Haridwar/Chilla, Uttarakhand, India
Being a holy town, Haridwar is not only dry (no alcohol) but also vegetarian. It is illegal to sell meat for consumption. Eggs and milk can be found at select restaurants and shops, but there isn’t even a can of tuna available in Haridwar and the surrounding areas (although I did see leather wallets, belts and shoes for sale so I guess it’s ok to wear a cow, you just can’t eat it).
This severely limits the menu of the Haridwar McDonalds, although I’m surprised that Chicken McNuggets are not on their menu because there is no meat in those. They do have a cheese sandwich.
What it does though is offer an atmosphere for vegetarian creativity. In fact all of India is a vegetarian’s dream come true. The diversity of menus and clever dishes astounded me at every turn, and nowhere was this more apparent than in Haridwar. One of the restaurants on upper road called “Big Ben’s” had eighteen different vegetarian thali dishes!
While I was shoveling some awesome chutney/dhal/curry/rice/roti into my gob, I heard an English accent talking to a Texas accent about things to do in Haridwar. He said that he had looked into a mini safari for tomorrow in the Rajaji National Park near Chilla, but the price of 4000 rupee ($80) was out of his range and he was looking to find someone to go with him to split the cost.
I had been thinking how the touts and my experiences in Agra had made me put up an invisible wall around me and anytime someone had approached me, I ignored them because chances are they were trying to sell me something or ask me to take gemstones into Canada or marry their goat so it cold gain Canadian citizenship or whatever. It had given me a hard skin, and I wondered if I was missing out on anything. What if one of those people who approached me was someone who was genuinely curious and just wanted a conversation?
So I Introduced myself to this young British guy named Thomas and said I would be interested. After lunch and some conversation, we went to Mohan Tours (as recommended by Lonely Planet, both his print edition and my e-edition) and booked it for 7am the next morning.
Later that night, I went to the ghats again to witness the evening Aarti, then went to sleep with chanting echoing in my mind.
The next morning I decided to brave the breakfast at the hotel and had the vegetable cutlets with… Um… “hash browns”…
Then at 7am sharp, a 4×4 picked me up at my hotel with Thomas and we were off for the 10km ride to Chilla.
The safari was awesome. You stand in the back of the truck while it meanders through the bush (which is kind of like surfing for 7 hours straight, my calves were sore!) and every once and a while our guide would signal the driver to stop and he would say “Look! A deer/boar/cobra/stork/elephant/leopard/bird/squirrel/tree”
Most of the times, the animal would appear, and dive into the forest, with just enough time to look, but not enough time to get a picture. There was one stag that was curious enough to stand still and let me get a snap.
At the end of the safari, we got to get close to the park’s domesticated orphan elephants “Raj and Marigold”. Thomas was really impressed, but after Lakshmi in Puducherry, this was old hat for me.
I said goodbye to Thomas and spent the afternoon visiting some amazing temples…
Watched some devotees at the ghats…
And the giant Shiva Murti at the edge of town…
Then it was back to the ghats for one more evening Aarti.
I had discovered something about my shoes while in Panauti two months ago. When they come in contact with wet red bricks, they become extra slippery. They are fine on wet marble, wet cement, wet sandstone, wet pavement, almost anything except wet red brick.
The ghats at Har Ki Pauri are made of red brick… beside a river.
So my feet decide to hydroplane and they go straight up into the air… And I land on the stairs with one step across my back, and another across my butt.
After some gawking and laughter from some of the worshippers, a tourist police officer came to my rescue and escorted me to the medical facility where a doc looked me over and said nothing was broken (there is a doctor on call 24/7 at the ghats to deal with drownings, hypothermia, burns etc.)
I ended up with a bruise along my lower back, a big one on my right buttock, and a bruised ego. And it was a little painful to sit, so I watched my last Aarti standing on a rock path.
The next day, it was off to the Haridwar Junction Train Station to go to my final stop on the trip. New Delhi.