Friday, September 28, 2007

Badrinath : a second visit to the shrine

This is for my eager friends who did not dare to go there, but wants to know how it was. I finally found time to complete part-I of my travelogue.

Day 1 : Delhi – Dehradun
We reach Dehradun by the Shatabdi Express. It was a typical hazy morning in Delhi. Every time I saw sunshine peeking through the window, I felt a sense of joy. My friends had informed that rains had not gone away this year. However, bright sunshine greeted us when we had reached Dehradun around noon time. We had stayed at our company guest house (ONGC), which provided us almost free accommodation @Rs.40/- for AC room. Staying at Haridwar or Rishikesh would have cost us more.

The rain had returned by afternoon. I had a talk with the driver of the cab we had hired from a local agency for the trip. His casual attitude had an assuaging effect on me. In fact we became subject of tea time gossip for colleagues posted in Dehradun to whom it was near to impossible travel as the monsoon was stills active. The layback life in Dehradun had taken its toll on them. The deal was stuck for Rs.10000/- for 5 days and Rs.11,100/- if we extend it to the sixth day. We sought a bigger vehicle as we were 4 adults and 2 five year kids. We were offered a Qualis which is a good vehicle for hilly roads.

If one plans to travel by bus, this is how you can do it: There is a private co-operative which runs buses on almost all the routes in the Garhwal Region. It is called the GMOU Ltd. These buses starts from their office right outside the state roadways bus stand at Haridwar. But most of the buses leaves very early, around 5:30 am as they travels all day in the hills to reach their destinations like Badrinath, Gangotri, etc.

Day2: Dehradun - Joshimath

We started at about 6:30 am in the morning. The relatively late start was because our target destination was Joshimath. If one plans to travel to Badrinath or beyond Joshimath, then he needs to starts at least one hour early as the last gate timing at Joshimath is 4:30 pm.

Morning shows the day. We were greeted by bright sunshine that accompanied us all the day. Even though it had been raining in Dehradun, it appeared that it had not rained around Rishikesh for last few days. But we could see the devastation of landslides on the road between Rishikesh and Byashi. It made one appreciate the forces of nature. A lesson out of the National Geographic programs. The second stretch of landslide affected area was near Gauchar. The third and the worst were between Pipolkoti and Joshimath. The road here has started sinking and may disappear if rain and landslides continues. This will severe the road link. By 6 in the evening we had reached Joshimath and checked into the same hotel where we had stayed last time (in 2005). The peak Yatra season is over and so the room rate was a mere Rs.250/-. The hotel rooms are decent. More importantly, it provides a towel and clean bed sheets. We had paid more last time as it was in June, the peak Yatra season.

There is a SBI ATM located on the ground floor of this hotel which I found to very useful. I saw two ATMs at Badrinath as well, one of SBI and another of PNB.

Day3 : Joshimath - Badrinath - Govindgaht

We got up in those uncomfortable hours of the day for the third consecutive day. The weather was looking ominous. We could here the sound of drizzling water drops. We could not make out whether it was rain or dew. The hotel owner assured us that it is nothing unusual and weather will improve. When the first light of the day broke, it appeared that an envelope of mist had engulfed the small town. It probably was cloud, rather than mist. The drizzling had become more intense. Honey, the driver of the cab told that the rain is not a good sign. The first gate opens for traffic at 6:30 am. By the time we had reached the midway gate at Pandukeswar, the rain had stopped. Sporadic sunshine followed. There was a delay as debris of landslides at a stretch hardly a kilometer ahead was being removed. When we crossed this area, we realized that this portion of road can get blocked anytime. A hill of mud and stone are looming on one side eager to come down at the very next opportunity. In fact this part of road was blocked for about 10 days in August because of massive landslides, snapping the link between Badrinath and rest of the country. Imagine what will happen if you get trapped on the other side! Fortunately we had crossed this stretch safely on both onward and return journey. However, one driver of a GMVN cab was not so fortunate when he was killed by a falling rock on the day after we had traveled through this stretch. The occupants of his vehicle have a lucky escape as somehow the vehicle got into neutral gear. Otherwise there was a roaring Alaknada waiting on one side of the road to wallop it. May be the dyeing driver’s hand on the gear pushed it to neutral. Pure destiny!

