Saturday, May 9, 2009

Badrinath - The Picturesque Tranquility

Who takes which post? Who will be the kingmakers and the who gets to grab the power? Think I'm talking of our elections?? No. This in short is the hottest topic in BPGC with the committees and clubs deciding their leaders-to-be for the next year, passing the baton for the successors to carry forward. This has been discussed with as much intensity as the news channels talk about elections. Since the power positions are held by third years which will be us, there has been more than enough gossip, speculation and bated breaths to spice things up just before the dreaded compres (our semester exams).

Continuing on the journey of the Char Dhams, next stop is Badrinath…….

Late evening saw us landing at Ukhimath, the stop for the night. As soon as my feet hit the floor on getting down from the car, it felt like a sleeping dragon was awoken. Muscles I never knew I had were screaming with pain. Yeah, 32km in about 40hrs is a mammoth wake up call for the body!!
Settling down, we ordered for some food and that’s when it hit me, the nausea. There was another family who had a similar itinerary to ours with a pretty experienced guide and he put the nausea down to some form of altitude sickness what with the constantly changing conditions at Kedarnath and all. The smell, let alone sight, of food was the last thing to be tolerated. Thankfully, the property albeit small had a delightful garden.

Facing a valley, the garden opened to the mountainside on the other side of the valley we had crossed while coming to Ukhimath. Stunning greenery and a quiet peace endeared the place to a tired body. A little later, we decided to take a small walk to Kedar Baba's winter home (hence the name Ukhi-Math). Strangely, walking though painful was more satisfactory to the muscles, all that stretching gradually helping to reduce the pain. The nausea still stubbornly persisting meant I couldn’t even walk into the dining room. As my parents took dinner, I took the time to savour the garden again. The opposite valley was all a-twinkling with the town on the other side lighted up and smaller lights scattered along the mountain side indicating the existence of humanity. The stark loneliness of those lights just then brought home the distance that some people still have to metropolitan life. A life possibly without televisions and one definitely far off from laptops iPods and iPhones, an essential for so many of us now! Sitting on a chair with my feet on another sipping some buttermilk (about the only thing that my mind agreed to then), with the cool mountain air of the night kissing my face and for company, the roving thoughts that could carry one to the stars and beyond. Silent Contemplation. Now that's a life I could get used to!

Next morning was a rush to catch the earliest gate to Badrinath. Yes you read right, a Gate. The path to Badrinath is slightly treacherous for two way traffic and gates at different points help to regulate this. This is what happens. There are three gates , one at Badrinath, one at Jyoshimath and one half way between these endpoints. The ride is for about an hour if memory serves right. So a gate opens simultaneously at Badrinath and Jyoshimath. The traffic from both sides meets about half way where its wide enough for the transition. Then its one way all the way to the other gate. A pretty effective method, the goal is always to make the open gate or be first for the next one. Luckily, we made it to the gate without delays and made the first afternoon gate. The scenery is absolutely surreal here and now river Alaknanda is a major portion of it. Some dam being constructed made for a bumpy ride for some parts. There is this one absolutely terrifying stretch our driver called the Rambagad or some such thing. Of all the landslide prone areas this is supposed to be the worst. It definitely looks like giants have played with giant legos and forgotten to arrange them properly. Mounds of precariously held up rock and soil weakening even more with all the construction going on, the place in all of silence has a spooky feel to it. Towards the end of the drive to Badrinath, we spotted by the riverside, a puckered piece of rock eroded in a weird manner and it turned out to be a piece of unmelted glacier dirtied with soil on it!

Entering Badrinath, our driver exuded extreme jubilation and the reason for it was the most majestic visage ever! Neelkanth Maharaj he was called. Clad in pure white snow and benevolently towering over the Badrinath valley with a perfectly cloudless sky behind him, Mt. Neelkanth left us all in a revered silence. So huge was he that in a moment of inspiration, he looks close enough to be scalable. Only the trek to just the base would be a victory let alone climbing the mountain since the base was at least 50km away. The temple itself in all its splendour is decked in what I like to call the happy colours. Bright yellows, oranges and reds greet you in the first glimpse of the temple. A darshan in the evening was decied on as an early departure was essential next morning. Not very crowded, we even afforded a double darshan. Dinner in a Badrinath version of South Indian food and it was time to head back to the hotel. Early next morning, we tried to glimpse Mt. Neelkanth again but to no avail. Angry clouds cloaked him and I could have almost sworn there could not be anything hiding behind them. We left Badrinath, the last of the Dhams amidst a slight drizzle and made it back to Jyoshimath in time for breakfast. The cable cars and Auli called to us.

The longest and highest situated cable cars covering 3.96kms and an altitude change of approximately 500mts is the only way to Auli, one of India's most famous ski slope. The mountains extend into the Nanda Devi National Park and are India's very own Switzerland. Breathtaking panoramas to feast your eyes on while fighting the biting winds and occasional clouds that rush up (oh yes, we are higher than the clouds) to greet one, it is a unique experience in itself. With a small horticultural strip, a mini food stall and a menacing forest reminiscent of the Fangorn from Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings fame) a few hundred metres away its almost like paradise is just around the corner. Especially, when one can hold onto a steaming cup of sweet black tea too. After lazing around to our hearts content it was off to the Jyoshimath (also called Jyotirmath) where Adi Shankara gained enlightenment. Apparently, it was him who pushed for establishing Badrinath after barbarians had destroyed the older temples there. And in almost no time we were heading to Dev Prayag.

Witnessing the birth of a river is an amazement in itself and when it’s a river as big and important as Ganga Maiya as she is fondly called, all one can say is that the smile on the face and sparkle in the eyes stays for a long time. To our left was the Alaknanda and to our right was the Bhagirathi and right before our eyes, the waters were mixing and creating the Ganges. Much more peaceful was her flow than either of her predecessors. And suddenly, with the Ganga for company, the miles flew and after a quick lunch, the familiar sights of Rishikesh were looming ahead. After dumping luggage at the riverside resort, we took the share auto to the lakshman jhoola for the evening aarthi and prayers offered to the river viewed amidst rainfall and a swelling river. We relived a lot of our previous trip to Rishikesh with dinner at the Purohit.

Then it was off to Haridwar to catch the Shatabdi to Delhi, then a flight to Bangalore the next day and back to civilization as we know it. All that was left was relief that the trip went without too much incident, sadness as it was a goodbye to nature's mountains and rivers, happiness that it was one of the best experiences of my life and might be for a long time to come, pride for all that I can say belongs to my culture and my country and as an afterthought some glee that Kedarnath would have let me lose some weight big time.

And they lived happily ever after……

Two and a half days to go for my penultimate exam and I am ticking off the days to pack and leave for the summer break and PS1 (Practice School 1 - BPGC's Summer Internship Course). More on that coming soon…especially since I shall be back in home.