Catch-up post: Rishikesh, last Thursday (Aug 17)
It's our second (and, regrettably, last) day in Rishikesh, and we're hiking up a mountain trail toward the waterfall pool we've been promised. It's brutally hot, and the altitude doesn't make the climb much smoother. The first bit is the worst. The hiking is easier than higher up, but we don't have the shade cover we'll get later on. Meg is getting heat stroke so I get to rest when she does, exploiting her misfortune to cover up any trouble I'm having.
We reach the pool and it's beautiful. A handful of tourists and local kids are there, and we hang out for a while. Ryan and Dan jump into waist deep water from way too high, but miraculously don't hurt themselves.
We keep going, heading for the second pool. The climb is much nicer now in the shade. The second pool is as cool as the first, but not really any cooler. We notice, though, that at the top of the waterfall feeding our pool there seems to be a bit of a plateau. Ryan does some exploring and finds a route. It involves some minor rock climbing and using a tree trunk to swing from one ledge to another, but the top is worth it.
On top of the feeling of accomplishment and discovery, the view is great and the pool is so deep we can't touch the bottom. It's small, but there are rocks for sunbathing, enough room to swim around a bit, and there's not that much danger of slipping over the waterfall to your death in the pool below.
Sam, Ryan, Dan and I explore a cave we find nearby. In the inner cavern there's a crack about 1ft wide that I can sort of lodge myself in to poke my head out the other side. It leads to small area behind the waterfall, about 10m above our upper pool. I decide to try and climb through, but after some squirming I give up. Sam, however, seems to be somehow skinnier than I am and just makes it. He watched The Descent right before we left, but he's not scared. We take pictures, but they're on Dan's camera, so I can't post them.
We keep pushing further up the hill. Dan did the waterfalls yesterday with some Israelis he met, but they bailed on him before he could get up to the village rumoured to be at the top of the mountain. The first signs of civilization were some small rice paddies in the stair-step irrigation style, maybe 20m long. Then a religious statue with a place for offerings. And then.
And then we see this. The path becomes the top of one of the irrigation plateaus, and we walk along, gaping at the scene. It's getting late in the day, and we don't want to be caught by darkness on the way back down, so we decide that we'll only go as far as the bridge up ahead, maybe a little way up the slope past it to grab some pictures of the valley.
Ryan hangs back to get some pictures as the four of us continue. On the path almost at the bridge is this huge old tree. The scene is perfect - the bridge, the tree, the rice, the mountains, the sinking sun - and then we hear a rustiling above. Seconds later, a massive black-faced monkey drops to the ground a few metres from us, and takes off into the woods. I figure I might have him by 10 pounds or so but he seems pretty agile.
Our group tightens as the rustling resumes above. The tree drops two more monkeys beside us, who also take to the forest after giving us a good stare-down. I realize that I'm swearing a lot. More monkeys. They come tearing down the tree, 50 ft in 6 branches, 5 branches, all thudding to the ground and making off into the forest.
There is a pause. I swear again, this time for not taking a picture. We decide we should probably make a break for the bridge during this lull, and escape to safety. A woman and her child have been watching us from a little way off, but they don't seem too worried. I realize this is probably much like the elephant situation in Haridwar.
But she wasn't underneath the deadly black-faced monkey tree. That shit is scary.
On our way back down the mountain, we run into a dozen or so villagers making their way home. One older guy we meet fairly early on, near the top, stops me to tell me something, but his English is terrible and my Hindi is worse. "Queen," he says, as he motions to Meg, who he passed a few seconds before.
"Village," he adds, motioning up the mountain to where we came from. I don't know where he's going with this yet, but I caught this word, so I explain to him that yes we were just up near the village and it was very beautiful and does he live there.
"Queen," he repeats, and pulls the flaps of his garment together, gesturing up and down his body. I then remember that since the pool Meg has been hiking in a two-piece bathing suit, and that this is probably not standard hillside attire.
As we continue on our way, Ryan and I discuss what the likely Western equivalent would be of Meg's scandalous stroll into the Himalayan village. We put it at somewhere between walking down the street naked and walking down the street naked with an erection. Meg puts her dress on.