Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day 2 - Oct 19th, 2010 Tuesday. Rishikesh to Gupt Kashi

Day 2 - Oct 19th, Tuesday. Rishikesh to Gupt Kashi

Woke up early in the morning around 6:30. It was beautiful outside, the sun was coming up from behind the mountains, the morning mist was beginning to lift. The beautiful garden in front of our balcony had been unveiled by the morning sun, it was decorated with conifers, evergreens, flower beds. There was a kerala massage center at the corner (they are everywhere now). I have to take back my impressions of Narayan Palace, it had transformed itself from the dark drab place at night to this beautiful place by morning. If I had more time, I can imagine myself relaxing on the balcony with a cup of coffee. The team was ready by 7:30. We had a quick breakfast of puri bhaji (4 puris and some alloo subzi - this would be our breakfast routine for the next 7 days). Left the hotel by 8:30 and went to pick up our green card

Green Card
Yes, green card, it is a permit to travel to the mountainous Chardham region. We went and parked at a gas station (no one minds) and Krishna went to socialize with other drivers and green card applicants. The office was ofcourse closed, but the store next door was open and served as the place to get the forms and to get started with the process. There was also a store on the other side of the road where people were getting fruits, snacks etc. Seemed like that place was also loosely associated with the green card organization. After a while the office opened and soon one guy came to our van with a paper and a pencil and marked off the VIN (vehicle Identification number) number from under our van. He had to go underneath, locate the VIN with the help of a torch light and then place the paper on the VIN, rub the pencil on it to get an impression. He also inspected the tires to see if they had good treads. I think there are many accidents, some rather bad and the VIN is a way to identify the vehicle (similar to dental records) in case something bad does happen. This green card is useful on the way, we got stopped by police twice on the way and had to show the green card. Oh, the store opposite laminates the green card for you - ingenious and resourceful Indians. Get your green card, don’t leave home without it.

In the Himalayas
Once we had the green card we were on our way towards Gupt Kashi. Soon, after leaving Rishikesh you enter the mountains, landslide country, magnificent towering green mountains on both sides that came up from under the Tethys sea 70 million years ago when the himalayas were formed as a result of the Indian plate butting against the Eurasian plate. The sea bed was shallow and had deposits coming in from rivers around it, so much of the land mass is made up of soft sedimentary rocks or shale that are prone to landslides. The sea bed had creatures called ammonites that became extinct over time, and their fossils are worshipped in India and Tibet as Salagram as a form of Vishnu (Lord Badrinath is a Salagram rock).

NH 58 continues through the mountains onto Devaprayag, where Bhagirathi (muddy from the west) and Alaknanda (aquamarine from the north east) combine to give birth to Ganga. There are five prayag’s or confluence of rivers from Badrinath to this point. See google map. There is a nice five storied restaurant/hotel from where you can have a great view of Devaprayag, it also has a very good restroom that you can use. Recommend you stop here.

After Devaprayag, the next big town is Srinagar. This is different from the Srinagar in Kashmir. Srinagar is an important place in this region and was the capital of Garhwal for a long time. It is very crowded and has its own share of educational institutes and MITs. The buildings are on the mountain sides and everywhere you see the fear of landslides. On the right side are the mountains and on the left is the valley. This whole town is flood prone and has been wiped out several times in the past, and rebuilt. 

At Srinagar we got stopped on the road by a police checkpost. This was the first place we had to show our green card. If you don’t have one you have to pay off the guys to get across, but you don’t get a green card. It took a while to get verified, the driver had to show his drivers license too. Many drivers have multiple drivers license from different states. The Unique ID project (UID) should put an end to all this hopefully. There was a bridge being constructed at the bend, probably by a company called Jaycee, we noticed that they were doing many of the projects in this region. 

On the route you see man’s continuous strife to contain nature, but nature being ever powerful always wins but man never gives up. Landslides come down from the side and cover up the road, the soft soil goes away from under the road leading to a collapse of the road.

