By Sujata Chari, Class X-B, 1975
The advent of the holidays, unfortunately, found me anything but overjoyed. I had nothing to look forward to. My family, by that I mean my parents, had decided to stay in Delhi for the summer. Long, hot days of utter boredom awaited me.
And that is when I heard THE NEWS. The all important information came by letter on a bright morning – for when but on a bright day could such news arrive? My daddy’s friend, a Mr.Chakravarthy, was planning to make a pilgrimage to the famous Himalayan shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath. Another family, mutual friends, were joining too. He wanted us to come along also! My mother refused to come and what’s more, she refused to let us, my sister and I, to go too! We were furious. After much argument, we won over. We girls are, of course, not very religious. But everyone, I guess, knows that the Himalayas are delightfully cool !!
Events moved fast. The other ‘pilgrims’ arrived – five of them. Tickets were purchased and before we could gather our thoughts, we were off! We started on the 9th of June, at night, by train. We reached Rishikesh the next morning. As we had already been there before, we did not plan to look around much. After much trouble and approaching many people, we got tickets on a bus to Badrinath for the next morning.
I was dragged unwillingly to awareness the next morning at the unearthly hour of 4 o’clock. After the most awful rush, we reached the bus-stop at 5 a.m. Even then the bus was full and we had a ‘shoving match’ with the other occupants to get enough room. I was still half-asleep and I looked around vaguely. What I saw certainly woke me up. The ‘Bus’ if you can so call it, was the most tattered looking tin box with longitudinal seats. Those who have travelled by bus would understand what I mean. It means that when the bus climbs up, we will all slide sideways with nothing to lean back on. And what’s more, the longitudinal seats are bad for people with weak stomachs! And, on top of everything, our seats were at the rear. I expected to spend a nightmarish journey but surprisingly, all were sick all over the place, but for my father and I. The paths twisted and turned and the bus was like a rocking chair and soon sent me to deep slumber.
We reached Joshimath that night and for the first time saw snow-capped mountains. And was it cold !! Next morning we started at 5 o’clock and reached Badrinath by 10 a.m. The journey was frightfully, wonderfully, excitingly scaring! I was rather surprised to reach Badrinath in one piece, for our conductor had familiarized us with previous accidents and their locations.Badrinath is like a cup, the mountains forming the rims. The famous peaks are the Neelkanth, Nar and Narayan.
Soon after we got a place to stay in, we went to the hot springs to have a bath. To be honest, I was scared out of my wits, but really it was nothing. Even though a trifle warm, it feels lovely and most awfully luxurious. After washing our sins away, so to say, we went to the temple. We got tickets for the ‘Puja’ and waited in a queue. A Malayali priest did it and even I felt as if I were in Vedic times when the eternal chanting brought the Gods in our midst. After getting some Prasad, we came out and returned to the Ashram.
The next morning we four, i.e. the youngsters, decided to go for a walk in the hills. We started at ten in the morning with packed lunches and other necessary preparation, including spiked sticks for walking on ice. I expected to be exhausted before long, but no – I felt too excited, exhilarated. We went to the foot of Mount Neelkanth climbing nearly 1000 ft. We came back by 4 p.m. Did I mention that we had prepared everything? Well, we found that we had forgotten just a small detail i.e. we forgot to mention that it was a long walk to our parents, They were going beserk with worry. And all their pent up feelings burst on us. We got the most awful scolding with a warning that they would pack us back to Delhi!!
Fortunately for me, I got a fever after that long walk, and my mother, instead of scolding me, sent me to bed. I don’t remember anything, being rather delirious, but my mother says that I was shouting that I would go to Kedarnath and not go back to Delhi with my Daddy, for he had to report in his office.
The journey to Kedarnath was awful. We started from Badrinath with the fastest driver on earth, who brought our hearts to our mouths. He would go around blind curves and hairpin bends at 50 kms per hr. And the horn was out of order too. We reached Guptakashi, where we stayed for the night. By next morning 7 o’clock we reached Soneprayag.Kedarnath, for record, is at the height of 11,740 ft or so above sea level and Badrinath at 10,400 ft. To go to Kedarnath, we climb down from Badrinath almost to Rishikesh level and then climb up again by bus to 6000 ft. The steep climb is done on foot or on pony’s back. Also, there are climbers who carry people up. In Soneprayag, we decided that my mother and two other ladies would go on a ‘Kandi’. As I was rather ill, I too was asked not to walk. But I refused downright, as it was a mortal insult to my ability.
We launched out at 8 a.m. Soon I started wishing if I could ignore the insult. But I kept on. I was encouraged by the passers-by who were amused to see a ‘young pilgrim’. To ignore ‘I told you so’ looks from the other people I walked well in front. I reached Gauri Kund, a sulphur spring, at noon and waited for the others. And I waited on. They didn’t come till one whole hour after! They had been worse than me and had to stop every few steps to regain breath ! We took our bath in the icy swirls of Mandakini, had lunch and went on. Previously we had planned to reach Kedarnath by that night. As time went on, we realized that it was impossible. By 4 p.m. we had reached Rambada. Not one of us could take a step more. I nearly wept with exhaustion.
Next morning found us jogging away determinedly towards the top. The others had not recovered from the previous days trails but I had. Except for the young man, who was a 6 footer and equalled three steps of mine with a single, I left everyone behind. I reached Kedarnath in 3 hours time and the others, I am proud to say, took 4 ½ hours.
In Kedarnath we found a guest house to stay in and went to the temple. It was almost impossible to bathe in the river, in such low temperature. But much to my disgust, my body got into the grip of fever again and I had to stay in bed while the others went out.
The next morning we started the journey back and came down in record time – 8 hours. By 1.30 p.m. we were in Soneprayag. The walk was bad and our enthusiasm waned away. Back there, we wasted one day and the next afternoon were seated in a Rishikesh bound bus, facing homewards, ‘Home’ which was delightfully alluring. But I felt curiously nostalgic as I saw the mountains slowly fade away, beneath the horizon.As soon as we had come back to Soneprayag the mountains were misty and hikers couldn’t see a step. When we reached Rishikesh, the rain started coming in torrents and Kedarnath had become invincible, as its path is but a small one with unknown heights on one side and the river flowing with break-neck speed on the other. Was Lady Luck on our side or …….??