Trekking without an itinerary in the Himalayas can be an exhilarating experience.
GETTING away from the pollution and grime of Chennai to a silent trail in the Himalayas is an alluring experience. On my second visit to the mountains, I decided to make it alone, after my confabulations with Government and private tour operators drew a blank. "Akele aayen hain aap?" (Have you come alone?) was the refrain I heard from many a tourist I met during my 10-day journey through Rishikesh, Badrinath, Kedarnath and Haridwar. That I have gone and come back with loads of photographs and experiences is testimony enough to show that a woman can make it alone and be back safe. A habitual route for tourists, there is always help around the corner in the Himalayas.
The soul of a river
The Ganga that gushes noisily in rapids, cataracts and waterfalls high up in the mountains, flows still and deep beneath the Ram and Lakshman Jhoolas in Rishikesh. After depositing my luggage in a room, I walked along the bank and hopped into a ferry that took me across to the other side. "Jai Ganga Maiyya," shout the excited tourists. I spent the whole day walking through the crowded road at Rishikesh and climbing up a mountain to the Bhoothnath Temple. There was a bunch of children downhill, washing clothes in a noisy brook. They asked me to photograph them and I was happy to oblige. Ambling aimlessly and just watching life go by is an art especially useful for a trekker without an itinerary. A sound sleep, snuggling under thick blankets, is the reward for such a travel schedule.
Climb to Badrinath
Next day, I took the bus to Badrinath. Winding through the cold road amid towering greenery with the Ganga keeping company en route, the bus touched Badrinath late in the evening. Even before the bus halts, men crowd around, entreating passengers to various rooms. I should say it was a mistake when I was taken away by one youth who said he has an accommodation at an "ashram". He was only too ready to carry my luggage, lest I changed my mind and began walking in the direction of a rest house amid a construction site. I was gripped with fear at having to follow such a shady trail, but heaved a sigh of relief when I saw a family from Haryana staying there. With no strength left even to eat my dinner, I snuggled into my mattress at the "Janata Ashram" after paying Rs.100 for my stay there.Fresh next morning, I stepped out of the room to a stunning view of a sunlit, snow-capped peak outside. Though science explains the phenomenon of hot springs, I couldn't help being amazed by the presence of soothing warm water at the Tapt Kund, just next to the icy cold Alaknanda. I followed a lonely stone trail for nearly three kilometres at Charan Paduka. Surrounding me was a stream of water falling down from high up, the bare brown, lush green and icy white mountains, the cold air whistling all around. Having my lunch of the ubiquitous aloo parantha, with achar and dahi - the staple tourist diet in the dhabas of the Himalayas, I walked toward the pretty-looking Mana village. A lift in the truck of Mohammed Inam Ali Khan took me to another trek route to the Vyas Gufa, Ganapathy Gufa, Saraswati Ka Janmasthan and Bim Pul. Completing a 10-hour journey from Badrinath to Gaurikund, I began my 14-kilometre trek to Kedarnath after a warm dip yet again at the Tapt Kund on the banks of the Mandakini. The climb upward was very exhausting. I had to take a break to just breathe at every bend and have a sip of water. My companions up the Kedar valley were altophobic yatris diffidently holding on to their mules and senior citizens propped on dolies, carried by four men walking in unison with military precision. From the heights of Kedar, I made another 10-hour journey by bus to the chaotic yet blissful Haridwar. Walking through the crowded streets or just perching on a rickshaw, indulging in the rabdi, malpua, samosa and lassi, marked the end of my journey.