Staying at home, for major part of Year 2020, made me plan array of itineraries, one was to start trekking again. I wished to restart trekking in Himalayan Region, again, to see the snow. I was bit skeptical about the fitness part, hence, thought of opting for an easy trek. Trek was for summer, to escape the Mumbai heat and experience the cold weather in North.
I felt the best group to go with, was YHAI, in case, my friends bail out, one by one and leave me alone to undertake a solo trip. One of my constant travel friend Kaveri agreed to join this trek. After lot of reshuffling of the days, places to see before and after the trek, I zeroed in on Chopta – Tungnath – Chandrashila Trek.
It was supposed to be a very easy – peasy 5 days trek. Well, it was supposed to be! That is another story!
I added Haridwar & Rishikesh to the itinerary.
We paid the amount for the trek, started booking the to & fro tickets. All was set in January! By February, the news started trickling in, second wave is going to hit and Covid cases were increasing. Also, another news hit me was, ongoing Kumbh Mela and the day, we would be in Haridwar was supposed to be Shahi Snan day, it meant, whole lot of crowd. I tweaked my plan a bit. We had booked one way flight and return train, by April 1st week, everywhere the Covid negative certificate was made mandatory. We were bit skeptical about getting tested, incase, we turn out to be positive, our whole plan goes awry and on top of that, there would be no refund for the trek amount.
However, as luck would have it, we boarded the Mumbai – Delhi Flight, effortlessly took Prepaid Cab (Rs. 550) from Delhi Airport to Nizammudin Station and finally got on train at 2:45 AM, reaching Haridwar at 8:30 am. There was night curfew at Delhi and waiting room of Nizammudin was crowded as usual. There was report checking and swab testing set up outside Haridwar station. We got out, showed report on Mobile, directly took an Auto to the pre-booked Pardesi Hotel. Hotel was good in terms of cleanliness and sanitization. We ordered breakfast, left hotel to sightsee Haridwar.
Due to ongoing Kumbh Mela, there were many saffron clad Sadhus on the Road. We decided to visit the Chandidevi Temple & Manasa Devi Temple. There was nothing much planned for these two places, first, because of Pandemic, we wanted to avoid crowd and second, we wanted to just roam around as much as possible, to acclimatize ourselves for the upcoming trek. We booked an auto (Rs.100) for one way trip to Chandidevi Temple. There is a regular step climb as well as Ropeway. We went for Ropeway, got a combo ticket (Rs. 314) for both temples.
Due to Covid situation, there was less crowd and we got to ropeway very quick. It is hardly 5-10 minutes journey from bottom to top. We had darshan and the view from the hill top. We were back to the starting point in next half an hour. There were autos outside the gate, but they would leave only when 6 to 7 passengers filled up the carrier. We wasted our 30 mins in waiting, finally hired a private auto and came to Manasa Devi temple. The road to Manasadevi Temple was closed due to Kumbh Mela. We had to walk from junction to the Ropeway entrance. We showed our ticket and got into ropeway. Again, in 15 minutes, we were at Manasadevi Temple. We took 30 mins to take the tour of the Temple.
We saw many shops selling artifacts while going to the temple, we decided to check the same while returning. It was almost 2 pm. While buying some souvenir from shop, suddenly, we heard music blaring from loudspeakers, there was Procession of one Akhada going to the Ghat area. We came to know from locals, that such processions are norm during Kumbh. There are various Akhadas in and around and they usually assemble at the Ganga River front for the upcoming shahi snan day.
We had our lunch at Shivalik Restaurant, which was at the Junction. Fortunately, the food was good, again there was one more procession that passed by while we were having our food. We walked back to hotel, decided to rest and go for Ganga Aarti in the evening. We left for Ganga Aarti at 5.30 PM for Har Ki Paur. Due to security, we had to walk for almost 2 kms to reach the River bank. There was huge crowd gathered to witness the same. The arrangement and security was too tight. Although social distancing had gone for toss, I guess, Police personnel were helpless with such mass gathering.
We took precautions with mask, sanitizers and kept distance from the crowd as much as possible. After an hour, we decided to walk along the river bank, away from the crowd, back to the hotel. Thankfully, the sanitation facility was clean and good to accommodate the huge crowd. We sat for sometime on the concretized bank and took some photos. While talking selfies, we took off mask, just to be seen by two policemen, we explained to them that it was for selfies, after some self introduction, they tried to be too friendly, even to the extent of asking for mobile numbers. Naively, I shared, hoping to come out of awkward situation. I wondered, sometimes being nice is taken in wrong sense because, one of them kept messaging me for two weeks unnecessarily, stopped later, because, I preferred not to reply. Lesson learnt, don’t be too smiley with anyone while on trip. We had dinner on the way, thereafter going for icecream treat.
Next day, we had to leave for Rishikesh. We checked out early morning, loaded our luggage in a sharing auto(Rs. 200). As usual, we had to wait for 30 mins for passengers to fill in. Due to pandemic, this was taking time. Somehow, the driver managed to find two more passengers and finally dropped us at Triveni Ghat at Rishikesh in an hour.
We had to hire another Auto (Rs. 20) to Ram Jhula. I called up the hotel to ask for proper location. Realised the hotel Wanderlove was on other side of the River and Auto has to take longer land route to crossover thereby charging triple the basic amount. There was no motorable road for vehicle to cross over only pedestrian narrow bridges were built over the rivers, one called Ram Jhula, another as Laxman Jhula. And they were like 10 mins apart. After much bargaining, we asked the Auto driver (Rs. 100) to drop us near the Laxman Jhula Foot bridge. We walked over with luggage.
As soon as we were on other side, there was Test Report Counter checking set up at exit. We showed our reports and walked all the way to Hotel, the road was lined with shops, ultimate shopping location for us. The Wanderlove Hotel entrance was very narrow, can be easily missed, we were guided by a kind lady, who took us to the hotel reception. We had booked a terrace Room, which had view of river. Room was clean, okay-ish. They had in-house rooftop small restaurant with floor seating. We ordered for breakfast there.
Since, I had not planned much for the day, we mostly washed our earlier travel clothes and rested for the day, we had lunch at the nearby Little Buddha Café, food was good there. Later, we just explored the place, crossed over to the main road side, bought some earrings, some photography including my favourite Thar Die Cast Photography and some more shopping. Later again, we came back to the same café for Dinner.
I personally found Rishikesh to be more peaceful and would prefer to visit this place again. The place had a tranquil vibe in terms of view, food and atmosphere!
Next day, we had to leave for Sari, for our trek!