Badrinath might be a famous pilgrim spot, yet it is no less known for its exquisite natural beauty. The unparallel beauty and overpowering tranquillity explain why Gods had chosen this place to build their abode. Badrinath was another 44 kms from Joshimath and is situated at an altitude of 3,133 meters above sea level. The resident deity of Badrinath temple is Lord Vishnu.
We started off with our breakfast packed and decided to have it in some place nice en route. Sure enough, we came across a torrential mountain stream tumbling from above and flowing across the road to roll off downwards just after a 20-min drive from Joshimath. We decided to pose with some of the pretty mountain maids carrying huge loads of grass, for feeding their cattle, from the foothills to up where they have their quaint little houses perched on creepy mountain sides. We washed our hands and face in the crystal clear water and settled on the giant boulders to have our paranthas, omelette, aachar, bread and butter along with some cold drinks to wash them down. That was the most wonderful breakfast we have had in ages it seemed. Two vehicles loaded with pilgrims unloaded themselves beside the stream and got busy performing their morning ritualistic cleaning, bathing, washing and turned the spot into a buzzing bathing ghat full of furious daily activities. We crawled back into our car and rolled off.
At two places, there were jams as vehicles waited patiently in a single file like a giant caterpillar, while huge big cranes were busily clearing piles of rubbles and dirt. We waited for an hour at each of these spots. We crossed Govindghat, which was a hub of buzzing activities as people from all corners poured for temporary halt. A few of these people headed for Badrinath just like us, a few others were heading towards Hemkund Sahib, and still some other enthusiastic travel-bug-bitten trekkers who started hiking for the enchanting Valley of Flowers from this point. Finally, we reached Badrinath after crossing the rest 43 kms, the ultimate Devbhumi, at 11 a.m. The intense beauty, which we were getting glimpses of in bit and pieces, peaked and overwhelmed us just as we stepped out of the car and set our feet on Badrinath dham.
It was chilly and cloudy with smoky clouds caressing the snowy mountains. To add to the enigma, the hazy mountain streams poured from crevices at certain intervals creating ethereal beauty. Even as we stood patiently in the queue to avail our token passes for the idol worship and darshan, it suddenly grew darker and cloudier and the skies threatened to pour. We gave up our desire to wait till 3 when the counters would open for the darshan scheduled from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. We had a contact who was also one of the pandas of the Badrinath temple. But then he was of little help in procuring passes or arranging out-of-turn darshan. So we decided to climb up to the temple premises and spent some time there instead of joining the queues and more queues.
There was the constant nagging of a sadhu baba asking for alms (he was not willing to accept the offer of a 10 rupee note extended to him graciously by my brother-in-law and wanted a minimum of a 10 kg wheat to ration his brethren fraternity for at least a week or at least a 100 rupee note; in the process he got preached by bro-in-law not to get further entangled in moh and maya and think and feel like a true ascetic and treat the 10 rupee with equal respect as a 100 rupee one; that was a nice temporary reversal of role). There were also the young photographers providing instant printouts and we saw families enjoying their Kodak moments. We enjoyed the gusty freezing cold winds. It had started to drizzle by then. We ignored the biting drops of ice cold rain and continued watching the colourful stream of devotees patiently waiting to offer their puja, the gorgeous Alakananda gushing downhill in a foamy white frothy stream and the host of pilgrims dipping themselves in a frenzy into the Tapt Kund. The kund was oozing out steaming hot mineral water that supposedly contains superior healing properties.
As the rain got stronger by the minute, partially drenched we rushed to the nearest shelter — a curio shop — and waited for the shower to abate. While we were waiting, bro-in-law got us two interesting pieces of clothing that were being sold across the road in the name of raincoat. Armed with the raincoats and one umbrella, we ran to the GMVN to enjoy our lunch in the company of a freezing cold torrential Badrinath rainfall.
