Friday, August 30, 2013

A Trek to Dev Bhoomi for the Devas –part-4


Diminished or vanished snows on mountaintops and valley, thin forests on hill slope  and dried up fountains indicated a relative rise of   temperature as compared to my last visit, about ten years back. However, a partly melted and slided huge ice capping at the road attracted the Yatris. At about 3 Km from Kedarnath, the Arati of the falling setting Sun rays on the Snow capped mountains kept us spellbound. I told her the Folktale about Kedarnathji. We were very eager to Visit Kedarnath us but unaware of the shock and disbelief waiting for us.
(links to other parts 1to 8 are given at the bottom of the page)

With two backpacks on our shoulders and sticks on our hands, we started climbing up the narrow road with hair- pin bends from Gourikund to Kedarnath.

The traffic jam from Rampur to Gourikund delayed our planned start off from Gourikund by four hours.
Although failed to manage incoming vehicle parking, the state govt. made nice arrangements of prepaid Horses, Palkis, and Dollis ending all the bargains. 

Depending on the weather clearance, there are regular helicopter services throughout the day, which takes about 14 minutes to reach

Like our population, every other thing on this road such as the no of Pilgrims, Horses, Palkis, tea shops etc increased exponentially since my last visit on the same road about ten year’s ago. However, the width of the road remained the same because of slope cutting restriction.
Keeping in mind, the altitudes, and the total climbing distance on a hilly road of average gentle gradient, we planned our halts at every 1.5 Km with fruit juices, dry fruit, and Biscuits and occasional coffees.

We plan in a similar way while exploring for minerals on a hilly terrain and I worked in both the Eastern and Northern Himalayas.
Susmita accompanied me on those trips and we both were used to climbing up for longer distance in tougher Himalayan terrains.
However, this time the plan based on the entries of my own diary failed badly as the entire set up of climate changed abruptly.

To make up the loss of time we skipped two halts but compelled to take rest beside a semi dried up hill spring. Our light woolen garments and the raincoat were wet not by the usual occasional rains of early May, but by our own sweats. We kept them in the backpack in a plastic bag and wore Jeans and T- shirts.
 We trickled into Zigzag ways amid  the crowds to walk faster but the incoming and outgoing Horses coming continuously along with the smell of their urine and heaps of stools made the traverse     real uphill and tricky task.
We reached Ramwara, just at the middle of the trek, before our expected time, wiping out the loss of time. This place with no. of restaurants, Dhabas and few Hotels appear as a small town.   
Unlike other Pilgrims, we avoided any lunch but consumed only a pack of date, roasted cashew nuts, and coffee to keep us fit for the remaining trek of six Km, steeper than the rest.
Just lifting my head from the map I did not find Susmita and a cold wave ran in my spine. The valley side here is very unstable.
She called me before I could yell. She was there, about 50 m up, just near a culvert on a tiny hilly tributary. A big hard icecap from the mountain probably rolled down the slope few days ago and became standstill just before that culvert. The ice melted partly and now appeared as several ice caves. 

When I reached there, she was already inside the cave and busy taking snaps.
I had to remind her that till then,  we were doing excellent progress and only if we keep it up we might reach before the evening Arati at Kedarnath.
The last words as if brought her back to reality and she said “Arati at Kedarnath! We must see that.  Let’s move then.”

Completing the last steep part of Garud choti, we both looked at the watch and felt comfortable.  Kedarnath is just a Km away.

We were in a valley surrounded by snow-clad mountains on all sides. Within another hour, darkness would set in.  The flow of Pilgrims reduced to trickle making the valley silent enough to hear and enjoy the resonated duet sound of, cold wave blowing from the Ice capped mountains, and the flow sound of Alakananda.  

Covering us with woolen garments and Jackets, we sat comfortably on a culvert for the last two cups of coffee. Susmita picked up a bunch of wild flowers and I tucked it on her long black hairs.

Right then the dim sun rays appeared for a moment. The snow-capped peaks changed color from white to Pale orange red but we maintained the silence, clasped hands of each other, and saw the Arati of the nature.
As we started moving towards the bridge on Alakananda she broke the silence with a mild voice “Dear Pundit ji, Tell me something about Kedarnath Temple
I said, “I know very little, mostly from the Kathak thakurs narrating Shivpurana through their lyrical performance and something from the Net.
It is so said that Bhimji of Mahabharata was meditating hard for a darshan of Shivji who appeared in the disguise of a Buffalo and disappeared at Kedarnath. Bhim ji could only touch his divine curved shoulders. That Divine part is one of the “Jyotirlinga” The original temple of Pandavas were reconstructed by Guru Sankaracharaya. The temple is located at the foot of Kedar parvat and Kedar Dome from which the chorabari Glacier came down. A part of the melted water got trapped in a depression forming the Gandhi Sarovar at about 6 KM up from the Kedarnath temple.( This lake flooded by cloudburst triggered the Flash flood of 14.6)”
We checked in at GMVN’s Devlok lodge, took a refreshing warm bath, and left for Arati darshan at the Kedarnath Temple.
Possibly, there is an invisible halo of divine attraction, the moment you see the top crest of the Kedarnath temple and many persons including us felt it.
We were unaware that at the same place shock and disbelief were waiting for us. 
links to other episodes from 1 to 8 are given below.
For Part 1

