the Himalayas

the Himalayas

Thursday, September 24, 2015



If you’ve crossed fifty and still serving, sometimes the urge to prove yourself bothers you like an itch. You have an assortment of diseases, mild to chronic but you have ceased to care, well almost .You are tired of seeing yourself beside the  executive high-back chair of the doctor(s), on a meek stool. Grin and bear it, Boss, that’s your predicament. Still, there exists a small wish-list in mind. Like traveling the length and breadth of India, publishing a book, joining a non-profit organization in the education/health sector..... and the list ends. Does it come through? If yes, it’s fine.  What if it doesn’t? Fine, again. Normally people respond in a different way. My colleague at the Institute used to scale 3500 ft. Ponmudi Motta every year and felt like a victor. See, I can take on this topsy-turvy world any time, he said to himself. See, the rub is still intact, the fire hasn’t subsided.

I didn't  have to prove anything. For no particular reason, I started planning a Himalayan trip. Ten days of quality travel from Delhi, visiting Char Dham in Uttarkhand via the gateway towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh. Who would be the partners, people who are willing to suffer me with my accumulation of oddities? My son Nandu had no other option. Thulaseedas , a much younger colleague had a soft corner for me and I manipulated it to my advantage. The last in the foursome was a 'rebel and a gentleman', Jayakumar. He was a research-fellow who quit the Institute as well as doctorate ambitions when faced with injustice from the authorities.

The first thing we did was to collect maximum info from well-known travel writers. Sadly enough, nobody was willing to offer much help. The response from a (veteran) Himalayan writer was particularly disappointing. In fact, travel makes one less selfish and more lovable. One becomes transparent and forgiving.  I have a feeling that some people just make journeys and write a lot.

At last, help descended as if from nowhere. Shri. Dileep who is coordinating efforts  in solid waste-disposal, prepared a micro plan complete with places of stay, sites to visit, distance to be covered and time taken. Young and unmarried, he makes it to very difficult locations where only professional climbers go.

I could feel the difference between the writer’s and climber’s approach. A climber is rather focused.

a rudraksha vendor by the Ganga
We had booked our Railway tickets well in advance from Delhi to Haridwar and back  with ten days’ space in between.  This saved us a lot of worries. Before daybreak we were at Haridwar, journeying six hours and thrown suddenly into an entirely different realm. People squatted everywhere, cows etc. moved around unconcerned while house-flies enjoying a free-for-all. At every nook and corner of the town!. Since Dileep had already booked a room at the Ayyappa temple, situated less than a kilometer away from Haridwar railway station, we didn’t have to worry about boarding & lodging. The temple was built in the sixties by Shri.Krishnan Namboothiri of Payyannoor. The Satram which can boast of AC deluxe rooms is annexed later. More often than not, a Saptaham goes on there and you’re in luck. Excellent vegetarian fare, hot& soft iddlis with matching sambar are served free. You don’t have to sit in the discourse hall either, listening to Bhagavatham in Sanskrit.  That’s an advantage! I asked Vishnu Namboothiri, the priest-cum-manager of the temple complex why he couldn’t manage the discourse. Visitors from Kerala bring their own Yajnacharya and listen to him in the special ambiance of Haridwar.

Vishnu is young and honest. He said he was not taught the sacred book.

breakfast by the daybreak

Our transport was also arranged by the Namboothiri. Tavera jeep driven by its owner Rajan Nair for Rs.3000/- per day had already been fixed. Rajan was yet to make an appearance. Meanwhile I went out for a walk. Barring the ubiquitous temples, Haridwar is just like any other North Indian town. The whole place is active before daybreak. Breakfast is ready and waiting in road-side stalls with a few plastic stools spread over the already cramped road. There are several takers too, for samosas and vada-pav. However, the dirt neutralizes the appetite. We had been given several regimes in managing food in Uttarakhand and the most important one was to avoid exotic food. Use only kiln fresh, hot, alu-porathas and if it is not available, go for chappathis. Ask for curd and no major dishes. Green chilies are served free. Onion is a costly affair these days and you must order for green salad to make up for its absence. This is on the assumption that you have brought several types of achchar from home.  Otherwise, try to be comfortable with its desi versions. Carry a bit of butter too. If the achchar plan crashes, you can still survive!

waiting for customers
Have you been to any Maharastrian city during the Ganesh Festival? One gets the same kind of annoyance visiting Haridwar. Loud music is criss-crossing in the air from umpteen temples. A baritone voice declares a name and the donation he made to a particular temple followed by the never-ending list of his relatives.The idea was to share the punya earned!

The river Ganga flows in fury and people are making desperate attempts to take a dip. A very difficult task indeed! The water is ice-cold. The current is rather strong. Iron chains suitable for elephants are provided throughout the river bank. In a frenzy people hold on to it, men and women, splash water on their bodies and make a quick exit!

No heavy rush, anywhere.

The tragedy two years back has taken its toll. Traffic regulation on a hourly basis is no more in force. One can walk in and get a room at discounted rate any time. However, the roads are still  in bad shape.At some places, one can see only the remaining half!  The other half had been washed away! Bridges too! If it rains, you're in for trouble.