October 12, 2010

Leh'ed Again (contd)

After spending 2 days acclimatizing in Leh town, on the third day of our trip, we decided to go to Alchi, a thousand years old monastery in the north of Leh. It's about 2 hours drive away from Leh, with many other attractions on the way, including Hall of fame (a museum), Magnetic Hill and the confluence of Zanskar and Indus river - a beautiful site. Hall of fame came first. It's a nice museum with lot of exciting stuff like arms captured from the Pakistani army during Kargil war and the picture of a soldier launching a shell to the other side of the border with "From Raveena Tandon to Nawaj Sharif, with Love" written on it :)

Next on the way was Magnetic Hill which we skipped for the later. We were going by Indus river all the time and soon we were at the confluence of two major rivers of the region - Zanskar river and Indus river. It's a beautiful site actually. Zanskar meets Indus almost perpendicularly. Difference in the color of two rivers is so obvious here. Zanskar water is greenish, while Indus is brownish. We basked in the beauty of this place for some time, took some photographs and moved on.

Confluence of Zanskar and Indus rivers
We reached Alchi about an hour drive later. It was all deserted there. No tourist except two of us (three more people - two Germans and one Indian - came later while we were there). We went around the monastery and discovered that Indus flows just in the backyard of the monastery. Huh, Interesting. We entered the first temple of the monastery and instantly felt the sacredness of this thousand years old place. It was dim inside, to protect the wall-paintings made so long ago. There were some wood structures to support the roof and pillars of the temple which seemed weary now after so many years of existence. There were large, 2-3 floors high statues of various incarnations of Buddha. There were 3 more temples like that. We spent relaxing time there in this peaceful monastery.

We had maggie for lunch on our way back. This time we also stopped at Magnetic Hill. Our driver stopped the car on a down slope and released the brakes, and bravo! the car started moving backward, by itself. Wikipedia says that it's some sort of optical illusion. Whatever it is, I could not make it out. We enjoyed the phenomenon :) We returned to Leh well in time but didn't do anything much for the rest of the day as Disha was pretty exhausted already by the car travel in the hilly region.

Next day, at around 9:45 a.m., we started our 2 days excursion to Pangong Tso(Lake) - one of the most beautiful places in the world. This time I realized that the road to Panong Tso is quite difficult or may be the recent flash flood had made it worse. The road passes around some jaw-droppingly deep gorges looking into which makes your heart come to your mouth. About half way, we were met by Chang La - world's third highest motorable pass. It had snowed there (actually it snows pretty much every night there) and it was milky white all around with bright sun up in the sky. Beautiful site. It was very chilly out there with temperatures around -4 C. Thankfully, good folks of army have set up a small shelter here where they have put up a heater and offer tea to frozen and chilled tourists :) We also made use of the facility and came back to our senses.

A pass is the point on the road where you cross over the mountain and get to the other side of it. Technically it's more than that, but to a traveller, a pass means the highest and the most difficult point on the road, after conquering which the travel becomes easier. The road on the other side of Chang La was in bad shape because of snow and ice, but it was still easier than going up to Chang La.

We reached Pangong Lake at around 2:15 pm. I always run out of words to describe the beauty of this lake. We're dumbfounded when we saw it. Shades of blue and green that we never imagined could exist. Mountains of various colors standing on either side of this lake as if they were Gods themselves who had converted themselves to mountains to be able to keep looking at this eternal beauty. The water so clean that you can see stones in the bottom of the lake for a long long distance. And then there is interplay of sun rays and clouds, or it's just the wish of the Gods because there were very few clouds, that the colors of the lake keep changing. There was no sound except of the water and the wind. This place is eternally peaceful in all ways. We cherished our time there. As the sun started to set down, it became very cold there. It was time to go back. We bade our farewell to Pangong. Until next time.

During our return, we stayed in the Tangse village for the night. It's about 35 kilometers from Pangong and the nearest human habitation. As luck will have it, we stayed in the same guest house that all the actors of "3 Idiots" stayed in for 5 days. Moreover, we were in the same room in which Amir Khan stayed. Disha was all smiles hearing this :) There was another group staying there - a study group from the Pune university who were doing geological research of the Ladakh region. Interesting job, I'd say :) Guest house lady cooked a lovely dinner for us. We had a good sleep. When we got up next day, we were well rested and ready to conquer Chang La again.

