Day 8, 15 Jun 08
3.00 am, Its a curse, the alarm is a god-damn curse on the human race. Nobody is really interested to getup and be ready for the great Gangotri trip, one of the चार धाम places. I’m unable to download anything, how on earth will bowels work at 3.30am in the morning. By 4.30 we’re partially ready when the driver knocks at the door. Everybody is extremely slow to move ahead, but finally by 4.45am we are in the Maxx Jeep and heading towards Gangotri. Pratap Rana, our driver moves the vehicle inside the Uttarkashi market place and moves his pawn by saying, he is getting a ‘savari’ or another person in the cab. Mallik is fumed, he doesn’t not wont anyone else in here. There is a lot of heated discussion between us and Rana. He suggests that he can give back the advance and drop us by the market taxi stand. But somehow we continue. But he is rash in his driving, moving hard on turns, on potholes. That irks all of us. But we stay quiet, Amey does not he starts another argument with him on his driving. Rana backfires, that this is the only place where he can swiftly move his jeep, ’cause in the ghats it has to be slow and steady.
7.00 am, We are still climbing through NH 108, moving through hilly villages overlooking the valley in which Bhagirathi is raging like a mad river. I recollect my mother’s stories about some place where the river flow is so hard that it can break anything in its path. We try to gauge the speed of the river it could be more than 40kmph. That means its an extremely heavy slope towards Uttarkashi and the river does not spare anything in its way. The mountains themselves are big, overpowering, strong and hard. Even though they are beautiful there is something hideous about them, something like ‘Get off my way’ attitude. Another hour or later we are near Bhatwari. And there seems to be a massive jam. Rains and day’s sun are the miscreants. There has been a lot of landslide further in the distance, hence blocking the traffic on either ends. Just if the natural forces were not enough for the problem, there was rock drilling continuing in the rock for better roads. The vibrations just help the brittle rock to dislocate. We get down and walk on foot to see how far is the jam. It could more than a km. long. We still walk ahead and find the actual place where the landslide has occurred. The landslide has taken off 20-30% of the road into the valley. The road around too is very mucky, slushy. No firm grip around. There are still small pebbles falling down. A brave truck driver helps push big boulders on the road with his Truck, and we have some space to move. Rana calls us and we all run back. Rana, true to the character of a local driver in the Himalayan ghats, manoeuvres his jeep through the jam, quickly getting ahead of big buses and other lazy cars. He says its important to get ahead, cause another jam and we would be late. It is necessary for us to leave early from Gangotri as well and clear through these ghats in the sunlight. We had moved a little ahead of the problem and there was another minor jam, thanks to a Maruti 800 which was unable to move the puddle of soil, gravel. The driver was trying hard to move the vehicle, but his efforts were in vain, A young local driver jumped off from his cab and offered to drive the car through the muck, and asked some others for a push at specific places. And brilliantly he got the small-tired car from foot deep soil.
Its close to 10.30 and we are now close to Harsil, a beautiful hilly village before Gangotri, no other human settlement between Harsil and Gangotri, except for ITBP or the Indo Tibet Border Police checkposts. Harsil is beautiful, amidst the cool weather, High himalayas and lovely Apple Orchids that it harvests. We halted at a local ‘tapri’ for some food and chai. Most have ‘chole’ and ‘bun-pav’. Rnana urges us to be quick, so after a sip of tea, we are moving again. The climb continues and we spot our first snow-capped mountain in this area. They seem to be towering above us, the rain clouds trying to cover the snow. It was an amazing experience being in such a place and all cameras went snapping.
Its 11.00, and we are on a bridge, joining tow mountains, some 600m a river is flowing. Pratap Rana stops and narrates that this is the highest bridge over here, we are near Nelong Kopang, the Indo Tibet Border which is just few minutes away from here. Below the bridge he continues is the rivulet that is coming from China/Tibet which further joins the Bhagirathi coming from Gangotri, and he points to a far corner where the two rivers met. We continue from the place and soon we spot cars parked on either side of the road. The familiar parking problem in pilgrimage spots is no stranger here. We move on close to the actual place where Rana parks and says we should be running back by 1.30. It has taken us well over 4.5 hrs from Uttarkashi to Gangotri which is about 96km by roads. 99% of which are in high in Ghats.
The street leading to the temple is a typical one, with shops selling religious clothes, puja equipment and more. Mallik, Vj buy some yellow-saffron colored ‘gamcha’. The pressure inside my stomach is now building. As we enter the main area, we can hear water falling from somewhere, excited we move ahead towards Surya Kund, Where a small off-rivulet of Bhagirathi is jumping from a vertical cliff from about 30m and making a small pool below, the Surya Kund. The pressure, water flow is so much that it creates a mist of water in the surroundings. Videos and photos never far away from such places. We move towards the right climbing ahead on the path which has many aashrams, and other religious installations. Now I’m not really interested in all those, all I need is a toilet ! We cross through a wooden bridge to the other side, after I reached the other side of the bridge, we see a simple sign near the edge of bridge, कमज़ोर ब्रिज ! the whole troop now moves towards the ghats where people are trying to take a dip into the holy or rather chilly water. Even though Mallik has some fever, he decides that he’ll take a dip. Its close to noon and Vj joins him in the chill-party and we then head towards the temple. After a brief visit to the temple we are back on the main street. My friends are now finding a place to put more stuff inside their stomach, while I’m trying to find a place to do the exact opposite. Its now uncontrollable, while they settle for a hotel, I go ahead in search for a toilet, luckily I find a decently clean ‘Pay and Use Sulab Shochalay’. Aaaaa…hhh !!! I managed a Vartak Memorial at Gangotri. Light as a bird I join others for lunch.
Its 1.30-1.45, and we’ve started to head back towards Uttarkashi. Mallik is really sick, dives his head down and goes to sleep. Just close to Gangotri Rana shows us ‘Pandav gufa’. I wonder where all did Pandav visit during their ‘Karavas’ and ‘Agyatvas’. We find Pandav places from Nasik to Himalayas, 50% of India in length covered !? The ride back now seems tiring with the thought of 5 hrs of travelling back to Uttarkashi on the bad roads. We all doze off, intermittently getting up to check the spots, trying to store our memories.
Pilot Baba Ahram, Maneri
4.30 pm, Sign boards show Maneri and Rana asks us if we want to see Pilot Baba Ashram. We all are ready. The Ashram is a beautiful place loaded with flowers and statues. There are various flowers, roses, sunflowers, lilies and so on. Rajoba is quick to show us the flowers and various other plantations. He gets nostalgic remembering his Sangli garden and how it was destroyed. There are various statues of Indian dieties, Ram, Hanuman, etc. We spend almost an hour when I hear shouts, Rana wants to get back soon and we hop in the jeep and are back heading towards Uttarkashi.
We reached Uttarkashi somewhere around 6.15, at Devlok we feel exhausted with the day’s travel not more than 200kms but in those bad roads and the twisting and turning ghats, it was tiring. Mallik needs to go to a Dr., we find a local Dr. Bhandary and take him there. He gives Mallik all drugs for Stomach infection. Around 8.30 we leave Devlok for food, But we are not interested in Bhandary hotel’s meal so try to find alternatives. Luckily we find a juice store, where we jam-in various juices, purchase some Lichi. We come back to the room and start packing our bags for the next day’s long distance jeep travel to Hrishikesh.