This is my recap of my recent Char Dham Yatra.
To know what it’s about, click here.
To read Episode One, click here.
May 25: Wednesday
Grandpa shook everyone awake by the crack of dawn at five a.m. I hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep because my wound gave me hell. The gum from the plaster created a weird reaction that irritated my skin, so after finishing my morning routine, I swore to never wear it for the rest of the trip and decided to wear loose pants to let it free.
We ate some watermelon and the rest of my birthday cakes before beginning the drive up to Janki Chatti, which took two hours from Barkot, and I slept off my disturbed sleep to get myself refreshed for the six kilometre walk to Yamunotri. Once we reached there, we were swarmed by the Doli (a facility for people finding it difficult to walk, where they can sit comfortably in a seat carrier that will be shouldered by four men) guys, horse owners and basket guys, putting their market to business. I was trying to focus more on not stepping funny in the squelchy muddy ground, lest I injure myself more, and since they were standing in the way to get attention, I was quite annoyed. I escaped to the little restaurant nearby and that was where we had some more breakfast to fuel ourselves. Grandpa and Uncle were going to trek with Mum and me, so Grandpa got my grandmother a comfortable Doli, my maternal uncle a horse. Aunty climbed on a horse too so after the three of them were off, the four of us started through the little village of Janki Chatti. It was a narrow pathway and the view in front of us was a snow capped mountain.
The last time I saw snow was ten years ago at Switzerland up at the Top of Europe and to see the white and magical wonder of the sky again brought me extra bliss. I didn’t quite miss touching snow flakes because my fingers were already suffering from numbness from the chilly water in the taps. The climate up in the Himalayas was unpredictable but the cold was constant. One time, it would rain. Next moment the sun would bless everyone with warmth. And then before you know it, the clouds take a ride along the mountains and you can’t see anything whilst shivering. The nights witnessed all of us cuddling into our jackets and sweaters with our bodies quivering, especially up at Kedarnath and Badrinath. I’ll explain more about that when we get to their episodes.
But it wasn’t just the climate that changed.
It was the nature of the water too. As we were cruising alongside River Yamuna, we noticed she changed colours a lot – crystal clear, periwinkle blue, foam white, cement and sandy storm. Mother Ganga beheld the same magic too. Both Goddesses followed us all the way during the drive to their respective temples at Yamunotri and Gangotri, which was completely amazing as well as a source of comfort.
That was something we never expected to have the fortune of.
And we also never expected the walk to Yamunotri was not flat land or a slope.
Imagine sharp hairpin bends plastered against a few mountains in the form of a zig zag, hitching you up like you’re mountaineering. And when you go two turns, you’re unable to move further unless you halt for a one minute breath.
My mother and I thanked every single workout on the cross trainer and thigh exercises for supplying us power in our legs, and saving our quadriceps and hamstrings from inflicting muscular pain the next day. My Grandpa is a regular and active walker for fifty minutes straight every morning so that helped him a lot. Uncle had a little difficulty, however, but he brought himself up slowly and steadily. We had the trekking sticks for support at hand, which we bought down at Janki Chatti. On the way were so many stalls for refreshment, stocked up with fruits, biscuits, juices, water bottles, rotis, even Maggi. But the only ones we took were salted lemon juice and cucumber because even though the wind was cold on our skin and not a drop of perspiration escaped us, we were getting dehydrated inside. This is something everyone should know. Please don’t assume that while you’re trekking in a chilly environment, you never get dehydrated. You must take liquids every hour to keep you going, no matter what. Adding salt to juices is a huge benefit.
My grandpa didn’t believe this principle and waved it off when my mother insisted on the lemon juice at first, but after she forced him to drink it, he was the one to stop at the next stall after experiencing how well it energised the body.
The sight of Maggi noodles stewing in the pans kept seducing me – because one, I really love noodles and two, I eat Maggi only twice or thrice a year – but I had to control myself because it’ll be a bitch to the body while my pulse was thundering with the exercise. It was only six kilometres but the trek up took a solid four hours. We reached Yamunotri only at 1:30 p.m. after starting at 9:20 a.m. If anyone has ever trekked up Mahalingam Mountain here at Tamil Nadu, which is seven to eight kilometres and takes only two hours, imagine trekking up and down it thrice and you’ll be able to understand the kind of effect the trek to Yamunotri brought us.
The quick draining of energy wasn’t the only problem we had. The Doli guys, basket carriers and horse owners prioritised their swiftness and balance first by ignoring there were so many people going up and down. I had to keep a constant eye on my left knee to make sure no one hit it. We encountered several traffic jams where everyone would get convoluted at a single point. The ones in the narrow pathways were the scariest because one slip or one accidental knock and you’ll find yourself becoming Humpty Dumpty. We always tried to make sure we’ll skitter to the turning corners when this happened so that we can get extra rest and avoid getting squashed at the same time.
But that didn’t mean I never got hit. One man who was riding a horse had a pointy shoe end that rammed into my thigh; a group of Doli guys collided with another guy who in turn tumbled into me as I was innocently sitting on one of the benches drinking lemon juice; another horse owner purposefully and easily shifted me out of his way, during which his elbow bruised my ribs … you get the idea. But these things are to be shrugged off and we should concentrate only on the Goddess we came here for and keep chanting her name as we go up and up.
