Monday, October 31, 2005

The floating prayers

One of the neat things about Ganga & especially the Rishikesh is the tradition of sending lighted diya’s down the river. Throughout the day you find these riverside shops selling the small lamps. At nightfall, they light them up & send them floating downriver with a small prayer.

On some nights (and I have seen the pictures) thousands of these lamps are sent down the river & the sight of these things floating downriver is like a whole river of fire. Very impressive to say the least.

Things like these seem to have an innate “Indianness” about them. I mean a year from now if someone asks me to mention a peculiarly Indian custom, this would probably be one of them.

In Rishikesh, there are essentially two images that stick with me.
The first one was of this huge bull standing in the middle of the market. And it was REALLY huge. And looked so mean that almost the whole market had stopped, waiting till the bull ambled along. I was myself stuck right in front of it & was wondering how I would get across, when out walked a calf & started nuzzling the bull.

Here you had this forbearing, brooding sullen bull, which no one seemed to be willing to touch with a ten foot pole, & this calf was nuzzling his neck. My mind was flooded with all sorts of similes & metaphors & stuff, but in the end I just enjoyed the scene for what it was.

The second scene is that of the lit lamps being sent down the river. This young girl of about 14 years took a lit lamp & put it in the river, the second it left her hand, the flame extinguished. & the poor girl wanted to get back the lamp, but it was already drifting away. She looked back at her mom, but no one was looking at her then. So she silently turned back to her extinguished diya floating away in the darkening scene.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


We moved out of Karnaprayag before the clouds died their gruesome deaths. We were going back over the same road we had taken while going so there were no real surprises waiting for us. Just crazy bus drivers who would run us off the road in a cloud of dust & honks.
I had briefly played around with the idea of venturing into new roads by heading south to Almora & stuff. But probably the only reason that I decided to make it back via Rishikesh was for the river rafting.
I have been diving for the last couple of years , but somehow, never got around to river rafting, which is just about 5 hours from Delhi. Something like procrastinating some work in your back yard.

On the way to the hills, we had passed Rishikesh a bit early in the morning. We had had breakfast early in the morning & been out of the town in 15 min. Now we were finding a place to stay there early in the evening. Now it seemed to be more of the type of Indian city I had expected to find here. Cow’s, Israeli’s, assorted white people in Indian clothes & assorted Indian people in Western clothes. All with a generous sprinkling of Sadhu’s & other unshaven fat people who were busy commenting on all of the above.

Because the GMVN accommodation was so neat at Karnaprayag, we moved into the GMVN place out there too, bit more expensive then the other places on offer, but the place was nice.

Since it was dark already, there wasn’t much to do. Went down to the Ram jhula. It’s a bridge across the Ganga, that actually moves as you walk along it. I read somewhere that marching on bridges is banned because of the harmonic vibrations that are set in & stuff. Reminded me of that.
Across the bridge, is where the actual old Rishikesh is. Here you have small streets, more cows & of course more white tourists. I whiled away the time a bit by taking photographs of tourists. I figured that might give them something to talk about. :)

Also found an internet café there & sat on line for a while. A few people had replied to my queries about rafting that I had put out before I had left on the trip, so I took down the numbers & made a few calls. The programme set for the next day, I went back & dropped off to sleep. Tomorrow, I was to river raft. And I still had my reservations about the cold water.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The river and the others

Stayed for the night at a GMVN guest house at Karnaprayag. The resort was right besides the Alaknanda river. She is a river still in its youth. Sloshing & gurgling its way over the rocks, hurrying on its way, forthy & ever changing. Its not even very deep here & rocks keep jutting out of its surface at odd places. Around these rocks, the river lodges a protest with a eddy & a few bubbles. The birds insist on hopping from one rock to the other, as if unequal to the task of crossing over to in one jump. To strengthen this feeling, they pump their tails up & down , pumping themselves for the next big hop. There are lush green mountains on either side of us & in the morning the fog came down the valley but dared not come to more then a meter or two above the rivers surface. Mocking & admiring it alternatively. As the sun came up, the fog went to the top of the mountain, where it currently resides, desperately trying to stay hidden in the folds & shadows of the peaks, pig-headedly ignoring its true calling.

