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Monday, 16 November 2009

Char Dham Tour ( including Gaumukh )

Delhi - Haridwar
We arrived at Delhi Airport almost one hour before the scheduled time; thanks Air India. The experience at the airport was very good. Our prearranged taxi was waiting and took us to NDLS station. The porters at the station gave us a bit of a hassle; they wanted Rs500 for two 25kgs suitcases to be carried to the Jan-Shatabdi train. The taxi driver suggested we should try the other side of the station where porters should be cheaper. He then tried to go through the city again and got stuck in heavy traffic. The traffic jam was so bad we thought we would miss the train. Eventually we arrived at the station about 30 minutes before the train’s departure time. Fortunately the porters were more reasonable and charged Rs 150 for the suitcases.
The Jan Shatabdi train left exactly on time. The train itself was very comfortable. However we couldn’t avoid noticing the lack of maintenance of the facilities on the train. The toilet ‘s were dirty and the seats were rattling.
I wondered what it would be like in five years time.
Although the train left on time there soon developed some delay. We arrived at Haridwar station at about 8:30pm; about one hour late.
Our hotel (Ganga Azure) was about 100 meters from the railway station.
The Ganga Azure hotel wasn’t bad at all. The “Big Ben” restaurant they have was actually very good. The food was excellent. I would recommend “Vegetable Pilau rice”; yum yum.

Haridwar to Yamunotri
The next morning at 7 am we left our Haridwar hotel and head towards Yamunotri. We were so excited about our trip that we forgot our tiredness from the long flight the day before. I was talking to a friend on the phone who asked “how is the jetlag?” Jetlag? What jetlag? We didn’t have time to feel the jetlag.
Our car was provided by Shubh Yatra Travels. The man (Naveen) who runs the agency was very professional and provided an equally excellent driver. We hired a seven seated Chevrolet which was very comfortable.
We had our breakfast (dal, sabji, roti and tea) at a small café after passing Rishikesh. I wouldn’t normally call that a café but that was the best that one can get in that area and I was more that happy with it. After passing through Rishikesh we entered into Dehradun and the road started to wind up on the mountain. It was very scary at first. The roads were very narrow and there were no safety barrier; one mistake or loss of control would have taken our car off the road and into the valley below; very scary indeed. Very soon we saw the river Yamuna in the valley at the bottom of the mountain. The scenery was absolutely magnificent.
Up until Barkot our progress was good. After passing Barkot the quality of the road started to become very, very poor. The signs of earlier landslides were all too evident and our progress was very slow. As there was no recent landslide (thank god for that) our progress was slow but non-stop. We arrive at Syanachatti at about 3pm.

We spent our first night at Syanachatti at the GMVN lodge. As it was not the peak season we were the only people at the lodge and the lodge manager made sure we received full attention. Hot tea arrived within a few minutes. Buckets of hot water arrived within half hour. The manager came to ask what we would like to eat for our evening meal. To tell you the truth, we couldn’t have wanted anything more than that…..

Next morning at 6:30am we left Syanachatti for Jankichatti and Yamunotri.
It was still slightly dark and the road was winding upwards and quite steep as well. The car driver knew what he was doing and where he was going otherwise we would have been very worried. I certainly would not like to drive a car on that road.
We finally arrived at Jankichatti at about 9 am. We were probably the first two people to start walking towards Yamunotri that day. A large number of vendors tried to sell their business (ponies, palkis etc) to us but we were not interested. We had a backpack and decided to take a porter to help us walk up-hill. He was a young man and we treated him just like our son and shared our food and drinks with him.
The journey from Jankichatti to Yamunotri is about 6 km and we thought it would be a piece of cake. But after about 3 km we found the walking quite tough. The quality of the road was excellent but it was a steep uphill climb with steep staircases. We found it was a lot easier to walk on a steep slope than steep staircase. I had no previous warning about Yamunotri and how tough the walking might be. After about 4.5 km we realised that the route was becoming even tougher and steeper, and we decided to use ponies to take us to the temple. The view along the route was wonderful. The river Yamuna was always in view with several high waterfalls from the mountain joining the river.

The first glimpse of the Yamunotri temple was so fulfilling; the Yamuna River coming down from the high mountain and the beautiful temple looked so majestic. When we got to the temple there were not many people. The temple has several “Kund” (hot springs). The Surya kund (Sun kund) is so hot that rice is cooked within five minutes and this is taken to the temple for Puja. We spent about an hour or more at the temple and then we walked the 6 km downhill to reach our car.
We really felt satisfied as we had reached to our first destination. Four more to go.

