Table of contents for Himalayan-Pilgrimage
Todays onward journey to Gopeshwar was going to be a taxing one, as the distance to be covered was more than 110km, with everyone being so tired.
We had opted for the Route to Chamoli diverting from Kund via Ukhimath, Chopata, instead of the regular route via Rudraprayag. The former is shorter as well as more picturesque, with Chopata known as another mini Switzerland of India. Unfortunately, this day most of us were not in a mood/condition to enjoy the scenic beauty.
We halted after Ukhimath for a tea break and a breather for the engine at a shop located around a corner of the road. My mother was very uncomfortable by now. Here she relaxed and even got a couple of local girls to pose with her. Toshi took a Potty break here.
This route was totally devoid of any traffic, though the road was good. We proceeded and started gaining height and loosing temperature and oxygen. By the time we reached Chopata at the height of 2500m, it was dramatically cold and SPV and Nivedita who were sitting in the rear now were very uncomfortable. We had to take another pit-stop near Chopata. By the time we were in Chopata no one was in a mood to stop and have a couple of snaps. After Chopata, it was the climb down towards Gopeshwar at 1308m. We were passing through a protect wildlife sanctuary housing Musk (Kasturi) dears.
Gopeshwar is the District headquarters of Chamoli District. It was refreshing to again see an urban establishment, with communication towers and all. Interestingly I find the sight of Red White towers in a valley very beautiful. Gopeshwar turned out to be a very clean city with all the urban facilities available. It has a 1000 year old temple of Lord Shiva, from which the city derives its name.
The TRH was centrally located at the main ‘Mall’ of the place. Though we were apprehensive of the dormitory accommodation here, our fears were pleasantly allayed when we found out that we will get two five bedded rooms with attached bathrooms. Though SPV made sure to enquire whether or not the fifth bed would be allotted to any other party. The staff replied that in case of family bookings they try to avoid booking any other party with the family. So thoughtful indeed. The rooms were spacious and well furnished. We had our customary tea and placed order for the dinner.
After tea, mother and me ventured out toward the Gopeshwar temple, which was 500m away. Although it was closed by the time we reached, we were elated to sea the deity through the keyhole and prayed in the lord Hanuman temple in the complex. It was a bara Mangal (Tuesday of Jyeshtha) that day. The atmosphere was very serene. This temple is under the supervision of ASI.
In the morning(31/05) our departure was planned late than the usual 6-6:30 at 8:30am as we had to cover lesser distance and had planned to Catch the 11:30gate at Joshimath. Before departure, we all went to the Gopeshwar temple where we prayed to the deity of lord Shiva which is also known as Rudranath. Father had already made a visit earlier in the morning. One can trek to Rudranath and Tunganath temples from here. These two are among the five Panch Kedars. In this temple we also saw a Kalpvriksha, which is millennia old as told by the priest and flowers perennially. There is also a Panch Dhatu Trishul known to be belonging to Parshuram.
Afterwards we departed for Badrinath. After crossing Chamoli, we saw multiple instances of dry slides of loose and soft limestone hills. No wonder, the water of Alaknanda is so turbid. Now the smooth road was giving way to rough. I distributed chewing gums to everyone who felt any tinge of nausea. I also gave them tablets of Novamine. By the time we reached Joshimath, from where one-way starts, road had become really rough. We had to wait for half an hour before the up direction was opened. In the meantime we gorged on local fruits such as aloobukhara etc and haggled with the gemstone vendors.
Joshimath is a military base and the last major city on the way to BN. It is also the site of a Major Hydroelectric plant of Jaypee group. There is the temple of Shankaracharya and the winter home of Lord Badrinath. There is ropeway as well road connection to Auli, the skiing spot, from here.
We reached the next one-way checkpoint at Vishnuprayag, where we had to halt for half an hour. We passed by the Govindghat, from where the trek to the beautiful Valley of Flowers and the Hemkund Saheb starts. Now as we neared BN, the sides of hill were bereft of vegetation and were blackish in appearance. When we entered the valley of Badrinath it was a sight to cherish and worth all the efforts. The sun was in full view, though clouds were meandering around. The snow-clad peaks were shining in full glory above the valley. There was not a hint of discomfort which most of us felt at KedarNath, though the altitude of BadriNath at 3411m is only slightly less than that of KN at 3584m. We felt as if we are at Hardwar!
