Instinctively, four of us [all teachers in the same school] decided to go on a long journey and that too on a bike. Instinctively, because tripe like these are never planned long before and also because none of us had ever embarked on an endeavour like this before. So we got our bikes serviced and on advice [or rather bad advice] of one of us, we commenced our journey from Lucknow at night without the finalization of the final destination [Surprisingly].
So the clothing that included jeans, warm jackets and rain coat was packed. Documents related to personal identity and vehicles were double checked and stacked carefully. First Aid box that had pain relief spray, band aid, pain killers, eno etc and toiletries were put in the bag. It was ensured that the bag was small and packing compact. At the end the bag was hung on the side of the bike through a sling.
With blessings of our parents the journey began at around 8 pm. Summer days of May, the evening cool breeze, the smooth 75 Kms toll road of Lucknow Sitapur stretch of NH 24 and the pains of journey yet to be experienced the first couple of hours were like a sweet cover page of a lengthy but eventful novel. The moment we encountered the signboard that announced “Sitapur, Toll Road Ends Here”, all the pleasantries vanished into thin air. How quickly life changes [read road]!
It was nearly 10 pm and the absence of street lights made us quickly realize their true worth. Huge pot holes, under construction roads with gravel spread on them, diversions with no proper indications and heavy traffic made our advancement come down to a snails’ pace. Regular jerks and jolts even at 30 Kilometers per hour took its toll as the wheel skirting of one of our bike came off and one of us got a back sprain that would remain throughout the journey. It is in moments like these that one needs to rely on his quality of perseverance and that is what we all did.
30 Kms from Sitapur and we were at Maigalganj which comes under Lakhimpur Kheri district. This place is known for its eating joints. We had our stomachs full as the clock showed midnight. Bumping and bouncing for about an hour and a half we entered Shahjahanpur.
Every kilometer that we covered thereon was in the anticipation that the road conditions will improve suddenly but it felt as if they are there to test our fortitude. As the clock struck 3 pm, we reached Bareilly. We all had covered 250 Kms and the drowsiness added to the fatigue that was creeping into all of us.
[**The road conditions have improved remarkably since then]
Things changed and the change was sudden. Quickly we were on the Bareilly Moradabad expressway. Smooth and devoid of any traffic our bikes were covering the stretch in triple quick time. Soon the dusk approached and change in the colour of the sky from pitch black to bluish orange might have been soothing but could not pull back our sagging eyelids. We entered Moradabad city and short search brought us to a hotel near railway station.
It was 6 am and the hotel room had air conditioning [Remember hot summer days]. We all had a heavy breakfast and slept like bears on hibernation but our slumber was cut short by a sudden power cut. On enquiry we were told by the hotel staff that the city has regular power cut from 10 am to 1 pm. On some other day we would have let our steam out on the staffers but that day our sleep had made us better human beings. Although drenched in sweat we woke up only after 2 pm.
After freshening up and refreshing lunch we could hit the road only at around 3:30 pm. Leaving crowded Moradabad behind we followed Seohora – Nagina – Najibabad road. If you do follow the same route do ensure to have some extremely delicious snacks and lassi at Nagina [near railway station]. Thereon took the Kotdwara road to leave it later turning left on to scenic Eastern Ganga Canal road.
160 Kms later we could see the distant lights of Haridwar. It was 9 pm but I knew the hotel in which I had stayed in my earlier trips to Haridwar. We reached Hotel Ganga Azure and got an AC room for ourselves. I am thankful to the staff for acknowledging the past visits and giving us discount in the middle of the peak season. The only problem there was that we had to park our bikes on the street.
Haridwar [or Hardwar] is one of the gateway for entering Garhwal, the other one being Kotdwar. It is one of the holiest places In India as it is said that it is one of the four places where the drop of Amrit fell while it was being carried over by Garud.
