himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 5

August 14th… The day we set off from Kathgodam to Dwarahat… And then on to Babaji’s cave…

Also happened to be the day of Gayatri Japa… So the drive from Kathgodam to Dwarahat was accompanied by the mind’s rosary… Made the trip up the Himalaya even more special…

Our original plan was to drive down to Kathgodam the next day, take the night train to Hardwar, reaching there during the wee hours of 16th August… Visit Vasishta Guha, near Rishikesh…. Take the night train in 16th and return to New Delhi… That was the plan….

But the ‘Icchaa Shakti’ of Himalaya had other ideas…

On the way back from Babaji’s cave, a thought presented itself to our group… Why not go to Badrinath from here? And that thought became word. And that word flew from lip to lip and crystallized into an intent…

End of day – August 14th… Returned to Ashram… Meditation….Had a light dinner…

My cell phones have decided to take a vacation too… I try every trick I can… No luck… Radio silence… The other folks phones are ok… Just mine has decided to rebel… Chalo, this too is ok….

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15/August/2011….

Morning 5 am or so…

We are ready to leave… Drive to Badrinath…

The cab drivers have assured us that it will be a five hour drive. Maybe six. Not an issue… So the idea is to reach Badrinath by say 10 or 11 am… Have darshan… Leave Badrinath in the afternoon or maybe next day, and go down to Rishikesh. Sounds good. Sounds great, in fact….

So we are off… Three cars… Two taveras and one innova…. A brief halt at Dwarahat market for some tea…. And then off we go…

The weather is not so good…

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Persistent drizzle…. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, all along, everywhere…

Whats the distance from Dwarahat to Badrinath? Data stretches with the mountain… One says 100 km. Another says 250 km… Whatever the distance, the drivers say that they can do it in five hours or maybe six…

But its raining… And misty… The roads are not at their best… We encounter many a broken stretch… Our drivers are used to this… They maneuver the  vehicles across breaches and brooks… The going is slow…

A bridge on a river….The Ramganga river…

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Tara, the driver in my car, talks of some places in the vicinity, or on the way…. Masi… Pandukhol… Pandukhol is another place associated with the Pandavas. No getting away from them anywhere in the mountain…

Its the 15th of August 2011… Anniversary of India’s independence day…

At many a place we see school kids… Marching on the mountain roads, on the way to school, to participate in the Independence day functions…

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Bright, young, patriotic kids… Walking in the rain… Celebrating the birth of their motherland ….

The rain is stepping up….

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Some three hours or so into the journey, we stop at a restaurant, for some breakfast… The place is called Gairsain… Saliyana bend, Gairsain…

And the restaurant –

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Hot Aloo Parathas, some dahee, and pickle…

All is good…

Fast broken, energized, we drive on… A short respite from rain… Some lovely mountain views…

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River view and river sounds, play hide and seek as we drive along… The Ramganga river originates somewhere nearby… It flows along into Corbett National Park… It is the lifeline of an ecosystem the includes  a great variety of fishes, animals and birds… Flows down the Kumaon hills, and in the plains, goes joins the Ganga…

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The mist and the mountain paint such beautiful scenes….

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The mountain also shows us the rough side….

A landslide…

Somewhere now, one of the cars, the Innova takes a hit. Stepping out, one notices that the fuel tank is leaking. The car has a low suspension, and some rock hits the fuel tank below. Jugaad to the rescue… The drivers use some soap and such to temporarily seal the hole… We drive on…

We have long overshot the planned time…

Some fifty kms or so from Gairsain…Time is around 10 am … And we are crossing Simli, some 8 kms or so from Karnaprayag… Karnaprayag is the confluence of two great rivers – the Pindari and the Alakananda… Picture below… Pindari… Pilgrims can be seen, down below, by the river…

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A lovely suspension bridge…

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Karnaprayag is one of the PanchaPrayag – the five holy river confluences in the Himalaya… The five are Vishnu Prayag, Nandaprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag and Devaprayag… All five along the path of the Alakananda river, that goes on assimilating other rivers… Till it reaches Devaprayag, where Alakandanda meets Bhaageerathi and thereon, is known as Ganga.

