A Call from the Himalayas
A Call from the Himalayas
The tea at Phanchkanda had further energized us, And the best was that Shaunka Ram and Ram Rattan, the two godsend friends had assured us to walk along us till the place of night halt. So we had nothing to worry about. Although honestly speaking at that point we never could imagine how could the journey be possible had these two persons not been with us. We welcomes company as we three were feeling quite lonely after Phanchkanda when there was no human habitation in sight. We came across a woman who was taking her sheep for grazing and wondered at her stamina to take sheep everyday to places where we would not dare to put our foot on!
Shaunka Ram was more talkative of the duo and all that I learnt about the Yatra is from him as both of us had become best of the friends by the time we parted company. There was steep forest path sometimes going us and sometimes going down. We wanted to fill our bottles with water but Shaunka Ram advised us to wait till Gaishav Nallah that would be the last water source till Sapava. “The water of this nallah is very good” Shaunka Ram informed us, “even scientists from Italy had checked it!” he added proudly. We drank water to our fill and filled our bottles as well and geared up for the upward ascent.
“Now there is straight ascent till Sapava” he forewarned us. “How long would it take for us to reach Sapava?” I asked him. By this time I had underestimated the distance and the ascent. “Four hours!” said he. Period. We walked on and on. The forest was deep and thick.
The path was narrow, very narrow. If you look down, you would feel as if your head was spinning, such was the deep gorges down, full of forest growths. The trees seemed to be thousands of years old. They were thick and large. Sometimes it would be difficult to look towards their top. It seemed like a virgin forest where no one had ever come. There was silence all around, the only sound would be of five pair of feet walking upwards. The dry leaves under our feet would make a strange sound as they, too, were not accustomed of letting anyone pound them under their shoes!
A multitude of tropical plants had their own world under these trees. It was as if the big trees had sheltered small plants under them and the small plants, in turn, had sheltered still smaller shrubs, ferns and mosses under them. I was wonder-struck at the plant kingdom and the way it helped each other to grow and survive. Each plant exhibited a unique form. The plants of one type grouped together in the form of a colony. The big deodar trees were host to a number of small plants that encircled them or grew upon them and down at their feet were many small fern-like plants in their colonies, not to forget the moss beneathe them! Peaceful coexistence at its best!
I thought of the animal life where the bigger one would try to annihilate the smaller one or the worst was the human life where bigger a person was more would be his destructive power! This jungle had so many lessons to learn from but all these thoughts would be interrupted by the more important thought, “how far is Sapava?”
We were tired. Really tired. The backpack seemed to weigh a ton to me. I would sip in some drops of water and would sit at any place which was wide enough to accommodate me. I was not even afraid of tumbling down the mountainous forest. We had been walking for some two hours and still there was no sight of any place that could be called a plain land. It was the forest path–narrow, dark and steep!
Sometimes we would come across wild rose bushes with pink roses on them. These were just five petaled roses. I would put these petals in my mouth and chew them. I wanted to take a lot may pictures of this jungle but didn’t want to spend the memory card and the battery till the return journey.
We went up and up. It was an ascent at the angle of 85 degree angle. Whole of our body would slump down to balance itself on the steep chase to Spava. After about four hours we reached a place where was a leveled path. It was as level as you can call in those circumstances. There was a board mentioning the right side to be the path towards Shrikhand! I was walking ahead of the group. I was astonished to see a big black snake gliding towards Shrikhand path. Though I was not afraid of the snake but I called loudly, “snake!” Shaunka Ram came running and said to the snake, “go away!” but as the snake kept on moving ahead of us, he shooed the snake away with his stick towards the jungle. And said,”I would have killed the snake had he crossed our path!” We took it as a good omen to be guided by a snake on way to Shrikhand and moved further.
Heaving a sigh of relief at some solace we walked further as we were assured that Spava was very near. And imagine how happy we were when Shaunks Ram pointed towards a tent in the open saying, “here is Spava the Parbati Baag where we will get food!”
Suddenly we started walking fast and reached the tent. There was a wooden bench and we sat on that putting all our bags on the ground. We had seen some more human faces after more than four hours. There were some young boys waiting for the food and we were glad to learn that they, too, were going to Shrikhand. The two small boys were busy preparing rice on one stove and daal on another chullah! The aroma of daal filled our nostrils with desire for food, We started feeling very hungry.