The water is very cold.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Day 5 - The way back

Badrinath was the end of our trip. Though none of us said it, I doubt any of us wanted to go further then the last tea shop in India.
So after Mana we backtracked over the NH 58. For some reason, the route back always seems to be the shorter then when you are first going there. On the way back, we stopped at a place called Gobindghat to check out the trek to Valley of flowers & Hemkund Sahib.
The valley of flowers, now a national park was "discovered" by an Englishman sometime early this century. I think before he wrote about it, it was some black hole or something. But its supposed to have all these wild flowers & butterflies & all. very nice if you are into that sort of a thing. At Hemkund sahib, you have a lake. Besides this lake, i read somewhere that the tenth guru of the Sikhs has meditated inan earlier life. I found this "in his earlier life" concept very confusing, because i'm sure we all do a lot of things in our earlier lives & it just doesn't seem practical to make piligrimages to all the things your guru did in all his earlier lives. So I was looking forward to sorting that out. These are beautiful treks, but my body was one painful mass of muscles. I must admit a sneaking sense of relief when we found out that the Whole place had already shut down for the winter. I made loud groaning noises of disappointment, but left before someone decide to open the trail again.

We made it past Rudraprayag and reached a place called Karnaprayag by nightfall, where we decided to put up for the night.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Day 5 - The last tea stall in India

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The only place left to go before we returned was up to Mana, where the road ends. There were a few interesting things up there that I wanted to tick off before I left. Firstly was the Vyas gufa (cave), where the Maharishi Vyas sat down to write the Epic “Mahabharata” . It is a smallish cave and I doubt that the scene has changed much in the last 5113 years that have passed.
Also of note were the Ganesh Gufa. I don’t think Ganesh would have been too happy about his Dad, Shiva being tricked out of the home. Part of his legacy & ancestral property I suppose. It’s a nice little cave & sat there for a little while.
And finally, the thing that no one told me about, the last tea shop in India. Mana is a village that remains open only six months in a year. As such it is the last village on the trail.
After mana, you only have wild trails passing through wild & inhospitable climates up to the China border. As a result, this is apparently the last tea shop this side of the Border. After this you’ll find only snow lemurs & penguins till the China border, crossing which I am sure you will find at least a stall selling pirated DVD’s.

Day 5 - The oldest Land grab in History

Well after the meeting with Guddu, there really wasn’t much to do in Badrinath. I took a thali of Prasad from him & went for the Darshan. I had already been to the Aarti the last evening & this thousands of year old temple had not changed much overnight.

There is a nice bit of trivia associated with this temple. Apparently one time, long time ago, Badrinath was the abode of Lord Shiva. It is even named so because of the Badri berries that grow here that are a favorite of Shiva. Now one day Vishnu came upon this place & liked it so much that he wanted to move in. As the place was already occupied, he transformed himself into a child & went up to Parvati (Shiva’s wife). Parvati, being a mother & all, let Vishnu into the house inspite of Shiva’s reluctance. Now the next time, shiv & Parvati went out of the house, probably for shopping or whatever they would do out here, Vishnu turned to his real form & occupied Badrinath. This is probably the oldest recorded case of an illegal occupation of a house. Even to this day, the Shiv temple is located outside the temple complex near the river.
As a owner of a new house myself, I sought out the place & offered my respects & sympathies.

A sadhu out there Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Blog for Cherie

I honestly don’t know Cherie. But during the preparations for the trip, I had asked around a lot of questions about Badrinath & kedarnath. I must say, that I got a lot of replies. Most of them said that I was an idiot. Some of them said that I was especially an idiot for thinking of doing this trip by driving the car myself. Most of the remaining were evenly divided into mails advising me about a new strip joint in Las Vegas & the fact that more then a hundred thousand women were waiting to marry me in India alone.
Among these piles of mails, I found a mail from Cherie. With the subject “Badrinath”. This seemed by all purposes, to be a mail about a stripper in Badrinath who wanted to marry me.
“Finally”, I said to myself, “Something positive about the whole trip.”

