Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Char Dham Yatra In Garhwal Himalayas

Mt. Neelkanth, Badrinath
(Recounting Char Dham Yatra package tour in summer of 2006)

Day 1
In early morning, GMVNL Bharatbhoomi complex at Rishikesh was abuzz with activity. Fifteen tourists arrived last night to undertake 11 days and 11 nights package tour to Kedar, Badri, Gangotri, Yamunotri and Gaumukh. Sanjay, my trek mate, from Mumbai, and I had a strange company from midnight, in the name of Mr. S.K.Sinha.

GMVNL Rishikesh
At 8 am we trouped inside a 27 seat bus which will take us to our destinations in the coming days. Inside the bus, Negi the guide, welcomed us all and gave an introduction to all the places we would be visiting for the next eleven days. The bus started its upward climb and was soon into the mountains. Negi a good narrator went on with his tales from mythology and significance of various Himalayan shrines. At 10 am we arrived at a place called Agrakhal(5000'), a typical one street town of Uttarakhand, with a dozen shops and half a dozen of dhabas thrown in, offering a panoramic view of Shivalik mountain range. While Sanjay dug into his Alu Parathas, I ventured out for some photo opportunities.

Sanjay at Agrakhal

By 1 pm we arrived at Uttarkashi, one of the few well developed towns of Uttarakhand. At air-cooled restaurant Bhandari's, we had a tasty vegetarian meal consisting of rice, chapati, dal, vegetable and curd. Our further journey commenced amidst singing of Bhajans by some of our pious co-tourists. Mr.Pratip Sen, who arrived alone from Kolkata and sat in seat no.1 was not amused! As we reached higher altitudes, so also the Bhajan singers rising crescendo. We crossed over Ganga Valley and switched over to Yamuna valley. Ganga and Yamuna are the two most sacred rivers of India and nurture most of the northern part of the country. They have their origins in Uttarakhand, which we would be visiting in coming days.
Yamuna Valley

The Yamuna River winds serpentine manner through densely covered vegetations in the valley. The terraced fields growing paddy and wheat are all lush green. As we reached higher altitudes, the weather became cooler. It was a great relief, with planes simmering at 40 degrees. By evening when we reached Sayana-chatti (6000'), a scenic spot on the bank of river Yamuna, it definitely became chilly.  The tourists were given an ordinary double room with common bath facilities in GMVNL guest house.

Yamuna at Sayana-chatti
 Near the guest house there is a steel bridge over roaring river Yamuna. The rain made it pretty slushy near the guest house. The dinner was again a simple affair in one of those Dhabas nearby. We packed up for next day’s 10 km to and fro trek to Yamunotri.   

Day 2
At 6 am we resumed our onward journey by bus to go to Hanuman-chatti, a distance of 5 km. Our bus had to negotiate a bumpy, dusty track constituting of grey coloured gravel and dust. After good bone jarring 45 minutes later, we were at GMVNL Hanuman-chatti (7000'). We placed our surplus luggage in cloak room and kept a small back pack containing essentials for the Yamunotri trek. Beyond Hanuman-chatti, the track is even worse and has to be negotiated by shared jeep, to reach Janaki-chatti, a distance of 7 km, as early as possible, for resuming trek to Yamunotri. The jeep ride was possibly the worst in my life. The sideways seats on back portion of jeep were slanted and I had tough time to keep myself on it. After half an hour ride which seems like eternity, we managed to reach Janaki-chatti by 8 am. 

The hunger pangs made us to reach kitchen of  GMVNL guest house in post haste. Hot cup of tea and Alu Parathas did wonders for our battered limbs and lift our spirits for the 10 km to and fro Yamunotri trek. Janakichatti is at 8,500 ft and Yamunotri at 10,800 ft; which means we ascend 2,300 ft traversing a distance of 5 km. It was twenty three years ago when I went to Yamunotri; then it was18 km to and fro trek with gentle slopes. 

