It was mid June and the scorching heat of Delhi summers and the chaotic traffic jams while commuting to the office was taking its toll and I needed a break. I just wanted to go to a peaceful place and just relax for a few days without spending too much time on the roads. Deoria tal was the first place that came into my mind as I have already been there a couple of times and was aware of the scenic beauty and tranquility it has to offer. I packed my bag and set off to Anand Vihar but terminal on a Thursday night.
To my elation; while I was in the Delhi Metro on my way to Anand Vihar, I got a call from Vishal. I could not resist telling him that I was on my way to Deoria tal and then will trek towards Chopta and further towards Badrinath valley. He was angry that I did not inform him about this. Even though I wanted to be alone; Vishal would have been the best buddy in this journey as he too is a big time ghumakkar and loves nature photography, but I did not inform him because he was on leave for last five months due to his ankle fracture and was on his way to recovery. He asked me to wait for just one more day and he would surely like to come with me. My journey had already begun and it was unavoidable now. Vishal said he was fine now and was ready for the journey. He said he is defiantly coming and would follow me until we meet as he did not want to miss this opportunity after spending five months in bed. He asked me to be in regular touch with him on the phone. Anyways… I had already contacted Negi (a local from Sari village) at Deoria tal and told him that I was coming.
On Friday early morning I reached Rishikesh and took the first bus to Rudrapriyag. I hate to travel by bus in the mountains but I had no choice at this time. I had tried the taxi stand where Tata sumo and Mahindra jeeps are sometimes available but there was a political rally in Rishikesh today and all the jeeps were booked. After changing my mode of transport several times I reached Sari village while it was still daylight. I wasted no time there and immediately started my 3 KM trek to the lake.
I had kept my mobile switched off during most of the road journey to save battery as there was no electricity at Deoria tal to charge the phone battery. The moment I switched on my phone I saw several messages from Vishal. The last one said that he had crossed Rishikesh and was on his way towards Srinagar. Since there is hardly any traffic movement at night in the mountains I knew he would have to stop somewhere on the way and would not be able to make to Deoria tal before tomorrow noon at the earliest.
I reached the lake at around 7 PM and the sun was just about to go down behind the mountains. I was disappointed with the view as it was smoky all over. The spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains had disappeared behind the smoke. The weather however was very pleasing. Negi told me that the summer this year had been brutal so far and there were many forest fires in this area and the visibility was poor due to the smoke arising from these fires. Negi introduced me to Mr Rawat who was the forest guard on duty at this time. I was received well as Negi was one of those five men on my first trip to this area when I had got lost a few years ago. Negi had narrated that story to the people there several times and I had become a known characterJ.
I hired a tent from the small shop that was set up a few hundred meters away from the lake. Bhatt Ji; the owner of the shop also knew me as he was the one who had packed parathas for me last time. I had a simple yet delicious meal and wanted to crash in my sleeping bag as I was tired due to hectic road journey.
The next morning I woke up at around 6 AM. It was a beautiful morning but again the view around was disappointing due to smoky weather. My initial plan was to trek to Chopta today but since Vishal was on his way; I decided to hang around in the lake area. I took a walk around the lake and enjoyed the chirping of the birds and sounds made by the insects. After spending about two hours by the lake I went up to Bhatt Ji’s shop for a cup of tea.
I switched on my cell phone and called Vishal. He said he had crossed Rudrapriyag and was in a Press vehicle that was carrying newspapers to Ukhimath. Even thou there is no electricity at Deoria tal, Bhatt Ji had found an innovative way of charging his own cell phone. He used a solar panel to charge a 12 volts battery and when the 12 volt battery was charged he would use it to charge his cell phone battery. I could use the same to charge my cell phone as it had multi utility charging pins. Nice jugad.
I spent the whole day at the lake and spent time just lying around in peacetime and by chatting with Rawat Ji and a few other people who were tourists. At around 4PM while I was enjoying the sun just outside my tent I heard Vishal yelling my name from a distance. After all he had made it. I was glad to see him. Has was wearing an air cast plaster on his left foot but he looked fine and was not limping. We spent the evening by hanging around the lake area. I was just hanging around and enjoying nature while Vishal was busy clicking pictures of everything he could. Late in the evening Negi came up to us with a pitcher of locally made liquor. He said the “English” was too expensive and he could not afford it so he made his own using fermented gur (jaggery). Vishal does not drink and I was skeptical. Negi assured that he had made it with his own hands and had been drinking this from a long time and it was safe. Just two drinks were enough to throw me to the edge of the cliff of my senses. I did not want to fell off the cliff so I decided to have dinner. Bhatt Ji had made egg curry at Vishals request and served it with fresh hot rotis and rice.