But that was not to be. It turned out that Cherie had gone out to Badrinath sometime back & wanted to know if I could pass on a letter to her friend there. Immensely disappointed & totally forlorn (if such a term is allowed to exist), I wrote back that I would be most glad to oblige. After all, I would not be denied the pleasure of living vicariously the scandalous affaires of a Sadhu & a tourist. A depraved sort of a person I am, I admit.

But that was not to be either. She sent across a highly coded message which sounded like a letter anyone would write to anyone. Letters with more sexual flavor are written & printed as open letters to the Indian prime minister in the “times of India”. The letter was for a chap called “Guddo” who was in a shop just across the bridge at Badrinath.

Armed with nothing more then a perverted mind & a printout, I had set out on a 1000 Km drive 4 days back. Finally at the end of such distance & such time, I found myself at the Bridge at Badrinath. Epic & momentous occasion it was. Yes very dull life I lead.

After the Aarti & darshan of god, I went looking for him. And found him with surprisingly less difficulty. He looked a bit taken aback. As you would be if a fat man in a red jacket suddenly accosted you on a cold morning with a warm sun. The guy looked a total ruffian. I am trying to dig up his snap, but in the meanwhile, please accept my say so. He had not shaved, wore a bandana on his head, some yellow colored sweat suit & sauntered along the railing with a slouch & a leery expression chewing some paan. I immediately liked him. He is exactly the kind of guy, who makes out with women all the time. & even if they haven’t done so in the past few minutes, will have no hesitation to tell you about an incident which could have possibly happened if they weren’t busy doing some distasteful activity like talking to you.
As there were a lot of women around, I didn’t want to waste his time. I told him about Cherie who had wanted me pass on a letter to him. No recollection. I told him about a few more facts. Yes recollection. His entire face lit up with this recollection, till it focused on my drooling & anticipating face. Then it crumpled into a sober face & he said,
“But we only had dinner.”
Obviously the two of us held differing opinions on “dinner” because over the next half an hour, he repeated the sentence about half a dozen times. In that time frame, all the friends mentioned in the letter were summoned & all of them solemnly seemed to swear that they only had dinner.
It was admittedly a most entertaining half hour. Guddu turned out to be “Vijay” who was distraught at the falling religious sensitivities of his fellow Indians. He mourned the fact that more foreigners bought the Prasad thali’s from his stall then Indians did. All the Indians seemed to be interested in these days was sex & some violent sex. I nodded sympathetically & made those “Tchh…” noises from the corner of my mouth, that I am very good at. I took my leave of guddu, but not before he gave me three packets of Prasad & I promised him to send our snap to him by post.
I have since sent him his snap. I have also sent a mail to Cherie saying that I have sent her Guddu his snap. But Cherie’s mails keep bouncing back. She has left her job.
In my imagination, I very clearly see her coming back across the oceans, to the Bridge at Badrinath, where I hope, fervently, she will have something more then dinner this time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The madness of Captain P

Capt P is hopping mad. That is the impression that you get on first meeting him. But when you stay with him for a while, you get the distinct impression that it is only the “hopping-ness” that is permanent. I think he is temporarily mad. The only reason that leads you to believe his madness is permanent is because he climbs mountains. His sole purpose in life seems to be to climb one peak after the other. The fact that he then has to climb down from that peak as well, seems to do nothing to dampen his enthusiasm. For such thoughtlessness, the Army has awarded him the VSM.
Capt P is permanently mad because he was climbing the Mana peak. He is temporarily mad because he was apparently only 9 km from the Mana peak when he was called back to base. He was called back because people are dying left & right on the mountains. Three people from one group died & another from a second group copped it over the last month, prompting the Army command to pull back all teams from the mountains.
But that not the real reason why Capt P is hopping and mad at the same time. He is that because the reason the army command pulled them back was given as “the teams being insufficiently prepared.”
“I want to ask the army command,” Capt P hops around & fumes, “what he thinks are the criteria for being properly prepared. “

But Capt P might not get the chance to ask his question. He leaves for the peacekeeping mission to Congo in a fortnight. While he is there, he will undoubtedly kill some UNITA rebels or some such beings not usually found in the snow-clad peaks that Capt P likes to venture into.
But that is in the distant future. Right now, Capt P merely hops around a bit & mumbles “9 km.” & something else that I can’t make out. Then he hops around some more.
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Day 4 - Chopta to Badrinath

There really is not much to do at Chopta. You can sit there & generally do nothing, but I prefer to do that on the beach on a nice sunny day. The clouds were starting to come in & it was cold. So we aid our goodbyes to Beerbal & the others there. They made me promise to send them a card if & when I get married. Sometimes I think that considering the places I visit, I will at least be having an interesting wedding if nothing else!

