Saturday, February 28, 2009

Here we go! We (myself and Shiju) planned to visit Kedarnath & Gandhi Sarovar in July '08. We ended up visiting Badri and Mana (the last Indian village) also. 

The trip was planned in a record time. I wanted to take a break and had made up my mind to go. 2 or 3 of the would-have-been travel mates dropped off one by one. Just went to Shiju's place and mentioned in passing that I was going, even if that meant alone. Within 20 minutes we were online - booking tickets to Delhi. We went to Bangalore ( I had to run some errands there), missed the unsympathetic SpiceJet flight (Never will I use that carrier again) to Delhi. Landed the next day in Delhi, and took a bus from ISBT to Haridwar. Thankfully, we got into some good company in Haridwar and booked a cab that will ferry us for the next few days. The driver's name was Manoj Tiwari, from Pithoragarh. Friendly and communicative fellow.

There's quite a lot of activity going on in the hills over here.  Names like NTPC, Alfa Laval, and Indowind Energy stuck.

The tunnel near Rudraprayag. (Prayag is more of a surname. Prayag=confluence=meeting point of two rivers). You have different prayags all along the route like Deoprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandaprayag etc.

This is terrace farming - something that I had only read about in geography texts.

It was raining like hell.

It sure was.

If there's one organization that I can vote for, I'll choose the Border Roads Organization (BRO) - love the acronym too. Landslides are a daily (if not hourly) affair in such mountain routes. BRO has men and equipment at different places along the route. Rubble that will otherwise delay the journey for hours, if not more, is usually removed quickly. They make what might seem like critical stoppages for lesser mortals look like child's play. Pick. raise and....

Shove....phooosh to the abyss below!

If there's anyone who's addicted to waterfalls out there - come here and quit. By the time you're done with a trip, you might say "ah...a beautiful waterfall...not again." However the feeling should ideally last for a month or two after the trek, and you will be yearning to go back again. If you open a bigger version of this picture, you'll catch a glimpse a the pastic waste. 

Gaurikund. This is the base point from which the 14km(7.77miles) trek to Kedarnath starts. The path is paved with stones and littered with stalls that provide refreshment and rest. You could walk, take a pony (Rs. 300-500 one-way, add a reasonable premium for a roundtrip), someone could carry you on his back, or be carried in a pallenquin by four sturdy fellows(I think that costs a 1000 Rupees or more).

Two ships, two directions!
A makeshift loo on the trek.

From here, the trek begins.

You could walk the whole distance in 3-4 hours. On our previous visits, we had covered it in 6-8 hours. Slow relaxed pace. 

As you can see, we decided to take ponies this time. On a pony, you could reach Kedarnath in a little over 3 hours. My friend is the lone ranger in the pic.

A typical stall, where you can have food. You could also take rest here. The man in the middle is Prem Singh, our pony guy. Still keeps in touch. Called him last month. He's gotta baby boy, whom he has named Himanshu - meaning Cool rayed, mountain peak, or one of the many interpretations that abound online.  I have a colleague whose name is Himanshu, and he says it means something else altogether - moon.

Ponies need food, like everyone else. They relish jaggery (buy it for them, if you happen to visit this place).

I decided to take a walk toward the end of the route, not out of bravado, but because of my left thigh that quit sitting on a transport that it's quite unaccustomed to. Here's Shiju, with a fellow traveler.

Mandakini river flows past the Kedarnath temple and joins Alaknanda (coming from Badrinath) at Rudraprayag. The source of Mandakini is a couple of kilometers away in the Chorabari glacier. It was 11.30 AM. We decided to just keep our bags in a hotel and walk to Gandhi Sarovar Lake. This move is ill-advised for any trekker, as you need time to acclimatize. Here we were, from an altitude close to sea level to around 3500 meters (11,500 feet) and counting in a span of 2 days.  And from a flight (Trivandrum to Delhi) to a bus (Delhi to Haridwar) to a car (Haridwar to Gaurikund) to a pony (Gaurikund to Kedarnath), our legs haven't had much of an exercise save the fidgeting and shifting.  

But we were raring to go, like two headless chicken, and thankfully, there was nobody to stop us.

The trek to Gandhi Sarovar lake is neatly paved for the first half. There's some work going on in the second half of the trek also. I think the distance from Kedar is 3 kms. No stalls or shops on the way. If it rains or snows, you get wet. Period. Some sort of rain gear is called for.  

That's a pic of Kedarnath township from a distance. The temple is the biggest structure in the middle. Plastic waste dumped into the river is quite an eye sore. The first time we visited this place was in 1998. From then, each visit proved that the deterioration has been fast and dramatic. May all of us have the dignity to avoid dumping water bottles or chocolate wrappers or anything of that kind on these serene locales.

Ugly: offensive to the sight : offensive or unpleasant to any sense. 
Example: A coke bottle on a glacier.

A cop on the way. Someone stole a board put up by the government and he had gone to investigate with two of his colleagues. There's only so much investigation that you can do at 3800 meters, and they found that the board is in fact gone. He was friendly. Cops here make close to 10,000 in a month. Liquor and meat is banned in the Char Dham route (:-)). Over here, if you have meat you're caught (pun not intended).

Whoah! One look and you know it's tough to cross. The time was close to 13.00, and we thought we could make it.

Time for some snaps.

We made it across to the other side, at the cost of your you know what getting wet. 

This is the second half of the trek where work is going on. Hopefully, next year's travellers will find it easier to travel. Incidentally, all the four Dhams are closed from the first week of November, because the entire area is covered with ice and snow. The temple deity is worshipped at a place downstream. The Dhams (and the trekking routes) open sometime in the beginning of May. 

