There were two places that Mamatha had missed out and wanted to visit in Uttarakhand: Trayambakeswar temple in Rishikesh and Badrinarayan temple in Badrinath. There were three things that I had missed out and wanted to complete in Uttarakhand; Valley of flowers trek, Visiting the spot where Jim Corbett killed the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag and tasting the world famous Himalayan Golden Mahseer fish.
I booked a round trip again from Bangalore to Dehradun for July 2nd. This time around, Anil had come with Sonu to receive us at Dehradun airport. Sonu had shaved off his beard but his trouser remained at the same place; a few inches below his crotch the sight of which I was accustomed to by now.
Mamatha and I were sitting at the back side of the Toyota Cresta with Sonu and Anil in the front.
“So, what is the program Anil?” I asked.
“We will stay today at Rishikesh where Ma’am will do her Darshan at Trayambekaswar temple. Tomorrow we will spend the day in Rudraprayag. From there we will go to Valley of flowers directly and while coming back visit Badrinath and Jim Corbett memorial and then return to Dehradun with two-night halts in between which we can decide later” he blurted out.
“Sounds Good!” I said.
The lodge at Rishikesh where Anil took us was right in the heart of Rishikesh township and looked decent. Our room was on the first floor and the room was clean but very basic. The Ganges was flowing in between the Triyambekeswar temple on the other side and the township.
The view of Pilgrims carrying out rituals, a few locals washing clothes, the loud devotional song coming from across the flowing river and people walking over Laxman Jula bridge made it difficult for me to connect with the ultimate reality, the essence of which was supposedly conceptualized along the banks of this great river. I went back inside deciding to worship the bed instead.
I accompanied Mamatha for her temple visit and as usual, got grilled by her for my indifference and lack of respect or reverence for temples and idol worshipping. I returned to the room more convinced of the absence of spirituality in temples, the nature of sycophancy behind oblations to the almighty, fear rather than love behind worship and revenues more important than reverence at holy places. I returned to the lodge a much more enlightened man in this regard.
We left for Rudraprayag the next morning.
“What is the program now?” Mamatha asked as soon as the engine started.
“To the resort in Gharwal first Madam. It will take about Five hours” he said
“Where is it?” she asked him.
“It is located close to Rudraprayag on the banks of Alaknanda river” he said and continued ‘it very rustic with few modern facilities available’ he said.
“There are separate places for sleeping and peeing right?” I asked him.
“Haan” he said bending his head to his right which was his style of affirming.
“Then what is rustic about it?” I asked him. He was silent.
“Will we get to go to the place where Jim Corbett killed the man-eater? I believe even the 110 year old tree from which he shot the Leopard id still there?”
“No Sir. That we will visit while going to Badrinath after our Valley of flowers trek since his memorial is in a different direction though it is in Rudraprayag” he said.
We spent the next couple of hours listening to Fateh Ali Khan’s melodies driving through the magical Himalayan Mountains and admiring the incredible landscapes through our windows.
Rishikesh ,Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri are the four sites that form the soul edifying holy destinations of all Hindus known as “Char Dham”. Hindus believe that visiting these shrines helps attain “Moksha”(salvation). The mere mention of these names makes pious Hindus automatically express reverence internally by closing their eyes and do “Namaste”. But few are aware that the mere mention of its name struck terror in pilgrims’ hearts exactly a century ago because of big Cat. Much to my spiritual bafflement Pilgrimages and mass death often go alongside (remember the stampede at Mecca in 2015 that killed 2000 or the Kumbh Mela stampede that killed 4 in 2013?). 125 pilgrims were killed and devoured by a man eating leopard while on their Char DhamYatra(Journey) in Rudraprayag. Jim Corbett ultimately killed the beast in 1926.
At around 1 in the afternoon Anil pointed to a dusty old painting and said “we have arrived”.
‘Shivastal’ was the name of the resort and Sharan was the owner who personally received us at the entrance. The approach to his resort demanded a mini trek of sorts climbing down a trail of about 400 feet that was so steep that Mamatha tripped twice and I had to be extra careful not to fall into the ravine and get another holy immersion in the river below. But once we reached the resort there was a sudden rush of adrenaline in me. The resort was like a secret hide out in the midst of a thick forest with the river Alaknanda flowing majestically just a few meters away from the resort. It was a spectacular setting.