Please follow the link for Yamunotri Photos:
https://goo.gl/photos/QwDCw3796GXdquxn9


Yamunotri to Uttarkashi.

We left Jankichatti for Uttarkash at about 3pm. The journey was slow as we had to go through the post-landslide routes. Although the progress was slow, the scenery was absolutely wonderful.
When we arrived in India I was carrying a cold and cough which got progressively worse with the tough journey. I felt I needed some antibiotic tablets to control my chesty cough otherwise I would not be able to walk up to Gaumukh two days later. We arrived at Uttarkashi at about 7 pm and bought a course of antibiotics from a drug store. We didn’t see much of Uttarkashi that evening. It was very dusty and we eventually arrived at Monal Tourist Lodge for the night stay. Monal Tourist Lodge is slightly out of town but is an excellent location. The owner Mr Deependar Penwer is a good man and very welcoming. He welcomed us like as an old friend would. The accommodation and the facilities were excellent. It was like a proper three star hotel at European standard. They have a policy that if you stay at Monal than they can get your Gaumukh permit, if needed, from the DFO’s office free of charge. We got our Gaumukh permit as we arrived in the evening. Monal Tourist Lodge is a kind of place where one can get away from the daily hustle and be at peace for a few days. This is one of the best places we stayed during our whole trip.
The next morning we were able to see Monal’s the excellent location. From the breakfast lounge we were able to see the mountain range and the Ganga River flowing in the valley; so gentle and surreal. We left Monal at about 9 am for Gangotri with sadness; wished we could have stayed there a little longer.


Uttarkashi to Gangotri
After leaving Monal we had to go through some of the congested parts of Uttarkashi. However, very soon we were greeted with spectacular views of Ganga on the right hand side. There was an unknown temple with a huge statue of Kali on the right hand side. We stopped there to take a few photos. I hope someone can tell me what the name of that temple is.
The distance between Uttarkashi and Gangotri is 100 km but it took over 4 hours to get there. Some parts of the roads between Uttarkashi and Harsil were in extremely poor condition. I think they are building some sort of tunnel and the roads have not been maintained at-all. I wonder what they do during the monsoon and landslide seasons. During our trip there was no rain and the roads were dry. Our car managed to keep going but, by now, it was very dusty. The big mountain walls next to the road were very unstable as if a landslide could occur at any moment. Although the roads were not that good the scenery around us was more than enough compensation.

When we got to Harsil the scenery changed dramatically; towering mountains with the Bhagirathi River flowing in the valley. At Mukhba near Harsil we saw the temporary winter temple for the Gangotri deity. The location of Harsil is in a spectacular location; we wished we could have spent a night there.
We arrived at Gangotri at about 1 pm. It was lovely bright and sunny.
We were booked to stay at the GMVN lodge but I think it was a bad decision. The GMVN lodge is not at all close to the car park. If you have luggage (which we had) then I would not recommend this place. Even without any luggage walking up and down to get to GMVN will make you breathless especially at this altitude.
At Gangotri you must to take it easy otherwise you will be out of breath very soon. You have got to allow your body to acclimatise at this altitude; try and do everything as normal and you will be fine.
After leaving all our belongings at the GMVN lodge we set out to see the temple. It was a short walk through the shops. When we got to the temple it was closed and only a few people were around. The majestic white Mountain peaks and the fast flowing Bhagirathi River dominated the scenery in front of the temple. It was a wonderful opportunity to take a lot of pictures. The temple opened at 3 pm and we went inside the temple for Puja and Darshan.
As the Sun started to go down the area suddenly got a lot chillier. We stood in front of the Gangotri temple starring at the white Mountain peaks thinking that tomorrow morning we would be trekking to Gaumukh - we tried to imagine what it would be like.