Trek from Janki-chatti
  A walking stick purchased for rupees ten and a small back pack consisting of water bottle, a Mirinda bottle, a digicam, was all with which I commenced my trek. Sanjay my trek mate and ten years junior sets up a brisk pace. I took my time in negotiating 1 km of gentle slope of cement paved track, savouring the mountainside. It was tough task avoiding mules and palkies coming from either side. After walking another half a kilometre, I forgot to pickup my walking stick after some photo shooting, and it was gone! In mountains, the walking stick gives you the extra support and eases stress on your leg muscles. As I progress, the road became steeper, the gradients became forty five degrees at some of the places. The irregular shaped stones and boulders protruding on the road, make foot hold that much more difficult. The whole body is becoming bathed in sweat even at an altitude of 10,000 ft. We pass by a red coloured temple where some of the yatris take a break and pay obeisance.

Enroute Yamunotri
 When we are about 500m from Yamunotri town, the entire landscape of the holy town was evident. I have taken some three hours to negotiate 5 km. A sea change was observed from what I have seen 23 years ago when I visited the same place! I compared a printed copy of my previous trip to compare with the view of present one. 

Yamunotri View

Arriving at the bazaar at the entry to the temple compound, numerous shops provided all kind of provisions, a few dhabas for famished yatris. We entered the temple compound. The glacier on left side of hot springs was gone; instead Yamuna cascades down at furious speeds crashing over rocks. (The source of river Yamuna is 1 km from this place and the place is unreachable due to steepness of the hill). The glacier has retreated by some 6 km, I was told. A new temple has come up near the two hot springs. In one, the pilgrims took bath; the other has boiling water, where pilgrims cook rice and dal by wrapping it inside cloth and hanging it into the boiling water. The cooked stuff is taken as prasad. The bazaar has a lot of new shops and most importantly there are too many people visiting the shrine these days.

I happen to meet a Gujarati NRI gentleman from New Jersey who came with a group of five and laboured to reach their revered Yamuna-mata shrine. I profusely complement him for taking this arduous journey on foot bereft of kind of amenities he is used to in affluent West. On the way to temple I meet Sanjay. He has reached Yamunotri an hour earlier. The temple place is teeming with people. Some were taking bath in hot springs, yet some taking bath in the river Yamuna. I was content to have darshan and some photo shooting. The light refreshment at one of the dhaba was a tame affair; just to get our batteries charged. The downward trek back to Yamunotri was somewhat difficult due to the steep slope. Two hours later at 2 pm we reach Janaki-chatti. Thus I completed the Yamunitri trek twice in 23 years. After a vegetarian meal at the guest house, afternoon was spent in the lawn of guest house basking in sunshine and soaking in scenic beauty of surrounding majestic Himalayas. The adda with Sanjay and Sen and other co-tourists was absorbing. Tomorrow 6 am we have to depart for Gangotri.

Day 3
We retraced from Janaki-chatti to Hanuman-chatti by jeep. This time the jeep ride was far more comfortable. At Hanuman-chatti we picked up our luggage and boarded the bus which will take us to Gangotri by evening. For breakfast we have a break at Dharali which is one street town. The town is surrounded by snow capped hills. On one side we have, on the hill, a cluster of houses on slopes with a beautiful replica of Gangotri temple.

View from Dharali
 Thereafter many hours of bus ride make us travel weary and we make our way to Gangotri town by evening. Gangotri is a bustling town, with flowing Bhagirathi (also referred as Ganga) and the Gangotri temple being the main pilgrim attractions. The huge influx of pilgrim make the eateries and shops do a brisk business. The old GMVNL guest house was a huge disappointment. There was no running water. We manage to freshen up with stored water and report in time for evening aarti at the Gangotri temple, which is near the guest house.

