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 ....]

11 comments:

Black Chrome said...

You have explained your trip in an excellent fashion, i should appreciate that you have much stamina in bearing the cold, im heading for kedranath next month, did you read about the trip before you travelled for tips? it sure wouldve helped you, your experience will help me and i thank you for posting it all..

Arundathi Acharya said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog :) Yes, I had read lots before I travelled, interestingly everyone has their own kind of experience of it all, and I had my own !!! Best wishes for your tour. If the weather is good, the walk up will be pretty okay. Try to start early during the day, so that you reach by dark, even after multiple breaks . Do carry a glucon D ;-)

Madhavi said...

Hi!
my parents and inlaws are travelling to kedar from gaurikund today.and I was googling for some tips and found your site.Taking camphor and vicks were tips from ur blog.Thank you so much for the beautiful description Arundhati.

Arundathi Acharya said...

@Madhavi. Thanks for your encouragement. I am glad my details helped you. I wish your parents and inlaws have a pleasant tour to Kedarnath :)

arunavo said...

I'm planning for a trip to kedar in late september(pujo time) with my parents. You feel trekking alone for 14 kms will be a good decision? Because they may not take a walk for the way. At least the road is not confusing, right?

Arundathi Acharya said...

@arunov. I believe you can go ahead with your idea of trekking up alone. There is only one road which leads up and absolute no scope for confusion. The trek is very easy as the roads are paved, provided the weather is good and you start early during the day. My experience was bad, as weather was bad and we started in the afternoon !! Your parents will reach much before you if they take palakin or the mule. Good luck to you :)

BNR said...

Hello Arundathi,

Thanks for your tips.

I request you give me some more info: I am planning to arrive in Kedarnath on 21st Sept 2009.

- how long it will take to reach from Haridwar to Gaurikund ( planning to leave at 5AM)

- If we reach Gaurikund by 3pm, is it possible to go up ( kedarnath) and stay at top ?

- If we leave Gaurikund at 5AM can we reach kedarnath by 10AM and come back in the evening ?

Arundathi Acharya said...

Here are my inputs BNR
- I am unsure about the time it would take from Haridwar to Gaurikund. But typically, any two places of chardham are nearly 8-10 hrs from each other and from Haridwar. But all these are tentative, keeping in mind that any potential traffic jam or landslide can easily add 5-6 hrs or more to the journey.
- It is theoretically possible to reach the top by 9 if you start at 3,(this assumes you have great stamina for the climb) but its unadvisible if you want to take enough breaks on the way to the top(and walking up is no fun in dark). Starting at 3 puts you under pressure to reach by dark, when the temperatures may fall below zero.
-5 am sounds the best time to start walking up. I donot know if you can finish darshan the same day and come back, as it entirely depends on the crowd and hence the length of the queue.

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