This is about a slightly different kind of adventure in the Himalayas. The kids nor rest of the family accompanied me this time around. I went on a Himalayan pilgrimage with a group of like-minded folks from around the world. Nonetheless, I am writing about it here since there is a general interest about traveling in the Himalayas : )
The River Ganga is by far one of the most fascinating rivers I have ever encountered. When we visited Rishikesh last year (see previous post), I felt a need to follow the river to as close to its source as possible. When I read about the Isha Foundation Sacred Walks, I was hooked. Here is the itinerary we followed tracing the river.
Day 1: Delhi to Haridwar by bus. Most of the day was spent on the bus. Once we reached Haridwar, we stayed at a simple place that provided all the basic amenities. If traveling in a smaller group, I would recommend flying directly to Dehradun and then traveling to Haridwar. The bus ride from Delhi to Haridwar was not fun to say the least (i.e. no exciting views other than traffic along the way).
Day 2: Haridwar to Sitapur. The next day we drove from Haridwar to Sitapur, which is located at the base of Kedarnath. Along the way, we stopped at Rishikesh to obtain the necessary permits. It is mandatory for everyone going to that region to register themselves. It was a long day but the views were amazing. On our way, we were able to see “Devprayag”, the place where River Bhagirathi and Alaknanda meet to form River Ganga. As we drove up further, we also passed by “Rudraprayag” where River Alaknanda and River Mandakini merge. We spent the night in Sitapur.
Day 3: Kedarnath. We woke up early in the morning and headed towards Kedarnath. There are 2 ways to reach the temple town of Kedarnath. One is to take a helicopter and the other is to hike up (walk the 20km or use a pony). I chose the latter and I decided to use a pony. In retrospect, I wish I was physically better prepared to walk up the whole way. Because I used the help of a pony, I reached the top in good time and had plenty of time to explore the temple town. It is an amazing place where you have an opportunity to see River Mandakini closest to its source. We spent the night in Kedarnath in simple dorm type accommodations.
Important Note: Most people did not sleep too well (including myself) because it was difficult to adjust to the altitude.
Day 4: Kedarnath to Guptkashi. Spent the morning hiking back down to Sitapur. Once we reached Sitapur, we took a shower, had lunch and then headed to Guptkashi. We spent the evening visiting the local temple.
Day 5: Guptkashi to Badrinath. We once again woke up early in the morning and headed to Badrinath. It was a long ride and we encountered a few small landslides along the way. We stopped in Chamoli Gopeshwar for lunch. This is where you begin to see a different side of the Himalayas … spectacular! Beautiful greens and gorgeous curves. As you drive closer to Badrinath, you get an opportunity to see the Nanda Devi range beauty. There was a point where you have to turn left to go to Badrinath and right to reach Valley of Flowers. My goal of course is to go back and turn right sometime in the near future : ) Once we reached Badrinath, we once again had the evening to explore the temple town and watch the River Alaknanda flow by the temple.
Day 6: Mana and then to Pipalkoti. Mana is the last village civilians are allowed to visit and it is located close to Badrinath. After breakfast we headed there to explore the village and its surroundings. Once in Mana, we visited the caves where the famous epic The Mahabharata was written. We also had an opportunity to see Vasudhara falls (where river Saraswati forms) and the point where it merges with River Alaknanda… truly beautiful! After lunch we headed to Pipalkoti for our night halt. We encountered rain along the way, so we were not able to see much.
Day 7: Pipalkoti to Uttarkashi. Another long drive day. The views were nice but because of rain, we were not able to see much. We reached Uttarkashi late in the evening and just managed to settle in.
Day 8: Uttarkashi to Gangotri. A beautiful drive. Due to non-stop rains, we were not able to see much. In addition, we lost some time due to a landslide which closed down the road for a while. However, the mountains here are worth seeing. The Bhagirathi near Gangotri was pretty rough on that particular day so we did not do a direct dip in the river but rather filled buckets and then took a bath in a safe area. After enjoying time at the temple, we headed back to Uttarkashi. We visited the Uttarkashi temple in the evening.
Day 9: Uttarkashi to Rishikesh and Haridwar. The sun finally came out and we were able to enjoy the spectacular views Uttarkashi has to offer. We thoroughly enjoyed the drive to Rishikesh. Once in Rishikesh, we had an opportunity to explore the bazaar near Triveni Ghat. After a gap of 10 months, I had an opportunity to enjoy the Ganga Aarti once again. After the aarti, we headed to Haridwar for our night halt.
Day 10: Haridwar. We had a free day to explore Haridwar. We started the day spending time at the Hari Ki Pauri ghat. Sadly, we missed the morning aarti by a few minutes. Later, we went to Parmarth Ashram where we enjoyed the clean ghat for a little while. After breakfast, we headed to Chandi Devi Temple. In the afternoon, a group of us decided to visit the Patanjali Ashram which is located in the outskirts of the town. There we visited the visitor centre and had an opportunity to get a glimpse of the sprawling campus.
Day 11: Haridwar to Delhi and then back home. Spent the whole day traveling back to Delhi and then our final destination.
In a nutshell: This was certainly a different kind of experience. Basic accommodation, simple food, spectacular views combined with meditation and self exploration. I would encourage my kids to visit Kedarnath when they are older (perhaps above 18 years). Taking the helicopter up the mountain is easy and you can avoid spending the night there, but, the ride is weather dependent. A few people in our group could not visit the temple because the weather did not cooperate for safe helicopter flights.
I would love to take them to Badrinath and Valley of Flowers. One day, hiking to the source of Bhagirathi would be a dream come true. There are many small villages in Uttarakhand that are worth staying in and exploring…. For example, Harsil on the way to Gangotri has some amazing views. Uttarkashi is also beautiful. The roads are rough but because your focus is elsewhere, you manage to enjoy it thoroughly.
Each of these places has so much to offer. If I had the time, I would love to spend more days in each of these beautiful locations.
After this trip, my madness to continue exploring the Himalayas has only increased. I hope my luck continues!