Gangotri Temple
 For dinner we have a simple meal at a nearby Dhaba and prepare to separate our luggage for next day’s arduous trek to Gaumukh which is the source of river Ganges (Bhagirathi). With the experience gained from Yamunotri trek we decided, not to carry any back pack for Gaumukh trek but hire a 'pittoo' ( porter )to carry them. This will make us tire less and conserve our energy. 
Day 4
I freshen up with whatever amenities we are offered and had a light breakfast. Our guide Negi manages to strike a good bargain with 'pittoo' Dinesh to carry 4 back packs for Rs.350 for two days Gaumukh trek. We started the upward climb going through a mud track, before we hit our trail to Chirwasa which is 9 km away. The deep gorges cradling the river Bhagirathi keeps a constant company. The snow peak of Shivling was crystal clear in bright sunny weather against the backdrop of cloudless blue sky. At 10,000 ft altitude, the sun can be pretty harsh on the exposed skin. Taking my wind-cheater off the sweaty body; I proceed at my own pace.  The trekking season was just beginning in early May. There was only one wayside stall, selling tea, snacks, mineral water and soft drinks. I have a Mirinda bottle; from which I am taking sips from time to time.

 We reached Chirwasa also called Chidwasa after 4 hours of trek. Chirwasa consists of very few houses and is full of chir (pine) trees; in fact it can be called 'alpine grandeur'. The Bhagirathi peak seen between pine trees made lovely sight. A lot of tourists were trekking or riding horses returning from Gaumukh; most had exposed part of skin reddish. At high altitude ultraviolet radiation from sun takes its toll. Our pittoo spots a group of Bharals and asks me to photograph them. (Bharal is also called 'blue sheep', but they are neither blue, nor a sheep. They are a cross between a sheep and a goat).

Our second destination Bhojwasa is some 5 km away. We crossed three make shift wooden bridges over mountain streams. The bridges are either two logs placed side by side or a ladder kept horizontally over the stream. It was somewhat scary! After two hours of trek we sight Bhojwasa.  From top we see Bhojwasa as three cluster of house. GMVNL guest house, Lal Baba's Ashram and a shelter for porters and pony-wallas make up the dwellings. We are scheduled to spend tonight at GMVNL guest house. For time being we bypass Bhojwasa.

Bhojwasa View
After trekking for 14 km in blazing sun, I felt a mild headache. That was a bad sign. I had another 8 km of trekking to do before I called it a day at Bhojwasa. Bhojwasa is situated at 12,500 ft and Gaumukh at 12,960 ft. though the ascent is not much but the trail leaves much to be desired. The narrow track and lack of any vegetation makes it a bleak country. There are huge boulders of various sizes unevenly scattered across the terrain. On one side there is hill and on the other side deep gorge. At some places the track is blocked by loose dry soil falling down the slopes of the hill. But it is more than made up by the majestic Bhagirathi peak and Shivling peak. The Bhagirathi river gets narrower as we approached the source. The water is brownish grey in colour carrying a lot of silt with it. Two km from the source we came across a makeshift Shiva temple, without roof.

Make-shift Temple
Our pittoo who is with me throughout is particularly helpful in the last part of the journey. When we were struggling with our trek, pittoo was carrying all our backpacks and singing and walking with ease. Such is the adaptability of these mountain people. When finally we arrived at the Gaumukh zero point, glacier and cave is some 1 km away. The glacier above Gaumukh (cow's mouth) is actually grey in colour with so much of mud and dust collected over it for decades. A narrow stream emerging from the snout in form of Bhagirathi river. Now onwards the trail is just 18 inches and most of the places there is no trail. I came as close to 300m and got a reasonably good view of Gaumukh. Pittoo went to Bahgirathi stream to collect some 'Ganga Jal'.

Gaumukh View

 On return trek I come across a lot of foreigners, greeting us with 'namaste'. This is one Hindi word their guide must have taught them. The foreigners seems to outnumber resident Indians in trekking this side of Garhwal Himalayas; such is the aura of river Ganges and its source, across the world.

Gaumukh Close-up
 By the time I reach Bhojwasa in evening, my headache increased. I just dived into the bed of our tented accommodation. There are 8 beds in the tent. Myself, Sanjay and Sen occupying three and rest by foreigners. The amenities are bare minimum at the guest house with no running water. How these 'whites' manage it  in these situations is a mystery to me. It is 5 pm by now. We have walked today 22 km, for the duration of nearly 10 hours. Badly needed rest for a couple of hours. When I am ready to go for dinner, I just could not move. All my leg muscles became so sore and painful. Every movement was agonising. With great difficulty I dragged myself to canteen. The dinner is simple Chapati and sabzi. Before going to bed I am in a dilemma for next day’s    14 km trek to Gangotri; whether to take a horse or trek it. Trekking appeared rather a very remote possibility with today’s exhausting experience.

