November 25, 2008

Garhwal: Gorson-Auli

Travel Route:

DelhiHaridwarRishikesh – Devprayag – Srinagar – Rudraprayag – Karnaprayag – Nandprayag – Chamoli – Pipalkoti Joshimath Auli

One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

- Henry Miller

Just the photograph below is shot by Ravi and reproduced with his permission. Thanks Ravi.

View from Auli on a clear day

Alighting at the tenth tower from the cable car from Joshimath as written in my previous post here, I almost reached Gorson, above Auli. Gorson Bugyal, at over 10000 feet above sea level, could be seen right overhead 3-4 kms away. It would have been a lovely trek up there, had it not been for the dull ache in my tummy and the fact that it was almost sunset.

Why is the atmosphere saturated with mystery?
Looking at the beauty of this place, I made up my mind to return to Auli during the skiing months of January to March to try my hand at some winter sports that would also test how strong my heart is. So far my ‘adventure and fun’ in snow has been limited to tobaggoning in Ohio, but as Auli conducts skiing courses every winter and with the facilities available, adventure lovers can quickly learn to ski down rapidly, and with the cable car of 800 m ski-lift system zip up in moments!

For that moment, I had to be content with the beautiful sights the Himalayan mountains offered me. I do not have the literally skills to express the feeling of those breath-taking times during the dawn break, but I made an attempt with my poetry here. I wished to catch the the cloud-covered mountains with my camera but that was also not possible as my Cybershot was not able to capture the unfolding beauty before my eyes. I shot a few photographs and then quickly gave up so as to simply absorb in the beauty without any interruption.

Why does the path look so resplendent today?

Clouds rising and falling around the mountains was wonderful to watch. The looming mountain tops looked like islands in the sea of clouds. It was captivating to watch the giant mountain peaks of Nanda Devi, Kamet, Dunagiri, Mana Parbat appearing and disappearing on the waves of clouds. The continuous changing position of the mist, the clouds and the low intensity of light gave an ethereal look to the place.

Why does it seem like the breeze is whispering to me?

One had to be there to enjoy the moments to admire and celebrate the splendor around. To me, it looked like the place had been set like a stage and ready for the artist to go ahead and paint!

What story does the whispering breeze narrate?

It was magical and, at 10000 feet above main sea level, that morning tryst with nature made me feel literally on top of the world!

Why do the flowers seem inordinately beautiful?

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November 23, 2008

A Dawn in Auli

July 2008
Uttarakhand, India

Idly I wake up, stretch and contentedly yawn
And burst outdoors to watch the crack of dawn
A lovely new day in Auli is about to begin
Feeling jubilant, I feel exalted from within

As the first rays of light of the day sweep
The land of Auli wakes up from its dreamy sleep
It gets enveloped in white clouds and mist
It feels wonderful to be right in its midst

Majestic mountains, worthy of admiration
Auli haunts every nature lovers' imagination
From afar espy the great Nanda Devi's peak
Clouds hover around it, endearing sight unique

Auli's fresh day's beauty when unfurled
Transforms like if I'm in a dreamy world
Tranquility abounds, intoxicatingly serene
Worthy of celebration before me is the scene

The rise, fall and roll of the soft clouds of sea
Watching it all, I sense my spirit soaring free
In Auli I find nature's beauty on full display
I take utmost pleasure on this cool delightful day

On my eyelashes fall a few drops of clear dew
Through it I revel espying wonderful Auli view
Rustling breeze plays around the mountain tops
Horses graze on meadows, where valley drops

As the mountains whisper, I quietly listen
In charming Auli as a new day begins to glisten
Is it like this always, or is it just in spring
Moments touched by magic, it is enchanting

At the Himalayan heights, and wonderful location
I think for a moment Auli is my final destination
But no, I must explore, have got a world of travel
For am sure I've many more mysteries to unravel!

