10/20/2004:  2100  Glass House on the Ganges

“What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”.  We have walked on two foot wide trails with 1,000 foot drop offs.  We have climbed over 5,000 ft in a day to an elevation of 16,500 ft in a blizzard.  We have slept in a tent for two weeks through snow, rain and cold.  We have eaten nothing but home cooked Indian food for three weeks, but all of these pale in comparison for pure adrenaline overload, risk and mind numbing exhaustion compared to our drive from Auli to Rishikesh.

For 12 hours we sat in a car as it hung on the edge of mountain roads and dodged every obstacle ranging from boulders to monkeys.

The drive started with a 7,000 foot descent from the Cliff Top to the Alaknanda River Valley

 

 

 

 

 

A little hard to appreciate, but we traveled on all the road you can see in this picture (left, center and right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 1/3 of the way down an incredibly potholed rocky dirt road the left rear suspension spring on the car broke.  Fortunately we soon came to a small town where there happened

to be a mechanic. After a 45 minute wait a young mechanic rolled his jack out to the car, jacked it up on the left rear side and removed the suspension spring.  There was a decision by committee on what needed to be done to repair the problem.  The committee consisted of our cook and guide (who were going back to Delhi with us), the driver and the mechanic.  The spring disappeared then reappeared a short time later.  Whether it was repaired or replaced I don’t know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our mechanic stop.  Note that the Monal Resort is “IDEAL FOR KITTY AND BIRTHDAY PARTIES”.  I knew Indian  cows were sacred, but now I know Indian  cats like to party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mo and a friend.  Waiting for the car repair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reinstallation was also done by committee.  This time there were two mechanics, the cook, the guide, the driver and three cows.  One of the cows wandered off when it either didn’t approve of the repair job or got bored, but the other two cows were definitely in to auto mechanics. The mechanic was having some trouble getting things in to place so he sat down under the rear wheel well, shoved the spring with his bare feet on to the bolt as the other mechanic hammered it in to place with a sledge hammer.  Finally the spring was back in to place to their satisfaction, a price was negotiated and paid, and we were on our way down the mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

The work crew putting the rear suspension back together.  Couldn’t have done it with out the beef.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The driver had warned us that the first 10 km would be rough, but what he didn’t tell us was that the next 100 km would be debilitating.  When we finally made it to the bottom (sort of) of the big descent, we followed the Alaknanda River for almost 200 km until it turns in to the Ganges River.  It was during this section that we encountered and witnessed (in real time slow motion) a road construction project that would have to be the modern day equivalent of the process used to build such structures as the pyramids of Egypt, the Inca Trails or the Taj Mahal. 

Man has not invented a unit of time that appropriately measures the passage of time as we experienced it during our trip down the Alaknanda highway.  The “highway” we traveled was both being constructed and repaired.  This road had never been paved and was in the process of being just that, but in addition, massive rains two weeks ago had washed much of the road away.   100’s to 1000’s of Indians were involved in this process, and over the next 100 miles we were able to witness, in bits and pieces, the entire construction process from beginning to end.

Step 1: Create a section of road that would support a vehicle.  Where the road was washed out men were building by hand retaining walls on the down hill cliff side by farming boulders from up hill and carrying them to a small quarry near the wash out.  Other men would construct a wall from the bottom up.  These walls were sometimes quite artistic and tightly constructed.  When the wall was complete they would fill in the gap between the retaining wall and the up hill cliff with other rock until it was roughly level.

Step 2: Surfacing the road.  Large rocks were collected by pick and crow bar from the cliff.  They would then be broken up in to a size that a man could carry and then transported by foot and neatly stacked near the work area.  A second group would crush the rock in to fist and half fist size stones with sledge hammers. A third group would spread these across the newly constructed road and hammer them in to place.

Step 3: Tarring. Huge blazing fires were lit under 50 gallon barrels of tar until the tar was bubbling.  The barrels were then tipped over spreading the molten tar over the fist size rocks.  The workers did not have gloves so they lined their hands with thick stacks of large green leaves for insulation from the hot barrels.

