Table of contents for Badrinath Bound
- Panch Prayag, Joshimath, Auli – All the Way to Badrinath – Part I of II
- Panch Prayag, Joshimath, Auli – All the Way to Badrinath – Part II of II
Don’t be misled by the places named in the title. Though we are religious at heart, yet this trip could not be called a pilgrimage. It was the beauty and the snow that beckoned us. This time mainly it was the scorching heat of the plains that drove us to the hills for a brief respite. Two families packed off in our Honda City and hit a hurried semi-planned trip to the prayags hoping to drive till Badrinath in our 5-day long trip. We started off from Noida at 11.30 on a Friday night and after crossing Hardwar at around 3.30 and Hrishikesh at around 4.30 early in the morning, we finally reached Devprayag at about 8.30. It was a tiring overnight journey with each of us falling asleep in bits and pieces. Finally, at the dawn of day when we opened our sleepy eyes, even in the semiconscious state of our slumberous minds, we could not overlook the intense beauty of the transforming hills as the sky got brighter and brighter with the sun’s hue. The massive darkened silhouette of the wondrous Himalayas of the night time turned into giant mounds of sunny blue mounds with crimson tops at the day break. The sunny expanse hit our heavy eyelids and shook us out of reverie.
We would devoutly follow the route of NH 58 all the way till Joshimath via the four prayags. The first prayag that made us stop and stare was Devprayag, the lowest of the five confluences. This prayag is essentially a pilgrim spot. It also harbours a quaint hill town tucked into the folds of Himalayas. It is famous for the first of the five sacred confluences in which River Alakananda meets with five different rivers and gives River Ganges her ultimate stately divine form in five natural watery instalments. “Devprayag” attains its name from the Sanskrit derivation that means Godly confluence. It is said that this is the place where sage Devasharma led his ascetic life. Devprayag is the sacred confluence of the heavenly rivers Alakananda and Bhagirathi.
As the Devbhumi of Devprayag slowly greeted another pleasant sunny morning, we felt the thrill of yet another tale of travel starting to take its form. Shaking off the residual sleep from our eyes, we climbed out of our car to stretch our bodies and took in lungful of the fresh morning mountain air. Time to collect and frame our memories! Groping for our cameras, we got busy clicking the molten green waters of the Bhagirathi melting with the muddy green of the Alakananda.
Our faces and bodies were definitely showing streaks of tiredness and pronouncedly needed the comfort of a hotel room. After considering Monal Resort (where we had a great experience the last time we stayed for a couple of days) that is situated a bit away from the town of Rudraprayag and a couple of other hotels, we finally decided to burrow a hole in the modestly neat and clean Hotel Mandakini that offered a surreal view of the Bhagirathi from its balconies. The hotel was not at all crowded and was well within our budget. It was time to break our fast with Aloo Paranthas, dahi, achaar, and bottles of coke; and after that we decided to catch some sleep till noon. The sun was quite powerful and we had our ACs humming at medium speed. At around 1.30 p.m. in the evening, we opened our eyes to the shrieking howls of a mountain storm and a pitch dark cloudy mountainous Rudraprayag. Even as we enjoyed the storm outside from our balcony, we ordered a sumptuous lunch, meant to be a special attraction when in vacation. The food turned out to be tastier than we had expected.
We enjoyed the mountain prayag storm sitting in the balcony for quite some time. After a brief light shower, winds stopped blowing and the sky cleared. We set off from the hotel and proceeded towards the auspicious meeting point of the green and the brown. We parked our car in the market place, and after a 4 km trek through the Rudraprayag market and through the bridge, we climbed down quite a few steep stone stairs to reach the prayag sthal well before the evening aarti. We frolicked on the ghats; enjoyed the sights and duet songs of the torrentially turbulent mountain rivers; tried to dip our feet and hands into the freezing cold waters by carefully holding on to the side chains meant to prevent falling into the flowing current; and sang songs and watched a handful of pilgrims happily washing off their sins by dipping into the frozen prayag waters. We clicked some nice shots and soon it was time for aarti. The evening aarti created a magic and added to the surrealism of the atmosphere. The big heavy Diya or Panch pradeep was handed over to all devotees by the purohit one by one to offer their prayers to the river Goddess as the purohit continued to chant the devotional songs and mantras in his high-pitched voice over the microphone. It was a moment of truth.
After these cleansing moments of the evening aarti, we retraced our steps back towards the hotel. On the way, we stopped over at a cold drinks joint to moisten our throats, and then again stopped over at a chaiwala’s to sip in some hot steaming local tea flavoured with the taste of Rudraprayag. We were at the Rudraprayag market and our eyes scoured every item in display in the quaint little stalls in a bid to find something worthwhile to carry back home. No nothing. It was a very small market barely catering to local needs. Meanwhile, it had started pouring again and we loved getting wet.
