I split Kedarnath into two parts because so much happened and it will be so long if I were to make it into a single post XD
27 May, Friday
As mentioned previously, we had a lovely sleep after a hard night and leisurely got ready the next morning due to ample access to the bathrooms of the floor we stayed in. We were ready by ten a.m. and I had a strong craving for bread and jam, so Grandpa bought me some from the nearby bakery. We piled back in the car and Mum made sandwiches for me, which I munched on as I allowed the cool mid-morning wind to moisturise my face. It was also a perfect breakfast to make my stomach happy, because it was so upset with the consistent intake of dal gravy with the lack of ginger or garlic, the prime policemen to keep intruders from attacking the digestive system.
We stopped soon on seeing a Lord Shiva temple, and since there were little eatery outlets nearby, everyone else decided to have a proper breakfast, the bread and jam having not satisfied them like they did me and Mum. So the pair of us sat down on a bench in the sun taking selfies and admiring the scenery, and that was when I saw this following sign that mentioned the distance to Kedarnath. Mum and I knew that 244 kms equalled nine hours here and we felt faint.
The travel was the only thing to test our patience, but trust me, going through it was so worth it and it proved to be rational. For one thing, it is not that easy to see God; for another, if these divine pedestals were at easy access, they and the pure nature would get polluted so much. It’s better this way, I guess.
On and on we drove and we finally reached Phata by 7:30 p.m. where we stopped at the first lodge we saw and the moment the landlord said three rooms were available, we didn’t think twice about renting them. The problem was, there was no electricity. It was a two-storey building and the generator worked only for the first floor, and our rooms were in the ground floor.
We dropped the bags in and came back outside quickly. The climate was freezing, as usual, and we barricaded ourselves in the kitchen-cum-dining room where the chefs were at work. The highlight was that a group of tourists from Tamil Nadu were here as well. It was lovely to hear the sound of our mother-tongue from other people and Mum and I jogged up the stairs to go talk with them. They had rented a huge hall full of mattresses to stay the night and we quickly got pleasant with each other. Mum and I were quite amused when three of the women headed down to the kitchen with a bag full of ingredients to cook a typical South-Indian meal of white rice, sambhar and potato fry, because they disliked the taste of food here. The chefs sacrificed a part of their kitchen to allow the women to work. While they were chopping the onions and tomatoes, we learnt the group was planning to get up at 3 a.m. and drive to the foot of the Kedarnath mountain (which will take two hours) so they can start the trek up.
Walking up to Kedarnath tames Yamunotri by a hundred times.
The distance is 16 kms and it is a steep slope with heavy climbs that is in danger of floods. Oxygen levels reduce quite quickly and the process can even take two days. But if people have a strong will power and are fit, I don’t think anything can stop you 🙂 Unfortunately, there are no Dolis but there are baskets and horse riding.
Grandpa, Uncle and our driver headed to the nearest booking office to get tickets for the helicopter and that was when we met a middle-aged couple from Rajasthan, who was staying in the room next to the one me, my mother and grandmother were in. They had worshipped Kedarnath just that morning and had returned in the evening, having gone up and down in the helicopter. We eagerly asked about it and stared when the lady revealed there were over 75, 000 devotees up at Kedarnath. The previous day had seen around 100, 000.
After seeing only five hundred people at Yamunotri and Gangotri, this threw us completely off guard. It seemed Kedarnath and Badrinath were the main attraction many people generally visited for a Char Dham Yatra.
So if there were thousands of people up there, was it possible to get helicopter tickets?
The answer I dreaded came true as Grandpa, Uncle and our driver came back with the news the office was closed and our chefs dejectedly remarked our chances of flying will most probably be remote. They were, however, going to try in the morning but I had a sticky feeling it may not work out.
Because you needed to do online booking back at home. Unfortunately, none of us had thought of that the previous week and now here in the midst of all the rush, what were we going to do? Mum, Grandma and I lay down under the covers that night discussing about it and the only solution we were able to come up with was …
Om Nama Shivay … Om Nama Shivay … Om Nama Shivay …
As it resonated in my head, I drifted off into a deep sleep.