November 20, 2008

Garhwal: Joshimath

DelhiHaridwarRishikesh –Devprayag – Srinagar – Rudraprayag – Karnaprayag – Nandprayag – Chamoli – Pipalkoti - Joshimath - Auli

Road transport to reach Joshimath is not particularly in good condition. However, as I wrote in my previous post, the scenery of the mountains slopes and the Rivers Alaknanda, Dhauliganga and the other tributaries of The Ganges flowing along the narrow mountain roads more than makes up for the lack of comfort.

The view of the Himalayan mountains from every corner in Joshimath is lovely, and it was pleasant weather on that July afternoon. After roaming around the roads of Joshimath, I settled down to have some snacks and tea at a local teashop. That did give me a bit of tummy ache later which thankfully subsided with a couple of tablets by next morning.

The mountain town of Joshimath (also called Jyotirmath) is a hill station located at an altitude of 6,000 feet in the Chamoli district of Garhwal Division. It is considered as one of the four great "maths" or monasteries established by the great Adi Guru Sri Shankarcharya in the 8th century AD.

Joshimath is the gateway to the ski resort of Auli and resting point for travellers prior to embarking on a journey to Badrinath, Hemkund and the Valley of Flowers. The people of the upper mountains regions of the Himalayas come down to settle in the town of Joshimath when roads are closed during winter when it snows heavily. Joshimath is the winter shrine of Badrinath during the six snowbound winter months in the region.
Mountains as seen from the tea shop

Though I travel with a tentative itinerary, often I do not make concrete plans and hotel reservations. This way I get a chance to be ready for the unexpected and it does often lead to the most unforeseen events during my journey. In Joshimath it was the accommodation I managed to arrange at Auli. I had not made any prior hotel reservation at Joshimath as I was hoping to reach and stay at Auli overnight in case I could reach there before nightfall. Upon making some quick inquiries with the locals, I was pleased to learn that there was enough time to catch the cable car to Auli, 16 kms away from Joshimath.

The cable car ride begins from here

The operators informed me that the ropeway from Joshimath to to Auli is affectionately called Rajjo by the locals and spans a distance of more than 4 kms. I could count up to 10 towers of self-supporting steel structures. It is said to be the longest ropeway in Asia and the ride usually lasts 22 minutes till the eighth tower but I had a ride till the tenth tower as I was delighted to arrange accommodation at the highest point in Auli. A ride in the cable car costs Rs. 500 (about US$10) for a two way ride, and one of the requirements was to inform the authorities in advance of the time of the return ride.
The small strip of road seen leads to Auli

During the cable car ride, it was a fabulous feeling to enjoy the fresh mountain air brushing past my face and it was a feast to the eyes to view the scenery from that height. The route was lined with forests and lush green mountain vegetation. I could imagine how the slope would be in the winter months. It did seem like a perfect haven for adventure lovers. I made up my mind to return there sometime in winter to enjoy some winter sports.

View of a road in Joshimath from cable car

How to Reach Joshimath:

By Air: The nearest airport is the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun at a distance of 270 km.
By Rail: Haridwar is the nearest Railway Station to Joshimath, which is at a distance of 260 km connecting to all the major cities like Delhi, Lucknow, Moradabad etc.
By Road: Joshimath is connected by surface network with Dehradun, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Nainital and Almora.

Recent Travel Posts:

November 15, 2008

Mount Neelkanth

Garhwal, Uttarakhand
July-Aug 2008

While returning from a trek that I had started before dawn to the Indo-Tibet border village of Mana Village, I suddenly had the pleasure to view this fabulous sight of the 'Garhwal Queen' peeping out. Garhwal Queen is an appropriate sobriquet for the captivating beauty of Mt. Neelkanth.

The towering Mt. Neelkanth forms the backdrop of the pilgrimage town of Badrinath in the Himalayas. This pyramidal shaped snowy peak at a height of 6,597 metres (21,643 feet) above sea level borders the Nar-Narayan mountain ranges of Badrinath.

Later that morning as I walked around Badrinath I continued to look up at the fascinating sight till the time I sat down for breakfast in a modest restaurant in Badrinath. Every minute the scene kept changing as the clouds and mist played around the beautiful peak.