We reached Leh by the lunch time. It was our last day. We were flying back home next day early morning. In the evening, we settled our bills for the stay and the food. Phuntsok didn't let us pay for the numerous teas we had had there. Stubborn girl :) Dawa's father gave us the stoles that are offered to Ladakhi couples as a blessing, and a beautiful gift from the whole family. These gifts and his reassuring and loving smile touched deep in our hearts :) We were moved. What a lovely end to our first Ladakh trip after our marriage.

Next day, early morning, we flew back.

October 8, 2010

Leh'ed Again

Finally I made it to Leh again. This time with Disha. It was my third time in last 4 years. I could not go last year because I was busy doing other things e.g. my engagement and marriage :) This year also I was almost about to miss it - first already quite a bit of holidaying - New York in May and home in July, and then cloud burst in Leh on Aug 6 which caused lot of devastation there. But then somehow I managed to get in touch with Dawa (a friend in Leh) and came to know that things were really fine in Leh. That was very relieving and encouraging. I decided to not let it go this time, and booked our air tickets for Leh for the last week of September, just before our marriage anniversary :)

Disha was super excited when she saw Himalayas from the top, in our Delhi to Leh flight. It's an amazing sight actually. Mountains feel so close, and then you realize some of these peaks are 7k+ meters high, which doesn't leave a lot of gap if your plane is flying at around 9-10k meters altitude. From the top, snow looks like as if someone has spilled milk over these mountains and the sun seems powerless as it cannot melt the snow even though there are no clouds, of water vapor or pollution, standing between its fury and the snow.

I have kind of gotten used to Leh's landscape. But if it's your first time and you're flying to Leh, the moment you reach there, it feels like you have landed on a different planet altogether. You see mountains of all different colors all around you - all made of different types of rock with some of them donning a white cap of snow. A huge plain at an altitude of 3500m, supporting these mountains. Lots of empty spaces. Dry winds. Disha was awe-inspired and even more excited :-)

We took a cab to Oriental Guest House in Changspa - a place run by Dawa and his family. Dawa and his family have become an essential part of my Ladakh trips now. They are amazing people. Very hard working, still always cheerful, warm, no pretense and always smiling. I love staying with this family. I feel at home. I can connect to anyone and have a hearty discussion about simple things in life. The guest house is also placed well - far enough from the main market to ensure peaceful stay, but still not very far - just 15-20 min walk. Also, it's located just below Shanti Stup, a place I cherish a lot.

A short drive of 15-20 min from the airport and I was in that familiar house once again. Always cheerful Phuntsok, Dawa's sister who pretty much manages everything in the guest house, was very happy to see us. She immediately offered us the tea. Dawa's father greeted us with his warm smile and asked about our wellness. We felt at home. We were taken to our room directly with no formalities (we did them later at our own convenience). Disha liked the room and was pleasantly surprised actually. She thought I was taking her to some old house with mud walls and old cots :) On the contrary the room was tastefully decorated and featured wooden flooring, warm bedding and amazing views.

We took first 2 days easy as is advised when you go 3500 m up directly, to avoid AMS. First day we went to the main market in the evening, an easy stroll. Next day evening we visited Shanti Stupa - 500 stairs up. Believe me 500 stairs at an altitude of 3.5k are much harder than 500 stairs at normal altitude. But Shanti Stupa is definitely worth those 500 stairs or even more. It embodies the spirit of Ladakh, peace, Buddhism, and brotherhood. It's hard to explain. You feel all alone there no matter how many people are there. All alone, but still close to everyone - close to humanity. It looks ethereal in the evening, when the sun is dim and the wind is flowing - just before the sunset. We had utterly gratifying time there. Only thing that I disliked this time was the railings that they have put around the platform there. I liked the earlier arrangement better, with no walls around.
Shanti Stupa

Rest of the story and the pics to follow soon.

