Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Memory Storms !!

A walk down the memory lane - is something that happens when we least expect it. We dont pre-decide to go through the pages in our memory, neither do we allot a specific time or day for it. It just happens!! Something small, something silly, something not very uncommon happens, and before we know, we are lost in the cloud of our own memories.

Last night, I woke up in the middle of a good nights sleep, thanks to the thunder storm !! I believe it was a really big thunder out there, because nothing wakes me up from sleep easily ;) I just opened my eyes for a second, to see what woke me up. After sensing that it was raining heavily, with continuous thunder and lightning, I thought I went back to sleep immediately. But NO !!! I could not sleep. Because before I knew, the lightning had struck me with a jolt of memories !!!

I fear lightning and thunders right from my childhood. Even though I grew up in coastal area where heavy rains and thunder storms were very common throughout the rainy season, somehow to this day, I have not learnt to get completely at ease with it. And I guess with each year, the more I read about lightning struck deaths and calamities, the fear just got stronger.

The very first thought, during such nights, has always been about the homeless people. Right from childhood, they have been my example , my motivation, to help me overcome or handle my fear of lightning. Even last night, my first instinct was to think of thousands of people who are sleeping on the footpath and facing all this bravely. It took a while for me, to suddenly realize, that I am no longer in India, and I can not visualize that there are people sleeping on streets, unprotected, right outside my window!!!

With this my thoughts went back to India, to all the homeless there. After sympathizing with them, I thought about my home back there, and the way I grew up between their secure walls. Once the thoughts reach home, back to the memories of how I grew up there, I get lost in them, not realizing when the chain of thoughts had changed form to a big cloud !!!

I laughed when I recalled how I would refuse to sleep on the bed near the window. As a kid, I always considered windows dangerous , both in terms of robbery and lightning and sometimes even in terms of dinosaurs (After the movie Jurassic Park). I always asked my brother to take that up and I would safely sleep near the wall. Not realizing my motive behind it, he always obliged. How selfish on my part !!

Luckily, the robbery incident never took place. Obviously, the dinosaurs never came. But when the lightning struck badly, I would try to wake up my brother to come and share my side of bed. But half of the times, I was unsuccessful in waking him up, and the other half times, he would shout at me for waking him up and for being silly and would snore back in sleep right there. Good old days I say !!!!!

With this I remembered another incident. It was my board exam. I dont remember which class I was studying. But I bet I was in college. I was busy studying in my study room upstairs all alone,and it started raining with bright lightning and extra loud thunders. Everyone at home were downstairs, busy with their daily chores. I started feeling the same fear, but since I was a big girl then, I knew how to handle it, and I continued to study, obviously with lesser concentration. Suddenly the door opens and I see my brother come, to make sure I am fine and told me that he knows I am scared. He offered to stay with me as I study. I do not remember what exactly happened after that, if I agreed or denied. But what I remember is that I was and am deeply touched to feel how much he cared for his little sister!!

I have always loved plain rains though !! I simply love to watch the soothing rainfall, it is one of the most peaceful thing to do. Last night, I was missing the way I used to enjoy seeing rain always. As I told, I had my study room in upper level in my house. And in rainy days in India, since sun- drying of clothes is not feasible, most of the houses have ropes within the house, for air-drying of clothes. And always, the designated place for drying my Mom's and Grandma's cotton sarees , was near my study room window. And I would truly love it !!!

My mom would neatly spread the saree and leave , and in no time, I would get into action. My favorite time pass was to hide or cover myself compeltely within the multiple layers of the half dried-half wet sarees, run through them for some time and then watch the rain outside through the sarees for a long long time. The multiple colors in the saree, made it all look so beautiful when looking through them . I did this silly act even till I did my masters.....and given a chance , I will do it right now with my mother's and granny's saree , yet again !!!!

............. .......... ........ Onn and on, infinite thoughts popped one after the other last night, and I could not go back to sleep. All I longed , was to go back to the place where I spent the beautiful 23 years of my life, back between the same walls, back with the same loving family, back to my childhood, back to my teenage, back to my student life, back in time , to re-live all the sweet memroies again.

Memories always startle me !!! It amazes me when I see the incidents that we remember. The smallest incidents, which seems to be of little importance when they happen, sometimes turns out to be the ones you remember most vividly. Little things that once touched your heart, even though seems to be have forgotten , do remain deep in your memory somewhere, and one day, when you least expect it, they are back again with the same warmth!!!

This reminds me all over again, that life is all about the small pleasures, the little things that fills up our day with joy. When I rise each day, I must tell myself, that it is not just another day, but it is my chance to write something beautiful in pages of my special, unique and my very own BOOK OF MEMORIES !!!!!!!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Badrinath to Bangalore-May 2008 :-)

[This post is continued from my previous post Kedarnath to Badrinath]

Day 8 :: May 28th- Wednesday :: Badrinath- Haridwar

Alarm rings at 3.30 am. Eyes refused to open, and yet we forced ourselves out of the bed. We got fresh and hurried to 'Tapt Kund' near the temple to have our hot water bath. We reached there by 4 am, but the kund was already overcrowded. But since there were 3 Kunds, the crowd was distributed. Unlike Gauri-Kund, here the Kund was very clean. Also the water in Kund was way too hot. We managed to get into the Kund, but could not stay for long, as it was too hot!! But I was happy that we managed to have our dips comfortably.

But the moment one gets out of Kund, the cold just beats you!! I was wondering at the contrast nature has provided!! We went to changing rooms and changed to dry clothes. Then we hurried to our room, packed things and started walking towards the bus stop. It was a good 15 minute walk to bus-stop. Time was about 5.15am and the sight of sun-rise was awesome. The best part was to see the snow capped peaks shining bright, and at some places, the color was looking golden.
This pic is awesome !! One range shining bright with sun-rays, while the others are waiting to get the sun-shine. Photo clicked at 5.15am

By 5.30am we reached the bus stop, where the Punjabi family had already arrived. They gave us a unexpected news that, due to some reason, the govt bus is canceled. But the bus folks had assured, they 'may' schedule a bus during later part of the day. By this time, the Lucknow family who were in our bus the previous day also arrived there to book tickets. We all were heading to Haridwar. So we decided to book a private taxi/vehicle. Punjabi family told they already looked for it, but all taxis are booked. But again, the men from all 3 family went in search of taxi and we ladies waited in the bus-stop. We started discussing that we will all need to adjust in taxi/sumo as we would be totally 10 including the driver.

Gautham came back in no time telling, a conductor of a private family tour bus, approached him and told there are 2 seats in the cabin. When Gautham told me this, I told its better to have a look at the cabin and the driver and then decide. We had a look at the cabin. It was clean and the seat was cushioned. The driver too seemed civilized and friendly. Definitely our journey would not be comfortable, but we thought it would be manage-ably uncomfortable. We went for it!!

We bid bye to our fellow Lucknow and Punjabi friends. They finally found a taxi and we were happy they would be traveling comfortably without us, as they would be only 8 in number.

Exactly at 6.30am, the gates opened and our bus started. It was my first experience to travel sitting in a bus cabin, and for a long time, I could not stop laughing secretly at the different kind of experiences we have been having in the tour and wondered what else was in store.

Just like we both, there was another cabin-traveller with us. He was from Mysore, who had come with a group for Himalayan trekking. The driver and conductor were local Garhwalis. In no time, we all started discussing about various topics. When people from different backgrounds and places meet, there will always be something new to discuss. Driver was informing us lots about local news. He told, majority of people here are Nepalis. He was also complaining "yahan ke log, doosre sheher jaake chahe barthan dhothe hai, lekin yahan kaam nahin karthe". Meaning, localites of this place, go to other cities and even do the job of cleaning plates there, but refuse to work here. He told thousands of Nepalis come here during the season, and slog. He told they have to make their yearly income in these 4 months.

Another nice part was, driver was playing many local Garhwali folk songs in the bus. We found it very pleasant, and so kept on asking him to play more. They were laughing telling, its always nice to listen to songs whose lyrics you don't understand. They told for the same reason, they love to listen to Nepali songs. Driver explained to us, some part of the lyrics of the folk song. They are very simple songs, for example, in one song, a local woman is singing for the forest officer, asking him , how will she feed her cow if he stops her from cutting the trees!!

Hence, with these talks, our journey was pleasant in spite of all physical discomforts we were having. I was initially skeptic, thinking I feel weird sitting in cabin with Gautham, among driver, conductor and a stranger. But my weird feeling soon vanished as we started laughing talking about n number of topics !!
Our bus waiting at an intermediate gate to let upcoming vehicles pass. Driver and Conductor of our bus buying something from a localite. You can see me waiting in the cabin ;-)
Mountain ranges one after another glowing in sun-light.

The bus in which we were traveling, belonged to a private travel agency. It was booked by a single huge group from Nagpur under their package tour. Our cabin door was separating them from us, so I don't think they found us intrusive in their private travel plans. Only a couple of ladies from their group interacted with me during breakfast break, asking about our where-abouts.

We had lots of breaks-for breakfast, tea, lunch, water etc. Our driver had to oblige, whenever the family asked for a break. Our journey was pleasant till 11.00 am. After that, the only thing that was beating us was scorching sun. And with time, it only went worst, we felt we were sitting in an oven and were sweating like hell !! We were laughing at the contrast in weather up in Badrinath and weather as we descended !! Sunscreen, sun-glasses did not good to me. I was the one sitting next to the front glass of the bus, and sun was hitting me so hard from 11.00 to 3.30 that I got sun burn on my face !! I still have a mark, as a token of remembrance ;-)

We finally reached Rishikesh at 7.00 pm where the family wanted to stop for tea. We had plans of going for white water rafting the next day at Rishikesh, so when all were having tea, we went around inquiring about it in nearby firms which advertised about it. We were told that, they had no booking for the next day so far, so it would be only we two us, so the price would be slightly high. We lost interest in it, because rafting would be fun, only if there was a huge group going for it. The idea of only two of us, did not excite us much. So we dropped it.

