Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Uttarakhand V - Kedarnath Temple Darshan Day

Prelude After a dramatic night, we were all excited and looking forward to the darshan at the famous temple. We had to get tokens for the darshan. The token would have the time of the darshan. So, the earlier you would stand in the queue, the sooner you will get the Darshan. So, we decided to wake up at 4:00 am and get into the queue early. However, we discovered getting ready so early wasn't as easy as we thought. The water was too cold for us to take a bath or brush, and to make matters worse, there was no electricity. However, we took turns and got ourselves ready to face the most important day of the tour.

Chaos before the start - Just before getting on the walk towards the temple, there were steps leading up to the place. Just below the stairs, the organizers made makeshift arrangements for distributing tokens. Handling the large crowd of devotees proved to be extremely difficult for the organizers. There was no queue, no proper communication. The organizers, two of them, ended up being helpless in front of the crowds of devotees demanding tokens. It took them an extreme step of stopping all distribution of tokens for a few minutes to force the devotees to come in proper queues. Soon, we got our darshan tokens and the time listed was 11:00 am. The time when we would get to witness the most famous Jythorlinga.

Kedarnath temple
A magnificent view - This was the first time, we were getting close to the temple. As we went closer, the anticipation only got stronger. A lot of unexplained emotions passed our minds. And what a magnificent sight it was!! At 3500m above sea level, with a backdrop of snow-clad mountains on all the sides, the whispering sound of the Mandakini river looking pristine and flowing peacefully beside, the white sheet of clouds around the famous temple. No sight of flora or fauna as far as the eye could see. Behind was the famous boulder that stopped the raging floods of 2013 and protected the temple. In front of the temple was firmly seated, the Nandi bull, guarding the temple diligently. Right in the centre of all this, was this elegantly standing ancient structure - The Kedarnath temple. One of the twelve jyotirlingas and the most famous and also the highest of them. The air was filled with divine energies and one could feel the intense spiritual reverberations that filled the atmosphere around the much-sought temple. The feeling was unexplainable, surreal, just of the world. All the hardships vanished in a moment. It was all about this moment.

As we were soaking in the majestic sight, our attention went towards the queue that was beginning to form next to the temple. Must say the concept of tokens is still very nascent in religious places. Although the tokens are meant for a specific time, people ended up joining the queue, even if their darshan time was later. This was followed with the unnecessary pushing and pulling. As it slowly started to drizzle, I volunteered to stand in the queue, while my friends went back to the cottage to get the rainy wear. I took some prasad items and waited for my friends to turn up. Every raindrop felt like ice, my patience was wearing thin. I called up my friends asking them to hurry up. There was chaos there, with the indicator not working, no one to inform, whether to stand or not. After they arrived, I explained the situation. They too joined me for a brief while. With all the jostling around, it didn't make any sense to stand there in the rain. We got out of the queue, with a bit of despondency, hoping for a miracle.

Darshan - We stood under a shelter for some time. The rains were having a field day. When the rains reduced, we moved out. We were just wandering around the temple when suddenly, we saw an opening and we entered the queue again. The security guard just asked us to show our tokens and allowed us to enter. And soon we entered the famous temple. There were statues of deities all around the temple.  The temple itself was made of rock with unique carvings on the inner walls. The sight within was stunning.  The intensity of the place kept getting stronger, people raising slogans hailing the Lord, "Bolo Shankar Bhagwan ki Jai!!!" Things moved quickly and soon we found ourselves in the inner sanctum. Immersed in the hymns of the Lord, devotees were offering prasad, milk, fruits & flowers or just prayers. The pujaris and some of the temple volunteers were there to handle them. Although the crowds were huge, they didn't show any signs of stress. They made sure everyone got a few minutes at least. We made a pradarshan (circumambulation) around the famous linga. We even got a chance to bow down and touch the linga with our foreheads. The pujari applied a holy tilak on our foreheads, a sign of the blessing of the Lord. And within no time, we made our way out.

Return - I waited for my friends, just outside the temple, under a shelter, since the rains were persistent, soaking in the fact that we had nice darshan. After a while, I got a call from one of my friends, he was back in the cottage. Probably, I missed seeing them coming out. He informed me, the other friend was still at the temple, searching for his shoes. I found him & helped him in the search but for no avail. We returned back and packed our stuff. We enquired with a few horse wallas if they could take us back down to Gaurikund. We had decided to take it easy on our way down as we didn't want to exert ourselves too much. Although, one friend chose to return back walking. Luckily, we found a few horse pullers who were ready to take us. We took some pictures. It was getting chillier a bit, looked like it was going to be a day of rain. And just before we started our descent, we took one last look back at the temple and wondered, will we ever return here again?

