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From Hardiwar to Rishikesh we go, it is only a short bus journey and before we know it, we are already at the Rishikesh bus station. Little did we know, this seamless travelling would not be experienced throughout our trip to India.
Dropping our bags off at the hostel, we soon set off to explore the small town, known for its spirituality, yoga, and a place the Beatles often frequented.
Walking past a shopfront selling paintings, we are coaxed in with an offer a cup of chai to share with the seller who cannot be more than 20. He speaks of his life so far with the maturity of an older man and the insight of one who has experienced so much in such a short amount of time. Having trained as a mechanic but soon realising there is more to life than having a steady income, he packed up his things and left his home for something new.
Ajay now sells paintings made by women in the northern region of Kashmir. They are exquisite and he explains to us the ancient tradition of using bamboo and natural colouring to create these beautiful drawings. Again, we are asked about our lives, where do we come from, what are doing, and are we married. He is intrigued that we are not married (especially at the age of 25) and we have the freedom to travel and do as we wish.
For the couple of days we are in the town, Ajay invites us for chai on numerous occasions and the conversation is endless. We speak about life, love, and death. To say India is a spiritual country is an understatement—it runs through the veins of its very people and rivers, it is all around, and every action is accounted for.
Being lovers of nature, we set out on an early morning hike which takes us to a mountain top overlooking the Himalayas just in time for the sunrise and the first prayers of the day in a nearby temple, supposedly where Brahma’s wife’s torso is buried.
Once again, the beauty of India stops us for a moment. Away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets filled with rickshaws and an endless stream of people, this country never ceases to amaze. Our guide, Sanjeev, is happy to answer any questions we have about religion, telling us tales about fathers killing sons, beheading elephants to give new life, making this experience even more mystical and euphoric.
Halfway down the mountain we swim in a plunge pool, watched over by monkeys, with chanting from the local schoolchildren echoing throughout the valley. Sanjeev tells us the children from the local villages in the mountains walk to the local school, which can take up to four hours for some to get to just for a basic education. He explains that most will soon move to the bigger cities where they are more opportunities, only a few villagers remain in this area.
While we have a rough idea of where we want our Indian journey to take us, our lack of planning beforehand has meant we have had to take a couple of detours here and there. However, after meeting some fellow travellers in the hostel, it is decided to all travel together to the town of Pushkar, a place famous for its annual camel festival and it looks like this is where we shall be spending Christmas too.
To get to Pushkar, the easiest and cheapest way is by overnight bus. While they are seats, there all also small compartments at the back that I am sure would not be legal anywhere else. Despite the freezing cold and endless honking, the journey was not too terrible and soon we were pulling into the town of Pushkar.