Update: Next part.

July 13, 2010

Comfort and Bliss, In the lap of Himalayas

I've got to write about our honeymoon trip in October last year. This place was so amazing that not writing about is outright unfair. But, writing about the honeymoon trip can be very difficult, as you can imagine :) We went to this very beautiful resort, Kalmatia Sangam Himalaya Resort or just Kalmatia, perched on a mountain in Himalayas, at least 10 kms from any town or village and 100s of kms away from any metro. There were just about a dozen cottages there with no swimming pool, no tvs in the cottages and no multi-cuisine restaurants nearby - all the features to keep cities' clubbing noise loving crowd away.

Mornings in Kalmatia
Kalmatia resort and the estate surrounding it are owned and managed by a couple - Dieter Reeb (a german photographer) and Geeta Reeb - who live here for the love of the valley and the mountains. No rich Delhiite running a business remotely to milk the tourists. I guess that makes lot of difference. You can see and feel the passion and love that has gone into running this place in a beautiful, "organic" and environment friendly manner.

View from our breakfast table
We could not have gone to a better place for the honeymoon, I guess. It had everything - comfort, nature, beautiful views of the mightiest peaks in the world from the huge 6 windows of our octagonal shaped cottage, bird chirping in the mornings and evenings just outside our door, and full privacy. In fact so much privacy that each cottage had its own access (no passers by ;). There was a porch outside our cottage overlooking the himalayan peaks where we used to have our morning and evening teas. It was just beautiful staying there. Food was awesome too. Carefully cooked food to go easy on your stomach and invigorate your taste buds at the same time. My wife Disha loved the food which was a great relief as she is little choosy about the food and you don't want your wife to not be happy on your honeymoon :)

We were there for 6 days. We made three day (or half-a-day) trips from there. First one was to the Jageshwar temple - one of the only 12 jyotirlings. We had hired a car from our hometown Hasanpur for the whole trip. We took the same car to the Jageswar temple. It was a serene place (except for the annoying Pandas who incessantly kept asking for money - to illuminate the ever alight lamp there). We had the food that we had got packed from Kalmatia - aloo n gobhi parathas with pickle and curd, and some fruits, along with some hot chai.

Next we went to Binsar. My old love. I had gone there before, in Dec 2006, with Pankaj. I absolutely loved that place and always wanted to go back. I loved that place for the great unobstructed himalayan views that you get there, and the lack of any kind of pollution including light pollution - yes, there was no power supply there so no lights for a long long distance.

My wife and I decided to do a small hike, of about 5 kms, in Binsar wildlife sanctuary. It was the very first hike for Disha :) The plan was to do a circuit (or rather half circuit) - starting from KMVN resort to zero point (highest point there) and from zero point, by another trail, to the twin temples on the Kalmatia-Binsar road. We saw few people on the trail, till zero point. But after zero point it was just us and the forest. We didn't see any human or animal (thankfully so) except few birds. We sure heard some animal sounds though. Trail got ambiguous at places and we had to make guesses based on the direction we were supposed to go in. It was a little scary to be honest but it was fun too :)  Luckily, we reached our destination just fine. Our driver was already waiting there. We had our lunch in the green meadow by the twin temples before leaving back for Kalmatia.

Our next day trip was to the one of the only two sun temples in India - Katarmal sun temple near Almora. This place was rather unique. It's as old as 12th century (or 9th, I am not sure any more. But it was at least as old as 12th century). It was being renovated and as a result not all of the temple is that old - some parts have been constructed recently. We saw some very very old statues there - none of them very intact of course. It was an awesome feeling to be at a historic site, almost hidden from the world. We had to track for about 4 kms to get there (and same to come back). Disha was not very keen to trek again (come on, who takes his wife for back to back trekking - first Binsar, now this - on their honeymoon). But it was not entirely my fault :) We were told that we'll have to trek only for 2 kms. But the road that goes till a little closer to the temple was in a bad shape and we had to start much earlier. Anyway, once we reached she was glad that she came there. That place had some power in it - effect of centuries of existence and reverence, I guess. We felt soothed after reaching there. All our weariness was gone. We had our food on the way back to Kalmatia.

