Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Himalayas - Where the heart is !

Last year same time, when we were having our lunch at Hotel Raj Palace after having darshan of Lord Kedarnath, we met a bunch of 35 people whom when we asked where they were heading to next said "Gangotri and Yamunotri". As soon as my dad heard this he said, "Lets go there soon" and exactly a year later we were blessed to complete Char-Dham Yatra.

With more expectations in my mind after witnessing the majestic beauty of the Himalayas last year and telling all my friends how excited I was to go there again, we started our journey on 26th September 2017 boarding the flight SG -136 from Bengaluru International Airport ( KIAL) to Delhi (IGI)

Day 1: Bengaluru Airport (KIAL) -> Delhi Airport (IGI) -> Haridwar  (2330kms)

We reached Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) at 9.40 am and our driver/guide Mr.Sanjay was holding a placard to welcome Mr.Vasudevan and family. Being our host for the next 13 days and taking us to all the places by car, he welcomed us with a smile and took us to a restaurant for us to have our breakfast. He asked the hotel staff to add less oil and told them that we are his customers and he needs to take good care of us for the next 13 days 😊 and we were served hot yummy Chole Bhature !

The North Indian Cuisine started from there on and we started to Haridwar after breakfast. Introducing ourselves to him and getting to know about his family members along the way, we zipped through three states Delhi, Uttarpradesh and Uttarakhand reaching Hardiwar (Gateway to Himalayas) and checked into Hotel Godwin which I suggest as the best hotel in Haridwar. Upon checking with the receptionist, we were told that the Ganga Aarti would start at 5.45pm at HarKi Paudi.

Har-Shiva, Ki-His, Paudi-Leg( HarKi Paudi - Shiva's leg) is the place where it is believed that Shiva placed his feet at Hardiwar before he went to the Himalayas.Having missed Ganaga Aarti last time by 15 mins, we were before time this year and sat on the banks of the river Ganga where the river Ganga was thanked by the priests in the form of Aarti for being the source for agriculture, drinking and supporting their livelihood each and every day from generations together. We were surprised to see how everyone including the foreigners chanted bhajan for 30 minutes and thanked Ganga Matha.

After witnessing the Ganga Aarthi, we went back to the hotel where my tummy was very happy to see 28 varieties of dishes and me making sure my friends become jealous by sending their pics 😜

Here is the video of the splendid Ganga Aarti @Harki Paudi

Day 2: Hardiwar -> Barkot-> Syanchatti (205kms)

After having breakfast, recollecting the previous day's journey and watching the pics taken we started from Hardiwar and reached Hrishikesh. Hrishikesh means Shiva's hair which is considered to be the Himalayas. Post the tragic June 2013 flood in Uttarakhand, Uttarakhand government has made it compulsory for all pilgrims to complete Bio-Metric test before they start from the foot hills of the Himalayas to have a track of the number of people travelling at a given point of time. Post completing the Bio Metric test, we met a bunch of 35 -40 known people from Karnataka and it was great to see known faces 2400 kms away from home who were scheduled to visit the same places where we were visiting !

After lunch enroute, we reached Barkot and the Police stopped us saying that there has been a massive landslide enroute Syanchatti and we can procced further only if there is a prior booking at Syanchatti and will have to stay at Barkot if not and proceed the next morning. After showing our booking voucher they allowed us to proceed. We were happy but little did we know that we would have an adventurous journey to our hotel which we would never forget in our life time !

There was landslide and a sand from 3000 ft had come crumbling down blocking the road connecting Barkot-> Syanchatti and Yamunotri. Our car had to be parked on the other side of the place where landslide had happened and there were around 30 people flocking at our car saying that they would take us to our hotel on the other side. Being clueless as to what do at an unknown places at 8 pm in the night, I called our hotel manager who said that he has sent 12 men with three horses and a Doli to take us to the hotel. On being confused whether to go back to Barkot or trust those 12 men and proceed further along the unknow path, we decided to trust those 12 men !

