This is my recap of my recent Char Dham Yatra.
To know what it’s about, click here.
To read Episode One, click here.
To read Episode Two, click here.
26 May, Thursday
We lazed in bed up to eight a.m. and got ready one by one. The hot water was supplied only in bucket form because this hotel we stayed in wasn’t installed with heaters like the previous one. Some of our laundry from the previous day was yet to be dried and since the sun was warm again, Mum hung them up in the terrace early in the morning. She and I bathed quickly and after having breakfast, went up the terrace to look at the scenery around us and click a few selfies while soaking up some vitamin D.
After our luggage was safely tucked into the carrier at the top of our car and the other hand luggage containing snacks stowed in the boot, we climbed in and were off to Gangotri. We stayed right at the turning point from Yamunotri to Gangotri so whoosh we went up the hill from our place. The scenery outside was breathtaking to look at, all mountains situated alternatively to each other with the River Ganga flowing at a fast pace. While Yamuna was slow and silent, Ganga was rigorous and the sound of her was heard all the way up.
River Ganga is really a very powerful river. A very long, long time ago, Bagiratha performed a severe penance for thousands of years to bring the holy river down onto the planet, so everyone can be cleansed of sins and acquire liberation from the cycle of life and death. Since she beheld such brute force that cannot be withstood by mere mortals, Lord Shiva offered to let Ganga flow from the locks of his jata in the form of droplets. Hence, River Ganga is also called Bagirathi. She is also known to be the sister of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva.
I slept for a while now and then but it wasn’t constant. I kept waking up, plus was always a little anxious about the hill. I have this fear of heights and when I looked out the window during the drive, I was always nervous about the car accidentally slipping off the edge 😀 So when I was awake, I was always chanting prayers, even unconsciously.
One thing that made me happy was that the car could go right up to the temple. There was no need to trek. And in Kedarnath, we’d planned for the helicopter; Badrinath was told to be the same as Gangotri, the temple at easy access. So basically, the hardest of the Dhams (manually speaking) was finished off first and we gave ourselves a pat on the back for it. During the drive, everyone started munching on the snacks but I refused the tasty treats because car journeys and oily items are incompatible with each other in my case. So I instead took apples, bananas and cucumbers, but the change of food and climate did create weird sensations within my system. I had a lot of problems, don’t ask 😀
I felt much better after reaching Gangotri. We reached there by 5:00 p.m. and the temple was a half kilometre walk from the car park. The pathway took us through a small bazaar where the displays in the shops were attractive and as soon as we reached the banks of the Ganga, Mum called my brother, who was so excited at the sound of us standing there. He loves the Ganga. During a North India tour four years ago, we visited Haridwar too, and he used to stand staring at every single shop that had the song ‘Om Jai Gange Matha’ singing.
We reached the temple and saw there was a long queue waiting and decided to stand with them, but a pandit called us and sat us down on the banks to conduct a Ganga Pooja for us. After it was over, I offered to collect the water of the Ganga in a plastic flask we bought in the shops a few minutes ago. Luckily there was a huge rock to plonk myself down on next to the racing river so I won’t have to be worried about the frostiness of the water on my skin or losing my balance either. So I sat comfortably and bent down to admire the way and wavy rhythm Mother Ganga flowed a part of herself into our home, blessing us immensely. After capping the bottle carefully, I bent down once again to sprinkle the water thrice over my head and then pray to her.
We happily went back up the steps for darshan at six p.m. but stood shell-shocked when we saw the gates to the temple drawn shut.
It was closed.
No, no, no!
We were horrified, because nothing is worse than looking at the closed doors of the temple you came a long way for. Mum and I shared grave glances while my grandmother started angrily ranting to my grandfather about the pandit not warning us about it. He had instead taken things to his own benefit and didn’t care about this. All of us had various kinds of chaotic thoughts going on through our minds.
We could rent a room nearby and stay the night to worship Ganga in the morning but that will delay so many other things. We had to go up to Kedarnath the next day and that was another long journey of eight hours. The turning to Kedarnath from Gangotri is at Uttarkashi, a huge city we passed by earlier, and that will take four hours to reach by driving down Gangotri’s rocky and dangerous road while stopping to let the opposite coming cars pass by. Our driver, who’d been around Char Dham quite often, was very alert in taking us everywhere safely. Everything will take up to midnight and the plan was that we’d reach Phata, the village at the foot of Kedaranth, by evening so that we could book the tickets for the helicopter at the booking office there. That was where the helipads were too.
Good God, was what Mum and I had running through our minds. If we didn’t have our darshan at Gangotri now, everything was going to be collapsed.
We couldn’t find the pandit anywhere too but then we saw him coming back from the banks and Grandpa got a hold of him. We watched in anticipation and when he came back, he brought news that relieved us immensely.
The temple will re-open at eight for the Ganga Aarthi.
Our hearts swelled at the thought that we were not only going to get a darshan but the luck of witnessing the Aarthi too. We were more than happy to wait for another one and a half hour so while Mum, my maternal uncle and I found a less chilly part of the marble floor to settle down, Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle and Aunty headed out for some evening coffee. We were seated on a ledge beside the cuisine where the prasadams were made, so we had at least some warm air our way. The climate was extremely cold. I was tucked into my trusted pink sweater and beige jacket with a turquoise scarf around my neck but couldn’t stop my body shaking completely. Mum and I pressed ourselves close together to pass whatever body warmth we had to each other.