Karnaprayag is named after the Mahabharata hero Karna… He is said to have performed Tapasya here. There is a temple of Karna near the confluence of Pindari and Alakananda, here…

As we cross Karnaprayag, we start noticing many Sikh pilgrims… Many of them wearing saffron turbans…  On motorcycles, cars… Some walking up the mountain… All in great joy… What a spirit! They are on the way to or back from Hemkunt Sahib, the great pilgrimage site devoted to Guru Gobind Singhji.

We drive on, past Nandaprayag… and then on to Chamoli, the capital of the district of the same name… Badrinath is in Chamoli district…

A signboard says: Badrinath – 94 kms, Joshimath – 50 kms, Kedarnath – 130 kms…

Driving on, we pass Pipalkoti and many a brook and waterfall…

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Waterfalls, yes… Also, landfalls…

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The going is slow. Although we have had no stoppages yet, the roads have taken a beating… Eroded by rains and shredded by rocks and stones that have rolled on to the roads… We pass an accident site…. A tourist van lies on its side… And then we see the amazing sight of people pushing the van back to position (the pictures you may have seen in Part 1 of this blog series).

Time is around 1 pm…

Up in the distance, across a few bends in the mountain, we see a row of cars…. Stationary… Waiting for a landslide to be cleared…

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Our cab driver decides to stop at a row of shops on the way… With a view of the distant queue. Wait and watch… The car radio sings:

ज़िंदगी के सफ़र में गुज़र जाते हैं जो मकाम

वो फिर नहीं आते, वो फिर नहीं आते

The name of the place is Helong…

We stretch our limbs…. Hunger beckons… And we locate a restaurant…

And have some proper chow… Roti, daal, sabji, dahi etc … Eating our fill… Up to the gills…

A bridge nearby shows the way to Badrinath…

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Joshimath is just 13 kms from here… But is far away in terms of time…. For the road remains blocked… Today is Sunday. Moreover, it is the Independence Day… Government Holiday either way…. The rescue machinery in the mountain will be slow, at best… We just have to wait… However long it takes…

A river thunders down the mountain and under the bridge…Maybe Alakananda, or a tributary…

A video break… Pump up the volumes..

Rains have started in right earnest…Past 3 pm… A landmover has gone past us… There is hope…An hour and a half gone.. Waiting…

We join the queue.

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Around 4 pm or so… Rain is heavy… Looks like the roadblocks have been cleared… A sudden mood of enthusiasm relays itself down the caravan of cars… And then we start…. Slow and  steady….

We come face to face with slush that was a road… The landmover is parked on the left…

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Here is a better view of the slush that we gingerly make our way through…

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Even a seasoned driver like Tara is nervous… He is all alert as he makes his way forward… The little picture of Hanuman on the windshield gives us hope and courage…

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The rains are coming down nice and steady… Evening has set in…

We reach Joshimath to find the gate to Badrinath closed, and a long line of cars waiting… The gates are open only till 4 pm, after which no vehicles are allowed up… Its past 4 pm now, but we are given to understand that the gate may open  one more time today… Some forty five minutes or so into the wait, the gate is opened… And we make our way to the last lap of this journey today… 44 kms to Badrinath….

The roads are very difficult to ride… Broken by rains… We drive ever so slowly….

Going past Vishnuprayag, Govindghat, we reach Hanuman Chatti, a shrine of Hanuman… Some 18 kms or so before Badrinath… The Sun is going down. The roads are bad… The rains are steady…. The mountain is a sight to see…. At one point we could see scores of waterfalls across the mountainscape. Looked like Sahasradhara – a thousand springs.. What a sight!

Night sets in… We come to a halt at a place where there has been a rockfall. Some folks go and do their best to make some path, by removing some of the rocks… It is icy cold out there. We are not equipped with woolens.. Its brrrr ccKoldd. Somehow, we cut a way through…

And the just a few kms short of Badrinath, we encounter a sight….