Day 5
I got up early with a headache. However the soreness in leg muscles was gone. Had some tea and biscuits and took a painkiller for the headache. Within half an hour, I was feeling better and decided to take 14 km trek back to Gangotri. I wanted to take it easy since we were scheduled to leave for Bhatwari only at 3 pm. I had for company this time of Sabnis couple. Once again we had to cross those creaky wooden ladders across the streams.

Make-shift Bridge
 I filled my water bottles with crystal clear spring water. The water pouring down the hills is consumed in entire Garhwal region and it is as pure as it can be. But local habitants are selective about the streams. Hence it is better to confirm with them before filling your bottle. Since we were going downhill, we made it in good time. By 1 pm I could see the Gangotri town and Bhagirathi river meandering through the town. I took some good shots of the temple at various altitudes and staggered to the guest house.

Gangotri View
We were greeted by Mishraji who had skipped the Gaumukh trip and took custody of our luggage. I had a hot water bath and a large meal in a restaurant. At 3 pm we checked out and boarded bus to go to our next destination Bhatwari some 75 km away. When we arrived at Bhatwari ; there was a pleasant surprise. The GMVNL guest house looked spankingly new. We had to go down quite a bit to check in to our rooms. We got a four bedded room and the amenities were simply too good compared to what we had so far. We had a simple dinner in a dhaba and trooped back to our room in the guest house. Our fourth room partner Sinha was missing as usual. Nobody knew where he went during the breaks! Tomorrow we have a 235 km bus ride for Chandrapuri.

Day 6
We boarded the bus for our next destination Chandrapuri. By 9 am we arrived at Uttarkashi, one of the most important towns of Uttarakhand. We have breakfast in our familiar air-cooled restaurant Bhandari's. As we proceed we find Bhagirathi becoming broader and get down the bus about few km from Tehri Dam. After stretching our limbs and a few pictures later we continued with the journey. From bus we get a bird's view of spectacular Tehri dam. I never imagined that a dam can be so beautiful and picturesque! The gigantic Tehri dam on blue waters of Bhagirathi kept our eyes glued.

Tehri Dam
The lunch break was on a hill top restaurant consisting of Veg Chowmein and Rasgullas. By 8 pm we reached Chandrapuri, situated on bank of Mandakini river. It was raining very heavily. We drenched ourselves in reaching GMVNL guest house and had tough time getting to our rooms. Our luggage arrived soaked in water. The loud roar of Mandakini  was apparent because of proximity of the river. Our room was situated on the back side fencing of the guest house. The river Manadakini was some 50 ft away. Fortunately the canteen was serving food. We retire after dinner at about 10 pm. Tomorrow we go to Gaurikund and resume Kedar trek from there.
Day 7
We got up early in the morning to get a feel of the place. The garden near the back fencing is full of beautiful flower plants. The roaring river Mandakini beyond the fencing make a beautiful place to spend a few days. Alas, we are at the mercy of our package tour operators! With heavy heart we board the bus.

We travelled 67 km and by 9 am we arrived at Gaurikund. Gaurikund being starting place for Kedar trek, very large number of pilgrims and tourists arrive by bus, jeep and car. The place is a sea of humanity.

Gaurikund melee
Our guide took us to GMVNL guest house for breakfast. We make a final arrangement of a lighter back pack this time which we will carry with us. I pass on my SLR to Sanjay, but I knew he will not take any pictures in order to reach Kedar in shortest possible time.

