The helicopter took off, circumnavigated the Himalayan Mountains, flew parallel to the Mandakini River, seemingly skirting the tree tops, and while we began anticipating a safe landing, there came a twist in the tale, in our Char Dham Yatra. We landed back at the Sersi helipad, from where we had taken off.
Poor visibility and hostile weather made conditions go from bad to worse. Cancellation of the flight tickets remained on the cards. An 18kms arduous trek became the only other option. Thanks to a fortuitous help from the aviation company, we got lucky to take wings the next morning.
Kedarnath yatra got held back by a day, but we held back our breath as suspense grew. We landed in a brand new look temple town, on a helipad that’s only 1km away from the temple. It won’t be long before the temple town gets its vibrant life back, to carry forward fresh memories.
About Kedarnath Temple
Positioned near the head of Mandakini river source of Chorabari Glacier, and abutted by the Kedar and Swargarohini peaks, the Kedarnath temple, situated at 11755 feet is one of the 12 Jyotirlings in the country.
The Shivling you see here isn’t the familiar shape, but it’s the back hump of the Nandi avatar of Shiva who hid inside the ground, unwilling to bless the Pandavas who came in search of him after Mahabharat war.
Today the much revered Bhim Shila (a huge over sized boulder with a tinge of pink color) at the rear of the temple, remains the vestige of one of the thousands of tonnes of massive huge boulders that came crashing during the 2013 deluge. Providentially it got firmly planted there, saving the temple from an imminent disaster.
DIFFERENT STROKES IN THE JOURNEY
Road journey through Uttarakhand has its set of revelations for visitors in the form of resplendent flora all across the region. On one side of the coin, it is click worthy scenario at every turn, and the cameras kept capturing the cloud formations, the colossal mountains, the dense forests, the green valleys, the people and the vegetation.
However on the other side of the coin, we hit a village or a town only after long hours, driving through endless mountainous terrains, long winding roads, and hair pin bends. It takes 3-4hrs for the shortest journey and 10-12hrs for the longest journey. We’ve spent more time on the bus than elsewhere for the entire duration of the journey.
The passage by the road stayed risky, for you never know if a large loose boulder would fall right on your path. All along the way earthmovers, JCB in popular parlance, stood from precarious positions on mountainous terrains, working their way. Landslides are most common, and it’s a way of life for those who live here.
Today came our day to face the truth of this life. At the Lambagad/Lambagarh area (a known landslide zone between Pandukeshwar and Jaypee Camp, Shivpuram) all traffic on either side halted. A huge queue of buses, cars, jeeps got parked on the narrow stretch of the road.
Before long we sensed the road ahead got blocked because of landslides compelling us to navigate our way to BADRINATH on the other side by our own means. Evidently our choices stood limited. Or better put no choice at all.
Regardless of the risks of boulders rolling over from the hills on our walkway, the spirit of the char dham yatra held our nerves, letting us feel adventurous, while we crossed the sludge for 1km via a temporary rock debris bypass facility. On the other side the local jeeps, emerged the transportation of choice, to the temple town.
About Badrinath Temple
Badrinath temple, situated at 10170 feet, surrounded by Nar Parbat, Narayana Parbat and Neelkanth Peak, has had a chequered history. The Vishnu idol, made of Black Saligram stone, sits in Padmasana (a meditative pose) since He did penance here. The worship at this place finds mention in Bhagavatha Purana in the name of Badrika Ashram (ashram around Badrika [indian dates] trees).
But once Buddhists took the place, all traces of such worship disappeared, until Adi Sankaracharya in the 8th century AD found the idols in Narad Kund and enshrined it in a cave near Tapt Kund for worship. Ramanujacharya in 11th century AD moved the idols from the cave to the temple.
The temple complex got destroyed and rebuilt several times, first during an avalanche between 16th and 17th century AD and again in an earthquake in 19th century AD. The present temple got rebuilt in the early 20th century AD.
Arriving at Jankichatti, near Kharsali village, our first destination in our Char Dham journey, we found a crowd of pony owners and dholi handlers surround our bus, touting their services. They wouldn’t stop and wouldn’t take no for an answer, causing quite an unbearable level of noise. In 5mins they got on our nerves.
In fact a fight broke out between them, after one of them all of a sudden announced he had got our contract for the day. We gathered our wits, discussed amongst ourselves, before picking a team that would carry us safely on the trek. A few of us opted for trekking the distance at YAMUNOTRI.
A serene scenic route, formed part of the 6km trek from Kharsali village. It offered great views of gargantuan rocky mountains, dense mountain forests, fresh water streams, tall gushing waterfalls, all along the steep trek route, but the lack of oxygen at such heights, made us gasp for breath.
About Yamunotri Temple
Yamunotri Temple, situated at 10800 feet, got built in the mid-19th century with locally available granite stones. The temple has two idols, Yamuna in black stone, and Ganga in white stone. Hot water springs namely Surya Kund and Gauri Kund and cool Yamuna waters are part of the Yamunotri temple complex.
