Thursday, 5 January 2012

Trek to Kalpeshwar - Easy and Fruitful

In Garhwal Himalayas, the religious shrines of Badri-Kedar, Gangotri-Yamunotri and Hemkund, take the cake; the rest, unfortunately, the crumbs. This has been my realisation from last four years of summer treks in this part of Uttarakhand region. Yet some of those unsung places offer you much more than you can get anywhere in Himalayas. One such place, which I discovered is Kalpeshwar, also called Kalpanath.

Legend has it that, the Pandavas sought the blessings of Lord Shiva, to atone for their sins, after the battle of Mahabrarata. Lord Shiva eluded them repeatedly, and while fleeing, he dived into the ground, leaving behind his hump on the surface. This conical protrusion is worshipped as idol in Kedarnath shrine. The other four shrines which are part of Panch Kedar are Tunganath, Madamaheshwar, Rudranath and Kalpeshwar. At Kalpeshwar the locks (hair or Jata) and head of Lord Shiva are worshipped.

Migrating from Mythology to modern World Wide Web, it was not much difficult to tuck in my itinerary of Yatra – 2009, the unsung Himalayan shrine of Kalpeshwar. Our Yatra program was to start from Rishikesh on 1st June 2009, taking our first halt at Pipalkoti. The next morning we were to drive to Helong and continue further journey towards Urgam village through the new Helong – Urgam road being constructed under Gramin Vikas Yojana. We were to get down at a place called Salna and trek to Urgam village about 5 km away. With overnight stay at Urgam; the next day was kept for Kalpeshwar onward and the return trek. As it so happens, the ‘not so famous places’, do not have ‘up to date’  information even on the web; which we subsequently discovered. Whether, our experience was good, bad or ugly?  

Kirti Singh, our driver of rented Amby, picked us from GMVNL guest house at Pipalkoti, in the early morning and gave us our breakfast halt at Helong, at a name-less, face-less restaurant, which was still under construction; that worked to our advantage. We ordered our breakfast and through window-less structure, had a fine view of the adjoining hills, the distant water-fall, abundant greenery and serpentine road. We got clicking the landscape; wolfed down our breakfast as fast as it came, in the excitement of the morning trek to Urgam and Kalpeshwar. 
We hit the Helong – Urgam road in our Amby, amidst a lot of excitement. The dense tree growth on the hill side, the view of distant Urgam valley, filled us with ‘UMANG’ (hope.) We were under suspense, as to, how far the road would take us, before we started our trek. The 11 km road was under construction with bull-dozers scattered across roads. After travelling nearly half an hour, our Amby suddenly, screeched to a halt! Worried we looked at Kirti Singh but he remained nonchalant as usual. The very next moment a four legged animal ran down the hill and jumped from six feet height, in front of our car, and started running ahead along road. What followed was a mini-storm; sheep after sheep taking the jump from mountain side and in unison they moved ahead. Ashok jocularly remarked, ‘We have some company for our Kalpeshwar trek!’ The dust particles raised on the mud track remained suspended in air, making us shut the car windows, waiting it to disperse. I was fortunate enough to have some footage of this ‘stormy’ experience.

‘The more distance we travel, the less distance we shall have to trek,’ that was going in our mind, while we moved on. This being our first trek of Yatra - 2009, we did not want to tax ourselves too much, storing our energy for arduous Hemkund trek. We did not even realise, when we crossed Salna (where we were supposed to start our trek,) and after half an hour of further drive, arrived at a point, where the road abruptly ended. Kirti Singh got down and prepared to light his beedi, while we kept our back packs in the only shop at that place, had some tea, and started making enquiries. As happens at every place in Garhwal, ‘the local habitants are very helpful and honest.’  We were informed that, Urgam village was just one km away. It just left us with 6 km of to and fro trek for Kalpeshwar. A great happening, that made us realise, we had actually gained a day and could do away with night halt at Urgam village. As per the revised itinerary, take an additional day break at Joshimath, to undertake the Gorson Bhugyal trek, as bonus!

Trail to Kalpeshwar
The first time trekkers in Himalayas, Ashok, Sandhya and Deepak were too eager to hit the trail and proceeded along the 100 feet downward mud track followed by decent looking, clean, cement paved track about four feet wide. The clear bright morning, the blue sky, the distant hills with snow scattered on their crown, the terraced fields, dense tree cover of the Urgam valley, had an eye-soothing effect. Deepak, the fittest member of the group, who had done lot of Sahyadri treks, was striding ahead in gusto, followed by Sandhya who practiced a lot for the Yatra treks. The most inquisitive member of the group Ashok, just coasted along taking notes on the way in his mini writing pad.