The guys carrying my mom via Doli said that they would start early as the horses would reach soon before, I refused and asked those guys to come in between me and my dad who were going over the horse so that we know she is safe. And one of the guy said, "Sirji this is Dev Bhoomi ( Land of God ) and here people do not cheat and if they do, God wont spare them. Trust us, your mother is like our mother and we promise that we would drop her safely to the hotel". Trusting his words, my mom started chanting Hanuman Chalisa and agreed to proceed. My dad and myself started the 9 km journey over the horse.

Switching on their mobile torch and not having any other source of light, those men started taking us. We could get to know the intentsity of the landslide as there was water flowing raucously on one side and remains of the landslide on the other. There was not a single person who crossed us from the opposite side and we were the only set of people crossing one mountain from the other. After covering around 6 kms, they all stooped at a point. Such is the time when unwanted thoughts were crossing over my mind and suddenly one of the guy came to me and said "Sirji, will you drink tea. It is freaking cold and hence we halted for a tea". I was feeling bad for them as carrying people was there only source of income and after making sure they had their tummy full by paying their expenses, we started again and I got a call from my mom that she reached our Hotel Durga Resort. In few minutes of time we both reached.

Such are the moments when the faith on humanity gets restored where people had all the opportunity to rob us at an unknown place but they chose to ensure we reach the hotel safe just because their boss asked them to do so and we had to take darshan of Yamunotri the next morning. It was one of the moments in my life where I realized that the soul connects the positive energy which we worship as God who makes sure we are safe.

Magnitude of the landslide

Day 3: Syanchatti-> JanakiChatti-> Yamunotri ->Syanchatti (36kms drive and 7kms trek one way)

After having our breakfast and still not being able to digest what had happened the previous night, we started the 36kms journey to JankiChatti by Jeep. From this point people have to cover 7kms either by walk, horse or Doli to have darshan of Yamunotri which is the birth place of river Yamuna. The same 4 guys carried my mom over the Doli, my dad and myself over the horse. Enroute we witnessed a fantastic view of river Yamuna flowing between the hills. The 7 km route is a steep one and the horses take 2-3 breaks in between before reaching the top.

We were surprised to see a hotwater pond where people can cook rice and take it as prasad. From there we proceeded to visit the main temple of Yamunotri and sprinkled the holy water of river Yamuna on our forehead.

Yamunotri temple at the back drop

Again by horse and Doli we started back to JanakiChatti and reached our hotel at Synachatti.

River Yamuna

Day 4 : Syanchatti - Barkot -> Uttarkashi (100kms)

After breakfast we headed back to our car which was parked on the other side by the same mode of transport and my bum started hurting badly rubbing against the horse's backbone for 3 consecutive days 😟and Iodex came to my rescue.

The Horse ride to Yamunotri

Thanking the the guys who carried the Doli and they taking pictures with us for their memory, we left to Uttarkashi

Guys who carried the Doli for 3 consecutive days

Having lunch enroute we checked into Hotel Shivalinga @Uttarkashi which is one of the best hotels in that city

Day 5: Uttarkashi -> Gangotri -> Uttarkashi (100kms)

After breakfast we left to Gangotri which is the birthplace of river Ganga at an altitude of 3048 mts from sea level. Enroute were the picturesque Harsil village and Bagirathi River.We were thrilled to witness the snow covered Himalayas for the first time here ! From this point we started travelling along the Indo - China border and we witnessed Army camps almost every 20 kms. Our driver enroute challenged me and said, "Sirji, I challenge you to keep your hand inside the water for 2 mins". I thought I can do it easily.