Kedar Trek Path
It is going to be my repeat Kedar trek after exactly 25 years. Gaurikund is at 6000' altitude and Kedar at 11,500' altitude; which means we climb 5,500' on a trek of 14 km. The gradient is pretty steep.  As usual Sanjay takes off at a brisk pace. Sen and myself decide to do the 14 km trek at our own sweet pace. In 1981 I did the same trek in six and a half hours. This time I hope to do it in seven hours. But getting out of Gaurikund and hit the mountain trail was an ordeal. The narrow streets were packed with khachchar-wallas, palki-wallas and kandi-wallas vying with each other for customers; the pilgrims bargaining with those people.

Palki is a palanquin carried by four persons and offers most comfortable journey.

Kandis are cane/bamboo baskets carried on back and are mostly suitable for kids and old people. The journey is not comfortable sitting inside a narrow basket with legs practically locked up. After some 20 minutes of jostling with the crowd we hit the Kedar trail. The Kedar trail is quiet broad and paved with stones but the gradient is killing.

Almost the entire route has a large number of tea stalls and dhabas. They stock mineral water, soft drinks, fruitie, biscuits and serve vegetarian lunch and surprisingly Maggie noodles. They do not understand the word noodles. But Maggie brand name has even invaded Garhwal hills. The first big habitat is 7 km away at Rambara. The trek being a continuous ascent; after every five minutes trek, we take a breather for a minute. After one and half hour we take a fruitie break in one of those dhabas. Myself and Sen had a good chat together. Gradually, we get used to the horse sheet smell, the laboured breathing of palkiwallas, the spring water flowing across the road, the river Mandakini meandering along the rocky terrain, the khachchar riding youths waving us with 'Jai Kedarnathji ki', the cocoon like existence of children riding kandi ( basket ) and our own muscular pains. 

By 1 pm we reached Rambara. The place has a GMVNL guest house. We failed to locate it and settled for a Dhaba. I ordered Maggie with onion and tomatoes and had a good fifteen minutes breather. The weather so far had been sunny all the way. But suddenly as it happens in the mountains, it became cloudy and gray. We remember our guide telling us that, generally there is rain after 2 pm in Kedarnath region and to reach as early as possible. But we knew we cannot make it before 4 pm. ‘We will get drenched and shiver in severe cold at 11,500' altitude to reach kedar,' I thought. 

The route from Rambara to Kedar is much steeper. We took rest of one minute at every bend in the trail. As we ascended higher; we were in cloud nine literally! The grey coloured rain bearing clouds were sailing very close to us. The landscape below, had a different hue altogether. There were clouds clinging to the mountainside. The horses grazing on the meadows, the un-melted snow on the hills around us and Mandakini roaring its way down. Suddenly a few drops of rain fell. Without raincoats or umbrellas we were sitting ducks! We tried to push on faster, but it was impossible. When look upwards we saw four to five bends of spiralling roads. After covering those, four more bends cropped out of nowhere. After umpteen bends we reached Garud-chatty about two km from Kedar valley. We take a fruitie break before the final assault, as if we were climbing Mount Everest! 

Passing through Garud-chatti
The weather was getting murkier but fortunately no rain yet. Next one km was somehow covered till we hit the Kedar Valley. The flatland bring less discomfort to our legs and also cheers to our soul. We get a glimpse of Kedar township through the haze. By now the valley was filled with so much cloud and fog, the trekkers following us at fifty feet were looking like ghosts!  I asked Sen to take a picture of me in identical pose and walking stick on the ground just like 25 years ago. I was glad to have repeated the history!

Arrival at Kedar Valley
As we proceed for the town we pass through the camp of Khachchar-wallas; group of shops selling various items and a few dhabas. Sen purchases potato chips for munching along with tea. It took awhile to locate GMVNL guest house. It is a huge sprawling area with so many rooms added over the years.

GMVNL, Kedarnath
I inquire about Sanjay who has reached probably hours earlier. With a lot of effort the staff locates the double room he has already occupied. It is 4.30 pm and slightly dark inside the room. I call out for Sanjay and he grunts from his bed lying in warm comfort of blanket and rajai. I washed my face and again called Sanjay for a cup of tea and snacks as I am ravishingly hungry, but Sanjay was in no mood to budge. I headed for the canteen. There was a power failure.  I order for tea and veg pakoras and think, 'what to do next?' The tea was refreshing and pakoras really tasty and I wolfed it down in no time. Still there was no rains; so I ventured out . The fatigue of trek was gone. The Kedar valley, with mountains full of snow, large green meadows, wildflowers, the river, and paved cement tracks, is one of the most picturesque places I have seen in my life. 