I looked at the boy who was cooking rice. He was wearing only a shirt as his upper garment. The shirt was old and torn. I felt ashamed of taking so much care for covering myself in woolens to save myself from cold droughts at this height when this young boy, in a torn shirt, was preparing food for us, the so called pilgrims!
They don;t charge anythig for the food but there is a box wherein you may put some amount if you want to. Looking at the pressure cooker full of rice I wondered would they be able to finish it as I was not sure of anyone else coming from this route that day!
We had a full meal which was rice and daal. It was so good, felt good at that point of time and place. I thanked the people who organize such service for the pilgrims otherwise there was no way to find anything to eat on this route.
Shaunka Ram and Ram Rattan were languishingly relaxing with beeri in their hands. We had relaxed and now were ready for further journey. They motioned us to restart our trek. We got up from the wooden bench that had given some relief to our bodies and moved up.
The scene had changed absolutely. There was no tree in sight. it seemed as if the whole picture of the jungle was erased by some invisible hand. In a sudden change, The boulders and rocks had taken place of trees and plants but there was some greenery on both the sides of big boulders!
The scene was amazingly out of the world, the world that I was familiar with!
It was 6:20 a.m. in the morning when we reached Phancha. The road from Ganvi to Phancha was kutchha and muddy, narrow and ascending, beautiful as well as horrifying! So when we got down at Phancha we were happy that now on it would be our legs alone that would support us for rest of the journey.
I looked around and was surprised to find an English style bunglow by the roadside. I had walked past it. But the presence of a colonial style bunglow in such a remote place had made me inquisitive. I asked someone nearby about it and was surprised to learn that it was Forest rest house built during the Raj period. !914 was the year attributed to its construction by the person proudly informing me about it.
I wanted to capture a picture of this beautiful Rest-house but walking back seemed too much of an effort to me. I thought of taking the picture during my return journey but then decided to go back a few steps and take the picture. I am glad that I did so as we didn’t return to Phancha during our return journey.
We made some inquiries about the path to Shrikhand and a local woman told us to walk some distance and then start upward journey. I asked her, “Have you gone to Shrikhand?” Her answer was, “Yes.” But after that she put her finger on the badge that she carried on her chest and said, “We go to Mount Abu every year as we have faith in “Om Shant”!” I was bewildered and thought strange are the ways of the world. We were traversing such travails to reach Shrikhand and these people go in search of the same peace to Mount Abu! I learnt at the start of my pilgrimage that peace is ever elusive and we have to run here and there searching for the same!
We started ascending upwards. The path was beautiful. It was a village path where small terraced fields and grasslands surrounded us. The Sun had cast its golden rays on the grass and the scene around us looked heavenly. I clicked some pictures and we moved on. Wherever we would come across two paths facing us, we would look around for some one to guide us but would find none! Looking downwards, I could see the village Phancha and it looked beautiful. We had come quite up as Phancha looked small from here!
We moved on and came to a small muddy house where some human life was visible. It was so relieving to find some people around. We asked for water and talked to them. It was at this point that we found two shepherds, who were to be our guarding angles later on, sitting and enjoying a smoke-pipe. I was smitten with the charm of a mother-daughter duo who watched us curiously. Both were graceful and innocence personified! We chatted a little with them and moved on towards Phanchakanda.
Phanchkanda is barely an hours walk from Phancha but we had taken more than an hour to reach this place. By this time we had been walking quite leisurely enjoying every little thing around us. At Phanchakanda we found a small kuchha house with a tin shed attached to it. The tin shed served the purpose of a makeshift kitchen. An elderly man was in-charge of the kitchen and he offered us to have tea. It was an offer not to be declined and we sat around waiting for the tea. The tea was sugary, syrupy and very refreshing. The room in that house had rubber sheets and blankets lying in a heap and was a welcome resting place for pilgrims who reach Phanchakanda in the evening and take rest there. The house and its structure spoke of the easy access to big logs of wood as the house was made of very huge logs kept to support the walls and as flooring material as well. The forest that we had to ascend had been the source of such plentiful wood in construction work.
