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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kedarnath

20th-21st May

About Kedarnath:
Kedarnath is an important pilgrimage center for Shiviates and is also the remotest of char dhams. Situated at an altitude of about 11,500ft, Kedarnath is highest of char dhams. The journey to Kedarnath requires a trek of 14 km from Gaurikund which can either be covered by foot, horses or dholies. Recently, helicopter services have been started by Pawan Hans. The tickets for the helicopter service can be booked online.



Our journey:
We had stayed at Srinagar and had to travel 100km to reach Gaurikund. Traffic jams had become a nightmare and I had developed a bad habit of looking out on the road at each turn for any traffic jam. A clear road would make me relaxed, until next turn.

Kedarnath was the place that I was longing to visit and I did not want to miss it for any reason.
There was no miracle on the road that day. The bus stopped on the road 8km before Gaurikund. That was pretty bad considering that we had to walk for 14 km from Gaurikund and reach Kedarnath by sunset.
Memories of Yamunothri started to haunt me. It was 9:30AM.

The bus had stopped at a place called Sitapur. Few people in our group refuse to walk and decide to stay at Sitapur. I was sure that it would at least take 3 hours (with my Mother) to walk to Gaurikund. What if we face situation like in Yamunothri where there were no dholies? My Mother was very clear that she would not go on horse at any cost.

We had travelled thousands of km and to turn back at this last stage was not a good option. We started walking. In worst case, we would have to return from Gaurikund.

After walking for more than an hour, we reached a place called Sona Prayag. Gaurikund was still 5 km away.

As the road further was very narrow, vehicles were allowed in only one direction. That should have contained the traffic but unprecendented crowd had messed up everything. It situation was so bad that vehicles were simply not allowed after Sona Prayag.

It was here few people struck a “deal” with Police and a Jeep guy. That made things easier as the Jeep took us to Gaurikund on that empty road!!

Gaurikund was a small place with narrow streets. We walked about half a km to reach the starting point of the trek.
It was here I was convinced that we can make it to Kedarnath before sunset.


Unlike Yamunothri, the dholy system was very well organized in Gaurikund. People have to stand in queue and buy dholy tickets. The ticket price was decided based on the weight of the person. It was surprising to see computerized system working so nicely in that remote corner with huge crowd.
With my Mother getting a dholy, we started our journey. The path was steep as expected. We had to gain an altitude of 5000ft to reach Kedarnath. While the path was bad when compared to Yamunothri, the facilities were much better. Drinking water, toilets, eateries and rain shelters was present all along the route. There were places for horses to drink water.

Walking was difficult thanks to dholy and horse people who were rushing without bothering about people who were on foot. One had to always jump to the side to give way for these fast movers.

Seven km from Gaurikund was a small village Rambara. Here we stopped to have lunch. By then the entire area was covered with mist and it started to rain. We still had a long way to and hence did not stop for rain to subside. We had raincoats.
The rain stooped after a while and a grand spectacle was thrown open. It was the view of the snow capped mountains. We had already seen the Snow Mountains at Yamunothri and Gangothri but the view at Kedarnath was simply great. The journey became easy looking at those mighty mountians.
The last km of the journey was on a flat land. Maharashtra Mandal, our place of stay was at the entrance of the town. The room was very basic. One must not expect luxuries at these remote places that are open for only six months.
Our agenda on that evening was to visit Kedarnath Temple. It was a peaceful visit with no hurry or rush. The miniature version of the mountains behind is being worshipped in the Temple.
All char dham Temples are small with no great architecture. This kept me wondering what makes these Temples so attractive to people all over the country. At least, we now have the luxury of travelling most of the distance on bus. Just a few decades ago, people had to travel on foot for several days to reach these places.
We paid a visit to Shankaracharya Samadhi on next morning. With no people around, there was an absolute silence. A great man who in his short life span of 32 years covered the entire length and breadth of India on foot spreading “advaita” and establishing math of religious significance.
Bhairaveshwara Temple on top of a mountain attracted me. As it was a steep path, my Mother did not accompany me. I could get some good views of the mountains and the town as I started climbing.

I was the sole visitor of the Temple at that time. The Bhairava people staying near the Temple looked scary. I had heard about their love for “ganja” and similar stuff. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there for long.
Afer breakfast, we started the descent. Compared to previous day, the weather was hot and hence tiring even though it was just a decent.
We had to wait for about 2 hours at Gaurikund. Again a “deal” was done with a driver of an empty vehicle who then dropped us at the Hotel in Sitapur.

Other Things to do:
If stayed for couple of days in Kedarnath, there are few high altitude lakes that are worth a visit like Vasuki Tal. Triguneshwar Temple near Gaurikund should be good. Tunganath, one of the Panch Kedar and highest Temple in the world may be interesting.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

When leaves are "too high" for Giraffe!!

21 August 2010

Its seems that this Giraffe is putting all its skill to get these leaves!! Process of growing longer!!!!