Wild Flowers at Kedar
I wondered aimlessly in the valley soaking into the divine surroundings. I spot the Om temple and make a visit. I think of visiting kedarnath temple next day and returned to my room. Sanjay was still sleeping. I decided to take a few hours rest before the dinner. Climate was becoming very chilly. Under blanket and rajai is best place to be in. After simple dinner we hit the hay.

Day 8
As we come out of guest house in early morning, we observe heap of snow near the entrance. Sanjay adds, 'it must have snowed heavily some two weeks back.’ We visited Kedarnath temple; there was devotional music played in the loud speaker. Devotees thronged to offer puja and some for just having darshan. The temple is made up of off- white stone and perfectly blends with the surrounding snow capped hills.

Kedarnath Temple
 After breakfast at the guest house, it is time to continue with our downward trek. The weather was all sunshine. Sanjay this time agrees to give me company and Sen too. Three of us bid good bye to Kedarnathji, promising to come back again. We make it nice and slow. There is not much effort now. We come to a waterfall originating some thousand feet above and cascading down below the bridge where we stood. There was also good opportunity to shoot the serpentine trail and the devotees continuing with their effort to reach the shrine. 

Trek Route
We pass Garudchatti, and arrive at Rambara also called Ramwada after some three hours. It is 10.30 am. After a good 15 minutes break we decide to increase our speed of descent and try to reach Gaurikund by 1 pm, so as to enable us to catch the bus at 2 pm.  By 12.30 pm we make it to the chaotic place called Gaurikund. We straightway go to GMVNL to have a bite to eat. By 2 pm we were at the bus stand. But there was no bus for good half an hour. At 2.30 finally we get news that the bus is parked 1 km away from the spot. We trek the distance and board the bus. At 5 pm we reach a place called Guptakashi. We are offered a four bedded room. After tea at the guest house we venture out to see a temple of Shiva, which is a replica of Kedarnath temple.

Mr. Sabnis
There we find Mr. Sabnis painting the picture of the temple. ( He is himself a drawing teacher ). I take a snap of Mr. Sabnis with his painting. Then we venture out to town for a cup of tea. The tea stall owner says that ; "Yesterday, there was heavy rain for two hours and water was about to enter my shop and huge amount of mud had collected in the road and traffic was greatly affected." Now we understand the secret of rains eluding us at Kedar and taking a detour to lower reaches of Himalayas. 

Day 9
Today we have to reach Badrinath by bus in the evening. We start early in the morning and by breakfast time we are at a place called Chopta. This place is one of the most scenic places I have ever visited. There is 180 degrees panorama of Himalayan peaks. In the cloudless bright morning the view was majestic. The habitat contains a few bunglows, a few dhabas and a few shops. The place has vast stretch of green meadows. Somewhere there is a board written 'Mini Switzerland' . I feel slighted, "Perhaps, colonial hangover!"  Sen is so mesmerized that, he promises to bring his family here some day. 

Chopta View
  From Chopta, one can trek to a place called Tunganath. That place is reported to be even better than what we have seen so far. Maybe next time we will make a visit. Sanjay has his tea while myself and Sen make use of the time to shoot some real good snow-scapes. Some Alu Parathas later we board the bus for  Joshimath. We have a lunch break here. Joshimath is an important town of Uttaranchal. During winter, when Badrinath temple shuts down due to snowfall, the puja of  Lord Badrinath is done 

 By 4 pm we reach Badrinath. Again this is my second trip in 25 years. The town has grown. The number of pilgrims has gone up many fold. Sanjay and myself get a double room and Sen and Sinha get another at GMVNL old guest house . There was still time for exploring, before light faded. So we decide to go to the Mana Village at China border which is some 3 km from Badrinath. A jeep hire for Rs.20/- per person takes three of us to Mana village. We visit 'Vyas Gumfa' and settle down for a cup of tea at a shop called the "India's last tea stall". Beyond Mana village, falls in the Military Area at the India-China border.

