycra and nylon are the best. Try to avoid cotton and denim as they tend to become very heavy once they soak up water, and don’t dry easily. You’ll have a higher chance of catching cold if you pick the wrong fabric. Wetsuits are probably the best outfits for white water rafting. You can wear either floaters or sneakers (without socks), but ensure that you wear something which cannot easily slip off your feet (flip flops, for instance). Most of us, however, showed up in whatever we liked. 😛

Our rafting guide briefs us before the adventure

Our rafting guide briefs us before the adventure

Before the Adventure

We started from Mumbai in the wee hours of the morning so we could reach Kolad by 9. It takes about 3-4 hours by road. We were 9 girls, but part of a larger group of 50 odd people in the bus which picked us up. We had our packed tiffins for breakfast in the bus itself and reached hungry for adventure! At the holding area, we saw dozens of air-filled rafts stacked atop one another, and safety-jackets, helmets and paddles arranged about a sheet of tarpaulin.

We pose with our paddles while we're still dry

We pose with our paddles while we’re still dry

Safety First!

The main rafting instructor told us that we were going to float over the Kundalika river. Its water is actually controlled by a dam, and the government allows for some water to be released everyday for rafters.

We were shown how to fasten the life-jackets which have a double-locking system for extra safety. There is an additional pillow-like padding on the jacket to keep your head above the water level when you lie flat on your back on the river. The helmets too are lightweight and help keep your head afloat, besides protecting you from getting hit by boulders. The water’s depth here is no more than 5 to 6 feet. But what makes it dangerous is the presence of rocks. Even though you won’t drown, you will injure yourself if you don’t heed your raft-captain’s commands.

All set to board the raft!

All set to board the raft!

Paddle Talk

One of the most important tools in rafting are the paddles. Made of ultra lightweight material, these not only help you row your way across the river but also come handy in rescuing fellow rafters who might fall off the raft. The paddle has three parts – a flat blade which pushes water, a shaft so light that it pops back up if you push it down the river, and a handle with a “T”-grip.

If you ever fall into the river, never leave your paddle. Hold it by the shaft towards the blade end and point the T away from you. Your rescuer will offer her/his T and lock it with yours. Once you get the locking right, the grip is impossible to break. You will be pulled swiftly to safety! 🙂

We rejoice after crossing our first rapid

We rejoice after crossing our first rapid

All Aboard the Raft

The world can be a little sexist at times. Our group of 9 girls was split into two and some guys were thrown in  for “strength”. Rowing really works up your biceps and triceps, and it is assumed men will be better at that sort of stuff. Anyway, we hauled our raft to the river and got aboard! Our guide sat at the back from where he could see us all and shout his steering commands. The front two rowers have to be the strongest and good rowers, and unsurprisingly two guys were made to sit there. We got in our positions and locked our feet under the air tubes in the front and back.

You might feel a little nervous on your first rafting trip, especially if you don’t know to swim. You are supposed to sit on the edge of the raft with your bum almost hanging out. Only your feet which stay locked under the tubes will keep you balanced. But don’t worry so much. You will enjoy the ride as you keep crossing one rapid after another! 🙂

The rafters jump off their rafts!

The rafters jump off their rafts!

Going Downriver

Along the 13km stretch of Kundalika, we negotiated about 10 rapids, mostly of grades 1 and 2. This is what makes Kolad a good place for beginners. You learn to test the waters before you aim for higher grades of rapids. Rapids are places where the smooth run of the river is broken by some turbulence, usually due to the presence of rocks or when there is a sudden decline in the water level. It is thrilling to cross a rapid as the water splashes aboard and bathes everyone on the raft. Depending on the sort of rapid it is, you will be asked to either row swiftly with a lot of force or “go down”. Going down does not mean jumping into the water, though. 😛 You must duck and crouch on the floor of the raft, holding the safety handle on the outside.

The water is cold! But good enough for frolicking! ;-)

The water is cold! But good enough for frolicking! 😉

Let’s Get Wet!

After about an hour of following our guide’s instructions to “row forward”, “row backward”, “left forward, right back” (to change the direction of the raft) and “stop”, we were treated with some time to gambol in the river! 🙂 Each of us was asked to jump into the water, and we sloshed about, dunking one another and posing for pictures. Note that there will only be one “dry-bag” on your raft for you to store your cameras and phones.

The rafts are taken back upriver on jeeps

The rafts are taken back upriver on jeeps

Hunger Strikes

After some more minutes of rafting on a relatively smooth stretch, we came to the end of our adventure. There were more than a hundred of us that day who rafted at Kolad! We carried our rafts back up the bank to the holding area and watched them being restacked and fastened to jeeps which would take them to the starting point for the next day’s rafters.

With all the fun behind us, we suddenly realized how hungry we were. We gobbled up some vada pavs at the snack shacks on the bank before our trek back to the bus. We were cold, wet and impatient to get out of our soaked clothes. The rafting areas have no changing rooms nearby, so you will have to drive to a resort to freshen up. After a 30 minute ride, we stopped at a farm.

We check into a rustic farm for a quick change of clothes and some warm food

We check into a rustic farm for a quick change of clothes and some warm food

Some Reflections

Glad to finally be able to change into warm and dry clothes, we settled to relish some freshly cooked Maharashtrian food. As we chatted about the day, we all agreed that we had made many new friends. That may not have been the case if all the nine of us had been on the same raft.

After lunch, we explored the farm and clicked away at everything that caught our fancy. I don’t think I have taken so many selfies and groupfies in one day. Only a bunch of girls can make that happen! 😀

After the rafting experience, we relax on a shack by the catchment area of our village

We relax on a shack by the catchment area of our village, planning our next getaway together!

Kolad is a great monsoon weekend getaway from Mumbai. Which is your favourite escape-zone from your city? Have you ever been rafting? Send in your replies! 🙂