We pick up the threads from day minus one (30.5.2011), when we reached Ukhimath around 4 pm, in a hired Maruti Alto from Rishikesh, traversing a distance of close to 182 km. We easily recognized the seven storied brick red colored Bharat Sevashram Sangha guest house, at the extreme end of this town, on main road, having visited the same, in the year 2007.
|Bharat Sevashram Sangha, Ukhimath|
|Omkareshwar Temple, Ukhimath|
Having booked our dinner, I was looking forward for a typical Bengali thali similar to one I savored in my stay at the same place in the year 2007, in company of another three friends, when we visited Deoria Tal, Tunganath and other destinations in Uttarakhand. We arrived around 8.45 pm at dining hall and were served Bengali thali including potato in mustard paste,vegetable curry, rice chapati worth Rs. 50/-. I realized the price has doubled since 2007. I enjoyed my meal, knowing pretty well that I will have to do with really ordinary stuff in coming days. Dinner completed, we packed our trekking back pack for Madmaheshwar trek for next morning and retired early.
Next morning (31.5.2011), we came to ground zero and crossed over the road to a small dhaba adjoining Anushree lodge and had tea and biscuits. Manjit Singh, our driver did not lose much time in reaching us 25 km to Uniana and further one km ahead along the newly constructed road. This road will ultimately stretch upto Ranshi village for a total distance of 3 km by summer of 2012, it is hoped. No sooner the car stopped we were surrounded by porters to carry our back packs to Madmaheshwar trek. The guy who first approached the car, was allowed to carry our back packs. He wanted Rs. 350/- per day plus food which appeared reasonable. Thus without any bargaining or hassle, tall and stout Vikram Singh, carrying our back packs, became our additional companion for Madmaheshwar trek.
|Ready for trek|
|Children at Ranshi|
|Temple at Ranshi|
After darshan at Rakeshwari temple, I had breakfast of Maggie noodles from the adjoining dhaba, at a slightly higher elevation, seated in the temple courtyard.
Waiting for my trek mate and porter to finish their aloo parathas, I ventured nearby to take a view of temple top from a few steps below. Ranshi is a typical hilly village in slopes with a pervasive cow dung smell in the air, cottages full of harvested grain straws, small cultivation plots being de-weeded by the village women, some making straw bundles, curious children perched up on upper floor of cottages.
|Storage at Ranshi|
|Woman busy with straw bundles|
As we were leaving the Rakeshwari compound, a camera toting young man greeted me. We had a small chat. The guy was part of group of eight Bengalis from Kolkata who had done this trek upto Ranshi from Kedarnath and were on way to their next destination.
By 10 am, after walking up gradient for an hour or so we were clear of thick forested growth; the landscape down below and flow of river make a wonderful scene.
|View from trek route|
The lunch of Khichdi did not taste as good as expected; Sac commented that the dhaba guy must have added Maggie noodle masala and made a mess of it. However, the guest house rooms with attached bath with running water appeared appealing, as we had planned to stay here during our return trek from Madmaheshwar.
As we walked along, we felt, a guest house with a lot of welcome sentences written in Bengali, will attract most of the Bengali trekkers. We realized later these trek path to Madmaheshwar is mostly treaded by people from Kolkata. One of the Bengali boarders of this lodge, had written those sentences in Bengali on the outer wall of the guest house at the request of owner, by chalk and the owner got it painted; this we learnt later. I had a chat with the guest house owner and could not find any Bengali flavor in type of food he served to guests.
After trekking a further 2 km through a slight drizzle we were near village Bantoli. A few houses with straw on roof were visible to suggest that we had almost arrived.
|View from Bantoli|
|Vishwa Lodge, Bantoli|
We had a top view of thick forested growth, with two rivers Madmaheshwar Ganga and Makrand Ganga mingling with each other and a bridge on one of the rivers, through which we traversed an hour ago.
