The idea of ‘getting away’ was a huge attraction. But I was desperate. Desperate enough to buy the idea of white-water rafting along the Ganga in December, of ‘doing Mussourie’ off-season. And taking a dip in the over-crowded, filthy Har ki Paori in Haridwar. And all this, in the company of a bunch of boys shored up by crates of beer.
Chills and thrills
I’d bitten off more than I could chew, I realised when the excited touristy type among us declared, “We will raft the entire 28 km stretch,” his confidence stemming from the breakfast of parathas and piping hot tea from one of the many roadside dhabas at Tapovan in Rishikesh.
With the Laxman Jhula nearby, Tapovan is the hub of religious frenzy, and about an hour’s drive, depending on the traffic, to the banks of the Ganga. As luck would have it, we got stuck in traffic — and in clouds of smoke and dust. “They are cutting the mountains. Some construction work is going on, so it will take time. These jams are routine now,” our driver said.
Minutes later, drenched in the chilling waters of the Ganga and trying to stave off a possible hypothermic death, I tried to soak in ‘nature’s bounty’ as promised by the tour operators.
Next morning, on the way to Mussourie — with Nirvana, Creed and Deep Purple alternating with ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ on the car stereo — another ‘midway’ halt at Dehradun was forced upon us by the car engines. I tried to get excited about Dehradun. But looking at the big glitzy showrooms on Rajpur Road, it seemed like any other city.
Fortunately, there was food to take refuge in. At Ellora’s Melting Moments — a modern version of Ellora’s, the city’s landmark bakery — cream rolls, carrot cake, stickjaws and their highly recommended plum cake provided respite. Someone tipped us off about the Grand bakery (another legend) and we trooped down to Paltan bazaar where, like a kid in a candy store, I filled up on bittersweet ginger biscuits, butter cookies, sponge cakes and brown bread.
“No season is off-season in Mussourie,” a friend studying at the Jolly Grant College nearby had told me over the phone. I knew what he meant as soon as I saw the Mall Road full of honeymooners, rickshawallahs looking for customers to take to ‘the gardaen’ and families jostling for the most scenic spot to take photos and raiding every single eatery including Sagar Ratna and Barista. The latter included us. And for the record, the cappuccino tastes better in Mussourie.
What finally did the trick though was the puri-sabzi on the way back at Haridwar. The sweetshop, Mohan ji Puriwale, next to the temple at the main ghat, had fresh, hot, fluffy puris with chhole-aloo and warm besan halwa — just the thing to perk up a girl after a ho-hum trip.
The atmosphere at the ghat itself was positively festive — mostly men, some women and a few children in their undergarments taking dips, splashing about, hoping to earn brownie points from heaven. But the incredible filth everywhere left me uninspired.