Photo taken in Mysore zoo yesterday!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tehri Dam

19th May 2010


The very mention of Tehri dam brings one person in my mind, Sundar Lal Bahuguna. His satyagrahas, hunger strikes and the struggles for more than two decades went in vain when the Government succeeded in building massive dam at Tehri across Bhagirathi River.

Our journey from from UttarKashi to Srinagar passed along the Tehri dam backwaters for more than 3 hours.


The dam displaced about one lakh people to generate 2000MW of electricity. Located in a seismic zone, this dam is built to withstand up to 7.2 magnitude of earthquake while 8+ magnitude earthquakes have hit the area in the past.


Since the dam was built recently, one can see submerged villages and broken houses all along the way.

Alarmingly, the Tehri dam has encouraged Government construct dams at several places in Garhwal Himalayas. Throughout our journey in the hills, the dam constructions are proceeding at a brisk pace.


The Government has plans to construct about 53 dams for hydro electricity across River Ganga and tributaries!! This means that from Gangothri to Hrishikesh, the River only flows though tunnels.


The opposition seems to be only from few environmentalists and Sadhus.


It is the same story in other Himlayan states of Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The ever increasing demand of the plains has put a lot of pressure on the hilly regions. It makes no sense if locals are not benefited from any projects.


Ironically, there are power cuts in Uttarakand that produces surplus electricity. That explains!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Gangothri

18 May 2010

As the name says, Gangothri is the origin of River Ganga. A Temple dedicated to Ganga is built there. But the “real” origin of the river is at Gangothri glaciers at Gomukh, 18 km from Gangothri. While the vehicles go till Gangothri, one needs to trek to visit Gomukh.

Gangothri is at an altitude of 10,300ft ASL.


The travel
Our plan was to cover Gangothri in a day from UttarKashi and return back by evening. The distance from UttarKashi to Gangothri was 100km which could be covered in 4 hours.

From the experience of Yamunothri, we had started at 4 in the morning. If you are not driving, there is little to do at that time. Naturally, I dozed off the moment I boarded the bus.

The scenery outside was something I could not believe when I woke up at the break of dawn. Bhagirathi River was flowing few thousand feet down the perpendicular valley and the road was passing cutting the rocks. It was both amazing and scary. The road was so narrow and I was wondering how vehicles coming from opposite side can cross each other.


As I was thinking about it, a lorry came from opposite direction!! It was a scene to watch the drivers using all their skills in such conditions. On peeping outside the windows all I could see was the river and not the road!!

The road to Gangothri was the narrowest and the scariest road in my entire trip of CharDham. There was absolutely no road at some places.

The road went up to a place called Gangnani and then continuously came down by few thousand feet to the level of the River. Here was a small town Harsil.


If I can recall few great places to see, Harsil is definitely one among them. Situated next to Bhagirathi River in a valley surrounded by snow capped peaks, it is something I cannot express by words.


The town is a major base for the army. Army camps can be seen on the side of the River.

We had our breakfast at Harsil.

The road climbs up after Harshil. We reached a small village Lanka and then crossed Bhagirathi River to reach Bhairongati, the last village before Gangothri. The Gangothri National Park starts from here. The bridge across Bhagirathi is an engineering marvel. The water flows few thousand feet below the perpendicular valley and the bridge is constructed above it. Amazing!!

The bus stopped few km before Gangothri. Traffic jam!! Knowing that it would never get cleared, we started walking. Gangothri was still 3.5 km away. It was a plain walk on the road with very little change in elevation.


After walking for about an hour, we reached Gangothri. It’s a small place with very less parking place for vehicles. The road itself is narrow and the vehicles must be parked on the road. (No wonder there is a traffic jam!!)

We walked on the narrow lanes lined with shops for 500mt to reach the Temple. There was a big queue but the situation looked better than Yamunothri. But even after standing for 30 minutes, the progress was slow. People were breaking the lines to enter the queue. This was not a good thing and I was annoyed a lot. I didn’t like the idea of waiting for 4-5 hours for darshan.


It was when I got information that special tickets were given for quick darshan. Asking my Mother to stand in the queue, I barged into a counter for tickets. The tickets were only given at certain period of time and I was at the counter exactly in that window period.

The rest of the story was simple. We had peaceful darshan in another 30 minutes and went to the river. It was very cold and jumping into the water was not in my mind.

We also visited a small waterfall nearby called Gowri kund.

We were back in the bus and finished our lunch in the bus itself. At 3PM, we were all set to start!!


Really??

The traffic jam was so bad that for next 2 hours, vehicles did not move an inch. The vehicles on the other side looked like a train!! It was a sad sight to see people struck in such places. We were lucky to have walked only 3 km.

It was dark by the time we crossed Harshil. The scary roads were ahead which made me uncomfortable. In every village, vehicles were parked and people were sleeping in the vehicle itself.

We finally reached UttarKashi at 11 in the night. It had taken 10 hours to cover 100km.