Finally we stepped closer to two storied Vishwa Lodge, the only of its kind we noticed at Bantoli, along the route; it brought us cheers that we have successfully completed first days trek of 10 km. Time was 2.30 pm by now. We easily get a double room on first floor with attached bath for Rs. 300/- and dump our luggage.
|Amidst clouds at Bantoli|
The room had one lamp making use of solar cells. Torch light had been of immense importance in this part of the Uttarakhand. We hoped the next morning we get a bright sunlit weather for steep uphill 9 km trek to Madmaheshwar. We had a simple dinner of chapati, dal and potato curry for dinner and retired early.
Yesterday, we retired for the night hoping for a bright sun lit morning the next day, after watching the clouds play hide and seek across the densely covered vegetation all along the hills from comfort of our hotel room of Vishwa Lodge. But as it mostly happens, man proposes and God disposes. We woke up in the morning and came to watch the weather outside and felt a bit disappointed. The sky was grayish, the dense clouds obliterating almost completely what ever the rising sun had to offer. We realized, for the first time that we were headed for a tough trek through rains for at least part of the journey along the route.
Around 6.30 am, after a cup of tea from the dhaba down below, we resumed our trek though cloudy but rain free weather. The pile of brown leaves shed by trees on both sides of the trail, on the stone paved route, was a few inches thick, which kind of cushioned impact of our foot against hard stones; on the flip side there was danger of missing a foothold and slipping. Our progress was slow but steady. We were watching the landscape around filled with gray rain clouds, threatening to pour at any time.
Around 7.15 am, we reached Khatara Khal, consisting of two shacks, one a dhaba and the other a shelter for the pilgrims with very basic amenities.
We resumed trek amidst clouds all around us, the nearby hill with dense growth of vegetation was all gray. We were mentally preparing for a trek through rain and monsoon God did not lose much time in giving us the same in a platter. The first sign of drizzle and Sachin our experienced trekker was quick to don his red colored rain coat purchased from Nepal. I lazily avoided taking out my wind cheater till about the time when I found there was no sign of let up of the distilled water from heaven. Wearing a windcheater with woolen lining in rain does give adequate protection against it but on flip side the sweating as a result body heat soaked my tee-shirt. I wish I had bought a wind – cheater without lining or thinnest possible lining for this sort of a situation.
|At Nanu Chatty|
As we were watching rain water clinging to straws and dripping drop by drop, from roof of the shack, a group of Bengali trekkers walked in well protected in their rain coats and wind cheaters and took shelter. The group informed us that the weather at Madmaheshwar was pretty bad with heavy rains and they were relieved to be on their way down to lower altitudes. That news somewhat dampened our spirits. In all my trekking trips in Garhwal, photo shooting is something which has worked wonders during tense situations and kept me cool. I aimed my digicam towards the villagers on their journey back home with grass fodder on their back, for their cattle.
|At Nanu Chatty|
|Nearing Kun Chatty|
At 11.25 am we reached Kun chatty. For the first time in our trek we found a signage indicating the name of the place and also the elevation. At 9,174’ we were in verge of going through high altitude trekking shortly. At Kun Chatti, a shack named Prince Hotel serves as a dhaba and resting place. After a brief rest we decided to commence our trek.
|Signage at Kun Chatty|
|Prince Hotel, Kun Chatty|
The low dense rain clouds deciding to migrate to their next destination, the snow clad mountain peaks made their welcome appearance, reminding us that we are in Himalayas. The sky was still overcast and gray giving no sign of a clear sunlit day for rest of the trek. Next we entered the zone of Rhododendron forests on both side of the trail. The fresh little pinkish buds of the flowers or tender leaves, all around, give a dash of warm color to the landscape.
|Arrival at Madmaheshwar|
|Shiva Temple, Madmaheshwar|
As I approached the dwelling, I was in a lazy – walk mood. ‘What’s the hurry?’ I thought. ‘Sachin will surely find an accommodation in two storied temple committee guest house, one of the few sturdy looking structures in the temple vicinity.’ And, I am not mistaken, as I watched Sachin, after spreading his red rain coat on verandah railings for drying, standing near our room door.
|Temple Committee guest house, Madmaheshwar|
As I entered the room, Sachin being ravishingly hungry was eager to go to temple committee canteen for a huge meal. Canteen name was written in Bengali script on black plastic sheet along one of the walls to attract visitors from Kolkata.