Our days at Kalmatia were really blessed. We enjoyed being there. May be we'll go there again.

April 5, 2010

Trip to Ireland

It's been long, very long, since I last wrote. Not that I didn't have anything to write about. I was just being lazy. In fact there are quite a few things that I should write about - trip to Ireland, honeymoon trip to Himalayas, some other random topics. Well, I'll start with trip to Ireland. That's where I was when I wrote the last post.

I went to Dublin in Aug. Not particularly good or bad time to go, as weather in Dublin is not anyway something to write home about. It's either cloudy or raining. I think that's the reason most of the Dubliners hit the bar pretty much every evening :-) Being in Dublin, and being the comrade that I am :), I had to do the same.

There were lots of good moments shared with the colleagues including drinking wine till 4 in the morning and then going straight to the airport for flight back home. But, highlight of the trip was a weekend excursion to Glendalaugh, a historical town in Wicklow county in Ireland. I went alone. Yes, I can do things like these. Once I took a bus in San Francisco to its last stop, which thankfully was a beautiful beach away from the city, and came back after strolling on the beach and some light hiking. All alone.

The trail that I picked up for walking in the greens of Ireland is called the wicklow way. I didn't do the whole circuit because that takes time and also because I was scared of getting bored. I walked from Roundwood to Glendalaugh. Fairly easy trail of 12 km, with an ascent of merely 350m (1200 ft). To reach Roundwood, I took the Glendalaugh bus service (aka St Kevin bus service) from Dublin. I had lunch in Roundwood. The scary part was that locals didn't even know about this trail. One guy confirmed that the correct path to the trail was what I was thinking it was, and so I started.

Man, I didn't see anyone else going on that trail, for a long long time. It was all deserted, with few farms on either side of the road. I wasn't even sure that I was on the correct trail. After walking for about 3 km, I saw a man going somewhere in his SUV. I asked him and he confirmed that I was on the right track. Sigh of relief for me. By the way, it was a lovely day. For a change it was not raining and the sun was shining. It was really beautiful all round -- beautiful green farms for long long distance, cattle grazing in the farms, green grass all around and clean air to top it all.

I reached Glendalaugh after a hike of 3.5 hrs. Had some coffee and snacks, and went straight for some sightseeing. Now, I had to take a decision to either stay, or go back by the bus in the evening. I decided to stay and checked into a hotel. First time I met a hotel guy who didn't know where in the world India is. See, I go to offbeat places.

I found Glendalaugh beautiful, mesmerizing in the beginning. It was little haunting too with all the quietness and a huge graveyard marking most of the town. Soon loneliness took over me and it seemed pretty depressing to me. Thankfully the waitress in the hotel was very charming. Had a little chat with her. She was a student from Malaysia, studying in Dublin and working in Glendalaugh on the weekends. Anyway that was it. I hit the sack rather early that day as I was quite tired after walking for 12 kms.

Next day morning was lovely. Weather gods were being gracious to me. I met a guy in his older years, by the canal. We chatted a bit in the sun. He had come back to live in the Wicklow county, after working in various parts of the world. It was a light, interesting chat. After having my breakfast and spending some more time there I took the bus back to Dublin. So ended my weekend trip to Wicklow.

August 1, 2009

Liberating Feelings

When I felt that there was nothing else to do and life was complete. I can only remember 2 instance now (those also recent) when it really happened to me: 1 - when I was in Badrinath temple last year and 2 - when I said 'I love you' to my girl :)

Why did I feel like that in Badrinath. I don't know. There was something special in that space, in that time. The whole atmosphere was full of energy and that energy filled me. I felt kind of dissolved into the surroundings. I felt that 'this is it'. This is what we come to live for. Humm. Amazing feeling it was. As you might be tempted to think so, let me make it clear that I am not a mindlessly religious person. I believe in certain ideas of Hinduism and Buddhism, but I don't follow anything mindlessly.

