Friday, January 21, 2011

2010 October Kedarnath Badrinath travel

Haridwar Rishikesh Yamunotri Gangotri Kedarnath Badrinath: Gateway to the Gods
Day 1: Oct 18th, 2010, Monday. New Delhi to Rishikesh
We started from home at 9:30 am. The traffic was not too bad considering it was Monday morning, however once we were close to the airport, traffic came to a standstill. We noticed many rental cars on the airport stretch. This is a new phenomenon, the cabs are called radio taxis and are run by several large companies. They charge much more than the usual neighborhood rental guy but are reliable and clean and are available in all major metros. They are very similar to 'Yellow Cabs'. In India, you can rent out a car with a driver for long trips too. It is very important to get a trusted and knowledgeable driver.

Reached the airport around 11 and contacted our fellow tirth yatri and tour leader who was flying in from Mumbai. The van which was to take us on the seven day trip was already waiting. It was a Toyota Innova (very similar to a Sienna) from one of the rental car companies. The driver, Krishna, was dressed in a white uniform and very courteous. I used to refer to Krishna as Sarathi (the charioteer, Krishna was Arjun’s Sarathi). Our leader joined us in the parking lot. Delhi airport has had a major facelift because of the common wealth games, both airport and the restroom facilities there were clean and modern looking.

The exit from the airport was similar to the entry, like a parking lot. The reason is that everyone is trying to get ahead at the same time and blocking everyone else. This is a common problem on the Indian roads but no one seems to learn from it or change their behavior, because if only you back down you will be left behind. The driving style is very aggresive, a style which got more pronounced as we proceeded north and into the mountains. After a while you wonder, if there is any other way to drive!

The roads we travelled in Delhi and Noida were excellent. They had been redone for the commonwealth games (CWG), fresh paint, stripes, CWG only lanes, potted plants on the divider. We saw the commonwealth village at a distance along the Yamuna, apartments that were made for the games and were now going to be auctioned off by the DDA (Delhi Development Authority). Krishna was driving officials around during the games and he says that traffic was really light during the games. Most offices and schools were shut down and all migrant workers had been asked to leave during the games. The venues were empty, not many people attended. Tickets were not available even when the stadiums were empty!

National Highway 58 (NH58) takes you from Delhi to Hardwar, a distance of 215 kilometers. The road goes through the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and then into Uttar Khand (UK). We crossed Murad Nagar, Modi Nagar on the way. Modi Nagar had many industries/enterprises under the name of Modi (of course). Next we crossed Meerut. Around Meerut, we could see tens of colleges and universities (educational institutes), saw one named MIT (Meerut Institute of Technology, this was not the first MIT on the way). There were all kinds of colleges - for MBA, engineering, computer science, hotel management. I later saw the same ‘college town’ in Greater Noida, where education is the industry. Roorkee was next, home to one of India’s earliest Civil Engineering colleges, now an IIT. All along the stretch were colleges. The area is not populated much, especially near the highway. The highway was being widened in many areas, to increase the number of lanes or to make it a divided highway.
On the way to Roorkee we stopped at a restaurant called Grand Cheetal in a town called Khatauli. This is a very good place to stop at for lunch or snacks, it is clean, fast and has decent rest rooms. The drivers eat free, so if you have a commercial driver, chances are they will take you there. The highway used to go through Cheetal before but now is being moved and Cheetal will be on a by-pass. You get all kinds of food - north indian, south indian, pizza, sandwiches, chinese at a very good price.

After crossing Roorkee we came across the first major roadblock of our journey. The road goes through farmlands and is raised. On one section, a tanker had toppled over and gone down the side. Three tractor trucks were engaged in pulling the tanker up. Traffic was backed up on both sides. While this operation was in progress, cars and trucks were trying to get past this blockade and were confronting each other like in a game of dare. At one point I thought the truck advancing towards us was going to push us off the road, down 15 feet. Of course, to people used to this daily it was nothing serious. We later heard that many of these accidents are staged by the owners of the tankers, a scam to collect insurance money. After about thirty minutes at this spot, the tractors gave way and we managed to get out of this melee and were on our way to Hardwar.

We were trying to get to Hardwar in time to catch the Aarti, but because of this accident on the way we were not able to make it. By the time we reached Hardwar, parked and walked to Har ki Pauri, Aarti was over. We did buy the flower boats and set them afloat in the river with a lamp. You can buy the exact same thing for 5 rupees or 25 rupees, depending on when and where you get it. The lamp comes with enough oil, or some ghee like substance to just stay lit till the time you set it afloat. Ma Ganga was full and rushing by the steps. People were taking a dip even at this time of the night and year. It wasn’t that cold, in fact it was warm. Talking about temperature, Kolkata was hot and humid, I was sweating profusely all the time. Delhi was hot too, and I had to have the air conditioner on at home. Surprisingly warm for late October, or maybe I have forgotten how it used to be 28 years ago.

After walking around for a while we started from Hardwar for Rishikesh. It was already dark and we made our way through wooded lanes. On the way we saw quite a few hotels with familiar international names, many of them looked quite fancy. These may not be bad places to stay on future trips.
Once we reached Rishikesh, the search for our hotel started. We were booked at a place called Narayan Palace, but ended up at a place called Tapovan resort. Went to check-in and found out that our Hotel was at a place called Tapovan. (Everything happens for a reason, and this trip to Tapovan resort turned out to be useful on our way back). After what seemed like an hour of driving up and down dark mountain roads, and police roadblocks we finally found Narayan palace. Nice hotel from the outside. The rooms were large, with old style fixtures and plumbing but it was dimly lit and a bit dingy. The doors did not lock well. So, overall the intent was good and probably in the early days the condition was good, but now it looked old. Or it could be that we just got two bad rooms. The restaurant was equally disappointing, dark, mosquito ridden and not much variety. We had a simple dinner and hit the bed exhausted.


  1. Guruji,
    Really enjoyed starting the morning with your blog. Simple in style and yet engaging - I was able to visualize the crowds at the airport, the towns bustling with college campuses on the way, heat of the day and serenity of Rishikesh evenings - and the feelings of being on this Yatra.
    Wish you could make it in time for the Aarti - well another time!!

    Keep Posting.

  2. Guruji,

    Forgot to mention about the wonderful background to the blog. Seems like all the rivers of the blog are flowing to be united after a long time -randomly and carelessly - as is often the nature of rivers.

    Let Krishna lead the way.

  3. Amlan da ur writing like a pro! I'm sure u were keeping a diary at that time otherwise how could u've remembered even mundane,minute things?
    Very good attempt.i'm hooked:-))

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