Next day we had a leisure day. Got up late, had tea and then sat down to plan where to go next. We zeroed on Tungnath Temple near Chopta. With destination decided we explored the holy city, strolled across the busy markets, had lunch of poori subzi at one of the Chotiwalas [know that original one is at Rishikesh] that are spread all across Haridwar and finally settled down on the steps of Har Ki Paudi for the evening arti.
The Ganga arti of evening takes place everyday at 6:50 pm in the month of May. Although the history of arti or thanks giving is unknown but Arti at Har Ki Pauri is said to have been initiated by Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya in 1910. The experience is elating although the singing of arti through digital resources is somewhat disappointing [my personal view].
The overall atmosphere is mesmerizing. The flow of holy Ganga, the sea of peoples, the orange flames of pious fire, the utter devotion of devotees and little diyas on leaves bobbing down the river, all make it so gripping. Late in the evening we had dinner and most flavourful lassi at Prakash Lok.
Next day we left Hairdwar in the early hours of the day but we could not escape the city rush of Rishikesh, friend readers are advised to take the bypass road. Even beyond Rishikesh the adventure sports transport services kept us slow. After couple of tea breaks we reached Devprayag in the afternoon. Devprayag is the first of the 5 prayags[confluence of 2 rivers] enroute. Devprayag is the most important prayag as it is here that the holy river Ganga is formed and gets the name through the confluence of Mandakini and Alaknanada. If you are interested in ancient temples do ensure to visit Raghunath Temple at Devprayag.
Beyond Devprayag, the river ascends and so does the road that we have been following. The weather does become pleasant but it is not cool yet. The landscape too remains consistent except for some old bridges, some ancient temples, some construction work on the river bed etc. As you pass through Srinagar, you get the feel of summers of the plains.
We had our lunch at Rudraprayag [confluence of Rivers Mandakini and Alaknanda]. The place is full of commotion and rightly so because it is a junction of Kedarnath and Badrinath routes. The noise of the confluence of the two mighty rivers adds to the aura of this place which gets its name from the tandav [dance of destruction] by Lord Shiva. After some snacks at Gauchar we reached Karnaprayag at around 2 pm.
Karnaprayag is the confluence of Rivers Alaknanda and Pindar. It is a relatively a quiet confluence as River Pindar is not that mighty and turbulent and same can be said for Nandakini that merges with Alaknanda at Nandprayag. Around 4 pm we were at Chamoli. The good thing about Chamoli [or bad for some] it is a smoking free district. Had I mentioned earlier that entire route being of a holy and religious one you won’t get any alcohol?
We left the Rishikesh Badrinath and crossed River Alaknanda at Chamoli to reach Gopeshwar. Beyond Gopeshwar, after about 4 – 5 Kms, the road enters the thick Kedarnath Forest Reserves. The road is narrow and the traffic is limited to one or two cars or SUVs that may pass you by otherwise you won’t encounter any movable thing enroute except some occasional sighting of monkeys.
The initial phase was mesmerizing. The narrow curling and ascending road, the thick surrounding of oak and pine trees, the solitude, the clear chirps of forest birds all added to the aura of the Mother Nature then but as the clock ticked 5 pm, it grew dark and we could smell rain in the air. We knew we had to be quick as there was still around 16 Kms to be covered but we could not and you are wise enough to know the reasons.
In no time it started drizzling. We could hear the droplets hitting our jackets but soon we realized that we were not getting wet. On closure look we found that they were not drops of water but tiny particles of ice that were bouncing off after striking our clothes. Gradually the intensity of rains increased and it started pouring in. Very soon we were all drenched to our teeth.
Shivering in the sub zero temperatures none of us dared to stop as it was dark and we were in the middle of thick forest. Fortunately, at a bend, there was a clearing and we took shelter there. It was frosty and we could barely stand. Shaking from our bones, I took some petrol out of one bike while rest of us collected some dry straws and lit a small fire. We literally shoved our hands in to the fire to warm ourselves.
