As we previously know that we started to descend from Tunganath much to our displeasure but it was necessary as my fever was rising.
We had started to descend from Tunganath and decided to go to Joshimath. We collected the rest of our belongings from Chopta and headed towards Joshimath which was at a distance of 120 km and it took us around 5 hours. Joshimath is the gateway to several Himalayan mountain climbing expeditions, trekking trails and mainly to Badrinath (one of the four Dhams). Badrinath is 45 km from Joshimath and easily accessible by road. Like the temple in Ukhimath, there was a similar kind of temple in Joshimath too, small and serene. After reaching Joshimath, we settled down in a hotel which was not very upto the mark while my husband went out to buy medicines for me. While he was out, he talked with the Mandir Samiti guest house (the guest house run by the temple committee) and arranged for a room for us there. We shifted there in the evening itself. It was situated just beside the temple and had a beautiful balcony. The temple can be seen clearly from our windows as the guest house shared the temple’s walls. We know that generally around temples beggars sat to beg but there was an unusual number of beggars around this temple. One beggar in particular caught our eyes. He was an old man and all day long he will sing “Jai Siya Ram” in the most melodious tune. He would sing in utmost dedication and there was something in his voice that would melt even the coldest of hearts. Amazingly, he didn’t care much for begging, he would sit and sing in his own. We could hear him from our room only, it was truly mesmerizing.
Later in the evening, as we contemplated on what to have for dinner, hundreds of buses started coming in at Joshimath. It was exactly 8 p.m. on our watches and we saw the whole scene unraveling in front of our eyes as we sat on our balcony. The buses kept coming in till the first bus reached the check post of Badrinath. The check post is situated at Joshimath itself, it was made because the road leading upto Badrinath is so narrow that it only allows one-way traffic, that’s why traffic is regulated by these posts. The check post closed at night so the buses could not venture any further. In an instant, there was a huge traffic jam. The buses stopped exactly where they stood in the middle of the road and thousands of people started disembarking and in another instant, all the empty hotels of Joshimath got filled up. There were a lot of people milling around everywhere, people who could not get a room. They spent the night on the bus and urinated and defecated wherever they could. Joshimath is a nice place but suddenly it felt like hell on Earth, it was filthy and disgusting all around. All through the night there were loud noises all around and there were people still milling around and obviously, the pollution created by the buses. By the time we woke up the next morning, there were no buses to be seen nor any people to be seen around. The moment the check-posts opened, all the buses started traveling towards Badrinath, leaving Joshimath and its hotels empty once again.
That morning, my husband woke up with high fever. My fever has subsided by then and I was feeling much better. His body temperature was extremely high and he was very weak, even had difficulty walking to the bathroom and back. Also, he refused to eat anything, so I went out and bought mangoes for all of us and we stayed in the hotel room for the rest of the day with occasional trips to the balcony and had mangoes. Again that day at the exact time hundreds of buses came pouring in and along with it thousands of people. Fortunately, we already had managed to procure our dinner from the market that day and were spared the ordeal of navigating through throngs of people. The day after that, my husband was feeling a little better and we set out to explore the place on foot. It is a really beautiful small town with a quaint beauty about it. We stayed at Joshimath for 3 nights and mainly spent that in recuperating and my husband also got better little by little, that’s why we could not get a chance to visit Badrinath.
From Badrinath we decided to return back to Uttarkashi as my daughter’s course was also nearing an end and we had to collect her and also we did not feel like visiting any more places or Dhams. We were needed to halt overnight at Srinagar (Uttarakhand) as Uttarkashi was at a distance of about 280 km from Joshimath. We were arranged to stay in a VIP room at the Mandir Samiti guest house at Srinagar by Mandir Samiti guest house at Joshimath because by that time we had built quite a good relation with them.
After traveling a distance of 146 km, we reached Srinagar. It is situated at 1,837 ft and thus making the place hot. On top of that, it was very dingy and nondescript. We went to the Mandir Samiti to settle down in our room but the room they gave us was clearly not the VIP room and when we asked for it they said that all were booked. The room we got was really really big with a single fan in the middle of it and a small bed in the corner but the condition of the room was extremely deplorable. We felt extremely hot on our bed in the corner of the room but did not dare move the bed because we were afraid of what was under the bed, probably more guck and dirt. My husband was not suffering from fever anymore and we set out to explore the town in the evening. There was nothing much to see so we bought dinner and took it back to our room. For dinner, we had mutton red curry and we were very excited about it as we were getting non-veg after so many days and our hearts very positively cried for it. The mutton curry turned out too spicy for even us but my little daughter kept and kept asking for more, we were very astonished.
