My visit to San Jose

Three years ago, I visited the United States of America for the first time. It took me a lot of years to manage my finances to make the trip happen. Once I decided to go, I had planned out my schedule, giving importance to tourist destinations. I wanted to enjoy all the sights, as a first timer. I focussed on the east and west coasts where I could combine visits to family and friends along with tourism.

In May 2016, landed at San Jose airport. California had been under drought for many years and hence I wondered how it would be. Before landing, the first sight of California was green hills. My best friend came to pick me up, as I was keeping her house as my base in between my travels. On the way saw many parts of dried vegetation on hills putting in focus, the water shortage at that time.

Meeting your best friend and going to her home is such a pleasure. Landed in the afternoon, reached her place, had lunch and was spending time with her, when sleep hit. Out of the 24 hour journey I had slept for only 2 hours and the day before the journey also I had slept for 2 hours only. Told my friends daughter to wake me in 2 hours and slept off. Exactly 2 hours later, as soon as she called me, I woke up, refreshed.

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Though I didn’t suffer from jet lag, relaxed the next day. My friend suggested that I start my sightseeing with a place of worship. We are very Indian in that aspect, believing that everything will go well from thereon. She took me to the Gurudwara of San Jose. It was the first time that I had gone to a Gurudwara. Previously I had been to churches and Cathedrals, but never to a Gurudwar. The San Jose Gurudwara is big, it is the largest Gurudwara in North America and a very peaceful place. Sat in meditation for some time and then had langar (the meal that is served at the Gurudwara for all visitors).

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View of San Jose from the Gurudwara

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The day after, in the morning, we went to the farmers market in San Jose. A place where the farmers sell their fresh produce directly to the consumers. What I liked about in the market is the different fruits that were available. I had not heard the names of some of them, nor had I seen them before. Tasting them and getting to know them was fun.

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Approaching Stanford University

A couple of days later, went to see Stanford University.

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Stanford Memorial Church

When I had planned my trip, I planned to see 4 universities, so Stanford was my first university. It was an overcast day yet I had a great visit. It is such a sprawling campus. The lawn in front of the University is so big. Numbers of visitors to see the University is also huge. The Stanford Memorial Church is famous among visitors, so went in and admired it.

The day weather at that time was pleasant and nights were slightly cold.

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Japanese Tea Garden – San Francisco

One of the famous tourist spots of San Francisco, is the Japanese Tea garden in the Golden Gate Park.

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Originally created as a “Japanese Village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Fair, displaying a Japanese Garden, the site was originally 1 acre. After the completion of the fair, Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara and superintendent John McLaren reached a gentleman’s agreement, allowing Mr. Hagiwara to create and maintain a permanent Japanese style garden as a gift for posterity. He became the care taker of the property and expanded it from 1 acre to 5 acres, using his personal wealth and time. He had constructed his residence in the garden and spent lots of loving care to develop the garden into a showpiece displaying the flora of Japan. After him, his daughter, Takano Hagiwara and her family took care of this property. With the advent of World War 2, there was a rise in anti Japanese sentiment and the family were removed from the family’s home and sentenced to an internment camp. The home of Mr Hagiwara was demolished and even after the war, the family was not allowed to return to the Tea Garden.

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The Japanese Tea Garden is beautifully landscaped, has beautiful trees, quaint ponds with colourful fish, pagodas, bridges and a Buddha statue.

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Once we enter the gate of the Garden, we enter into a different world. Soothing, beautiful and mesmerising. for a minute, you can block out your fellow tourists in your mind and imagine Japanese ladies in kimonos walking blissfully along the paths. That is the imagery this lovely place evokes.

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The Tea house in between the Garden has been there from the beginning, from the Mid-winter Fair of 1894, but has been rebuilt a few times.

Anybody wanting peace and tranquility can visit this beautiful place and absorb the atmosphere there.