While we were waiting for tea, the two local men we had met earlier reached there and they, too, were offered tea. When we came to know that both of them were going to the place where we had planned to stay during the night, it was such a relief to us. Bhagat Ram Ji told us that a group of boys had also gone ahead on their way to Shrikhand. We were so happy that we were not alone on this track but there were a few others.
After taking tea we moved further and now we had local friends with us to lead us towards Shrikhand!
From Ganvi to Phancha
The two days that I spent at Ganvi were full of hope and despair. One moment I would be full of hope that my dream to visit Shrikhand would be realized but the other moment I would be full of despair as uncertainty loomed large over my plans!
The more number of people we would talk to, the more confused we would be! When I had started, I had one thing clear in my mind that I would have to trek 37 Kms. and that the terrain would be difficult. I was prepared for the same. I had come to Ganvi as my brother-in-law was serving there and I had hoped to fit myself in any local group starting from Ganvi! Inquiries on Monday produced no results as no one from Ganvi was going. The land lady had a word of advice for me, “you should have come in a group!” And further explained, “the snow is deep and heavy this year and it might be difficult for you to walk!” She had put in very politely her disapproval for my plan to travel alone. Another point may be would have been her plain under-appreciation in the capabilities of someone from lower region to trek in such a rough terrain. Looking back I find that she was so right!
I was uncertain of myself by now! All my self-confidence and months of training on the ground was shattered! KS was more concerned about me when another person had a tale to share. According to him last year some three four boys decided to trek to Shrikhand from Ganvi. The group included his own son and also a friend of his son who had come from Chandigarh! On way back, the Chandigarh boy lost in the trails because of heavy fog that surrounds the mountains bring down the visibility to almost zero level. The poor Chandigarh boy could not be found by the friends though they tried as hard as they could, and they returned without him. The matter was reported to the police and the administration but even police could not locate him. Later on the boy returned on his own after 4-6 days. The local people owe it to the benevolence and protection of the local deity who guarded the boy throughout the ordeal! The boy was found by some local villager in the trails. “The boy walked following the Nanti rivulet as he knew that this flows by Ganvi and was able to reach some habitable place!
The story was a real incident and not a mere hearsay! It was not to scare away the pilgrims but to forewarn them of the dangers that lurked in the forests and mountains. I was uncertain of the trails and was afraid of getting lost but was unable to find any local group going to Shrikhand. I decided to go back to Rampur and from there to Bagipul and join the pilgrims from there as I knew that Bagipul route was a busy route where one cannot be alone at any point of time! I discussed it with KS and after some ifs and buts decided for the Bagipul route.
But Shiva had different plans. My brother called me up in the evening as a routine matter. As by now I was fully prepared to go to Shrikhand and had reached the foothills of the trek, so I lent out my little secret and said to him, “Do you know where I am right now?” When he failed to guess, I blurted out my secret, “I am on my way to Shrikhand and plan to go tomorrow to Bagipul.” When he came out of the initial shock, my brother asked me, “who else is going with you?” “I am going alone” I said, “but I would get many people on way to Shrikhand.” I added. It was Monday evening. My brother must have felt concern for me. He said, “Wait for me. I would reach Ganvi tomorrow evening and both of us will go together!”
Honestly, I got so much of relief. I was happy that now nothing can change my plan to visit Shrikhand as I would have my brother with me. I told KS about this development and he, too, was much relieved. With Monday over, Tuesday was a day of wait for my brother but the plan to take up Bagipul route was still intact, But Shiva had another plan for me!
The day was, as usual, not very happening. We planned to make the best use of the day in exploring places nearby. We went to Jeori and from there to Sarahan to pay obeisance at Bhimakali temple. While coming back from Sarahan, I could see Ganvi in the distance and felt like walking to Ganvi, it seemed so near though it was some 30 kms away. It was later that I learnt how distant goals appear so near in the mountains!
In the evening Tarun Goel called me up. He had read a post on my blog about my Shrikhand Yatra and he put me to Arun who had gone to Shrikhand both from the Jeori side and from Bagipul side. Arun’s call was the message that perhaps I needed at that time. “Ma’am let people say what they want to, but you can go!” He said to me. He wanted me to have faith in myself and not to be swayed by what others say about the trek. And after this call, I decided that now we would take the Jeori route as this was what we had decided in the beginning. I shook my head of all discouraging inputs that my little brain had been fed upon during the last two days. I let my mind ravel in the pleasant trek from the Phancha side.