With long parted hair, a fair complexion, tall frail looking frame and a voice that gave away his years of marijuana smoking, Sharan looked more like a reluctant victim of circumstances who had converted his place of dwelling after worldly renunciation into a resort than a passionate businessman running a hospitality business.
“Sharan’s kids”, Anil said pointing to the two little girls swimming in the mini swimming pool as we walked by the riverside towards our rooms. Just the kids along with a young man in the pool on a working week day conclusively established in my ever-presuming mind that the kids were playing at home instead of going to a school and obviously without a mother.
“You and your ever judging and assuming mind” Mamatha said caustically when I blurted out my Sherlockian analysis of the marital affairs of our commercial host. “She must have gone out to get groceries. Besides it is none of your goddamn business” she said as we approached our room that turned out to be a cottage.
The cottage looked solid and the interiors pretty clean and there was a staircase indicating that there was a room above too. The bathroom was just basic enough to get the job done.
“There is no room service” said the twenty plus something “and there is no room lock”.
“Oh I see” I said.
The setting of the resort was surreal with the river running majestically right by the side of the resort. Sharan spent an hour explaining how we were right in the heart of Rudraprayag, setting of Jim Corbett’s great book “Man Eating Leopard of Rudraparyag” and that it was a right decision to visit Jim Corbette memorial on our way to Dehradun from Gangaria. After our siesta we went outside and sat on the boulders with the running river under our feet. It was around five in the evening. The view of the thick forest on the other side of the river had a wild and intimidating effect on my mind.
“Sir we have to leave very early tomorrow. We have a full day of drive to Govindghat from where we have to take a helicopter to Gangaria for the valley of flowers trek” said Anil approaching me and choosing not to sit. “Sir, please ask Sonu to be ready by 6 in the morning ” he said.
“You are the one sleeping with him in the same room and you are asking me?” I said. He smiled sheepishly. “Sir, Sharan asked me to take you to a mandir in the jungle about a mile from here where a tiger just killed and dragged a cow a week ago” he said hoping that I would say no due to the scorching sun. I got up at once and said “come we are going there right now”.
“Haan” Anil said cocking his head.
“Carry on Mohan. I won’t come” said Mamatha. We walked along the bank full of stone pebbles for about fifteen minutes and came across a Mandir that had been carved out from the base of the ridge to our right. I carefully examined the ground for any drag marks or blood stains but found nothing. The view was incredibly spectacular with a density of trees that I have rarely seen. There was Yogi sitting bare-chested in lotus position on a boulder across the other side of the river and was appearing to be meditating, After spending a few minutes we returned to the resort.
We left promptly at 6 the next morning. “I am dying to see the valley of flowers. I have heard so much about it” said Mamatha as she settled in the back seat of the Cresta.
“Yes. Me too” I lied since I was wondering if I could get to taste the world famous Himalayan Mahseer fish on our way to Valley of flowers.
“Sir, we will be approaching the Devprayag where there Alaknanada and Bagarathi rivers join together” Anil and said. After driving for about 20 minutes, Sonu slowed down at a place that appeared like a viewpoint. We got down and I saw something that I had never seen in my life earlier. Two rivers, one green and another light brown making an incredible contrast of colors.
In Sanskrit, Devaprayag means ‘holy confluence’. At Devprayag, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers meet to form Ganga. The Bhagirathi river begins from Gangotri and the Alaknanda river begins from Badrinath, both of which are pilgrimage destinations for Hindus over the world. Devprayag is the last Prayag of the Alaknanda.
“Incredible experience, thanks Anil. Where next?” Mamatha asked closing the door.
“Gangaria, straight” he said.The scenery through the Himalayan Mountains all along the 8-hour drive was a relaxing mental massage. We had to wait for an hour for our Helicopter to take us to Gangaria from Govindghat. It was around 5 in the evening by the time we reached Gangaria with Sonu staying back with his van at Govindghat.
“It is a breed of the famous Tibetan Mastif” said Gautam, Anil’s friend and our trekking guide stroking the neck of a good looking dog. “They protect our sheep from wolves and Leopards” he said. I had heard about Tibetan Mastiffs and had imagined to be a huge dog. But this breed appeared different.
No sooner had I got into the camp to eagerly open my mini Chivas when I heard Mamatha shouting excitedly “Mohan, Mohan, come here quickly”. I ran outside and joined her at the far corner of the pathway leading to our tent watching at a Himalayan bear climbing the meadows on the mountain right across our camp.
Gautam was an expert on flowers and claimed to know more than a hundred different species of flowers from the valley the black Himalayan bear appeared like a black bug climbing the peak covered with meadows across our tent.