First view of the snow covered Himalayas

We reached the main temple and had Darshan

Picture of the main temple at Gangotri

The river Ganga is considered to be holy and hence people take home the holy water by means of a can. Keeping in mind the challenge from our driver, I purchased a can and started filling it and to my wonder, my hand started freezing after 30 seconds and had to take out my hand after 45 secs !
I realized that with Experience comes Wisdom 😊

It was a pleasant view of River Ganga flowing in full flow the sight of which is still afresh in our minds. After taking a holy dip we witnessed Suryakund and Gowrikund which is a hot water pond on the way back to Hotel Shivalinga for the overnight stay after visiting Prakruteshwar temple and witnessing Bagirathi Aarti at Uttarkashi

River Ganga at its full flow

Day 6: Uttarkashi-> Guptakashi (220kms)

Having an early morning breakfast, we left to Guptkashi. Enroute we witneesed the river Mandakini. The entire city of Guptkashi is on the banks of the river Mandakini and this is the last big city before Kedarnath. Recollecting our last year's stay at the same Hotel Raj Palace we checked into the hotel and the hotel staff gave us a warm welcome as we were the customer for the 2nd year in a row. 

At the dining hall while having dinner, dad recollected his wish to visit Char-Dham the previous year at the same place and thanking the almighty that he paved the way exactly after an year 😊.

Just before we were about to take a good nap to be fresh for the next day's Darshan of Lord Kedarnath, a group of 25 people from Karnataka checked into the same hotel and we started having conversation with them sharing each others experience so far. 

All excited to take the Chopper ride from Sersi helipad to Kedarnath, we ended the day.

Day 7: Guptakashi -> Sersi Helipad -> Kedranath -> Sersi Helipad -> Guptakashi (36kms by road 28kms via Chopper)

Having being asked to report at 8 am at the helipad, we left the hotel at 7am and reached the helipad. After getting our weight checked, we were provided the Do's and Dont's list to be followed inside the Chopper. The Chopper took off from the helipad flying over 25,000 ft over the snow covered mountains and I was spell bound seeing the Himalayas from top angle. Zipping through between two mountains we saw the first sight of Lord Kedarnath's temple and we landed at the helipad.

View of Keadrnath Temple

After thanking the lord which is one of the Jyothirlinga, we came around the temple and saw a rock right behind the temple and the localities there explained that it was the same rock which came crumbling down during the 2013 floods from the mountain at the backside and stood right behind the temple ensuring that the water gets deviated and do not enter the temple saving lives of thousands who were inside he temple. Another example of how nature takes care of us and we pay a damn towards !

Picture of the rock at the background which saved lives of thousands inside the temple which is worshiped as Bhim rock

The Chopper ride to Kedarnath

We reached the helipad and suddenly there was a rush of clouds towards the helipad and it was freaking cold! Luckily we checked into the hotel soon. Though it was just 2.30 pm in the afternoon the weather suddenly changed and the group which stayed with us in the hotel had to stay back at the army boot camp near the temple for the entire night as the Chopper operations were stopped. We were praying for their safety as the temperature goes to -2C at night and all of them were senior citizens

Hence it is always advised during Char-Dham yatra to start your journey early, have darshan and reach your hotel back as early as possible as the weather changes every 30 minutes.

Day 8: Guptakashi -> Rudraprayag (75kms)

Having traveled for more than 3200kms in 7 days our travel agent offered a complimentary stay at Rudraprayag which is one among the five Prayags to re-energize ourselves for the rest of the 5 days travel.

Prayag means confluence of rivers and RudraPrayag is the confluence of rivers Alkanada and Mandakini


We also visited the other 4 Prayags and checked into the Hotel Monal Resort.

NandaPrayag - Confluence of rivers Alkanada and Nandakini

Karnaprayag- Confluence of rivers Alkananda and Pindar

VishnuPrayag- Confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Dhauliganga

DevPrayag- Confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Bagirathi and takesthe name Ganga

Day 9: RudryaPrayag-> Badirnath (160kms)

After a good day rest we left to Badirnath via Joshimath where the UtsavMurthi ( Idol for Procession) of Lord Badrinath is kept for 6 months from Balipadyami till Akshaya Thrithiya as the temple remains closed because of snow fall. It is believed that the one has to visit Lord Narasingh temple at Jyothi Mutt before going to Badirnath which was completed enroute.

