Mymother and I at Kedarnath(left)
The Kedarnath temple(right)
Clouds engulf the way to Kedar(above)
Forests on the way to Kedar(left)
Ram Ghat (right)
I used to think that no one in this world knew where heaven was. But, now I have been forced to change my opinion. Loads of people, including me, know where heaven is. And, it looks like the two bottommost pictures.The pictures are those of Kedarnath and Badrinath, the places I visited over the last two weeks with my parents. We started off on 5th October and first took a flight to New Delhi. Then, we reached Haridwar on the Janshatabdi Express the same night. Haridwar is not the type of town present in a person's dreams. It is rather congested and there is practically nothing to be seen in it except the Ganges. But, there was something about the town which made me like it though I don't know what it was. Our hotel was located in Ram Ghat, one of the busy market areas of Haridwar. Whenever we would step out of our hotel, a mixed smell of pickle and jalebis and the noise of autos and rickshaws would greet us and that would make me very happy. Ram Ghat and the nearby areas are marked by narrow lanes, sweet shops, shops selling woollen garments with the shopkeepers shouting in Bengali ( as 90% tourists are Bengalis), restaurants like Mashir Hotel and Dada-Boudir Hotel with their names written in Bengali and what not. I am extremely fond of sweets and I specially liked the gulab jamun at Haridwar! But, in spite of being a Bengali, I hated the food at Mashir Hotel, unlike most other Bengalis there, because it was just tasteless! There would haardly be any space to walk through these areas but there would always be a lot to watch and hear.
Away from this hustle and bustle, at Har Ki Pauri, the atmosphere is totally different and I felt that we had arrived at another part of the world. There, the Ganges flows widely and the people move calmly towards its banks. The evening aarti begins exactly at 6.20 p.m. and ends exactly at 6.30 p.m. Thousands of people gather around the banks of the Ganges to watch this ten minute show which is not just a ritual. It is a symbol of peace which attracts the rich and the poor, the happy and the unhappy, the religious and the non-religious. It is dominated by the sound of bells echoing throughout Haridwar and the flame and odour of giant panch-pradeeps spreading contentment all around.
The next day, we went to Guptkashi, one of the many spots between Haridwar and Kedarnath, where people halt. But, halting at Guptkashi is not a practical decision, as we understood afterwards because it is 35km away from Gaurikund, the point from which the trek to Kedarnath begins. So, as we halted at Guptkashi that night, we first had to travel to Gaurikund in the morning and could start for Kedarnath at 9.30 a.m. That is not at all good because it takes six hours to trek to Kedarnath and the weather there starts deteriorating after 1 p.m. So, people should halt at Gaurikund. The road to Guptkashi is much better than the place itself. When we had lamost reachd Guptkashi, our car turned a bend on the mountainous road and we got the first glimpse of the white snow-capped mountains! It was only a short glimpse but it gave me immeasurable pleasure. It was a feeling of joy and satisfaction and I could not believe that I had finally come near the white mountains which I had so much desired to see. After that though, Guptkashi offered us nothing impressive except the lush green mountains. Our hotel had no provision for food and we had to eat at a restaurant where there was a one man show. The man, Chauhan, was the owner, chef, waiter and receptionist at his restaurant, the only gentle one in this bizarre place. But, I must praise him because he prepared really good food. Although the food was hot (so hot that it made my mother jump up and down in spite of preferring hot food herself), it was good.
On 8th October, we started our journey to Kedarnath. The journey to Kedarnath can be completed on foot, on horseback, on dolis ( like palanquins but without the roof and carried by four bearers) , kandis (baskets carried by people on their backs with the passengers sitting in them) or helicopters. We chose the dolis because my father has been suffering from arthritis and both my parents are heart patients and it is not possible for them to walk 14 km. The doli stand is located a kilometre or so away from the point where the cars stop.It is ruled by total chaos and confusion and by the time we started off on our respective dolis ( one person in one doli), we felt like pulling our hair out. But, the doli bearers' job is very very praiseworthy because frist of all, they carry people. Moreover, the road to Kedarnath is very steep , rough and dangerous. But, the infinite energy with which they carried us deserves a million applauses.
The first few kilometres on the way are full of mountains covered with thick jungles and when my doli was moving just on the edge of the road, it was giving me the chill to look down and find the hills leading down to nowhere! The gorges are so deep that even when I noticed a stream or two, they appeared like long ribbons. The more we went, the less thick the jungles became and after a stage, disappeared altogether. But, the road became steeper and the cold went on increasing. We stopped five times on the way and every time, had either tea or coffee. A friendly feature about the trek to Kedar is that when people going uphill happen to exchange looks with those coming downhill, they say "Jai Bhole" to each other. This is not a rule but the urge to chant "Jai Bhole" occurs naturally to the trekkers.The mid-point of the road is at Rambara where we had maggi for lunch. Till Rambara, the weather had been bright and sunny but as soon as we crossed it, the weather suddenly deteriorated. Clouds engulfed our way and drops of ice-cold rain began to fall. The cold started pentrating even my thick power shoes and cotton socks. At Kedarnath, the cold was unbelievable! We were shaking even after wearing two sweaters. We just managed to visit the temple in the evening and see the deity but could only listen to the aarti as the temple became very crowded after a while. After coming back to our hotel, we gulped down mouthfuls of boiling hot khichdi and I went to sleep in my jeans. Even after covering ourselves with two quilts each, we took time to adjust to the cold and could not move in bed. The next morning, we went to offer puja at the temple. It was painful at first because we had to wait in the queue bare footed. But, inside the temple it was warmer and yet, it was worse because we had to fight the crowds there. Everything is very unsystematic inside the temple. The queue breaks up into two near the entrance and again merges into one of its own accord near the sanctum sanctorum, trigerring line breaking and complete chaos. People sit around a small pool where the deity has been placed, and offer their puja.It was a bad experience to see two people fighting around that pool just because one of them had pushed the other while trying to touch the deity. What I didn't understand was that why all those people at the temple that day have to adopt wrong means to reach the deity first. Why couldn't they have waited half an hour more for their turn patiently after having trekked for six hours? If they had maintained peace, the whole process would have become smoother and quicker. Reaching Kedarnath is not easy but once you reach the place, you realize that all your efforts were worth it. The white majestic Neelkanth range and the sight of the temple gives you a lot of satisfaction and gives you all the energy to fight the biting cold. In the world of those huge mountains, nothing else matters. All your big and small desires together seem very little.At least, this is what I felt ...
