Far From the Madding Crowds?

Far From the Madding Crowds?
Crowds throng the market street in Rishikesh, Photo Credit: Denis.Vostrikov / Shutterstock.com
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An OT reader narrates his experience with over-tourism and revenge travel at a hill station, reiterating the need for slow travel

Prerak Pathak
October 27 , 2021
04 Min Read

As I travelled to Rishikesh in the middle of the second wave of Covid-19, it felt like I was making the same mistake.

I last came here five years ago, experiencing problems every step of the way.

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While in the earlier instance I was travelling with my parents, this time I was accompanying my elder brother on some work, having given into the promise of some much-needed relaxation.

Later, I was to think more clearly about the risk I had undertaken by coming here now as I
precariously lay on a boulder by the briskly flowing Ganges. The sense of omen reminded me of
the Australian flick Picnic at Hanging Rock, which had depicting a similar sort of misadventure.

On my last visit to Rishikesh, I distinctly remember making a vow to never return: the locals
seemed rude and full of spite for the tourists. The auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers overcharged.
And no, we didn't go rafting in the wild currents of the Ganges descending from the higher
Himalayas either.

Except when I went exploring the streets of the town, and felt the breeze brush past my face on the Lakshman Jhula, the vibe of the place quite annoyed me.

But time had healed those scars. I honestly felt quite optimistic and eagerly looked forward to
Rishikesh 2.0, not realising that in my desire for a change of scene I had conveniently ignored
that this venerated adventure sports hub of the state wasn’t really my cup of tea.

A certain minister of the Uttarakhand state government has emphasized that tourism is the state’s “bread and butter”. Surely, we’ve had to bear great losses during the second wave of the
pandemic and are trying their best to restore tourism with a renewed vigour. However, crossing
the state border to reaching Rishikesh was a quite rough experience.

Despite carrying an RT-PCR report and e-pass, we were stopped not once but thrice in the space of just one hour. The first instance was at the state’s border, a stoppage that I felt was valid, since it was supposed to verify travellers’ credentials. After a half-hour halt, we sped away towards Rishikesh via Haridwar; however, as we entered the former, another stoppage ensued.

At Lakshman Jhula, the state police asked us to pull over at another check-post. We were
questioned, asked to show our documents, and the usual routine of discouraging tourists from
continuing their journey took place.
 
We resumed the journey, but not ten minutes had passed when I spotted the dreaded tented
check-post again at Muni-ki-Reti. There were vehicles all over the place and utter chaos. The
previous drill was to repeat here, as we begrudgingly got out of our car. May I mention that my
annoyance wasn’t with the authorities—the pandemic’s devastating impact cannot be taken
lightly at any rate?

It was something all too familiar.

This meant standing in queues with sweaty, pot-bellied men with their facemasks on their chins.
It meant having to worry about the roof of the check-post that was under threat from a calf who
had settled at the side of one of the wooden pillars and an oncoming truck that had slipped off
the road. It meant having to dodge the spittle and coughs of intrepid adventure seekers who
thought it necessary to unmask themselves in order to speak.

For some, heading to a hill-station has become the usual response to beating the 'pandemic
blues' as soon as travel resumes. These frenzy-stricken travellers from all over the country now
crowded the check-post, blocking the border and jamming the highways. The officials were
clearly short on manpower and massively overwhelmed by the crowd. Some of these didn’t even
think it necessary to have their RT-PCR reports with them—they were probably expecting the
officials to take their enthusiasm as a sign of their good health.

We reached our forest lodge, which, being surrounded by dense forests and lush hills, did
promise to compensate somewhat for the rough ride. In the afternoon we trekked down to the
river, whose uncrowded sand bank I was glad to have to myself and myself only. It finally felt
better to lose myself in the murmur of the stream.

The fatigue of the lockdown has bred a desperation in people to break free from the monotony of the pandemic and head to their favourite hill-towns. Despite authorities’ claims, on-ground staff are feeling the heat from the sea of travellers flocking to the region in search of enjoyment.

Having recently visited one such place, I can assure you that there’s no pleasure in queuing up at the several, stupid check-posts and adding to heavy traffic jams, blocking vital routes of
transportation.

It renders travel joyless, doesn’t it? Well, as Constable Jones says in Picnic at Hanging Rock, “There's some questions got answers and some haven't.”

This article is a submission by one of our readers, and part of our series #OTReadersWrite. Have a great travel story to tell? Write to us at letters@outlooktraveller.com


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