Janmashtami, year 2007: Our eyes woke up to see the lovely morning in the lap of Himalayas. Clouds kissed the lofty mountain tops. There had been a slight drizzle. It was a little chilly. We had a holy dip in the hot spring and then entered a shrine. The temple closet housed a small cute looking idol of the lord. It was a great feeling. The darshan had satiated us. We felt drenched in the shower of blessings. Everything seemed to be so perfect!
It was an auspicious occasion of Janmashtami & we were at the greatest of all the shrines – the Badrinath. There probably couldn’t have been a better place on earth to be on that day! A legend says Lord Vishnu had Himself meditated here, while his consort Lakshmi took the form of a berry (badri) tree; and hence the name. Narad, His main devotee is also said to have dwelled here. Because of this, the place has acquired importance beyond compare!
Sankool & I were anxiously awaiting a long break and what better it could have been than a trek in the Himalayas. The planning was left to me & I almost immediately zeroed in on Valley of flowers! I had been longing to go there and there could have been no better season than mid-Aug when the flowers were going to be in full bloom. So our tickets booked, we patiently awaited the day to arrive when we were supposed to depart.
Day 1 – Flight to Delhi, Train to Haridwar
After a patient wait, the day finally arrived! I travelled to Mumbai early morning to catch up with Sankool and board the flight to Delhi. A lull 2-hr journey got us do Delhi around 1 pm. The train was at 9:30 pm and we had loads of time at hand. We took this opportunity to explore the Delhi metro, visited the India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan, took a stroll at the Rajpath, ate our hearts full at a local eatery and arrived at the New Delhi railway station well in advance to board the Mussourie Express for our onward journey to Dehradun.
A very little time left, and yet there were no announcements about the train. And we enquired to get a shock of the day… the train was to start from the Old Delhi railway station. We immediately ran down to the metro to reach Chandani Chowk – the metro was a real lifeline for us! We then boarded the train to doze away.
Day 2 – Haridwar – Joshimath
Good morning Haridwar! Our eyes opened a little before 6 am. The train was delayed and we reached Haridwar around 6:30 am or so. We walked out of the station, grabbed our breakfast and headed straight towards ISBT to board a bus heading towards Badrinath which was to reach the destination the next morning. Today was going to be a long day!
We initially had not planned for Badrinath, and hence settled down with a ticket to Joshimath. The long journey began – with the clear waters of Ganges all along the route, showering blessings to help us wash away our sins. These waters donned a picturesque landscape. There was something new and even more beautiful at every turn the bus took.
Day 3 – Badrinath – Ghangaria
The original plan was to head for Govindghat – the starting point of our trek and head towards Ghangaria. However we learnt that it was Janmashtami that day and there wouldn’t be a better occasion than this to visit the Holy shrine of Badrinath. It was hardly 20 km ahead of Govindghat and wouldn’t have taken more than half a day. So we changed our plans last minute for that extremely wonderful experience.
Surprisingly even on the occasion of Janmashtami there wasn’t much of a crowd. We took a quick bath in the hot water spring. The warmth in the chilly weather was rather unusual and pretty relaxing. We didn’t really wanted to get out, however we had a long way to go, so dragged ourselves. We entered the shrine to have the darshan, and came out blessed and completely satiated with a very holy feeling.
A km or so short trek along a stream led us to another wee shrine where the Lord is said to have set His foot when he first arrived here. A replica of a foot on the stone in this shrine is said to be the Lord’s foot which seems to have been imprinted when He stepped on it. Locals and most of the folks who visit Badrinath do walk up to this shrine to pay their regards while the tourists flock here to enjoy the serene beauty Mother Nature has to offer!
Overwhelmed by the beauty here and completely satisfied from within we left this place to trace our path back to Govindghat. It is from here that we were to begin our trek. We grabbed a bite and headed off for Ghangria where we we to lodge for the night. This was our very first experience in the Himalayas and the weather conditions were not quite suitable for us to walk. There was a strange chill in the air and we were getting tired making us halt for rest quite often. We had walked around 2 km or so and the destination was still around 10 km away! And the worst of all, it was 4 pm and we couldn’t have made it to the destination before dark. So we decided not to stretch so much and hire a pony to take us up the slopes. It turned out to be a good decision. The ponies took us to our destination just before dark we were at the tiny but bustling village of Ghangria.