After our meagre but satisfying meal of chapattis, dal and gobi aloo (this was the only menu they could serve us as they did not have any pre-information), we headed towards Mana (labelled as the last Indian village). Mana marked the end of Indian territory and gave way to Tibetan borders. While entering Mana, we came across the signboard and the road leading to Mana Pass (or Dungri la) that is situated at a height of18,399 feet. This raos is supposedly the highest motorable road in the world as of date. This gyan provided the necessary excitement and thrill. We parked our cars at the outskirts and trekked the rest of the 2 kms. The trekking trail bifurcated, one leading to a group of temples and caves and the other to Saraswati kund and the Bheem pul.
We chose to visit the origin of the great river Saraswati and sure enough our instincts had proved correct and the destination offered an experience that could easily be categorized as a heavenly moment of ecstatic beauty. Bheem Pul, it turned out, is quite an enthralling and adventurous spot carrying mythological significance. It is believed that Bheem had thrown a big massive rock at this point to create a path between two mountains for Draupadi to walk across easily. On the other side of the trekking trail was the Saraswati River emerging from between the mountain with immense force to tumble down and merge with the waters of Alanknanda in a deafening roar. The river just forced her way through the mountain crevice with a shuddering intensity of unearthly magnitude turning us all dizzy and awestruck.
There was a Maggi and cold drinks point where you can spent some precious moments in the heart of nature and feel at one with the resident devta of this part of the devbhumi. People were busy buying bottles of holy water collected from the Saraswati. We spent a good one hour clicking the sheer rock faces partially hidden under the frozen glaciers and catching this destructive mood of Saraswati as she began her worldly pursuit.
As we trekked back to the parking lot, we stopped over briefly in front of a claustrophobically tiny cave where sat a muddy ascetic dressed up like the mythical Lord Shiva with eyes half closed and continuously muttering and in a seemingly trance while he applied tika to the eager foreheads of passing devotees who cared to peep in and offer him alms in the form of Indian currency mostly.
We also passed some quaint village shops selling religious CDs based on mythical stories filmed on the spot and heavy coarse winter blankets apart from steaming hot cups of teas, namkeen, biscuits, Maggi and cold drinks. We had refreshing cups of tea perched on wooden stools in one such shop and watched the rain turning into a drizzle while a Mahabharata scene was being shown in the old and dilapidated TV set in a corner. A few devotees were indeed interested in the mythological story and stopped by the shop to have a glimpse and then also decided to buy the CD hoping that it would run at least more than once.
We drained off our tea and decided to move on. With wistful glances back at the blue mountains, we packed ourselves off in our car and drove away waving goodbye to Mana, retracing our steps all the way back to Joshimath.
The return journey was uneventful. Even the roads were clear and there was no waiting time. We reached back Joshimath in a little more than four hours and getting refreshed, we sat with our evening tea and snacks. The GMVN dinner in-charge barged in with his dinner request. We were not very keen on having dinner at GMVN. It was our last evening of the trip and we were in search of something exotic. We thought the best way would be to ask the GMVN personnel. True indeed, he directed us to the one decent eating place named Auli Retreat. We had a unique combination of South Indian and non-veg Chinese food. Non-veg, and that too in Joshimath, was a revelation!
We enjoyed the night breeze and the almost round moon shining in the night sky while we strolled back to our rest house. In the hotel, we dumped all the trip photos in one laptop and had a nice session postmorteming the trip photos deciding on some humorous taglines as captions for pictures to be put up on Facebook. At last around midnight we decided to call it a day. The next day, we woke up around 7 and by 8.30 we were ready with our packed breakfast for the lengthy almost 10 hours drive back to Delhi. Breakfast was by-the-way complimentary. We never knew that till the time of settling our bills just before leaving. Tourist Rest House, Joshimath (Main Bazar), GMVN, charged us INR 2,200-2,300 for Super Deluxe rooms with complimentary breakfast.
While coming back, we stopped for a short while to have some refreshments in a small but very picturesque GMVN restaurant in Birahi some 50 kms before Rudraprayag and then midway we had a picnic breakfast at some picturesque place by the roadside just before crossing Rudraprayag.