But the final decision was to be taken when my brother would reach Ganvi. I had prepared rice. daal and a vegetable for the dinner. My brother, accompanied by one his friends, reached Ganvi at 11 p.m. It was quite late. We hurriedly had our dinner. Decided the Phancha route and packed our bags. It was decided that early in the morning we would start at 3 a.m. to Phancha by my my brother-in-law’s car and from there would start the journey!
With packed bags lying nearby, I went to sleep. I could not sleep despite my best efforts as all those negative thoughts came back to me and I was once again filled with doubt over my decision to trek to Shrikhand.
I was unable to decide. There was no point in debating over the pros and cons before the advent of the journey but I thought about KS and my three kids staying abroad. The thought of “what if …” would erupt its head and drive away all efforts to have a wink of sleep.
I tossed in the bed making as little noise as I could though the beds creeked every time I would as much as try to breathe heavily! I don’t know when, at last, I fell asleep. I had barely closed my eyes when there was sound of heavy rain thrashing the tin roof. I thought of my childhood days when Amma would make us sit with book in hand when all that we wanted was to go to bed. And if perchance there would be power breakdown we would be so happy that now we can go to sleep! 🙂 I had a similar kind of euphoria when the heavy rain lashed the region!
I was relieved. The relief was such that I cuddled myself in the blanket, tightly holding it close to me and thought of not coming out of this comfort zone. A part of my mind and heart was happy that it was raining as my brother-in-law would not be able to take his car to Phancha as the kuchha road would be full of mud! And we would not go to Shrikhand tomorrow!
Surprisingly I didn’t feel regret at our plans coming tumbling sown but I was feeling relieved! I could sleep now. Sleep peacefully. But suddenly there was a knock at the door and I found my brother and his friend ready to take on the journey! I, too, had to get up, though not very willingly and I straight way went to the kitchen to prepare tea. We all waited for the rain to stop and start the journey. By this time I made some chapattis and we had one chapatti each with the leftover vegetable of the previous night, Though none of us was interested in gulping chapatti at that deadly hour but the feeling that where and when the next meal would come from, made us gulp it down.
The rain stopped. It was 5 a.m. by now and we all were ready to go. I looked at KS. I held him close to myself and could feel energy from his body transferring to me. All the feeling of uncertainly, doubt and fear vanished from my mind. I knew that I was given an opportunity of once-in-lifetime by Shiva and I had to come true on His test!
We walked by the bank of Nanti rivulet to the car which took us to Phancha! The drive from Gabvi to Phancha took almost an hour for a distance of barely 10 Kms.
And by 6-20 a.m. we were at Phancha!
…………..to be continued.
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Sunday, 15 July, 2012
The bus journey to Rampur and Jeori, throughout, was a treat to eye though a ache in the back! The road was truly serpentine with deadly descent and narrow U-line curves! I was awestruck at the driving skills of the HRTC driver who would maneuver blind curves with extreme ease. Though the more popular road to Rampur and beyond is from Shimla but the Karsog road is full of such panoramic beauty that I had no doubt that we were heading towards a place of pristine beauty!
We had tea at Chowki where the dhaba had a local touch and flavor. The steamy hot paranthas were really inviting but it was too early for me to take anything so I made a mental note of partaking paranthas at some other time. But later after the Shrikhand trek I realized that deferring to-do-things is not a healthy attitude as the next chance does not always come your way!
River Sutlej flows parallel to the narrow road to Rampur and at times I would try not even to breather heavily for the fear that my effort to breather heavily might not tilt the bus towards the river. Such close the road is to the river!
The Karsog valley was, as usual, beautiful! But focusing on the journey ahead I was immersed in deep thoughts about the ensuing trek! At Karsog a number of Sadhus boarded our bus chanting the name of Shiva! The bare chested and bare footed sadhus grabbed all the available seats and put their big bundles, sticks and umbrellas on the bus floor! They were insensitive towards fellow passengers. I thought hard what is the point in donning ocher clothes if you are like an average worldly human being? Most of the sadhus put earphones of their mobiles in their ears and switched on their mobiles. I am sure that they were not listening to any religious discourse on their cells! And the fact that these would be my fellow pilgrims made me somewhat uneasy!
