Glasshouse on the Ganges
by Ann Törnkvist
11 August 2010
Glasshouse on the Ganges 23rd Milestone, Rishikesh Badrinath Road, Village Gular Dogi District, Tehri Garhwal, Uttranchal Ph.: +91.94.1207.6420, +91.99.1719.1115 website
A black ant, long like a finger nail, crosses the red cement terrace, hurtles across my big toe as though it were a steep bridge. Between my hands, tiny almost translucent yellow ones hurry across the letters I am writing home, on parchment-thick hotel stationery. The size discrepancy in one species amuses me, so apt, here at the foot of mountains that water a continent, its mice and men.
The roaring of the river, its pixelated surface aflame in afternoon light, never ends at the Glasshouse on the Ganges. It is a place fit for adjectives. High, pure, green. Beautiful. The mountains are coated in dense vegetation, emerald in colour, thicker than I have ever seen before. I feel the cynicism bleached out of me.
A gray-speckled kitten eating my donated Coco Pops adds an almost too cute note to the quaint at breakfast. A cloud curls its froth around a mountain peak. The silence may drive me mad in the long run, but for a weekend away from Delhi - ‘tis perfect.
On our way here, from pilgrim-thick Rishikesh and Laxman Jhula, my travelling companion could not remember the name of the hotel. ‘Glass of Water?’ he asked me, in a third or fourth attempt to get it right on asking directions. It turns out to be an appropriate nickname for the place.
Because we needed it after a night folded like human origami onto the night train’s only remaining blue bunk, after the speed-tripping taxi driver, and after the raging sea of orange Nike shorts-wearing and rowdy Shiva-pilgrims choking the roads north to Neelkant, Shiva’s blue throat. Basic stuff, really, but oh so noisy. We head north, forty minutes on a bus screeching along the deepening valley’s ravines.
We arrive at the Glasshouse exhausted, smelly, grumpy, de-incredibilized by the sheer fatigue of travelling. The hotel is not posh, there is no social climber bling, nor bohemian trinket jumble - thankfully. It is sparsely furnished, like a sometimes-used highland bothy, but here, as in all places of natural beauty, that is ideal. Too much would be a waste of time - visitors’ eyes strain out of the windows and along the garden paths anyway.
We eat the hotel’s predictable but competent cuisine - Indian, with a dish or two of hearty Italian - which draws its strength not from any inventiveness but from the freshness of its produce. My only complaint a lack of good, truly strong coffee. We will leave refreshed, a mental glass of water later.
I look at the mountains. Think of my seventh grade geography teacher back home in my flat suburb, trying to explain what happens when continents collide. It all makes sense now. Jagged rock. Giggling gods.
A smiling porter lends us kurtas, our modest packing depleted because of the sweat-drenched stroll after the bus overshot the hotel and forced us to double back on foot, dodging an irritated cow and pilgrims on motorbikes. The staff is no doubt amused that such seeming backpackers have alighted at this less than cheap abode, one of the Neemrama chain’s luxury hotels.
We criss-cross the hotel’s modest but well-tended gardens barefoot, rest on a stone terrace overlooking the valley, spy on the neighbour’s rose garden, stick our toes in the river. Its force frightens me a little. On the way back, we pass the generator. I stop, find myself with one ear submerged by the generator’s thick hum, the other ear receiving its natural equivalent - the ro-ro-ro buzz of a hundred hidden grasshoppers.
We pay for silence, then revel in its tender opposites. We stay only one night, but it is perfect, a perfect tranquilizer for returning to the screech of caffeinated office life in Delhi.