Delhi->Rishikesh -> Govind Ghat -> Ghangaria -> Valley of Flowers -> Hemkund -> Ghangaria -> Auli -> Ukhimath -> Tungnath -> Rudraprayag -> Rishikesh -> Haridwar -> Delhi
Continued from here
Day 9 :
We effortlessly woke up by 6 30 and revisited the temple, this time in daylight, so A could take some pictures too. A breakfast of eggs and poha later, we decided to do the trek to Tungnath, despite our earlier decision not to trek anymore this trip. We’d by now resigned ourselves to landslides being the new normal during the hours drive to the base of Tungnath.
It is the highest Shiva temple in the world and a 4 km trek didn’t seem formidable after what we’d done in the last few days. But well, it was a good lesson in how nature doesn’t care about your plans, she has enough of her own. It started raining the moment we alighted from our car. As we went higher, the cold increased and so did the wind. It was too misty to see anything around either. The place was mostly desolate except for a few tea-shacks that were still operational despite it being the off-season. The weather pulled our motivation levels down and by just about a km to the top, a couple of us had lost all will to push through and tried to keep one unwilling step after the next. Lout, Pramod and Prashant made it to the top and came down to tell us about it but also that the last 500 meters were steeper. The cold and the rains had not abated.
We decided we’d be happier just getting back down and half-disappointed, half-relieved, made our way back. Anand and I walked slower to be kinder to my knees and the others walked significantly ahead. And in just a little while, in a lovely surprise, nature decided we’d had enough.
The view cleared, the rain reduced to a very mild drizzle, and the harsh wind moved on too. We looked on in awe at a new bewitching scene at every turn – 4 gorgeous wild dogs who decided to accompany us all the way down once we fed them a few biscuits, a shepherd and his handsome mountain goats looking on suspiciously at the dogs with us, trees with trunks in all shades of red, clear meadows with horses grazing away aimlessly, the tall trees all leaning towards one side covered with just enough mist to make it seem like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. We walked down with smiles pasted on our faces unable to get over the sheer beauty we had just been able to witness.
On the way back, we developed an increased respect for the ones clearing the debris from the landslides. They repaired it for vehicles to pass, often, in less than 15 minutes saving vehicles from being backed up for hours. We travelled on the side of the Mandakini river throughout to get to Rudraprayag. She supposedly gets violent in the monsoons, and we could definitely see potential in her waves thrashing and pounding throughout. The 2.5-hour drive seemed such a joy as we were simply lost in her enthralling company.
Our first view of the GMVN we were to stay at, was from across the river on the other side and it seemed like a town just made for a photo op with the exuberant river.To our utter glee, the GMVN rooms had an enviable view of the sangam of Alaknanda and Mandakini. Like most places we visited post the trek, we were the only guests here too and even got an off-season discount. We spent an enchanting evening watching the aarti from our perch on the balcony.
Day 10 :
I woke up to the lulling music of the river from outside our balcony and realised I could easily get used to this. I sat and tried to soak up the view – the ephemeral mist on the surface of the water, the subtle line ahead of the point of merge of the rivers- still separating them till they melted into each other, the gentle waves cuddling up to the rocks on the river banks, the winding roads on the opposite side, and a monkey doing a balancing act on the railings of the bridge across the Mandakini- seeming to pause occasionally to appreciate the view himself. The lone priest in the temple walked down the steps towards the water, braving its icy force. He filled a couple of pots from the water pouring one over himself and took another for the day’s prayers. Moments like these make you wish you had more poetic abilities. Or maybe for some experiences, words will always fall short.
A breakfast of puris and parathas later we headed off on a walk through the busy town that was going about its everyday. We tasted the local sweet called Baal Mithai which was like a halwa coated with tiny pellets of sugar. Since we had to leave early we only walked up to the bridge to the other side. As we stood there we had a sight we almost missed. Shiva’s head peeping out of the water while the rest of him was inside. Try as I might, I couldn’t find the picture of the complete statue even after my return. Reminded me strongly of the story of the King Tantalus. Suitably amused we hung around a bit and headed back to the room. The weather was now slightly warmer and more pleasant than the other places. But we had to leave by 11 to get to Rishikesh avoiding weather changes. Our driver was also looking forward to getting back to his home after these days with us.
We reached Rishikesh and decided to give Haridwar a look since it wasn’t too far off, and was supposedly the point where the Ganga leaves the mountains and reaches the plains. We checked into our hotel and figured we could make it in time for the Ganga aarti since it was just 20 km away. Anand, Pramod and I stayed on, while the rest left Rishikesh with other plans. We took a shared auto to the bus stand and then a bus to Haridwar. And oh, how wrong we were about the time we’d take! There was a traffic pile up the whole duration. By the time we got there, we had just missed the aarti, but decided to explore the place a bit. The Haridwar temple spans a huge space mostly to accommodate the crowds all through the year and specifically during the Kumbh mela. After getting there, I was a little glad to have missed the aarti simply because the place seemed too crowded for my liking! During the aarti with everyone trying to huddle closer to it for a view may have been worse, but that’s just me.
We strolled around, with poojaris regularly offering us their own aartis and some more who were actually annoying by insisting we do a random pooja for our families/ let flower buckets into the Ganga for a fee. The extent of commercialization needs to be seen to be believed. We managed to find the actual temple amidst it all where we were the last visitors of the day before it was closed by the calm priest. We had the prasad and continued to walk around. The place was full of tourists taking selfies on one side and pilgrims dipping in the cold water and ardently trying to keep up with the priest’s prayers on the other. After a while, we were hungry and decided to eat there since most places would close early even if we got back to Rishikesh. Just out of sheer food-home-sickness we ordered a masala dosa and it served us right that it was not what we expected though they did their best. The batter itself was made with the local rice that tasted different and a thin layer of potato stuffing was spread over. Nevertheless, eat we did, and then with some difficulty managed to get an auto back to our hotel.
Coming up next : Wandering in Rishikesh