Vasudhara

This is the view of the Badrinath temple by night from our hotel. Our hotel was along the river alaknanda opposite the temple.

The following morning we went for a bath in the “tapt kund”- which is a hot water spring and a “darshan” in the temple at around 4:00 a.m. It was very crowded and also cold at around 10 C- for someone coming from Kanpur at 45 C. M.S. Subbalakshmi’s renditions of Bhaja Govindam and Vishnusahasranamam were being played by the temple authorities at that time. It was lovely listening to these beautiful pieces.

At around 10 a.m , we went over to a village called Mana about 3 km from badrinath. This is the last village on the Indian side before one crosses over to China. It is believed that the Mahabharata was written here in a cave by Lord Ganesha and recited by Ved Vyasa. It is also believed by the locals that the river saraswati still flows here.

This is the supposed meeting of the saraswati with the alaknanda at Mana. From Mana we went on a 5km trek to Vasudhara to see the breathtaking waterfalls there. As far as treks go this is a relatively easy one. It was rather windy on that particular day which made the trekking a little difficult. It was an enjoyable trek, though as one was greeted by the snow covered mountains on the left and the river alaknanda flowing merrily way below. This is a picture of the Vasudhara falls.

I met a number of interesting people on this trek and I was very happy to have been able to finally see the Vasudhara falls, which I have been wanting to do for quite some time. About 40 km onward from Vasudhara, one reaches the Satopan glacier the origin of the Alaknanda. I hope to be able to go there some day.

After returning to Mana at around 4:30 and seeing the Vyas gufa (cave) and Ganesh gufa , we returned to Badrinath. In the evening we went to listen to the Vishnu Sahasranamam in the temple. This is one of the prettiest temples I have seen. There while standing in the queue to enter the temple, I was pleasantly surprised and happy to run into the parents of a very good friend of mine – janaki. I was meeting them after years and it felt very ironical that people from Chennai and Bangalore should be meeting at Badrinath. It was a lovely feeling there.

I got up very early the next morning hoping to catch the sunrise on Neelkant glacier. I was lucky for a very very short time as the sun was playing peekaboo with the clouds for much of the time. The sun did relent and made an appearance for a short period.

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Kushinagar

Now, O Brothers ! I do remind you, all component things are subject to decay. Work for your salvation in the earnest”.

This was apparently the last sermon Lord Buddha gave on arrival at Kushinagar in 543 B.C.

Last weekend, we had gone to Kushinagar. I had read that this was the place where Buddha had breathed his last. A big stupa is constructed over the place where his body was burnt. It is being restored now, but it is still in remarkably good condition. There are a lot of excavations and one can see a number of remnants from ancient times. In addition to the stupa there are a number of temples dedicated to Buddha in the vicinity built by people from Tibet, Thailand etc. Kushinagar is quite green and the ride from Gorakhpur to Kushinagar was pleasant. For the first time, I also had the opportunity to see jaggery being made from sugarcane juice. Fresh jaggery tastes really good.

Gangotri

From Yamunotri, we headed to Gangotri. We were lucky in that we got vehicles without much fuss from Janakichatti to Uttarkashi and were also able to see some breathtaking locales. Much of the journey was through the mountains and there were too many bends along the way, which wasn’t the easiest thing on my stomach. The journey was great, nevertheless. We stayed in Uttarkashi for the night. Uttarkashi is an example of what unplanned urbanisation can do to a place. It is supposedly a hill station, but it was very hot while we were there. When you looked up you were witness to beautiful forests. The Bhagirathi river flows through Uttarkashi. The city is ugly and dirty and it is a frightful pity that this was allowed to happen amidst such pristine surroundings.