Now the second instance. Feeling liberated after saying probably the most abused sentence of the whole english language? Yeah. For me, it was accepting the fact that I loved someone. It had never happened to me before. I had, in fact, started to think that love will never happen to me. But it happened and happened so beautifully :) I felt very complete instantly. Felt so light.

These were the liberating moments of my life. What were yours? Comment if you'd like to share.

Wishing many more such liberating feelings to us! :)

Manu Garg / www.manugarg.com / Journey is the Destination of Life.

January 4, 2009

valley of flowers: part VIII

Day 7, Fri Aug 29, 2008: The day had come to start our journey back to the noisy and polluted city life. We visited the temple again that morning. Morning experience was completely different from the evening experience. There were very few people. We could do darshan easily -- without any push from anyone. It was all great, but we still relished our evening visits more. I think evenings provided kind of coziness and isolation from the rest of the world.

After checking out from the hotel, we went to the bus station to catch a bus going 'down' (to low lands). The buses, or rather timings of the buses, on Badrinath-Joshimath route are controlled by a concept called gates. Authorities on both sides coordinate with each other and let buses go only at specific times. I heard from someone that it's to ensure that there is not much traffic on the single lane road between Joshimath and Badrinath at any point of time, but that hardly seems to be the case now. It has become a way for the gate controllers, self appointed committee sort of thing, to make money through illicit means. They extort money from bus drivers and in exchange let them go at whatever time they want to go. So, yeah, it's kinda corrupted there :)

Anyway, we didn't get a ride because we were not ready to sit in the driver's cabin. Seats in driver's cabin are not comfortable and are not for passengers. Get it? They sell tickets for these seats too and money received in return is never accounted for. We waited for some time and finally left by a shared jeep for Joshimath. We thought we'll go as far as possible and take whatever means of transportation we find. Soon we were met by a live landslide. Yes, landslide was happening in front of our eyes. It was raining a bit and the rocks and stones started coming down as the mud on the mountains started loosening because of rainwater. The road was blocked, in fact we were at the front, with a long queue of vehicles behind us. Luckily rain stopped soon and slowly stones and rocks stopped coming down. But, the road was still blocked as a big rock and other smaller rocks were lying on the road. We all waited for the BRO (Border Road Organization, organization which maintains roads in region) people and machinery to come. Pankaj and I decided that we'll cross the landslide zone on foot if they don't come by 2:30 pm. But, they came. They came just before 2:30 pm. They cleared the road and gave us clearance to cross. It was a bad bad road :) It was a relief, having crossed that zone.

Well, the whole landslide thing delayed everything. We reached Joshimath by 4-4:30 pm. There we found out that the road was blocked again in Pipalkothi (a town 31km away from Joshimath), so no vehicle was going down. We had no other option but to spend that night in Joshimath. We again checked into GMVN TRH. This time room was much better (though it was not bad last time too). We freshened up, took leisure walks in the town, ate jalebi :), watched some tv and called it a day.

Day 8, Sat Aug 30, 2008: Next day we got up very early to catch the bus to Haridwar. We came down to the main road at 6:15 am, only to find that the bus had already gone. Later we'll found out that it was actually lucky for us. Keeping our motto of going as far as possible and by any means, we took a shared taxi to Chamoli, the district town about 55 km from Joshimath. And then, in Pipalkothi we met another landslide. This landslide was gigantic. It seemed as if whole mountain had come down on the road. As there were no chances of this thing clearing up soon, we got down there and paid the taxi driver. This time we made a quick decision. We decided to cross that mountain of rocks, which was lying on the road, on foot. It wasn't easy, but it was fun -- climbing on huge, still not very settled, pile of fallen rocks. There was a bus at the other side which was actually going to Badrinath, but looking at the situation and after waiting for a night there, decided to go back to Haridwar. All to our luck. We boarded this bus and resumed our journey to low lands. We were lucky to have missed the bus in the morning from Joshimath, because in that case either we would have been stuck at Pipalkothi or given away the fare from Joshimath to Haridwar.

