Trip to the Himalayas
We went to Yamunotri, Gangotri and Gomurkh this time. Landing in Dehradhun early morning, we drove straight to Yamunotri the same day. The winding mountain road generated ceaseless fear. Apparently heavy rains and rock falls had destroyed the already narrow path. In one place, the road was a gaping hole through which we saw the plunge. Our car literally climbed the mountain. My wife, seated ravine side, kept screaming – more to the right, until the driver told her to shut up and let him do his job. Poor soul froze, naked fear robbing her of her voice. Yet, at intervals, we spotted the Yamuna far below. She is a warm turquoise, aquamarine, blue. Relief invaded our beings when we arrived at destination. But the hardship wasn’t over. The dharmashalla was eye-popping exorbitant. It was unclean, tiny and icy cold. We all hardly slept. Early morning the next day, we set out, Radhika on the donkey, to the Yamunotri temple, a 5 km, 4000 m high, stair climb. Cold, thin air labored our breathing. At the temple 3 hours later, we were soaking in the hot springs. The actual source of the Yamuna is the Yamuna glacier at 6400 m altitude. Access is almost impossible for the common people. Still, from where we’re standing we see her sharp descent from way up.
Natural beauty is unsullied and virginal here. Secondary waterfalls rush down to join to Yamuna. We all quickly walked down, a doubtful Radhika having refused to mount the donkey downhill. The same day we set out to Uttarkashi, on the way to Gangotri.
After a warm, peaceful sleep we started very early from Uttarkashi to avoid the taxi drivers on strike. They’d block the roads, threaten to burn our vehicle and kill our driver. Lucky it would end up in smiles and camaraderie. Incredible India!! We didn’t even have to bribe! The road to Gangotri was daunting, though we hardly noticed; so intent were we upon our goal and we drove mountainside. I remembered Gangotri from 25 years ago. Clean simplicity and austerity created a spiritual haven. Now commerce and satellite dish have arrived. Still, a rushing Ganga graced us with her darshan from our hotel windows. How she winds her way through cliffs, cataracts and boulders is stupendous. There, we walked to Surya kund, Gauri Kund and Pandava cave – a humongous boulder with a tiny door in it. The Pandavas stayed there. Now, an old sadhu resides there even during the winter. We met a lot of Swiss and German people. We’d immediately bond because of the language. I told our German neighbors about the sadhu and they wanted to visit. They came to climb mountains and I profiled them ‘tourists’ in my mind. Yet, their next question shamed my miserly heart. What gift can we bring the sadhu – they asked. Honestly, I have never had such feelings for ‘sadhus I don’t know’. Thank you Ganga mata for purifying this fallen one. I immediately gave them a glove I had bought. They brought rice, dhal and the glove for the ascetic. My brother in law wanted to buy a barefoot sadhu a pair of shoes. The sadhu replied, your austerity is your effort to come here, I already live here; my austerity is my renunciation.
At night cold descended like an icy blanket. We’d put heating pads and hot water bottles in our sleeping bags. Tap water burned our hands till painful. Of course the rooms had no heating and we’d order buckets of hot water for our bucket-baths.
The next day we went to Gomukh on one of the most terrifying journeys of our lives.
We’d naively decided to do Gangotri-Gomukh return, in one day. Before dawn all 4 of us mounted our mules, for the 14 km ride to Bhojbasa. A guide and 2 handlers accompanied us. A bare half hour into the trip Radhika’s mule made a sharp turn, hind legs almost below the edge of a high cliff. Panic-stricken, she screamed – too close to the edge. The narrow mountain paths were a bare 2 feet wide at times. A few months ago heavy rains had caused landslides, rock falls and erosion thus wrecking the old one. The way was treacherous. Almost none spoke a word. Radhika loudly chanted Hare Krishna the whole time, tightly closing her eyes when the abyss opened in front of her. At one point we had to get off the mules to walk through a ‘danger zone’. The Ganga was far below. An abrupt, smooth dip and hairpin bend duped us into thinking we’re about to walk, or slide off the mountain. A galloping mule probably would!! Back on our mounts, we arrived in Bhoj Bhasa 4 hours after we’d started.
Yet, once we beheld the Himalayas proper, we were stunned. Beauty is a weak word. How to describe the snow capped magnificent mountains! History says countless of exalted saints had walked this path. The world of the common mortal war so far removed! We felt profound ‘upliftment’. Our only worth is our surrender. Many pious old Indians do this journey hoping to end there. They walk the path of our great ancestors. At the end, the Pandavas walked north, each falling one by one on the way, until only Yuddhisthir remained.
We trekked the remaining 4 km to Gomukh until 1 km to destination. Rockslide had obliterated the old path. A loose, gravelly trail led down to soft sand. Beyond, boulders had rolled down. Huffing and puffing, we scrambled over them. One hour later we’d progressed less than ½ km! The thin air strained our lungs. Then, we had to cross over a narrow, crumbling ledge. Radhika followed behind me. I grasped her hand as she stepped on the strip and it gave way. Her ‘Krishna!’ rang out clear and desperate. She struggled, failed to get a footing. I held on. Though the drop was not far, she would have broken limbs. Our guide quickly came and helped her onto our side of the strip. He gripped her hand and they advanced sideways, toes to the mountain and soles hanging out. Finally we came out of the boulders onto level ground. Gomukh was ½ km away. Suddenly a guide with 2 hikers walking from there, appeared and talked to our guide. There had just been another rockslide and no trail remained. He strongly advised not to go further. Rocks were still falling and tragedy was likely. Our guide informed us he knew of a way, but it was perilous. We should decide. Radhika and Vrindavan Kirtan declined to go further. My brother in law, Vikash, and I decided to push ahead.