Our trek started at 7 in the morning and Within a few minutes of our trek we came across a large opening; “this is made by a bear” said Gautam as Anil crept inside and stood in the tall wide crevice.
Gautam stopped and showed us a rare Orchid that he said he himself had heard about but not seen, a bear’s dugout in the trunk of a large tree, many many wonderfully smelling flowers including Gearanium,Syringa, Rose.
“Blue Poppy” he said when I asked him about the bushes with blue flowers. The trek is moderate with patches of a few rugged terrains that limit your speed if you are not fit. It is a must for every nature lover and heaven for every flower, tree and fragrance loving individual. Perched at an altitude of 4,389 m, the valley is home to endangered animals, including the brown bear, blue sheep, Asiatic black bear and snow leopard.
We returned to our camp by 4 in the evening. I loved the 6-mile hike totally delighted by the variety of trees, the incredible fairy-tale streams and the fragrance in the air.
I was now more eager than ever to return to Rudraprayag and visit the land of the man-eater of Rudraprayag.
This notorious man-eater leopard with 125 recorded kills is described by Corbett in his book “as an exceptionally intelligent and tough sport. The desperately hungry big cat can reportedly dig through mud and thatch walls of the huts and break open the latch of the door in the night to hunt down its human prey. The stalking predator could kill and walk away with its prey in his sleep without waking anyone in the house”.
There was also a huge reward on its head, and many tried in vain until Jim Corbett was called in to get the job done. This elusive big cat outplayed Corbett on numerous occasions in unimaginable ways and the narration of his hunting is beautifully described in his book, “The man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag.” The leopard, on its fateful day, in a village called Golabrai, over two miles from Rudraprayag, was shot down by Corbett ending the eight-year gruesome rampage of the famous man-eater.
I literally got goosebumps as I went to the spot where the tree from the top of which Jim Corbett had killed the beast. I spent half an hour roaming around the location and left the place. The picture shown below is not for the faint-hearted!
Our drive back from Govindghat to Badrinath took seven hours with Sonu ignoring and driving past a Maruthi Car that had just toppled over and stuck at a small ravine by the roadside, much to my bewilderment saying ”This keeps happening here all the time” as if it was a routine.
Situated amidst the sprawling snow-capped Himalayan Mountains, “Sarovar” the hotel where we checked in was just 10 mins walk from Badrinath temple and the only hotel in Badrinath with comfortable and convenient accommodation to all guests. Badrinarayan temple is situated along the Alaknanda river, in the hill town of Badrinath in Uttarakhand. It is one of the holiest Hindu temples and is dedicated to god Vishnu. The temple and town are one of the four Char Dham and Chota Char Dham pilgrimages. sites.
Anil, Mamatha and I visited the temple with Sonu opting out. Mamatha’s wish got fulfilled but mine hadn’t since I had not yet tasted Himalayan Golden Mahseer.
We visited the last village of India Mana, a small village of say 600 odd population a couple of Kilometres from Badrinath. Actually, it is at the far end of North Eastern Uttarakhand where India touches the border of Tibet.
There are two caves; Locals claim that Mahabharat was written here, by Lord Ganesha, in collaboration with and as narrated by Rishi Ved Vyas. The two caves are called Vyas Gufa and Ganesh Gufa situated very close to each other.
It was around noon when we left Badrinath and Anil had promised me the previous evening that he would take me to a restaurant on the way to Mussoorie that was located right next to the running Alaknanda river and that they caught Himalayan Mahseer right in front of our eyes from the river and served the dish fresh.
Mamatha’s two wishes and my three earthly desires were totally fulfilled.
I was smiling. I was smiling at nothing and I started to wonder why the hell I was smiling. Then it occurred to me. I had spent the last six days listening to sound of flowing Ganges, completed the Valley of flowers trek and seen my childhood hero’s place.
Since December 2015 when Mamatha and I went to Himalayas, we had visited the Himalayas five times already. I had gone to the genesis of mother Ganges and its various tributaries, saw the upper range of Himalayas and the incredible variety of of flowers, animals & Herbs.
And yet it feels like this entire lifetime isn’t enough to visit every place that Himalayas have.
We reached Mussoorie in the evening and after Mamatha shopped for an hour and decided finally not to buy anything except some popcorn, we returned to our hotel to leave for Dehradun to catch our morning flight the next day.
I think I am now addicted to the Himalayas.