For Part 2

For Part 3

For Part 4

 For Part 5
For Part 6
For Part 7
For Part 8

A Trek to Dev Bhoomi for the Devas –part-3


We saw innumerable wide slide zones and deforestation activity before and after the proposed Hydro power station at Srinagar. Rudraprayag is a divine blend of rhythmic dance of water flow stepping on the boulders of the riverbed and the roar of falling water. The folktale about Rudraprayag is narrated. At midnight, we also enjoyed a concert of nature at Rampur which engulfed us with dormant emotions.
( links to other episodes from 1 to 8 are given at the bottom of the page)
      From Devprayag to Night halt of Rampur.
We stopped for half an hour for a breakfast break immediately after Devprayag.
 Alakananda is wide here with meandering turns. We settled for Toasts without butter, coffee and sat just beside the river to enjoy the audio-visual show of the nature.
After few hours, we were crossing Srinagar, about 100 km from Rishikesh, on the left bank of Alakananda. This is an important educational and commercial center and the last city on the plains and the First Hydro-power station towards the upstream.
There are few other Hydro power projects upstream upto Vishnuprayag. Deforestation and blasting activity took place during their constructions with simultaneous loosening and increase of slide zones. We saw a big hiatus of any vegetation and growth of adjoining wide slide zones.
 Minutes later, our vehicle started going up the Himalayas and Alakananda, down the valley, gradually diminished to a grey silver thin meandering strip.
However, my Aloka, sitting beside me with a god-gifted asset of sleeping was enjoying a comfortable nap. I braved (because she told me so) to tap her shoulder as the Hills and mountains throb her heart more than my presence.
After a few minutes, she shifted her gaze from the window   of the bus speeding across the foothill of Siwalik.
She said “Even at the foot hill area it is not a dense forest with tall trees. I am yet to see any moving bird.
“Leave aside the birds. There are not even crickets and their continuous songs. You can only hear..”
She quipped “the sound of vehicles and fill your nostrils with burnt diesel. Better tell me about the Next Prayag.”    

 “That is Rudraprayag, the confluence of Alakananda and Mandakini. In the mythology, Narada Muni meditated here to learn music from Shiva. Shiva was pleased and taught him so in the form of Rudra. Just at the confluence, stairs go up to the temple of lord Rudranath on the top of a hill from the confluence of Rudraprayag. Pilgrims also visit the adjoining Chamunda devi”
Just then, our vehicle entered the GMVN hotel of Rudraprayag for the lunch break. We occupied a table at the window side and ordered for a very humble lunch of Daal-Roti as if the breath-taking feast of eyes and ears nearly filled our stomachs.  
The ecstasy of conjugation of the two rivers is not a roar but a divine blend of rhythmic dance stepping on the boulders of the riverbed, in the background of accompanying   music of the ripples.
 Just at the beginning of a melancholic dusk, made by the fumes of the scores of stranded vehicles; we reached Rampur at about 8 Km away from Gourikund.

Nature at Rampur whispers, sings, or perhaps both.  Close at midnight, we both felt the later at the forlorn rooftop of the GMVN guesthouse of Rampur.
After a quick early dinner, we thought of seeing the News of TV at our room and then go for a stroll. By that time, there would be no stranded vehicle and no more fumes.  
Three hours later, a cold wind entered our room through loose window. The wind, whispered to wake us up, signaled   to come out from our room, and reach the lonely rooftop.  We were there for hours together and listening a rare classical concert in the amphitheater of nature.

 Continuous ripples of the Mandakini, 100 meters deep down the valley, accompanied by a battery of Tanpura and sworod from the cluster of crickets with  rhythmic classical dances of fireflies were the distinguished performing musicians and dancer besides prompt occasional announcements of next numbers   by some anchors, a lone Owl and few Jackals.
We never heard before such a great concert by the artists of nature. It filled our heart with thrill, and ignited the warmth in the veins of both of us.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Trek to Dev Bhoomi for the Devas –part-2