Vyas Pothi, Vyas Gumfa
We wait for the jeep driver to arrive. He has possibly gone to wet his parched throat somewhere in the village. The dusk was falling. All the jeeps were returning back to Badrinath. We had a mini crisis in our hand! Even if we trek back it will take at least an hour and we have to cross some mountain streams in the falling light; not a very encouraging proposition.
Sanjay and Sen manage to arrange my transport with one of the jeeps and start to trek the 3 km back to Badrinath town.
I reached guest house and waited for the guys to arrive. To my pleasant surprise they arrive within 15 minutes. They were picked by the jeep half way through. There was aarati going on at Badrinath temple with large turnout of enthusiastic devotees.

Way to Badrinath Temple
The bridge over river Alkananda leads one to the temple compound with a tapt kund down below. The devotees take bath and take the puj thali from innumerable stalls at the periphery of the temple.

Day 10
In the early morning  we prepared to go to Badrinath temple for darshan. Sen narrates an interesting incident about his room mate S.K. Sinha.  Sinha woke him up at  2 am in the morning and said that, he saw a UFO stationed on the top of the hill. Also the UFO has been following him since childhood and prodded Sen to accompany him and see the UFO on hill top. An exasperated  Sen pleaded with Sinha to go back to sleep!
I was waiting for daybreak to photograph Neelkanth peak. With the first light of dawn, the Neekanth  ice cap looks whitish gray. I thought 'that is it' and  was disappointed.  After nearly 20 minutes, as if by sheer magic the whole Neelkanth peak changed colour and became golden yellow! My day was done. The SLR and digicam were kept  busy.

Mt. Neelkanth at Sunrise
Finally it was time to say adieu and we boarded the bus to go back to Joshimath. At  Joshimath, we visit Jyotirmath and went  to ropeway station to take the cable car to go to Auli. After purchasing ticket we have 15 minutes before the cable car departure. The cable car is spacious to carry 15 passengers. As we ascend we watch the landscape, the small houses on the hills, the horses and sheep grazing on the meadows. After 45 minutes and 3000' ascent we arrive at Auli. Auli is actually one of the finest ski resorts in Asia. In winter there is 8 to 10 feet of snow. Now it was all green meadows with panorama of Nandadevi peak and other important peaks of Himalayas. 

The cable car station runs a canteen and we sit in the sun in plastic chairs and savour the Himalayas. We have 2 hours time to spend here before we begin the return trip.  After some tea, all of us wait in the bus for journey to commence. But Sinha was nowhere to be seen. A visibly tense Negi the guide, goes to cable car station to locate Sinha. After good half an hour Sinha is traced and everybody gives a sigh of relief! We reach Nandprayag in the evening.

Day 11
We start at 7 pm for our return journey to Rishikesh, en route visiting Rudraprayag. This place will rate as one of the most picturesque of Panch Parayag in Garhwal Himalayas.

The confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini with distinct
Colour hues, a lovely view from the road. Traversing ahead the next worthwhile destination was Deoprayag, the confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Bhagirathi to for Ganges, which flows to plane via Rishikesh and Haridwar.

We arrive at Rishikesh by 4 pm and take shared Autorickha from Laxmanjhoola to arrive at Haidwar. We take leave of Sen at the railway station who would be taking train for Kolkata. We looked for a double bed accommodation to settle for the night before commencing our journey next morning to Mumbai via New Delhi.                             

Important info :
1) The Char Dham yatra is very strenuous with a lot of traveling and 72 km of trek thrown in. It would be better if the Yatra is done in two phases.
2) May/June is best time to go to Char Dham Yatra 

* Author has created a video clip on Char Dham Yatra based on footages recorded in his digicam which can be accessed by the readers by taking the following link: Char Dham Yatra - Uttarakahnd


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