the Himalayas

the Himalayas
The first sighting of Himasaila - view from Ranachatti - photo R. Jayakumar

Thursday, November 26, 2015



There weren’t too many takers for the Ruskin Bond plan. Nobody was hell bent on meeting him. At least my son should have been inclined. Alas, on the crucial moment, he looked the other way!

We proceeded headlong to Barkot. On the left side Yamuna flowed shyly, Water level was far too low, flow was less than normal and the river-banks looked deserted. Obviously, she had no grounds to put on airs! Since there were too many stones and pebbles, water frothed while flowing over and the whole river looked milky. The sight was magical! Yamuna was punctuated by tiny deltas every now and then. Only cogon grass (darbha grass - “Poa Cynosuroide”) grew there. No other plant wanted a sojourn with Yamuna! Of course, darbha made a strong presence. No idea whether they were used in religious ceremonies. The delta-darbha had very long blades with sharp edges, capable of inflicting wounds! A biological sword, one could say! According to Bhagavatha, Lord Krishna’s descendants fought a biological warfare using darbhas among other things and got perished. 

Miniscule water-falls were trying to intercept the River. The full moon was reigning supreme. Yamuna was turning celestial.
Riding through a moon-lit dream, we found ourselves already high without any props. We had almost lost the sense of direction. We reached at Barkot when the night was still young. We were lucky enough to get an entire hotel-Gau Yamuna- to ourselves. None else was staying.

Gau with a view

We took the ground floor rooms opening out to the river. I put some restraint and didn’t venture out into Yamuna at an odd time. However, Jayakumar and Thulaseedas took it up on themselves to wade through the knee-deep water to reach one of the deltas! It was getting scary, the moon-light had an ethereal element which made the air real and pulsating! The environment turned into an entity with life! As if the whole Nature was trying to convey a secret message to us! I got frightened for no reason. Might be because I couldn’t stand the onslaught of beauty.

I retired into the thick rajai and had a good-night’s sleep.
We woke up early next morning and hit the road by eight.                                                    
The sun was very bright and it was as if the whole Nature got a face-lift. There was no pollution, and all sceneries were picture perfect! Only the landslides made an aberration. On our way to Hanumanchatti, suddenly we were startled by a shriek! Thulaseedas spotted the snow-capped mountains first and couldn’t contain his exhilaration! The jeep was stopped almost simultaneously and we jumped out. It was a village square with an accumulation of a few shops. The place was called  Ranachatty.

We had breakfast from a local joint, watching the snow-capped mountains. Everything was prepared on the spot before our eyes. One could ask any question to the village folks and there would be a polite reply. The customer-friendliness was no marketing strategy. Those villagers were a transparent lot. They seemed to be happy living on essentials. They would never say “no”. Expecting something positive, we pointed towards the snow-capped mountain-top.

Can we set foot on the snow?

Nope. We didn’t stand much of a chance. If we wanted a holiday in snow, we have to come back in Jan exclusively for a freak-out! For six months the whole place would be deserted!

View of Yamuna on the way to Hanumanchatty

The Yamunotri starting point was still 2.5 km off.  The road ended there. One was supposed to trek or travel aboard a mule.  Total of 10 km to be trekked, to & fro with or without the help of mules. It would take a minimum of seven hours.Even before reaching the place, jockeys Arun Sony and his bosom pal Pramod Kumar had jumped onto the foot-board of our jeep! Yet another herd of young jockeys was following! A pony ride which would have fetched them Rs.900 on a normal day was being peddled at less than half the rate! The rates were still coming down. One guy even quoted Rs.300.

This would happen only in a Himalayan village, I thought. Competitors at other tourist-spots would make a secret deal called “ring” and nobody was permitted to under-quote. They are free to fleece the unsuspecting tourist!

We settled for Arun at Rs.400. Both Arun and Pramod were very young, in their late teens perhaps. They had to drop out at tenth standard to make an earning to support their large families. The duo was remarkably intelligent and articulate. Pramod even had a live e-mail account. Ironically, their village, situated 35 km away from Yamunotri was named “Khushi Matt” (Abode of Happiness)!

They had raised enough money and bought two mules, Raja and Rany, six years back, each capable of carrying 150 kg. Raja and Rani have to be pressed into service together, otherwise they would refuse to move. We hired the royal couple, not because we wanted the pony experience but to give their owners a breather.

In a moment’s notice, Arun flipped me atop Raja. I was worried on account of my overbearing 70 kg of body mass. However, I was no match for the slim built, under-nourished pahadi! He instructed me to keep cool and to clutch the hook provided at the lower neck of my carrier. Needless to say, mine was a vice like grip. Frankly, I was scared like hell! The mule was not comfortable with me and it started moving zigzag. The trekking path was narrow with rock on one side and iron railings on the other. On hair-pin bends, I had too many brush with rock projections.  Ha, the pain was intolerable for a few seconds. Anyway, I didn’t get down.

trekking path
At last, Yamunotri became visible! The trekking path was nearing its end. Quite an unassuming temple with River Yamuna gushing out forcefully in front. There was a foot-over bridge and one looked up for the source. Saptarshi Kund, that’s the name, remained out of reach to commoners like us. It required three days of strenuous climbing.

Yamunotri temple and Saptarshi Kund
We dropped the idea and spread ourselves on the cement benches built in front of the temple. The sun was shining bright and the air was fairly crystalline.   Contrary to expectation, the climate was cool! We could have taken bath in the hot-water pond available at the temple but we didn’t feel like getting up. The pond was crowded but that was only an excuse. The sun-rays and the sound of cascaded water flow soothed our nerves and we wanted to lie there watching the sky till the end of our lives!