Please follow the link for Gangotri Photos:
https://goo.gl/photos/bZE9kKNZv9y1P1ez5


Gangotri – Gaumukh – Gangotri
On 10th Oct, at about 7 am we started our Gaumukh trek. We hired a porter from GMVN to carry our backpack and my camera bag. At the start of the Gaumukh trek one normally has to walk up about 50 - 60 steep steps but our porter took us through a slightly different route through the trees, which avoided the steep staircases. After about 40 minutes walking through the trees we came to the actual entrance to the national park where we had to pay for our Gaumukh permit and also had to pay a deposit for carrying plastic water bottles. They also charged me for carrying a camcorder. I totally agree with the idea about paying a deposit for plastic bottles but I am not sure why I had to pay for carrying a camcorder; it was simply a money making scheme.
As we left the entrance the scenery started to change. After going through quite a lot of trees and steep up and down paths made of stones we suddenly arrived in an open space where we could see the Bhagirathi River at the bottom of the valley on the right hand side and gigantic mountain peaks all around. The path along the route wasn’t too bad except in a few places. In certain places we had to walk on a narrow constantly wet downhill stony path with a sharp drop on the right hand side. If you are not wearing the correct type of shoes then there is a chance of slipping if you are not careful. There are a couple of places where path turns quite sharply and we had to be careful not to loose our balance in those situations. Those who have done Steep Mountain trekking in the past will understand what I am talking about. This was our first serious mountain trek and we had to be careful. In one place there was a constant danger of falling rocks. We noticed loose rocks of different sizes waiting to come down the mountain slope. Part of that mountain has already fallen away and ended up in the valley which was a long way down. Our porter asked us to cross the area quickly without running. He warned us that any vibration may bring those large boulders down the mountain. While waiting we noticed several medium sized rocks that came down and ended up in the void a long way down. We also noticed several strange looking goats grazing amongst the loose rocks. We had been told that these goats also cause rock falls. Thankfully, we passed the area carefully and without any incident.
As we gained height our progress became slower and we started feeling breathlessness. Although the morning was very cold, the bright sunshine made us sweat and we had to peel off our jackets and jumpers.

We were very tired and were looking forward to arriving at Chirbasa where we could rest a little. When we finally arrived at Chirbasa I had to lie down for about 15 minutes to regain my strength. After a small rest with some dried fruit and chocolate bars we were ready for our next target: Bhojbasa. After leaving Chirbasa the mountain scenery changed significantly. The snow covered Bhagirathi and other peaks were dominating the view. Just before our arrival at Bhojbasa we had to cross an area full of boulders of different sizes. It was really difficult to walk through this rocky area especially after such a long journey which had already weakened our knees. My wife lost her balance in one place and hurt her knee and while trying to save her falling on the stones I lost my balance and fell to the ground. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt.

We could now see Bhojbasa at the bottom of the valley - it looked so surreal and peaceful. We went passed Lal Baba’s Ashram to arrive at the GMVN lodge at about 3pm in the afternoon. Our porter suggested we should go straight to Gaumukh and then come back to Bhojbasa and rest. I didn’t reply but thought to myself “no way man”. I think he understood from my silence what I really meant.

Currently the GMVN at Bhojbasa do not offer any single lodges. They offer shared tent accommodation as well as dormitory beds (the best) within a large room. There are about 10 beds within a large room and they charge Rs 300 per bed. They provide clean bedding and multiple blankets. They also have a restaurant facility where you have to order food in advance. They have Indian style toilet facilities but these are clean. The washing-up water (very cold) is provided in large drums. All in all it was back to the basics but at least it was clean. At night it was very cold at Bhojbasa and we went to bed keeping on everything we were wearing except our shoes. One other thing; you have to share the dormitory with mice. We realised that the mice had gone inside our backpack in search for food.
Before we fell asleep we heard a loud bang as if a bomb had gone off. Someone explained that it was the noise of the Bhagirathi (Gaumukh) glacier crumbling apart and falling into the water.
The next morning (11th Oct) at 6:30am we started our final 4 km trek to Gaumukh. It was very, very cold and still a little dark. Water falls along the route had frozen and so we had to walk over ice in some places. The path was fairly steep and rocky and quite difficult and tiring to walk through. The altitude was making us tired and breathless and we had to stop several times to catch our breath. I think it took us over two hours to cover this short distance and finally we could see Gaumukh in the distance. The approach to Gaumukh is really very nice. White Bhagirathi peaks were in front of us and Shivling Mountain was on the right. We were walking/negotiating our way through a valley full of large rocks and boulders. Once we got closer to Gaumukh we noticed a lovely sandy beach like area; it was so pleasant to walk on the sand after struggling through stony paths.
At last we arrived at Gaumukh. We stood there staring at the scene deep in our own thoughts. I was hoping to go even closer but it was quite difficult to get too close to Gaumukh these days. We saw the route to Tapovan from Gaumukh which goes over the Gaumukh glacier and then has a fairly steep walk towards Shivling Mountain. I really wished I was able to go to Tapovan but this was our first trek of this kind and I didn’t think I had enough energy to do that steep climb.
We spent about one hour (maybe more) enjoying the moment and then started to head back to Bhojbasa.