As we came back to our hotel, we soaked in more of the rain and the silent, dark beauty of the hills. After that it was time for a bit of chit chat (while we planned for the next day) and some fresh cool breeze sitting on the balcony and another instalment of good food, a nice heavy dinner, to end the first day of the trip.
Next day morning, we got our breakfast packed and headed for Joshimath at around 8 a.m. It was a calculated four-hour drive from Rudraprayag. The hills were getting more and more rugged as we travelled farther and farther and more of stark, stony beauty of the Himalayas unfolded. The next stopover was at Karnaprayag. Karnaprayag is about 174 kms from Rishikesh and about 32 kms from Rudraprayag. It is again the divine meeting point of the geographically important green Pindar River with the religiously important brown and muddy Alakananda River. It is believed that here the mighty Karna had performed his penance and attained his indestructible powers from his father, the Sun God. We stretched our legs and after a brief stint of photography session, we continued heading towards Joshimath via the same NH 58.
Next came Nandaprayag after another 22 kms through the same route. Here it was the turn of the green Nandakini River to turn muddy by merging with the opaque waters of the Alakananda. Sure enough, this prayag bears resemblance with the others. Only that the rivers seemed to show even more gusto and power. Some more photos were clicked. By this time, we had caught on the madness of following the pious Alakananda all the way up the mighty Himalayas till her origin.
This route was not the familiar green Himalayan terrain that we encounter in Himachal or Uttaranchal. This was a more of a hard exterior exuding strength and character. The terrifyingly threatening, curvy narrowing roads snaking around the mountains as we crossed several mountains one by one were a sheer thrill. The drivers (my husband and brother-in-law alternating) were enjoying the drive while the women and the child enjoyed music, nature, beauty and thrill. The ladies took turns to sit beside the driver’s seat and sometimes literally had their hearts in their hands as the car edged up and across the steep mountain ridges. The more we tried to concentrate on the beauty, the more we were overwhelmed with nature’s stupendous creation, of the ribbon like numerous waterfalls rolling down the mountain sides, of the glistening reflecting rays of the sun that lured us further into its folds.
Finally we reached Joshimath, very refreshed and charged. We already had our bookings in GMVN, Main Bazaar. There are two GMVNs there, the old and the new, and we had a bit of confusion. We were booked in the new one. After checking in, we had a quick but elaborate lunch and were in a hurry to catch the coveted 20-minutes ropeway to Auli and disappear in the midst of the mystic alluring Auli meadows. Unfortunately, the receptionist informed us that the ropeway was under renovation and was not functioning. We extracted further information on the road conditions and found the answers satisfying enough to be braving the roads; and actually for us it was a blessing in disguise. We sped off in our car and the pretty roads offered us some unforgettable memories and views to be cherished for lifetime. The flowery, verdant, green lush covers stretching on both sides of the entire 30 kms to Auli were actually life giving. The soft pink, red and yellow miniature flowers adorning the valleys and the green patches on both sides of the road were a treat to the senses. The freshness that the snow-peaked beauty exuded, the cool breeze, the green meadows with leisurely bunches of sheep herd nibbling at the soft new grass blades made the atmosphere mesmerizing and electrifying. The meadows were breathing and gushing life with the limited summer-month window they had, till they are covered once more with frozen white ice and obediently transform into a skiing paradise, attracting adventure lovers from all across the globe.
We had a nice relaxing couple of hours on the meadows. Some localites had spread their bounties and were enjoying picnic lunch while some other local couples sat and chatted perched on some mountain crevice. Several four wheelers rushed past us through the rugged road till the highest motorable dead end after a brief stopover at the meadows. We watched the sun rays dimming and vanishing beyond the snow peaks. The crimson glow caught up with the resplendent and lazy cloud balls. It was enchanting.
As the day broke into night, we made a reluctant journey back to our restful haven. It was a beautiful full moon night. After reaching back to the hotel, we freshened up a bit and ventured out into the streets to live the Joshimath life. The small local shops and vendors were catering to the local needs. Few people frisked around busily rounding up their day’s chores. We were looking for some decent eating place. Unfortunately, we could not locate one that can withstand my paranoia of food hygiene. We directed our steps back to the hotel restaurant and ordered our dinner. Dinner had to be booked well in advance as they prepare only ordered meals. After that we shuffled between the roof top and balconies to catch every inch of the glittering full moon across the pearly dark mountain ranges.
After the dinner, we decided to call it a day and sleep off our tiredness and wake up bright and shining for the big Badrinath tour the next day.