There was a time when traveling in India was very difficult. I remember going by train from Delhi to Rishikesh in February of 1968 and then returning a week later by bus (or perhaps it was bus out and train back). To travel the 140 miles or so took something like 15 hours. Now it takes less than a third that, the roads are relatively free of ox carts and bicycles, and traffic almost flows. Getting to the Himalayan foothills is somewhat more of a challenge, although my driver was more challenged than I. He responded well, however, to rutted roads, gorges where the road edged close to the river far below, the strain on his arms from negotiating curves, the constant need to hit the horn (and listen to the cacaphony from the other cars), and my ongoing obsession with having to stop to take photographs.

Delhi was hot and polluted, Rishikesh was hot, and the Himalayan foothills (we're talking of 8-10,000 feet or so) were invigoratingly cool -- and sometimes, especially at night, even cold. The season was perfect for traveling to these places, some of which are inaccessible in winter.

Gangotri and Badrinath are the nearest towns to the glaciers that are the source of the Ganges. The rivers that come from those glaciers, respectively the Bhagirathi and the Alakananda, have their sacred confluence just north of Haridwar. The vibes, even with the craziness on the roads, are very special. With that said, however, getting into the Vishnu temple at Badrinath to make an offering to the deity isn't too much different than trying to get on or off the train at any major Delhi Metro station.

The highlights of the journey: darshan and aarti in Rishikesh; an afternoon in Gangotri (especially the perplexity I experienced from the ashram sign a Yoga Retreat for Beginners and Advanced Seekers); a trek (in hail and violent wind gusts) to Vasudara Falls just north of Badrinath; the bottomless silence in Kausani; spectacular Himalayan panoramas in Auli, Kausani, Munsyari, Almora, and places in between; the many-varieties-of-green hills with terracing and isolated towns and ribbons of roads and electrical towers and wiring; one delectable curry after another; a week without internet access and another week with 24 K dial-up; the email accompaniment on my travels of my cousin Elaine (who researched the hotels and sites even better than I had); people met here and there, Indian and foreigner, conversations of a few minutes or a whole evening -- the Sikh medical doctor whom I had dinner with at the best restaurant in Nainital because he had to sit somewhere and I was taking up a whole table, the Israeli woman in a town near Rudraprayag whom I met while my driver was having lunch, the grad student in Nainital with whom I chatted for an hour while he waited for his plant experiment to finish, the older gentleman in Badrinath (although not older than I am) who knows many of the same people I know, the excellent Delhi travel agent whom I found on the Internet and who organized the trip and who, as it turned out, has the same meditation practice I have.

Let's not ignore the irritations, some of which every traveler faces: deep breaths of thick dust and auto exhaust; 15 different hotels in 21 nights and the consequent long looks at the bed sheets with tremulous speculation on who had slept there last; cold nights (I slept in all my clothes several times and one hotel wanted to charge me 200 rupees for the use of a space heater); only occasional hot showers; a fatiguing flu in the middle of the high country.

The foothills of the Himalayas are beautiful, comfortable, romantic, and strangely peaceful. Ever since I became interested in Hindu spirituality in the mid '60s these are places -- the holiest in Hinduism and in the life of the spirit -- I've wanted to travel to, to experience their mystery and wonder first hand. I can't say that the rituals of Hinduism reach me but there was (and continues to be) something deeply satisfying from having been there.