Interestingly, the actual source of the river Yamuna isn’t the Yamunotri. The river starts at the Champasar Glacier at the Saptarishi Kund, in the Garhwal mountain range 14-18kms away, and because of inaccessible route to the glacier, the temple complex got constructed at the earliest accessible point to the Yamuna River source near the Surya Kund and Gauri Kund.
The thought of venturing to the Bhagirathi River bank at Uttarkashi (our pit stop before Gangotri) for a quick evening walk crossed our mind. Being round the bend at a distance of only 1km away from our resort, strengthened our resolve. The path from the road down to the river bank had loose small gravel, uneven slippery steps, and muddy slush ground, all caused by the river currents at different times.
The River flowed quiet this evening, thus encouraging us to sit on the large fragmented boulders and letting our feet feel the cold waters. Twilight fast approaching, the skies turned dark, faster that we thought it would. With no other tourists around this vast stretch of deserted area, each passing minute seemed to give us a hunch that it isn’t safe to linger around for long.
The next morning, bathing in the Bhagirathi River near its source at Gangotri, gave us the sense of cleansing our souls. With friends pushing the limits of each other to bathe in the cold waters, you can imagine the kind of excitement in the air.
About the Gangotri Temple
Situated at a height of 10200 feet, the original Gangotri temple, located on the western Garhwal hills, got built in the late 18th or early 19th century. River Bhagirathi, which flows besides the Gangotri temple, originates at the Gangotri glacier at Gomukh 18kms uphill trek from Gangotri temple.
The “BHAGIRATHA SHILA” located close to the Gangotri temple, stands where King Bhagiratha brought the Ganges from the heavens to wash away the sins of his ancestors. Therefore the strong belief that a dip in the Bhagirathi river absolves sins in life.
The folklore tells of Pandavas meditating at “PANDAVA GUFA ” located 1.5kms from the Gangotri temple, while on their way to Kailash for Mukti. They chose this place to meditate since their father King Pandu too had meditated at this very same place.
Dev Prayag (Source of Ganges)
PAANCH PRAYAG TOUR
Char Dham Yatra done, we left to see Paanch Prayag, the five holy river confluences. Mighty Ganges originates at DevPrayag, the holiest of the river confluences in Uttarakhand. Alakananda flows in calmly from the left whereas the Bhagirathi flows in vivacious from the right, tough to keep eyes on one. At DevPrayag, our instincts pressed us to take a dip in the Ganges.
“Go deeper by 5 odd steps and have a greater feel of the Ganges” motivated the purohit, encouraging our venturing spirits further. But seeing the force of water from all sides, we discerned it’s safe to stay at a distance and find a way to live the moment by showering handfuls of the holy water on ourselves.
Not surprisingly it turns out to be a holy place to offer prayers for the departed souls. This done we went uphill to have a bird’s eye view of the confluence which gave us a sense of fulfilment of our presence at DevPrayag.
About Paanch Prayag
The Alakananda river (from the Satopanth Glacier), one of the two source streams of the Ganges (the other one Bhagirathi river from the Gangotri Glacier), carves on its long westerly route five river confluences called Prayag.
First at Vishnu Prayag (joined by Dhauliganga river), second at Nanda Prayag (joined by Nandakini river), third at Karna Prayag (joined by Pindar river), fourth at Rudra Prayag (joined by Mandakini river) and finally at Dev Prayag (Alakananda river joins Bhagirathi river) forming the mighty Ganges.
The Ganges thereafter flows towards Rishikesh and Haridwar at Uttarakhand, before turning its journey eastward to Prayagraj and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
It became a moment of connect with the Gods witnessing the devout purohits standing in a line on a platform, wearing red and white robes, and performing the sacred Ganga Maha Aarti.
With oil lit lamps and dhoop loban cups, they performed the Aarti in a well choreographed symmetrical manner, on cue from the chants of vedic hymns and bhajans.
This accompanied by the sounds of the conch, the bells and the beating of drums, made the divine atmosphere at twilight, electric. In short, one of a kind transcending experience.
Our divine experience got further enhanced by our the lighting of Diyas and seeing them spring to life on flower filled leaf boats and floating them along the Ganges.
Hundreds of such floats with the lamps twinkling away on the Ganges stayed a treat for the eyes. The fragrance of the flowers and incense sticks multiplied the charm and aura at the place.
Legend of Triveni Ghat
A connoisseur of detail would not escape observing the Chhatri or commemorative archway of Mahabharata chariot depicting Krishna’s Geethopadesam built at Triveni Ghat.
Legend has it that Krishna met his end at Triveni Ghat. Krishna cleansed himself in the Ganges here, after he got hurt by the arrow of Jara, a hunter. The belief that Krishna’s cremation also took place in Triveni Ghat, stays part of the folklore.
The Triveni Ghat became our final destination in our Char Dham yatra.
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