I just un-zipped my sleeping bag and slid into it. I might have dozed off, when Sachin called at 4 pm, to announce that the weather was clear, sunshine was taking over after a long spell of cloudy weather. I felt too lazy and grunted approval and just did not feel like getting out of my comfort zone. Around the same time Subhas Chakrabarty, from Delhi, with whom we got acquainted at this place, climbed the neighbouring hill through stone paved track and switched over to climbing over bhugyals to arrive at Budamadmaheshwar. The following shots of a small religious structure and snow peaks taken by him.
At 5 pm, I shook myself of lethargy and came to verandah to see what all the temple village landscape had to offer. What a lovely sight! The entry portion of temple looked great in contrast to the thatched roofing of a shack in foreground.
|High altitude cricket|
In upper reaches of bhugyals, the flock of sheep resumed their activities of grazing on fresh green offerings. At around 7.15 pm, we moved to the temple and took our place to wait for the evening aarti to begin. Aarti began at 7.30 pm, followed by religious songs, sung by devotees to invoke blessings from Lord Shiva. Leaving temple, we took to our room to pack up for next days return trek to Gaundar. The dinner at this place was available at 9 pm which appeared to be tad late in a place which is dark by 8 pm during summer and electricity save for a miniscule solar lamp, practically non-existent. Advancement in Aarti timings around 6.30 pm may obviate some difficulties faced by pilgrims. Hope temple committee is listening.
The rhythmic sound of rain drops on the metallic corrugated roof of the Madmaheshwar temple committee guest-house, woke me up very early in the morning. We were to commence our return trek early in the morning to make best use of our time after reaching Gaundar. But, the nature conspired against us to give a rain filled morning. In Garhwal the saying goes, ‘You can not predict the Garhwal weather as you can not predict Bombay fashion.’ Having visited Garhwal at least a half a dozen times, I am no stranger to this phenomenon. However, we got ready, and fully pack up so that, we will be on the way, as soon as the rain stopped.
|Temple view in rain|
|Icicles from guest house roof|
Sachin had a huge satisfaction of having touched snow (ice) for the first time in this trek right in front of our room verandah. A careful gaze outdoors and we could see the snow flakes were interspaced among rain drops. The accumulated snow on roofing mixing with rain water was turning it to icicles and dropping along the roof edge.Time lost its dimension there after. We were immersed in the Madmaheshwar mood in rain and snowfall, noticing every happening in this temple village from the vantage point of the verandah in front of our room.
|Temple Top in rain and snow|
|On a rainy morning|
|Bhugyals after the snowfall|
Subhas Chakrabarty, from Delhi, who preferred trekking alone, had taken shelter at the temple committee dhaba along with his guide, in a small room adjoining the dhaba kitchen at Rs. 100/- per day per person. In course of a chat with him, he revealed that he was staying in the temple town for last two nights just to have a snap shot of Chaukhamba peak from Budamadmaheshwar. He made two treks to Budamadmaheshwar, an upward 1 km trek and on his second trip yesterday, he could see the mighty Himalayan peak. Since we could not make it, he showed us the photos he took in LCD screen of his digicam. It was nice of him to post those photos to me via email attachment, which was uploaded in my previous day’s blog. Without his contribution, my Madmaheshwar blog would have been incomplete.
|Landscape after rain and snow|
As I looked at the bhugyal, the lone shepherd opening up his umbrella took a stock of his flock in rain. Gradually more and more inhabitants of the temple village took to the outdoors. The cleansed and purified atmosphere in this holy village of Uttarakhand must have given them pure joy.
We descended the steps to go to the dhaba down below and ordered for tea. The dhaba owner – cook was peeling potatoes, for preparing breakfast for some of his clientele. Anjali, dhaba owner’s daughter was running errands for his father and after washing the stainless steel tumblers, near the bhugyal, with a clean water pipe outlet.
