Thanks a lot to all for reading the trip with special thanks to Nandan, for taking me on board. And guessing that the response is encouraging, here I am again with the second installment of the story. Hope this will be a good read. We will take you to Kedarnath and half way to Badrinath in this chapter.
The evening at chandrapuri was one of the most cherished parts of our sojourn. We were relaxed and fresh in the morning when we had to take the route of Kedarnath. The route from Chandrapuri towards Guptakashi was the greenest leg of the journey, with the entire landscape covered in rich green. The lush green stepped farms were a delightful sight to everyone. These looked like a mosaic from a height due to the lighter shade of some of the paddy nurseries.
After crossing Kund, which is another important junction between Kedarnath and Badrinath, we reached GuptKashi at about 9:30am.
The name is derived form the legend of Lord Shiva, after being pursued by Pandavas, disappearing (Gupt) from this place, eluding them of his sight and later appearing at five places, KN being one of those. Here there is an old temple of Lord Shiva in ‘Ardhnarishwar Swaroop’. The Weapons of Pandavas are also kept here as told by the priest. Here both the families pay obeisance and did Gupt Daan (anonymous and secret alms).
We reached Gourikund at about 1:30pm. GK is the road-head to KN. There are hot water Kunds, where one has to bath before embarking on the trek to KN. The parkings were brimming with buses and cabs. We left our luggage in the Qualis taking only two changes of cloths and the woolens. The Kunds had hot but a little dirty water due to the bathing of devotees. It is not advised to go far bath alone as there would be no place to keep your clothes and no shopkeeper would keep them.
After bath, we purchased the raincoats (polyethene, though use of polythene is banned there), and walking sticks.
As advised by our neighbours in Chandrapuri, we decided to hire horses (ponies). This exercise was no mean task, though. First the rates quoted by the horse owners were astronomical and secondly they were not ready to take kids or bags alongwith an elder. We haggled down to a rate of Rs.700 per horse for eight horses for up journey whereas the official rate is Rs.480 only. Fortunately, SPV and his wife Nivedita both are lightweights, so we managed to seat my eight-year-old son with Nivedita and my daughter with my wife. SPV’s son Vishu sat with him. Thus with chanting of Jai Kedarnath we embarked on this vital leg of Yatra. Air was moist with showers here and there. The trek route is not as well maintained and clean as the Maa Vaishno Devi trek, though sodium lighting is there all along. The route is made of sandstones and is rough in patches. Moreover, the rain mixed with the discharges from the horses has left the route not very walkable. Another peculiar thing was the habit of most of horses rubbing past the oncoming horses as well the trekkers on foot . I felt very bad but the horse owner was least concerned, as if happy on the disincentive meted out by the horses to the competitors- the trekkers. In any case, this is not a very walker friendly trek. It is not advisable to walk, especially if you have elders for company. Another option is the palki carried by four persons. But the guilt associated with being carried on shoulders and the pricing, drove us away from this option. Though there are almost as many horses on the route as there were Palkis.
We reached Rambara halfway to KN at 7Km from GK at around 3:30pm. This is a small village thriving on refreshment shops. It also has a GMVN TRH for stay. We had reached from 1982m of GK to 2743m of Rambara. Just 7 Km of distance and 841m of altitude to be covered from here. The scenery along the route was very beautiful with multiple falls dotting the place. The vegetation was very thick as if smoke billowing out from a major fire. We took the customary aloo ka paratha and chai there. Kids chomped on Chowmein.
After a couple of kms beyond Rambara, the plants started giving way to grass and algae, giving a feel of the altitude we were at. We could spot snow clad peaks at a distance as well as the snow sliding down from the hills across the river Mandakini. Some of us started being uncomfortable due to lack of oxygen. It is always advisable to carry Camphor/Vicks for such events. Temperature was on the way down. The beautiful and serene valley started at about 1.5-2 Km ahead of Kedarnath giving a ‘Doordarshan’ of the Settlement. This was a comforting sight to everyone of us. The KN is at 3584m.
We did not have any accommodation booking here. But the TRH staff at Chandrapuri gave us a note for the KN TRH caretaker requesting him to arrange accommodation for us. Moreover, we encountered a Panda at GauriKund who was helpful in arranging space for us to change after the bath, as it was raining there. He also told that he is the panda for our place Lucknow and his associates (sons) at KN will receive us there and arrange for accommodation and Darshan there.
