Monday, September 24, 2012

New Delhi, Haridwar and the Himalayas…


This May, I had been on a pilgrimage across North/West India along with family and relatives. A visit to the temple town of Badrinath (Garhwal Himalayas) nestled at 3155 mtrs above sea level was the highlight of the trip and more because of the presence of ice capped mountains at the time of our visit (this being my first sights of ice and ice capped Himalayas). The holy temple of Badrinath is the most revered of the four dhams and is often referred as Bhuvaikunta (heaven on earth)!


New Delhi was burning hot (being May, it was expected) and we did some shopping at the Sarojini nagar market and visited the India Gate and enjoyed a ride in the Delhi Metro. Appreciate the taxi service (especially if hired from a known contact, our taxi men were always on time and never demanded extra fare).


The gateway to any of the 4 dhams (Chardham viz Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath, Kedarnath) are the twin towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh situated on the banks of Ganga / Alakananda in the Uttarakhand. ‘Ganga Aarti’ is a main attraction at Haridwar and so does the shopping around the area. Also went on the ropeway to the Chandi devi temple and the views from the ropeway of the town was good to say the least. After a day’s rest here, we hired a tempo traveler for our group to visit Badrinath and back and the journey was no less exciting.
Another well written post by Arti of MYD on the Ganga Aarti - here - http://myyatradiary.com/2011/10/my-tryst-with-evening-ganga-arti-at-har.html

(Ganga Aarti as seen from the ropeway to Chandi devi temple)

Another notable feature is if you happen to be a 'river rafting' freak, then Rishikesh is the place to be. In Rishikesh and further, all along the river bed, you get to see lots of tents pitched up for the rafting purpose.

Seven years ago, when we had done the same trip, the roads from Haridwar onwards were narrow and a lot more riskier to drive and landslides were very common at every other nook and corner of the Himalayan Ghats. River Alakananda was a symbol of force, rage and rush all along the way and a small mistake and you would be between in a situation like “between the devil and the deep sea”; such was the risk of traveling earlier on this terrain and the risk was double during rains as that led to steady occurrences of landslides all along.

 (I could see a whole lot of bird life here, but sadly Ganges is now in a bad shape!)

But now things have changed and the single lane roads are now doubled and the travel time is considerably reduced and the risk factor too except for the last stretch between Joshimath and Badrinath. If you drive safe, it should be a problem anywhere in between. Another thing that saddened me entirely was the vanishing Ganga / Alakananda. All along the path, the intensity of river has reduced drastically and almost dry in some places thanks to many hydel projects along the way. (If I remember seeing the documentary correct on CNBC, the Ganges would diminish by 75% in few years time as it would be diverted for multiple hydel projects). The fragile eco-system of the Ghats is in for serious trouble. Back to the journey, the widening of roads, cutting of the mountains has had its impact in the sheer increase in number of landslides especially during rains :(


The drive through the Ghats is picturesque (except for the diminishing river Ganges/Alakananda) and those with motion sickness are to suffer for sure as it’s a travel with lot of curves and zig zags and hairpin bends. The mountain ranges are your constant companion interspersed with tiny villages now and then and the various ‘Prayags’ that you pass through on the way to Badrinath namely Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandprayag and Vishnuprayag (I would like to cite this post form Arti’s MYD that has more information about the Prayags in detail - here - http://myyatradiary.com/2011/09/panch-prayags-in-garhwal-himalayas-of.html).


As we near Chamoli and Joshimath, the terrain gets trickier and the area is prone to more landslides. One should commend BRO (Border Roads Organization) for their tireless job in ensuring the roads are cleared within minutes of a landslide happening so that there is no hamper to the traffic flow. At many places, while the clearing is going on, vehicles are allowed one at a time from either direction; these people risk their lives day in and out serving a lot for us. Hats off BRO!


As you cross Chamoli and near Joshimath (the entry gate to Badrinath), there is a gate system in place and Joshimath is also the the winter place of worship of lord Badri Vishal; the Himalayan peaks covered in ice are visible - a real treat to the sore eyes (ice caps would be only till end May and later it would be all brown/green mountains till the winter sets in again).


Joshimath is an important place acting as a base for the final journey towards Badrinath, a place at the lower altitudes, a place that can be visited throughout the year, the place when the lord Badrinath is brought down and worshipped during the winter when the temple town of Badrinath is inaccessible. A gate system is deployed here to regulate the flow of traffic between Joshimath and Badrinath.

 (the winter home of lord Badrinath... @ Joshimath)

In simple terms Gate system means the route becomes one way, i.e., if vehicles are allowed from Joshimath, vehicles from Badrinath are stopped and vice versa. It’s good as the route is quite tricky and treacherous and prone to terrific landslides. There is the lord Narasimha temple at Joshimath where lord Badrinath is brought down and worshipped during the winter months (Badrinath is inaccessible literally for 6 months in a year as its covered completely with ice during that period)!


The gates were closed at Joshimath when we reached and had to wait for an hour or so for them to allow the vehicles from here. The ice capped mountains were looking gorgeous and a human being looks so miniscule compared to them, all our feeling of greatness and invincibility is quashed within seconds in front of the mighty Himalayas. Finally, we reached the temple town by dusk and were welcomed by light drizzles and cold weather.


Next post – Badrinath and around…
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