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.

November 7, 2008

valley of flowers: part IV

Day 4, Tue Aug 26. After a wonderful, pleasureful and captivating trek in Valley of Flowers, time was now to take on the challenging ascent of Hemkund. The trek goes from an altitude of 3048 m to 4320 m over a distance of 6 km. This trek is dubbed as challenging by even most avid trekkers. I think it's more the lack of oxygen and other high altitude conditions that make this trek challenging.

We got up at about 6 am again. Lit up a candle for bathroom as it was little dark (no electricity, remember?), dealt with a centipede in our basin, freshened up, ordered for hot water bucket, had bath and were ready to rock by 7:30 or so. I don't remember what we had for breakfast that day - must be aloo paratha considering the limited options :) Weather wasn't looking very good. The day was overcast. There was mist everywhere and soon it started drizzling too, which was not a good thing as we were not carrying any rain gear with us. Pankaj's jacket was water resistant (not waterproof) so he was a bit covered. We rented a rain jacket for myself and a head cover for Pankaj for 60 rupees and moved on. We were still little concerned though - "what if it will start pouring, will the trek be doable then; we'll definitely get wet, we are not really well covered; etc". Anyway, we carried on in a true backpackers' spirit :)

Actually this weather proved to be good. The fact that sun wasn't there made the trek more enjoyable. We were moving in rhythmic small steps without stopping much. When we reached higher, after climbing for 3 km or so, mist defined our experience. That pleasureful coolness in the air, freshness and cleanness of everyhing in sight, and feeling of having clouds by your side in your path, it was some experience. On top of that, there were flowers all around like previous day trek, but this time mist made them look even more beautiful.

Shortly we met a glacier on the trek. I put my gear down and took some photographs here (My camera was stowed in my backpack for most of the time to save it from rain and also to make the climb easy). On taking my rain jacket off, I realized that my t-shirt was completely wet - not with water, but with sweat. Though it was cold outside, I was still sweating, mainly because of climbing, my non-breathing rain jacket which we had rented, and my backpack. Later in the trek, when we were about 2 kms from Hemkund, we saw Brahma Kamals. Brahma Kamal is a rare flowering plant. It's found only on high altitude and as conditions are not usually vegetation friendly as such altitudes, it's not easily found even on high altitudes. We found Brahma Kamal flowers in plenty in Hemkund.

We were not really finding this trek too hard actually; in fact we were enjoying it a lot. I think there were 3 reasons for that - one, we were already acclimatized; two, we had learned the trick to walk on mountains - small steps, no hurry; three, we rock :) We reached the summit at 11:45 am. And you know when we started? 8:15 am. YES, we did the whole trek in 3.5 hours. Most avid trekker do it in 4 hours, while other not so used to folks do it in 5 hours. We did it in 3.5 hours and on top of that we didn't find it too difficult, in fact we enjoyed this trek the most. Here we got a sense of achievement, just exactly what we had done this trek for :) Moreover, it was just lovely out there. There was a beautiful, serene glacial lake with a gurudwara, a temple (laxman temple) and green hills all around it.

We had maggie (noodles) in a stall there. Here I changed my t-shirt also as it was completely wet with sweat. After spending about an hour at Hemkund, we started back. While returning we took the stairs. Now, these stairs are definitely a short-cut, but I think we did the right thing by not taking them for coming up. Your legs, knees and lungs don't like it when you take high steps. These stairs brought us at about 4 km mark (from Ghangharia) in less than 30 min.

Rest of our descent was a roller-coaster ride, all thanks to Pankaj. He was almost running and I was trying to catch up. When you are coming down on something this steep, either of the two things happen - if you come too fast, your head starts paining because of the shake and if you control your speed your knees start hurting. Anyway, by the time we came down, both, head and knees, were paining. Head was fine in some time, but knees were not looking too good. That was worrisome considering that we had to go down to Govindghat next day. Rest of the day was usual - lunch, afternoon-nap, snacks, dinner and sleep.

Link to photographs:

Still to come: Badrinath and Mana village.

Have fun.
Cheers, Manu
Manu Garg/ is the destination of life.

October 15, 2008

valley of flowers: part III

Against all your expectations, part 3 comes much sooner. So, where were we? Yeah, we were sleeping in the TRH in Ghangharia.