28 May, Saturday:
I woke up early the next day and saw that the group from Tamil Nadu had left. Praying they had a successful and safe yatra up the 16 kms, I quickly bathed and changed into fresh clothes to head right outside, go up the small slope from the ground floor and stand facing the huge green mountain in front of us, beyond which was Kedarnath.
I closed my eyes and hands and meditated deeply in His direction. Just as I was making my plea to see Him, my Grandpa, who was returning from the booking office behind me, smiled in my direction and said, ‘He’ll grant your wish, sweetheart.’
I smiled back and asked how it went, to which he spiritedly replied, ‘You keep praying, okay?’ I nodded spiritedly as well and skipped back down the slope to watch my mother get into her ‘I’m not wasting time and soft, clean water’ mode as she got hold of our dirty laundry. The sun was shining warmly and there was a lot of space to hang up the washed clothes. On the way to the terrace, there was a small statue of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati my mother saw sitting on the window ledge, and as she climbed up and down, she kept praying to it. I was repeatedly praying to the mountain meanwhile.
The events at the booking office were not on our side at all. It was disheartening but we never lost hope. We were getting up to Kedarnath, no matter what it took. The helipad was just across the road from our lodge so we continuously saw it making trips back and forth. The engine never cut off and every fifteen minutes, it will roar over our heads to take off and land, because it was said the flying time was only seven minutes. I always watched how the helicopter flew and was apprehensive about the way it went as if to crash into the mountain 😀 Then it would take a veer up and disappear.
I spent my day sitting out on a chair writing away on my notebook that I brought with me. As I was immersed in my pen, the lady from the next room (she and her husband were waiting for the rest of their group to come down from Kedarnath) curiously watched me. When I went up to the balcony to pick up the dried clothes, I saw her asking my mother about me as she picked up my note from where I left it on my chair, and opened it in interest. I generally don’t let anyone rifle through my notes. Ever. But I watched silently as my mother, grandmother and Aunty told her about me being a published author and when I went back down, the lady was so impressed and encouraged me a lot. I gave an embarrassed smile and it didn’t help when she repeatedly said she loved my handwriting too, though she couldn’t understand most of what I had written 😀 She blessed me for my future and I didn’t mind at all when she tried to read whatever I had scribbled in there because most of the writing was just random thoughts and plot ideas for my books 😀 She, a stranger, remains to be the only person I ever allowed to look into that note 😀 Even my mother hasn’t done that 😀
Still no luck came from the booking office and Grandpa and Uncle said, ‘It’s going to be fine. If we can’t get the tickets, we’ll somehow get on the horses. If it takes an extra day, there’s no problem about postponing the return flight home.’ We nodded in agreement and got every single backup plan we could think of ready.
So we settled down for lunch, the chanting of ‘Om Nama Shivay’ still dancing in the back of my head.
That was when my Grandpa’s phone rang 😉
He swiped the green button on the screen and was shocked to hear it was his friend who could talk to the officers and get us tickets. He’d actually been out of range due to his job, but had chosen that day to return back, come to know what was going on, and got into business. Mum and I dropped our jaws in astonishment and were so overwhelmed at how the God we prayed to all morning had blessed us.
No time to waste.
Our flight was in another forty-five minutes and the first thing I did was rush up the slope to thank the mountain from the deep of my heart. I skipped back down to pack an extra set of clothes because we knew we couldn’t return the very same day and would have to stay the night at Kedarnath. My dad, who’d been calling us now and then to ask about the progress, was so happy at the news and dared me to anticipate over the king of the freezing weather up there 😀
‘You, young lady, are going to ignore your allergy to the minus degree and sleep at Lord Shiva’s feet tonight,’ was what he told me.
I couldn’t have felt more fortunate ❤
Next part is about all the events during the helicopter ride and everything that happened up at Kedarnath … ❤