Unfortunately, there were some long anxious moments to be endured in the latter part of the trip and the cause ensued right when we were leaving for our return journey from Joshimath. A serious aspect went absolutely ignored when we started off for our journey. This proved a major concern and hurdle later in the trip. We drive very often to faraway destinations in our car and are in the habit of getting our car tank filled with all its 35 litre capacity at the start of the journey. Now it happened such that in Joshimath, the first petrol pump we approached to get the car tank filled refused to do so and said they have a rationing system and can provide petrol worth 1,000 rupees only. We took the lackadaisical attitude of the pump employees as a major insult and decided to move ahead in the hope of finding another pump soon enough. The next pump we approached, we had to wait for more than half an hour. And then finally when we reached our turn, they said they do not have petrol at all and only diesel.
We cursed ourselves, but were hopeful of finding another pump soon. The tank was half full and we were not much worried. Thereby, another 100 kms or so we reached another pump and there the rationing allowed us only petrol worth 500 Rs. This was getting ridiculous and we were getting a bit tense. All the while in our return journey, we kept an eagle eye out for petrol pumps but failed to spot any all though there were several diesel pumps all through. Even as we were enjoying the beautiful mountain downpour and the mountain storm in which the dusty winds wondrously blew uphill and created a haze and thrill, we were keeping a close eye on our fuel indicator.
Hrishikesh was still 100 kilometres away and it was pouring heavily outside, we had switched off our AC in an attempt to reduce fuel consumption and it was getting a bit humid inside but not unbearably so. The car was running in reserve. The realization dawned on us that we can go just about 50 odd kilometres with the remaining fuel and had silently started praying ferociously for a petrol pump. Even just as the indicator hit the zero mark, we chanced upon a petrol pump and almost nose dived into its bay. The pump attendee made a wry face and informed us that the petrol meter had some problem and is not running. We were almost down on our knees requesting him to try at least once. A look at our desperate faces and with crossed fingers he started the machine and oil dripped out after a few hiccups. Then the thirsty engine started gulping petrol in gallons. We know that a Honda City petrol tank capacity is of 35 litres. The meter stopped at 34.18 litres. In simple words, there was just 0.82 litres left in the tank. God had saved us from a huge musibat.
Happy and silently thanking God, we reached Hrishikesh at around 6.30. We decided to stop over at Hardwar and do some religious shopping and have our evening snacks. But God had other plans. On the Hrishikesh-Hardwar bypass, we got stuck in a jam. Just as the long line of vehicles started inching forward, at my insistence hubby tried to overtake a few cars and consolidate our position; but as luck would have it, just as we were on the verge of reuniting the long line from the middle, a truck rushed in and blocked our way. We were on the wrong side and moreover blocking the oncoming traffic and there was a hooting sound of a police jeep and a constable popped up in front and snatched away hubby’s driving license before we could blink and instructed us in an abusive tone to park at the side. There, there, we were in a big soup.
The inspector or the officer sitting in a police jeep was seen to be announcing continuously over a loudspeaker to maintain a single file. And those who are in an extra hurry can overtake and be ready to get detained for an hour. He was a preacher and an idealist too. Very soon there were some 10-12 vehicles collected in that small clearing. We had started feeling the tiredness and hunger of the journey. My son had started his tantrums. It was dark and drizzling outside. There we sat in the pitch darkness at the mercy of the Uttaranchal police to have pity on us and let us go. The women were strictly instructed not to step out of the car. Both men tried bribing, pleading, requesting with the preacher but to no avail.
We were let go only an hour later after a 100 rupee challan. He was indeed an idealist! This made us angry at ourselves instead of the It was 8.30 and breathing a sign of relief we covered the rest of the journey at snail’s pace avoiding any overtaking and reached Hardwar at around 9 p.m. and had to let go our shopping plans. Instead, we stopped over at a chic restaurant just after crossing Hardwar and had some delectable Indian and Italian vegetarian dishes. Rest of the journey was smooth and we reached safe and sound back in Delhi at around 1 a.m. Delhi heat hit us back to reality but mentally we were still travelling among the snow and mist and our minds were still shrouded with the beauty of the mythical magical lands of the Gods, Devbhumi.