This bus took us till Rishikesh without any further issues. We checked into a hotel in Rishikesh (again GMVN but a bit expensive), freshened up and started our walk along river Ganga to watch Ganges aarti. We watched the aarti in Paramarth Niketan, an ashram on the opposite side, near Ram Jhula. It was a wonderful experience. The whole air was of relaxed attitude. I bought a book there (though Pankaj paid for it ;))- Siddartha by Hermann Hesse - and then we had our dinner at famous Chotiwala restaurant. The day had almost ended.

Day 9, Sun Aug 31, 2008: We woke up to a pleasant morning. Our hotel was on the Ganges bank and our room's blacony looked towards Ganges and mountains. The view was amazing. Ram jhula and Parmarth Niketan, though about 5 km away, were visible from our room. We had breakfast there, checked out and took a bus to Haridwar and from Haridwar another bus to Delhi. We were back in Delhi by 4 pm or so.

This post marks the end of valley of flowers series (finally!). Hope you liked it and found it useful. Now I am relieved, I can write about something else :)

Manu Garg / www.manugarg.com / Journey is the destination of life

January 3, 2009

valley of flowers: part VII

I think, it's the time to finish the VoF series. In my previous post, we were sleeping in Badrinath, at the end of Day 5 of our journey. Badrinath was a 'Rivendell' for us, a place to relax and rejuvenate. The dawn of Day 6 (Thursday Aug 28, 2008) brought us a pleasant morning. Though we got up early, we started the day at a slow pace. Only thing on agenda that day was a 3 km walk to Mana, a border village. In earlier days, when Tibet was not taken by China, Mana village was a much used gateway to Tibet. Now it is a closed border.

Walk to Mana was pretty cool. A plane road along Alaknanda, the river that had been with us all along. In fact after doing trekking in last 4 days, it felt pretty much like how you feel when you read Harry Potter after reading Moby Dick. After a nice and easy walk of 35 min, we reached Mana. It was a small village - very few houses, populated mostly by people of Indo-Mongolian origin. We interacted with few kids there who were selling some medicinal herbs. Kids could speak Hindi easily. Not surprising considering that there was, quite surprisingly, a Saraswati Shishu Mandir (a chain of primary schools, mostly found in North India) there. A short walk into the village and we came to the Bheem Pul, a bridge over a mountain cleft, made of a huge single rock. The legend has it that it was made by Bheem when Draupadi, his wife, could not cross the opening. Near Bheem Pul is the birthplace of Saraswati river, a river that is hidden for the rest of its course, and meets Ganges and Yamuna in Allahabad. There was also a shelter, naturally made of rocks, which a youngish Baba (to an outsider, a Baba is a kind of hippy yogi) had converted into his abode. I remember him complaining to a local that somebody stole his pressure cooker last night :)

Later we went to the Vyas Gufa, the cave where Ved Vyas is said to have written Mahabharat. As per an inscription there, that gufa is more than 5111 years old. Just beside Vyas Gufa, there is another attraction of Mana (probably the biggest attraction) - the last tea shop of India. It's very popular. You can find pictures of many people in front of this tea shop over internet. We had a good time there. There were only Pankaj, I, tea shop owner, and an old man who had seen the times when there was no border in Mana and people from each side were free to go to the other side. We spent quite some time there. Leisurely drinking the Van Tulsi tea of last tea shop of India and talking to that old man. He told us lot of stories including the story of how Badrinath came to be. Interesting stories.

In the evening we came back to Badrinath and visited the temple again. We went to the same prasad shop that we had gone to earlier, kept our shoes there, bought some prasad and went to the temple. As there was still time for the aarti, we decided to do the circumambulation of the main temple in the middle. A man, of the sage kind, was singing bhajan 'Sri Man Narayan' in the satsang hall there. Others were singing with him in chorus. There was something in the air there. We just stopped in our tracks and started listening to it. We didn't go inside the hall, but we could not leave either. We just stood there, outside, without a word to each other, watching and listening to the group lost in some state of joy. It was amazing feeling.

