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Ram Jhula Bridge (Rishikesh, India)

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Ram Jhula is one of the two bridges that cross the holy river Ganges in Rishikesh

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      28.02.2011 22:22
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      If only bridges in this country were this much fun

      Rishikesh is a town that splits itself across the river Ganges with most of the 'action' on the left bank (assuming you're looking downstream). However there are still plenty of hotels, ashrams and temples on the right bank too and not surprisingly with one of the world's greatest rivers slap bang in the middle, it's important to build bridges that reflect the gravitas of the location. You could cross the river by boat but it's fast flowing and you'll need to dodge the novice white water rafters pelting downstream in an out of control fashion. To get from one side to the other most people use one or both of the two suspension bridges which are known as the Lakshman Jhula and the Ram Jhula (or Shivandra Jhula). Jhula just means bridge so Lakshman Jhula is the bridge of Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and a bunch of other stuff) and Ram Jhula is the bridge of Ram (the seventh incarnation of Vishnu).

      Our hotel was sandwiched between the two bridges, although I didn't realise there were two until it was almost time to leave. We only used the Ram Jhula, partly because I hadn't spotted the other bridge but mostly because it was closer to the place where the nightly Ganga Aarti ceremony takes place.

      Ram Jhula is an elegant suspension bridge which was built in the 1980s. Like it's sister bridge upstream, it's a pedestrian bridge - at least in theory. This being India, the definition of 'pedestrian' is flexible. You'll find bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, goats, cows and the odd handcart all fighting for space on the bridge. I've seen videos of the rush-hour chaos which remind me of the time that a whole carriage of people got on an Indian train at the wrong ends and then had to redistribute themselves - except that the bridge is a lot longer and there are even more people. And from what I recall there weren't any non-human life-forms on the train.

      I have a long history of monkey attacks so I was expecting trouble on the bridge. It seems that monkeys take one look at me and can't resist the temptation to mug me for all I'm worth. On this occasion I was forewarned and forearmed. I'd very carefully emptied my pockets of anything that could possibly be of interest to a furry fiend in search of a snack. My camera was held tight to my body and there was nothing in my bag to tempt. As we approached the bridge you could see the would-be muggers lined up on the bridge just waiting for me to appear.

      The bridge monkeys are entirely shameless. They swing between the wires confident in the knowledge that they are smarter and faster than you and certainly a lot more agile. The little babies are quite capable of distracting you with their cuteness whilst their uncles and grandpas sneak up behind and grab whatever goodies unwary passers-by are carrying. I should hate them, I should probably be scared of them, but I just can't resist hanging about with monkeys even when they're practising their own form of Robin Hood-like taxation.

      My husband has other fears; he's not as attractive to monkeys as I am but he's also not good with heights. If a bridge enables him to see too much of what's beneath or if - as in the case at the Ram Jhula - the bridge is a bit wobbly, he's none too happy. I used the monkeys to distract him although it wasn't really necessary. He was far too worried about being mown down by motorbikes and feisty old ladies with shopping bags. It was easier for him to cross after dark when he couldn't see too much of what was below.

      Ram Jhula bridge is great fun. It's a place to see and be seen, to take photos of the mighty Ganges and the ashrams, to wonder at the power of the river, to dodge monkeys and motorbikes and to jostle and be jostled by your fellow travellers. Even if you're staying on the Left Bank and have no reason to go to the right, it's still well worth taking a walk across the bridge - and back again of course!

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