(FOR PART -1 PLEASE CLICK links to other episodes 1 to 8 are given at the end. )
Where to we find or feel a glimpse of HIM? I asked this question to several persons but found no concrete answer. I worked in the eastern and Northern Himalayas for feasibility of hydroelectric projects, landslide projects and my favorite subject ‘Mineral Exploration’. My wife Susmita accompanied me in most of the times. We both felt “HE” might be in the beautiful and sometimes spine chilling dangerous Nature of  Himalaya. This quest pulled us to visit DEV BHOOMI From Rishikesh to Kedarnath and Badrinath. Did we find “HIM”? Two miracles happened to us, one at the beginning, saving our life and another when he responded to our prayers to have his Darshan to the satisfaction of our soul.   We felt possibly at least a very small glimpse of “HIM” spread from the temples to the Nature outside. Recent human activity dangerously polluted this nature for selfish gain.  We also rediscovered our emotions and love for each other . I tried to share all these things with  kind readers.  In Part 2 the beauty of Nature along with a folktale I heard about Devprayag is also narrated. 
In the evening, after the Ganga Arati at Parmarth Ghat,  my wife Susmita was busy packing the two backpacks with woolen garments, medicines etc.
Like other yatris to Kedarnath, the rest of our luggage shall remain in the lockers at Gourikund.
She joined me soon at the sofa and looked at the Google earth Maps, I was studying and noting down some details of the route.
Until then I wrote:
1.   3rd May:  From 356 m.r.l at Rishikesh  to the night halt at Rampur altitude 1972m.r through Single lane NH 58
2.   Travel Route: Srinagar - Rudraprayag - Augustmuni - Chandrapuri - Kund - Guptkashi - Phata – Rampur Night halt, Cold place)
3.    4th May, reach Gourikund( GKND altitude 1982m.r.l)  and trek 14 Km on foot ( Hilly dirt road, slope gentle) reach Kedarnath(alt.3583m.r.l  Night halt. very cold night)and walk back next morning
4.   5th May, from Gourikund to Siyalsaur( Night halt alt… ) through Guptkashi.
5.   6th May, Departure Guptkashi and arrive Badrinath (night stay, alt.3100m.r.l. may feel cold on the way.)
6.   7th May departure Badrinath and  back at Rishikesh on 8.5
Starting from Rishikesh end, the Five Prayags on the way are at
·       70 km (43.5 mi)  Dev Prayag(DP)
·       140 km (87.0 mi)  Rudra Prayag i.e. From DP 70KM
·       169 km (105.0 mi) to Karna Prayag
·       190 km (118.1 mi) to Nanda Prayag;
·       256 km (159.1 mi)  Vishnu Prayag

Looking at the Monitor, she said “Snow peaked mountains are only near Kedar and Badrinath. In the photographs of your previous trip in this month of May of this place, I saw snow peaks at distance from Gourikund. Where the snows have gone?”
 I quipped, “Possibly they took shelter in the high altitudes only”
She smiled and replied, “global warming! In addition, remember what Pujya Swamiji said in the Parmarth Ghat. Every day we are polluting our environment.”

The GMVN bus would start sharp at 6.30 A.M but something kept me awake even in the darkness of the comfortable hotel room.
Gathering the search from the Google, three things kept on nagging me.
1.   Absence of dense vegetation at the foothill and along the slopes of this part of Himalayas, making them vulnerable to become slide zones.
2.   Irregular rainfall of few days sandwiched between bright sunny days in May.
3.   All these above mentioned components along  with some other volatile conditions of atmosphere could make a fertile ground of accumulation of deep humid layer on the top of snow peaked mountains lying under a cold and dry airflow. If this is true, can there be a cloud burst in near future?
If this really happens, Met dept would raise an alarm for a cloudburst, I consoled myself.
Little I knew that a few days after our visit, the State govt. would overlook such an alarm for a cloudburst from the Met. Dept, which did happen and a flashflood took place.   Thousands of people either lost their life or declared as lost by the state Govt.  
GMVN transport left in time and soon we were on hilly NH 58. People started liking rafting and on the way we saw no. of rafter boats and camps.
Rafting on progress on Ganga.

                               A Rafters Camp on Ganga.
Within two hours, we crossed the Dev Prayag.

Dev Prayag is the confluence of Alakananda on the right bank and Bhagirathi on the left bank as per direction of flow i.e. towards Rishikesh.
Beyond this confluence, towards Rishikesh, we call this river as Ganga.
Our vehicle stopped for a traffic jam but it was not boring because it stooped just near the confluence.    
We were spell bound and Susmita broke the silence. 
Look at the striking opposite nature of both.”
“Bhagirathi, the stronger, roaring, and foaming with blue waters meets with much calmer and pale yellowish green Alakananda.”
She quipped “Like years before a naughty boy met a calm girl in a seminar and proposed her..”
I smiled and replied “... And they happily lived there after like these two rivers but why. Because like that calm river she has beautiful pale greenish eyes and her nick name is also Aloka?”
She blushed and told, “Tell me something about this Prayag”
“It is so said that Sri Ram Chandra named this confluence as DEV after listening to the prayers of a Brahmin, Dev Sharma, to meet him at this place.”
Our bus started rolling from standstill to snail’s pace and crossed the bridge.
I showed her a red colored tall temple and said, “This is the famous Raghunath temple. People worship here 15 ft tall black granite made Ram Chandra ji.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Trek to Dev Bhoomi for the Devas –part-1

