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The Glass House on the Ganges, an Indian Sanctuary

Peace and Tranquility preceded by Mayhem!

A Hidden Corner of The Garden. Credit: Deborah Radcliffe

It was pouring with rain – the monsoon in full spate.  The mountain road was a mighty river strewn with ochre mud, rocks, and boulders from the last landslide.  Digger drivers clearing the debris had given up, the strength of the storm forcing them, even in their vast machines, to take cover from the intensity of the downpour.  They sheltered from the deluge under their vast buckets.

The road clung precariously to the cliff edge hundreds of feet above the mighty River Ganges, fast flowing, debris laden, and swollen with rains from the high Himalayan Mountains. It wasn’t the crystal clear waters of my dreams! Yet this frenzy of Mother Nature didn’t stop the speed of the vehicles as they wove their way up and down the hilly road narrowly missing the debris.  Chicken is the name of the game in India. Big lorry.  Little car. Who gives way?  Not necessarily the lorry.  My driver wondered why I never gasped in fear or in sheer panic as a huge lorry, horn blaring, lights flashing bore down on us as we literally clung to the cliff edge and he blasted through. It felt rather like the roads at home in Malta I told him.  Driving is very similar. When we get our flash floods, just put the foot down on the gas, change down a gear and shut your eyes. 

Finally we arrived at my destination, The Glass House on the Ganges, a former home of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal set in a beautiful garden running down to the banks of the Holy River Ganges. It’s located on a bend of the river exuding peace and tranquility and
considered to be most auspicious. The hotel is very simple. You feel as if you are living in an age gone by – breakfast listening to nature’s chorus in the morning, afternoon ‘Tiffin’ on the veranda. It’s quite idyllic. No TV in your rooms – just one in the snug lounge. I felt the hotel was a little tired and could have used some revamping – brighter colors – a new bedspread.  But, saying that, it was comfortable enough, and a change from the stereotypical hotels that are totally nondescript and bland. Anyway, I was here not for the hotel and or for marvelous facilities, but for the setting. This is a place to come and stay to recharge the batteries

Cricket naturally is the main channel. The passion for this game runs high in India! 

Stuck in the traffic jam.
Credit: Deborah Radcliffe

Like many of the country’s destinations, it’s not easy to reach and I had a real trek to get there. After my flight on Emirates I stayed overnight in Delhi before catching the Shatabdi Express train to Haridwar where I was going to see part of the pulsating four-day Lord Shiva festival and then drive the one-and one-half hours to the hotel north of Rishikesh

Actually the trip took seven hours.  One million, two hundred thousand people chose the same day as I to move in and out of Rishikesh.  We progressed two kms. in five hours.  A two lane road, a raised causeway over the Ganges flood plain, became a six lane highway!  My driver and I were stuck in the middle. We had to switch the a/c to off as the diesel was running low. Tempers were running high. Riot police, in full protective gear and backed up by Army personnel, walloped anyone who looked remotely hostile. Now, I’m not a person who can sit still for long, but I remember literally shutting down. Due to the dust and fumes, we had the windows closed. Without a/c the temperature inside the car just rose and rose. Thank goodness for my copious water supply and rehydrate sachets. My driver thought it unsafe for me to get out and stretch my legs. So I could do nothing and just sat there watching the milling throng of cars, lorries, and scooters envelop me and wondering where I would run if a full blown riot erupted. Still, I survived and lived to tell the tale.

My plan at the Glass House was to unwind and to walk the beautiful mountain paths and enjoy the peace and solitude of the area after the pulsating few days at the Shiva festival – and, seriously, did I need it after the journey. I wasn’t disappointed. Heavy monsoon rains turned the already velvet countryside deeper shades of green.  How many shades can there be I wondered? Intense rich deep green, soft muted green, green tinged with red, brown, orange, vibrant yellow green. How I wished my art class friends were here. What a field day we would have had mixing our palettes. We wouldn’t have to worry about using wet on wet techniques as the steam rising from the river would have certainly made our task easier. The high humidity drenched everything in a misty glaze. Drying the paint though would have been the problem.

First thing in the morning I walked down to the rocky shore of the river. The Ganges was running in full rush. A missed foothold and all would have been lost. Once caught in the current, the seething torrent would show no mercy. Here I found perfect peace. Only the sound of the river broke the silence. Yet the roar of the water was not invasive. Its timbre was exactly right, as only nature can capture a perfect sound. I sat meditating on a lonely outcrop with the murky waters swirling inches away. The early morning mist drifted by, a lonely bird cried as it soared in the languid breeze, puff ball clouds danced, and I was in heaven.

Caption: Ganges River
Credit: Deborah Radcliffe

Later I walked, umbrella held high, as the monsoon brought new life around me. I wandered mountain paths listening to the never ending noise of the wildlife. I saw neither birds nor even an inquisitive squirrel as the force of the monsoon made the animals and birds take shelter. Yet the cacophony of chatter never ceased. No matter! You could feel the vitality of the area and even in the pouring rain enjoy such beauty.

Later I visited the simple spa where trained therapists from Keralan offer soothing treatments. I had a lower back massage to ease the stiffness from long drives and felt really at ease. If there are enough guests Yoga and meditation are offered. You needn't know anything about them. All you need is the desire to unwind and relax and to enjoy the pristine beauty of the surroundings. Seated on the banks of the Ganges I can imagine no better place to be!  

I didn’t have enough time to take a guided walking tour of the area, but there are local guides who will escort you on two-hour short treks, long enough particularly when the humidity is high. When the river is peaceful, roughly October to June, rafting can be arranged. From here it is possible to travel to the famous city of Rishikesh where the Beatles group spent time in Transcendental Mediation and ‘other  pursuits’. Finally for the really adventurous a drive of ten hours followed by a 18km. walk will bring you to the source of the River Ganges – a trip I will I hope do. 

Sadly I had to leave the peace and return back to Delhi. The return trip was far easier – drive back to Haridwar, wait for an hour or so for the train. I had insisted on leaving early in case of a traffic jam to take the mighty express back to the hectic Delhi. One thing is for certain. I will return, but will make sure there are no festivals taking place in Haridwar.

Deborah Radcliffe

Fall, 2007

Emirates: http://www.emirates.com
Tour Operator: Indus Discoveries: http://www.indusdiscoveries.com
Indian Tourist Office: http://www.incredibleindia.org