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.