If you’re looking for the ultimate adrenaline buzz, you might just find it on the waters of the Ganges in northern India
Heading towards a white water rapid, precariously perched on a flimsy rubber raft, is not my idea of fun. The raft plunges and gathers speed on the roaring Ganges, flowing from its angry source in an ice cave in the Himalayas to its serene arrival in the Bay of Bengal. And my guide is shouting encouragement.
For my trip down the river near Haridwar in the state of Uttarakhand, 250km north of Delhi, it’s a fresh January day and I am clad in a lifejacket and safety helmet, but my goosebumps advertise the absence of a wet-suit. Hindus believe that a dip in the Ganges will wash away one’s sins and many Indians visit Haridwar for just that reason.
'Paddle faster,' yells the guide as the current quickens.
Suddenly the raft leaps out of the water and one of my friends falls overboard. For a moment the frame freezes, along with my hands and feet. The guide swiftly grabs the girl before the current takes her. He drags her back in and we continue on our thunderous roller-coaster.
A tented campsite on the riverbank and a welcome cauldron of hot tea marks the end of our two-hour excursion. Exhausted but exhilarated, we head back to our more comfortable base at the five-star Ananda in the Himalayas
It is the natural beauty of the remote setting in northern India that lures visitors to the foothills of the Himalayas. In the misty distance you can see the snow-covered peaks of the highest mountain range on earth, though not Everest, which is 1000km away. In the foreground lush meadows are criss-crossed by rivers and streams, thick forest and deep gorges.
Wildlife is an integral component of any stay in the area. Big cats stalk the hillside, bears live in the forest, and a large monkey population is much in evidence. Golden eagles keep an eye on the comings and goings on the terrace of the Ananda in the Himalayas
, and are not averse to swooping on any al fresco plate left unattended.
On a clear day you can see the holy city of Rishikesh, spiritual home of yoga, far down below on the banks of the Ganges. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ guru, founded his ashram there and in a blaze of publicity invited the Fab Four to stay in the late 1960s.
At the Ananda in the Himalayas
, the day starts with a pre-breakfast yoga session at 7am sharp and later on, a three-hour guided trek brings us to the ancient Hindu temple of Kunjapuri. We are told you needn’t be fit to make the climb, but two of my group drop out on the first steep stretch of the path that winds past houses of baked mud with children playing and dogs sprawling outside.
There’s a huge difference in hotel prices in the area: you either go for a luxury international hotel with spa, swimming pool and golf course, or pay a fraction of the price by staying somewhere locally owned. Indian-owned Hotel Disney Inn
is one such place, with rooms that are described as ‘budget-luxurious’. The modern hotel is in Haridwar city centre overlooking the Ganges. It is convenient for rafting trips and has extremely good prices.