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November 10, 2008

One Single Impression: Paradox

One Single Impression is a community of poets writing and sharing Haiku and other poetic forms. Each week a new prompt is provided to inspire writing.

Here's my contribution for this week's prompt: Paradox.

Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow,
But never jam today,
Hello, we all do agnize
Yesterday's tomorrow is today!

You can't get a job,
Without experience,
But you can't get experience,
Without a job: Sigh!

Every swan I've seen is white,
So I reckon all swans are white;
Dishonesty of honesty tests;
It's like a matter of true lies!

Oscar Wilde said bollocks,
And refused to be involved;
The chicken or the egg first,
Also Aristotle struggled to know!

Exceptions to rules is overblown,
Fallacy in logic isn't rare;
Do my thoughts think for me,
Or is it I? Dualism exists!

Skepticism and ambiguity,
Evasiveness and equivocations;
All of it, in little measure or big,
Is a contradictory part of me!

A paradox I am, you ask for proof,
For you refuse to believe;
Intransigent and prevaricated,
I decline to demonstrate!

For I know am a paradox,
And if to prove I proceed;
I know then I'd cease to be one,
And the exercise would be in vain!

I'm a pointless paradox,
Yes, indeed I am one;
But then do you realize, so are you,
And likewise is this world!

November 9, 2008

Garhwal: Chamoli Adventure

Map borrowed

Route covered so far:
DelhiHaridwarRishikesh –Devprayag – Srinagar – Rudraprayag – Karnaprayag – Nandprayag – Chamoli – Pipalkoti - Joshimath

Heading towards Karnaprayag

From Rudraprayag, my tentative plan for the day was to reach Joshimath about 120 kms away (which through the mountain roads can be a journey lasting 5-6 hours) and if possible, to take a cable car for a night halt at Auli.

Most of the people heading this route are pilgrims who travel in their private vehicles. For the remaining few, like me, who wish to travel the tough way seeking a sense of adventure, a word of caution is to begin the onward journey from Rudraprayag early in the morning, as I was told no vehicles would be available to go higher up the mountains after noon. In any case, driving in those narrow mountain roads after sunset is not allowed, so travellers ought to plan the day of travel well in advance and start as early as possible.

It was an early morning in Rudraprayag when I started the journey in a local 'sharing taxi' that was to take me first to Karnaprayag. Karnaprayag, the place of confluence of Rivers Pindar and Alaknanda, is the junction to change route from Garhwal to Kumaon and from here, one can reach the hill stations of Almora, Nainital etc.

Once at Karnaprayag, I had to change to another vehicle that would take me to Joshimath. It was here that I heard the locals murmuring something about a landslide on the road uphill. With the adage “I’ll cross the bridge when I come to it” in mind, I ventured to continue the journey unaware then that I'd actually be in need of a bridge later during the day.

Roadblock in Chamoli

Close to Nandprayag while nearing Chamoli, I came across a huge line of vehicles extending for kilometers. There was indeed a landslide and it had blocked the road completely! Neither movement of vehicles nor walking across the landslide rubble was possible. I could see from a distance 'Public Works Department' workers were busy using bulldozers to clear up the place to make way for the traffic to resume.

I am now talking of possibly being stranded at a height of about 8,000 feet above sea level. Roadblocks in the rainy days on these mountain roads last for a minimum of hours, sometimes even days together! A part of the thrill of going to such places is to travel with the right company. When there are like-minded fellow travellers in a group, it is easy to make quick decisions. So in this case a decision was made in a matter of couple of minutes to trek to the other side of the road. And then the adventure began.

Seated at the edge of the stream

It was just past twelve, and in spite of the cool mountain breeze, the sun was right overhead and beating down on me mercilessly. In short, to avoid making this post long, on that bright sunny day, it was a walk down the valley carrying my backpack on this unplanned and unprepared part of the journey in the Himalayas. At first it was a trek downhill, then it was crossing a stream - minus shoes - flowing with almost freezing waters with strong currents with the help of locals, and finally a steep climb up the rugged path to eventually surface on the other side of the road. Finally it was an easy walk on the Himalayan mountain roads until, at length, a local bus was getting ready that somehow managed with great difficulty in the narrow road to take a U-turn to carry some passengers up to Chamoli.