The return journey on the doli is very uncomfortable because this time, the doli bearers run down with their dolis and the passengers keep on bumping up and down in them. We also stopped only once on the way at Rambara and reached Gaurikund in, surprisingly, two and a half hours. Before returning to Guptkashi, we visited a place called Trijugnarayan where Lord Shiva had married Parvatin and the marriage fire has been kept burning till this day. On the 10th of October, we started the long journey to the second dham, Badrinath. This time too, we visited places on the way. One of them was Unkhimath, where Usha, the daughter of Surya, had married Aniruddha, the grandson of Lord Krishna, and the place where Lord Kedarnath is said to live during the winter season when he has no visitors at Kedar itself. Both Trijugnarayan and Unkhimath are nice place swith pretty temples but the palce which stands out is Chopta. Chopta is a very colourful place with a very blue sky, snow white mountains, mountians with rich green trees and a lime green valley visible altogether. Although the road to Badri is motorable, it is very bad and very narrow. So, only a certain number of vehicles are allowed to ply on the road for a period of two and a half hours, enabling them to cross the danger zones safely without any chances of congestion. Thus, from Joshimath, a place on the way to Badri and also from Badri, the vehicles start only at 6.30 a.m., 9 a.m., 11.30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. but not at any other time in between or before or after. If a vehicle misses the 11.30 a.m. 'gate' (as they are called), it will have to wait for two and a half hours to use the 2 p.m. 'gate'.
We entered the narrowest of roads by the 4.30 p.m. 'gate' and at once, forgot all about Chopta. The mountains were now mysteriously beautiful. They were bare and grey and as my parents said, (I have never before heard them speaking in this poetic manner and must admit that I was puzzled) strange people would come out of the mountains any time and charge at us. It was a different kind of beauty. The next morning, we first visited Badrinath temple but only saw the deity without offering any puja. At this temple, things are much more in order and people themselves are less frantic. Then, we went to Managaon, 3 km from Badri, which is India's last village in the north before the Chinese border. At Managaon, we had to use our feet to walk around and see the origin of the Saraswati river from the Bheem Pul and the Ganesh and Vyas Gumfas. So, naturally, my father, with his arthritis, could not see everything and waited in the car while my mother and I discovered the sweetness of Mana. We had even thought of walking 3 km more to visit the Muchkund Gumfa but local people said that going there and coming back would take two hours in all. Sadly, we gave up the idea. Both at Badri and at Mana, the Alaknanda river is peacock blue. The river there is just like the sea with its white waves and in fact, we don't even get to see the sea in such a form often.
On the night of the 12th, we stayed over at Chamoli, a district town on the way back to Haridwar. That is also a very picturesque place and although there is no special spot to be seen, one can spend hours sitting and watching the splendid view.
After coming back to Haridwar, we visited Rishikesh, Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula. Although these places are really nice, we didn't enjoy them to a good extent because their beauty was nothing compared to what we had already seen. So, its better to go to these places before going to Kedar, Badri, Gangotri or Jamunotri. The security in these places is very bad. Any time, any moment, they can be blown up along with the millions of people visiting them. We also visited the Mansa Mandir inside Haridwar and the Chandi Mandir on the outskirts of Haridwar. There too, the view from the hilltops where they are located is more important than them. They are accesible only by ropeway and the view from the ropeway is also splendid.
A few things more about this trip. Its a completely wrong notion that only the rough and tough and young people can go on a hectic trip such as this. We saw many elderly people enjoying the trip. If people are a bit careful, anyone can enjoy the trip. Also, contrary to what we had heard several times before going, there is no need to be part of a big group for going on this tour. There were only the three of us and we didn't face any problem.Besides, there seemd to be no other business in Uttarakhand apart from tourism. Wherever we went, we encountered hotels, tourist lodges, guest houses, etc. etc. but very few houses of local people. Moreover, there's no good connection between people in different sectors of the tourism industry. For example, the hotels don't know when they'll get the advance money paid to the travel agencies by the tourists. The industry is marked by double crossery and treachery. This trip will be memorable because before starting on the 5th, every moment we feared that we might not be able to go at all becuase of the numerous obstacles which came our way. And then, we could go after all! If any of you ever need any information regarding this tour, you can ask me. I'll be very happy to help you.
Jai Bhole! Jai Badri Vishal!