Rama Theertam

Ramatheertam is a village in Nellimarla mandal, 10km from Vizianagaram city, which is in Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh. It is famous for the Sri Rama temple and has 3 BCE remains of Jain and Buddhist structures on the nearby hills.
I am covering the temple history today.
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The Gopuram of the temple
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Before we enter the temple, there are murtis of Lakshmi Narayana, where we light a deepam before going in. The entrance of the main gopuram is always closed and the opening is through a smaller side gopuram.
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Simha carved beside the entrance.
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Dwaja Stambham
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Main hall with carved pillars
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Dwarapalas
Sthala purana – In Dwaparayuga, during the vanavaas of Pandavas, they requested Sri Krishna to come with them. Bhagvan declined but gave them murtis of his previous avatar, idols of Rama, Sita and Lakshman and Bhagvan asked the pandavas to do daily archana to the idols. During Aranyavasa, Pandavas regularly did Archana and when they were leaving the area entrusted these murtis to Vedagarbha (Sri Vaikhansa Vaishnava swami) to do Nitya Pooja and archana. Vedagarbha and his descendants took care of the Archana for many years.
Later due to increasing influence of Bouddha’s around the area, the descendants were apprehensive that the idols maybe destroyed, hence buried the idols in the ground and left the area.
During the 16th century, Sri Poosapati SitaRamachandra Gajapati Maharaja of current Vizianagaram Maharaja dynasty built his fort in Kumbhilapuram (present Kumili village) and ruled from there. People used to come to this forest for cutting wood. Once during a fearsome storm, a dumb old lady sat below a banyan tree and prayed to Sri Rama to take care of her. Bhagvan appeared and wrote the beejakshara ‘Sri Rama’ on her tongue and she got her speech. Lord told her to tell the king that idols of Dwaparayuga were submerged in water in that area and to take them out and build a temple there. Then Lord disappeared. Before she could go to the king, Bhagvan appeared in a dream to the king and instructed him to follow the advice of dumb lady who got her speech. The old lady was taken to the king and he heard what happened. Maharaja came to the area and after getting the area searched, found the murtis in the water of a pond. The temple was built, and on Bhishma Ekadashi the idols were established and consecrated. As Lord was found in Theerta(water), the temple has been named Ramatheertam.
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 Lakshmi Devi temple built at a later date in the complex.
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Beautiful designs on the pillars
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Pillared mandapam all around. Notice the sculpture.
Beside this temple is a Shivalaya constructed in 2007 which has a beautiful Kamakshi amma murti. Anyone going to Ramatheertam shouldn’t miss the darshan of Mahadev and Kamakshi amma.
Bodhikonda, Durgakonda and Gurbaktakonda are three hills which have remains of Jainism & Buddhism nearby.
Overall it is a place of archaeological and spiritual importance.

 

Padmanabham

Padmanabham is a mandal of Visakhapatnam district, which is situated 45 Km from Visakhapatnam city. Padmanabham has earned itself a place in history with the Battle of Padmanabham between Chinna Vijayarama Raju of the Gajapati dynasty of Vizianagaram and the British Colonel Pendergast sent by the British Governor of Madras.
By 1768, the tribal areas such as Parlakimidi, Ganjam, Mohiri, Gunsuru, and Pratapagiri were ruled by 20 Zamindars. They owned 34 forts and maintained approximately 35,000 armed troops. Many of these zamindars revolted against the British East India Company. Some of the castles were located in the hills of the manyam. Therefore, the defeated rebel Zamindars were retreated into the Hill fortress

After the death of Ananda Gajapatiraju, Vijayarama Raju became Raja of the Vizianagaram Zamindari. After he took over the reign, British attempted to increase payment of peskas from Vizianagara Zamindar and to reduce the strength of his army and ordered to pay his dues of 8,50,000 peskas. Although Raja proved that he had no dues, the British had captured Vizianagara on 2 August 1793. British ordered that Vijayarama Raju must go to exile Masulipatnam with the pension of Rs 1200 per month. However, Vijayarama Raju refused this orders and he went to Padmanabham located between the Bheemunipatnam and Vizianagaram. The Battle Of Padmanabham was fought on July 10th, 1794. The British troops defeated Vizianagaram army and Chinna Vijayarama Raju died due to bullet injury in the battle, along with 800 of his soldiers, as he was ill equipped against the sophisticated weaponry of the British.

Padmanabham has two very old temples.

