Friday, July 22, 2016

Himalayan Calling

How did the pull begin?

It was couple of years ago when on vacation with family at Mussorie, I saw the signboard showing Gangotri to be at 100+ kms. From the top of the hotel where we had stayed, Himalayan mountain ranges looked enchanting. I thought I should go there sometime. A year before that natural disaster had struck Kedarnath. And a year later, rains seemed to bring more harm but they did damage at the other end of hill ranges, in Kashmir. After one more year, I had to scrap the plan to visit Char Dham due to heavy rain forecast. It did rain heavily. But the videos I had watched of those regions had created a calling in me. I was prepared mentally fully and just waiting for the opportunistic moment. And it came this year.

Not a good start

A flight from Bangalore to Delhi, then another flight to Dehradun landed us in Uttarakhand swiftly. But when we were at Delhi Airport, there was the news of heavy rain and the road to Badarinath being blocked. And a whatsapp image sent by my wife showed a newspaper article of cloud burst killing twenty in the route we are supposed to travel. But there was no looking back as we had already arrived close to where we wanted to go. We had to wait for couple of hours in Dehradun to board a cab. Our journey on wheels began but we had to return from two of the routes to where we started due to a land slide causing traffic jam in one and a stream overflowing the bridge on another route. Third route took us out of Dehradun and by the afternoon, we were stopped by a massive landslide on the way to Yamunotri. An earth mover was doing a heroic act to clear the way which took more than four hours. Not a good start but I thought tomorrow is a new day. And Gods smiled at us.


Next day morning, we began the 6 km up hill trek to Yamunotri. What a place Yamuna has chosen to begin her journey. After walking up around 4 kms, I had to slow down my pace and take frequent rests to catch up with breathing needs. It almost took two hours for us to reach the temple from base. A bath at Suraj Kund helped to let go of all the physical tireness and made us pleasant again. It has been said in the religious texts that visit to this temple will make one get rid of fear of death. I thought otherwise. Anyone scared of death would not be willing to come here. Everything from nature’s cooperation to driver’s carefulness to your physical strength should fall in place to make this happen. But it is worth the effort. In the wild danger lies the uncommon beauty as we call it ‘Rudra Ramaneeya’. After getting down the hills, we stayed at Barkot, a sleepy town. And the views from our hotel room appeared like a heaven unfolding in front of us. Floating white clouds had covered the green mountains. Such a clean atmosphere!

Not much hardship was needed to reach Gangotri as the vehicles can close to the temple. We dropped the baggage into the room, took a towel, walked towards the river bank to take a dip in Bhagirathi River. Water was really cold, probably less than 10 degree C. A quick dip in that ice cold water refreshed me. Cold water bath though looks difficult in the beginning, become bearable as the body adjusts and we begin to notice its magical power of putting one into a good mood. Changing into new clothes, we entered the temple and we were othe only visitors during those late afternoon hours. Then we went for shopping, there are numerous small shops along the street selling idols, pooja materials etc. Our taxi driver was a learned fellow and he had a guru living in Gangotri. Along with him we went on to meet Swami Sundaranand. A mountaineer turned yogi, Swami Sundaranand is already in his nineties, did not talk much. Photos of his in the ashram gave us an idea of what he was like fifty years ago. As we returned to room, sleep was waiting to take control on our bodies.