Journey to Gaurikund The journey down was rather smooth, with the dandi (horse puller) telling us the story of 2013 floods. There was a light drizzle throughout the day. We felt relieved it didn't rain much the previous day when we were on the ascent and that too by foot. We hardly took any break and in a matter of 4-5 hours, we were back at the base, Gaurikund. We had some tea and Maggi in one of the eateries there. The mobile network was bad and we were unable to connect to our friend, who was trekking down. There was a huge queue with yatris waiting for a ride back to Sonprayag. So, we decided to walk down. We had just started, and we found ourselves being asked by a driver if we wanted a ride back. He was escorting some family members down and didn't want his empty seats to go wasted. Without a second thought, we hopped in. As we were on the move, some people who were walking down, ran and got themselves latched on to the vehicle. With the twists and turns, there were calls of oohs and aahs from all of us, especially from the ones who were hanging out. And within 15-20 mins we were in Sonprayag. As we waited for our other friend, we collected some cash from ATM that had some moolah refilled. Our driver too, who had completed the yatra was back early and relaxing in the vehicle. After some time, our friend who walked all the way from Kedarnath to Sonprayag arrived. He was completely exhausted with the exertion. We gave him some time to freshen up and take a breather before we started our journey.

Triyuginarayan temple
Triyuginarayan Although, we had to pick up our friend, who had to abort his yatra in Gaurikund, along the way, before we could do that, we had taken a detour to go to the famous temple called Triyuginarayan. After a hectic couple of days, we were pleasantly surprised with the route. Quiet and empty roads, no honking cars, fresh breeze flowing, tall trees on the sides and scenic views. Within half an hour, we reached Triyuginarayan, which was another ancient temple. Lord Shiva and Parvati were married there. It is said, the fire from their marriage burns even today. The temple complex had a few smaller temples and the main one. We had offered our prayers in those temples. It was a quaint little temple, secluded and peaceful. The views around were fantastic too. Strangely though, in a remote place that it was, there was some police bandobast (arrangements), which was quite unusual. We couldn't figure why, but, soon, we discovered the reason. Check out the picture and figure out for yourself.

Travel to Chopta - We picked up our friend, whom we had to leave behind in Gaurikund, his hotel was on the way to Chopta. We had booked our night stay in Chopta. He had quite a story to tell, where he stayed, how he got there, whom he met. Apparently, the place he ended up was actually on the backside of a helipad. So, he had a busy day. We have had some tea and biscuits along the way. Much of our journey to Chopta was spent sharing the events of the day, eventually, all of us dozed off. It was that kind of the tiring day.

Drama in Chopta
We woke up all of a sudden. It was middle of the night with neither light nor a sound. We were in Chopta. Chopta has no power supply, hotels, a few though, ran on solar power. Pitch dark with not a soul in sight. Except of course the stars, shining brighter than ever. The driver looked confused. We were wondering if we were in the right place. We got down from our vehicles and tried to stop a few vehicles on the way, but, they wouldn't stop. Network signals were sparse. As per the driver, we had reached the destination, but, our hotel was nowhere in sight. We had seen signs of wild animals in the vicinity, mostly bears, along the way. So, that ran at the back of our minds, as we got down from the car. As we were searching around, we found the board of the hotel. The hotel was not on the road, but, slightly inside. And one had to slowly get their car down a slope to reach the hotel. The hotel was known to be a spa-cum-resort that offered herbal massage and also organized treks to nearby places, the most famous one being the Tungnath trek. We could see the hotel from a distance. It had neatly arranged tents to one side of the hotel, with tall trees all around. Our anticipation of getting a nice herbal massage after tiresome days just brightened up.

Hotel unforgettable
As we entered the hotel, we were greeted by the hotel manager also a special guest, who was waiting for us in our room. One may say, we were a bit rude, but we had to push the guest out. That gave us an idea of the beauty of the hotel. Must say, the hotel was beyond our expectations. It gave the best experience of wilderness, no electricity, cold water, a furry cat running all over the hotel, perhaps, she got interested in the curry, and a few other guests and the different sights and sounds that were on offer, absolutely free. The saving grace was the food, the cook prepared a nice meal which helped us get over the hardships of the last few days and also the unique experience of the hotel. We all had a huge laugh over the situation we found ourselves in. Hotel Mayadeep Chopta is a hotel, we can never forget. Well, not for the right reasons though !!! With that, the most important day of the tour came to a closure.
Special Guest in hotel

Next up - Travel to Badrinath and darshan


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