Day 4 – Valley of Flowers
We woke up early morning with a clamor of rains. It had rained heavily through the night and the drizzling still continued. We were skeptical about getting wet today. We had enjoyed the rains yesterday and had ended up catching fever the last night. So we hired down jackets before we left for Valley of Flowers.
Nature was all set to bequeath a warm welcome! The clouds had settled so low that we could almost touch them… seemed like they had swallowed all the surrounding peaks! There was mist all around and tiny due drops settled on us giving us that titillating feeling. Taller trees popped out while the others struggled to establish their existence. What a sight it was!
We began our trek by crossing a foot-over bridge over a stream. There was a waterfall at a distance and the waters gushed into this stream. The bridge had no railing. It felt scary to cross over. But then it was an experience to remember!
The 3 km trail to the destination was very scenic. The sun and the clouds seemed to play hide-n-seek in the skies. There were tiny streams following us. We also saw a few glaciers and crossed over one of them. Beautiful flowers dotted the landscape compelling us not to proceed without any photographs. The sights made us forget our fatigue and the trail seemed to be a cakewalk.
It was round 10 am when we reached the valley of flowers. The place was a sheer poetry.
I will be the gladdest thing under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay
It was a flowers haven! Gods seemed to have been extremely generous to endow this place with the choicest of flowers. We spent over 4 hours in this place, basking in this blessed state and capturing in our cameras the best of what we could!
It was time to leave and our feet seemed to have been stuck here. We really didn’t want to leave this place, but reluctantly did. We thought we would visit Hemkund today itself but we couldn’t have made it. So we returned back to our hotels and spent the evening exploring the Ghangira town.
There is an information center here which is a must visit. You would get all information about the valley of flowers and the flowers in this valley. They also run a slide show in the evenings. You could also buy literature, maps, CDs and souvenirs from here. Its worth spending your time here!
Day 5 – Hemkund, decend to Govindghat
We started early today for it was a 6km steep ascend to Hemkund today. We probably were suffering from mountain sickness so we decided not to take a chance. So we rather chose to take the easier path to salvation and hired ponies today too.
Hemkund is a vast glacial lake at 13800 feet, nestled amidst seven towering snow-clad peaks. The history of this place dates back to the times of Mahabharta. It is here that King Pandu, the forefather of Pandavas is said to have practiced Yoga. Eventually Sri Guru Gobind Singhji is said to have meditated here to attain Nirvana. Today there stands a Gurudwara built in his remembrance. Hence this place is one of the holiest places for the Sikhs.
When we reached here it was chilly. We were almost shivering. However to our surprise there were a lot of people who had got into the lake to take a holy dip. We didn’t want to dare this. So we sprinkled a little water over ourselves and proceed to the darshan. The Gurudwara was nice and well lit. There was absolute silence and the folks here recited hymns. It felt to be in a heavenly abode.
Feeling complete, we traced back our footsteps back to Ghangria, got done with lunch and started afoot our 13 km descend to Govindghat. Being a descend we did not mind walking. Crossing small settlements enroute and taking photographs we reached Govindghat around 7 pm where we lodged for the night.
Day 6 – Joshimath, Auli
A good night’s sleep had made the fatigue disappear. It was a bright sunny day with no set agenda. We checked out of the hotel, explored the town for a while, and then walked a few steps to the highway where we were to take a bus back to Joshimath. We almost immediately boarded one and within no time had reached Joshimath.
We had practically the whole day to spend here. So we headed for Auli – a picturesque hill station. It is a 4 km Gandlola (cable car) ride to the top offering dramatic views of the valley below. A 20 min joyride took us to the top where all we saw was grasslands and the views of the mountains around. Auli in the winters transforms into a ski resort and many opine that its comparable to the best ski resorts in the world. You can take up skiing lessons for a day, a week or a month at pilfer. We spent some time lazing around and enjoying the views around. But this was short lived. Clouds had descended pretty low and It started raining. So we grabbed a bite at the local restaurant and returned back to Joshimath.
In the winters when the shrine of Badrinath is closed, the priests are said to get the utsavmurti (moving deity) to Pandukeshwar and come over Joshimath to continue their worship at the 1200 years old Narsimha Temple. Thus Joshimath is said to be the winter destination of Lord Vishnu and hence it has gained importance at par with Badrinath. We began our evening temple tour of the city by visiting the Narsimha temple – a quite place for worship and meditation. Narshima is said to be the 4th incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is half-man & half-lion. An idol in the Padmasana sitting position is seen installed here.
