Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fire and Night.

This is a new episode #5 - Read the rest of the blog posts bottom up on the tag: UttarakhandDiary

It is getting hazy and dark, the taste of the halwa puri and another syrupy sweetmeat special to Haridwar first grabs my taste buds, sends pleasure signals shooting to my brain, envelopes my mind for a while and then as I finish it off, the taste lingers on in my tongue. Delirious, as I cross the bridge I can see the river of dark molten watery nothing-ness, caressing the banks, which slowly gets filled with thousands of gathering devotees all eager to look at a daily spectacle that will soon unfold. Ganga Aarati – river worship at the Hari ki Pauri starts around 7 PM every day. A glimpse of the holy fire is supposed to be sacred I guess, that’s why the near stampede; which I become a part of in moments. Until minutes before the fire is lit, agents of the Ganga Mandali are feverishly collecting donations from devotees, loudly calling out names of those who contributed and the amount they contributed. My contribution is meager in comparison with others - which means there are a lot of tourists - but then I don’t believe in comparisons!  

The chief priest starts chanting and then the fire is lit in a brass holder that he holds - smell of camphor and other holy oils never reach my blocked nostrils. People pushing to get forward to be nearer to the fire; as leaping flames become visible in stark contrast to the pitch darkness that has suddenly fallen. I turn around to see another flame behind and little flakes of fire come leaping towards us in the blowing wind; one small fleck sticks to my bag and I realize it has caught fire, I extinguish it with my a few blows. There you go - a permanent mark left on my bag. Burnt? Yes and perhaps blessed!

After the Arati I head towards the market hoping to get a rickshaw but at this time of the night the roads are choked with devotees and the few rickshaws that manage to reach the spot quote bizarrely high prices for a ride. I keep walking as a panoply of vendors and devotees throng the roads, walking through is a difficult experience. Finally I get a rick ready to go for twice the usual rate – might have walked down all the way, I think.

I reach the hotel and ask for what kind of trips they arrange for and the man at the reception hands me a pamphlet, the Rishikesh one looks best for an arranged 1 day trip. I enquire about Kedarnath and Gangotri, these are to the centre and north of Uttarakhand and will take quite some time to reach, Kedarnath I am told has to be trekked for about fourteen KMs to reach. I ask about Joshimath and Badrinath, he asks me to go and speak to a few travel agencies down the road, the GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) office is also nearby (there are two actually, one an office and another is a PRO).

So I wander about until I find a good travel agency – a reasonably knowledgeable guy, who speaks confidently and convinces me! I plan the way he suggests – Badrinath (east Uttarakhand) and then I come southwards to South Garhwal, Joshimath, Rudraprayag. Kedarnath and other places will not happen this time given the time I have available or the lack of it, for this trip. Later I go to the GMVN PRO – it has shut by the time I reach there. I come back and book the ticket to Badrinath (the bus is at 4:30 AM) the trip will take almost 12-14 hours I am told.

The next day I will go to Rishikesh! Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula. I will come back to this later…

Next Day - After I get back from a whole day’s trip to Rishikesh, I go back to the hotel and ask them to wake me up at 3:30 AM in the morning so I can take the bus to Badrinath. I have a sumptuous dinner and then as I switch off the lights to go to sleep, sleep eludes me completely. You would have expected after all the tiring events of the day sleep would come easily – no sir, no such luck. Thoughts and images from the trip to Rishikesh come trooping in – sleep has vanished! And you cannot force sleep. The mind at times behaves in extremely strange ways and gets attached as it were with certain thoughts, events, ideas and people. The mind capture can be so complete that all else is forgotten for that period of time. It is like that example of a transparent crystal taking the colour of the nearest object and completely identifying with it. So finally I fall asleep at around 12:30 am or so and the room service promptly wakes me up at 3:15 am. Groggy, foggy eyed, I get ready, checkout of Hotel Arati and leave in a rickshaw; a chatty rickshaw driver for company.

The bus is supposed to leave at 4:30 am. I call once and am told the bus hasn’t come yet. I wait till 4:20 and then call again – and when I describe where I am the contact person informs me that I am perhaps at the wrong bus stand. I am wary I will miss the bus. Luckily I reach the other bus stand at about a distance of a kilometer, and as I ask for my seat – seat number 10, a young chap gets off the seat number 10 and goes out mumbling.

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