The GMVN TRH is located at the last point of horse journey. We reached here at about 6:00pm. As we disembarked from horses, some of us were shivering despite wearing jackets and caps. There we were welcomed by Shuklaji-the Pandaji. But we contacted the TRH Caretaker and gave the him the slip. He arranged for our accommodation in two four bedded rooms at an associate guesthouse. It was extremely cold and the room wore a de-spiriting look due to dim lights due to extremely low voltage. The water in the bathrooms was so cold that it was not possible to dip hands in it. My wife, son and SPV were down with giddiness.
I alongwith my father and Shuklaji went to the temple for Pooja Booking. The place is worth all the pains, with snow-clad mountain providing a heavenly backdrop to the Temple. Apart from the regular queuing up, there are various time saving options available from the Badrinath Kedarnath Mandir Samiti. One of those is the Abhishek with a donation of Rs.2101 in which four groups of devotees can perform the complete pooja simultaneously for 15 minutes. Usually 5-6 persons are allowed per group. We decided to go for this option. But to our bewilderment, the time allotted to our group was 2:30am. It was just 7:00pm then. We requested the personnel to allot us a time this side of night but they told that the booking is done in reverse order i.e. first come last served and they recede from there till the bookings come, such that the person booking last will get the first time slot. Eventually we settled for this time and came back to our rooms, after having a distant Darshan.
Here, my mother encouraged my wife, who had not moved a limb after reaching there, to get up and gather the energy to benefit from the lifetime opportunity. Though, whereas rest of us took bath, she did not. SPV perhaps did not take chance thinking that more than six persons will not be allowed. He stayed back with Vishu. So ultimately 9 persons including 2 kids reached the temple at the designated time, with the extra persons taking chance. Eventually all of us were let in, may be because of the influence of Shuklaji. I was taking care of Ashutosh who was still in the condition of Nausea and even vomited there. Due to this and thinking that SPV must be really down as he was not seen walking after reaching there, I could not think of calling SPV.
Shuklaji was there all along the Abhisheka, in which apart from other items, Ghee is applied on the Deity. The deity is in the form of a Pyramidal stone, said to be the back of the Lord Shiva in the form of a Buffalo. We had a really relaxed and rather elaborate Pooja there and my wife was especially grateful to my mother who inspired and invoked her to get up and come along. After Pooja, we purchased loads of memorabilia from the shops outside the temple, with Shuklaji in tow. He escorted us to our guesthouse and promised to see us in the morning at 6:00am – our usual departure time.
In the morning (30/05) he was there, with his brother in tow. My mother happily offered him a Daan of Rs.500, after which the surprise was unveiled. He, in a most polished language, demanded that we should also commit to sponsor a pair of Rajais (Quilts) for their Dharmshala (lodge) for Rs.2500/-, which will be taken by them from our place in Lucknow. Commit we did. Then it was the turn of SPV, from whom he similarly garnered a commitment of Rs.3000/- for a pair of mattresses.
We departed after having a last outside sight of the temple, with a light mind and lighter purse. This time we decided against horses as SPV attributed his giddiness to the horse ride. We did two pithus (Bucket on Back) for 500/- each, one for luggage and the other for kids Ashu (Ashutosh) and Vishu. Toshi (Aparna) was not willing to sit in the bucket. So we started with all the elders on foot. My mother was the slowest due to her biting shoes. It is advisable to carry good quality sports sneakers for everyone interesting in walking. The Pithus were almost running, with SPV and Nivedita keeping pace with them. I accompanied my mother, with Father and SPV’s parents in between. By the time we reached Rambara, Mother was barely able to walk, wife barefoot, was equally in pain and Toshi who almost entirely walked, was also tired. At Rambara I decided to hire two horses for Mother and wife along with Toshi. SPV also hired horses for his parents. The horses came for Rs.300/-each this time. We had our brunch at Rambara.
After a short while, Toshi was not comfortable on the horse and opted out for trekking with me. This again retarded my pace. Passers by looked at her admiringly for walking despite such a young age. Last two km I carried her on my shoulders. My legs were sore and every step taken was like an achievement. No wonder I was the last person to reach Gaurikund at about 1:30pm where the fastest ones were waiting for more than an hour.
Today’s onward journey to Gopeshwar was going to be the most taxing…