Being atheist in a country like India is a daunting job. With such a multi-religious culture and your life into this spiritual extravaganza, it’s hard to steer away from religious thoughts. However as far my experience goes every religion has one basis mantra- ‘be good and be good to others’. And my travel tells me, it’s the sikh community who still believes in it and work towards it.
So how did Hemkund trek happened for me. One of my sikh friend wanted to visit this holy site. You will ask, hey what’s in for atheist in holy site? Answer- Valley of Flowers, chance to trek to 15000 feet on Himalayas, and to check my fitness on a multi day trek. As advised in my previous entries, May-June bad times to visit cool, touristy and religious places. When most of Europe and USA goes back to school, it’s time for brown students to have their summer break. So book in advance or be ready like us for an ordeal in probing and finding solutions to man-made problems.
Our ride was smooth from Delhi-Rishikesh. Rishikesh-Govindghat was a nightmare (though we didn’t go to sleep). A twelve hour journey on a vehicle designed to carry 5 people accommodating 9 people. During the twelve hour drive through Himalayas, most of the actual work was done by our driver, who was the only smoking partner for the journey. As rest of my companions being sikh who are barred from smoking by religion. Our only work was to scream-we are gone, we are alive. For people who don’t know what I mean (I am not calling anyone a fool, I am just trying to find another way to explain myself), imagine yourself on a roller coaster ride, with no guarantee of any malfunction in the setup, and top that with stones being pelted at you (Landslides pelt stones at you).
Now every sikh holy site, there is a gurudwara where you can eat and sleep for free. This time they gave us blanket too. Evening a stroll through the place, which would be hardly a block of the area you are living in. Then was time for some face-to-face travel blog in the big hall where we would sleep with hundreds of other people. People who were on to destination had mostly interrogatory statements, which were answered by people who were from the destination. Questions were centred on- how long does it take? How is the weather? How many people are there? Will I be able to do it?
Next day early morning we started our trek. I can try to eat up all the digital space in this world and try to explain you the feeling of what I saw, it will not be sufficient. Even the photographs might give you an idea, but now what I felt. Its calm, it’s serene it’s NATURE. After 14 KMs of trek you reach Govind Dham (Known locally as ghangaria), crossing through tea stalls, which teaches you lot of value of life, oops! Money. A tea cost you Rs.10,Maggi costs you Rs.50 and a cigarette (Gold Flake) costs you Rs.8. Passing through well paved walkway, sometimes interrupted by their bad counterparts and sometimes by glaciers and landslides and only once by a bridge, we reached Govind Dham. Again a very small village which serves a base for next day’s 6 KMs strenuous trek. Here also gurudwara provides place to stay and eat. You can also look for hotels as well in the season.
Next day we had to wake up early in the morning, and your movement is totally dependent on weather. We were lucky to have a clear weather. A 6 KMs path covering 1200m of elevation difference. Covered with cool morning fog, we started our trek. After around 100m the road divides, the straight one takes you to Hemkund Sahib; the one on the left takes you to valley of flowers. As the fog clears, you will be welcomed by a view, which is comparable to a window seat on a flight. You see peaks that are higher than the clouds. Last few KMs are snow bound. So take it easy, take your time, because a simple accident here might be fatal. And once you reach the top, take few good breaths, as the landscape in going to take your breath away. It was all happy at the top, with a channa curry priced at Rs. 10 and a smoke of Rs.10 except for the fact that I lost my friends on the way. The place where I had met a pittuwala (they are men carrying drums, daily needs, medical needs or other humans on their back uphill/downhill). He offered me to walk with him on way back. So spent some time with him, where he was curious about life in cities. He also asked me a question for which I had no answer- “As they say life in city is very god and relaxing then why do you people come to mountains?”
I waited for my friends who arrived at 6 PM, which was around 6 hours waiting on my part. They were in very bad condition to walk and I was in a very bad condition to afford a room for Rs 1800 for three, whereas I can just walk down for three hours and take shelter in gurudwara. So after lots of discussion we decided on trekking back. We bought two flashlights. After an hour or so it was completely dark; however Himalayas are more beautiful at night. You see edge lines against a backdrop of star filled sky with snow capped peaks shining like pearls in Dark Ocean. At around mid night we decided to just lay down and stargaze for some time. We reached Govind Ghat at around 4AM, and every shop was closed. Luckily we got a place in Gurudwara to power nap for 2 hours and in morning hunt was on for a hotel room. Being the only person in the group to still walk properly was made responsible to find a room. I got a room for three for Rs. 900. We slept whole day and in evening got tickets for a bus back to Rishikesh, and then some shopping, stroll through the market and some discussions.
Next day was journey back to plains, hot summer and polluted air. What did I learn from this trip? First of all research paid off well, with not much problem to find food and place to lodge. We knew the distances and how to reach; to trip was according to schedule (thanks to nature as it did not create any disaster). This was my first real Himalayan experience. Why real, till now my experience was limited to hill stations.
When a person climbs a peak or mountain, he thinks that he has conquered the height, but what he has done actually is conquer the heights of his ego, anger and hatred. If watched closely, life in remote mountains is not easy. People here rely completely on nature and people for their daily needs, where ego, hatred and other negative emotions do not have a place.
Sometimes I ponder, modernization helps in every aspect of life; but does it teaches to control your negative emotions and be a humble human being again?
Due to technical difficulties individual photographs could not be uploaded, so here is a link to FB album, which contains images related to this trip.
Apologies for redirecting inconvenience