A stream in flood  is thundering down the mountain and cutting across the road…. The road is broken….A van ahead of us makes its way slowly across. Our group is in three cars.. We are first, in a Tavera. Behind us is an Innova. And then another Tavera.

Our turn now….

Tara is like a tiger creeping up upon a prey. All attention… He maneuvers the vehicle like a rock climber, and some hard engine howls, some tyre slips and heaves, and suddenly we are across. Jai Bajrang Bali!

And then, our second car.. The Innova starts…. Gets into the waters… And gets stuck…. No can move….. Its night time…. Car is stuck…  What are we to do…

We, in the first car, decide to go ahead to try and get some help… Its raining hard…. Asking here and there, we manage to make it to a Police station… Rajesh and I walk in… We explain our predicament…. We tell them about the place where the car is stuck…The cops are asking us why on earth did we have to come during the monsoon time…  They tell us that the breach where our car is caught is notorious. Kanchanganga canal, they say… From Kanchanganga glacier….”Baraf… Glacier kaa paani… Ice, ice…Last year, same day, August 15th, the waters swept away a car along with the occupants … We have it on video, would you like to see?”, they ask…

But they are helpful…. They get hold of some stout ropes, get their jeep, and then we take our car and we go towards the breach… A side of the mountain is on the move…. Rocks are falling… And its raining hard…  Our cars cannot make it to the breach… The cops leg it… With a megaphone they announce to all those who are stuck to return to HanumanChatti…. We find our car abandoned in the watercourse. The occupants have gone…. Some phone calls later.. The driver comes…  A bus is also in the waiting line… The bus driver is requested to help pull the car out…. He refuses… Then the trade talks begin and an agreement is reached…. The ropes come into use… And the Innova is pulled out, backwards… The car is out of danger now… But they cannot cross over to this side… The fuel tank is leaking too… They cannot go back to Hanuman chatti because there are landslides behind as well….

That means our two cars and their passengers, and twenty or so other cars, are all stuck out there on a cold mountain road….

Nine of our Yatri group, four of them women, would have to spend the night in the mountain… Our group has no wool. They have not brought any food either… Its raining like only a Himalayan monsoon can… And its ice cold….

The police, their work done, leave….

We too leave for Badrinath and check into the first good hotel we see…. We manage to eat some dinner…Time is past 10 pm… Our drivers had promised to bring us to Badrinath by 10 am. They were off by just twelve hours. Hail Himalaya!

We have no option but to to wait till the morrow for helping our friends…

Meanwhile, we pray to the Lord of Badri, to keep them safe… May Nara and Narayana protect them…

** To be continued**

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5 Responses to “himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 5”

  1. Srinivasa Says:

    Nice pic’s esp., Karnaprayag looks lovely. One of the videos has the caption ‘Advertisement’. Must be WordPress’s value add😉

    Looks like the roads and bridges in the Himalayas are rather modern nowadays.

    • gkamesh Says:

      Srini

      The Kumaoni driver told me that the roads in Garhwal are better than in Kumaon… He sez thats becoz the political centre of gravity of uttarakhand is Garhwal.

      rgds

  2. ramanathan Says:

    kamesh

    great reading….

    wonderful post…..

    ramey

  3. Suresh W Says:

    Good going Kameshji,

    while reading again i experience that dark, ice-cold night at Devabhoomi. your narrations bring me the fear that already i experienced!

  4. GLNMurthy Says:

    Dear Kameshji, I could recapitulate the night driving by our driver of southern travels on the same roads.If we peep down the window it is awesome.It is an adventure for ur team taking an abrupt turn to Badri.It is in these circumstances our belief in god strenghtens. Did u see the temple for karna in Karna Prayag?.I would like to see it.I could see only one prayag(without taking bath in it). I would like to see all other prayags also taking a dip at each confluence.ur narration is breathtaking and I held the breath all the time I was reading-Murthy

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