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The first temple is a 600 year old Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple located on a hill. You can see the white temple on top with the steps leading to it.
Over the years though I went past it many times, hadn’t gone to the temple as I had to climb 1300 steps which was daunting.
Recently a road has been made for vehicles to go to the top. Though it hasn’t become a pucca road as yet, it allows vehicles to go up, so we went.

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It is believed that the Pandavas came here during vanvaas. When they prayed to Lord Krishna to appear to them, Krishna said that he would manifest in a barely visible form & then manifested as a svayambhu on this hill. Bhagvan appeared as Shanku, Chakra and Namam on this stone and hence was worshipped by them. After that, over the years, this appearance was covered by an ant hill which became home for snakes. When the snakes were worshipped, even Bhagvan was worshipped involuntarily. 600 years ago, the Raja of Vizianagaram, the Royal family of the Pusapati rulers (of whom our ex aviation minister is the present head now) dreamed of a snake and of Bhagvan telling him that he was manifested on a hill and was now covered with a snake pit & to build temple there. The king came and on the instruction of Bhagvan, built a temple here to worship Ananta Padmanabhaswamy.
According to the pujari everyday a snake comes to the temple in the morning.

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Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple

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Dwajastambham in front.

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It is a small temple but very peaceful.        Stone pillars in the interior.

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Beautiful views from the temple.

The second is Madhava Swamy temple which is near the foot of the hill.

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The entrance and the Ratha to carry Deva during the festivals. The entrance has Dwarapalas painted in red on either side.

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The dwajastambham in the outer prakaram

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Vishnu and Krishna sculpted on either side of the entrance to the inner prakaram.

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This temple was built around 500 years ago.
Entrance to outer prakaram, pic taken from inside.

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Madhava Swamy temple and the interior.
Madhava Swamy is different here. He is 4 armed. Top 2 hands hold the Shanka & Chakra. Lower left hand is in abhaya mudra while right hand holds a gadha. He is flanked by Sridevi & Bhudevi. Garuda is at his feet.

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Alwars in a room inside.
There is also an enclosure for Lakshmi maa.

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Mandapam all around the inner prakaram. This is a picture is taken from the top of the entrance of the outer prakaram of Madhava Swamy temple.

With this finished having darshan in two old temples.

Mayapur ISKCON

In the month of February 2019, I had taken a trip to Mayapur, the headquarters of ISKCON, along with Mataji, Prabhuji and devotees.

Mayapur is a city located on the banks of the river Ganga, 130 km from Kolkata. It is the main island of the nine islands of the Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Nabadwip. Mayapur is believed to be the birth place of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is said to be an avataar of Bhagvan Krishna who was born to propagate the core of Hinduism. ISKCON receives these teachings through the preceptorial line known as the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya sampradaya. This well established traditional line descends through the respected teacher Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (AD 1486–1534). Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also known as Gauranga, along with his brother Nityananda also known as Nitai, were born to spread the teachings of Bhagavat Gita and Bhagavad Purana to people in this Kaliyuga. They along with their associates were called the Pancha tattva.

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Pancha Tattva at Chandrodaya Mandir

After getting down from the train at 4 am, we took a bus to Mayapur. Normally a journey which takes 3.5 hours was delayed due to an traffic jam caused by an accident and we reached Mayapur at 12 o clock. After freshening up we went to take lunch. All food taken in Mayapur is called Prasaad, as the food is first offered to Krishna Bhagvan and then it is served.

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We were put up at Gita Bhavan. After relaxing for some time, we went to visit the House of Bhakti Vinoda Thakur. We took a boat across the Ganga river and went to the other side to Bhakti Vinoda Thakurs place.

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Svananda Sukhada Kunja

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Bhakti Vinoda Thakur

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Goura – Gadadhar Deities of Bhaktivinod Thakur.

There Mataji and Prabhuji told us the story of how Lord Chaitanya appeared to Bhakti Vinoba Thakur in his dream and asked him to go to Navadwip. After reaching Navadwip he searched for the birth place and by divine intervention realised that Mayapur was the place of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s birth. Bhakti Vinoda Thakura was the father of BhaktiSiddanta Sarasvati Thakura who was the guru of Srila Prabhupad. His house is named Svananda-sukhada-kunja where along with his residence, the bhajan kutir with the deities of SRI GAURANGA MAHAPRABHU & SRI SRI GADADHARA PANDITA are present.

