Last month, a friend from Chandigarh called to ask if I would be interested in joining him for a road trip to Uttarakhand —starting with the holy shrine of Hemkunt Saheb, Badrinath and further up to Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamontri. The idea sounded fantastic as there was great adventure with fun involved. Little did we know.
Day 1, June 11: We finally left Chandigarh and spent the night in Rishikesh.
Day 2, June 12: Early morning at around 4am we left for Govind Ghat, passing through Devaprayag, Srinagar, Karanprayag, Chamoli, Joshimuth. We reached Govind Ghat at about 3pm we. Our main priority was to find a safe parking for the car and head in the direction of Badrinath. With an early dinner we called it a day and went to bed. There were two options for us: either take a helicopter ride to Govind Dham (service every three minutes) or trek. We opted for the latter.
Day 3, June 13: We started at 6am, assuming it would take us at least 7 hours as it is a 13 km trek to Govind Dham. One has to walk all along the perennial stream. One could call it more than a stream as the water is in no way less than any river coming down the hills. We took our first halt after trekking for one and a half hours after covering 1.5km to have some lime soda. As we gazed at the stream, sipping our sodas, the shopkeeper expressed surprise at the amount of water in the stream. He said that normally one finds such volume only towards the end of July, in case of heavy rains. Refreshed, we proceeded upwards. The second break was at midway where the prices of everything was already touching the clouds: A small bottle of Coke 500ml was Rs 60 and above, tea was Rs 20, an Aloo Paratha was Rs 40. We still had 6 more kilometres to cover when it started to rain. As we trekked uphill, the sound of the stream became louder. Since we were trekking very close, I realised that a single misstep would mean vanishing under the cold waters forever. Tired and dehydrated, we walked slowly but steadily along with thousands of other devotees who were singing hymns along the way and reached our second stop, Govind Dham, at about 4pm in the evening. Somehow we managed to get a room, where we crashed till we regained our energies to get out and have a much needed hot cup of tea. The rain had not stopped. We had an early dinner and slept off, as next day was the most challenging part of the trek. A steep trek of 6 kms to Hemkunt Saheb.
Day 4, June 14: Early morning, after a cup of tea, we embarked on our trek. It continued to rain, making our trek very slippery. We then decided to take the pony ride till the Shrine. This proved to be a rather wise decision. This trek especially was an unforgettable one. Devotees of all ages, from children to old men and women above 85 years were on their way up to ask the Lord’s blessings. Newborns nestled in mothers’ secured arms or people walking bare feet, fervent chanting filled the air infusing everyone with untold energy. We also encountered a few cases of the sick, giving up, unable to move further. Amrit Sarovar, literally the pond of Nectar, is situated at the height of 15210 ft. above sea level, and on reaching the shrine, the men folk without wasting further time took turns to take a dip in the sarovar’s icy waters, considered holy and purifying for the soul. After visiting the shrine, we descended our way back on the slippery track taking each step very carefully. The rain showed no signs of ceasing and the water falls along the route seemed rather ominous. Back in our rooms at Govind Dham, we waited for the night to fall to call it a day.
Day 5, June 15: Contrary to our earlier plans of visiting the Valley of Flowers which is only 4 kms away, we altered our plans as the uninterrupted downpour had rather dampened our spirits. We decided to head back to Govind Ghat. Around noon we hired two ponies to go back as the rain did not stop. To add to our low spirits, the stream along our side gushed noisily down with a terrific force giving us goose bumps. All along, we prayed fervently to keep out of trouble. After a little more than 5 hours we reached Govind Ghat and were relieved to see our vehicle. Immediately, we decided to leave for Badrinath. However, to our dismay, we overheard people talking that due to landslides, the road to Joshimuth from Govind Ghat and Badrinath had been closed down. We further learnt that there was a possibility that the road to Badrinath may close down too. This was because one of the nallahs on the way had sizeable water, making it difficult for the vehicles to cross over. We were anxious to hear this and began rushing up things and started our drive nevertheless. As we reached the mentioned nallah, nearly four feet of water was coming down forcefully. My friend, who was behind the wheel told me to hold my nerves while he attempted crossing it. We saw other vehicles lined up along the road. Putting the car into the four wheel drive mode, we dashed into the nallah, filling the car with water but managed to cross over. We reached Badrinath spending the next six days waiting to be taken out from there as by now all roads to and from Badrinath had been washed away. The nallah that we crossed with great trepidation had swept away nearly a kilometre of the road, bringing our trip to a dead end.
Next morning we got to know about the terrible tragedy at Kedarnath which sent shivers through our body, knowing that we were in more or less the same situation. Everybody was curious to know more about Kedarnath as many who had just come back from Kedarnath were thanking the god for their safe trip. As news of the situation getting worse started to trickle in, there was more confusion amongst the yatris. The army was flying in just couple of helicopters a day to Badrinath for evacuation as there were no casualties there, and everybody was angry and furious as each one of them wanted to get out of the hell which had been a spiritual home few days back. With barely a few rupees left and eating the same Dal Chawal at different langars, finding it tough to communicate with our families as only the BSNL mobile tower would work for few hours a day with very weak signals, it was very difficult to get through to our families who were anxiously waiting for us. It took a full week before we were airlifted and evacuated by the Indian Army from Badrinath. Our car is still, at gods' mercy, which we hope to bring home by October this year God willing.
Text and photographs: T. Narayan