Soon after crossing Srinagar, we saw our first and worst landslide. The landslide was still active, rocks and soil were coming down the mountain side and traffic was stopped on both sides. After a while they let the cars go by one by one. The trick is to signal one guy to cross the stretch as fast as possible and keep both ends clear so he is not caught up in the middle. Even here, because people don’t think, instead of one two cars may try to go at the same time. The signal men at the ends are unable to stop them. Occassionally they will stop traffic and clear up the debris with a earth mover. This spot was in the same situation even when we returned. We waited for more than an hour here and some people were going back to take a different route. Even in this crowded parking lot of a place, people were trying to overtake each other. There are these Jeep like vehicles called Maxx, with big tyres, loaded with people and piled up with luggage on top that are used as local taxi’s. These Maxx drivers are the worst of all drivers. There is no guarantee that they will do the logical thing, so as always defensive driving is the best. There were buses, trucks, Santro, Innova and all other kinds of vehicle big and small. In the middle of the landslide zone, on the side, stood a small car, completely battered by rocks, did not look like anyone would have survived. It seems there is a village of 20 huts on top of the land slide zone, we could see smoke coming from there. The people living there don’t move from there. When part of their village collapses, they move back some. This was a common theme I noticed in the region, people have constructed houses and buildings at spots where you would dread to walk.

(When we reached Gupt Kashi we heard that this stretch of road was closed for a week and that it had opened up just two days back. When this happens, you are stuck wherever you are. Fresh supplies of bread and milk to the hotel stops when there is a road closure. Many people can’t make it to the dham after coming this close. They say if the Lord pulls you to him, only then can you go to him. I heard from another friend that they were going to visit in two cars, starting at slightly different times, one made it and the other one was not able to go. Another acquaintance an older lady went all the way to Kedarnath but was not able to go to the temple because of severe dizziness and headache. You have a very different feeling, when you are on this trip. You need to leave everything to the Lord mentally and do what you need to do. In our case, since we were not driving we had left everything in Krishna’s hand. It is stressful to drive for so long under those conditions.)

The road from this point on was pretty rough, with large boulders on the side, collapsed lanes, going under overhang of rocks, going over brooks flowing across the road. We went through a small tunnel on the way. Once you get over agonizing over the road condition, you can start enjoying the magnificence of the Himalayas. I have been to Yosemite, to Banff and to Tahoe but these mountains were something else in size. I have seen signs saying ‘rock slide area ahead' but never seen a rock slide or mud slide before. The road kept getting worse, there was silence in the van with people mumbling silent prayers to get us to our destination safely. On the way we crossed Rudra Prayag. The road forks at this point with NH58 continuing to Badrinath along Alaknanda, and NH109 going north towards Kedarnath. Rudraprayag is the confluence of the rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini. Next major place we crossed was Ukhimath, a place of significance because it is the winter home for the Kedarnath idols and priests. For the six winter months, everything moves down here. This winter period starts around the first or second week of November and ends in April. Always call before your trip to find out the open close dates, but it is safe to plan your trip between April 15th and Oct 15th. We were overshooting it by a week or two but based on double checking with the temple we decided to take the risk.

Chardham Camp, Gupt Kashi
We finally reached our hotel for the night around 7:30 pm. As soon as we entered, or descended the steps down to the camp, we were greeted by a pujari who did an arti and put tika on our forehead and the staff gave us a drink of rhododendron. Chardham camp is a very unique hotel, if you want to call it a hotel. It is setup like a camp ground. For our room we got a tent with a attached bath and a patio. There were two beds inside, a table. Very good quality, clean and fresh linen. Hot water comes in the morning, you have to tell the staff what time you want the hot water for your bath. After freshening up we went for dinner to the cafetaria tent. Very nice and spacious with place to sit 40 people. The food was great, soup, puri, sabzi, chow mein etc. all vegetarian. After dinner we went for a short walk outside the hotel to see where the helipad was. The walk was cut short by stray dogs barking and following us around. We retired for the night. One thing to be aware of in camping is that sound travels easily, so if you have not camped before be warned. Leave all your quarrels at home.

(We found out on the way that the helicopter we were supposed to take to go to Kedarnath was not available and that an alternate company was going to take us there. There was some uncertainty about that but in the end it turned out to be better because the new company was next to Chardham camp, our hotel.)


  1. Thanx for sharing ur experience.God knows when we'll be able to undertake this yatra but ur intimate narration has almost given a taste of actually being there:-))
    Write on.
    Mala debnath

  2. Builder in Rishikesh
    Satyam Properties, Builder in Rishikesh, Uttaranchal state, India deals in sale and purchase of properties of every description, viz. Lands suitable for various purposes- industrial, residential, agricultural and for ashrams, dharamshalas, yoga institute, hotels, resorts, buildings, shops and residential flats etc.