While on the trail, we hardly come across any villager, let alone any Yatris like us. A few scattered structures were perched on the hill slopes. The first sight of villagers were, an old woman carrying a huge bundle of straws with ripened golden wheat grains on her back. Three bullocks with bells tied around their neck were walking ahead; made a sweet sound on otherwise quiet morning. The old lady was accompanied by a little girl, who smiled sweetly, as we passed by. 
Villager on move
Far from maddening crowd of Mumbai, our first encounter with Urgam villagers made us eager to discover more of this Himalayan village at 6,700’ above sea level. Our trail passed next to some potato fields, with colourful flowers on the plant. Soon, we found two village women engaged in de-weeding activities in the field prior to sowing.

We walked about half an hour and came to the Urgam village boundary. The cluster of single storied cottage like structure, with villagers engaged in various activities, in the front yard, was noticed. Mostly, the threshing of wheat crop was visible. Two bullocks treading on wheat crop including straws was spread on threshing floor, going round and round, and a man also following the same routine. Women were lifting some stacks of wheat straws containing wheat grains and hammering on the adjoining walls to remove the grains from straw. On stone tiled terrace of the cottage the crops like onion and wheat were being dried in this clear sunny day. On the field the ripe wheat grain was being harvested by women by means of sickle, made into small stacks and kept aside. A woman on the road side was making bundle of wheat straw, and throwing it aside, and gave a warm smile as I was busy getting some footage. 
Golden glow
We passed by a single storied colourfully painted Pathik Lodge, where the rooms appeared to be locked. Since we had not decided to spend the night at Urgam, we moved on. Near a cottage, we found a whole lot of cactus bush with beautiful yellow flowers in various stages of bloom. The glorious climate, the abundant water, and fertile soil in this region was evident. The garden, with different varieties of flowers were noticed near most of the cottages. The chirping and cooing of birds were music to our ears. ‘Bird watchers would have loved to hang around a lot more time than we have done,’ I mused. As luck would have it, we had one little brown bird hopping on cement trail ahead of us and managed to spot one multi-coloured bird on the branch of a tree.
Cactus Flowers
We were totally at ease, as the single sun-kissed cement paved track, will lead us to Kalpeshwar. We came across another two storied cottage named Pathik Guest House, with a gentleman seated on first floor open veranda. He greeted us with ‘namaste.’On enquiry we found his name as Rajinder Singh Negi. On searching the net in Mumbai, I came across this name, had a plan in fact, to stay in his lodge, for the night. He explained that he had two guest houses with ten beds. Now with changed plans, we were almost sorry to deprive an opportunity to Mr. Negi, to host us. With ‘Helong – Urgam road getting completed, it will be nigh impossible for people like Mr. Negi to fill his lodge with tourists.’ I sympathised. ‘May be in future trips, I would include one day of stay at Urgam village, just to relax.’

R S Negi
As we came to the end of the village, a roaring sound greeted us. At distance, between some giant trees, a waterfall was visible. We spotted a suspension bridge and realised that we were on right course. As we crossed the bridge, we spent some time enjoying a furious river flowing down stream and breaking into small rivulets.

Crossing the bridge, we took to the small trail consisting of crude steps going upwards the hill. We entered through the colourful archway to the temple with a few bells hanging from top. We rang the bell, entering and walking a short distance, could see a cave like structure. The cave consisted a very simple looking temple, represented the Kalpeshwar. The black cave symbolises the locks or ‘jata’ of Lord Shiva. A pujari, the only human soul around, greeted us. We had our little prayers by turn, amidst chanting of ‘mantra’ by pujari. A chat amongst five of us on the subject of Himalayan shrine followed. Ashok as usual was busy with his notes and we just sat on parapet wall and relaxed.
Near Kalpeshwar Temple
The return trek was leisurely, spent mostly sightseeing. We encountered a group of children with school bags walking to their home, wishing us ‘namaste’ with folded hands. It was nice to note that the light of education was burning bright in this remote Himalayan village. The tidy, neat, clean village with litter-free cement road impressed us no end. In this wheel-less village; not even bicycle or bullock cart were noticed. However the modern day communication is not lacking. The mobile network has certainly connected it to the world. Did I notice a small dish antenna on a roof top? Possibly a TV connection. We hope this beautiful environment of ideal Himalayan village would be preserved by denying access to vehicular traffic. With a lot of happiness in our soul, it was almost noon time when we returned to our base and boarded Amby to resume our Yatra, the next halt being Joshimath.

Kalpeshwar Photo Album 

Important informations :
1) Presently 2 km Kalpeshwar trek starts from the periphery of Urgam village where the motor road on Helong-Urgam sector ends.
2) At Urgam, one can stay at Pathik lodge, Pathik guest house     ( R. S. Negi Sadan ), owned by Rajinder Singh Negi.