We were fortunate to find seats in a bus going to gangotri. This being “off-season”, getting transport is a little difficult. This bus journey was very hard physically, but it went through the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. I had always felt that the alaknanda valley was the loveliest valley, but I now think that the Bhagirathi valley is far more breathtaking. The water was very blue and so inviting. For the first time in my life, I saw apple trees full of apples. My heat was already wild with joy- little can be better than to be in such lovely settings, the pure cool wind blowing tantalisingly on your face, the air sweet and pregnant with promise, the surroundings at once achingly beautiful and at once treacherous – you miss a break and the chances of ending deep down are very high. We reached a place called Harsil, which is apparently the Switzerland of India. We were with an hour’s distance of Gangotri. As we approached our destination, we started seeing a number of snow capped peaks. People in the bus would say -look, that is Kedar peak, that is sudarshan peak and you were too busy trying to keep your stability in the bus and also crane your head in all directions hoping to catch all the sights at one go.

We finally made it to Gangotri at 1:00 p.m with the sun shining brightly and the Ganga river and the Sudarshan peak both welcoming you there. I felt so lucky to be able to be reach gangotri and actually witness everything that I was seeing. We were very fortunate in meeting a number of people along the way. There was a gentleman from Coimbatore who makes his annual visit to Gangotri and Badrinath. There certainly was tinge of envy in me that he had so much of time to actually spend 3 weeks in places like these.

There are a number of people who meet you at the bus stand and start trying to coerce you into taking a room in their hotels. Again, lady luck was with us. We found a room on the banks of the ganga. You open the front door and there, the river is flowing peacefully almost at your feet. My father took a bath in the biting cold water. There was no way he was coming to Gangotri and not bathing in the Ganga. Some people from Calcutta were admiring him for being able to actually do so. The rest of us were shivering. We then visited the temple and then went around exploring the surroundings. There are two kunds called the surya kund and the gauri kund. There is a mini waterfall of sorts there. We then proceeded on a 1.5km trek to the pandava guha(caves). This trek was lovely. On your right the river was gushing along and on your left, the tress (pine) rose up majestically, regal in their autumn hues. The silence was only broken by the occasional chirping of a bird and the sound of the river below. During this walk, the skies had become cloudy and i was hoping for a little sunshine, so that I could get the shots of the peaks. As we were returning, the sun did make an appearance and I got the shots of sudershan, meru and sumeru peaks. We were in time for the sunset. The ganga arati happens on the banks of the ganga at sunset. It was biting cold and the few of us who were there were all clad in heavy clothes trying to brave the open and the wind.

The arati was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. Bliss is sitting on the banks of the ganga and watching the priest doing the arati and singing ganga stotram with the rest of the people. All of us were deeply moved by this experience and we proceeded to the temple for the temple arati. That too was lovely. Being in Gangotri, does give you the feeling in every inch of your body and soul that life is indeed simple and beautiful and one must keep it that way. Little can be better than having this mighty river at your feet and the mountains in your sight.

That night, each time I woke up, I could hear the sound of the river and this was an entirely new experience for me. It had rained through the night gangotri and snowed higher up. We woke up to grey skies and the bitter cold, but my father and I were thrilled to just sit on the portico and watch the whole sight. Our neighbours, a family from Haridwar were daring enough that morning to take a dip in the ganga.

It was time to leave and we bid goodbye to this lovely place. Surely, we must go back and trek to Gaumukh and Tapovan.

Yamunotri

During our midterm break, my father and I had embarked on a long desired trip – to yamunotri and gangotri. I had tried to vies this more as a trek rather than a pilgrimage, but at the end of the day, the mood of the places got the better of me and i must admit that there is much more to these places than the sheer thrill of trekking in the himalayas.

We reached haridwar on the 12th from kanpur and stayed there for a day. That evening we watched the ganga arati – it is amazing that despite having seen this arati quite a times, i never seem to tire of it and each time it has the same magical, mystical effect that it did have the previous time on me. After the arati, much of the crowd disperses and then my father and I sat down by the river and watched it as it flowed by. the mountains formed a lovely backdrop as did the descending darkness. There was a chill in the air and I was so thankful, that i could be a part of this larger, intangible framework and experience those few moments in life when you are at complete peace with yourself and your surroundings. I have often wondered why I have been so unsuccessful in translating these experiences to my day-to-day life.