We had chosen July, a relatively bad time of the year to visit. It's rainy, cloud covered and all that. Fortunately, the first glimpse of the mountains. The best time would be May/June. After that, you could have a good time in October, as the pilgrim season come to a grinding halt- a.k.a throwaway boarding and lodging and lesser crowds to deal with. That's demand/supply for you.

From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.

From a distance we are instruments
marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They're the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.
Julie Gold

A drizzle.  NOBODY... MESSES... WITH THE DO! 

Wet wet wet! 

Finally, the ice snout of Gandhi Sarovar Lake. The first time I came here, I thought this was Vasuki Tal (Tal=Lake). That lake is a lottttttt more work.  Mandakini river starts from the glacier in this region.


This is the lake. I like the next snap better.

Pristine. Crystal clear. With a better camera and a creative head behind the lens, this could have been a good photograph for a mineral water brand. This, L&G, is Gandhi Sarovar. The real name is Chorabari Tal. Gandhji's ashes were immersed here, and it became Gandhi Sarovar. Would Gandhi have appreciated such a name change? 

Flowers are collected from these areas to be used for poojas at the Kedarnath temple. 

This place is packed in snow and ice in the early part of May. For a read and look on how it would be in May you can access: 

I feel that this is a relatively easy trek. Good one for beginners.

On the way back.

I don't know why. I love this place from the cockles of my heart.

aarkkeda illathathu? (Linguistic excuse)

It's closer to 16.oo hrs. The crossing is going to be menacing, as the water flow usually increases during the later part of the day.

Not for the faint hearted.

And we are faint hearted. We take the downstream option. More work.

Botanists can have an orgy here.

Sepia. Me

Sepia. Me-too

Doggie. A few years back, we (Sumesh + yours truly) had come here, and I could not walk. We did not take ponies then...and the last 4 kms to Kedar needed to be covered. I was limping...totally beyond hope, it was late in the evening, and it started to snow. A dog stood by us. Walked all the way till we came to Kedar bridge. When we stopped, he stopped. When we walked he walked - right till the bridge over the river Mandakini. I'd called him "Bernard" then. Here's one of his kind. 

Here's the temple of Shri. Kedarnath. Shiva is the deity worshipped here. Shankaracharya apparently founded this temple. Shankaracharya's samadhi is a stone's throw away from here, behind the temple. We prayed at the temple during the night and left for Gaurikund the next day morning. 

Statement of stockholders equity. Hotel Mama(Uncle) Bhanja (Nephew)

Shiju wanted to see if we could pack Badrinath in our itinary. Manoj Tiwari was waiting in Gaurikund, and we quickly started for Badri. We stayed overnight at Joshimath, and took the first gate to Badri.

I never liked this company (Jaypee group = Jaiprakash Associates plus affiliates like JP Hydro) as an investment. Darling of the bull run, the company's been pummelled in the bear round. 

Badrinath Temple!

Ever seen a crow with a yellow beak? They're plenty here.

Here's SBI's philantrhpsdaical board announcing the LAST INDIAN VILLAGE! 
SBI has an ATM (which is a blessing) at Badrinath.

This is Bhim Pul - the bridge that Bhim laid across river Saraswati to carry his brothers and wife across. You can read more of the  story from the epic Mahabharatha at It's from this bridge that our planned trek to Satopanth Tal will (Insha Allah) happen in May this year. Supratim Roy has a good blog about this trek at

This is river Saraswati. Never heard a roar like this before.

Saraswati meets Alaknanda river immediately after Bhim Pul, and loses its identity. The spot is known as Keshav Prayag.

They say that the waters from Kailash Mansarovar flow in this small stream. 

Mana Village. The last Indian settlement. China beckons beyooond. The people, especially women, dress in a typical mountain way - Tibetan? I asked permission from a group of elderly women for a snap. They snapped - asked me to go take one of myself. :-) Guess they get pestered like that all the time, since their village is a sort of memorabilia spot. The price to pay for living in a place that's treated as a museum by the rest of the world.

The last tea shop in India - in Mana village.

If it's the last tea shop, what are Mallus gonna do? The tea is not that great, but it sells - quite predictably so. There's an opportunity for "India's second last but relatively better tea shop" here.

Mana villager's doggie!

Doggie with family!

Back to Haridwar. The Kaavad (a decorated arch that you carry on your head) yatra was happening at that point in time.

View of the Aarti spot, that millions of us might have watched on TV. You may get fleeced (depending on how you look at things). We almost got into the trap last time, when they sold us the aartis and flowers. A priest helps you perform the poojas. After a few chants, the inevitable question comes "How much would you want to offer for the peace of your ancestors? How much for a good career and job satisfaction?" By what I gave the last time, my ancestors must be cursing me wherever they are. As far as job satisfaction goes, my puny donation has served me right;-)

Commercial street. 
I found Haridwar to be one big market, selling all sorts of good like Om T-shirts, bracelets, small idols, precious stones, the omnipresent Rudraksh, and similar pilgrim paraphernalia. 
By the way, in all of our trips, there's a place next to Haridwar that we visit with a ferocity that equals fanaticism. It's called Sher-e-Punjab - vegetarians excuse - this place gives you the best chicken on the planet.  It's a few kms from Haridwar, the place is called Jwalapur. You can take a rick to reach it. Forget Jwalapur, just tell the rick driver that you want to go to Sher-e-Punjab.