Day 3, Mon Aug 25. We got up early again at about 6-6:30. Had tea, ordered for the hot water bucket, took bath and phew, we were ready to trek again. Now, when it comes to having breakfast in Ghangharia, there are not many options. In fact the only options are aloo paratha, if you are lucky and there is bread in town then butter toast, and if you don't mind eating eggs which could be 2-3 months old then bread omelet. On that day we had butter toast. Bread slices were the smallest I had ever seen and to make us feel even worse about it, each butter toast cost 35 bucks.

Anyway, we started our trek at around 8:40 am or so. After climbing on a decently steep trek for about 10-15 min we reached the point where the route for valley of flowers separates from that going to Hemkund. This is also where you have to pay the valley of flowers national park entry fee. Yes, it's a national park, didn't I tell you? Fee sounded a little hefty to me by Indian standards - 50 bucks per person and 100 bucks per camera. So, we paid 200 rupees there. What treated us next was a beautiful trail that goes inside a forest. You know the best part about this place is that no mules are allowed inside and there are no shops here. This make it a really clean place, with only nature all around. So, back to the trail, we started seeing beautiful flowers from here only. Mind you, valley was still about 3 kms. After some walking inside the forest, we came into an opening. There we encountered a rather interesting bridge, on a stream of Pushpavati, river that flows inside Valley of Flowers. It was a small bridge, made of an iron sheet, but very useful nonetheless, as crossing that stream without it would have been pretty difficult if not impossible.

After crossing the bridge, the trail very soon entered the forest again. At one place it rapidly came down, and after crossing another bridge on now much fuller Pushpavati, it started rising again. This time it was quite steep. But, we didn't realize it. The trick we learned on Ghangharia trek, taking small steps while climbing, came in handy. It was nice trekking here as we were in the shadow and we were going through a forest with nature crammed in all around us. After about 40-50 min of trekking in this jungle, the trail came into an opening again. Now we had a mountain on our left side and Pushpavati river was flowing in the valley on the right. Trail had become easier now, not very steep slopes. It was wonderfully pleasant. Mountain slopes, on the left and right side of the trail were laden with flowers and other vegetation. As a reminder of much colder days, the river sported a "not yet completely melted" snow bridge.

It's not been even half an hour on that trail and we were treated by awesomeness. I was busy exclaiming and emphasizing what a beautiful place it was and taking photographs, when Pankaj, who was already 6-7 steps ahead of me, called me - "what you're gonna see next will probably blow you away". And right he was. On our right side, we saw a wide open huge lush green valley crowned by beautiful snowcapped mountain peaks, with vapor rising from their surface in effect of sun. We were ELATED. The valley was valley of flowers, but it was still very far - entrance was about a km from here. To make this place even more memorable, though not in the same way, I was here bitten by some poisonous plant which caused me skin rashes on affected body parts days later.

We entered the valley at around 10:45 am. It was stupendously beautiful. Just imagine, you are in a wide valley, with mountains on both sides, not a human soul to see, flowers of different colors all around, mountain streams flowing here and there, greenness in abundance, not a piece of polythene or any other litter in long long distance, snowcapped mountain peaks in front of you (though distant) and a bright clear blue sky to cap it all. And there we were, walking on a trail amidst all that. We were basking in awesomeness.

As time went past 11:30, Pankaj helped us realize, by asking for something to eat, that we very carelessly and stupidly had forgotten to bring the lunch pack from Ghangharia. Thankfully there was half a packet of Britannia biscuits in our bag to save the day. But we were not really hungry at that time and kept those biscuits for later. Now, this valley is pretty big and you can keep walking for hours and not see all parts of it. So, to make visiting valley of flowers a tangible thing, you need to set a tangible target. Most people return from just after entering the valley. Some people don't even reach valley. Some go till Joan Margaret's grave and some probably go even beyond that. We decided that we'll go till Joan Margaret's grave and return. Joan Margaret was a German botanist who fell in Pushpavati while collecting some samples in year 1939. We reached there by 12 noon. We saw a guy and a girl there (girl was looking kinda cute in a cowboy hat), probably botany students looking for some interesting plant; kinda finishing Joan's job :) We sat there for some time sipping in nature's beauty and then started back.