At 7.45 we started back from Rishikesh to Haridwar. I loved this part of journey very much, because after a long long time, I was seeing and traveling on a straight road. I was kind of tired of seeing scary blindly curved roads high on hill for 8 days!!

Finally at 8.30, we finished our journey when he dropped us at Haridwar. He charged 500Rs together for both of us. Bidding them bye, we took a cycle-rikshaw and reached Kashi-mutt where we would spend our night and also the next day.

Reaching Kashi-mutt was the end of our adventurous , "unplanned" journey, as everything from now on was planned. We easily managed to get a room in Kashi-mutt. Also we had reached just in time for dinner. We were very very tired after the long 14 hr journey in the small cabin of the bus. After a nice dinner at the canteen there, the next thing we longed to do was to have a good bath. Need not say, its heavenly to have a bath after a dusty , sweaty 14 hrs journey !! After doing some laundry, we slept at 12.00 midnight. The best part, was the thought that,we need not set alarm for the next day !!

Day 9 :: May 29th- Thursday :: Haridwar
We wake up lazily at 7.30am. Get fresh and go to Veda-Vyas temple for pooja(Our room, temple are all in same premises. All are run by Kashi-Mutt) Have breakfast and come to room. We then do remaining laundry. After this, as we were lazily lying down and discussing what to do next, we fall asleep ...... zzzzzzz.......!! We wake up at 12.00 and jump out of bed, hurrying to temple for the afternoon Pooja. After pooja, we have a nice simple lunch at canteen, and then come to room again at 1.30pm. Our room had no chair, but only a huge bed. As we sat on it, talking "Enough of sleep...lets go somewhere!!"......once again, as we were discussing this, we lazily lie down, and fall asleep.......zzzzzzzzzzz....!! Ha ha ha :D Veda Vyas temple of Kashi-mutt, Haridwar

We wake up only at 4.30pm and laugh at ourselves for the way we fell asleep!! Looked like all our fatigue and lack of sleep from 8 days, was showing up now!! We were still feeling like sleeping, so we decided to do something fresh!! We pulled ourselves out of bed, and walked to the Ganga ghats near the temple. The ghats of our temple, is something I love!! Because Ganga is clean there, as very few come to these ghats. And more-over temperature is very high in Haridwar, so it is cooling to have dips here, unlike in earlier places, where the freezing weather does not let you do it. And not to forget, the absence of crowd. Ganga ghats of VedaVyas temple.

We have nice refreshing holy dips in Ganges. All fresh, we head to room, change to dry clothes and start off on an Phat-phatia (shared auto) to go to the famous Hari-Ki-Pauri Ganga ghats to see the Ganga aarthi. We had already seen most of Haridwar 2 yrs back , so decided only to do something relaxing. Hari Ki Pauri

We loafed around in the narrow, colorful crowded streets just observing and enjoying the sight of everything happening there. As we did this, we treated our taste buds with fresh made gulabjamun, rasmalai, dhokla etc. It was yummm...mmm !! ;-) In the rush, I hurt my toe nail badly in stampede and rushed to one of the doctors there. He gave me a tetanus injection :( After having dinner in a restaurant, we return to our room and sleep by 11.0pm!!

Day 10 :: May 30th- Friday :: Haridwar -New Delhi

We had our train to Delhi scheduled at 10.30 am. We wake up at 7.00 am, Pack up our bags, go to temple for Pooja, have breakfast and leave on an auto to the railway station by 9.15am. We reach Delhi at 2.30pm. Journey was quite un-eventful. We take a taxi to our relatives house there and spend the rest of the day there. We had seen most of Delhi couple of years back, so just spent quality time at their home.

Day 11 :: May 31st-Saturday :: New Delhi -Bangalore
We take our scheduled flight to Bangalore at around 3.30pm. Flight is usually the borest means of travel, with everyone busy in their own world. So I too spent the journey, dreaming and re-living some of the wonderful moments from our tour. We reached Bangalore airport and I loved the new Devanahalli airport. I felt it in par with the international airports I have seen in other countries. But saddest part was the bus journey from airport to Jayanagar. We started at 8.00pm from airport and after all traffic jams, reached Jayanagar at 10.00 pm!!!

It was a lovely feeling to be back home after 12 days of travel and tour!! Truly, no matter where we travel, at the end of everything, nothing can beat the feeling of returning to our HOME SWEET HOME !!!! :)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Kedarnath to Badrinath-May 2008 :-)

[This post is continued from my previous post Gaurikund to Kedarnath]

Day 6:: May 26th-Monday :: Kedarnath-Gaurikund

I wake up at around 6.00am and when I opened my eyes, the first thing that hit my thougt was the last stage of our trek where I thought I will not make it to the top due to my stiff painful legs. For a second, it all felt like a dream- we finally walking the last 2kms and reaching the top and then automatically being guided to this room by a noble stranger!!!I wondered if all that was a dream and thought "Did that really happen??" . "YES" - replied my stiff body and also my puffy eyes. ;-)

I thanked God heartily again. Gautham was also awake by this time, and we feared getting out of bed, because, we were nice and warm inside the super thick blankets, and who wants to face the cold outside again? Secondly , we were seriously expecting our entire body to be way too stiffened and all in muscle catch, as usually these are more felt on the day after the strain!!

But we wasted no time, and got out of bed, because, it was already late to go to temple. We knew people come way too early to stand in the queue. We hurried up and got fresh. The water was freezingly cold and we had a tough time using it!! Oh, forgot to mention, to our sheer surprise, our bodies were very close to normal. There was little bit of pain and stiffness, but it was totally manage able.

When we were ready to leave and opened the doors, we met our 'savior' at the door. On asking if it was ok to have the room till we finished darshan, he told, if we only need it to keep our bags, we can keep those in his shop near the temple so that he can give the room to someone else. We totally agreed with it and packed up things fast, took the name of his shop, thanked him again and left.

We were hungry like tigers, because the only good thing we had after the previous day lunch was the 14 km trek !! So at 6.45 when we got out of our rooms, the first thing we did was hit a dhaba and had an alu paratha. That was surely the best paratha EVER!! While we were enjoying our paratha, another family on our table started speaking to us. They were from Goa. The first thing the lady in the group told me was "Sorry". I was wondering why. She continued "Yesterday, when I was being taken up in Palakhi, I had seen you both. I saw you were having lots of trouble, but he seemed to be fine. I think you were standing and trying hard to breathe, when my Palakhi guy just dashed you hard. I felt very sorry for you, but could do nothing". I just laughed out loud and told that its the most common thing to happen when all walk together and there is nothing to apologize. But no doubt, I truly appreciated her concern.

Then we started chit-chatting about our mutual experiences in Palakhi and foot. They told, they too were totally wet after the heavy rains and had to bear the worst cold they ever felt, and they could literally feel their bones freeze. They told, since they sit idle on Palakhi, their body does not generate heat. They also told us, they were envying the pedestrians like us, because at least the walk was keeping us a little warm. In return, we told, the advantage they had was, they had to bear it all only for short time, maybe 5 hrs and also , they reached here by dark before temperature went to sub-zeroes.

After this discussion, we were shocked knowing that the family had already finished their darshan at the temple!! They told people are on queue from 4.00 am. So the darshan tickets for the day are already booked till 3 in the afternoon and they have stopped issuing tickets too. They told they caught a Pandit there who took them from the side door for some extra money and asked us to do the same. They also suggested that we reach back down to Gaurikund by afternoon, because weather gets bad in the afternoons. Giving us these tips, they left.

We wished that we had woken up early to get into the queue. But the previous night we were way too tired to even think about the next day and slept without setting the alarm. Since there was no use regretting, we started walking fast to the temple. To my surprise, the weather was very pleasant. It was cold, but was truly bearable. Best part was the bright sun, shining high in the sky with all its power. As we walked towards the temple, the first sight of it , just took away my breath!! I dont think any other temple would be in such a beautiful location as this!! It was right amidst the semi-circle of peaks, half of them completely covered by snow!!
We looked around to see the long queue. We thought for a while what we needed to do. We realized that we had to have darshan and leave by afternoon and reach down by night in any case, beause, we had hired the room in Gaurikund for 2 days only and we feared, we may loose our luggage which we left in the room if we reach late. So we decided to take Pandits help and skip the queue.

We spoke to one of the Pandits there, and he already had few people like us with him. He told it may take an hour and we agreed. I stood there waiting, seeing the majestic peaks, and wondering, how powerful must have been the accomplishments of Shankaracharya, to reach this place without any winter gears or vehicles and to set up this temple here!!
Close up of the Kedarnath temple.

After waiting for about an hour and half, at 9.00, we got to enter the temple and we performed our pooja there to the Jyothi linga of Shiva. Need not say it was overly crowded and very chaotic partly due to the line jumpers like us. And partly because, like most temples of North India, we were allowed to touch the Shivling and perform rituals, and one could stay there as long as one wishes, as there is no one to ask us to leave the place.We managed to sneak through and perform the pooja by pouring the Ganga jal that we carried from Gangotri .

By 9.15 we came out of the temple. Then we went to the Shankaracharya Samadhi. There was nothing antique about that place. There was just a modernly constucted hall, with Shankaracharyas idol, below which we were told there is the Samadhi. We both after coming out from the temple

So by 9.45 we finished seeing everything there. When we were about to leave the temple area, I met one of the girls from the farmer community of our bus. On inquiring, she told that they all came up on foot, and reached at 11.00 pm. And that they stood in queue from 4.00 am and had finished their darshan already!! I was totally amazed seeing their level of energy to wake up at 4 after a walk till 11.00. She was in a hurry, so I could not ask anything more. Then shortly we met our room owner, who I will forever refer to as our 'savior'. I thanked him again and told him that he may not realize how big a help he had done last night and also that I truly felt like he was God sent savior. He just laughed and told that was nothing. We bid bye to him.

After having tea and snacks, we started our walk back down exactly at 10.00 and reached Gaurikund exactly at 2.00 pm. Obviously the downward walk is much easier and we reached in just 4 hrs, since gravity acts like a true friend, we would be walking from low oxygen to high oxygen area and not to forget, the weather was extremely good with bright sun kissing us all the time.

