Saturday, June 2, 2007

Lucknow, Haridwar, Rishikesh: Massacres, Caves and Chocolate Croissants

Posted by: Sara Bartlemay
We took another hot train to Lucknow, to see the fort the British built here in 1757. It was a beautiful place - several brick buildings with sections of plaster still intact. The roofs, windows and doors were missing but the walls and columns were still intact. Fading paint still shows teal and red in the carved archways, and the marble columns still have faint flowers carved around them. It is a lovely little ghost town - with very British architecture - fountains and statues of Celtic crosses. The trees are reclaiming the earth here - growing up from the foundations and pushing out walls. Many of them are well established fig trees that tower above the structures. Light streaming through the leaves make the shadows dance. But the shadows are darker here, tinted with the weight of history.
This fort once housed thousands of people. Many Indian people worked within it, and several of them were converted into soldiers for the British to keep their own people under control. One night, there was a bloody massacre when mutiny turned the Indian soldiers and several other Indian people into an angry mob that stormed this fort and killed close to three thousand people. But change is slow, and not always as bloody. It was over ninety years later that the country was handed back to the Indian people, and the British left. This land has been fought over, reclaimed by the Indian people by force and now taken back by the forest in a slow gradual growth as the trees reclaim the soil and reach for the sky.
An over night train took us to Haridwar, where jeeps picked us up, and with our bags tied to the roof we journeyed up into Rishikesh. Rishi means sage or mystic, and Rishikesh is there fore the place of the mystics. It is nestled into the foothills of the Himalaya, where the Ganges is more narrow, swifter, cleaner and colder. The city has two steel suspension walking bridges over the river, with monkeys swinging from the ropes and occasionally attacking tourists. :) It is a smaller city, of perhaps 30 thousand people, set on the banks of the sacred chalk grey river, still busy but not crowded like Delhi. The air is also cooler, about 90 degrees, and I am so excited to be able to relax and enjoy this place without being overwhelmed by the heat. Our hotel is up above the city, secluded in a little compound, surrounded by Yoga ashrams, with one bookstore and a German Bakery.(Hooray for croissants!!!!)
We went hiking five miles up above the city, along a brush hidden path to a little spring. It was so quiet up there, under the overhanging rock cave. Nearby, the little brook falls over the rock face to form a waterfall flowing into a cold pool. We swam and splashed in the refreshing water and I took far too many photos of colored leaves and reflections. The entire area feels balanced and echoes with peace. It is easy to see the history here - the mystics have come to camp and meditate in the cave and enjoy this secluded waterfall for hundreds of years.
Tomorrow we will take jeeps for six hours or more, beyond this row of hills to the mountains. It is several hours of hiking up to the lake where we will camp, and continue hiking until we reach the snow covered Himalaya. We will be within 75 miles of Tibet and Nepal during our three day trek. We will camp and explore this remote area for three days. I will write more after we return, and of course, send photos to illustrate.

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