Friday, July 17, 2009

A Year After

Dark clouds hiding the sun behind…a few drops of rain here and there…wind sending chill down my spine. The Bangalore weather today reminds me of something very close to my heart. Suddenly I feel a bit nostalgic. Layers of memory unwind themselves to reveal the scenes of my maiden trip to north India. It’s been exactly a year this very day when I came back after one of the most exciting trips of my life.

I didn’t wish to miss the sight of my friends Gurupriti and Mihir getting married to each other in Delhi – they were the first ones in my friend circle to say ‘I do’ or rather a Vedic hymn of that meaning, so that is how the whole plan materialized. Having an employer who grants 30 annual leaves, I thought of turning it into more than just attending a wedding. I planned to visit Agra and Garwhal region of Himalayas for some trekking. Four days before the date of the wedding, I backpacked and started for Delhi in Hindustan Ki Sadabahar Savari Indian Rail. I intended to visit Agra after spending a day in Delhi, but on the way I realized that Agra was en route to Delhi and it was better to get down at Agra first. After around 34 hours of journey, I got down at Agra Railway Station early morning. The attendant at the Tourism Centre was quite helpful. I visited Fatehpur Sikri first and then Agra Fort.

I saved the evening for Taj Mahal. Passing through a long queue, when I first looked at the Taj, my first reaction was “Wow!” This is the mausoleum Shah Jahan built for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Grief-stricken Mughal emperor kept his words given to his dying wife. Sitting at a side bench in front of the Taj, I wondered what might have gone through the emperor’s mind. In his Mughliya style, he would have asked chief designer Ustad Ahmad Lauhari and his team to erect a white marble architecture, obviously inspired from the other Persian monuments of those days. 21 years down the line, when he had first looked at it, he might have tears rolled down his eyes. The Taj, ageless, timeless, love in marble and minarets, as immortal as love itself.

The next day I went to Delhi, where I was joined by Ravish, Sheetal, Payal and Rachita. For next two days we were to roam around in Delhi during the day time and attend engagement and wedding ceremonies in night. Delhi has its own flavor; history follows you wherever you go. A very few cities in the world can boast of such historical significance as Delhi, though shopping interested more to my friends so I had to put history on backseat. We frequented Connaught Place and Janpath mostly. We danced a lot on the night of wedding. After all, mere yaar ki shaadi thi.

I caught a bus for Hrishikesh(the Sanskrit word meaning lord of the senses, Vishnu) the next morning. Hrishikesh, the gateway to Himalayas, is a city in Uttarakhand where holy river the Ganges parts away with Himalayas to spread itself in wide plains. The river is the lifeline for a large population of north and east part of the country. I reached Hrishikesh in the evening and stayed in Swargashram, on the other side of the Ganges. There was nothing much to do so I visited some temples on the bank. I have fond memories of the dinner I had at Chotiwala’s. The place is famous for its food and is a must-visit for gourmets. The finger-licking dal makhni was delicious.

Joshimath was my next destination, actually a base camp sort of place for tourists who go to Badrinath, Valley of Flowers or Hemkund. Compared to Hrishikesh’s 356 meters of altitude, Joshimath is at 1875 meters of altitude. The 5 AM bus in the morning forced me to wake up very early so I was sleeping in the bus when it halted nearby Srinagar (Not Kashmir’s capital). I must admit I remember it because I had the best breakfast of my life there. An elderly smiling man had the distinction of serving it. The paratha and tea were nowhere else to find. What makes them so tasty is, may be, the air of the mountains and joyful nature of the inmates. For 9 Rupees (Oh really?), you might want to fill your stomach for next thousand days, only if the stomach knew the language of money and taste. The unwritten rule of the mountains is that the vehicle has to stop wherever a passenger is available. The reason: simple one, don’t add to the hardships of the people who are already facing an uphill task against the nature. Another interesting thing happened – when I reached Devprayag (the town situated at the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers), I was the only person left in the bus so I thought I would have luxury of travel alone. But my bus driver asked me to get down and put me into another bus. Rule of mountains again – cooperate. The winding roads slowed me down on my journey. As we climbed up, the road got scarier. On one side of the road, the mountain almost touched the sky and on the other side of the road was river Alaknanda, roaring on her way down. It took me 12 hours to cover the distance of 250 kilometers. I stayed in a Gadhval Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) hotel where I met a friend and his group who completed their trekking expedition on the same day and were returning back to Hrishikesh next morning. We had dinner together and then played cards for some time.