We had dormitory booked in TRH here also. Here the 20 bed dormitories in the 500-bedded TRH comprise of 10 double-decker beds each. We requested the manager to avoid any further booking in our room. Eventually in the night it was only we 11 in the twenty bedded room. This was the only dormitory we stayed in so far which had bathrooms outside the room, though dedicated for every room. There was a southwest-facing balcony, which was immediately occupied by clothesline. After checking in, at about 3:00pm, SPV suggested that we should utilize the time to visit the Mana village, the last civilized Indian bastion before China Border. Though I was not very excited about giving second priority to BN temple, we were there at Mana a while after. Unfortunately I had planned to charge my Camera battery in the TRH, which I could not do. There I was surrounded with the most picturesque of scenes but unable to capture any of those as there was no shop where I could get alkaline AA cells.
The village is said to be a settlement of Indo-Mongol tribes. There are various treks from this village to various temples of Pandavas, along with it being the base to the Swarg-arohini pilgrimage trek, which passes through Vasu-Dhara falls. We could see these silver falls from a distance. We went to see the said origin of Saraswati, where a legendary Bhim Pul is located. The river falls through this stone bridge vehemently, in process causing water to flow into air, and then joins the Alaknanda. There is a Saraswati temple at this site too. I borrowed a battery from a photographer to take my only snap at this place, whereas SPV gave the back up by clicking his highest number of snaps taken at any point.
From Mana we came directly to the BN temple complex. On the way I could purchase a couple of Alkaline AA batteries and made my Camera click again. The temple is so closely surrounded by other buildings that had it not been for its unique color scheme and architecture, it would have almost gone unnoticed. We went to the Taptkund, below the temple where there are ponds of boiling hot water. Here water was much hotter than that of Gaurikund. It was almost impossible to enter the water. We used buckets to take bath. After bath our parents did the ‘Tarpan’. Though we were told that we do not need to do any special booking as the rush was lean, by the time we reached the queue at about 6:30pm, it had receded far back. I was regretting the decision to go to Mana as due to rush the Darshan will be hasty and there will be no scope for a proper Pooja. I even contemplated doing the special Darshan like the one at KN, but SPV and his family were keen on doing normal ones. Anyway, we reached the temple gate at about 7:45pm and there it was almost mayhem and I could barely manage to pass through the temple Sanctum Sanctorum. It was difficult balancing the thali and moving along the crushing rush.
After the Darshan, we did the usual photo session at the temple entrance and then the memorabilia shopping. A heartening event was that the shopkeeper from whom we purchased Prasad sent along a man to find us and handover the ‘Prasad’ for our Mr. Malaviya that we forgot at his shop. Rare indeed. We sat for dinner at a Restaurant overlooking the temple. By now the doors had been closed and the temple lighting was in full glow of Milky Mercury. The contrast with the Sodium lights at the streets and shops was giving a mesmerizing view. I took a snap from the window, adjusting the settings manually. The snap came up beautifully.
We walked back to the TRH for the night rest thanking God Badri Vishal for his grace. The mattresses were not the most comfortable ones as those were too soft. In the night, I had to suddenly wake up to open the toilet lock for the father of SPV, who by the time I opened the lock, had ventured into the toilet of another room, whose guest were not prudent enough to lock the toilet for the night to protect it from outsiders. I was shivering with cold when I came back to my bed and woke up with severe headache and backache in the morning. But my eyes opened, at about 5:30am, to a heavenly sight of the Sun lighting up the fully snow clad Neelkanth peak, flanked by two another un-lit peaks and with blue sky for the backdrop. My mother asked me to take a snap and I gathered all the strength to get up and take a treasure snap with manual settings. Within half an hour, this sight disappeared as the clouds had covered the shining peak and the on-set of day had taken away from the early morning contrast.
We were ready at about 6:30am next morning (01/06) to catch the first one-way gate. But the lure of breakfast turned us away from setting off. Eventually we left the heavenly abode of lord Badri Vishal at about 9:30am. We reached Joshimath at about 1:00pm and were willing to take the Trolley detour to Auli when a little confident ignorance deprived us of the ride. We overdrove beyond the Trolley head and had to comeback from a substantial distance loosing about 35-40 minutes in the process. When we enquired at the office, we were told that we would get the 2:00pm trolley, which will bring us back at about 4:00pm. Now this was a problem, as we had still to drive about 80kms down to Karnprayag. We did not have enough enterprise in us to forego the booking amount for KP and be ready to call it a day wherever the Sun sat on our way to KP. So we were back on the drive to Karnprayag, where we reached at about 4:30pm in the blazing Sun.