Step 4: Fine surfacing.  A team would crush rocks in to pebble and rock dust with sledge hammers and then spread that over the hot tar.  This mixture was worked in to the hot tar to produce a smooth surface.

 

Since our trip had started on the least complete part of the road and them moved toward the more compete section we were able to witness the process like a “how to” documentary, or to use a more accurate analogy, like a super length feature epic.  100 miles and 6 hours late we drove on to paved roadway as smooth as a babies bottom.  As the accumulated vibrations and jars drained from my body I felt an intense, transient, sense of peace and relaxation. 

Our morning drive would have been worthy in it self, but it was the next six hours of driving that led to the need for prolonged therapy for PTSD.

I will not take advantage of the right to exaggerate, because there is no need.  For the next six hours there was not a section of road that went straight for more than 100 yard.  The road varied from one lane to two lanes, had no guard rails  and continuously hung on the side of a canyon with drop offs ranging from one hundred to one thousand feet.  We passed cars on blind curves and hill tops.  We narrowly missed cars, buses, trucks, people walking, people on motor cycles, people on bikes, cows, horses, monkeys and boulders.  Looking through the front window of the car as we passed through the occasional town was like sitting in front of the monitor of one of the wild street race video games.  The interesting thing is that both Mo and I had become detached from the reality of situation and it became like watching a movie rather than being in one.  Once I decided that I had no control over the events that passed before me and you put my faith in the ability of the driver it became a whole new experience.

Finally as darkness fell we saw a road sign indicating we were only 20 km from Rishikesh.  You can not imagine the relief associated with knowing the end of this journey was a reality.  The last 20-30 minutes of our trip was in darkness.  As we came in to Rishikesh the traffic got heavier and more varied.  Rishikesh is akin to Jerusalem for the Jews and Muslims and Rome for the Christians.  Rishikesh is the holy city for the Hindus and they have great faith.  I was trying to figure out who had the most faith, the Brahman holy men in their orange robes walking along the side of the road, or the bicyclist and motorcyclist who were driving the wrong way down the highway with their lights off.

We stopped in the center of town and asked directions to the Glass House on the Ganges where we were staying for the night.  Strange, no one had heard of it.  After much inquiring we were informed that it was many kilometers back in the direction we had come.  Thus we started the reverse journey along the windy road and through the miraculously avoided obstacles we had encountered on the way to Rishikesh.

Not sure of how far it was, and with a significant language barrier between us and the driver, we became concerned we were lost.  We started politely pleading to the driver to make a call to the Glass House and confirm the directions.   This pleading didn’t work for two reasons.  Number one, while we had the number, we had no phone, and two, the driver either didn’t know what were saying, or was on a mission that didn’t require our input.  There was a third possibility, that we had passed in to the Twilight Zone and were now part of an episode called “Indian Auto Passenger Purgatory”.

We should have had the faith of the Brahman, because about one hour after leaving Rishikesh on our return trip, and a mere 12 hours after leaving Auli, we pulled in to the Glass House on the Ganges.

Neither Mo nor I drink very much alcohol, and neither of us had touched a drop in three weeks, but as we walked in to the lobby area of the Glass House we were simultaneously struck by the justly earned desire to have a strong drink.  We sat down in the their beautiful dining area that overlooked manicured gardens and the Ganges River and prepared ourselves to appreciate this moment of chemically assisted relaxation.  This was going to be the kind of appreciation that people in Colorado experience in the spring after a long severe winter. 

When the waiter arrived we both asked what alcoholic beverages were served.  He looked at us for a moment in silence then said, “On no, this is the Holy City.  Alcohol is forbidden here”.

 

10/21/2004:  1941

Today was a tough day.  We woke around 6:30 AM, had a nice breakfast, then sat on our deck overlooking the Ganges.  Next Mo and I had an Abhyangan with a Shiro-dhara. IF YOU ARE OVER 18 YEARS OF AGE YOU MAY CONTINUE THE JOURNEY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ganges River from our deck. Glass House on the Ganges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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