When we started the downward journey, Gautham got little keen about taking the mule ride, just to experience the fun of it!! But I strongly denied it , because, firstly I wanted to test myself seeing how long will I take to walk downwards. Secondly, the very thought of having the jerky, fast, downward mule ride just scared me to core. (Thats because, previous day, I had observed many people scream when their mules seem to run very fast when walking down and I had also seen how the mules slip when they run down.) Thirdly , I thought, when we get old, we will anyway have to take it, so lets walk, when our legs are strong enough for it.

And we both totally enjoyed our walk down. And during the first 7 kms downward, with every step, I was wondering "Did I take these many steps yesterday??" And I kept telling Gautham many times that "I can't believe I did it yesterday.....I can't believe I did this yesterday!!" ;-)

Also we made sure we grasped all that we had missed the previous day due to pain and fatigue. We walked slowly, enjoying the sight of beautiful peaks and also my favorite job of simply observing people. I was totally amazed seeing the Pitthus. I wondered, how a thin looking Nepali can carry a huge looking, atleast 80 kgs weighing person on his back and climb 14 km uphill ??I just observed his thin legs and wondered what gave them the power and strenght for this?? I pondered about it and got my answer. The sad answer is -Hunger!!!

We took some breaks in between and carried on our pleasure trek downwards. Gautham motivated me to join him on this off the walkway-trek. They were actually short-cuts, but time-wise , its the same because, even though, you walk less, you walk through the ups and downs through stones, mud and sometimes water stream. I tried 2-3 shortcuts and after that stopped,because the stones were not very stable here, and I feared that if I get a sprain, I may miss the fun of remaining 4 days of tour. Gautham went ahead confidently for few more short-cuts and I preferred to take the long-walk way. This was off the walk-way short-cut which Gautham was loving.

After a lovely 14 km downward walk, we reached Gaurikund at 2.00 pm. We reached our rooms, dumped our bags and went to a nearby dhaba for lunch. Then we came back and had a nice afternoon nap. This recharged us well, and we were fresh when we woke up at 5.30. Gautham had to go to GMVN ticket counter, in between at 4.00, to book our tickets to Badrinath for the next day. Luckily we managed to get the tickets.

At six we got out of room and started loafing around. We went to Gauri temple and also went near the Mandakini water ghats. Mandakini is the tributary of Ganges which flows in GauriKund. The sight of Mandakini saddened us pretty much. Mandakini had a nice flow of pristine green crystal clear water, but was looking very dirty due to just one pollutant-PLASTIC. The main products were the thin, use and throw raincoats and water bottles.

I decided to try my luck in the Kund once again and entered the ladies side of the hot water Kund. This time, there was no water in the Kund as it was all drained out so that fresh water collects in. There were lots of ladies near the water source, again arguing and fighting to get turns under the fresh hot water . This time I was determined to touch the water. So amidst all this , I managed to get my hands and feet wet and feel the hot water. Water was boiling hot and I was totally amazed feeling it!!

The rest of the evening went normally, loafing around, and then dinner at Dhaba by chit-chatting with a tamilian couple who shared our table. We got back to room, packed up stuff and slept at 10.00 pm, all set to board our 5.00 am bus on the next day.

Day 7:: 27th May-Tuesday :: GauriKund to Badrinath

We wake up at 4.00 am, get fresh and reach our bus at 4.30 am. We have by now learnt that we must reach the bus early in order to find space for our bags in the boot of the bus. This time we had last but one seat on the left side of the bus. This bus had the least leg-space we ever saw in any bus. But soon we derived a way to sit comfortably in it. :-)

The bus was soon full and as per schedule, it left the bus stop exactly at 5 am. But we could only travel at snails speed due to the traffic jam, all due to the senselessly parked vehicles. Since there is no enough parking space in Gaurikund, many buses were parked on the narrow roads leading to Gaurikund. We only travelled 4 kms in 4 hrs!! So we were still near Gaurikund even at 9.00 am!! But the biggest relief was that, we had a sensible driver and conductor this time. So we completely trusted them and did not worry ,even at times when our bus seemed to be on the last gravel of the hill.

When moving at snails speed, we got a closer look at the plastic hazard. It was a pain to see the amount of plastic dumped just about anywhere and everywhere on the hills and in the water. Small example of huge plastic hazard that we saw....bottles are just about everywhere
And worst of all are the thin colorful plastic raincoats. They are just broken down to smaller and smaller pieces in water, making it impossible to clean them up. At least bottles can be hoped to be picked some day. But not these.

I was pained seeing this plastic hazard. I also felt guilty when I thought of the empty water bottle I dropped in dustbin of our room. I feared that the dustbin would be emptied in these waters shortly. So virtually, I too would have contributed to this. I remembered that, none of our farmer friends carried water bottles. Each one of them carried water in their personal steel containers and refilled it at every bore-well they saw. Something to learn again!!

I diverted my attention off from plastic hazard soon, as the sight was very depressing. So I turned to something most cheerful. Observing the flood of people!! The roads were so much jam packed with vehicles, that people had no space left to walk. Everyone coming TO Gaurikund, got down from their vehicles, to walk and reach Gaurikund. But soon they realized, that walking too wasn't easy. But nothing could stop them, and we saw people(men, women and even kids) climbing and walking on the railings at the edge of the hill- just to keep moving!! To add onn, to the crowd, there were also some porters with their mules, adding lots of chaos and fear to the already existing complexity.

But all this provided very good entertainment to the people in the bus like us. People in the bus, immediately started commenting , laughing and admiring the spirit of the people. So there was no need of 'breaking the ice' session between us. There was a Punjabi family of 3 from Bhatinda and also a family of 3 from Lucknow in the last 6 seats of the bus behind us. We all got along very well during the entire journey.

Finally after 4 hrs of wait, the traffic jam eased at 9.00 am. It was a smooth ride after that. We had a gala time chit-chatting with our fellow friends about variety of topics. The most interesting ones being North Indian V/S South Indian cuisine and customs. They wondered how we South Indians can satisfy hunger with Idlis and dosas. And we wondered how could they digest the loads of ghee that they generously add to their parathas ;-) Also everyone had their own story to tell about the overpriced dirty rooms and the cold Kedarnath trek. We were shocked listening that some paid even 1200 Rs per night for the rooms!! I thought we were lucky to get it for half the price atleast!! Ohh, forgot to mention - everybody were all in praise for the amazing facilities and management at "VaishnoDevi" - something that was totally lacking here. And yeah, we both also got a pat on back for visiting places like Kedarnath at this young age ;-)

Everyone in the bus were hungry, but driver refused to stop anywhere for breakfast ,as we had already lost time in traffic jam. He told he will stop for early lunch at Chopta. He did as he told, at 11.30 and we ate till our stomachs were more than full, because, it was both our breakfast and lunch(and if there is any jam ahead ,then dinner too;-). Yet again, we had the delicious simple lunch at a small roadside dhaba.

And yeah, I must mention here that, when I had got down for lunch, I was literally limping. The results of our 14 km trek, was finally out!! We had got multiple muscle catch in our legs, all because our legs we were stationary today with no walk or exercise. I knew a full days journey was pending and it would only make the 'catch' worst.

The driver was in a hurry because he wanted to reach JoshiMutt before 4.30Pm. JoshiMutt is a place 50 km before Badrinath. From this place, its a one way journey to Badrinath. Meaning, the roads between JoshiMutt and Badrinath are gated. This measure is involved to minimize the risks on the highly high, narrow roads betwwen JoshiMutt and Badrinath. So at a time, there will be only downcoming or upgoing traffic-not both. The gates at JoshiMutt are closed when traffics are released from Badrinath and vice versa. The last gate open at JoshiMutt was at 4.30pm. So if reached after 4.30pm,we would not be allowed to go. This means we could go to Badrinath only next morning, spending the night at JoshiMutt. So our good driver was driving fast, and yet very carefully, thus keeping all of us fearless.

So post lunch, it was a non-stop journey to JoshiMutt. Most of the people in our bus, who had tight schedules kept their fingers crossed to see if we would make it to JoshiMutt before 4.30. But we saw that he could not make it. We only reached JoshiMutt nearly at 5.30. We observed that , as we neared JoshiMutt, our bus was stopped for every other person who hand signalled for the bus to stop. In short, many localites were getting on and off our bus. We were all wondering whats happening.

We got our answers, as we reached JoshiMutt at 5.30 where many more localites where waiting for our bus. We got to know that, since the local bus from JoshiMutt to Badrinath was canceled for the day-for reasons unknown to us-Our bus was now used as the local bus. This proved to be a blessing to us, because, even if it was 5.30, we were allowed to cross the gate and go ahead, for the only reason that the locals stranded in Joshimutt, could reach up to Badrinath by boarding our bus.

So once again we traveled, on high hills, on narrow fragile roads. Our driver had to drive very carefully as the vehicles coming from opposite side would not anticipate a vehicle from our side. So hence in the slow scary journey, we got to enjoy the glaciers and beds of ice which were seen at many places, as we reached close to Badrinath.

We finally reached Badrinath at 7.15pm. The first thing I observed was that Badrinath was very different from either Gangotri or Gaurikund or Kedarnath, in the way that, Badrinath seemed to be much more organized and spacious in comparison with above mentioned places. It had wider roads or walkways and the buildings were much more spread-out, giving a feeling that , it is prepared to handle any amount of crowd. I loved this feeling of being able to breathe fresh here :)

We did not have to go in search of rooms here. As, we planned to stay at KashiMutt- a hermitage constructed by the Swamiji who has been blessing our family since ages. We walked nearly 20 minutes from bus-stop to reach there and easily managed to get a room. We left our bags in the room and went out to get a feel of the place. The first sight of the temple was awesome. The temple is very colorful, a true beauty to the eyes.

We walked near the temple area and saw the infinite looking queue constantly moving inside the temple. Deciding visit temple, very early next morning, we walked towards a "restaurant" to have dinner (First time in our journey, where we could see restaurants and not dhaba). On the way, we met the punjabi family from our bus. They told that, their pundit told them to visit temple right now. They were told that, the temple is supposed to close at 9.30pm, but no matter what, they wont disappoint the people who are waiting in queue since long hours. They told us, they will join the end of queue and will complete the darshan today.