Narasingh Temple at Jyothi Mutt

Post lunch en route, we reached Badrinath and checked into Hotel Sarovar Portico which is located right in between two mountains with a great view from the Hotel.

Hotel Sarovar Portico

While we were getting fresh, I started reading a book purchased by my dad which had mentioned a conversation between Rishi Vasishtha and his wife Arundathi. Upon asking the greatness of Lord Badrinath by his wife Rishi Vasistha says that "To have darshan of Lord Badirnath once in a life time, one should have prayed for it in their previous 100 births" and I got goosebumps since this was the second time I was getting his darshan !

6pm in the evening and we reached the temple which is in between two mountains 'Nar' and 'Narayan' and it is believed that both mountains are coming closer and would eventually become one in Kaliyug. It was a splendid few of the temple with lights on all over.

View of Badrinath Temple in the evening

After talking to the Purohith about the next day's pooja and the formalities, we headed back to the hotel where there were around 25 varieties of dishes to savor 😜

Day 10: Badrinath-> Rudraprayag (160kms)

After taking bath, we reached the temple and dad performed Pitrukarya (paying homeage to ancestors) before which we performed Kuber pooja and I started to take pictures of Tapta Kund (Hot Water Pond where the pilgrims take bath before entering the temple and the river Ganga flowing between the mountains). Badirnath as mentioned in Purana is the highest place to perform Pitrukarya where the ancestors are believed to attain Moksha (freedom).

While having darshan of the lord again, I recollected the lines that I read from the book and realized how lucky we are and we started to Mana requesting the lord to give his darshan again soon.

After the darshan in the morning

River Ganga flowing infront of the temple.

4kms from Bardinath travelling through the last highway of India we reached 'Mana- The last Indian village along the Indo-China border' 10k ft above sea level.

Mana- The last Indian village along the Indo-China border

View from Mana

Saraswathi river which is considered as Guptagamini (Unseen) can be seen here coming down 12k feet from the mountains and flowing under the earth's surface from there on for miles. It is believed that the Pandavas went to heaven along this path. 35kms away from here is 'The Great Wall of China' and our brave soldiers guard this village for which the villagers are very grateful to them.

Sarasawathi river which flows as Guptagamini from here on

With great happiness after visiting Mana for the second time in 2 years. On the way our driver stooped the car and asked us to have darshan of Dhari Devi. Curiosity engulfed us and we asked him what was the temple's importance and we were told that she is the one who protects the Char Dham

The temple is right inside the river and was in a depleted state when the Uttarakhand government decided to reinstate the idol else where and started the work to shift the idol. On the very same evening, the cloud burst happened which caused the tragic floods in Uttarakhand take more than 50,000 lives and the localities believe that it is Dhari Devi's anger which caused the cloud burst

Having realized their mistake, the government is building the temple at the same place.

Dhari Devi temple

Day 11: Rudraprayag-> Hrishikesh-> Hardiwar (220kms)

After getting up, we realized that 11 days had passed on very quickly and we had to return to Bengaluru  in 2 days with mixed emotions, we started to Hardiwar. Enroute is the picturesque view of Radi top which is the highest point between Rudraprayag and Hardiwar where the road bends like a snake.

View of Radi Top

Stopping for lunch at Hrishikesh we went to the only Laksman temple in the world which was built after assassinating Ravan. Also is the Lakshman Jhula built by the Britishers which is still standing strong !

Lakshman Jhula

We reached Hardiwar and checked into Hotel Godwin from where we started

Day 12: Hardiwar sightseeing

Second last day of our trip and we headed to Manasa Devi and Chandi Devi temples through Cable Car from Haridwar were it is believed that one's request if requested with bhakti, would eventually be fulfilled

Enroute Manasa devi temple via cable car

Heading back to the hotel we received a call from our travel agent congratulating us for successfully completing the Char-Dham Yatra as another family who left 5 days before us could not visit Badrinath and Yamunotri because of the landslide again making us realize how lucky we were !