So we said our goodbyes, paid out money & were on our way. The road from Chopta to Joshimath was narrow, but good & the views were beautiful. We didn’t see any more of the peaks, but the clouds were equally to blame I feel.

As we came closer to Joshimath, where we had originally planned to stay for the night, we found that there was still sufficient light to push on. So we did. Right up to a village 5 km beyond Badrinath called Mana.

Thanks to the Army, accommodation was arranged with the Army at Mana & we settled in by the evening.

As we were well in time, the mess sergeant suggested that we could still make the evening aarti. That sounded nice. If we did the evening aarti today itself, then we could leave tomorrow itself. So we went off to the temple. At the gate, we met another sergeant who took us into the temple complex. Apparently, there are tickets sold for the Aarti. You buy these tickets & then there are aarti “shows” every 20 min when the “hall” is cleared & then the next group is led in. As we crossed the bridge, the sergeant pointed out that the two gates on the bridge were built by the Army. Probably because of that or probably because they have guns, people with the army don’t require to take tickets.

So we went in & as directed by the sergeant (who must have done it many times indeed), sat down in the middle. I quite frankly could not even see god. The idols were so much covered in cloths & flowers & jewelry, that it might s well have been anything. Only my guidebook assured me that underneath somewhere there was a black stone idol in all its splendor. The priests & the pujaris seemed to be well versed in the show too as the efficiently herded the spectators in their proper places & started the Aarti.

As if this was not enough, on pujari pressed a button on the right of the door & drums & cymbals started blaring from the speakers. As I remembered the Aarti at Kedarnath & the temple at Tungnath, I realized that this was not an aarti, it was a bloody rock show.

Road Conditions: The 3 hours of road between Joshimath & Badrinath, is by far the worst patch of Road I came across on the entire trip. What was not decimated by landslides, has been destroyed by men trying to widen the road. Thankfully the whole stretch of road and the temple will be abandoned in a month’s time. So not too many more persons will be inconvenienced by the roads.

Vital Stats. : Probably because of the road conditions, the traffic from Joshimath to Badrinath is controlled by gates at Joshimath. These gates only open for traffic at intervals of about 3 hours. So if you do feel the need to take a break or something on reaching Joshimath, cross the town & get out of the gate. Then take a rest. Getting delayed to the next gate would mean darkness by the time you reach Badrinath. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Day 4 - Tungnath - The bubbling cauldron of life

great view at tungnath
So anyway, I finally did the Tungnath trek. I must say that it was by far, the most beautiful & spiritual experience I have had till date. As you go up, on one side you have green slopes with the path ziz-zagging up it, & on the other side, the whole panorama of the Himalayan range opens out to you. As the suns rises & drops its first rays n the peaks, they begin to glow and the glow keeps spreading as you go up to the top.
Very near to the top of the mountain is this most antique temple that is still somehow standing. I am convinced that it is some sort of an optical illusion.
From here, you get the 360-degree view of the whole range, and with the temple in the middle, it makes it the timeless masterpiece of an experience. The clouds were rising like hot geysers & the conundrum of the clouds & fog down below was bubbling like some mysterious bubbling in a druid’s cauldron.
I sent M& P down ahead of me, & kept sitting there for the longest time in silence as the priest kept chanting prayers in the background. When I did eventually start back on the way down, I found tha5t I was crying. I cried the whole way down. 4 Km is a long way to cry. As the trail ended at the village, I went off a little distance from it & sat on a rock and then I cried some more.
There was a mule grazing nearby. I opened up my register & began to draw it. But the mule kept moving its legs & they are by far the most difficult. On top of that, the stomach & the rump also did not align. So it was a bad drawing. After that I stopped crying.