We were a little confused as to what to do. We had no clue how long it would take for us, if we get into queue now. We pondered about it as we had dinner and decided to give it a try now. We hoped it would be something like our Gangotri temple experience earlier, where we escaped all the queue just because we went right at the time when temple was closing.

To our sheer disbelief, it actually happened so!! We hardly waited for 15 minutes in fast moving queue and manged to get into temple at 9.10pm. We came out by 9.30 pm. Since devotees are not allowed to perform any rituals here, the queue moves very fast unlike in Kedarnath. Colorful Badrinath temple.

We met our Punjabi friends on our way out and we thanked them for their wonderful idea of visiting the temple at this time. Along with them, we headed straight to the bus-stop, to book tickets to Haridwar for the next day.We were told that there is bus at 6.30am next day and that the tickets will be issued only on the next day.

Deciding to meet them at bus-stop the next morning at 5.30am, we walked back to our room. We were very happy that, we were truly lucky, to have finished the darshan this easily. On reaching our room, we wasted no time and went to sleep, mainly because we were very tired, and also because, we had to wake up by 3.30 am the next morning, to have our dips in the fuming hot tapt kund near the temple before reaching the bus stop at 5.30 !!!

[To be continued in my next post]

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gaurikund to Kedarnath--May 2008 :-)

[This post is continued from my earlier post Gangotri to Gaurikund ]

We got down from our bus and bid bye to others in the bus. We would anyways meet them again as we all would trek up to the temple. I thanked god that we all reached safely and were ALIVE!! Also I hoped we don't have to travel with the same driver again in my life!!!

I was taken aback by the crowd I saw outside, because it was much more than that of Gangotri. We walked in search of a room to stay. It was getting tough to even walk with our bags, as there was lots of hassle-bassle with people walking in all directions in search of room. Due to the traffic jam, everyone like us, who were destined to reach on Sunday, happened to reach on Monday. Not to forget, people who were destined to reach on Monday anyways reached with us. So it was an over-crowded Monday- an ideal day for the room owners to mint money!!

We walked through the narrow streets , through the crowd, searching for rooms. As expected, wherever we asked, it seemed to be full. When we were hunting around, a person called us from his balcony telling there are rooms. We walked up to see the rooms. The rooms were actually not rooms, but "hard cardboard sheets, arranged to form a room" !!! And there only one common toilet for all the neighboring rooms. And he was charging 650 Rs for this. We walked off and then were called back again to show another small room, which had a small, low, attach bath. The roof was so low that we could not stand straight in it !!! We had a look at it, and it looked much better than previous one because at least it had strong looking walls!! We bargained and got it for Rs 600. We hired it for 2 days paying 1200 Rs.

Thank god , the beds were very dirty, else I would feel like resting a little bit in peace!! ;-) We got fresh and immediately bifurcated our luggage. We carried things required for our 14 kms trek to Kedarnath and our stay there for the night. After this, we went out to have lunch.

Gaurikund has its name because there is a Gauri temple near which there is a hot water "kund". The Kund gets its hot water from natural geo-thermal energy of the sulphur springs. Before lunch, Gautham was very keen about having his bath in the Kund. I was not very keen about it, as I was already feeling energy drained due to not having breakfast, and travel, and moreover, the crowd and hassle bassle, was making me feel my fatigue more. But still, I thought of giving it a try.

I went to ladies side of the kund which is covered with walls. I walked in through the crowd of ladies to have a look at the kund. The sight of kund gave me a shock and I thought taking bath here would be the last thing I would wish to do. Kund was full of ladies, fighting to have bath and some were just walking in it carelessly dashing and pushing everyone. Need not say lots of noise generated due to scolding each other. There were chappals floating in the small kund and also some pieces of cloth and plastic. I could not observe more , because I already started feeling that I will literally faint. The place was stinking, and mainly I was finding it tough to breathe due to the scarce oxygen in a small over-crowded covered room. I tried hard to get through the crowd and came out and started breathing. I told Gautham about my experience and that its impossible to take bath here.

Then I saw the men's side of the Kund. It was very clean and open and sun rays were hitting the water beautifully. There were many men (but less than half of number of women in ladies side), but all were systematically having bath one after another. I wondered why the ladies side of kund was so bad !!!

After he had his bath there, we had lunch at a dhaba nearby. Gaurikund is very commercial. Its not a big place, but no space is wasted. Any any any space, that is available is converted to a room or a dhaba. So wherever you walk, you see narrow 'gallis' with weirdly shaped structures on both sides.

We went to room, collected our lightened bags, left un-necessary stuff in the room and started off with our walk up to Kedarnath at 1.45 pm. I hated the first 1 km of our trek, because it was overcrowded- this time not only with people, but also with the mules (Its the cross between horse and a donkey).

I must mention here that during the yaatra season from May to November, thousands of Nepalis come here for occupation. They are mainly porters carrying people and luggage from Gaurikund to the top at Kedarnath. Most of them have mules, then some carry "Palanki"--a group of four porters carry individuals on a chair like thing on their shoulders...and then there are these "Pitthu" --its an individual, who carries another individual on a basket on his back. One can hardly find any non-Nepali porter. Need not say, the mules are mercilessly treated.

It was unpleasant in the first 1 km , with a porter coming to us at every step and and asking to choose any means of transport. And then there were these mules, just about anywhere. I had a major mule phobia that was making things worst. (Thats because back in Gangotri, when we were walking through the hills, 2 mules came running very fast, madly, out of no-where, towards me and had luckily suddenly stopped at only arms distance from me, when I screamed at top of my voice!!). And not to forget the odor of the excreta of thousands of mules, which seemed stronger than any of the anesthesia in the world.

We did not choose any of the means of transportation, because we had decided to walk up-"no matter what". Shiva is Gautham's "IshtaDev"-meaning most dear form of god. So we had made a self commitment of reaching the temple on foot.

Very soon the first 1 km was over and we were very happy, because, the porter and mule crowd was depleting and yeah, we were now breathing fresh clean air amidst beautiful mountain ranges. The next 2 km also went fine, we did not walk very fast, we just walked comfortably, but we were sweating badly due to the bright sun. Hence was covered the first three kms.

By this time, I got immune to the sight of the mule and hence lost my mule phobia. Mules were going up and down all the time carrying travelers. At some places on our walkway, there were no railings. Only at such points, we made sure we walked towards the side of the mountain and away from the open side. Because, the mules and porters always tend to dash you if you are on their way, specially those who are coming down, as they will be in good speed.

Since I was sweating , I took off my jacket and had hardly walked few steps after this , when suddenly the sun was gone behind the clouds. And in few more steps, we were shocked to feel rain drops falling on us. We entered a tea shop immediately and put on our rain-coats and started walking (We had carried rain-coats from Bangalore. We get thin,plastic, use and throw raincoats in GauriKund for a small amount, but I wonder it does any help) We also ate our first dosage of Glucon-D instant glucose, as we were feeling little tired with 3 km uphill walk.

Not caring for the light rain, we started walking with our raincoats on. But we had to get into a shelter soon, as it started pouring way too heavily. In no time, the shelter was over-crowded with people like us , seeking refuge from rain. Next to us was a porter and we told him , we are shocked by the sudden change, because less than 10 minutes back, we were sweating. He told that "Yeh toh pahaadi mausum hai...aage aage aur bigdega" -meaning this is the mountain weather, and it only gets worst as you climb high. We waited for 10 minutes for the rain to stop, but it showed no signs of slowing down. Instead we heard more thunderstorms and it poured even more heavily. And we could feel the sudden fall in temperature. Then came a Pitthu with a small 5 year old kid in his basket. The boy was crying loudly at the top of his voice, as he was totally drenched and obviously feeling cold.

We waited for 10 more minutes, but rains were just getting heavier and temperature was getting lower. We both had worn sports shoe, so we wondered, if it would be better to change to rainy chappals. We asked the porter next to us about it, and he told its better to retain our shoes. Even if it gets wet, it will be much warmer than the open chappals. We took his advice. We had already spent half an hour at the shelther, and the rain only seemed to be slightly lowered. Porter told us to continue walking, as one never knows when the rain stops. We thought he was right, and we got into the rain and started walking.

There were many like us, who were walking in rain. The mules and Palanki anyway don't stop in any condition....they just have to keep moving. We kept walking slowly in the rains. We could easily feel the temperature falling rapidly. In no time, our shoes were totally drenched and we could feel water rushing in it. Even though our raincoats were good ones, water just finds its way from anywhere. We could feel water trickling through different places and that it was slowly making us wet. Luckily , after walking for about 2 kms the rains reduced considerably.

Hence we completed 5 kms of our trek and we had 9 more kms to go. By this time, we were totally drenched. Specially our jean pants were dripping. We took another break and had another dosage of glucose. After relaxing for 5 minutes, we started walking again. By this time, it was just drizzling. Shortly, the drizzle was also gone. But the higher we reached, it was getting tougher to walk. Because it was more steep, more cold and mainly, the oxygen was depleting in higher altitudes. I was specially feeling it very tough to breathe and hence was feeling tired in just few steps. I kept walking slowly, and would rest for few seconds after few steps just to take a deep breath. So at snails pace, we finally reached Ramabada- a very small city like place exactly at halfway ie 7 kms after starting point.

We decided to take a break here and entered a tea shop. I was shivering. For a break, I took off my raincoat and wet jacket. I was shocked at the sight of seeing heat leaving my body. It was as if I was fuming all over!! I started shivering very badly. The tea boy gave very hot glass of tea in my hand, but my hand had gone so numb that, I could hardly feel the glass or the heat of it. I tried to hold the glass as tightly as possible, and after 2 minutes, finally I could feel a bit of heat. Just when I was feeling better, I saw a person come carrying his 5 year old son. I just could not see the way the boy was crying bitterly. He had totally gone numb...what they call 'he was totally bitten by cold'. The father took his son directly to the fireplace where they were making tea. The boy seemed to take long time to recover. Seeing the sight, I got very scared about hypo-thermia.