Day 13: Hardiwar-> Delhi-> Bengaluru (2300kms)

Getting up with mixed emotions of the trip getting over and the happiness to have Anna &Sambar after 13 days ! we started from Hardiwar to Delhi comparing our experience with the previous year's and the driver asking us to remember him after we reach our home 😊

I was thinking about the same old routine that I have to follow from the next day but soon realized that that is how it has to be and such trips boost energy and gives confidence to explore opportunities to lead our lives better. 

IGI Airport

"There were a lot of lessons, lot of things experienced, lot of emotions felt and with a positive vibe we boarded the flight  Indigo 6E127 back to Bengaluru.

My initial opinion of 'Why me to a pilgrimage tour at this age' last year changed to 'I am blessed to visit these places for the second time and I would cherish these moments for my life time !"

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Notes from the Himalayas

The planning for this trip started 4 months back when my dad said "Let us visit the highest Jyothirlinga (Among 12 Shivalingas) i.e Kedarnath.

Following the same routine Home-> Office -> Home, my mind said "Why am I going to a pilgrimage tour at this age??" as I was used to the long boring traffic jams of Bengaluru.

It started on 8th of Oct 2016 when we boarded the 6E126 flight to Delhi. We reached Delhi in 3 hours and I was amazed what advancement of technology can do as we had covered 1780 kms in just 3 hours !

Day 1: We reached Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) and our driver/guide was holding a placard to receive Mr. Vasudevan H.R and family. Unknown faces at the beginning had a strong bondage later. Getting to know about him and his family and introducing ourselves to him along the way, traveling through Delhi, Uttarpradesh and Uttarakhand (Dev Bhoomi), we reached Haridwar and checked into the 'Hotel Clarks INN'.

Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI Terminal 3)

Day 2: Haridwar -> Rishikesh -> Gupta Kashi

The experience of witnessing the majesty of Himalayas started from here. After watching the sunrise we left Haridwar and enroute to Gupta Kashi traveled via Rishikesh were the Himalayas start. Rishi's- Shiva's, Kesh- Hair. Shiva's hair is believed to be the Himalayan mountain. Covering 250kms for the day we reached Gupta Kashi where we checked into the 'Hotel Raj Palace' and met some amazing people and witnessed the foot hills of Himalayas for the first time.

View from The Raj palace

Day 3: Gupta Kashi -> Sersi Helipad -> Kedarnath -> Gupta Kashi

With a little fear about the weather as it was freaking cold, we reached Sersi helipad to board the chopper to Kedarnath. Did not sleep the entire night as it was my first chopper ride !

Sersi Helipad to Kedarnath

It is a 14km path to the temple which can be covered either by walk, by horse, by Dholi or by chopper and we chose to go by chopper flying 40000 ft above sea level. The remains of the 2013 floods can be still seen en-route where the skeletons of the unidentified bodies are still there !

And there came the moment when our eyes captured the sight of Kedarnath temple. 
Right in-front of snow covered mountains who's walls tell the story of the havoc caused by floods we entered the temple. There was a  sense of satisfaction and content of seeing the lord after hearing the stories of people who were unable to reach the temple because of loss of breath and other factors. With feeling of fulfillment we returned to the hotel.

The highest Jyothirlinga- Kedarnath temple

Day 4: Kedarnath-> Badrinath

This was the route where there were some splendid views captured, havoc caused by the floods witnessed. Valleys, hairpin curves, landslides, people working day and night to recover from the damage caused by floods, going 15k ft above sea level and coming down, crossing the Ganga river between the mountains were common scenes.  This is the route to discover the scenic beauty of the Himalayas !

 Hairpin curves


After the darshan of lord Badrinath, we reached the 'Hotel Dwarkish' and experienced the cold which was never experienced in the lifetime. -2C was the temperature and the bones started dancing !