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After this we went to Chandrodaya Mandir, which holds the deities of Narsimha Deva, Pancha Tattva and Krishna Bhagvan with Radha and gopis. The atmosphere was amazing.

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After the darshan went to the small abode beside Chandrodaya Mandir, where Srila Prabhupad spent his time with his teachings to all his followers.
Then we had prasadam and retired for the night.

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The next day morning we went for the mangal aarti. First the doors of Narsimha Dev open. As soon as aarti is over there, aarti for Panch Tattva takes place and then the main aarti of Krishna bhagvan. The curtain opens and ‘Govindam, adi purusham’ a song sung by Yamuna maataji and produced by George Harrison is played. Everybody starts singing along and the aarti is so beautiful, I had goosebumps. The atmosphere of bhakti is all pervading.

Then we went to the Goshala. The place where all the cows are lovingly nurtured. We bought some desi ghee and other products from the shop over there and came back. At 7.30am, the next mangal aarti takes place and so we went there for the darshan again and enjoyed the aarti.

Then after relaxing for some time, went to Srila Prabhupada’s Pushpa samadhi mandir, wherein the life story of Srila Prabhupad is depicted. Then we went to a small theatre like a mini planetarium. Saw a 20 minute show which shows us about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Mayapur. It was a nice show. Retired for the night.

On the 3rd day we went to see the Vedic planetarium and new Chandrodaya Mandir which is huge and under construction. It’s expected date of opening is on Gaura Purnima 2022. I would surely like to come again once the Temple Of Vedic Planetarium (TOVP) is finished and opens.

With that, we completed the trip and started back to Kolkata to catch our train home.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare.

 

Chitrakoot Falls

After enjoying at Tirathgarh Falls we started to Chitrakoot Falls. The distance from Tirathgarh to Chitrakoot falls is close to 60 km, taking us around one and a half hour to reach there. It was almost 7 pm when we reached the resort at Chitrakoot falls. The resort where we had booked our stay was Dandami luxury resort, operated by Tourism department of Chhattisgarh. We had booked a few Luxury tents and few cottages. The tents costing Rs 3,000 per day and cottages costing Rs 2,500 per day. Though I had paid for the tent, after going there, I opted for the cottage and exchanged mine with someone else. After having our dinner, we relaxed in our accommodation tired with the long travel and getting wet in the Tirathgarh falls.

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View from the room

The resort is lovely. We have lovely views of the Chitrakoot falls right from the rooms. Rooms are spacious and convenient. There is scope for improvement regarding the food. But since this trip was 3.5 years ago, it may have improved.

Morning woke up early to get the best views of the falls. The Chitrakoot Falls are at a walking distance from the resort. It was a beautiful sight.

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While going nearer to the falls

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The walking path to the Falls.

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The Chitrakoot Falls is the widest falls in India. It is a horseshoe shaped gorge, covering a width of about 300 metres (980 ft). It has a free fall of about 30 metres (98 ft) and is called the Mini Niagara or Niagara of India. On the left bank of the Chitrakoot Falls, a small Hindu shrine dedicated to the god Shiva is in a naturally created grotto. Local boat facilities operating below and under the falls in a misty atmosphere provide views of the falls under an early morning sun. We did not go for it but enjoyed the views from top. The water is very muddy. It is the water of the Indravati river which originates in Odisha, in the Vindhya range of hills, drops as Chitrakoot falls, proceeds westwards to Telangana and then flows into the River Godavari.

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Shrine of Lord Shiva in a naturally formed grotto.

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Captured a rainbow among other pictures and went back to the resort to have our breakfast. At 10 am, we decided to start back and stop once again at Tirathgarh falls, for a short time. After spending an hour over there totally we started the journey back. After our food breaks, by the time we reached Visakhapatnam, it was a little after 9 pm.

Though the journey was very tiring, very happy to have been to both the Falls.

 

Tirathgarh Falls

In August 2015, a group of our friends had planned a trip to Tirathgarh and Chitrakoot falls, which lie in the Bastar district, in the state of Chhattisgarh.