Journey from Gangotri to Phata helipad took almost whole day. Stuffed with Aloo Paraatha for breakfast on the way, it was long journey for us. And to give company, Lata Mangeshkar was singing melodious songs for us through car audio. As we reached the helipad, it was getting dark. We booked the tickets for helicopter ride, took a room in the same campus and ordered food in nearby canteen. I slept so well that I did not know how the night had passed. In the morning next day, though we were ready early in the morning, we had to wait for our turn. When it came, I got seat next to pilot in the helicopter. Before getting in I was instructed not to pull any instruments or distract the pilot. It was just eight minutes ride through the beautiful valley. I could see the long walkway but I was mesmerized with the setting of beautiful hills. I remembered reading how Himalayan mountains got formed as Indian sub-continent hit Asian plate. Those formations were in front of my eyes. Reading provides with the information but witnessing it through senses like touch, feel and climb is a different experience. Again in this temple too, visitors were not too numerous. We had a good darshan as there was no hurry to move out quickly. Coming outside, I started noticing the set-up. The temple has tall Mountains in the backdrop which are snow claded in the top. Those glaciers melt down to become the rivers Mandakini and Saraswati. They both meet near by temple and travel downwards. The whole atmosphere is cool and calm. Here one has to put no efforts to meditate as there are no obstructions and the set-up is encouraging. After taking a look at the surroundings, I felt like real god lies in that setting of nature. This experience would have led Pandava’s to build the temple (if Mahabharata had happened) and Adi Shankara to revive it.

The journey downward began on the horse. It was not a comfortable experience so we decided to get down of horse and rather walk down. Three to four hours of walk took us to Gaurikund. We got into cab again to move towards our next destination. Chopta, a village where stayed during night, is said to be one of places of interest to tourists. When he had reached there, it was completely dark and we hardly could see what lied few feet away from us. So we decided to retire for the day. I looked at my pedometer, it was showing past 20k steps. I had never walked this much before. Next day morning, as we were short on time, we decided to move forward rather than exploring Chopta.


It was late afternoon when we had arrived at Badarinath. Found a room near to temple, unpacked our luggage to pick towels to take bath in hot water kund. Water was steaming hot, we had to mix it with cold water in a bucket to take bath. Next we headed to darshan. In all the temples we had visited, this is where we could find sizeable number of travelers. After darshan, we sat along with the group of people listening to bhajan. Two hours passed like minutes. It was time to shut temple, we came out and headed to a restaurant. Our journey was coming to an end. Our Char Dham darshan got over though it started with lots of uncertainties.

Next day morning we got up up quite early, again we took bath in kund, went into temple and spent couple of hours there. I had found peace in sitting idle near to Adi Shankar’s idol in the temple premises. We got back to room, checked out from room and informed our cab driver to drop us at Rishikesh.

Rishikesh, Haridwar and B2B

On the return journey, at Devprayag, we got down to take some pictures of two rivers – Bhagirathi and Alakananda meeting to become Ganga. Had we time I wished we would have spent some time in this place. We reached Rishikesh during twilight hours. We had climbed down from all those tall mountains which had fascinatingly attracted me. Rishikesh appeared dull and lacked all the soul comforting things which the hills offered. After visiting Jhula’s, I bought few books authored by Sivananda, a yogi who lived and built a big ashram in Rishikesh.

Next day we had arrived in Haridwar. We went to Har ki Paudi, took dip in Ganga and waited till evening to watch picturesque Ganga Aarti. Indian civilization has grown up on the banks of Ganga, though people were scattered over time, they never forgot motherly Ganga. Go to any corner of India, you would find a girl named Ganga. When people offer pooja any water source (including wells), they call it Ganga Puja. Such is the influence of Ganga. Many Hindus believe it is sacred to offer last riots at the banks of Ganga, this was the place they were born and it is Ganga they want to merge with.

Taking overnight bus to Delhi and then by early morning flight we were back in Bangalore.


The days we were in Char Dham was like life’s excitement at the peak. Now the normal life looks so predictable and unexciting. It is like after you count lakh rupees, counting thousand rupees does not seem exciting. But the memory has become rich. My eyes had seen the most beautiful places of this world. My mind had understood what it means by calm and serenity. My body had learnt to cope with physical stress and cold environments. I may go there again but before that I need to do what I learnt there, to walk more, to take cold baths and to meditate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Idea of India

What is India? Is it a geographical boundary? Does not it include the sky above this land? How about mountains and rivers? Or is it about people living here? Or is it about their culture? That is the question Nehru posed to common people before India had gained independence. About twenty years before him, Mahatma Gandhi had asked this question to himself and the idea of India was born. He got two more supporting personalities in Nehru and Patel who were equally committed to the idea of India. They struggled throughout their lives to realize their dream.

