Sunday, July 16, 2017

My pilgrimage to Badrinath Ji and Kedarnath Ji

Jai Bhole Baba !

It was at the time of Shivratri this year that I made a resolution to visit Badrinath and Kedarnath as while performing puja this feeling rose in my heart.

Badrinath and Kedarnath are not so easy places to visit as I knew before but realized more so when my tour was complete.

The last railhead for journey to Badrinath and Kedarnath is Haridwar which itself is a great city for pilgrims as Kumbh Mela is held here every 12 years and ardh kumbh every 6 years.

Most of us have the misconception that if it is hills it would be cold and pleasant. This notion was dispelled in our minds forever after this pilgrimage tour.

We reached Haridwar by Janata Express which starts from Varanasi and terminates at Dehradun.

We had a lot of luggage and now the challenge was for us to find a tour operator as I seldom trust package tours maybe also because the element of surprise is killed by a package tour.

On the road opposite the railway station we found a lot of small tour operators. Finally we found one a bit reliable - Gaylord Tours. As there were two of us and a small child we hired a Mahindra Logan as it looked new and spacious for the whole tour of Badrinath and kedarnath. We made our first little mistake here we should have hired and AC car (the car did have an AC but we had not paid for it).

We put most of our luggage in the big boot of the car and settled ourselves in the cosy seat. It was so hot but we expected that as we would climb up the mountains it would get cooler so we were not worried.

We stopped for about two hours at Rishikesh to meet a holy man to take his blessings and tips for the journey. His Aashram was so nice and cosy and full of spiritual energy that we felt recharged for the big journey.

After this we again embarked on our tour. Here we would like to mention that in Uttarakhand there are mainly hilly roads which are narrow. Parking is at a premium and the moment you park your vehicle at an authorised place the police will immediately fine you. Perhaps it is for the best.

We were not hungry but the driver was and so we stopped in Kaudiyala at a restaurant opposite river rafting club office. It had tolerable food but the moment I left Rishikesh and throughout the entire journey of Badrinath kedarnath I practically lost my appetite and survived only on cold drinks.

After our lunch at Kaudiyala we again started and this time it was a cruel journey that never seemed to end. The sun resolved to burn us down and we tried to survive its merciless heat. I asked the driver to turn on the AC and charge us for it but he quoted an impossible rate perhaps because he himself did not want to turn the AC as it takes away a bit of power from the car engine. We passed Srinagar, Pauri etc. all with the merciless sun shining upon us. There was no respite from the heat. We drove on and on and on to reach closer to Kedarnath. It started to get dark and I was alarmed because the hill roads are dangerous and the smallest mistake could make one pay very dearly. 

As we reached Guptakashi it for the first time started to get just a bit cool. I liked the place a lot and so I told the driver to pull up at a hotel at Guptakashi. He wanted to go on further but I strictly told him to pull over. 

We checked in at Hotel Himalayan inn at Guptakashi. I liked the view from the Hotel Balcony but then I saw another hotel from there with a still better view so I asked the guy showing us around about that hotel. He said that the other hotel also belonged to them. So we moved to that hotel. It was an awesome hotel very spacious and rather cheap such a place in Lucknow would have cost a fortune. There was a guy from Nepal there who was the manager as well as the waiter and porter too. 

We put off our sweat stained clothes took a bath and settled in the bed to sip some tea. Like in most of the places that we visited in Uttaranchal they rarely know how to make tea, I am talking about hotels and restaurants that is why I always carry tea bags with me to make the tea darker and more concentrated. So we did that here too and it worked. We were too tired to go out and have food so we ordered some to be served in our room. The food was so awful that we practically slept hungry but we were so tired that we slept like logs. Just before sleeping however I tried to photograph the mountain bang opposite our balcony that housed Ookhimath a place where Lord Kedarnath rests during winters as the original temple is covered with snow. It was an awesome experience to have such a gigantic mountain right in front of us.

The next day we started at 6:00 am in the morning for Kedarnath. We passed Sonprayag by the way where our driver originally intended to halt. It looked a very crowded place due to the huge influx of pilgrims and tourists. The driver said that parking was difficult so he would park the car 6 km down at Sonprayag. It irritated me considerably and I felt that if he really made an effort he could park there only but I did not want to argue so we just got off the taxi.

At Gaurikund the starting point for the 14 Km trek up Kedarnath temple it was rather cool but we later realized that it was to be for some half and hour only. We hired two guys there to carry the child and a bag with some clothes and medicines. My companion insisted that we take a palki instead of horses so I went to the Palki stand run by the government. There a guy weighed us on electronic weighing machine and gave us slips with our weights written on them. with these slips we went to the payment counter. I was stunned by the palki rates! They charged nearly 4000 rupees per palki per person.