When satsang got over we realized that aarti had already started. One interesting incident happened when we were coming back. As the temple was closing, Panditji (priest in-charge of the temple) was asking people to leave and shouting 'subah char baje (morning 4 o'clock), subah char baje'. He obviously meant to say that the temple will open again in the morning at 4 o'clock. But, someone from the crowd, a youngish guy, very innocently asked him - "what will happen at 4 o'clock?". Obviously Panditji hadn't realized that somebody might ask that question. So, it was funny and all of us laughed. But that's not it. Our prasadwala guy, from whom we had taken the prasad, was also there and I was amazed to see how much joy he derived out of this incident. While coming down he was shouting and telling everyone - 'subah 4 baje, subah 4 baje' and then he even told his neighbor shopkeepers about the incident. It was good to see how much joy someone can derive out of small incidents.

That day we again came back to the temple after it was closed. This time, to take photographs. We took few, not many of them came nicely though. After that we had our dinner, in the hotel I think, and hit the sack after a walk in the town. Next day we were to start our journey back to city life. A journey that will take 3 days to complete with overnight halts in Joshimath and Rishikesh.

I know I thought I'll finish this series with this post. But again this post has run longer than I expected and I don't want to make it even longer. Now the only part left is our journey back, which was made a bit interesting by the landslides that we met on the way.

Last set of photographs: http://picasaweb.google.com/manugarg/VoFTripBadrinathAndReturn

Other sets of photographs:
Till Ghangaria: http://picasaweb.google.com/manugarg/VoFTripTillGhangaria
In the Valley: http://picasaweb.google.com/manugarg/VoFTripInTheValley
Hemkund Sahib: http://picasaweb.google.com/manugarg/VoFTripHemkundSahib

Manu / www.manugarg.com / Journey is the destination of life.

December 12, 2008

valley of flowers: part VI

Day 5, Wed Aug 27 2008 (contd.): After checking into our hotel in Badrinath and taking bath, we were all fresh by 6 pm or so. We were in a chill mood and wanted to take it easy, so we thought "lets just find out about the temple - where is it, what are the timings etc - today and do the darshan tomorrow". One specific thing we wanted to find out was where Adi Kedareshwaram temple was. Actually, it is said that one should go to Barinath only after visiting Kedarnath, and if you are not able to do so, you should at least visit Adi Kedareshwaram temple, which is in Badrinath itself, before visiting Badrinath temple. We asked the caretaker, but he didn't seem to know where it was.

When we came out of the hotel, we came to know that temple was pretty close from there. In fact it was visible from the other side of the road (our hotel was in the higher parts of the town). We decided to go till the temple at least, even if not inside. It was an enchanting walk till the temple. There were shops throughout on the way, playing religious audios and videos, and selling various religious things like pictures and idols of Lord Badrinath, diya and ghanti (lamps and bells) for prayer, necklaces with God's idols in it, etc. The temple was on the other side of Alaknanda, we had to a cross a bridge to reach there. We were still trying to figure out where Adi Kedareshwaram temple was. Finally, after strolling there for some time, we came to know from a video playing in a shop that it was near the main temple only.

As there was still time for the temple to close, we decided to visit the temple that day only. We kept our shoes in one prasadwala's shop (shop which we'll keep coming to), bought some prasad, and after washing our hands and feet in Tapta Kund (hot water springs), we moved forward by the stairs which approached the temple from right side. Few stairs up, there was a guy rubbing sandalwood. He put some sandalwood paste on our forehead. Few more stairs up, there was Adi Kedareshwaram temple. It's a small, but peaceful and powerful temple on the right side of the stairs. After paying our reverence to the Shivling there, we moved forward. Few more stairs up, and we were in the Badrinath temple. We entered the temple from the right side.

Inside this temple, there was a smaller temple in the middle where Lord Badrinath was seated, and in the corridor around it, there were temples of Goddess Lakshmi, Hanuman, Nar-Narayan and Lokpal. Lord Badrinath temple, the one in the middle, had 2 doors, one on the front and the other on the left side. When we reached there, the Bhog was going on and people were waiting in queues outside both the doors. Luckily we somehow got into the left door queue. Lucky, because left door opened first. So, we were among the privileged crowd that entered the temple first. Front door opened afterwards and the aarti started.

