Up the winding, dusty road we walk; further away from civilisation, closer to pure beauty. For now, we still hear vehicles on the narrow tar road nearby. Motorbikes sound their horns as they daringly overtake other vehicles, tempting fate. Clanking sounds come from trucks changing into lower gears, to tackle the incline. Soon, only the sounds of Mother Nature will distract us.
Suddenly, two Indian ladies appear from the bushes, startling us. Large, leafy bales bound with ropes are supported effortlessly on their shoulders. They wear colourful, yet plain Punjabi Salwar suits; blue and pink, maroon and orange; contrasting with the dull earthy tones of the backdrop. This is a daily ritual; collecting feeding materials for the sacred cows that wander the streets of Rishikesh. As we pass, one of them smiles at us; her pearly white teeth twinkle in the bright sunlight. “Namaste”, she greets, to which we reply in turn. She looks back to her companion and continues conversing in Hindi. Minutes later, they have vanished.
Now, we are alone here on this dusty ledge; it seems to be just nature and us. My friend nudges me gently. “Look at this view!” she exclaims excitedly. I raise my head to a picture of paradise. The sun is shining through white clouds that lay low over the hill tops, across the gorge. Beams of light illuminate the gushing waters of the mighty river, Mother Ganges, as she flows in the valley below. She mutters softly, in the distant, as if inviting us with her sacred words; calling us to enjoy her fresh waters. “When we reach the waterfall, let’s swim”, I say and my companion agrees gleefully.
As we push forward, I remember a story a friend once recounted; a story about a surreal trek to a waterfall buried deep within densely forested hills. She described a mystical yet terrifying encounter with a tiger that appeared in their path, then vanished like an apparition. This was around twenty years before, on the trail to Neer Garh Waterfall; the same trail we now followed. Sadly, the tigers are gone; either poached or culled. Mostly long haired mountain goats, curious monkeys and secretive small mammals, remain in these green forests. A stark reminder of the effects of humans.
Closer still, we are teased by streams of water running away downstream on their way to meet the holy river. The powerful drum beats of falling water rumble louder, as we climb into thicker woodland. Then, as if from no-where, torrents of white water burst in to sight and delicate moist droplets hit my warm skin. Masses of falling water have carved a pathway through limestone over millennia, forming shallow pools beneath. As we bathe in the cool water, monkeys watch us suspiciously from the trees. Bright eyes surround us. We feel reminded that we are mere visitors here. Allowed for just this moment, to drown in nature; grateful to be sharing what seems to be the most beautiful place in the world.