Taking leave of the locals who helped

From Chamoli it was an uneventful journey passing through beautiful mountain scenery crossing Pipalkoti to finally reach Joshimath.
View from Joshimath roadside

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks

- John Muir

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November 2, 2008

Garhwal: Rishikesh to Rudraprayag

The question is not what you look at, but what you see.
- Henry David Thoreau

The journey of approximately 140 kms from Rishikesh to Rudraprayag in the rickety bus that took more than 5 hours – most of the time climbing up the mountain roads – was not very comfortable, but the scenery I came across more than made up for the discomfort. Typical scenery was that of curving narrow mountain roads and no matter how limited in size the roads were, somehow two-way traffic was being skilfully maneuvred. The road was mostly through mountain gorges, plunging into deep valleys at the bottom of which flowed the Ganges. Being the monsoon season, the Ganga flowed in its full glory, accumulating rain water in addition to the waters of the melting glaciers originating from the Himalayas.

The Ganges flows on

To reach Rudraprayag, the journey took me through Devprayag (one of the five holy confluences or Panch Prayags) and Srinagar (not of the Jammu & Kashmir fame). Devprayag is another small mountain town situated at the confluence of the Bhagirathi River and the Alaknanda River. What I like about these mountain towns is their characterization by their natural beauty, religious significance, their lakes and glaciers, and the simple mountain folks who dwell there.

From a moving bus near Rudraprayag

The small pilgrim town of Rudraprayag is named so after the Hindu God, Rudra. It lies on the confluence of River Alaknanda that flows from the Alakpuri glacier beyond Badrinath and River Mandakini originating from Kedarnath.

River Alaknanda

The holy confluence is venerated by Hindu pilgrims and an ancient temple, Rudranath, is dedicated right at the confluence.

The Confluence of the Rivers

On my return journey at Rudraprayag, from the modest GMVN accommodation that I had stayed in, I also happened to watch an open-air cremation ceremony at the opposite bank of the River Mandakini. Earlier, I had only heard of disbursement of the ashes in the Holy Ganges, but this trip made me witness it. I watched the covered body consumed in flames, and then with the heat it vaporized into nothingness. At the end of the process, the ash was collected and then scattered into the water from the bank of the River Mandakini at the holy confluence. As soon as this was done, one by one the gathered folks left.

At the ghats of River Mandakini

It also made me introspect on the intricate issues of life. Life is short, and delicate. It would be nice to live it simple and in peace. Nothing is to be feared, it is only to be understood as Marie Curie said. I pondered on the decision of those mountain folks who opted for cremation. They dispose of their dead immediately in a simple ritualistic ceremony, and that must have certainly cost far less than the traditional burial ceremony. Then there is the environmental advantage as well.

View from balcony of GMVN at Rudraprayag

I got a feeling they appeared relaxed because they "think simple" without much drama. I am sure those mountain folk do not worry about the stock market crisis, or for that matter, anything that detracts them from the joy of living in simplicity.
Now I see this post turning out long and I should immediately stop. My wisdom is limited to my awareness of my ignorance on these issues. Sounding philosophical on the death and meaning of life is not my cup of tea. After all, philosophy could get one killed, as it did Socrates!

As my destination was to travel higher up the mountains to Joshimath and Auli passing through Chamoli, the journey through and stopover at Rudraprayag was mainly for a night of rest and relaxation, and these are my observations of a peaceful evening spent there.

Sunflowers of Rudraprayag

How to reach Rudraprayag:

The nearest airport is Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun, about 160 kms away and the nearest rail head is at Rishikesh 140 kms. Rudraprayag is connected by narrow roads with other tiny mountain towns of the region and has bus service to Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun.

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