So I put on my woolen gloves. I had not put it on so far fearing , they will get wet and will be of little use. But now since it was only drizzling, I thought of putting them on. Gautham gave me his jacket, as he has huge capacity of bearing cold, unlike me. I put on that too and we started back with our walk. I was feeling much warm now, but I felt something really wrong with my legs. They had gone stiff in the nearly 20 minute break that we took !! I had to try really hard to force my legs to walk. I started chanting "om namah shivaya" with every step to give me the boost to carry on. I have bloated with 2 jackets and one raincoat!! Observe the snow capped peaks too.

We walked the next three kms slowly, putting all our energy and by highly depending on Glucon-D and reached the 10 km milestone!! We started observing many aged folks walking slowly but steadily with no signs of pain or tiredness. They reminded me of our farmer friends in the bus. I was worrying how they would walk up 14 kms. But here there were people like them, old and yet managing to walk much better than me. That too they were not having any winter gears or shoes like we had. I was ashamed seeing that 60 year old had way too much stamina than I had. They had a strong body which had toiled enough to withstand any kind of steep climb or any cold weather.

Happy that we had only 4 kms left to cover, we continued walking. The higher we went, the sights that we got to see, were just mind-blowing. But I could not enjoy them fully , because I was feeling it very difficult to climb. Time was nearing 6 in the evening and it was slowly getting dark and the major problem was , ice-cold winds started blowing as we got higher and it made it very tough for me to breathe. And my legs had gone totally numb by this time. It was as if, I had no legs at all below my hips. The only thing I could feel was bitter pain, each time I forced my legs to move ahead for every single step.

When situation was so bad, the only thing that was motivating me was chanting His name all the time. Gautham was also pretty tired and having the same problem with legs. Also the cold winds were beating him. He did not have a jacket too. But luckily, in spite of all this, he was able to breathe normally unlike me.

It was 7.00 and we had reached 12 km milestone. It had got dark by this time and winds were getting strong and bitterly cold. I asked Gautham to take his jacket, but he declined and told I need it more than him and he is fine. I had no energy left for any discussion too. I was way too tired. The only things I could feel was pain and cold. The thought of walking last two kms scared me, because I was feeling it really tough to walk even 2 steps. But we had no time to rest, as, the more slowly we walk, the more cold it gets. Also the more slowly we walk, the later we will reach Kedarnath, and it means more difficulty in finding rooms. And finding a room in Kedarnath was more important than finding a room anywhere else, as we cant spend the night on streets in sub-zero temperatures.

I have no words to describe the feeling I went through in the last 2 kms of our climb. The fear, the desperation, the helplessness, the pain !!! I was feeling like crying out loud, but crying would be the last thing my body would do, because, my body had no energy left for that too. !! Finally I GAVE UP and told Gautham "lets take a mule or palanki and reach Kedarnath soon, because at this pace, we wont reach there even till 10 o clock, and I cant imagine what we will do if there are no rooms there". Gautham kept motivating me to keep walking, but I kept telling him I can keep walking with all the pain, but I can't walk any faster.

We were walking in dark and there were few like us, having a tough time walking the last 2 kms which was steeper than earlier (or atleast I felt so). There were hardly any mules on the way, as they all had reached by dark. We met hardly two empty mules going down, but they refused to take us up, as they were themselves in a hurry to reach down. They told "zyada door nahin....aage samthal hai". Meaning its not too far, and there is no steep ahead.

So we had no other choice, but to walk. I thought its His wish, and accepted it and just asked His blesssing and strength in every step. Finally finally finally, we completed the last 2 kms in 2 hours (7 to 9) . I still remember each painful step of this last 2 km, and how much I had struggled to lift my feet in each of the steps. We finished our steep walk of 14 kms and next it was level ways. But it was pitch dark everywhere as there was no power there due to the rains. Our torch came to our rescue. We kept walking, in bitter cold and pain. We did not know how far we had to walk, as everything ahead was dark, and we could not see even a single source of light to indicate we had reached Kedarnath city.

I told Gautham that, no matter how un-reasonable or expensive, we are taking the first room available. Because neither me nor he had the energy to go in search of rooms in this dark.

After slowly walking for about 20 minutes, we could finally see dim lights and hear little bit of hassle-bassle. It was such a relief to see that we had finally reached our destination!! But we had no reason to rejoice, as we knew finding room would be really tough. Gautham went to a hotel and before he could enter, he was told its full. Then we walked little ahead, to another hotel. Gautham could not raise his leg to climb the high steps of the hotel. The person standing there signaled that there are no rooms. We just kept on praying that we get a room as we walked through the dark street only slightly illuminated by candles in tea stalls. The entire place had no power.

Words can do no justice for my fear then, about not finding a room. I seriously thought, we both will risk our life due to hypo-thermia. I felt more fear than I had felt earlier ,when our careless driver was driving high on edge of hills. I was feeling I will faint any moment, and knew that he too had no energy left to take care of me or vice-versa. I just kept on praying for room(which was our lifeline now), when suddenly, out of the dark, came a man with a torch, walking directly towards us. He came to us and asked "Apko rooms chahiye kya?? Ek family room hai paanch so rupayon mein". It was a sheer shock for us. In this dark, at 9.30 pm, when rooms are highly in demand, a person comes to us telling "Do you need a room, I have a family room for Rs 500!! " We agreed and he asked us to walk with him to the room. He started walking with normal speed, but we were too tired for it. I told him to walk slowly as I am not able to breathe. He told I must have carried camphor with me, as it helps a lot to ease breathing in high altitudes. After asking him to stop thrice for leg pain and breathing breaks, finally we reached the room he was talking about. It was a huge family room for 5 and the best room we ever had in this entire journey!! And he had sincerely charged us just 500Rs in this dark cold night!!! Even if he had charged anything much higher than double this rate, I am sure we would have agreed for it.

He gave us a lamp, and left the room. We immediately changed to dry clothes, at the verge of collapsing. We had no jackets or sweaters as everything had got wet in rain. (We actually had left few extra jackets back in Gaurikund room, because, we saw scorching sun back there and had not even imagined about getting rains here, and thought it would create unnecessary weights in our bags.) We were so tired that, we forgot hunger totally. Only thing we wanted to do was, crash on bed and get rest and warmth.

Luckily, we were provided with really thick blankets on the bed.We immediately got into them only to discover that both our bed and blankets are ice-cold. We had no other option, but to bear the cold blankets till they got warm with our body heat. But it took quite a long time for it to get warm and before that, Gautham started shuddering very badly. I got very nervous seeing it, because Gautham was always known for his capacity to bear extreme cold. Seeing him shudder, out of no-where, I got the energy to pull myself out of bed and search some balm like Vicks from bag. I applied it to his palms and feet and started rubbing furiously to generate heat. Luckily this worked and his shuddering slowed down. Then I got into the cold blankets again and waited for it to get warm.

Ahh....what a feeling it was when our body was slowly resting!!! When the blankets were slowly getting warm, I started thinking about the miracle that had just happened and tears just rolled down continuously from my eyes!!(It was as if, my body finally let go, all the tears it was holding back during our trek.) It was truly a miracle that when we were not having the energy to even walk up to a hotel and ask about rooms in dark cold night, a person himself comes to us to offer us a very nice room!! I truly felt it as His way of blessing us after completing our painful journey to His destination on foot. I could not stop my tears, then, for a long time, and even now as I write this, because, once again in life, I had truly felt HIS BLESSING!!!

[To be continued in next post ....]

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gangotri to Gaurikund - May 2008 :-)

[ This post is a continued from my previuos post Bangalore to Gangotri ]

Day 3:: May 23rd-Friday :: Gangotri- New Tehri

We rise at 6.00 am. The first thing I do is , open the door and catch the early morning view of the beautiful mountains behind our room ...all covered with fog and mist. Perfect way to start the day!! After getting fresh, we went to the bus stop and collected our tickets to Gaurikund (Kedarnath base camp) .We had paid little advance money previous day and made the booking. (Since traffic jams are very common here, tickets are issued, only after the bus arrives at the bus stop.) The person who issued the ticket told that, it will take one and half days to reach Gaurikund. He told there is an alternate shorter route, which takes only a days journey. But the bus does not take that route, because, there are more chances of landslides there, hence more chances of delays. He told the bus will go to Sri-Nagar by evening and after spending the night there, will continue next morning and reach Gaurikund by 3 in the afternoon. Since we had no time deadlines, we did not mind the bus taking the long route.

Our bus was scheduled to depart at 8.00 am. It was just 7.00 am. So we had enough time to complete one task which we forgot previous day. Its a ritual to carry Ganga jal from Gangotri and pour it on shiva ling during the pooja in Kedarnath. So we went to Ganga ghats of temple again, and collected Ganga Jal in a Bisleri bottle. Then we had breakfast at a roadside dhaba. We both had just recovered from viral fever and throat infection. We were still on anti-biotics. But the wonderful sight of many hot samosas frying in a huuuge kadai, just made us forget about everything and we thought "Lets go for it"!! When eating it ,we realized, it was totally worth it !! And I was shocked with what I was seeing. The man who was frying the samosas, was also making some dough and once in every minute, he was directly immersing his hand in the hot oil, boiling with the samosas!! I thought of asking him how he manages to do that, but then, he seemed to be too busy for it, so just started walking towards our bus.

When we reached our bus, we were shocked to see the crowd. The people in the entire bus, seemed to be from one family !!! And in reality, it was almost true. They were all farmers from a small village in UP...so almost like one big family. We had got the 2 seats in first row, right next to the front steps of the bus. We were very happy with our seats, because, it gave lots of leg space for our long legs!! There was one bengali family, in the cabin of the bus, on the long side seat near the driver. So apart from we two and the bengalis, everyone else in the bus, belonged to the farmers community. :)

So our journey was never silent. It was full time noisy. They were talking in the typical village style hindi...loud and clear enough for everyone in bus to understand. Some ladies were singing bhajans all day......and some were all time pulling each others legs with weird slogans and comments.....it was full day entertainment. I was again happy with our decision of choosing to travel on our own on these buses....because how else would I have this rare chance of observing people from different communities??