Joshimath is also the location where one of the four main mutts of Shri Adi Shankaracharya exists. He is said to have meditated here in a cave and attained enlightenment under a Kalpavirksha, around 1200 years ago. He is also said to have installed the idol of Lord Narsimha at Joshimath. The cave, Kalpavriksha and temple dedicated to Shri Adi Shankaracharya are still seen here. The other temples here are those of Gauri Shankar Shiva and Nav Durga. We had another holy trip around the temple circuit before we were off to sleep.
Day 7 – Joshimath – Hrishikesh
The good days were over and it was now time to get back. So today was the same old long journey from Joshimath to Hrishikesh. Started early so that we could reach early, but unfortunately there were landslides on the way. We got delayed. L
An interesting anecdote about this journey was when we were stuck up in the landslide. There was nothing we could do. The vehicles were stuck up and all that we could do it wait for JCB to come over and have it cleared. Suddenly we saw a group of our Sikh brothers coming out of the bus with some equipment (whatever they could gather) get to the landslide. We had no idea what their plans were. But to our amusement and surprise they started clearing off the gravel and stones themselves! They did away with a few and eventually everyone joined in. We too got into the act. It was fun and the most constructive way to spend our time till we could get the external help. In half an hour half of the debris was cleared when the JCB arrived and cleared the rest. We had helped ourselves save some time and it felt really good!
We finally reached Hrishikesh at 8:30 pm so there wasn’t much left to do. We had dinner and lodged ourselves for the night.
Day 8 – Haridwar
It was a quite morning. After a long dreary bus journey last night we were not game for too much! So we set afoot to explore this town and reached the Laxman Jhula – a bridge over the Ganges which tends to wobble when someone walks over it. Hence the term Jhula – a swing. Also the thunderous flow of the Ganges seems to get pretty quite here. Legend says that Laxman during his exile is said to have meditated here. However the roar of the flow would not let him concentrate. Hence he prayed to the Goddess and asked her to slow down the flow so he can meditate. Since then the Ganges has been quietly flowing here. Later however it rumbles. The right bank has a temple dedicated to Laxman. This is the only place in world where a temple houses the idol of Laxman alone (other places you would always see Ram-Sita-Laxman together). Hence the Jhula gets the name.
We crossed over the Jhula to go over to the left bank and take a stroll. There wasn’t much hustle and bustle on this side. It was quite and serene. We walked past temples and many ashrams. Some people walked up to the lord to pray while a few others meditated and performed yoga. While some (or many) like us took a morning stroll enjoying the serenity around. So many different forms but a single intension – inner peace!
It took us a couple of hours before we reached the Ram Jhula. We crossed over right bank again where we came across the famous Chotiwaala restaurant. It was time to indulge in food, for the two hour long stroll had been quite tiring. We grabbed our bunch here, went over to the hotel and checked out. We were now off to our final destination – Haridwar.
We reached Haridwar a little past noon and it was quite sunny. So we decided to take some rest and go over to Har-ki-Pauri in the evening. So we checked into a hotel close to the station and I almost immediately dosed off.
Evening again we set afoot to the Har-ki-Pauri where aarti is performed to the Ganges every evening. We had made it just in time. To our surprise, the entire Haridwar seemed to have gathered at the ghat that evening. There was a huge rush. Thus we went over to the other side to witness the aarti. There were people selling a flower basket with a diya to be offered to the Goddess Ganga. Most of the devotees bought these took pride in dropping them off in the strong currents. We felt really sad that people under the name of religion are actually polluting the holy waters which would eventually render it unusable. L
The Ganga aarti was was quite a sight. With a huge diya lit, this aarti is performed by several priests near the temple of the Goddess at the banks. With so many people chanting this in one voice it is a must see, must hear and must experience event. It freshens up your mind, body and the soul giving you a feeling of completeness. Satisfied from within and with a feeling that this aarti has made out trip successful we left this place.
Day 9 – Delhi & Flight back
We boarded the early morning Utkal Express to return to Delhi and then took flights back to our respective destinations. Around 7 pm we were back to our home sweet home!