OM NAMAH SHIVAYA: A TRIP TO KEDARNATH
Om Namah Shivaya. It was my first mantra that I learned. I do not remember any valid reason for learning the chant. Maybe, because it was easy to remember. All I know is that from a very early age, I had an inclination towards Lord Shiva. The stories which I had read and heard from my elders carved a very positive image of Lord Shiva. His personality is considered to be very understanding, forgiving, beguiling but mysterious. Those traits and more pulled me to have deep faith in him.
It was the year when I had given final year exams of my Bachelor’s Degree. Since there was still lots of time for the results to come, we visited our grandparents. When we reached there we planned to go on a pilgrimage. We decided to pay our homage to Kedarnath. As most of you are aware that Kedarnath is one of the main pilgrimage places in India situated in the Himalayas. Located in the Rudraprayag district of Uttaranchal, it is one of the 12 Jyotir-lingams found in our country. It holds the highest place among the four pilgrimage destinations in Uttarakhand. The temple is closed during winters as the road is blocked due to snowfall. With the offset of summers, the gates of the temple are opened as the snow melts.
Luckily, our summer vacations perfectly coincided with the timings and we booked an SUV of one of my cousins for the trip. On the day of our journey, I accompanied my paternal grandparents, my maternal grandmother, my uncle, my father and sister along with my cousin. We started early in the morning to avoid the traffic and also because we wanted to cover as much distance as we could on the first day. Our goal was to reach Gaurikund, the last stop till where the vehicles are allowed to go. After Gauri Kund, there is a trek of 14km till we reach the main holy shrine of Kedarnath. It is not accessible by vehicles and you can cover the distance by walk, ponies or palanquins.
Since we had started our journey quite early, we reached our required destination by late evening with one stop for lunch. Initially, the route had these small towns and villages, but then as we started moving uphill, the natural scenery became beautiful by every passing minute. On the sloping side of the road, there were tall green conifers lined up. Jungles of pine trees and deodar started filling the empty spaces in the mountains. The smell of the pine trees was in the air.
We could see shepherds taking their sheep and goats for grazing to the meadows. We crossed many small villages at regular intervals. As we went higher and higher the air became cooler. The roads started having more bends and the visibility became less as the clouds started swirling all around us. That was the first time I had seen such a mesmerizing scene in my life. It looked like a scene straight out from a fairy tale – Green grass, bushes and trees all around you and white clouds floating so close that you can touch them. As if this wasn’t enough, it started drizzling slowly. The raindrops fallen on the leaves looked like small shiny gems. It was such a breath-taking sight and we were enjoying thoroughly. Among us, I think it was only the driver who didn’t like this whole scenario as drizzling and clouds had decreased the visibility considerably.
So we reached Gaurikund by late evening and after having an early dinner we went to our rooms to rest. I and my sister were very excited about the journey coming up next day. We slept early as we needed to wake up by 4 in the morning.
Next morning we were awake on time and went for a dip in Gauri Kund. The pool has a warm water due to the hot springs in that area. After taking a quick bath we started our journey at around 5 in the morning. We were about 6500 feet above sea level. The weather was cold but not freezing. Along with many other devotees, we started the walk. We had hired palanquins for our grandparents. I was walking with my father, uncle, sister and cousin. The trekking path was quite crowded early in the morning as well. On one side there was the mountainous terrain and on the other side, River Mandakini was flowing with full gusto. It was magnificent. As two hours passed, I started feeling a little tired. I felt weak as I hadn’t eaten anything since morning. I think the altitude and the odd hours of waking up were doing a number on my body.
I tried to fight through the fatigue but it seems I wasn’t strong enough. My sister, uncle, and cousin had gone ahead of me. I looked ahead to find my father, who was sitting to catch his breath, at the corner of the path. As I started moving towards him, my vision suddenly turned black and I lost consciousness. I woke up with the sounds of people around me, ‘The girl has fainted. Rub her hands, rub her feet.’ With my vision returning, I saw my father supporting my head and some elderly woman rubbing my feet to make them warm. One gentleman gave me sips of water and then a candy was popped in my mouth. As if seeing that small crowd around me wasn’t embarrassing enough, I saw my sister looking down at me with an expression which screamed ‘Huh! Can’t even walk this much also. Always causing trouble!!!’
After convincing everyone that I was well, I sat with my father on the side of the path till other people went away on their journey. My father made me ride a pony as he was not confident about me walking all the way. Ten minutes later, I was on my way to the temple, riding on a white pony. I felt too embarrassed to ride the pony when all the other young members of my family were walking. Anyways, being on a pony helped me cover a lot of distance in a short period of time. Soon I was on my own among the strangers. The landscape around me was beautiful. Trees and bushes were growing out of the valley where Mandakini was roaring and fuming, churning its water into white foam. The freshness in the air was contagious and soon I started feeling better. Although there were many natural springs flowing at regular intervals which made the path a little slippery, overall it was quite pleasant.
