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.

Yamunotri

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!



Gangotri
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.


Kedarnath

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.


Badarinath

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.


Aftermath


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.