Please follow the link for Gumukh Photos:
https://goo.gl/photos/B4DNx3CmMtofmidE7


Gangotri – Kedarnath

We arrived quite late from Bhojbasa to Gangotri. Our plan was to return to Gangotri by 4 pm on 11th October, but we didn’t get back to Gangotri until about 8pm. It was very dark and we were absolutely exhausted. Our car driver was waiting for us at the car park and had been unable to contact us due to lack of mobile phone coverage on the mountain. He was very worried about the fact that one man from Kolkata had fallen to his death from one of the more dangerous sections of the trekking route that very same day.

As we were very late and tired we decided to spend one more night at Gangotri and start our journey to Kedarnath on 12th October.

At 9am on 12th October we left Gangotri for Guptkashi on the way to Kedarnath. Our driver advised us that Guptkashi was too far from Gangotri and that we may not be able to travel the journey all in one day. We advised him to do his best and go as close as possible.
We decided not to take too many rest breaks unless the driver was tired. On the way to Guptkashi we passed spectacular mountain scenes. We wished we had more time to enjoy some of the places, like Rudraprayag, which were so beautiful. Our driver did an excellent job and we arrived at Guptkashi at 8:30 pm. We were so happy with his effort that we rewarded him for his hard work in getting us to Guptkashi in one day.

We spent one night at the Guptkashi GMVN lodge. The location was excellent and the accommodation was one of the best. The next morning we were rewarded with views of the excellent scenery around the GMVN lodge. There were towering mountains all around with a snow capped mountain in the distance. Was it Kedar Dome? I don’t know the answer.

At 8:30am we left Guptkashi for the hour and a half drive to Gaurikund. We were so tired and exhausted after the Gaumukh trip that we decided to hire a couple of ponies for our upward journey to Kedarnath. The young man who guided our ponies gave us a quick tour around Gaurikund which was very busy and dusty. Our ponies were waiting by the side of the fast flowing Mandakini River. The route from Gaurikund to Kedarnath is 14 km and the quality of the road is excellent. The view around the route was amazing; the river Mandakini was always on our right and the steep uphill windy road kept going up and up. After about 7 km we arrived at Rambara where the ponies needed to rest and feed. Rambara is a crowded place and people stop there for their meal or some tea. After about half an hour we started again. Very soon we were rewarded with the view of the white peak of Kedar Dome which dominated the sky in front. At the two mile marker we saw the mesmerising view of the group of White Mountain peaks. We felt we had entered a heavenly place.
After about four and half hours we arrived at Kedarnath which is at an altitude of 3581 meters. A number of people felt the altitude sickness but we were fine as we had already acclimatised earlier in our tour.

Our first priority was to find Bhrat Seva Asram where we booked to stay for one night. The location of the Asram is excellent: it is a red building very close to the Kedarnath temple. The Asram is a charitable organisation and provides clean, basic accommodation.
I spoke to Jai Maharaja to book our accommodation; he was an excellent man. However when we got to the Asram there was another Maharaja who wasn’t very communicative and whom I found very rude at times. He also asked if I would donate my jacket…

After leaving our backpacks we went to the temple. By then a little cloud covered the white Kedar Dome but the view of the Kedarnath temple and the surrounding area was out of the world. The temple was closed at 3 pm so we couldn’t go in. Instead I decided to explore the area. I walked up in the mountain just behind the temple. The view of the Mandakini River coming down from the mountain range was really beautiful.
At 5 pm the temple opened again and we saw Kedarnath with “RajBesh” (royal clothing). We really felt fulfilled and felt the inner spiritual strength that I was longing to achieve.
The next morning we woke up at about 6:30am and went straight to the temple for Puja and Darshan. There was virtually no queue and we had plenty of time inside the temple to see and touch the Kedarnath stone. It was so nice; I felt that I had achieved something good in my life.

It was a very cold morning with lovely blue sky and no sign of any cloud. The Kedarnath temple with the white Kedar Dome Mountain behind looked very majestic. I said to myself “this must be heaven”.

At about 9 am, after a small breakfast we decided to walk all the way down and started our downhill trek to Gaurikund. On the way back I kept looking back at the glorious scenery and thought “I have left half of myself inside the temple at Kedarnath.”

