the Himalayas

the Himalayas
photo R.Jayakumar

Thursday, January 28, 2016



Our next destination was the originating point of yet another river. The Gangotri. Decades back I had set out a similar journey to find the ‘point zero’ of Kaveri River. It was a disappointment in many ways. I had this romantic idea of a fissure on the ground and water gushing out in full force. In reality, Kaveri did a vanishing act for four km from its source. In other words, the origin was not visible. As a consolation, there was a tiny pond and a small hillock. We climbed up three hundred odd steps to have a bird’s eye-view. One could see the curvature of the Earth. Clouds were floating below.

We got ready sufficiently early and waited for Rajan. He was late. As if to make up for the time lost, he stepped on the accelerator. The drive was getting reckless.

Hey Rajan, slow down. We want to reach there in one piece.

No effect. If we had a non-mallu driver, our words would have made an impact.

We watched the river. Ganga was violent. Flowing ferociously in greenish blue. On the way, at Arissil, we saw a huge cantilever bridge built across Ganga by the Border Roads Organisation. 

view from the cantilever bridge across Ganga
The highest altitude bridge of Uttarkhand was an engineering marvel by any standards. Ganga couldn’t show –off further. She was flowing down below throwing her tantrums to the winds!

Our next stop was at Sooraj Kund, famous for its hot springs. We scaled the small hill to reach the spot. Private players were running the show with their swimming pool-like clandestine structures enticing unsuspecting tourists. Hot water was pumped in from the natural springs. We decided to give it a miss. Had a quick breakfast from the road-side joint and pushed-off.

Slowly, apple orchards came into view. Apples, so far seen only in fruit-shops were coming to life in their original habitat. The name of the place was Khelgaon. We stopped the vehicle and decided to steal the fruits. Obviously, the plantation owners were made of better stuff. Their property was well-fenced with barbed wire. We placed ourselves just outside the fence and clicked a few snaps.
A tall man with a rag tied to a bamboo pole was rushing towards us. He was making strange noises and was gesticulating wildly.
We didn’t do anything wrong bhaisaab, just took a couple of photographs, that’s all.
No response! He was deaf and dumb. He was trying to convey the idea that photography caused the apples rot!

We made peace with him in a highly diplomatic maneuver. We were buying apples at Rs.40 per kg. He brought a basketful of apples full of juice and taste. We assured the tall freak that we were sure to come back to buy more apples. (We did).

Back on the road again. And vowed that we would definitely steal Himalayan apples, come hell or high-water!

Thulaseedas at work
We reached at Gangotri.
Luckily, no trek was involved. Vehicles can park outside the temple in the free parking ground. You could walk upto the temple, suffering the bhajans from crude music-systems. Ironically, there wasn’t any sales blitzkrieg! The marketing proposition was shanti! I purchased hookahs, cans to collect gangajal and a packetful of lotus kernels. People at my place would be amazed to see the strange kind of prasad, I mused!

the shanti street
We entered the temple premises. The Gangotri temple was built in marble making us unable to tread under the blazing sun! Everything was red-hot. Only the Pandits moved around unaffectedly under the sun with  dark glasses and kundali. They were peddling Moksha for departed souls. Each one had employed aggressive hookers to coax you to buy Moksha for your dear ones! The wild glee in their eyes is unmistakable !  We found it difficult to reach Ganga criss-crossing the crowd. When we finally did, I had decided to do the ritual by myself. I stepped into Gangotri. (The real source is further upstream). Offering ice-cold gangajal , raising it above my head, I remembered my parents. I recited a shanti mantra.

                                                Let all departed souls, known and unknown, be protected,
                                                Let them be happy,
                                                Let them be nourished by the Ancient One’s radiance,
                                                Let there be no hatred, absolutely no hatred,
                                                Let there be physical well-being,
                                                Let there be mental well-being,
                                                Let no one be stressed by things beyond one’s control,
                                                Let there be peace to all.

Though the mantra was not dedicated to my parents in particular, it was going to make me free.

We returned to our base at Uttarkashi.
No one spoke.

Nearing Uttarkashi, we saw a commotion on the road. Local people mainly consisting of youth in their early twenties were rescuing a boy from the river. He was drenched in blood. Riding a bicycle with his friend sitting behind, he got tripped by cable fallen on the road, lost control and fell into a deep gorge. Ganga was all fury.

Time was late in the evening and the light was receding fast. There was no chance for a rescue operation. All of us were dumbfounded. The boy was lucky as he clutched to a thick bush steadfast.  Whatever happened to his friend? In case he fell into Ganga, he was sure to meet his death.

Let’s go and inform the next police chowky.

In a typical Keralite response, all others vetoed this suggestion.

Why invite trouble? Don’t bother.
I agreed.

Obviously, I too joined the bandwagon.

We sped the scene in full throttle.
However, news traveled ahead of us. The second boy had also been rescued.