We had decided to go by road from Visakhapatnam. We started at Visakhapatnam at a little past 7 am. At around 8.30 am halted for breakfast enroute. Half an hour of our time was consumed there and then we proceeded to Tirathgarh Falls. Visakhapatnam to Tirathgarh falls is approximately 335 km, which takes us about 7.5 hours to go. We went via Salur, Koraput and Jeypore, finally reaching Jagdalpur which is a major city and the administrative headquarters of Bastar district. We had stopped for lunch too enroute. Tirathgarh waterfalls is 30 km from Jagdalpur, which takes about 40 minutes to go. It was around 3.30 pm by the time we reached Tirathgarh falls.

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Bastar district has a lot of forest area and the scenery is beautiful, yet there remains the threat of Maoists in that area. Hence it is better not to go after dark.

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Views from the top

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The Teerathgarh Falls is a block type waterfall on the Kanger River. The water appears milky white and has a drop of 91 metres (299 ft). After clicking some pictures from the top of the falls, we descended to the lower part, which is where the fun part starts.

The rocks are in such a way that it is easy to climb up to a point, underneath the falls. We can sit beneath the water. The left side was relatively safer, with the flow a little less, which was safe even for the children to play in. The right side flow was a bit forceful so not too safe for anyone. Having said that, it didn’t stop some people from trying to go there. 90 percent of our group went below the water and got drenched and had a real fun time, while the others were busy clicking pictures. After spending close to 2 hours over there, we started to Chitrakoot falls.

 

 

 

Uttarakhand Diaries – Day 4 & 5

May 18th

Got up very early in the morning and got ready to go to Badrinath. Though we had informed the receptionist that we would be checking out at 6 am, nobody was present at the reception. We had to wait till 7 am for the receptionist to arrive and then we checked out.
Starting towards Badrinath, we went past Vishnu Prayag, which is the confluence of Alakananda river and Dauli Ganga river. The roads were good at places but very narrow at some places. Basically the route to Badrinath is more landslide prone.
Tourists are checked at various points and we keep getting messages about which road to avoid, the advantages of registering and giving our biometrics. We had to go at a slower speed because of the narrow roads and by the time we reached Badrinath, it was 11 am.

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View from the queue and the Alakananda river flowing beside

Immediately we went and stood in the line to have darshan of Badrinathji. The queue was serpentine and we were standing on a cliff side. Hawkers came to sell some keychains and coins having the images of Badrinathji and we bought a few to distribute to our friends. Later our queue progressed and we reached the interior of the temple. The darshan of Badrinathji was a bit rushed due to the huge crowd, but once we came out the door had a lovely darshan of Mahalakshmi Maa.

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Badrinath Temple

Then we came to Brahma Kapal and Tapt kund which are at a lower level than the temple. Tapt kund is hot sulfur springs which are believed to be medicinal. While the temperature at that time was 14 degrees Centigrade, the Tapt kund waters have a temperature of 55 degrees Centigrade throughout the year. My husband and my cousin had planned to get Pind daan at Brahma Kapal for their departed mothers, so they undertook the rituals there. It is believed that if Pind daan is done in Brahma Kapal for your departed parents or ancestors, then you do not have to do Pind daan again and the ancestors will be free of rebirth. Overall we were very happy with our Badrinath darshan and all the related rituals being done satisfactorily. We were so happy, that I had forgotten all about Mana which is the last Indian village before the China/Tibet border, which I had planned to see. Mana village is 4 km from Badrinath, situated at a height of around 3219 meters, on the banks of the river Saraswati.

We had lunch at a hotel in Badrinath and started the return journey at 2 pm. Our night halt was to be at Rudra Prayag. We reached Rudra Prayag at 7 pm after going past Vishnu Prayag, Nand Prayag and Karna Prayag. It was dark by the time we reached the Rudra Prayag GMVN hotel. The rooms were Rs 3,000 each, they were good. After checking in, we relaxed for a bit and had an early dinner. Though we could hear the sound of the river, we thought we could explore in the morning. By then, we were travelling for 4 days so we were a bit worn out. We decided to take proper rest and leave relaxedly the next day as we didn’t have any other program.

Thus ended day 4.

