A hard landing in Hardiwar, and why they insist on rickshaws

Haridwar hit us like a poorly maintained, oil-spewing freight train that had leapt the tracks.


Our entry was a rough landing. The exit to the dark greasy train station was more of an accidental muddy clay trail that we slipped down in the dark among a stream of jostling locals who all knew their way toward the road. We were enveloped by a swarm of taxi drivers all offering to take our packs, amid the most horrid stench we had yet gasped. Choking for air we crossed the street through heavy traffic and surveyed the chaotic, blistering hot, honking nighttime scene, and called our hotel to ask where the taxi driver was.


I picked my way back across the street through standstill traffic and showed our address to several tuk tuk drivers and asked if they knew it. A crowd of them happily gathered, pointing, spitting, and repeating it slowly out loud. None spoke english, but they all eventually elected a rickshaw driver, and many hands tried to place our packs upon it. The little wheeled frame was barely large enough to seat two, much less all of our stuff, and I lobbied to switch to a tuk tuk but they were insistent on the rickshaw. Feeling wary, I backed off.


The hotel finally called back and we met our driver. He rolled up in ... a rickshaw. It was meant to be. We loaded the bags and ourselves precariously atop of it. To dislodge the cart and get it into motion he had to fully stand on one pedal until it creaked and moved. Eve and I felt a nervous responsibility for our driver, as we seemed so weighty and he so slight. At moments we were tempted to jumped out to push, but were kept at bay by advice from Delhi, that this was his job and we shouldn't belittle it. Best to sit still. Though relieved to be moving, it made me self-conscious to be carried, as if on a palanquin, and it didn’t help that the world was staring shamelessly. As a result I couldn't bring myself to pull out my camera and snap more photos than I did, lest we look too much like inheritors of colonialism’s long anglophonic legacy.


We reached a narrow lane so tightly packed with people that they had to squeeze past each other. This is why they had insisted on a rickshaw: no vehicle any larger would fit. Rather than stop, our courageous driver simply charged on in down the slight hill like Tennyson’s light brigade, forward into the breach. Speeding up, bell ringing, we were enveloped by the fire-lit crowd.


Our arrival at the hotel marked the end of our first travel within India, and we fell sleep with our clothes on.