We were all set before dawn to leave Delhi for Haridwar, with our rucksacks, about to embark on a journey into the land of myths and legends. Riding our motorbikes to get to Haridwar – the gateway to the land of the Gods – was smooth but muscle-wrecking! Choosing to stay at the Leisure Hotels’ Haveli Hari Ganga was about the best thing we could do for our aching muscles. All their rooms are nicely lit and tastefully done. The hotel touches the banks of the Ganga where you can take a dip at the private bathing ghat. We pampered ourselves with some exotic massages on the rooftop Sansha Ayurvedic health-spa. Watching the evening arti from the comfort and tranquillity of the balcony of the haveli is a royal treat.
Rejuvenated, we were ready to take on the next leg of the journey to Joshimath. Morning on the next day saw us through the 11-hour taxi drive to Joshimath along the Ganga. En-route we stopped at Devaprayag which has a spectacular view of the confluence of the River Alaknanda, which originates from Badrinath, and the Bhagirathi, which emerges from the Gangotri glacier to form the sacred River Ganga.
We reached Joshimath at around 7 p.m. and camped at the Chardham camp, again run by Leisure Hotels, with its luxury tents. What more could one ask for after the voyage but a hot water bath, a good meal and a good night’s sleep in the tent under the starlit skies! But the next morning had an unpleasant surprise in store. At 6.00 a.m., we realised the driver who was supposed to give us company till Badrinath had bolted and gone back to his base camp at Haridwar.
We panicked, as the gates which open at stipulated timings for the one way track to Badrinath would close after 6.30 a.m., to open again only at 9.00 a.m.
Here’s when the panditji who does the daily morning and evening arti at the camp came to the rescue. He guided us through the back lanes down to the bus stand so that we were able to board a bus going to Badrinath in the nick of time. The uphill drive takes around two hours. However, if you are unlucky enough to get stuck in the chaotic traffic when the second gateway opens to let out the traffic returning from Badrinath, you are doomed!
At Joshimath, a visit to the Narsimha temple is not only mandatory but also essential to understand the legend behind it.
This visit should ideally be undertaken before one leaves for Badrinath. This temple is dedicated to Lord Narasimha and is said to have been installed by Shankaracharya.
From Badrinath, the scenic beauty of the heavily iced Alaknanda, with majestic mountains forming the backdrop, is breathtaking. Encircled in a beautiful valley with the snowy peaks of Neelkanth, Nara and Narayana visible, the ancient temple of Badrinath dates back to the Vedic times and was rebuilt by Shankaracharya in the 8th Century A.D.
The many renovations
The temple has been renovated several times due to the havoc wreaked by avalanches. The temple complex has 15 idols, chief among which is the one metre-high, finely sculpted, black stone image of Badrinath, representing Lord Vishnu in a meditative pose.
When Badrinath closes during winter, the priests from the Badrinath temple return to Joshimath and continue to worship at the Narasimha temple.
We stayed on for a while in Badrinath, stopping at a langar for the sadhus who literally pour in here during this season. One of the sadhus obligingly posed for a picture and invited us for the prasad. A 15-minute walk downhill from Badrinath is all it took for a visual treat – thick glacial ice on Alaknanda melting away.
Luckily, we got a lift back to Joshimath with a family in a minibus.
Back at Joshimath, we encountered a self-proclaimed Baba Narmada Nath who smoked his chilam, also savoured by most of us.