As the day was passing, those mountain peaks, which had elated us earlier, almost disappeared behind the clouds. I think we were very lucky to have seen them at all. We came back pretty leisurely, taking enough breaks to sink in the beauty all around. We reached Ghangharia by 3:30 pm, had some food, and took an afternoon nap after that. In the evening, we were little unsure of doing Hemkund the next day. Basically a thought came to our mind or rather Pankaj's mind, that why not do Kedarnath also on this trip. It was a matter of motivation too. Which one is more worthwhile and worth the effort - Kedarnath or Hemkund. By the way, going to Kedarnath also requires a trek of 14 km. Anyway, Hemkund won in the end. We decided to do it for the sake of challenge if not anything else. And of course, it was right there and Kedarnath was quite far.

After that we had our dinner. I was able to call my home this day. I told my parents not to expect any call from me for some days.

Photographs of valley of flowers:

Savor the photographs for now. There is more to come yet - Hemkund, Badrinath and Return.

Yours truly,
Manu Garg /

October 12, 2008

valley of flowers: part II

Day 2, Sun Aug 24: After spending a good night in Joshimath, time was now to further our journey. Our day started early. We got up at 6 and had checked out of the TRH by 7:30 am. Plan was to take some mode of transportation till Govindghat. From there we were to start our first trek, to Ghangharia. We got a jeep for Govindghat from Badrinath taxi stand in Joshimath. After a drive of less than an hour, the jeep dropped us just at the border of Govindghat. From the road itself, we could see Laxman Ganga, river that flows from glaciers beyond Hemkund, falling into Alaknanda. After walking for about 10-15 min, we reached our trek start point. By the way, our cellphones had stopped working as soon as we left Joshimath, so luckily we were unreachable now and we remained so till the end of our trip.

We hired a porter for our luggage here (for Rs. 405). Though there are lockers available in Govindghat for luggage, we didn't want to leave anything behind as we were going to be in Ghangharia for at least 3 days. It was 9:45 am now. Much to our surprise, it was quite nice and sunny; from whatever we had researched earlier, we were pretty sure that it was gonna be cloudy and rainy. Well, it was good for us because being as heedless as we sometimes are, we didn't carry any rain gear. Trek beginning was pretty easy as we were excited. But, long and quick steps that we were taking (at least I was) made us little breathless. After about 4 kms of trek, waterfall near Pulna village started to appear. We took a short break here. Next 5 km were comparatively easy. Trek leveled out at lot of places. We kept meeting Laxman Ganga on and off on the way.

The next village we encountered on the trek was Bhyundar village. Ghangharia was still 3kms from here. These were the most difficult 3 kms of this trek. It gets pretty steep from here, and unpaved trek, with uneven rocks on the path, makes it even more difficult. By this time we were in a sort of trance. We were just walking. We had learned the trick to walk on the mountains. Small steps, no hurry, and no long stops to make up for the slow pace. Believe me, it works.

Anyway, we reached Ghangharia by 3pm. We were mighty hungry by this time. But, we wanted to find a place to stay first. We chose to stay in GMVN TRH again, but not without checking other options. It was pretty expensive (Rs 950 per day and Rs 35 for a bucket of hot water) compared to other options, but somehow it felt more spacious. I think the nice courtyard in TRH made the difference. After putting our luggage inside and having lunch in the restaurant in front of our TRH, we fell asleep.

Now, Ghanghria is a makeshift village. After October 5, when Hemkund Sahib is closed and snow is all around, everybody starts moving to lower areas. They come back only in the beginning of June, when snow starts melting and Hemkund is reopened. That's the reason you can find only basic minimum things here and since there is no road connecting it to the rest of the world (only way to reach here is either by mules or by foot or helicopter) everything is quite expensive here. So be prepared for the prices like Rs 30 for a water bottle and Rs 35 for a butter toast (with miniature breads). Electricity is available here only between 7 pm and 10 pm. That's when telephone exchange works and even when it works, chances of your call getting through are pretty slim. You have to try for at least for 15 min to make a call. No wonder the telephone guy charges you 15 bucks per minute :) So as you can see, we were pretty discouraged to make any calls, which is good. After having a rather not so good dinner in TRH restaurant we called it a day and hit the sack.

Pics of the story so far.

I know, I know it took very long to publish second part. The delay was mainly due to short trip to Leh and other things that I have to do for living :) Hope to post other parts sooner.