From here onwards it was trekking for next 3 days. By now I was feeling lonely and praying to God for some company. For once he answered my prayers. When I got into jeep for Govindghat, I saw a couple running towards us. As they got into jeep, the man asked if anybody was going to Ghangaria for trekking. I was on the same path as they were. They were a Spanish couple, Joan and Maribel, on a long vacation to Indian sub-continent. From Govindghat, we started ascending to Ghangaria. We talked a lot on the way – about them, about me, about India and Spain, about sports. That was year of Spanish sports: Nadal winning French Open and Wimbledon in tennis, Spanish football team winning Euro 2008. When thirsty, we drank directly from river Lakshman Ganga. The 13 km trek was covered in about 5 hours, from 1828 meters altitude to 3049 meters. I made them stay in GMVN hotel with me.

Valley of Flowers was what we all were looking forward to. Despite having rain in the morning, we started for the valley, hoping that the clouds would disperse to help us reach to one of the most beautiful places on the earth. That happened! Again, answered prayers! Crossing the glacier, we entered the valley and were awe-struck looking at the beds of flowers. The sun was out which added to the beauty of the flowers. Lakshman Ganga nourished the flowers with its pure mineral water. The 10 km long and 2 km wide valley was protected by mountains from three sides. We savored the place for hours and came back unwillingly as rain clouds again started gathering overhead in the afternoon.

Hemkund trek is very steep and difficult. The 5 km trek takes one from 3049 meters to 4329 meters of altitude. Hemkund is a holy place for Sikh people. Hemkund Sahib is the world’s highest Gurudwara. There is a Lakshman Temple also. After climbing up for 4 hours, we saw the Hemkund lake. The water was still, showing no sign of how cold the water was. A security person requested me to take a holy dip in the lake, but when I tried to enter it, it froze me. I excused myself and bowed down in Gurudwara. I looked for the famous Brahmakamal flowers in vain. The steep trek was easy when climbing down. In 2 hours, we were back to Ghangaria. I bade goodbye to Joan and Maribel the same day as they had to catch bus for Hrishikesh the next morning from Joshimath.

Though I didn’t plan it in my original itinerary, since I had an extra day, I went to Badrinath after trekking down from Ghangaria to Govindghat. Because of a landslide, I had to wait for 2 hours on my way to Badrinath. One of the most holy places of Hindus, it is located between Nar and Narayan mountains at the height of 3415 meters. I started my way back to Joshimath the same day.

The next day was spent in traveling back to Hrishikesh. That was my last day in the Himalayas. In the evening I was sitting outside a temple nearby Ram Jhula on the bank of Ganges, reflecting on my trip. On the other side of the river were buildings with the Himalayas in the background. As the sunset approached, buildings were illuminated with bulbs. The Gangeswas in full flow, singing high notes. The breeze was cool, adding to the music of the river. The voice followed the breeze, Sultan Khan singing Ameer Khusro’s Chaap Tilak Sab Cheeni. Though I had heard that song innumerable times before that, it felt anew and different. The spirituality was flowing as if it was an incarnation of the Ganges. The God also seemed to agree, showering blessings in the form of rain. I sat there, still, enjoying the rain and the song. Sometimes, in life, there comes the moment when you wish time just stops. No catching up with time. That was the moment for me. No past, no future. Nothing precedes that, nothing follows. No mind, no thoughts, only the soul and the state of bliss. The moment of life, the life in a moment.

A year after, what remains of the trip is a lot of fond memories. I am not the same as I was before the trip. I am enriched with a little of the Himalayas inside me, and a drop of the Ganges. The memories will live on, forever.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for putting up my comments let here. I thought of just putting my mail reply to the blog site directly. Probably a one sentence could complement the whole blog: "Thanks for making me visit to North India so memorable...:-)"