Day 5: Badrinath temple-> Mana- The last village -> Jyothi Mutt

After taking early morning shower, we reached the temple. We were amazed to see two hot water ponds which are for the pilgrims to take a holy dip and entered the temple. Right in-front of it flows the Ganga river formed by melting of glaciers and here are two natural hot water ponds. That is why they say "Nature is but a name for an effect, Whose cause is God". 
It is believed that people who are no more get Moksha if there rituals are performed here. We left to Mana after Dad performed rituals.

Lord Badrinath Temple

Mana- The Last Indian Village 

35kms from Badrinath  travelling through the last highway of India we reached 'Mana- The last village of the Indo-China border' 10k ft above sea level.

Mana- The Last Indian Village

Saraswathi river which is considered as Guptagamini (Unseen) can be seen here coming down 12k feet from the mountains and flowing under the earth's surface from there on for miles. It is believed that the Pandavas went to heaven along this path. 35kms away from here is 'The Great Wall of China' and our brave soldiers guard this village for which the villagers are very grateful to them.

 View from Mana

Sarasawathi river which flows as Guptagamini from here on

View from Mana

With great happiness after visiting Mana we reached Jyothi Mutt and checked into the 'Hotel Dronagiri'.

Day 6: JyothiMutt -> Nandaprayag -> Karnayaprag-> Rudraprayag -> Devaprayag -> Vishnuprayag-> Haridwar

After early morning breakfast the first stop was at Jyothi Mutt which hosts a Peepal tree 2.5k year old under which Sri Shankaracharya was enlightened to build the Badrinath temple. This is also one of the peetas among the 4 peetas estabhlished by Sri Shankaracharya.

2500 year old Peepal Tree

Narasing temple is the most prominent temple in Jyothi Mutt where the Utsava Murthy ( Idol meant for procession) of Lord Badrinath is kept for 6 months when the temple remains closed from Balipadyami till Akshaya Tritiya was covered next.

On the way are the Pragyags also called as Sangamas (Place where different rivers meet) where the Alkandni, Mandakini and others rivers meet. It is believed that visiting these Prayags will help in attaining Moksha.






After giving argye to the Sun at all these places we were back to Haridwar -Path to the Lord and checked into the 'Hotel The Clark's INN'.

Day 7- Hardiwar -> Rishikesh -> Haridwar

While having breakfast we realized that it is already seven days that we are away from home and we have to head back the next day. Time just flew unnoticed !

Rishikesh was the first in the list where the only Laksman temple in the world is located which was built after assassinating Ravan. Also is the Lakshman Jhula built by the Britishers which is still standing strong. 

Lakshman Jhula at Rishikesh

The journey to Manasa Devi temple which is on top of mountain in Hardiwar is a special one as it is through the cable car operating back and forth. 

En-route to Manasa Devi temple

At the evening was the Grand Ganga Aarti for which huge crowd gather at the banks of the river Ganga to pay their respect.

The Ganga Aarti

Day 8- Haridwar-> Delhi -> Bangalore

And we woke up to realize that we are heading back to Bengaluru today and there was a sense of disappointment. The only reason for which we were happy was for the Anna Sambar that we missed for the entire week !

En-route to IGI we visited the Patanjali Yoga Peeta and the manufacturing unit from where all Patanjali products are being exported all over the world. It was a indeed great to see the Make in India concept being a hit with slogans like "Let the currency of India be within the country. Encourage Swadeshi products"

 Patanjali Yoga Peeta

5.45pm at the IGI airport was the time when we we started missing the places we visited and recollect the wonderful 7 days that we spent and made up our minds to visit again.

"There were a lot of lessons, lot of things experienced, lot of emotions felt and with a positive vibe we boarded the flight  Indigo 6E127 back to Bengaluru.

My initial opinion of 'Why me to a pilgrimage tour at this age' changed to 'I would have missed a trip of my life time' and I would cherish these moments for my life time !"