But soon....I started re-thinking if it was the right thing we chose to do!! Because, driver of our bus was very careless with his driving and he seemed highly frustrated. The entire journey between all CharDham is highly risky. As its all on highly curved roads, with a blind spot at every second, on very narrow and fragile roads, high on Himalayan ranges. This being the case, its very important to drive with high caution, honking at every curve without fail, and most importantly, driver has to keep a cool head all time. And when two buses face each other on road, the situation gets highly delicate, as the road is barely enough for two buses to pass. So the bus towards the mountain, gets as close to the mountain as possible, so that bus on the risky , open side has enough space to pass safely. This is the most common thing during the journey. The conductor of the bus, has a big role to play in such situation , as he has to guide the driver with how much space is left on the left hand side. Obviously, the driver cannot determine this , as he sits on the right hand side of the bus.

This being the case, our bus had highly dangerous combination of "frustrated driver with lazy conductor who do not trust each other" !!! Our driver was honking only once in 10 blind spots, our conductor was observing the left side and warning the driver only once in 10 delicate situation and even when the driver is warned not to come to left, he would not care and take the bus more to the left side.....taking the wheel sometimes on the last stone of the cliff!!!

I wished I had got a different seat. Because my journey was getting highly stressful just within 2 hours !! Our seat was on left hand side of the bus , next to the steps. So I could see very clearly when the wheels of our bus was almost in air !!! Also I could see the road ahead and the blind curves very well....and to make things worst, I could also listen to the driver-conductor conversation of anger and mutual dis-trust. I remembered all the wonderful, caring drivers and conductors of my previous journey and sent them a thank you in air and also a sorry for not realizing their importance earlier !!

Others in the bus too started feeling the fear. We all joined and told the driver to relax and drive carefully and honk at every curve. We tried telling it humorously, seriously, pleadingly.......but none of it worked. Infact, we felt he got more frustrated, so we gave it up. Then I just thought "Let him do his job, and I will do mine. I cant get out of the bus as no other buses are available from half way. So when there is no other option, let me try to enjoy this, I am sure god will save us". With this self conversation, I felt a little de-stressed and tried to stop my 'virtual-driving'. I then diverted my attention to nature...observing the beauty of wonderful ranges outside, the valley, the sky , the trees. I also started talking to Gautham about various topics on earth and Yeah....not to forget, In my mind, I started saying all the prayers I know :) Need not say, this really cooled me down !!!

Finally we reached Bhatwadi and stopped for lunch. After having a delicious baingan bhartha and dal roti, we started back in bus. In no time we reached Uttarkashi, but it started raining very heavily there. This was the last thing required to make our already bad journey, worst !! It was pouring and caused big traffic jams in Uttarkashi city. After about an hour of moving at snails pace, we got out of city and back to the curved roads of hills which were more dangerous due to the rains. I could again see stress building at the back of my mind and I tried best to suppress it. Luckily, the rain reduced and gradually stopped after about another hour.

Ohh...how could I forget to mention this!! Whenever any delicate situation arises, like our bus facing another bus, the villagers in our bus had a wonderful way of cheering up or I better say wonderful way of de-stressing. All scream at the top of their voice " Bolo Ganga maayi ki....Jai!!" "Bolo Kedar Baba ki ....Jai" ....and they would start singing some bhajans like "Aate hai bhagawan bhakthon dheer dharo" They seemed to be the most relaxed folks on bus !!! Lots to learn from them!!!

Our journey continued the same way, till evening. At 6.30 it started getting dark. Night driving is prohibitted everywhere on hills, obviously for the greater risks it involves. So we asked the conductor to stop at Chamba. But driver told he will stop at Nayi Tehri. So in the dark, from 7.00 to 8.00 the scary journey continued further and we finally reached Nayi Tehri. It was greatest relief to get down from the bus!! The place where we were taken, was not over-crowded by tourists. So for Rs 200 , we got a decent room. First reasonable priced hotel in our journey so far!! We had a nice dinner in a small dhaba, and slept at 9.00. After a highly stressful journey, It was a bliss to hit the bed and sleep. :)

Day 4 :: May 24th-Saturday:: New Tehri-AgasthyaMuni

Bus was supposed to start at 6.00. We were on time, but no one else came on time. The villagers started coming one by one slowly and the Bengali family were the last one to come. Most of the villagers were aged, and had a tough time climbing the steps of the bus. Since we were sitting near the steps, we helped most of them with their luggage, when they were climbing. I wondered how these aged folks will walk up 14 kms later during the day to reach Kedarnath temple !!

Our bus finally started at 7.00 am. Our driver seemed to be a little relaxed today. We were happy seeing that. When our journey started, we had wonderful sights of Tehri dam and our conductor was giving us the details. The city of Tehri was immersed in the dam. The entire city was re-constructed high on the hill again, and hence the name New-Tehri or Nayi Tehri.

A view of the Tehri Dam ....Hydro-Electricity projects are going on in full swing here.

The roads near Nayi-Tehri are very well constructed, as they have been done recently. The journey is very scenic , but its awesome to see how technology has been used to control nature. At some places, you see that Ganga is vanished. Thats because Ganges has been diverted entirely through huge tunnels hidden within the mountains!! We were also told that, the hydro-electric plants are all inside the mountains. So beneath the green sheet of trees , there lies multi-storeyed maze like structures, all inside the mountains!!! Amazing right??

So with all this discussion, and some nice bit of photography, we reached Sri-Nagar at about 11.00 am. Sri-Nagar is quite a big city with lots of schools and colleges. Our bus had just crossed the city and reached 3 kms ahead, when there was a "SURPRIIISE!! " . Our bus stopped at the side of the road and we got to know that there is a land-slide ahead and hence all vehicles blocked. We were not sure if it was rumor or truth, so we just waited for some more time in bus. After about half an hour, when there was no signs of traffic easing, we got down from bus. I was very hungry due to not having breakfast, so we thought of using this time for lunch!! But since we had come 3 kms ahead of city, there were no hotels/dhabas here. Going back to Srinagar would be stupidity, as if traffic eases, bus will move ahead. So we both started walking ahead and told the bus folks to pick us up on the way, if traffic eases.

In scorching sun, we started walking looking for Dhabas. We walked for about 1 and half kms, not finding even a single dhaba, but only ready made snacks shop. At about 12.00 traffic seemed to ease little, and our bus picked us from where we were. But in less than half a km ahead, traffic was stagnant again. We both again started our dhaba hunt, and luckily we found a place where there were a few dhabas.

We went in and had a yummy lunch. Roti, dal, sabzi!! And we were indeed very lucky, because just when we were having our lunch, many hungry stomachs came in search of food, and all were disappointed, because the food was empty. So we realized what we had just now was the last bit of food.

When we curiously asked Dhaba wala as to why he did not cook more, he told the jam is there from previous night after the rains, and so he has ran out of groceries to cook further. We realized that the traffic jam is far ahead than we had thought. It was 12.30 in the afternoon, temperature very high, roads were very very dusty. So we thought of spending some time in dhaba and sat there looking at the people walking here and there on road in search of food and drinking water. We were truly lucky to have lunch at right time.

We were wondering at the irresponsibility of the traffic police. The landslide happened previous evening and yet, traffic was not diverted before Sri-Nagar (There was an alternate route just before Sri-Nagar) Atleast traffic could have been with-held at Sri-Nagar to help people find food and water comfortably. Then we started laughing at the irony that, our bus driver had avoided all possible earlier shorter routes to escape landslides....and here we are, on the longest and so called safest route stuck up due to landslides!! There is no escape from nature !!!!

After about an hour, we heard rumors about traffic being eased. Even though we did not believe this much, fearing that we will miss our bus, we walked back to our bus. I got into the bus. Most of the women were in the bus and men were loitering outside.

Traffic jam actually helped breaking the ice between all of us!!! The Bengali family, the farmers family and I started interacting for the very first time. We all mutually spoke about the where-abouts of our families. Got to know that our guess that they were farmers was true. They told potato is their main produce. When I asked them why none of them had lunch, they told they all had home made dal snacks and also that they have enough food to survive even 4 days of traffic jam!! I was amazed!!!. We leave home thinking we have enough money to buy anything anywhere. They leave home making sure they don't have to buy anything anywhere.

Then our driver the great joined our conversation. When Bengali ladies asked him about the jam, he told "Yeh toh kuch nahin, pichle season toh hum aise hi ek hafthe raasthe par phass gaye thein"!! Meaning...."This is no big deal, last season, I was stuck in a jam like this on road for one week" !!! We all laughed out loud and the ladies asked him to shut his mouth and told "shubh shubh boliye" !!

This is the group of farmers from same village in our bus!!

We were done with our chit-chat and after that, time seemed to freeze. It was 4.00 in the evening and no signs of any traffic ease. Then it so happened that any silly event too, started entertaining all of us. May it be a small puppy running around on road, or may it be a big digger at the edge of the mountain digging stones and throwing in valley below it. After some time the farmers opened their food bags and they shared home made snacks with us too. They offered it with so much warmth that it was tough to decline it !!
Can You spot a yellow road digger doing its job??

Finally at 6.30 in the evening, traffic started moving!!! After few subsequent small jams, finally we passed through the land slide spot. Actually there were two land slides not very far from each other. So with this our 11-6.30 traffic jam came to an end :)
Long chain of vehicles waiting to move.

We were no doubt happy that traffic eased, but our real concern was about the drive ahead as it was getting dark. We all told conductor to stop at RudraPrayag overnight, as its quite a big city and so we can manage to get rooms and dormitories. When we reached Rudra-Prayag at about 7.30, it was over-crowded with vehicles. This was quite obvious, because all vehicles preferred it just like us. Our driver told that he will find it very difficult to park the bus here, so he told lets go ahead and check out.