Today we are educated enough to say India is not just a geography or people alone but the culmination of all of it and the evolution of a civilization. But few decades ago before India’s independence, someone had to take the initiative to feed this idea of India into the people who were ruled by foreigners. That job was done by the trio – Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, who traveled all over India tirelessly and waited long enough until their idea was sold and created a momentum to prepare India to rule herself.

Long before them, couple of thousand years ago, foundation of was India was laid out and reinforced by many people ranging from Buddha to Emperor Ashoka, Gupta to Mughal kingdoms, Adi Shankara to Swami Vivekananda. There was no dearth of patriotic personalities in the history of India. But the idea of modern India had to be revolutionized and it was well done by Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. I don’t credit success to only these three people but there were lots of others who were fiercely loyal to idea of India like Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose. But the protagonists or the successors chosen by history were Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. Two of them did not live long enough to see what they fought for. It was just Nehru who emerged as sole successor of every single freedom fighter’s struggle and ruled independent India long enough to hold the record which is not broken yet. All decisions Nehru and his colleague and mentor took and the compromises they had to agree to were necessary for the welfare of India. Without these three people, the idea of India would have been void. If you think Nehru’s socialism was bad for India, think again. If Govt. did not have a greater control, many of us who studied in Govt. schools would not have had access to education in case Nehru had preferred privatization over socialism. I don’t say we can’t criticize Nehru’s actions but before we do that we need to get back to those times and think how much of India’s population had access to education and entrepreneurship. Hope you get the reasoning behind making India a socialist country for few decades.

I strongly believe that Gandhi, Nehru and Patel were committed to idea of India than the ideology of a political party they belonged to. If Nehru was alive and in power today, he would have defined the foreign relationships of India like no one else of his contemporaries would have done. Similarly, if Patel was in the the helm, he would have been more efficient than today’s Modi.

Identifying these historic personalities with political ideologies and seeing them in wrong shadows would be a grave mistake. It is like ridiculing your own birth which is equivalent to doubting foundation of modern India. Hope we overcome that and celebrate the success of making of India.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A war on the horizon

The contest for the control of South China Sea started long ago, soon after the Second World War was over. But now it taking some form as an International Tribunal ruled against China’s claims but China remains adamant on its views.

Many things happened in the last six decades or so before this development took place. China being a trade partner with US for many decades is now finding that its relationship (with US) is strained. As China sponsored economically, its ambitions to become a global superpower had led to spend more on defense. It accumulated lots of weaponry which is giving a sense of confidence for it to say no to big brothers of this world. Going by U.N convention’s of 200 nautical miles limit on the sea water control, China is into the waters belonging to Vietnam and Philippines. But the mighty China has already built artificial islands in the disputed region. And it seems to have plans to develop into a marine base. Any one coming closer gets pushed out. See the below image wherein China coast guard pumps water cannon on Vietnamese ship.

Strategy of domination being a big and mean guy would have worked in other continents like Africa. But China is surrounded with neighbors who can challenge it. And that began diplomatically with the International tribunal rejecting China’s claims. While China does not accept it and goes on to prove its might, you know it will become a power show. While no one knows when and if the war will breakout, there are enough signs and there are preparations going on to face one if it occurs.

While China may get support from some its war longing friends, it still has to fight alone in the sea waters due to geographical barriers. Though countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia might not have the capability face China on their own but in the eventuality of a war, they would be led by US along with help from Japan and India. All countries in the geographic range from Japan to India may pose a defense to China’s moves.

If diplomacy fails, war will become imminent. If China loses it which would reduce China’s aggression and its economic progress will be undone to some extent. If China proves it’s right on the disputed sea waters, there begins a new era in the world with US taking a back step.

Going by history and what is at stake, it seems China may not have much to win, it would pay a higher price than the benefits of getting those tiny islands into her lap. But now it is in no mood to listen. It is not just for islands but to prove the world dominance. So I say a war seems to be on the horizon.