Now I've escaped the dreaded ashram, and had several cups of cawfee, I am in remarkably cheerful spirits. I've soon checked into the Ganga View - an unpretentious little guest house, owned by a guy called Ajay with a bloodhound called Tiger sitting by his side - a few minutes walk from the river. It's $4 a night (the going rate) and for that I get a double bed, my own spartan bathroom (with sporadic hot water) but - most importantly of all - a fan with three different temperature speeds. And this I'll need, because it's averaging around 44 degrees in the day, here in Rishikesh, around the same temperature as Delhi. At night, if I'm lucky, the thermometer will fall to the mid-30s.
It's mighty hot, hotter than I'm prepared for actually, and since I'm not sure there's much air con to be had in this town I'm grateful for the fan. Fortified by my fab breakfast, courtesy of Little Buddha, I grab a cold shower and fall onto the bed. Wow, Who knew that staring at a wall and eating green slop could be such hard work. I need a power nap! I lie down and before I know it I've conked out.
Waking at midday, I'm taken aback by the overpowering heat. I wander back to the cafe that saved me from some kind of mental meltdown, and take a seat up on the roof (covered with straw thatch). It's deserted in fact (I later find out people are deserting Rishikesh in droves, for the hill stations of Himachal) but there are cushions on the floor and I soon find that if I sit perfectly still, with the fan directly above me, and consume copious amounts of coca cola and papaya juice, I'm able to cope quite well. And there I lie, for some time, reading Henry James, occasionally putting down my novel to gaze out at the river. It is bliss.
I spend the rest of the day in solitude (as most of you know, I love being alone and savour such moments on these trips of mine). Stocking up on water (I pick up two litres, which I figure will last a couple of hours if I'm lucky ) I wander off down the river in search of the joint the Fab Four spent time in, back in '68. After all the hype, it's actually an enormous disappointment - a dilapidated building, closed for years now I'm told, with only a sign outside to indicate that John and the gang graced it with their presence. I spy a sign saying "guided tours" for 30 rupees (how entrepreneurial) but- the gates are padlocked and there's actually no-one in sight to take my money.
I decide to be content with having found it, and stroll back along the Ganga, in time for evening puja (devotional prayers) at Ram Jula, where thousands of Indian tourists have descended (it is high season now and this is one very holy city). I take off my shoes and enter the temple compound, finding a spot next to a group of schoolchildren, smartly clad in orange shirts and red sashes. They are chanting mantras in low voices and clapping in time, but there is nothing loud or aggressive about any of this - in fact, there is a certain serenity to it and it reminds me terribly of Varanasi. I remember, yet again, how appealing I find many aspects of Hindu prayer to be...and how much I admire Hindus for their calm, gentle approach to life and their obvious disdain of prosletysing. Dusk turns to dark - the river is flowing faster now and pilgrims are floating candles and dropping petals at its edge. It is a fine sight.
Back at Ganga View, I'm about to take another cold shower when I see a pale-looking woman open the door opposite mine. She looks so unwell I feel terrible and ask if she's ok and mention - in passing - that I'm carrying a medical kit crammed with all manner of goodies that I've picked up on five continents (I am a gal who loves medication...) It transpires she's eaten something terrible and been suffering for over a day now, though possibly over the worse she thinks. I rummage through my kit and hunt out immodium, rehydration solutions and some odd-looking charcoal pills that I picked up in Rajasthan two years ago but which I've sworn by since they got rid of my nasty stomach cramps within hours. She looks truly grateful and I end up spending the next two hours sitting on her bed, keeping her company since she's too sick to go far.
She's Thea, from Romania and...believe it or not, a professional mountain climber. What kind of mountains, I ask (curiously). I'm left stunned when she announces that she just climbed Everest. This trim, spry, modest 25-year old is currently wandering round India looking for sponsorship for her next jaunt. The rest of the evening passes merrily, whilst she entertains me with stories about Base Camps, crampons and climbing by her fingertips over glaciers. My trekking in Malaysian jungles and diving in East Africa seem tame by comparison.
Eventually, she's sleepy and I wish her good night. I return to my room and after noshing on a samosa that I picked up earlier on the street, swigging down my fourth litre of water in the day and taking a third cold shower in 12 hours, I turn the fan to full power and fall on the bed. Three pages of Mr James and two Hide & Seek cookies later, I'm out for the count...