Though KS had stopped his initial grumbling about travelling in a crampy bus but now this heightened activity in the bus made his grumbling to recur with enhanced vigor! “And these are the people you would be keeping company with during the yatra!” Even I was having the same thoughts. I was a bit worried by now as I had planned to trek alone. The Sadhus, oblivious to the commotion they had created in the hitherto peaceful bus, were arguing with the conductor for some concession in the fare if not a free ride to the servants of the god on an arduous yatra!
I was feeling uncomfortable by now but a look outside the window to the distant Himalayas reaffirmed my faith that everything will fall back in place and I started enjoying my bus ride.
We reached Jeori y 2-30p.m. and here from we had to go to Ganvi which is barely 12 Kms. from Jeori. My brother-in-law was waiting for us and it took 50 minutes to cover these 12 Kms, The road was a difficult one. By 4 p. m. we were sipping a cup of tea at Ganvi and chatting happily! The tiredness of the journey was gone in a jiffy. It seemed as if the clear wind of the Himalayas had done wonders to us. The khadd nearby called Nanti was flowing with a loud noice. Someone pointed oout to me, ” this Nanti Khadd comes from Nanti village and has water from the Shrikhand in it.” I looked at the distant high mountainous peaks behind whom lay Shrikhanf!
My heart gave up the hope of ever reaching that height. But shaking my head of any negativity, I back-grounded all such feelings and waited for the next morning. The certainty that I had about my resolve to trek to Shrikhand was overtaken by a sense of doubt! I wanted to have a good sleep. Perhaps a dream may indicate the course of things to happen, perhaps may be God would send me a signal, I thought and prayed. With prayer in heart I went to sleep listening to the gushing sound of Nanti Khadd that brought water from Shrikhand!
Tomorrow is a new day, I thought, and a new beginning.
Saturday, 14 July, 2012
As I have never been a very organized person so I had planned to keep all the things that I wanted to take in the form of a heap on the bed so that I don’t forget anything! There were certain things that I had scuttled from the cupboard others that I had borrowed from friends! 🙂 One special item was a walking stick that was a parting gift to me from Mukta, a dear friend. I got some improvements made in the walking stick by getting a metallic end fixed to it.
I had kept a quilted olive green jacket to be taken on the trip. While packing the things in the bag-pack, I would be careful about the weight as I knew that I would have to carry it all by myself. So I had to make a very judicious selection of what to take and what not to take. I was undergoing Hamlet’s dilemma of to take or not to take? But by afternoon I had packed a bag, kept my cameras in a water-proof small bag, the stick on the bag and all this I had put on the jacket! I wanted to carry the jacket in my arms so had not packed it in any bag.
KS was busy preparing our ever faithful Red Maruti 8oo ready for a journey. He made a sign to me to come out. I hurriedly dropped a mail to all my three kids, announcing my visit to Shrikhand, barely a line. I went to the gods occupying a small alcove in the kitchen and prayed to them for a safe journey. Hurriedly carrying a bottle of water in one of my hands, a stick in the other hand, the bag on my back, I sprightly went down!
In all that hub I forgot that the jacket lay behind waiting to be carried. I had forgotten to carry the most important thing with me. Luckily I didn’t notice it till we reached Sundernagar otherwise I would have sullenly spoiled my mood as well that of KS!
It was at Sundrenagar, at my younger sister’s place, that I noticed that I had left the jacket behind. My sister, magnanimously, opened her almirah and pointed towards well stacked cupboard where neat and clean winter wears were stacked neatly! She asked me to take whatever pleased me. But I wanted something rugged, worn-out and old as I knew that for some days that jacket would be serving me day and night. Finally I opted for the one that she had discarded! It fitted me well, comfortably and smugly.
All prepared we went to bed as early in the morning we had planned to get the first bus to Jeori from Sundernagar. The bus started at 5-30 a.m. and would drop us at jeori at 2-30p.m. My sister had packed lunch for us and we walked to the bus-stand in the morning. I had expected that it being a Sunday there would not be much rush in the bus but I was shocked to find the bus almost full and we were lucky to have a two-seater seat at the rear end of the bus.