We had reached Badrinath by 10 am. A deserted bus stand greeted us. It was almost a shock for us. The last time we were here, the bus stand was bursting with activities. There were hardly any devotees in the temple premises. No queues for entering the temple. This is quite a change from our last visit when we had to stand in long queues for hours. Yatra season is almost over for this year. We had a peaceful darshan taking our own time. The driver told us that the traders at Badrinath are now waiting for the Bangali Season. How do you define a Bangali Season ? Well the Bengalis travel a lot during Puja vacations which will start in end September to mid October. They normally come here in large numbers. Off season travelers? May be. Because Bengalis are known to extract every paisa’s worth.

This time we decided to have a bath in the natural hot water spring called the Tapt Kund (तप्त कुण्ड), located just outside the temple. One can find mention of this spring at Badrinath in Puranas. This is where Lord Shiva and Parvati used to take bath when Badrinath was their abode. Doubting Thomas like me would find it hard to believe that Lord Shiva used to take bath ! Anyway, the water at the spring is very hot, quite in contrast to the icy cold water of river Alaknanda flowing just few feet below it. I never had a bath in such public bathing places having natural hot water spring obviously for hygiene reasons. I had seen a few of them. But this one has flowing water rather than stale water. Probably because of this we had little hesitation in taking a dip. May be we had to come back here for a second time for taking the bath!

This time we did not go to Mana village. We took the 3 pm gate from Badrinath and reached Govindghat by about 4:30 pm.

I will write about Govindghat separately as I had observed that there is not much information about it on the net.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Accomodation online

The travel supplement of leading national dailies is full of packages and deals for outbound tourists, especially to the European countries and hot spots like Mauritius and South East Asian nations. Some of them offer really attractive rates, but no one really mentions about hidden costs. The general perception for a trip abroad is to take a package tour, unless you know someone close living there, who will help you in getting local travel assistance in a foreign country. Accommodation abroad is a big apprehension. The evolution of travel sites in India has helped people in a big way in making travel decisions, tickets and hotel bookings etc. We are not really aware of such Travel sites aboard.

I had come across one such site for tourists bound for UK and some other European nations. A site named ‘Cheaper than Hotels’ offers you the choice of several types of accommodation. In fact the site offers accommodation for a wide range of places, including India. I had tried the site and was surprised to find hotels for Delhi, India as well. I choose the option of 3 star and below. Names of the hotels that pop up for Delhi are not seen even in Indian travel sites. This is because Indian sites offers only big star hotels which are beyond the budget of most people. But ‘Cheaper than Hotels’ search included some 1 star hotels. Only problem I had observed with the site was that the prices are not in INR. But anyway it is a good site. I wish some of the Indian travel site also starts offering budget accommodation.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

First few photos from VOF uploaded

First few photos from VOF have been uploaded to my flickr album. here is one of the appreciated shot. I am unable to find time to complete the travelogue and upload the photos from the entire trip. Hope to complete it by next week.

Meanwhile you can see other uploaded photos by clicking on the flickr badge on the sidebar.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Back from VOF

Reached Delhi early this morning after travelling nearly 500 kms by road. It was really tiring. Got stuck in landslides at copuple of places on the way back. But overall it was a wonderful trip. We even made it to the sikh holy shrine of Hemkund Sahib located at 14000 feet. I also took a holy dip at the icy cold water of the hemkund lake. I walked for a total of 32 km over 3 days. Our legs are in bad shape and can barly walk.

The bad news is that it is still raining on the high areas of Garhwal. Landslides has ravaged the road at many palces. At some places the road is in such bad shape that the tense face of our driver made us realise the danger. The driver admited that while we were up in the hills trekking, he prayed that one stretch of the road between Pipolkoti and Jsohimath, which is sinking do not give way. Had it gave in, then we could have got stcuck for 10 / 15 days. Futher, on 5th Sept, a driver of a GMVN cab got killed on the spot when his vehcile was hit by a falling rock near Pandukesawar, halfway between Joshimath and Badrinath. That stretch of the road had also become very dangerous. Miraculously, other passengers of that Tata Sumo escaped unhurt as somehow the vehicle got into neutral while the driver got killed. This driver had been driving in the hills for more than 20 years. But who knows when death comes! Our driver was staying at Pandukeshwar and was witness to this incident. This had affected his morale.

I thanked god to have come back safely. I will not go that side again in near future.