The rain God relenting, by 10.30 am, we got ready to do downward trek to Gaundar. I took a last parting shot of the temple, against the back drop of snow covered bhugyal and thanked Lord Shiva for making our Madmaheshwar trek so exciting and memorable.
|Temple View with snow at backdrop|
|Snow peaks on return trek|
As we descended down further we encountered a lot of tourists coming up the trail. The clear weather must have given them the optimism for the Madmaheshwar trek. Sachin in his large sized spectacles, striding in front, was always mistaken for a Bengali and was greeted in the same language. I met a few Bengali trekkers and they were disappointed when I told them, ‘I am from Mumbai.’ When I switched over to Bengali, they responded well and we had a small chat, which also gave them a much needed breather. We told them of our next trek would be to Rudranth; we were cautioned that many trekkers were stuck up at higher reaches like Naola pass on way to Rudranth, where there was one and half feet of snow. That really got me thinking. If Madmaheshwar at 11,000’ can have a mild snow fall, what will be the condition at Naola pass at 14,000’? Whether it will be wise to take the Rudranath trek, immediately after finishing this arduous trek? My mind was over – working with too many questions.
Downward trek in my Himalayan treks troubled me more than the upward trek. The load coming on my toes always caused discomfort and became painful after some time. I was some what pessimistic and almost made up my mind of foregoing Rudranth trek and instead visit a few of unseen destinations in Garhwal. Sachin when he heard me was disappointed but we decided to keep the negative thought away from our mind for time being.
‘Better to keep pressing the camera shutter to get over the negative thoughts’, I thought. A wild flower bush with pinkish flowers out numbering the leaves was in my camera focus.
|Pink wild flowers|
At 4.15 pm we reached Gaundar, our night halt destination. Sachin was first to arrive and straight away went to Kailash Lodge to get a room; meanwhile I was seated in front of another un-named lodge, with a lot of Bengali sentences written on its wall. Our friend Subhas, who was instrumental in Bengali script being written during his onward trip to Madmaheshwar, took a room at the same place along with his guide. The owner of Kailash lodge sensing some kind of competition from adjoining lodge, slashed his rates and we were offered a room with attached bath, with running water at Rs. 200/- per day. That was the most value for money accommodation in whole of our trek tour.
We had tea and snacks in the evenings and ordered for Rice, Roti, Dal and Potato curry for dinner. Getting a proper bath after going without one at Madmaheshwar, really felt good and refreshing. The dhaba owner made a better preparation of our meal for the evening, making amends for the stuff he dished out during our onward trek to Madmaheshwar.
We got down to next days packing and I took out my floaters to replace the Nike, which I had worn throughout. It depressed me to find the floater was in its final days before either mending it or discarding it. Realizing that I will not get a cobbler in this place, I just discarded it, reducing my back pack weight somewhat. We left for the dream world literally, hoping for a bright sun lit day for the next morning, the last day of Madmaheshwar trek.
|Kailash Lodge, Gaundar|
|Ranshi View from far|
|Bashful village belle with crop|
Resuming trek we observed some of the best lodges all freshly painted, waiting for their occupancy to pick up. Once the Uniana – Ranshi asphalt road gets completed by next year, this place will one of the finest places to stay, with best possible amenities, prior to resuming trek to Madmaheshwar. One of the most beautiful lodges we came across was Jai Maa Rakeshwari Tourist Lodge.
A two km gentle downward trek completed within 45 minutes, brought us to the spot from where we had resumed our onward trek, 1 km ahead of Uniana. Coming on asphalted road we found a truck with a lot of ration being unloaded and a big group of pilgrims heading for Madmaheshwar. Despite trying to contact our driver on my cell phone, I did not get any response. The porter not willing to wait on the road, we walked another 1 km through asphalt road to Uniana village. Our driver Manjit singh after having a refreshing bath was ready to drive us to Mandal via Ukimath and Chopta.
* Author has video recordings of three and half days of Madmaheshwar Yatra which can be accessed by taking the following link: Madmaheshwar Yatra - Comnposite Video
* Author has video recordings of three and half days of Madmaheshwar Yatra which can be accessed by taking the following link: Madmaheshwar Yatra - Comnposite Video