The next morning, we took a bus to Darasur and from there another bus to Barkot. From Barkot we got into a shared jeep and proceeded to Janakichatti, which is 5km away from Yamunotri. The drive from Darasur to Barkot was lovely. It was through the mountains and the entire trip was through the pine forest. The smell of the pines was heady as was the clean breeze. Somewhere, along the way, the driver very kindly stopped near a stream and I had never tasted water so sweet earlier. By the time, we had reached Janakichatti, it was late in the evening, by which time it had become dark and it was also very cold. There was this thrill of being in the mountains, but beyond that it was too dark to make out anything else. So, we had dinner and went to bed early in eager anticipation of the morrow. During the course of the evening, a number of people did come and ask us if we required ponies for the journey. I looked at them, I hope without disdain (though, I would doubt this) , and declared emphatically that we most certainly did not. After all this was just a 5km trek and quite a few people had assured me that it would be a piece of cake. The next morning, we set out at 6:00 just as dawn broke. The sight greeting us was awesome. We could make out the sapt rishi range from where we stood and could see that our destination lay in that direction. So, appa and I set out with a couple of other people in a most determined manner. We had hardly taken a couple of steps before my father had a twist in his knee and we had to call for the pony. I am not quite sure if a pony is a less strenuous way of reaching a destination, but it is certainly easy on the legs, but brutal on the back and hips. All along the way, we could see the river yamuna flowing gracefully in stretches and wildly in parts and my heart was in a highly excited state to be a part of these magnificent surroundings. The forests, the rivers, the mountains and finally the clean mountain air give you such surges of pleasure and completeness. I have rarely felt as benevolent towards the world at large as I do when I am in such settings.

We went on our journey, my father on the pony and me, on foot stopping just once for an impossibly sweet chai. At times, the legs did complain and that is when the destination seemed so unattainable and at these junctures, I would remind myself that I had trekked to hemkund sahib and that this should be peaceful. At other times, I would berate myself for not having paid enough attention to physical fitness. But, the destination, we did reach and what an awesome place it was. There is a hot water spring beneath the temple. As we were shivering, we proceeded with eager anticipation of a soothing hot water bath. The bath there was refreshing and we went on to the temple. The specialty of this temple, is that the “prasad” is rice cooked in the hot water from the springs. It gets cooked instantly. The temple location is perfect. As a backdrop one can see the Sapt Rishi Mountains looming and by the side of the temple, the river yamuna gushing and flowing in gay abandon. The cold was piercing, but we were at peace with the ourselves and the world.

http://picasaweb.google.com/nandinin/Yamunotri

Walks in the forest

My trip to Pauri last week was really lovely. Spending a week in a himalayan setting was a dream come true for a city person like me. Though, it was hot (not by kanpur standards) during the day, it was lovely. The cool mountain air was refreshing. We went for quite a few walks in the forests adjoining the campus where we were staying. The forests were full of pine and himalayan oak trees. Sadly, there was not a single old pine or oak tree on the campus. This, of course, is a disturbing trend of our times, wherein we replace the trees by ugly buildings.

While walking through the forest, at first one is very careful of one’s step. The only sounds in the forests close to the campus were those of the swaying of the trees in the wind. it was at once eerie and at once comforting. This made me realise the power of silence. There were no cluttering thoughts in my head and there was such peace and such joy to be in sync with mother nature.

On one occassion we walked across the forest to the neighbouring village. There we had tea at the local tea shops- the “pahadis” drink terrible tea – it is frightfully sweet and feels like sugar syrup and so we had to constantly tell them to reduce the sugar. They are very warm people and also very helpful. During our entire stay there, our rooms were never locked and we didn’t lose a thing. Again, another strange experience.

The art of water conservation and usage of the pahadis is rather interesting. In these parts the roots of the oak trees hold the water and in a number of places the water spurts out as springs. The locals then attach a small pipe to the opening and connect it to there house. Rocks are placed along the way to act as filters and the water that comes at home is crystal clear and tastes sweet also. Now, with increased deforestation, the water sources are depleting. The pauri district is one of the driest in the region.