Exactly like Joshimath, at night buses started coming in and within seconds our guesthouse was filled with hundreds of pilgrims. Some of them got a room and some didn’t. Those who did not get a room all settled down on the balcony just outside our room. The balcony/corridor was big enough to accommodate a lot of people, those who were staying there even started cooking there only and later they would sleep there. There was no way we could even open our door, the situation was so jam-packed. Then we understood why the rooms were so big with just one small bed, usually in a single room 20-30 pilgrims lie together on the floor and Mandir Samiti guest house being free was always the choice for pilgrims. Confined to our rooms, we went to bed early.
We had previously planned on returning to Uttarkashi next morning but upon talking to someone from the market, we got to know about Harsil. It was an extremely beautiful mountain hamlet and it is also the place where ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’ shooting was done. One can only imagine the beauty of the place and it also fell on the route to Gangotri. Given the fact that we have not been able to visit a single Dham despite going so close to it, we decided to also visit Gangotri after staying at Harsil for a day as we still had 2-3 days in our hands. With that firm determination in our hearts, we decided to set out towards Harsil. When we woke up in the morning, again like magic none of the pilgrims were to be seen. During check-out, my husband got to talking with the caretakers of the guest house and then we all realized that there has been a big misunderstanding, the VIP rooms were kept aside for us but we failed to convey or they failed to understand that we were actually those people. It was a hilarious misunderstanding but the night was over and we were headed to Harsil. Srinagar to Harsil was a back-breaking journey of about 200 km and it took us around 8 hours.
After reaching Harsil, due to some problems, we failed to get a room there. So, after having a small lunch there, we decided to move further to Gangotri. Unlike other Dhams, one can easily reach Gangotri by jeep or bus itself and it was the most developed place we saw. From Harsil, Gangotri was a short distance of 25 km.
Soon we reached Gangotri and our jeep left us at the stand. Gangotri as a town is very clean, much to our surprise and also it has a very beautiful ambiance as it is flanked by snow-capped mountains with young river Ganga flowing just beside it and to make the place complete, it was chilly cold. A truly divine and captivating place indeed. We started walking through the town from the jeep stand in search of a hotel, while walking we found big and clean veg eateries, again much to our surprise as so far we only had the options of dingy and dirty ones. We got a nice room in a hotel near the temple. The Gangotri temple was visible from our balcony.
After resting a while, later in the evening, we went to visit the temple, our first visit to one of the Char Dhams. The temple was pristine white in color because it was fully covered in marble and there is a huge courtyard surrounding the temple. River Ganga is flowing just beside the temple.
We attended the evening Arti and it was surreal, to say the least, our first Dham visit was a total success. After the Arti, we explored the little town and had dinner and returned back to the hotel.
The minute we came back to the hotel, my youngest daughter started developing a fever, luckily we had medicines with us. During the evening, my husband got information about how to trek to Gomukh because he believed that if we can reach this far, we should definitely see the snout point of Gangotri glacier when it’s just 18 km away. Unfortunately, there was not an easy availability of horse or pony on that route because very few pilgrims decide to venture further ahead to Gomukh. Also, in my daughter’s condition it would not be advisable to take her up to 13,200 ft. so, finally it was decided that my husband, alone, would go and visit Gomukh while we would return back to Uttarkashi because my daughter was very little and the cold weather of Gangotri would not be good for her fever and also elder daughter’s course was nearing an end.
The next day morning we parted ways, we could have parted our ways forever if only everything happened a day later. As we were leaving, the weather was crisp and chilly and the sun was shining brightly and surprisingly there was a halo kind of a ring around the sun, which looked really beautiful at that point of time but who knew that was the last time the people in Uttarakhand were seeing the sun for many days to come, some weren’t even lucky enough to see the sun shine so bright again. Me and my daughter headed for the jeep stand to catch a jeep and head back to Uttarakhand after having a light breakfast. By that time, my daughter’s fever was increasing by the second, I had to buy her a toy helicopter to keep her mind off things. Again we had to face the same nonsense with local boys at the jeep. We were being forced to seat between the local boys who would not leave aside, I repeatedly pleaded with the driver as my daughter’s situation was deteriorating and it would not at all be comfortable or safe to undertake that journey like that but if only the boys and the driver had a sliver of humanity in them, if only. I kept on arguing with the driver and had to create a ruckus then only did they budge from their seats. Soon we embarked on that 100 km journey, with just one stoppage at Gangnani, where we had quick snacks. About 25 km from Uttarkashi, our jeep came to a halt, there was a massive traffic jam up ahead and we were stuck in that jam for 3 hours, whereas it should have only taken us 30 mins. Exhausted from the whole situation, we finally reached Uttarkashi and got a room.
Stay tuned to know more about one of the biggest natural calamities of India.