    (links to all other epoisodes are given at the bottom of the page)          
                                    Arati at Parmarth Ghat
A last moment change of decision on booking dates from 14 June to 2 June for the conducted tour of Kedarnath and Badrinath  saved us from being entries in the list of “Missing …” and our near and dears  to search indefinitely  for us hanging our photographs from their neck.
Rishikesh was our starting point for the conducted tour arranged by GMVN( Garwal Mondal Vikash Nigam) and we reached there three days in advance.
I visited Hardwar and Rishikesh in the same peak season month just before ten years. 
The rush of yatri tourists have now increased by many folds along with simultaneous growth of concrete jungles. However, the environment and the rules of construction on hilly terrains and near the riverbanks of a river originating  in the high altitude mountains are overlooked at many places.
“Ganga Arati in the evening is offered at many places in India on the banks of Ganga but the same at Parmarth ghat in Rishikesh is different from other places. “Go there, see, and feel it for yourself.”
Few of my friend told so, few pages of many travelogues wrote so and after moving aimlessly for more than an hour in the market areas of Luxman jhula we (me, and my wife) decided so.
( In my earlier visit, I did not see the Parmarth ghat as the entire team was in a hurry.)

 We saw the beautiful idols of Arjun and Sri Krishna riding on a Chariot, at the top of the entrance gate of Parmarth Ghat. Krishna was imparting the lessons of “Parmarth” i.e. absolute meaning of life to Arjun and inspiring him not to withdraw from the inevitable war against his own elders, relatives, and friends.
We appreciated the attempt of the Architect who tried to convey a great message to all the visitors crossing this entry gate to the Parmarth Ghat of Ganga.  However, this was just the beginning.
Beautifully maintained and clean wide stairs lead to the flowing cool waters of the river. The landings on both sides of the stairs lead to approach to another semicircular, 10-12 feet wide platform, standing on pillars plunged under the waters of flowing Ganga.

This platform is just facing opposite to the Parmarth ghat and on the center of this; the tall idol of meditating Mahadeva is one of the marvels of sculpture.
The semicircular pattern of ghat facing opposite of the Parmarth ghat provides a better view of the Arati through all possible angles in the background of the sound of the ripples of the flowing waters of Ganga.
Already thousands of Pilgrims stood on this ghat and on the platform at that time but the entire environment made the crowd to maintain silence or talk in low or hushed voice.
Only an hour was left for the Arati and the Sun to disappear from the sky. On the wide platform, just at the end of the bottom part of the stairs of Parmarth Ghat  a “Haman” was going on.
The offerings of Camphor and Ghee on the Fire were going on along with chanting of “Slokas”  from SOMVEDA in the precise tune.
The disciples of Parmarth Niketan Ashram were arranging the tall brass “Deepaks” in a row on the steps  for the forthcoming Arati. They started the Bhajans in perfect tune and soon the entire gathering joined them by swaying their heads, clasping their hands and humming the tune and the words of the Bhajan.
Some people like us sat at the back row near the idol of meditating Mahadeva and possibly all were trying to feel the divine vibration as a combined effect of Vedic Mantras of the “Haman”, Bhajans and the sound of the ripples of Ganga.
The rays of sun, which were till then appearing as halos around the facial region of Mahadeva, were slowly disappearing even from the top of his  tangled hair.  The Idol of Ganga Ji placed at the crest of his tangled hair could be seen faintly.
Sri Chidananda Saraswati (called Pujya Swamiji or Pujya Muniji by disciples), President and spiritual head of the Parmarth Niketan arrived and the entire gathering spontaneously stood up as a mark of deserving respect.

He joined the Bhajan group and soon his mesmerizing tune made the entire audience to listen and join with him
At the end of the Bhajan, he spoke for few minutes but it certainly could make a mark on the minds of spell bound listeners.
“Holy Water flowing on Ganga ji originates from the Gangotri glacier in high altitudes. Water is one of the vital form of the nature and the birthplace of life.
So, Ganga Mai is not a goddess alone, she is our mother. So how can we pollute our respected mother by throwing garbage, dead animals,  thin plastic bags and sewerage waters of cities?
The objective of this Arati is not only a mere worship. This is also to make our sole to wake up to this fact.
There may be big gathering in your house during any Puja