Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 3 - October 20th, Wednesday. Kedarnath

Day 3 - Oct 20th, Wednesday. Kedarnath. Gupt Kashi to Joshi Math
जय श्री केदारनाथ

Had a very good sleep. Woke up at the usual 6:30 and took a bath. Went out to greet the morning sun. It was a glorious day with clear blue skies, snow clad peaks in the distance dazzling in the morning sun. Went back into the tent, got dressed, had tea and biscuits. Came out 30 minutes later, and it was drizzling with some scattered clouds, not too ominous. Went for breakfast, puri bhaji plus other delicacies. Food was again great. While we were having breakfast, the skies darkened and it started to rain heavily. The pilot for our helicopter was also having breakfast in the tent. He kept checking the skies and calling on his cell phone to determine what the situation was. It was not clear if we were going to make it to the temple. Again, if the Lord pulls you to him then you go. We kept waiting past the 8:30 am mark, our departure time. Finally, around 9:30 the skies cleared up a bit and the rain stopped. Walked to the helicopter check-in area. You are not allowed to carry anything heavy with you, just a small bag of sundries. We were weighed as part of the check-in process to determine who will sit where and how many people can travel together. After checking in we took the steps to the top of the building, this was the waiting area. The sun was out and it was starting to warm up. Another family (father, mother and young son) from Hardwar was traveling with the four of us. We were bundled up in warm clothing, they were wearing normal clothes with one sweater on top, and flip-flops.

(They had their own pujari/pandit set up, and were carrying the ghee and other puja stuff with them. This is one thing we were not well versed with, how to offer puja. We had heard stories of people getting scammed by pujari’s/panda’s. We had been instructed to buy the puja-samagri at the stores and offer our own puja.).

We kept waiting for the go ahead to board but nothing moved. There were banana trees next to the waiting area and orange trees (the Hardwar people called the orange by a different name). Finally around 10:00 we boarded the helicopter. I was sitting next to the pilot in front. Even after we boarded it was not sure if we were going to take off, at one point the ground crew signalled to abort but luckily the pilot did not and talked to some more sources and decided to continue.

The helicopter took off and swung to fly over the camp to the valley to the left, and then swung right to head to Kedarnath. We moved along the right edge of the valley, to avoid any winds. I got a very good view, especially since I was sitting in the front. There was a slight drizzle. 

Down below you could see the terraced farms so characteristic of this area. Once we made the turn to the right we could see the pathway that people take to walk to Kedarnath. (Most people continue by road from Guptkashi, past Phata to Gaurikund and either walk, talk the pony or get carried by 1 or 4 people. It takes 4 to 6 hours to cover the 14 kilometers. For people who don't have time or have trouble with curvy mountainous roads, one option is to take a helicopter from Dehradun - costs about 1.5 lakh rupees. It seems the Ambani's fly in from Mumbai in the morning to Dehradun, take a helicopter to Kedar, fly back to Mumbai by afternoon!)

We reached Kedarnath in about 10 minutes. Once there, you suddenly feel out of breath because of the height. You can buy oxygen cylinders at the helipad, we did not. For elderly people this sudden drop in pressure and oxygen level can be difficult, so the advice is to not rush or start walking fast in the beginning. You should regain your composure for a few minutes and slowly start the walk up to the temple, which is about 15 minutes away. Remember, no rush. The pitthus (people who offer to carry you up in a basket), keep bothering you. It is sad, these people are really poor and have no other way of making money. Business in the off season is really bad and they were offering to take us up for fifteen rupees. I felt like just giving the money, but doing something like that would set a bad example and you may soon find yourself surrounded by people asking for money. Same thing in Hardwar or other religious places, it is best not to give out money to avoid the risk of getting mobbed.

The pathway winds through dharamshalas and guest houses which lay empty now. In the peak tourist season I can imagine these places will be bursting with people. 

We finally reach the main street that leads to the temple, it is lined on both sides by shops where you can buy the offering tray (50 to 100 rupees), you should keep your shoes at the store. Each store looks the same as the other, so remember the store number, because you have to come back and return the tray, pick up the shoes and pay. 