The next morning I woke up and walked straight up to Bhatt Ji’s shop for a cup of tea. A few minutes later Vishal was there too. My initial plan was to trek to Chopta and then further towards the Badrinath valley but I could figure out that Vishal will not be able to trek all the way so we needed a new plan. We decided to spend the day around the lake area by exploring the jungle around it and then move on to Ukhimath in the evening. We got a few parathas and achar packed and moved towards the path that leads towards Chopta. We kept walking for about two hours and reached on top of a mountain from where we could see the entire Sari village and the whole valley.
I remembered this point as I had spent some time there in my last trip as well. The sun was bright yet there was strong cold breeze blowing. In front of us was deep gorge whereas behind us was thick dense forest. The location was beautiful. We had paratha and achar breakfast there. The combination of bright sun and cold breeze was making me sleepy so I just lied down for some time and fell asleep. After sometime Vishal woke me up and we headed back to Deoria tal. After paying our fees for camping in lake area we headed towards Sari to catch the bus or any vehicle that could take us to Ukhimath.
At Sari we met a jeep driver who was ready to take us to Ukhimath for Rs. 400/= which we agreed. After spending the night at Ukhimath we woke up early the next morning and the next destination was decided to be Badrinath. Again we traveled in bits and pieces by catching the first ride that could take us towards Joshimath.
We reached Joshimath around 4PM and the Tata Sumo drivers at the bus stop were shouting to attract passengers. We boarded one of those and headed towards Badrinath. The sun had completely gone down by the time we reached Badrinath. We approached a few hotels for a room but all of them said they were full. We decided to attend the darshan first and then look for a hotel as the time for closing of darshan was fast approaching. We first took dips in the tapt kund which is a hot sulphur water pool and then joined the long queue for darshan. It was the peak time and we could hardly get a glimpse of the lord Badrinath’s idol established inside the temple.
After darshan we again began our search for a hotel. We approached a few more hotels but they all had the same answer. I spoke to a hotel owner who was a young fellow in the local language and told him that we really needed a room just for the night and would check out early the next morning. I was surprised to hear what he said to me. He said that no hotel would offer us a room at this time because I had a foreigner with me. Vishal looked like a foreigner due to his attire and all his appearances. He said foreigners visiting this place are just tourists and have a tight budget and they haggle a lot about the amount being charged for the room, food etc. whereas the pilgrims who come here just for Badrinath darshan spend a lot more money on rooms, food, hot milk, juice etc. No wonder everyone was refusing us a room. He was more surprised than I initially was when he came to know that Vishal was very much an Indian who looked like a firangi.
Considering that I was a pahari myself and Vishal was not a foreigner he agreed to give us a room. The room had two beds and an attached toilet/bathroom and looked clean enough to spend one night. It was dark and extremely cold outside and Vishal was having trouble walking so we ordered dinner in the room itself. There also was a mobile charging socket which was half hanging out of the wall but was in a working condition. We both took turns to charge our mobile phones as we did not know when we would get a chance to do so again.
The next morning I went up to the hotel owner and told him that we are going up to Mana village and would return in two to three hours and then check out as we did not wanted to carry our bagpackes all the way when we had to come back to Badrinath again. He agreed and kept our bagpacks in the reception area. Mana is just 3 KM from Badrinath and although there were several jeep walas who were taking passengers from Badrinath to Mana; we decided to walk as it was a straight road and Vishal would not have problem to that. I was surprised to see today’s Mana Village. There was not a single shop there when I last visited about 15 years ago. This village had completely changed and has become a victim of commercialization. I was also surprised to see a new road that was carved into the mountains and had a signboard saying that this 53 KM long road was the world’s highest motorable road.
I always thought that Khardung – La was the highest one. We inquired about the road from an army official who we met on the way and he told us that this road was not open to public and is used only by the army to reach the last Indian army posts along the China border. Any civilian who wishes to take an adventure trip on this road had to obtain a permit from the district magistrate in Joshimath as well as designated army officials present at Mana post.
Upon reaching Mana and standing atop Bheem pul I recalled my 15 year old memories when I had come here for the first time with two of my friends after visiting valley of flowers. Vishal too was amazed to see the water gushing out of the mountain and flowing with such ferocity under Bheem pul.
15 years ago I was not able to make it to Vasudhara falls as we were too tired and had less time in our hands but this time although Vishal insisted that he could make but I did not want him to take stress. At Bheem pul we met a Naga baba named Barfani Das who was preparing for puja when we reached there. He had two rabbits with him who he called Radha and Krishna.
We just walked a few kilometres further from Bheem pul up to a point from where we could get a glimpse of the remarkable waterfall. The view around us was spectacular but unfortunately we did not have much time to spend and we had to get back to our urban life back in Delhi.