A palki is really a wooden contraption with two poles at either ends in which a person can sit most painfully with legs resting at a narrow place in front. Four people carry the palki on their shoulders. These are generally from Nepal. the head palki bearer complained all the time that I was too heavy and that my bag was too heavy and absolutely made me furious with his rantings all along the way. We made a very very steep climb up the hill. We stopped at almost the half way point at Rambara. After this I could take the palki ride no more and hired two ponies for us and completed the trek on these. A friendly and elderly Nepali lady running a small eatery at Rambara kindly agreed to keep our heavy bag in her custody till we returned. I watched with extreme envy the Prabhatam Aviation helicopters hovering above us almost every 15 minutes.

I repeated 'Om Namah Shivai' in my mind several times. I was concerned about the safety of the infant but somehow we reached a small plain just near the Kedarnath temple and my irritation , insecurity and fear lessened considerably though from here the temple was not visible still. We left our ponies and palkies at their respective stands and walked uphill through the bazaar near the temple. Here we bought some dry prasad for in remote pilgrimage places like these one should only offer dry prasad so that he can carry the prasad back home as dry prasad like crystallized sugar, laiya, anardana and dry fruits last a long time. The temple just appeared as we reached the end of the bazaar. I felt a bit choked with emotion. The temple closes at 3 pm so we were in a hurry. It was already about 2 pm. We got into a long line and waited for our turn. 

As our turn came it was already 3 pm . I got panicky. the person at the temple gate wanted to close it but by God's grace the person at the end of the line perhaps said aloud to him that he should allow us to have darshan since we had an infant with us and so by Baba Bholenath's grace we were allowed in. The temple reopens at 4 pm but had we missed this chance we would not have been able to reach our hotel the same day and would have had to stay at Kedarnath itself without any change of clothes or bedding.

In the temple there was a great jostling and pulling and even the person behind us who was very friendly while we were in the line pushed us and got in front. i was still not sure whether we would have darshan or not but we met a Panda Ji who invited us and though averse to getting a Panda I do not know why we agreed to take him. We reached the garbha griha not quite sure whether I will be able to touch the shivalingam. The Shivalingam is huge almost the size of a table. The Pandaji was so gentle he allowed us to perform the puja undisturbed. he forcibly made me prostrate and that way I touched half my body to the jyotirlinga. After this I started weeping with ecstasy and wept for nearly ten minutes non stop all the time afraid to alarm my companions. I made the infant also lie on the shivalinga and requested baba Kedarnath to took care of it throughout its life for I was too weak to do so.

After coming out of the temple and weeping uncontrollably I asked the Pandaji about Dakshina but he was thoroughly alarmed seeing me weeping and felt that a great sorrow disturbed me realizing little that the tears were of an infant who has been teased by his companion and who feels greatly comforted and reassured in the lap of his parents. 

Pandaji said that we should give dakshina according to our financial standing. I gave him dakshina liberally and clutched his feet tightly saying that if it were not for him we might never have had the darshan of Lord Kedarnath. he was thoroughly embarrased by my clutching his feet but I could not help it. I wept uncontrollably and in fact wailed in ecstasy. I could not control myself though I tried very very hard. Such is the love of Lord kedarnath who controls every breath that we take. Lord Shiva has been very kind to me.

After having had the darshan I felt enormously changed. My fatigue vanished. I also drunk the water that trickles down from the shivalinga and after drinking that (which may make some vomit since the taste is not good at all) I felt like Napoleon and felt as if I had drunk Amrit.

I was very much ready now to take the ride back in the same palki that I despised and even felt love and concern for the palki bearers and thanked them in my mind for allowing me darshan of Lord Kedarnath.

We reached gaurikund again while it was getting dark. At Gaurikund we had a bit of chowmein in a tea shop when the shop owner warned us that if we stayed too long the gate at Sonprayag might close.

We ran out at the parking and found a mini bus who agreed to drop us at Sonprayag. Now I was feeling irritated with the driver of our taxi.

At Sonprayag however we easily found him in the parking lot and made our way back to Guptkashi in pitch darkness.

We were too tired to change clothes or eat food at Guptkashi hotel and immediately went to sleep.

In the morning we started again for Badrinath. I knew of a much smaller route through Ukhimath or OOkhimath but the driver would not take it so we just did not argue and proceeded to Badrinath via Augustmuni, Rudraprayag, karnaprayag, nandprayag, chamoli, Joshimath.