We soon understood, it was a mistake that we let driver cross RudryaPrayag. The roads ahead were very very bad. I better say non-existant!! It was pitch dark and we could not see how high on hill we had come. And in this situation, when extra caution is required to drive, our driver started his weird behavior again. Whenever conductor warns him not to come further to the side, he had to come to the side to prove him wrong. There were so many times my heart literally skipped the beats. We stopped in between at couple of small hotels asking for rooms, but all of them were full. Then came Rampur, where everyone hoped to get rooms. There were rooms here, obviously over-priced. We both and Bengali family agreed, but the others in the bus did not like this place as the dormitories were also way too expensive. Since they were in majority, we had to oblige.

They told there is a place called AgasthyaMuni next where we have chances of getting rooms. So we started again, roads getting worst and driver getting more careless. I must admit, this was the most frustrating and scariest time of my entire journey. There was nothing to divert my attention from his driving, because all I could see was darkness outside. Traveling after 7.30 is banned in the hills for the obvious high risk it involves. I was asking Gautham how cum no one stops our driver even if its 8.15 !! There were hardly any vehicles on road. I was reaching heights of my patience and told Gautham that "Never ever will we travel like this again, because our lives are too good to give it in hands of such idiot drivers". Finally at 8.45 pm my prayers were answered and we saw police stop our bus near AgasthyaMuni. Ahh!! The sight of police had never bought so much happiness with it, as it did that day !! I was the happiest when the fence stopped us from moving ahead!!

We went out and saw that there are very few hotels there and all were full. We anyway had no hopes of finding rooms. We were absolutely okay with spending the night in bus. The Bengali family was quite desperate about not getting a room. They spoke to some govt officer there and he offered to give his room in his guest-house. There were two rooms and the Bengalis asked us to share it. But the price the officer was charging, was way above Un-reasonable, so we declined it and got excited about the never-before experience of spending night in a stationary bus ;-) Later got to know that the Bengalis too declined it. A man in their group told us "Deluxe hotel rooms are waiting for us in Gaurikund and we are sleeping on streets". They had done all the bookings previously.

And about our farmer friends. The moment they got down from the bus, most of them, especially aged ones, went to few closed shop corridors, opened their hand-made thin bed-spreads, opened their blankets and went for a cozy sleep!!! Sometimes I envy their simplicity !! Their requirements are so minimal and very little things to worry about in life. Again...Lots to learn from them !!!

We had dinner in a dhaba. Due to the un-expected crowd, our roti and dal was much like roti and water !! But we were so hungry that, it totally tasted like heaven!!

Ladies with young girls and small babies slept in the bus just like us. We locked the bus door for everyones safety (we were the door keepers ;-) and spent the night sitting on/below our seat. This experience still brings a smile on my face :)

Day 5:: 25th-Sunday :: AgasthyaMuni-Gaurikund

After a half-wake, half-sleep night, we waited for time to be 4.30 am. At 4.30 we walked out and woke up everyone from our bus sleeping at different places. Some on bus roof top, some on corridors, some in a dhaba and ofcourse some in bus. All got in and luckily, the bus started at 5.00 am as desired.

Driver stopped for tea at 6.30 am. But luckily or un-luckily, there was a borewell there and seeing this, most of the farmer friends got down from the bus with their tumblers, and also they started having their bath then and there and more-over few started washing their clothes !! Our driver kept honking for them to come back, but they had absolutely no reason to hurry, because they have no deadline to do anything !!! They are the most relaxed travelers!!! (In a way its good!!) Then the Bengali ladies started making lots of noise about the un-necessary delays and after this, they started getting back to bus one by one. So a 5 minute tea break , turned to 45 minutes tea break. I was wondering how we people from city are always getting late for one thing or other( its become a habit) and I pondered hard to find things for which these folks hurry in a village.

There was lots of small traffic jams of about half an hour at GuptaKashi and SonPrayag. To fill in anything missing, our bus hit a car slightly when one of the jams eased. All the four in the car got down and created a huuuuuuuuge drama about it. This created further traffic jam and police had to come to ask the car driver to move ahead with his car. We in the bus, started making fun of the entire situation and started laughing!!

So after all this never-before experience, we finally finally finally reached Gaurikund at 12.00 PM !!

[To be continued in my next post ....]

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bangalore to Gangotri - May 2008. :-)

Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath- are together called CharDham. I had heard the names of these places individually since many years, but got to know them together as CharDham only before a couple of years. Credit goes to Dept of Tourism of Uttarakhand/Uttaranchal which has been extensively trying to boost tourism in Uttaranchal. An online search for CharDham will easily give all details of religious significance of CharDham Yatra for Hindus.

CharDham are trapped amidst the majestic Himalayan ranges. So even if one is not a religious person, one can go to CharDham just to enjoy the bliss of seeing the beautiful Himalayan ranges. And if one is religious and also an ardent nature lover--surely--nothing can be better than visiting CharDham!!!!!

During the first week of may, my husband Gautham got his leave confirmed. So we immediately booked flight tickets between Delhi-Bangalore and train tickets between Delhi-Haridwar. This was the only booking we did before hand. We did not do any other booking of accomodation nor travel. We decided to travel flexibly without any 'time' related compulsion of reaching a hotel or catching a bus on some pre-decided time. We once thought of booking a private travels from Haridwar which offers package tours including accommodation, but eventually dropped it, because the thought of traveling flexibly as and where we wish sounded more appealing.

After gathering some information online, we made a rough sketch of our travel. We had 10 days in hand for travel. And visiting CharDham in 10 days would require us to really speed up and hurry throughout the 10 days. So we decided to drop Yamunotri and only do Gangotri and Kedarnath, (and then if time permits, also Badrinath) so that we can enjoy and maybe spend more time where ever we wish to. So we cut down our travel to Do-dham or Teen-dham.

We purchased two trekking backpacks. This was our only luggage. We carried minimal luggage and stuffed everything in just these two bags. We did not want any other suitcase or bag as we did not know how much/where we would need to walk during the tour.

During the planning phase of our tour, travel blogs written by earlier visitors to CharDham had helped us a lot to make a mental sketch of travel. Even though there were not many blogs, the available blogs proved to be really useful. In order to help the future travelers, I add a drop to the pool, by writing our travel itenary below.

Day 0:: May 20th-Tuesday :: Bangalore-Delhi-Haridwar

Our flight from Bangalore to Delhi was scheduled at 5.00 pm. We left our house at Jayanagar at 3.30 and took and auto to airport. (Luckily it was still HAL airport at IndiraNagar:-) On reaching airport, checked- in our bags. Gautham's bag weighed 12 kgs and mine 9 kgs. Our Indigo flight was on-time. After a journey from 5-8 pm,we reached IndiraGandhi airport at Delhi. We had to catch our train to Haridwar at 11.15 pm. So after collecting our bags, we immediately took a pre-paid taxi to Hazrat-Nizamuddin Railway station. Reached railway station at 9 pm. We had all the time on earth. So decided to relax and have dinner. The railway dept has constructed a huge food court just outside the station. And what surprised me was , there was even a live music band on first floor to entertain us. After a nice dinner we entered railway station. After about an hours wait, our train arrived on time at 11.15. TC told train reaches Haridwar at 3.15. We went to sleep soon as we only had 4 hrs in train.

Day 1:: May 21st- Wednesday :: Haridwar to Uttarkashi

Alarm rings at 3.00. We wake up and wait for our station. Train reached Haridwar station at 3.30. We stepped out and I was shocked to see the sight. Except for the small strip near the train, the entire platform was full off people sleeping within their blankets. Asharam Bapu's camp had terminated previous day and all these folks spent their night at station to catch their trains the next day. A rikshaw wala came to us and asked us where we were going. We told him we need to go to Gangotri and asked him about bus details. He told us from 7.oo am there will be bus every half an hour(We later got to know its false). Since it was just 3.30 we decided to get fresh at a hotel and then catch a bus to Gangotri. ( We had an initial idea of getting fresh at railway station in pay and use bathroom, but seeing the crowd at the station, we changed our minds) . Rikshaw wala told he will arrange for the hotel too and asked us to come along. When we went out we got to know, by rikshaw he meant cycle rikshaw and not auto-rikshaw;-). It was raining well, so I put my raincoat on. Gautham preferred to get wet, instead of opening his raincoat. (Maybe after 5th standard, this was my first experience of getting into rain with raincoat and I was loving it.) After 10 minutes we reached a hotel Aarti. It was full. So he took us to another nearby hotel. After bargaining, we got a room for 450 Rs. (Since its yatra season,rooms are very much in demand and hence over-priced.) We slept from 4 to 6, Woke up, got fresh and walked out to find about bus. Haridwar street is crowded with travel agent offices. We enquired in 3-4 office and all told all their buses to Gangotri are full. So we walked for 10 more minutes and reached government bus stop. Got to know the bus to Gangotri had already left at 5.30 am. (We realized that the best option for us would have been to come to bus stop directly from railway station and then take this bus.) On asking around, we got to know that the next best option for us would be to catch a bus to Uttarkashi at 9.30 am. (A bus to Uttarkashi at 7.30 was already full).We had breakfast and took the 9.30 bus to Uttarkashi. The journey was very scenic through the sub-himalayan ranges. After the long journey,(with only one tea break at 11.00) we reached Uttarkashi bus stop at around 6.00 pm. We first booked ticket for the next day to Gangotri and then searched for hotel. Here again, most of the hotels were full. We finally found a room at hotel Gaumukh. Yet again over-priced room for the quality. Bargained and managed to get at 450 Rs. We dumped our luggage and went to famous Vishwanath temple. After that had a early dinner at Dhaba. The simple roti & dal tasted like heaven as we we were really hungry due to skipped lunch. :-) After this, we slept early at 8.00.

Day 2:: May 22nd-Thursday :: Uttarkashi-Gangotri

We wake up at 4.30 am and pack up things and leave room to get into our 5.30 am scheduled bus to Gangotri. Bus leaves on time and stops at Bhatwadi for breakfast. We re-started after having yummy alu parota at the dhaba :-) From Bhatwadi onwards, the journey to Gangotri gets very scenic. As we get closer to Gangotri, the first glimpse of snow covered himalayan ranges leaves us speachless. When there was nearly 10 kms to Gangotri, our bus moves very slowly due to traffic jam(mainly caused due to senselessly parked vehicles). Finally at 11.30 am, when there was 4 kms left to reach Gangotri, our driver tells us that we will reach faster if we walk. We decided to take his advice and took our bags and started walking. The best part about walking like that was that we could enjoy the sight of beautiful snow capped peaks longer.