As she asked me to admire the snow mountains in the distance, I noticed a little cosy looking hall on the opposite side of the temple. Squinting, I saw it had cushions and wondered if we could settle in there. I asked my mother to stay where she was and quickly rushed over to enter it. Inside were three pandits and the hall was dedicated to framed pictures of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Parvati, Gangotri and the other temples of Char Dham. Cushioned seats were arranged around with soft pillows. The temperature was not satisfyingly warm but it was so much better than the outside. I asked one of the pandits if we could come and sit in here for a while, and he consented without a thought. Thanking him, I went to get Mum and my uncle and it was so much easier to warm ourselves up as the warmth slowly settled in on us. Outside in front of the temple, there was a huge mat spread where people were seating themselves one by one ready to watch the Aarthi. It was slowly getting dark and all the lights of the temple were switched on. Grandpa and the others came back and they too warmed themselves up as they settled on the mattresses.
I spent the time staring at all the different people from various parts of India. People came in, people went out; they conversed in Hindi continually. I strained my ears to pick up the way they used the language and also tested myself to see if I knew the meaning for the words. I’d always listen carefully when my Grandpa spoke with Uncle too, no matter what it is. I can read most of Hindi too, having learnt in middle school, and since I didn’t want that knowledge to go, I always read every single sign in Hindi I come across. So I was also reading whatever my eyes could find in Gangotri.
Finally, it was time for darshan and while people were in intent on going as close as possible to the prahar where the Aarthi was held, we stood at a comfortable place behind where we could get a clear view and take in the beauty of Goddess Ganga without any unwelcome barrier. I was pissed when people, instead of worshipping the purity of the Aarthi, started taking videos and photos of it on their smart phones, but forced myself to ignore it and concentrate on my prayer. What is with people taking videos like that, really? Why can’t they just revel in the feeling of being in a holy place and worship the deity? Did the God/Goddess ask them to put them up on YouTube or send them through Whatsapp?! Sheesh. There is a reason why there’s a sign that says ‘No phones allowed’.
I had an amazing darshan and once again, we were so overwhelmingly happy by how well things went. It was time to find a room to stay for the night so we could be up early in the morning to start the drive up to Kedarnath.
But the thing was, we couldn’t find rooms anywhere.
We piled up in the car to head for promising looking hotels but when the driver and my Grandpa got down to ask the people in the reception, they’d come back with their heads shaking. We left Gangotri and since there were so many villages and hotels we passed by on the way, won’t one of them at least have two rooms to spare?
We were wrong.
Every single lodge had the tour buses and other vehicles parked outside them and the very sight told us there was no score. It was getting darker and darker by the minute and the road had no vehicle except ours. And we were hungry, for it was almost half past ten. The cold made us always hungry so the body can generate heat.
We stopped by a small restaurant in the middle of the harshly icy night and though the meal was rotis and the dal that made my stomach upset that afternoon, I didn’t give a damn and ate as much as I could to get warm and shut up my hunger. The cold breeze flowed in and rocked us back and forth in shivers and Mum and I cuddled close again. The only thought going on through my mind was ‘Krishna, please get me through this night!’
I generally have meagre resistance even to air conditioners at 18 degrees, and this was too much for me to handle. I get cold easily and I don’t mind about wearing an entire jacket shop to save myself. After we got back in the car again, we began the hunting again. It was so very dark and we were the only ones out in the night here. No light, only the moon. And it decided to vanish behind the clouds every now and then. Imagine this pitch dark place where you can only see two headlights of a car.
I’d never been so thrilled in my life like that. This was one of the dangerous things I’ve done 😀 We saw mongooses and a fox on our way and kept praying to God to get us wherever we were going safely and in one piece. I even imagined what would happen if a cheetah jumped on the car out of nowhere 😀 We saw a few more hotels but everyone had crashed under the blankets so the driver, who was very wide awake, told us to go to sleep and that when we’d wake up, we’ll be in Uttarkashi. Why not? The roads were completely free, which was like the jackpot, and we were past the rocky part of it near Gangotri. And if we get to Uttarkashi and sleep, we’ll save four hours of journey the next day. Mum and I immediately were on his side, because we trusted him so much and were happy at the thought of getting through some part of the journey to Kedarnath. Grandpa was hesitant at first, because of so many things (the dead of the night for example) but then gave the go ahead and the driver stepped on it.
At a speed of forty and fifty, which is difficult to attain during the day, he took us straight down to Uttarkashi in a matter of two and half hours. We reached there by 2 a.m. Every hotel in the city was occupied too but we finally found a place where one lovely looking room had four beds and that they’d supply extra mattresses. The only concern was the presence of only one bathroom, but that can be rectified, because everyone would check out early in the morning to continue their journeys and maybe we could rent a few more rooms for the morning routines?
Exhausted, we fell on the beds and slept in deeply till nine a.m the next day. Our prediction came true and the whole floor our room was in was devoid of other people, and the manager gave us the permission to own it to get ready. Yay!
Even our warrior driver got a room for himself to sleep some more and bathe.
We saved four hours of journey by coming to Uttarkashi and had a wonderful sleep as well as had ample room to get dressed. Blessing by God. You may think He is putting you through difficulty, when in reality he is getting you something much better. You just have to trust Him ❤
Next episode is Kedarnath, my most favourite of the Dhams ❤
But do you think everything was a smooth sailing ride up there too? 😉
Stay tuned …