There was a Kaala Bhairava (an incarnation of Lord Shiva) temple three quarters of the way up and we stopped for a minute to thank him for bringing us up safely. Our other family members from home called us a few times to check on us but the reception was terrible. We could hear them but they couldn’t hear us. However, text messages were delivered successfully so we resorted to updating everyone through them.
At last, we reached Yamunotri and the moment I saw the temple from where I stood, I folded my hands and bowed to her as my mother and I loudly chanted ‘Jai Maa Yamuna!’ and thanked her as well for giving us the blessing to come up to her and keep us safe in the process.
Yamunotri is where the River Yamuna originates. Okay, I’m not saying it is the origin, because you can never ever find out where a river, any river, starts; the attempt has killed people in the past. Delving manually into the inner deep secrets of nature is stupid. But this place is known to be close to the starting point and the souls to establish this temple for it say so, which I believe whole-heartedly. I could feel the divine aura from the Goddess around the arena, for I found my mind to become so peaceful. The quiet river danced over and through rocks but she was freezing, totally freezing. There were two pools of the Hot Springs (naturally heated water by the sulphur) nearby the temple, for men and women to bathe separately and change their clothes, but there were a handful of people pouring mugs of the nippy water over themselves by the riverbanks too.
My first reaction as soon as I saw them was that they were totally mad. I was shivering just by looking at them!
Mum and I bathed in our hotel room itself early that morning, afraid of the wet and sticky changing area here. And our assumption was right on the crowd in the stuffy lounge. We were given the job of holding dry clothes and keeping an eye on our backpacks while the rest of our team went in for a dip in the Hot Springs.
After everyone changed into fresh clothes, it was time for darshan. We were surprised to find that the prahar and temple did not have any crowd. People were fighting for a space down in the Hot Springs and changing area only 😀 A pandit offered to do a pooja for us so we sat in the portico out the temple. I could only understand a few of the Hindi words he was using but nevertheless chanted prayers after him as he instructed us to. Mum and I wished so badly we could understand what everyone we came across were saying; the lack of spoken Hindi skills was such a hassle in our case. This problem for the pair of us is going to be solved, no matter what it takes.
Inside, the darshan was of the dark Goddess Yamuna on the left, a small idol of Goddess Lakshmi made out of metal in the middle, and on the right sat white Goddess Ganga, all three of them so beautiful as their names and glorious in their silk attires and glittering jewels. With only seven or eight people standing inside with us, our eyes took in the Goddesses as much as we wanted. It was so divine and pleasing that we were so happy to have had a successful darshan at our very first Dham of the Yatra. After getting out the temple, we filled our bottles from the prasadam bag with the water of the Yamuna. Because we didn’t bathe in the Hot Springs, Mum and I went together to fill our bottle and as we stepped into the river with our bare feet, we gave out jittered squeaks as the icy water numbed our toes. While Mum bent down to collect the water, I held myself steady to sprinkle the water three times over my head and then pray to the Goddess. Once Mum was finished too, we skipped out and giggled at the temperature we just experienced. The mystery of how people poured it over themselves is complicated to unfold.
Extremely happy, we began the trek back down at 4:30 p.m. with our backpacks back on, Grandma back in her Doli and Aunty back on the horse. My uncle took the resolution of regardless how long it takes, he was going to walk the way down. The horse ride was seriously freaky. I gotta admit horse-riding up and down Yamunotri hill is a bit of a risk because the owners drag the poor things along, not looking properly to see if it put its hooves in right steps. The ones getting down are the most to look out for because the gravity plus the relentless dragging causes them to slip or buckle their knees.
And yeah, horse-riding can hurt our backs.
It only took two hours to get down and on the way, I saw a Lord Ram temple I hadn’t noticed on the way up. I immediately stopped to thank him as well as Lord Krishna, both of whom were inside. In spite of praying to any God or Goddess, I always feel a full sense of calm when I worship Lord Vishnu or any of his Avatars after them ❤
I met a few interesting people after reaching Janki Chatti. They had all arrived to stay the night before beginning their walk up in the morning and they approached us keenly to ask us how it was like up there and were quite astonished we went up and came back down on the same day. One elderly man and his son who knew some English asked me where we were from and it was so pleasant to meet and interact with them. But we found ourselves interacting with people who understood nothing of English either. It was just a matter of me knowing the meaning of a handful of words they used, connecting the dots, translating it to Mum, and they understood our gestures and broken usage of language too 😀 It was wonderful to see these people and share our experiences.
At 7 p.m. we boarded the Innova again and went back to Barkot to stay for the night before driving up to Gangotri the next day.
Which was going to be a ten hour drive.
I was woozy at the thought and fell asleep immediately to worry about it when I woke up.
The distance from one Dham to the other is around 260 kms, which would only take 3 hours on land, but since this was a mountain range going at about only 25 an hour, travel was the only thing to ever drain us 😀
Next episode is Gangotri …