Manu Garg /

September 19, 2008

valley of flowers: part I

Last year, after our Ladakh trip itself we had decided that our next trip would be to Valley of Flowers - a national park, nestled high in the lap of western Himalayas. It's in the north-east corner of Garhwal region of Uttarakhand state, near the holy town of Badrinath. As reaching the valley requires a trek of more than 17 km, and then there is a trek of Hemkund Sahib nearby that you wouldn't want to miss, it was essentially going to be a trekking trip.

Though we wanted to do this trip since last year, ideal time was the constraint. Ideal time to visit the valley is mid-July to August as that's the time when flowers are in full bloom. We decided to do the trip in the last week of August (Aug 23 - Aug 31). There was not much to be planned for this trip as itinerary in these parts of Himalayas is pretty much decided by the moods of the mountains. This region is particularly infamous for landslides. So, we only thought about the going part. Now, since scope of luxuries on this trip was already less, if not zero, we decided to do it completely backpackers style -- no hired cabs, no advance hotel bookings, less luggage etc etc.

We boarded the train for Haridwar at about 11:55 pm on Friday. This was probably to be the most luxurious part of our travel :) However I could hardly sleep in the train, owing to thundering snores of a guy in our compartment. We reached Haridwar at 4:20 am in the morning. Without wasting much time, we rushed to Badrinath bus stand where we were to get a bus to Joshimath. Tip: Buses for Joshimath leave Haridwar only between 5 am and 7 am. Our bus started at 5:20 a.m. It was an ordinary bus - no reclining seats, no AC, not much leg room. But as we had not slept much last night, it didn't take us long to fall into a slumber. One good thing that we did was to not have anything including tea in the morning. It helped in sleeping and better equipped us to handle mountain roads. The road from Rishikesh to Joshimath goes inside a valley and follows Alaknanda river, which originates from glaciers near Badrinath, very closely. We had our breakfast in Deopryag and lunch at a dhaba near Rudrapryag.

We reached Joshimath at 4:20 pm in the afternoon. That was somewhat earlier than we expected, much due to our bus driver's expertise on mountain roads. He showed very little respect for those hot curves of hills. With the help of local people and sign boards, we found GMVN Tourist Rest House (TRH) and checked in. The way to the rest house was little uphill and reminded us of the coming days which were to be full of such uphill walking. By the way, wherever we go, we usually try to get GMVN TRH first; I think it just gives us a feeling of familiarity. After quickly freshening up, remember we hadn't freshened up in the morning, and having tea, we went for a walk.

Joshimath is a nice little town. It's mostly a transit town. People going to Badrinath, Valley of flowers, Hemkund Sahib, Auli, Nanda Devi national park and few other treks do a night stay here. But, I think, it's mostly Badrinath pilgrims who help run economy of this place. Obviously, it's a very religious town too. We could find only one very small, that also sort of hidden, liquor shop. Of course, we didn't want to drink. We were just curious.

From local people we came to know that Shankaracharya temple is a place to see in Joshimath. We went in search of that. Following signs on the road we found that it was very close to the place where we were staying. Now, this place had some amazing vibes. I especially liked the way Panditji chanted some mantras while giving Charnamrit to us in Durga temple. The cave where Shankaracharya himself set up Sphatik Shivling was nice too. We spent some quality time there at the terrace. We came back when it was getting dark. After having dinner in TRH, which was really good - especially chapatis, and having tea at an aunty's dhaba, we called it a day.

.. to be continued.

Pics and other parts of the story coming soon. Stay tuned.

Cheers :)

April 30, 2008

pactester for Windows

Lately, I have been getting some queries for "test pac files on windows", "pactester for windows" etc in website access logs and emails. Compiling pactester on Windows, though possible, is quite a complicated process. So much so that it's almost impractical to ask users to do so. Since it's a perl script, packaging it for Windows is even more difficult. To avoid packaging difficulties of perl code and now that pacparser is there, I think it makes sense to implement pactester using pacparser. That's exactly what I did in last couple of days, implemented pactester in C using pacparser library.

I have compiled it for Windows and uploaded zipped binaries on pactester downloads page:

Also, to simplify things and as an added bonus to pacparser users, I have decided to distribute this version of pactester (implemented in C using pacparser API) along with pacparser from next release. Thanks to open source that I can do that :)