Please follow the link for Kedarnath
https://goo.gl/photos/PfVBj3cWMzfnCfws9#


Kedarnath – Badrinath

We returned to Gaurikund at about 2 pm and, after a nice lunch at Sonprayag, we started our journey to Badrinath. Our plan was to spend one night at the Gochar GMVN lodge and then take the 9 am gate at Joshimath next morning. Unfortunately there was no gate at 9 am; it was at 8:30am and therefore we had to wait two hours for the next gate at 11:30am. When the gate opened at 11:30am every one started to move and very soon we were rewarded with spectacular mountain scenery with the blue Alaknanda River in the middle. In Uttrakhand there are so many mountains and rivers but they are all so different and some of them are especially majestic. Prior to our visit people suggested that this area was prone to landslide and the quality of the roads were not good. However we found that majority of the roads are well tar marked and very well maintained. One cannot avoid noticing some of the landslide sections; it looked like a huge section of the mountain had slid down and taken the road and the nearby bridge with it. Some sections looked very worrying; over hanging sections of the mountain where only one car could pass at a time. All in all it was an absolutely splendid experience. We also saw Vishnupryag. Vishnuprayag is the confluence of the rivers Alaknanda and Dhauliganga; it looked so beautiful.

We arrived at Badrinath at about 1 pm and went straight to our GMVN Devlok hotel.
The location of the Devlok hotel is excellent; very close to the Badrinath temple.
After a little freshening up we decided to head for the temple.
The Badrinath temple is located next to the blue fast flowing Alaknanda River. The temple was so colourful and pretty. The temple was closed and not due open until 3pm so we decided to go for site seeing to Mana Village, which is about 3 km from the temple.
From Mana village one can go trekking to the Vasudhara Falls and Kalindi Pass etc but we decided to do a short trek to Bhim Pul and places close by. Bhim Pul has a very fast waterfall from Saraswati River on one-side, forcing its way under the rock through a narrow passage that merges to a roaring Alaknanda river on the other side. Legend has it that Bhim, one of the five Pandav brothers, threw a rock to form a bridge (pul) for Draupadi to cross the river. There is a lovely little temple (Tripurbala Sundari Temple) on the left after passing Bhim Pul. I have been told that this is where Draupadi passed away; please some one let me know if this correct.
The view of Alaknanda River coming down the mountain was fantastic.

The Badrinath temple opened in the afternoon we went in for Puja and darshan. It was not too crowded and, therefore, we had a good chance to stay inside the temple for a longer period. After the Puja we felt a sense of spiritual fulfilment. As a child I have talked about visiting these places; I never really thought it might be fulfilled one day.

The “Arati” started at 5 pm and we could hear the Mantra being read. We went back to the temple to see the Arati but this time there was a large crowed wanting to go inside the temple. With a little patience we managed to enter the temple and managed to stand in one corner to see Badrinath Arati.
After about half an hour we came out of the temple and stood in front of the temple and listened to the mantra being read, which was very spiritually fulfilling.

The next morning we woke at 4 am with the sound of Badri-Narayan songs which were being played from the temple. It was so nice that I didn’t want to go back to sleep. At about 6:30am we woke up again and the songs were still being played. I wished my daily life could be like this: waking up in the morning with songs like that.

After some breakfast we decided to go the Badrinath temple again to pay our respects before leaving the place.
As soon as we came out of the Devlok hotel we were greeted with the beautiful view of the Neelkanth Mountain with a blue sky in the background. We were so glad to have seen this mountain peak which we couldn’t see the day before due to high cloud.

After the final visit to the temple and a small photo session we reluctantly decided it was time that we were heading back.
The sight of the Neelkanth Mountain, the colourful Badrinath temple and the sweet sound of the wonderful “Nayaran” songs (which were still being played) made our departure all the more difficult.
With slightly damp eyes and lump in my throat we decided to leave the final place of our Char Dham for our long journey back to Rishikesh.

Please follow the link for Badrinath
https://goo.gl/photos/mUrSpn4cpPsJbHKX7#

3 comments:

  1. It seems you have great fun. sks551. Thank for sharing your travel experience. Though i had just one comment. It wouldn't have possible for you to see the "Bhagirathi peaks" from Gangotri as have mentioned in your blog. It must've been the Sudarshan peaks. Correct me if i am wrong.

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  2. I am Tarak, friend of Bapi (Tapas Chandra, Madhyamgram), great picture I have ever seen, excellant.

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  3. Excellent description. As if you are taking the reader by hand. While reading your travelling experience gives good food for imagination, your lovely photographs of the places complete the whole picture.Waiting to read your next travelling experience.

    ReplyDelete