May 19th

Woke up to the sound of the gushing river. Opened the balcony door to a wonderous sight. We were right on the banks of the river and Rudra Prayag was right in front of us.

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Rudra Prayag

Rudra Prayag is the confluence of the Alakananda river and Mandakini River. Sat peacefully enjoying the sight for sometime. Then we had breakfast and after packing, we checked out at around 10am and started back. On the way we stopped for lunch at Rishikesh and by the time we reached Dehradun, it was close to 4pm. By then we got a message that there had been a major landslide on the way to Badrinath and the tourists were stranded. We had escaped that fate by a day.

Thus ended our successful trip to Kedarnath and Badrinath.

 

Uttarakhand Diaries – Day 3

May 17th

Post midnight, time refused to progress. It was extremely cold, with the temperatures going into the negative and inspite of the thermals, jackets, gloves and socks, and the rajai and blanket provided, sleeping was an issue due to the cold. Was desperately waiting for morning so that we could leave early. No matter how many times I checked my watch, time refused to move. If I turned a little, then immediately the pillow and mattress would become ice cold, where the body contact left it. People who cannot handle cold shouldn’t stay overnight in Kedarnath when the temperatures are so low.

Finally at 5 am, got up and freshened up, by 6 am we were at the hall where the passengers were. Since many more people had the same idea as us, there was a long queue by then, for people to leave. Immediately we understood that our turn would come only after an hour. As our luck would have it, by the time our turn came, the break for a couple of hours for Pawan Hans got implemented, so we knew that we would be flown only after 10 am.

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Helipad at Kedarnath

Went and had breakfast and then came back to stay in the line. Finally we were flown back to Phata and we reached there at around 11 am. Felt happy to receive the warmth of the sun after the cold night. Our driver was waiting for us there and so we continued our journey.

Our next stay was at Auli near Joshimath. Originally we were supposed to go to Ukhimath, from there to Rudraprayag and then come up to Chamoli via Karnaprayag and Nandaprayag as the other route was under repair. But luckily for us, the route from Ukhimath to Chamoli was open the previous day thereby saving us a lot of extra journey and time. That route goes through wilderness and forest area. It was very beautiful but made me a little nervous too. Main thing about Uttarakhand roads is that they have the hills/mountains on one side and valleys and sheer drops on the other side. Some roads have ample space for two vehicles, but on most of the roads two vehicles crossing, is a bit of a juggle. And some parts of the roads have space for only one vehicle. So the entire 5 day trip we were very thankful to the experienced driver that my cousin provided us with. From Chamoli, we went up north to Joshimath and we went to Auli for our stay. Though most of the route we covered was wilderness, where there was a town, we searched for GMVN hotels to take a snack break and to use washrooms.

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View from the Auli GMVN hotel

Finally at around 5.30 pm reached Auli GMVN hotel. The view from the hotel was beautiful. Though the room was comfortable, heaters were not provided and moreover they said they had an power outage and would put the generator on for a limited time. So we had to bear the cold. After charging Rs 3,500 per room, I felt it was unfair not to provide proper electricity. So was very unhappy, but relaxed for the night as we had to start early again the next day.

Thus ended day 3.

Uttarakhand Diaries – Day 2

May 16th

Morning woke up a bit early and got ready for the journey ahead. Took a couple of pictures of the lovely view and started to Phata which is 14.5 km from Guptkashi. It took around 40 minutes to reach Phata to the Pawan Hans Helicopter pad and office.

People going to Kedarnath, book helicopters from Phata. Various Helicopters services ply between Phata and Kedarnath. Bookings are done much in advance. Very few people are lucky enough to get a ride on the spot. The bookings open a few days before the season and normally get over very fast. So people who want to book online have to be on the lookout and ready to book, whenever the bookings open. People who do not book for helicopter go through a longer distance by trekking or on mules. There are 6 to 7 services and as the airtime is restricted, only 2 services are given time to ply for an hour for each services, post which they have to wait for a couple of hours before they can take the next batch. They work precisely taking care not to loose much time. By the time we can board, a person carries our luggage and keeps it in while the passengers have to board fast. The time in air is 8 minutes and again as soon as the helicopter reaches the Kedarnath pad, we have to jump with our heads bent low and run while a guys brings our bags, at the same time people who are boarding get in and their bags are put in and the helicopter leaves. They are like clockwork, precise.