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the horse that moved. Posted by Picasa

Day 4 - The day ahead

This is the tungnath temple. One of the most brilliant sights I have seen in my life.
I would have liked to tell you chaps here that the sights greeting me in the morning infused me with fresh energy & all that, but sadly that was not to be. If 14 km up the kedar trek on Mule back had fried my back side, then 14Km back on foot had pretty much done the same with every muscle associated with locomotion. As I probed tenderly with my fingers, I could not locate one single muscle below the rib cage that did not hurt. Not one single muscle.
There was of course the bright side to all this. I discovered that underneath all that fat, there still existed stomach muscles. Quite honestly, I am not too sure how stomach muscles can get strained by walking for 14 km. I honestly don't know. But that probably is the reason that they did.

I think I mentioned the Story of the Pandav’s getting hold of Shiva in the Himalayas. Well the five parts of Shiva, as they came out of the ground have been converted into five temples & are called “Panch-Kedar”. Tungnath, is where Shiva’s heart came out at & the temple here is supposed to more then 5000 years old & set up by Arjun himself.
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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Day 3 - Chopta

Once Bhim dropped off my rucksack in the Alto & I stopped wheezing sufficiently to pay him his 200 Rupees, We were faced with the question of which way to head. The fact that we had to head eventually to Badrinath was not contestable. But to do that, we could either go back to Rudraprayag & catch the NH-58, or we could in fact catch the small shortcut after Guptakashi via Oshimath & Chopta.
We decided to catch this road, because by all accounts except the one of our Kedarnath Pandit, it was probably the most scenic route in the whole of Uttaranchal. Also to bend the road in our favor was the fact that one of the panch kedar, The Tungnath temple was just 4 km’s trek away from Chopta.
There is a temple on the way, where they say that an eternal flame burns. This flame was lit during the marriage of Shiva & Parvati & has been burning since. But it was already afternoon & we reasoned that in light of the solar eclipse, the temple would most likely remain closed anyway.
Going downhill till Oshimath was fun. On the way up, the car had felt the effects of altitude for the first time. Since I was driving this high for the first time myself, the realization took a while to set in. But going downhill was fun & we covered good distance. Returning back by the same road always does seem shorter.
The shortcut via Chopta is definitely better. For one, there is hardly any traffic on it. I think I passed hardly a handful of vehicles on that road. Plus the road itself is great. It winds its way through huge green valleys & mountains & through small villages. There is even a Musk deer Conservation park you pass through. In fact I believe that Chopta actually lies inside the conservation park. We did manage to see a musk deer at about hundred meters, but the blighter didn’t wait around to be photographed.
The crowning glory of the ride is of course the Himalayan ranges that you see as you go along. Sadly, the clouds had come in by afternoon so we couldn’t get even a glimpse of them.
Chopta Village is essentially a collection of cemented houses in a clearing along the road. I doubt that it intends to expand further. This village is also one of the many villages that will be abandoned in November as the winter sets in. I took up a room for us behind a dhabha on the outskirts of the village, run by a chap called Beerbal. Cost me 200 /- & it was on top of a hill face, with the remaining hill sloping down into the clouds.
One think Chopta does not have is a rocking nightlife. So we fixed up the mules for the next day & had our dinners. Which was again Potatoes & dal. By this time, I was beginning t get tired of potatoes.
Since didn’t have any late night appointments with god, managed to get some good sleep & woke up to the most brilliant morning.


At this height, we were well above the mist & fog that were below us in the valley, and at our height, a bit to the north were the Himalayan ranges, finally visible. As the sun rose, the sight promised to get better yet. We decided to hurry on to the Tungnath to get a better view & check out how God was doing.  Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 14, 2005

Day 3 - The trek down

There is a very good reason why I don’t trek. I can’t. I think the simple act of locomotion pretty much takes up most of my neural capacity. Add an inclined surface & some haphazard stepping & I’m afraid they get pretty much overloaded.