Here, too, I noticed a point of difference between me and KS. I am more of a nomad and hop in buses feeling very comfortable but KS avoids buses if he can! 🙂 Though he wanted to drive to Jeori but I was against it so we fell for the bus journey but now sitting at the rear end of the bus I had to tolerate his grumbling! But after a while the grumbling paved way to resilience and we had a nice journey sitting together in a bus seat where the rear door of the bus opened! It was after years that we were travelling together in a bus and it reminded us of the good old days when we had no car and we used to travel by buses and loved it too!
I thought how easily human mind adapts to all circumstances. We were happy and eager to visit a new place and to have a new experience.
…..to be continued
It was the year 2011 when I saw a poster of Shrikhand Mahadev. I had gone to the market and somewhere at a prominently visible landmark, I saw it. I was hooked. All that I had read in the book Blink worked for me. I knew this was the place I wanted to go. Where this place was, what all this place was all about seemed irrelevant to me at that point in time. So novice I was that I was stupid enough to think that you have to scale this mountain and reach the top! I had fallen in love with the place!
Subsequent inquiries and search on the NET made me aware of the rugged and difficult level of the terrain that you have to traverse to reach at the foot of the rock which signifies the all powerful Shiva!
This was a time when I was restless on account of so many not-so-good things taking place in my life and perhaps running away to a secluded place, even if for some days, was the driving force behind my stubborn decision to go visiting Shrikhand Mahadev.
My brother, ten years younger to me, reacted with disbelief when I shared my dream with him, I had thought that he would help me plan the visit but all that he said was, “Are you mad?” and further added, “one of my friends told me how someone fell before his eyes and he could do nothing to save him.” He dissuaded me and my resolve to go to Shrikhand in the year 2011 met with an opposition from all quarters! In fact, I was relying on my brother to help me plan the visit but no such luck. By the time the scheduled yatra time was over and I was left with mo option but to drop the idea.
But Shrikhand never got off my mind and I would often think of the magnificent rock that stood like a crown in the great Himalayan ranges.
Once again I saw the same poster and read about the details of the pilgrimage. This year I had done my home work quietly! I knew that I had to be in good physical shape to take this arduous trekking so I had taken to getting up at 5 a.m. and going to the sports ground and jog for 3 kms.! In the evening I would, once again, go to the ground and again take five rounds of the field without break. I was trying to develop stamina which I needed badly during the ensuing trip. When others would inquire why had I taken to this strenuous regimen, I would laugh away their comments saying, “I am preparing myself for Shrikhand trek!” And soon, very soon, it became the talk of the campus that I was planning to trek to Shrikhand though at home no one had any idea about what I had in mind.
As soon as the date for the trek was announced, I made my announcement at home to my dear KS, “I would be going to Shrikhand!” Knowing well how smitten I was with Shrikhand, KS started planning the trip. We both complement each other. I go by heart and he goes by mind. I am emotional but he is rational. He thought about all that this trip would entail and started thinking and planning rationally. The toughest part was to keep it a secret from our kids who would be acting like “parents” to stop me from taking this trip!:) I would act very normal while chatting with my kids and would hide all my paraphernalia if it was a web-chat so that none of my kids could notice the raincoat, jacket, torch etc. haphazardly lying in a heap behind me. I would not have been in a position to answer their poking questions. God what eagle-eyed they were so I would hide everything before I would start web-chat! But my Little one could sense something and was very inquisitive, Somehow we kept it all a well hidden secret.
I wanted to surprise everyone. I wanted to prove my mettle and let them know only when the desired was done. I was mad, totally mad. It was adrenalin rushing in my body that made me so excited. But the good part was that instead of hopping in a bus for Rampur, I had my husband with me to plan the trip!
I started preparing on my own about the essential paraphernalia that I would be needing for the trip whereas KS started preparing for how to reach the destination! We were at Hamirpur. We had to reach Rampur. There were two ways to reach Rampur–one was via Shimla and the other was via Mandi Karsog! We decided to take the Karsog route.
I was excited, rather it would be an understatement to say that I was excited. I was euphoric!
But during all this excitement I had taken special care not to reveal a word about it to my brothers as I knew that both of them would dissuade me, once again, from taking the trip, With all the preparation finalized both of us one fine day left for Sundernagar en-route to Shrikhand!
…..to be continued.
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