We waited for about 1 hour but realizing that the rain is going to be unrelenting, we decided to move on. Before that we ensured that we extinguished the fire that we have lit. In this last stretch of apparently unending 4 Kms we had to make our way amidst heavy rains. The road maintained its ascend except for the last 300 mts. The relief that we had on seeing couple of lights [or lanterns to be precise as there is no electricity in Chopta] can not be expressed in words.
At Chopta there are not too many options for stay or food. We stayed at the hotel that was just opposite to the main gate of the Tungnath trek route. The tea at the hotel was refreshing and you can well imagine our state. So much so that we could not stop shivering even while we all held our hot tea glasses in our hand and it was spilling all around. Standing near the fire of the earthen pot gave us some reprieve.
The room was low roofed, dim lit with battery bulbs and dingy but appeared heavenly at that moment. Moving on priority lines, we first changed and tied ropes, laces and whatever was handy, all across the room to dry up our clothes. We had hot dinner and went shivering into the warm quilts. It is at the moments like these that one forgets all the luxuries and realizes the importance of basic amenities.
The morning was bright and sunny but the chill was there in the wind. The view was divine as down below, behind our hotel rooms were the green bugyals or meadows and in front were the tall blooming rhodo trees laden with light purple flowers. We quickly spread out all the wet clothes and shoes near the hotel for drying and enjoyed our breakfast of mouth watering parathas. After taking bath [remember, we are on pilgrimage] finally at around 10 am we began our 4 Kms trek that was going to take us from 2450 mts [Chopta] to 3850 mts [Tungnath] and maybe beyond to 4000 mts [Chandrashila peak]
The trek ascends rapidly but there are no risks involved as the route snakes through green bugyals. Far, one can see the Okhimath on one side and snow capped mountains on the other. The trek has some small shacks that provide you with tea and packed snacks. Quickly we had our cameras out and it was some stupendous click time.
Two of us were always ahead taking numerous short cuts. I was, one can say, not too slow but steady. After couple of hours we came across Alpine Research Station which is a high altitude plant physiology research centre accredited to Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University, Srinagar, Uttarakhand which was hardly few meters away from the trek route. One can just say … lucky researchers !!!
We also came across Ravan Mukh, a hillock that has a fall which resembles the face of an angry Ravan. Mythology says that Ravan prayed for Lord Shiva in these hills. It also says that Lord Rama prayed at the Chandrashila peak. From here we got the first glimpse of the majestic Tungnath temple but the incline was so steep that it took away the enthusiasm of two of us. Finally we were there and performed our puja. Sorry, but cameras were not allowed inside the temple.
Tungnath: It is the highest of Panch Kedars namely, Kedarnath [3600 mts], Tungnath [3850 mts], Madhyamaheshwar [3500 mts], Rudranath [2300 mts] and Kalpeshwar[2200 mts]. It is said that they are to be worshipped in the same order, strictly.
Mythology holds that after Mahabharat, the Pandavas [five brothers] wanted to repent for their sins of killing their own brothers so they set out in search of the Lord Shiva but Lord did not want to meet them so he disguised himself as a bull, Nandi. Bhim recognized Lord Shiva at Gupt Kashi and before he could go underground, he caught him, or the bull, by its tail. To evade him Lord Shiva, or the bull dispersed and the hump fell at Kedarnath, arms at Tungnath, the navel at Madhyamaheshwar, the face at Rudranath and the hairs and the face fell at Kalpeshwar.
There were few other pilgrims or trekkers too at the temple. There was lot of snow [ya! even in June] around. Climb to Chandrshila peak took another 40 – 45 minutes. At 4000 mts, from here we could get a view of Gopeshwar on the other side too. After all, it is seldom that you see a helicopter pass by below the place you are standing, we did !!!. We played a bit in the snow and after an hour of stay decided to return.
Coming down is easy but it seemed as if the rains were following us. Since afternoon we could see the clouds originating from the snow caps of the peaks around. By then, they had grown in size and at around 3 pm they were raining themselves out. We took shelter in a small shack enroute that was a shop and a home too to a family. Within an hour we were at Chopta. After lunch we set off for Chamoli with sweet memories of an eventful detour to Badrinath.