There is a sense of sadness that it is our last day on horseback but also of anticipation of the Hola Mohalla festival lying ahead.
We dally awhile leaving Bharatgarh Fort having our photos taken in front of this splendid building. The owners have tastefully renovated rooms in the oldest parts of the fort and are currently building a new dining room and bar in a small windowless tower which was previously the armament store.
I’m riding the 5 year old grey mare Udjwalla again today. She is a lovely horse, walks out well (most of the time) and has a steady canter. Some of the horses (including Udjwalla) have been jogging when they should have been walking, which has been a bit annoying. Bonnie is aware and reckons it might be something to do with the fact they were all on new territory. For horses used to sandy desert like terrain of Rajasthan, they have coped amazingly well with the sometimes stony river beds.
Due to the stony terrain and the weaving in and out of the gullies in the river bed so far there have been only a few places where we can canter. But today we are riding along the canals and there are plenty of opportunities for long fast canters (or if you have ridden with Bonnie before you will know its called “trotting!”).
These canals run from a huge dam called Bhakra – one of the highest gravity dams in the world. The dam holds excess waters during the monsoon and releases it into this huge network of canals which provide irrigation and run all the way to western Rajasthan – almost 500kms away. The water in the canals flows very fast and is a bright blue.
Every riding day (as on the Rajasthan rides) we have had a super cooked lunch and then time to chat, relax, read or sleep.
As would happen on the rides in Rajasthan, we have been accompanied throughout by cheerful grooms riding backup as well as a larger team in the support vehicle and at camp. The horses are very well looked after – untacked, groomed and fed at lunchtime and of course again at the end of the day. This is the end of the season for them and I don’t see any evidence of saddle or girth sores.
As we get closer to Anandpur Sahib we can hear a huge roar of music and voices coming through loud speakers, as well as the throbbing engine noise and air-horns from turbo-charged tractors and bikes that people are using to get to Anandpur Sahib.
We don’t see many people using this means of transport now.
Most arrive into Anandpur Sahib on bike or turbo charged tractor.
We arrive into camp on the outskirts of Anandpur Sahib by about 5pm and decide to have an early dinner so that we can drive into town.
It is hard to describe the enormous crowds of people filling the streets. We somehow have clearance to drive through in our vehicles and so attract attention even before we get out of the car. As the crowds cluster around the “westerners” we quickly decide that perhaps it will be easier to observe the night time goings on from within the car. The overall atmosphere is one of good humour and merriment but the crowds are, at first, quite overwhelming. We are told that this is just day 1 of the festival and by day 5, at its climax, there will be ten times the number of people in town. Quite unbelievable.
As night falls, the Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) are lit up spectacular lighting. From within we can hear religious lectures taking place, each one even louder than the one next door.
Back at camp, which is about 1.5 miles away, the sound is only slightly muffled; the party goes on well into the small hours – I waken about 4 and think it might be quiet for a little while, but certainly by 7 as we breakfast, the lectures, horns and engines are all going again. We are excited about what the day will reveal.
You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:
We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email email@example.com or visit www.inthesaddle.com