The route to Badrinath is much more picturesque than Kedarnath and the dimensions of the mountains are much bigger. It was also much cooler on the way which was a big comfort. There were huge caravans of vehicles and the road was frequently choked up. At Rudraprayag a gate closes periodically to regulate traffic of vehicles going on differnt routes and one has to wait sometimes an hour. We waited for about 2 hours . 

I fell asleep after crossing Joshimath. When I woke up it was raining and we were at Hanuman Chatti. It was dark and I could not at all make out which road was leading where. We had planned to stay overnight at Badrinath as there was no way out but all hotels the driver knew were occupied then a guy requested us to see his hotel, it was in a dark lane but since I had an infant with me and it had grown really cold I just took the infant and made my body fall on the bed in that hotel along with the infant which also felt relived. We put on some warm clothing and luckily a tolerably good restaurant named Sardeshwari was just outside the dark lane. We had a bit of lunch there and the infant had milk. It stared to grow colder and colder. In the night the infant vomitted several times and it alarmed me but by morning it was alright.

We were so tired that we slept till 8:30 am and only then got alarmed that the line for darshan must have become huge. We took some extra warm clothing and went to the temple hardly a furlong away. In the morning I also noticed that we probably had the best hotel in Badrinath since the restaurant was so near and a wide road passed just beside the hotel on which our car was parked. the hotel was named Bhumika Niketan. A caretaker there triples up as the manager, porter and waiter. I was very happy with him (as i rarely am with hotel staff) and tipped him. our driver slept in the car all night and I felt very sorry for him but was relieved to see that he had much warm clothing and a huge quilt.

When we reached the temple we saw a huge line for darshan, did I say huge no it was not huge it was HUGE HUGE HUGE. My estimate is that it was at least one and a half kilometre. the strongest of hearts are sure to lose courage on seeing that line but of course there was no question of our going back so we got in the line. 

beside the line there was a steady stream of vendors of allkinds. Some vendors carried malas or rudraksha or crystal , some carried dried prasad, some cold drinks and some souvenirs to take back. After the better part of three hours we got in at last. We were before Baba Badrinath for such a short time that I remember only his huge gold crown but then I was quite satisfied to have shown my weak self to Baba Badrinath in person so that he may bless me, a very weak man.

We also offered our prayers at the temple of Laxmiji outside. The holy saint at Rishikesh later told us that it is only in Badrinath that Lord vishnu is not in a relaxed pose but rather he is doing tapasya so if one asks him anything or expresses a wish he would be in no position to grant that but he added of course that is only for academic purpose but actually the Lord is always benevolent to his Bhaktas.

After doing darshan and crossing the holy Alaknanda river through a foot bridge we reached a restaurant just opposite the temple and had a bit of lunch.

We immediately started on our way back by the car and drove on and on till we reached karnaprayag. here I tried some hotels but they were expensive . Finally we found a very ordinary looking hotel name Hotel Ganga Darshan which had huge cosy and comfortable rooms. The most awesome part of this was that the hotel was right on the spot of Sangam or meeting point of river Alaknanda and river Pindar or Pindari.

After settling ourselves we had dinner in the restaurant of an expensive hotel nearby. I stayed awake till midnight watching one river hurtling into another just about 25 metres from my hotel balcony. If I had the right kind of money I would have bought the hotel there and then.

In the morning we started again for Rishikesh. Our driver had become very sour obviously not due to our fault but probably due to fatigue. We stopped at a place on the way which I do not remember, for tea.

We then got a phone call again from the holy man in Rishikesh sincerely and lovingly inviting us to stay with him in his ashram before making our journey further.

When we reached Rishikesh I got a porter to pick up my luggage as we had to cross Ganges through Ramjhula and only two wheelers are allowed entry on this.

The holy man was waiting impatiently for us. We touched his feet and he blessed us. I tipped the porter a bit since he gave us no problem whatever. the holy man gave the porter sherbet to drink and invited him to sit in a seat on which even well to do people would be scared to sit uninvited.

The holy man was a very meticulous planner and he had arranged for us a very cosy bed and on the bedside he had arranged a better table than a five star hotel can manage to do . Inter alia the table had mineral water coffee , liquid soap, biscuits , electric kettle, powdered milk, prasad, fruits , knife, plate and well the list is endless. 

The infant felt too the love and was quite at ease. The holy man had lunch ready too and it was really tasty lunch and for the first time in five days I ate heartily and shamelessly. The holy man left us to ourselves never imposing himself. Only thing he said was that we must bathe in Ganga Ji before leaving Rishikesh so in the morning we went to a very quite and secluded ghat opposite the kuti of Swami Hansananda and bathed in Ganges.

It was a befitting end to our yatra!

Jai Baba Kedarnath ! Jai Baba Badrinath!

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