But then there are such days, when you forget your own shortcomings. That particular morning was just such a day. A particularly beautiful one. The sky never seems so blue in the plains & the snow peaks surrounded us on all side. A morning made for a nice brisk walk. But more then that, my backside, courtesy Mule No 36, was in such a state that sitting was itself an ordeal. Sitting on a mule, unthinkable.
So putting on a brave face & my red Jacket, I stepped out of the post office & set out on the trail. On the way I met a porter, Bhim Bahadur, to whom I immediately handed over my Rucksack & off we went, the two of us, rolling & tumbling down the trail.
Bhim Bahadur was not a good talker & I wasn’t much of a walker. So we talked & walked in much the same manner. In short spurts, with long pauses & in various haphazard meandering directions.
Bhim has been around as a porter here at Kedarnath for the last seven years & told me about the way the trek had changed over that time. Apparently it was all just a jungle trail ten years back & then the government had put up cemented portions slowly over the years in patches.
The one thing I liked about Bhim was him readiness to take breaks. Apparently many more like me must have preceded me to make him used to the breaks. At the mere suggestion of a break, he would gracefully swing his load (which is called "Pitthu" ) down at his foot & sit at the stall along the road, whereas I would be left with the complicated task of removing my hat & sitting at the same time. Bhim definitely was not impressed by my endurance levels. He described in vivid details the miserable conditions that exist during the monsoons & when the snow falls. He let drop the hint that he could go ahead with my bag & complete the trail in an hour while I straggled in the evening.

But he drank tea. There is something about a man drinking tea with you. When someone is willing to drink tea with you, it simply means that this said person is willing to bear your company while the tea cools down sufficiently. And even silences attain that mystical qualities when seen through the steam of the teacups. So we drank tea. Lots of tea.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Day 3 - The holiest post office in the world

We seemed to be moving out well before 9AM for the trek back to civilization. A bit of a pity I feel, because it is only yesterday night that I have come to know about the fact that there actually is a post office in Kedarnath. A singular achievement of the Indian Postal service & it would have been great to have chatted with the Postmaster. I still decided to go over there for a few token photographs & drop my postcards. The post office is a small house off the main street & as I dropped my postcards in the mailbox, I spotted a couple of guys encased in Razai’s. After greetings were exchanged, they identified themselves as the postmaster & the postman. The postmaster turned out to be a rather humble man who invited me in to chat. I declined as M&P were waiting, but still talked to him a bit from the doorway. The post office remains open for six months in a year & then closes with the temple, when the whole village is abandoned. But on the days it does remain open, the mail is cleared every single day. Everyday a postman walks 14km up from Gaurikund, while another postman walks 14 Km down from Kedarnath. They do it without mules, regardless of rain or snow. I ask him if this was the toughest posting for a postmaster to be in. Not really he assures me. There were always worse places to be in. Up in Ladakh, or the China border. In fact, a lot more places which were a lot worse. I think he is rather happy here. I think postal employees are replacing teachers from my list of favorite professionals.
I would have liked to talk to him a bit more, but bid farewell. Leaving him behind with his razai’s warmth & with a topic to talk over his next cup of tea.

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Day 3 - The Morning Rendezvous

Day three always promised to be ominous. Not only was there going to be an eclipse, but I was supposed to wake up at three. Even if I could manage to escape dynamic forces exerted by the heavens, waking up at 3 in the morning never did anyone any good. Except probably the Vietcong.

Did I mention that it was cold there? It was. And when I went over to the room to sleep, I found that the room was colder then it was outside. A detailed inspection revealed that there were no glasses fitted on the ventilators. I would have asked, but the simple act of opening my mouth seemed to emit so much steam that I was sure if I made an attempt at any coherent attempt at conversation would make me perish by hypothermia.

As it turned out, I didn’t wake up at three. I woke up at two. The Pandit came banging on the door shouting that the temple was vacant & that they were ready for the puja. Now here was a quandary of heavenly proportions. I was sleeping in my full gear under three quilts. Getting out of there, at a time when it was colder then when I got in, was not good. But the things you have to do for good Karma.

I went off stumbling into the darkness following the torchlight of the Pandit. My parents in tow. A bit thankful that the room was as close to the temple. If there is anything that I see that early in the morning, it is vast stretches of the ocean. Not temples. But the Kedarnath temple looked beautiful. The puja was wonderful. Highly recommended if you go for that sort of thing. The linga there is a “swayambhu” as I had mentioned earlier, & the Pandit described how they light a lamp & close up the temple for the winter. As they close the temple, they cover the Linga with seven layers of grain & a thick quilt. When the temple is finally opened after six months, the lamp is still burning & all the grain vanishes. Apparently it is believed that humans worship Shiva for six months & Narad worships him for the remaining time.