Would not mind walking if this is what you get to see, is it not??

We finally reached Gangotri at 12.30 afternoon. We started asking around for rooms . Our plan was to take room for 2 days as we wanted to trek up 18 kms to Gaumukh glacier (The origin of Ganga) the next day. But the hotel folks told us that from this year onwards, government has made a new rule of giving permission to only 150 people per day to visit Gaumukh. And the permission letter is given in Uttarkashi or Dehradun. We were disappointed, as we were very excited about trekking and then seeing the Gaumukh glacier and also we were rightly in Uttarkashi previous day where we could have got our permit. (The reason for govt to introduce this permit, is that people have made the place very dirty, by leaving lots of plastics and other non-eco-friendly residues near the glacier. Also glacier is receding at an alarming rate of some kms every year). So with this, we decided to stay here, only for the night and leave to Kedarnath next day. We got a decent room for Rs 600. We put our luggage there, and had a nice lunch at dhaba and then went to Gangotri temple at 1.30. We were shocked seeing the queue. The queue was in multiple rounds around the temple and we failed to realize where it starts and where it ends. We did not want to spend the precious half-day that we have got at Gangotri standing in queue at temple. So we came out and asked at shoe stand what time the queue will be least. He told us that temple closes at 6.30 and so queue will be over almost by 6.00. Happy with the data, we left the temple and started loafing around here and there to enjoy the beauty of nature.

We asked a local person about the way to Suryakund (a waterfall on beautiful rock). The person told he is a guide and that he will take us to all significant and some 'secret' beautiful places for 150 Rs. We agreed and started walking with him. (My god!!! he was 60 years of age and I had tough time keeping pace with him through the ups and down of the hills). From 2.30 in afternoon to 6.00, we walked with the guide, where ever he took us, and the walk/trek with him was really worth it!!!
He took us to Suryakund (see the picture on left) , power house, pandav gufah, pandav raas leela stone etc etc.He told us stories about various stones, various spots...all were about pandavas. We had no reason to believe his pandava stories, but we encouraged him in whatever he told, because even though we were not interested in stories, we were definitely interested in the beauty of the places where he was taking us. The best part was, all the places that he was taking us were through beautiful forests, very quiet and away from all the hassle-bassle of the area near the temple which is crowded with tourists.

Towards the end of all, when having tea, we told the guide how we were disappointed about not being able to see Gaumukh. He told us he knows about a small glacier at a secret place here and if we wish he would take us there. (This was outside what he had to show us for 150 Rs) We followed him!! Again through ups and downs, we walked with him....this time we passed across lots of small asharams, and also through some sealed ashrams inside which, there are individuals seeking solitude and meditating. Crossing all this, we reached a fresh water source which was originating from a bed of ice. It was a nice experience to see this ice bed, over which we could walk easily. The bed of ice had turned brown due to the dried leaves falling from tress surrounding it.

Our guide standing on the bed of ice. The bed clearly observed near the mouth of water..

After spending some time near the glacier, we thought we would be going back, but our guide had something else to show us, he told he will take us to "Russian Baba".We walked with him. I pondered about the way we blindly trust a stranger at times in life. Because we had already come far away from the city to what looked to me like no mans land, and we were walking further with the guide through the ups and downs of the unknown place. After walking for 5 minutes, suddenly I felt like not trusting him and told the guide I am tired and I want to go back. Guide was smart enough to understand I am telling this due to fear, and told just 5 more minutes of walk and I will meet girls of my age. He told not to feel scared as he has daughters of my age. Gautham told we will walk for 5 more minutes and after that we will walk back, no matter what. So deciding to trust the guide for 5 more minutes, I continued to walk. Soon I was happy that all my fears were wrong. I saw a Foreigner "Baba" and 3 girls who had come to visit him. I was relieved. The cave outside which this baba was sitting was at an amazing location. It was at a good height from which we could see beautiful Ganges flowing with all her power between the mountains. The view from the place was absolutely beautiful.!! (Tried to capture it in camera, but the photo did little justice to what we were seeing )

This Russian Baba speaks very good Hindi. On speaking to him, we got to know that he has been living in this cave since past 6 years. His guru is "Pilot Baba" (on searching internet, got to know that Pilot Baba was a former pilot in airforce, who later took up robes). When I exclaimed to Gautham that how beautiful this place is.....Baba told me "paanch din yahan raho, toh yeh kaatne ko aayega"...meaning , "live here for 5 days, this place will start biting you." This was realization number 1. What baba told was true. Getting momentarily mesmerized by the beauty of nature and thinking "Oh, wish I could live here forever" is one thing. And actually living at this place in solitude,seeing the same Ganges, same rocks, same trees, same hills, for even 5 days is another thing.

Baba asked if we would like to drink tea. My criminal mind immediately warned me. I feared Baba will mix something in tea which will make us unconcious. I immediately said "No, we are already done with tea before we came here". He smiled (I am not sure if he read what I was thinking) and told its "jadibuti" tea and we can have it. He told he has no milk and so its going to be black tea. He placed few more dried stems in fire and kept his tea pot and started making tea. I took out the pack of bread and biscuits that I had with me and gave it to him.

As Gautham continued talking to Baba, I started talking to the girls(all between 25-30 yrs of age)who were present there. Two of them were Russians and knew little English. Another girl was from US, so I started talking to her. I would like to quote a part of our conversation

Me: Whats your name?
She: Heather

[I told her my name, obviously she could not get it!!]

Me: How long its been since you are here?
She: I came here 6 months back, I went to Delhi and then I came here. India is such a beautiful place...there is so much to see. [Turning back and looking at Ganges, she asked me] Isn't this place so beautiful!!

Me:Yes, it is.
She: Can you imagine living in caves?? [with a small laugh]
Me:[with a big laugh] No!! Not so far, maybe after seeing you folks, I must start thinking of it.
She: No, we three dont live here, we stay at rooms available down there. We just walk here to meet Baba.

Me: Ohh!! Are you three friends or so?? I mean from same college ??.
She: Oh no, we just got to know each other online. They are from Russia. We had similar travelling interests, so we came here together.

Me: Where is your family?
She : They are back in California.
Me: Do they know that you are here?
She : Not exactly, they know that I am alive. [Laughs]. I mail them sometimes telling where I am .They tell me not to give them details as that makes them worried. They are busy with their life, they know I travel and they believe I am safe. Even if I tell them what I experience, they will not know it unless they see ..is it not?? so I too don't give them details.
Me: [just smiled as I just had realization #2 ]

After talking on few more casual topics, I asked

Me: Are you planning to go back??
She: [Giggles] Maybe forward!!!

[I was speachless with realization#3]

It started drizzling, so the girls left, as they wanted to reach back by the time it starts raining. Baba's tea was ready and he offered it to me too. I took it and when I saw Baba and guide drinking the same tea, I too started sipping mine slowly (I know its bad on my part to think evil of them). It tasted good. Baba told he recently made wooden doors for the cave because bears started coming in. I got scared thinking of bears and wanted to reach back hotel before dark and told Gautham its time to leave. When we started off, guide placed some money near baba, and we too did. We bid bye to baba and walked back to hotel. On the way back, I was happy that guide took us all the way till that place. I kept pondering about conversation with Heather. Specially I could not fathom out the depth of the two words "maybe forward"!!!

Since I was thinking all this, and this time since I had no fear about anything, the walk back seemed to be bit shorter. It looked as though we reached hotel in no time. We paid our guide 300 Rs. He gave his contact and address and asked to come to his home next time. It was close to six and we immediately started off to temple. The same temple which was over-crowded in the morning, was now empty. We entered the tempe, had darshan and came out within 5 minutes. We were just in time, because by the time we came out, the doors of the temple was closed. We went to Ganga ghats of temple to see the Ganga Aarthi. We had come with plans of having our holy dip in Ganga. But water was freezing cold, so forget about bath, I could hardly dip my fingers in it.

For sometime, we sat on the steps and observed flow of Ganga and also the way people were having bath in such ice cold water. I wondered how could they do it!! Maybe the answer lies in how strongly religious or I better say ritualistic you are. Maybe these are the people who come all the way to Gangotri just to have their holy dips and visit the temple. So "no matter what", once they are here, they surely do what they have come for.

After seeing the Ganga Aarthi, we left the temple and walked back to our room. We had an early dinner at a dhaba on the way and also went to bus stop and booked our tickets for next morning to Gaurikund (base camp of Kedarnath). We came back and slept early as we were tired due to the long walks we had from afternoon. While on bed, could not stop being intensely happy for the wonderful day we just had. Just wondered how things fell in place, we deciding not to stand in temple queue and instead loafing around, meeting the guide, he taking us to Russian Baba and hence ours meeting Hedar. We from Bangalore, Heather from US, guide a local garhwali, and others Russian and we all meeting at a hill in himalaya and drinking tea!!!

Well, its one of those moments in life which makes me feel that we are all just going with the flow, the flow that is guided by some unseen force, the flow which makes sure things go the way that it is destined to happen. Its one of those moments, which makes me feel that maybe what I think to be illusion is real and what I think is real, is actually an ILLUSION!!!!

[I will continue the travel itenary to Kedarnath and Badrinath in next post. I started off with this post hoping to put my entire tour in single post. So, you may observe that first half of the post is less descriptive. But as I wrote, I realized there is no point in writing, if I supres what I want to write. Hence I turned descriptive in second half :-)]

Note to travellers ::

From this year onwards, government has made a new rule of giving permission to only 150 people per day to visit Gaumukh. And the permission letter is given in Uttarkashi or Dehradun. So if you want to go to Gaumukh, come to Gangotri with permission in hand.

2>Due to the same reason, there is a decrease in people staying at Gangotri. As people just visit temple by noon and leave Gangotri. So there are lots of rooms available, specially on the rearer side, which you can get for reasonable rates (you have to cross Ganga by the walk-bridge to reach there).