The temple was not crowded at all, during the tourist season you have to wait in line for hours and don’t get to spend much time inside. We went past the Nandi bull statue in front to enter the first chamber, and from there to the inner chamber where Sri Kedarnath resides. The entrance is through a small door, it leads to a small room, probably 12x12ft, in the middle of which is the pyramidal stone which is Lord Kedar. The center altar is about 6x6ft, so there is not much room to move around. We walked to the left after entering this dark, stuffy chamber and got hold of a pujari to offer the prayers. If you are claustrophobic you should take care before entering, but then many temples have the inner sanctum which is similar, so it may not be a big deal after all. The other family was already seated in front with their pujari and were doing an elaborate puja. An important aspect of the puja is to take ghee and smear it on Sri Kedarnath. The ghee is everywhere inside, on the floor, on the walls, on the pillars - because of attempts by people to clean their hands but over the centuries there are no clean spots left for you to wipe your hands, carry some paper tissues or cloth. I wonder how they clean this place, may be before they reopen they clean the entire temple with hot water. The other important thing about this place is that as part of the puja you get a pink and yellow garland, everyone was wearing that on the way back. Story of Kedarnath and general information about kedarnath.

The trip back was much more relaxed. The helicopter guys were trying to rush us by saying that the weather might turn bad and we must go back as soon as possible. It is difficult to know. On the way in, the chopper carried seven of us, but on the way down it could only take four because the air is lighter and cannot produce enough lift. The weather was perfect. By the time we came back to the tent it was hot inside the tent and we had to take off all the layers we were wearing. The bags were already packed, we loaded it up into the van and said good bye to Chardham camp. Very happy with the place. We started for Joshi Math or Jyotir Math around noon.

There are two roads to Joshi Math, one all the way down to RudryaPrayag and up the right fork from there and another one, a short cut through the valley, that is not always open and goes through Ukhi Math, Nala, Chopta, Mandal, Gopeshwar and meets NH58 at Chamoli. This route is very scenic and was not crowded at all, however for many sections, especially towards the second half, there was no regular road, we were just going on a gravel path. It felt like we were driving down a river bed. The problem with this route is that if anything goes wrong there is no backup plan. We were going through a primordial forest with trees that were there from the beginning of creation, if any of them break and cover the road there is no way to clear it out, and your cell phones don't work. On the way we got delayed because of road construction. It was supposed to be a 15 minutes wait but turned out be more like an hour and a half. The road workers, many of them young kids, probably teens were covered with black tar. It is a hazardous job, but I guess the only job around. It seems a lot of the expert road builders come from Nepal because the local people don’t have much expertise but do the menial jobs. At one spot they were cracking/dynamiting a rock that had rolled down, but because of some error the fuse just burnt and the stick did not explode. It is an eventful journey, with some excitement or the other every few hours. But for the road condition, the route is very scenic with deep valleys and tall majestic mountains towering over you. We saw many Innova vans on the way, our driver swears by it. We also saw quite a few Force vehicles, they looked like mini RV’s. In the mountains darkness comes quickly, because once the sun goes behind the mountain it is blocked. By late afternoon we had reached Chamoli and started up NH58. There were quite a few landslide areas on the way, some were long stretches that had been cleared but looked ominous even now. Soon it was dark but the road was still the same. On the way we came across a giant dam building project (by Jaycee again), and there were giant vehicles going on the road. This was reassuring because if those big vehicles could make it we could too. After crossing the dam area we travelled another 30 minutes and entered Joshimath.

Joshimath, is a crowded place like any other Indian city. 
The shops encroach upon the road and people park in front of the stores to do their shopping, oblivious to what they are doing to the traffic. We could not figure out where our hotel was, there were two Garhwal nigams in town. Ours was the new garhwal nigam which we found was not a new building but an older building which had been transformed ‘newly’ to a Garhwal Nigam. (When you ask someone for information, whether they know it or not they will give you the answer with confidence, some wont even talk but show you with hand gestures and head movements.) Overall the hotel was pretty decent, not fancy but clean and the basic amenities were there. The rooms and the bathrooms were big with a large bed and sofa. The restaurant downstairs was quite good. (Every place we ate, it cost us about 400 to 700 rupees for four. That is not bad at all for a satisfying meal with fresh chapati and puri plus daal and sabzi, salad, chai.) Everyone was exhausted, we hit the bed soon after dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Guruji,

    Truly a memorable day in the lives of all who make it "up there". Very well written and a personal yet informative format.

    Looking to read the next day.