As I came out, a few sadhus were hanging around the teashop. As I walked by, they asked me for a cup of tea. Had tea with them & asked them about their plans. Even they would be vacating the place in a month’s time when the temple closed & the snow came in. They were planning to either walk down to Joshimath or wind their way to Rudraprayag. I think it all depended on divine instructions. I knew what I wanted to do. I stumbled back through the darkness, back to my three layers of quilt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lord Ganesh at Shiva's door at Tungnath. Posted by Picasa

My ass & my arse


This is to certify that mule No 36, Gharwal Rifles mule division, aged 16, today did carry Anuj Vlankar and his rucksack approx weight 10kg, uphill, over the kedarnath trail of 14km, for a duration of 4 hours & 20 min. He carried his load most admirably over rough terrain & should not be concdered responsible for the pain being currently suffered by Anuj Velankar in his Bum.
Signed this painful night on the 2nd day of October 2005.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Journey to the gods , Day 2

Day 2: Rudraprayag to Kedarnath

From Rudraprayag, the NH 58 continues onto Badrinath, whereas we cut off to the left into NH 119. It takes about two & half hours to make it to Gaurikund. On the way, we had our first sighting of snow clad mountains & very thrilling it is.
The road also rises sharply & has tight turns. A bit of care needed here.

There is a huge parking lot at Gaurikund, which is absolutely empty at this time of the year. If you stayed at Srinagar for the night, you would only reach Gaurikund in the night. As such, a night’s halt there is recommended. The night aarti there is supposed to be nice. Unfortunately I could not see it. We reached Gaurikund early in the morning & went straight across the village where the Army mules were waiting for us.

Road Conditions: I guess NH 119 is a newly declared national highway, because the quality of the road does fall a bit. But still the road condition is fairly good till Guptakashi, where it drops sharply. Horrible at places for an Alto.

Kedarnath Trek :
There are three ways you could make your way to Kedarnath. Walking, on ponies or by “palki”, I am told that the rates for these fluctuate a lot with the seasons. Right now, there are not too many tourists/devotees, so the rates were on the lower side. Ponies were offered for 350 Rs, & palki’s for 2200/- return trip.

I didn’t take either as the Army mules were waiting for us. These creatures are really neat & do the trek in just under 4 hours instead of the 6 that the “civilian” mules take.
The weather those days was absolutely glorious in the early mornings with the clouds rolling in around noon.
Gaurikund – Rambana : A small cluster of Shacks called “Rambana” marks the halfway point of the 14 Km trek. The trail throughout this patch is wide & cemented & mostly low gradient.
Rambana to Kedarnath : From here the gradient steeps out a bit. Till the last few km, where it peters down to a flat road. The point where it flattens down is also called Deo-Dekhni because you can see the roof of the temple from here.

Throughout the trail, you’ll find a lot of small shops selling tea/coffee and things like Alu-puri, maggi etc. So you don’t need to carry anything to eat.

The final point for the ponies is the bridge across the Mandakini.

Kedarnath : If you stand on the bridge, on the hill on your left, you can see the hydel power plant, which generates the power for the village. On the hill on the right, there is the trail that leads to the Bhairavnath Temple.

The village is essentially one street that leads up to the village. On either side of the street are these small shops selling trinkets & prasad & on the far side of the shops & small guesthouses, most of which are empty this time of the year. I found a nice room for us hardly 50 m from the temple for 150/- a day.

It’s a good idea to stay for the day at Kedarnath. The place is simply too beautiful to rush. Plus the evening aarti is awesome.

The aarti begins around 6 PM & unlike the few aarti that I have seen, there is hardly any chanting or singing. Just a lot of drums & bells. There are huge bells that are hung on the temple gates & small bells in the hands of the pandits. There are big drums in the temple courtyards & small “damru’s” in the hands of the sadhu’s. For half the aarti, I sat in the temple hardly seeing anything, just enjoying the atmosphere, but the other half, I came out in the courtyard & it was stunning. All the people were standing mildly chanting privately, while the sadhus were banging away on their drums, damru’s & bells. Out in the open, surrounded by the Himalayas, it was simply ethereal.