This was one of the most mystifying experiences of my life. There were sounds of drums and chants in sanskrit. It felt as if these sounds were calling for gods from the skies above. Just imagine a temple on a lofty himalayan peak, in a small town populated only by religious people, with most of the unsettling noises of cities far far away, and the peace of the night all around except for the drums in the temple. It was amazing. I let myself slip into believing that a tremendous flow of energy was descending down into the temple on the call of those drums and chants. I felt a certain kind of joy. Certain kind of relief. Relaxation. As if there was nothing else to do in the world. I was smitten.

Once the aarti was over, we offered our prasad and got some in exchange. We walked back in a mesmerized state of mind, with a promise to ourselves to come there again. We had our dinner near the guest house and after a bit of walking and then watching tv in the room, we turned to bed.

November 18, 2008

valley of flowers: part V

Day 5, Wed Aug 27 2008: So we had already finished the difficult parts of the trek by now. Today we had to descend back to Govindghat. Our knees were still paining from yesterday's roller coaster descent. After our daily routine of things, we finally departed from Ghangharia, our trekking base for last 3 days. As we kept on walking, our knees also got better slowly. Actually, it's true, when you decide to do some thing, things usually fall in place. We reached Govindghat in 3.5 hours if I recall correctly. We had our lunch there. I tried calling home but phones were not working in Govindghat that day :) So beware, these kinda things, which may sound strange to you, happen quite often in places like these.

Retracing our steps from 3 days back, we came to the main road from where we were "likely" to get a vehicle for pious town of Badrinath. Here we heard the not so encouraging news that road to Badrinath was blocked due to landslide. We were still hopefull though and continued to wait there. After about an hour or so, we were relieved to see 2 buses coming from Badrinath side. I asked the conductor if the road was clear now; he replied in affirmative. Ok, so the road was open now, but we still had to get some vehicle. We waited and waited. I kept running to each vehicle that stopped there to ask if it was going to Badrinath. After waiting for about 2.5 hours there we got a shared jeep at 2:30 pm or so. We launched ourselves into it. As there was hardly any space (there were 5 people on the back seat - 4 on the seat and 1 in the lap of another), we kept our luggage on the roof of the vehicle, which later caused it to get wet.

There were two interesting people in the jeep. They were mule herders, going to Badrinath to buy new mules. They were talking about religion, nature etc. I remember one of them saying that mountains streams are actually tears of mountains :) The other guy seemed more intelligent. He said "It can't be so. If these steams were not there, there won't be enough water on planes". Very interesting their conversation was.

Soon, we reached the landslide zone. It was a mess there; it seemed as if rocks will start falling again on the road at any moment. Our fear was further exacerbated when our driver asked his helper to look outside the window and keep an eye on falling rocks. We just kept our fingers crossed till that stretch was over. Road was in bad shape at lot of other places too. We crossed many streams which had washed the road away and were flowing there unabated. Anyway, we reached Badrinath at around 4:30 pm.

So, we had got at least one good thing from Ghangharia TRH - information regarding TRH in Badrinath. The guard there told us that Badrinath TRH was very nice, unlike Ghangharia TRH, and gave us the address too (actually he was posted at Badrinath TRH earlier). We found the TRH (Hotel Devlok) pretty easily and checked in. The rent was 600 per day and room was very good. For a change there was no need to order for bucket of hot water as there was a working electric geyser in the bathroom and guess what, there was electricity in the town. I remember myself asking the caretaker from what time to what time electricity is available there. No wonder, he was little surprised by that question :)

Now, the first impression of Badrinath. It was an amazing feeling. I am not sure what exactly it was, but I think it was the feeling of spaciousness that we felt there. The town, located on a huge flat top, was very very clean, and had a very fresh feeling. Almost all the buildings were single floor ones, which added to the feeling of spaciousness. And, we were already impressed by the room in TRH and low rates.

After taking bath in hot water all the weariness of the trek was gone. And, then it dawned upon us that our trekking days were finally over and time to relax had come. Some trekking it was. We had trekked for more than 50 kilometers in last 4 day.

Since, this post has already run so long, I'll write the rest about Badrinath in next post, which is coming very soon.