We had booked for Pawan Hans helicopter service. When we reached their office, first our weight was recorded. Passengers have to be below 90 kgs otherwise they will have to pay for the extra weight. Each person is allowed a bag of 8 kgs or less weight. Nothing more. Per trip 5 or 6 people are taken. Depending on the weight of the persons the passengers are adjusted. We were a group of 4 tall people hence we were split up according to our weights. Two of us had to go with 4 other people and the rest 2 came later.

I was in the first trip and was lucky enough to be seated beside the pilot. For the 8 minutes in air, I had a birds eye view of the beautiful Himalayas, which was an unexpected bonus. Then we reached Kedarnath helipad and got down and ran and then took our bags. Searched for the GMVN tent to find out where our cottage was booked. Finally approached them and took the keys for our cottage.

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One of the bunk bed

The cottage had 2 rooms, each room having 2 bunk beds, thereby making way for 8 people totally. We took a room for the four of us and it costed us Rs 2,400 and the other room was taken by another family. There was a common washroom for both the rooms, and a Rajai and woollen blanket are provided for each bed. After keeping our bags in, we waited for the other two of our party (my brother & cousin) to arrive. They came two hours later at around 2pm.

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Till then I soaked in the atmosphere of Kedarnath. Admiring the Majestic snow clad Himalayas, the porters who carry people and bags, the makeshift eateries and everything. As soon as my brothers came, we kept their bags in the room and went to have lunch that was provided to the pilgrims.

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Cream colour tents under which we sat and had our lunch.

Before starting on the trip checked in accuweather website regarding the probable weather in all the places that we would go to. So I knew that Kedarnath would be very cold. Maximum was 6 degrees and minimum was -2 degrees. So all of us wore thermal wear in the morning itself, then our regular wear and we had jackets on. Carried gloves and an extra pair of socks too for the night, since we were staying overnight. The weather there kept changing so fast, that it was sunny for few moments, cloudy the next.

As soon as we finished lunch, we left to the temple to have darshan of Kedarnathji. Stood in the queue. The queue was in open air with nothing overhead to protect us from the elements. Since the sun was shining and the weather was cool, we stood comfortably, taking in the aura and admiring the surroundings. The destruction of 2013 floods was still visible making me sad remembering the havoc that was wrecked. My brother saw raincoats (temporary ones made with thick polythene sheets) and wanted to buy for the 4 of us, the costed Rs 40 each. Though I thought we wouldn’t need it, he went ahead and bought 4 raincoats. We had progressed a little in the queue, when we came to know that the temple doors had shut and would be open only after an hour. We decided to stay back as going out of the queue at that point would take us back to the end of the queue which had increased by then.

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Kedarnath temple

Suddenly it became dark and cloudy and started to rain, we wore the raincoats that we had, quickly over our jackets, and it started pouring heavily. As if that wasn’t enough to get us shivering, hailstones started, scattering us, trying to take shelter from the make shift shops that were there on both sides of the path. What an experience! We decided not to remove our sports shoes until we reached the entrance of the temple. Braving the cold, shivering, we stood there hoping that the temple doors would open soon and we would be able to have our darshan soon. Finally after a long time reached the temple entrance, quickly removed our shoes and went inside for the darshan. After the darshan, went behind the temple to see the rock that had safeguarded the temple from destruction in the flash floods. By then feet had become numb and we didnt know where we were placing our feet. Hurried back to the shoes and saw a Naga Sadhu sitting there blissfully, without any clothes on, without shivering, doing meditation. The Naga Sadhus are something else, not like ordinary people.

By the time we were back in the room, it was 7pm. We went for dinner, which was arranged at the same place and had dinner. Luckily hot water was provided to drink, thereby warming us a little.
We had decided to reach the Pawan Hans tent first thing in the morning so that we could go back in the first couple of helicopters. After wearing gloves and socks tried to go to sleep. It was terribly cold and I couldn’t sleep a wink the whole night. For people who cannot tolerate the cold, it is better to go back the same day rather than staying overnight.

Thus ended day 2.