As we climbed to greater heights, the path became more treacherous. Soon we reached the mid-point of the trek where there were few shops for the pilgrims to rest and have food. As I reached I saw my cousin and uncle sitting there waiting for us. They had climbed the slopes of mountains directly when we were going around the bends of the trekking path. As we three waited for everyone else to arrive, we saw my grandparents coming in the palanquins. Soon after, I saw someone coming on a grey pony and I burst out laughing. My sister was riding that pony. Now the ball was in my court and I didn’t miss the opportunity to tease her to my heart’s content. My father was just behind her and he told us that she also started feeling dizzy after a while and so he had to hire the pony for her as well. Well, who was the troublemaker now?
After having lunch there, we continued our journey. Now as my sister was riding beside me, the journey was more enjoyable. Soon we could see the signs pointing that the temple was nearby. After an hour or so just after another bend the path led into one of the most beautiful valleys I ever saw in my life. Till now the path was narrow, wedged between mountain walls and a steep fall towards the river, but now the path was amidst the green meadows with snow-clad mountains at a distance. It was so enchanting which cannot be described in words.
We reached the place where all ponies and palanquins were supposed to be left behind. The rest of the path was to be covered by foot. The temple was in front of us. We got freshened up and purchased offerings for the temple. The line of the devotees was too long. As we joined the queue we looked around to absorb the natural beauty surrounding us. We were at 11000 feet above sea level amidst a landscape which can be admired by the few fortunate people blessed by Lord Shiva. It was an untouched and raw beauty of nature. I felt so overwhelmed standing there, seeing people of every caste and region, waiting together for getting one glimpse of Mahadev.
Every now and then the chants of Om Namah Shivaya and Har Har Mahadev resonated in the air. The air felt so positive with the energy of those chants. On that day, I felt the power of faith. It is said Faith can move mountains and I firmly believe in it. I could see many elderly people who could not even walk properly or were bent over due to age standing in the line waiting for their turn. It was their faith, their belief in the almighty which gave them the strength to stand there for so many hours.
After a while, our turn came to enter the holy shrine and we went inside. People were all over the place paying homage to Nandi-the carrier of Lord Shiva and then entering the temple. The first thing which I saw as I entered the main chamber were the pillars. They were completely black but so solid that I could feel their strength just by touching them. I approached the place where the Shivlinga was situated. As said in the stories of the origin of Kedarnath, it really looked like a hump of the bull. It was adorned with rose petals and Bel Patra. Touching the Shivlinga which is so ancient is a feeling in itself. Paying my offerings to the lord, I came out of the chamber and from the temple.
After spending a little time in the premises of the temple we returned to the place where we had left our ponies and palanquins. We took many photographs of our beautiful surroundings. River Mandakini was flowing very close as its origin is very near to the temple. Climbing the ponies we started our journey back. It was past noon and the clouds had started gathering. The owner of the pony asked all of us to make haste because if it started raining the path could become slippery. The palanquin bearers started off quickly and we followed them. My cousin, uncle, and father who were on foot were a little ahead of us.
The thing is that we were riding the ponies for the first time in our life and that too on such a tricky path. When we were ascending the slope, the guy leading the ponies had instructed us to bend forward a little to help maintain the balance. We had followed those instructions easily. But as we descended we were instructed to keep our body weight backward. Now picture this – the pony is descending on a path which is getting wet due to the drizzle; we are the new riders who have to keep our body weight on the backside so that the pony doesn’t lose its balance; the pony’s reins are in the hands of the guy walking along with us and we are only at the mercy of its mane which we have gripped tightly; the pony itself is a little jumpy because it’s losing its footing on the cobblestones and debris lying on the path, which is causing us to instinctively grip the pony tightly with our legs. This was our position for whole 14 km till we reached Gaurikund. (That day, we both sisters literally fell on our beds as we couldn’t fold our legs, the cramps being so unbearable.)
Throughout the descent, I was continuously chanting Om Namah Shivaya. I don’t remember praying for so long and so fervently, ever again in my life as I did on that day. Maybe my prayers were accepted and we all reached to our rooms safely. But we were quite late to reach our place and all the food stalls nearby had closed for the day. We were hungry, more like starving. My father, uncle, and my cousin were looking for other options or shops which could provide something to eat but all in vain. It seems Lord Shiva was watching over us because there was a big group from Karnataka who was staying in the same motel as ours and was cooking food at that time. They came to know of our situation and immediately welcomed us to have dinner with them.
I have not forgotten the taste of that food till date. We were rendered speechless with their gesture and were so grateful to those people that our thanks were just not enough. Those strangers were really godsend. We had never met each other, didn’t even know how to communicate with them other than few words of Hindi and English as they were more proficient in Kannada. The only thing which they reciprocated with equal fervor was ‘Om Namah Shivaya’.
And that is how our trip to Kedarnath, with the continuous blessings of Bholenath, came to an end.
Do you have such memorable trips? Please share them in the comment section below
This blog post is part of #A2ZChallenge. My theme for the year 2018 is Memories. This post is for letter ‘O’.