My Himalayan Travels – Preparations + Day 1&2
September is a good month to goto the Himalayas. It is past the monsoons but not very cold as yet. But this is past the season for The valley of flowers which is a place that I wanted to visit. I had initially planned on visiting the valley but later changed my plans to accommodate other places.
Most commercial tourist destinations in Uttarkhand have most of the requisites for the typical travelers. However, here is a laundry list of things and injunctions that you want to keep in mind when going there.
- Book one car for the maximum number of places rather than try splitting the journey into multiple car journeys. A one day travel in the Uttarkhand by taxi can cost upwards of 3000 for minimal distance. Cars also charge for both “to and fro” which can increase costs substantially. Besides a car can be useful to keep your luggage while you go trekking.
- If there are acceptable quality hotels that you have booked, it is probably redundant to carry sleeping bags. I packed a sleeping bag but really did not need it.
- Eat light especially for lunch.
- Carry some biscuits, tang, Glucon D etc in case you need the extra energy boost.
- It is good to carry a couple of packets of instant noodles (Yippee or something) in case your meal choices are not available at the hotel (and also provided that Yippee itself is a viable meal choice for you)
- A torch (best if it is rechargeable LED ) came in handy.
- Extra batteries for the camera, extra charging batteries for the cel phone etc.
- Cell service is surprisingly good even in remote areas. But it is handy to keep a BSNL SIM card.
- Backpacks, trekking shoes etc. are useful.
- A light rain jacket with a hood is preferable.
- Be sure to carry fleece since it can get quite cold in the high altitudes (> 3000 m)
- Be sure to carry water cans etc. for both drinking water and also for carrying holy Ganga water back down.
- In the write up below, I would mention stories and anecdotes about individual places that I visited. Please take them with a pinch of salt. You don’t have to believe them but they sure make the places interesting. At any rates these mythological stories are much better than the gory tales we are wont to hear when we visit English castles etc.
- I would also mention the names of hotels that I stayed along with my candid opinion about each of them. Obviously, these kind of opinions are very subjective and can vary with time. These were applicable as of September 2015.
- I don’t get any special discounts or commissions from any of the properties mentioned though it would be cool if they did notice this blog and decide to credit the Kolluru account with something. We all can do with more money 😉 But the objective clearly is not to write a review or something. I want the pilgrims who might choose to read this blog to benefit from it when they plan their stay.
On the first two days, the objective was to reach Gupt Kashi on the way to Kedarnath from Bangalore. This is shown below in the route map.(in green). So I took the flight from Bangalore and reached Delhi sometime in the morning. Subsequently I took a train to Haridwar and ensconced myself into a comfortable hotel there.
Stay overnight at Hotel Haveli Hari Ganga which is a very fine hotel that is on the banks of the Ganga. It is walkable or easily accessible via rickshaw to Har-Ke-Pauri which is the center of Haridwar. More on Haridwar on the return journey. I am now determined to get as close to Kedarnath as possible and stayed there overnight on the way to Gupt Kashi.
On day 2, I start continuing the journey forward to Gupt Kashi. On the way we passed Rishikesh, Dev Prayag and Rudra Prayag as shown. More on Rishikesh on the way back. From Rishikesh, we move alongside the Ganga till we reach Dev Prayag.
Dev Prayag is the confluence of the Alaknanda and the Bhagirathi rivers to form the mighty Ganga river. In a sense, this can be regarded as the place of origin of the Ganga. The Bhagirathi is a gurgling stream that emanates from Gaumukh (literally the mouth of a cow owing to it shape) and rushes past Gangotri. Bhagirathi is named after King Bhagiratha who was supposedly the legendary king who brought the Ganga from the heavens down to the earth. Gaumukh is generally regarded as the birthplace of Ganga though it is more accurate to say that Gaumukh is the origin of Bhagirathi which is a tributary of Ganga.
Dev Prayag is beautiful. We will talk more about the stories of Dev Prayag on the way back. But here is a picture from the road.
The pesky tree obstructs the view of the actual confluence but one can still picture the Alaknanda coming from the right and the Bhagirathi on the left merging to form the Ganga.
From Dev Prayag, we go along the banks of the Alakananda to reach Rudra Prayag. Rudra Prayag is where the restless Mandakini runs along and merges with the more stately Alakananda. Alakananda, in its travails, might have lost some of its vitality. But the Mandakini has already washed the feet of Lord Shiva at Kedarnath and has consequently been rendered extra energetic. She uses this gusts of energy to revitalize the Alakananda. After this confluence, the Alakananda flows with renewed zeal to make her tryst with the Bhagirathi at Dev Prayag.
In Rudra Prayag, I stepped down to the actual confluence. There is a small temple there dedicated to Ma Chamundi. In the picture below, the fast flowing Mandakini is coming from the right to join the Alakananda which is flowing from the left. They both merge and go along in their way forward.
At this confluence, I was also somewhat intrigued by a hand made ropeway that can be used by the people to propel themselves from one side of the river to the other. Here is a picture showing a dude making his way from one side to the other. Look Ma, no machines. Just good ole hands.
After Rudra Prayag, we switch allegiances and start following the Mandakini instead. We follow the gorge made by the river and start going upwards into the thick of the Himalayan landscape. As we continue our journey up, it starts getting cooler and cooler. We are scarcely able to contain our excitement. Vistas start opening up before us.
The town of Gupt Kashi is not far. It beckons to us with its first views very soon.
Gupt Kashi derives its name from a story that is attributed to the Mahabharatha. Apparently, the Pandavas after killing their vile cousins, the Kauravas, started repenting the loss of life. They wanted to seek out Shiva to atone for their sins. But Shiva was not willing to meet them since he disliked the unjust means adopted during the war. So he disappeared from Kashi (Benares or Varanasi) and reappeared in Gupt Kashi in the form of Nandi the bull (Shiva’s vehicle) . The indefatigable Pandavas pursued him to this place but the wily Shiva disappeared again into the ground and different parts of his body reappeared in five places (known as Panch Kedars). More on that later. Since Shiva went gupt (hidden) in this place it came to be known as Gupt Kashi.
There is a temple here that is dedicated to Kashi Vishwanath. We went to this temple in the evening.
There are two water spouts in the front of the temple called Ganga and Yamuna. The source for the water is apparently within the temple of Kashi Vishwanath. It is customary for people to drink water from these spouts and consecrate their bodies with it.
After pujas at the temple, we went to a room that I got at Gupt Kashi. This is a nice complex with beautiful cottages set by the side of the Kedarnath road in Gupt Kashi. The place is called Himalayan Comforts and is worth a stay.
The night’s rest was pleasant and we dreamt about the immediate future ahead. There was a sense of trepidation about the impending journey ahead to Kedarnath. But this was also augmented with an even greater sense of anticipation at the prospects ahead.
End of Day 2.