The TRH at Karnprayag was by the side of river Pindar Ganga, which comes from the Kumaon hills. This place is the confluence of this river with Alaknanda and also a transit point to Kumaon hills. In the evening we went to the Prayag and again witnessed the very distinct colours of confluent rivers- Pindar was Greenish. There we witnessed the Ganga Arti and also went to the ancient Uma Devi temple. We also saw the Karn’s Temple from a distance.
My father had an upset Stomach right from the morning. I had been giving him a combination of medicines. Here I purchased Esabgol tablets as advised by him and Ceflox TZ, which worked eventually.
Next morning (02/06) we set off for our penultimate leg of Journey for Rishikesh, where we did not have any accommodation booked. We halted at Rudraprayag and went to the Confluence point of Mandakini and Alaknanda. We also climbed up to the temple of Ganga, Chamunda and the ancient temple of Rudra (Shiva). After that we had a feast on tasty Kheeras, before setting off for Rishikesh.
We also went to a relatively lesser know temple of Dhari Mata recommended by our driver, who told that this Temple was of a very highly revered local Deity. It was located in the riverbed of Alaknanda. The priests there told that nobody knows of the origin of this temple.
When we reached Srinagar, we thought of it as a lowly (in altitude) place, whereas in the past, on our way up, we thought we were up in heavens when we had reached here. Srinagar is indeed a beautiful place with a wide riverbed. Somehow I wished we had an extra day for this place.
We reached Rishikesh at about 5:00pm. We decided to spent the night there and have a visit to the Neelkanth Mahadev temple the next morning. We headed to the GMVN rest House in Shisham Jhari, which is located on the banks of the River and boasts of a beautiful view of the latter. There were only two double-bedded Rooms available for Rs.1100/- (this is a premium TRH) each but the manager was not ready to accommodate 11 persons in two DB rooms. We did not excericse the option of the Muni ki Reti TRH which was nearby, as we wanted to try a new place this time round. We called up a number of a the Rishikesh TRH from the GMVN catalogue, on which we were informed that 4 double-bedded rooms are available. We headed towards this TRH and it turned out to be virtually out of the city at Haridwar Bypass Highway. It is located in the same complex where GMVN’s main Yatra Booking office is located. As is the case with all the GMVN TRHs, the horticulture has got special thrust here also. We checked in four DB room for Rs. 1764/-. All of these had air coolers and one had TV also. Though the TV did not have any signals due to some fault in the cables. Here I felt the staff was indifferent and did not do much to solve the problem.
Next morning we were ready for the trip to Neelkanth Mahadev, before setting off for Delhi. It was an overcast morning and there we were on our way to Neelkanth Mahadev temple situated in Rajaji National Park at about 30km from Rishikesh. The temple is at a height of 926m. We were getting a feeling of Déjà vu with the susceptible feeling their share of nausea en route. The view of floating clouds amidst the hilltops was heavenly.
We reached the temple at about 8:30am, and had a leisurely Darshan and Pooja. However, The crowd had started building up as we were coming back.
We returned to TRH at about 11:00am. We checked out to set off on our last leg of Journey. It was drizzling. We halted in Hardwar near the bridge near the Big Shiva Statue to collect GangaJal in 5L cans. While we passed Har ki Pauri our hearts were filled with gratitude to Him for such a rewarding and comfortable Yatra. We all wholeheartedly thanked the Gods- Hari the Vishnu in Badrinath, Hara the Shiva in Kedarnath and the Spring of life- River Ganga.
The traffic on route to Delhi was heavy, it being a Saturday and a cool one at that, with the rains that has occurred in this zone that week. It kept raining all along our drive and as if the gods were following us and giving shade. We had the customary halt at Cheetal though only for visiting the clean public conveniences there, as only me and wife took tea there as my tribute the memory of first refreshment on our way to the Dhams.
My younger brother, who stays at Meerut, came to see us.
At about 6:00pm we were at our place. My mother handsomely tipped the driver for his cooperative ways and skilled driving. This was apart from the food allowance we used to give him at most of the places, over and above the Rs 100/- driver allowance, which was included in the package.
There was an interesting and heartening ritual by my sister in law Shubha who washed each of ours feet with her hands.
Now was the time to relax, reflect and recount the various scenes and events during the course of our Yatra. Also to correlate with the scenes in the movie CDs we had brought from there. And the time to arrange and distribute the Prasad.
Jai Badri Vishal
Jai Kedar Nath
Hope you were able to be my fellow traveller on this sojourn. Thanks a lot for the company.