I intended to do the Abhishek puja early the next morning, but around eight, they found out that there was a solar eclipse happening on the 3rd. No puja. Bummer. But then it was decided that we could conduct the puja between 1 & 4 am. So we decided to have the puja at 3 AM & went to bed early. A freezing bed that took a long time to thaw.

Mythological Trivia : Kedarnath is one of the “char-dhams” As per legend, the pandavs wanted Shiva to forgive them for killing so many of their family members. But Shiva was not moved & was trying to hide from the Pandavs. But the pandavs finally cornered Shiva in the Himalayas. Shiva then took the form of a buffalo and tried to hide from them in a herd. After failing to catch the buffalo, Bhim finally hit it with his Gadha & this allowed him to finally catch Shiva. But Shiva in a final attempt to evade capture dun under ground & Bhim was only able to catch his rump. His other body parts came out in four different locations & these five locations together are called “panch-Kedar” of five kedars. The Pandav’s then built the temple around the rump & since that day, humans apply ghee to the rump to sooth the wound of the god.

Distance covered : 75 km car + 14km pony

The road to the gods

Hi folks. I just did a whole lot of driving, a sizable bit of sitting on ponies, a fair bit of hiking around & a little bit of river rafting. Great fun all in all. Thought it might be of interest for anyone else thinking of doing the same.

Car : Maruti Suzuki Alto Vx, 800cc

Persons : Three

Dates : 1st Oct to 8th Oct

Day 1 : Delhi to Rudraprayag

You are going to look at catching the NH 58 to get anywhere near the hills. This NH runs from Gaziabad to Mana, a small village about 4.5 km ahead of Badrinath. The problem is passing Gaziabad without committing suicide. The road through Gaziabad is so narrow & the traffic so crazy, that if you hope to retain any sanity, leave early. We left Delhi at 5 AM & were well past Gaziabad by 6.

If you look at the iternary of most tourist companies, they will make you spend a few hours at Rishikesh, & then stop for the night at Srinagar (Uttaranchal). You could do the same. There are enough good hotels at Srinagar. But since I intended to spend a couple of days at Rishikesh on the way back, I decided to cover as much distance as possible on the first day.
The road enters the hills after crossing Rishikesh & there you get the first taste of landslide-affected roads. The road is wide enough till Rudraprayag & you really don’t have to get off the road except for the most asinine bus driver.

At Rudraprayag, you have the confluence of the Alaknanda from Badrinath & the Mandakini from Kedarnath. The evening aarti should be seen if you are staying at Rudraprayag.

Road condition :- the NH 58 is quite horrible in patches for the first 50 odd km & only gets in any decent condition after Mujaffarnagar. Quite honestly this was one of the worst patches of my entire trip (other then the landslide–wrecked roads to come further) But after Mujaffarnagar, the road becomes nice & the signage is good with regular milestones & markings. Be wary of the huge number of cycles on the road around Roorkee. They can be a pain.

Accommodation :- We stayed at the Army officer’s mess & had a beautiful view of the prayag, but I saw a lot of decent setups around. Just 50 m up the road from the army camp was a “Binaki guest house” that seemed really nice.

Mythological trivia :
1) Rudraprayag apparently gets its name from the fact that Narad muni prayed to Lord Shiva here to master the mysteries of music. Pleased with his prayers, Shiva appeared before him in his Rudra avatar.
2) From Rudraprayag you can either go to Kedarnath or Badrinath. If you intend to go to both, it is advised that you go to Kedarnath first. This is because you’ll find Shiva at Kedarnath & Vishnu at Badrinath. & Ram (an avatar of Vishnu) has declared that no prayer to him should really begin, or no reading of the Ramayana begins, without a prayer to Shiva.

Vital Stats :
1) If you are in a taxi or you are not driving your own vehicle, you need to have a hill permit or a special hill-driving license. Without this, you cannot proceed beyond Rishikesh. You can get these papers at the RTO office at Rishikesh & by all accounts it is a simple procedure taking 3 hours.

Distance covered : 357 km