The monsoon rains have come to northern India very early this year. (Climate change anyone?) And the valleys high up in the Himalayas, where I spent my childhood, have been ravaged by floods, landslides and chaos, from Kedarnath to Haridwar. As I looked at the photos this morning I was taken back to a hike I and some friends did in 1977 to many of the same places, along the same roads and pilgrimage paths. I’m sharing a few of them today.
The one at the top is a scene of the Himalaya glacier at the foot of which the holy temple village of Kedarnath rests.
The photos are old and discoloured. I was using a Pentax 1000 at the time and unbeknownst to me the precious rolls of Kodachrome I had brought over from the States had been zapped by primitive Xray devices in the Delhi airport. A slightly pink tinge covered every image. I was depressed for months and months and even today, regret that accident. But hey, its the memories that count, when it comes to snapshots. So off we go.
To get to Kedarnath, we caught a bus in Rishikesh. Over the next two days it creeped up the mountain sides, crawling in and out of one valley after the next. All the way the road follows, usually high above, the Bhagirathi River, as the Ganga is called in Uttarkhand. This is the path by which the Ganges was brought down to earth and is represented in calendar art as coming out of Shiva’s hair. At junctions where lesser streams crash into the Bhagirathi there are trading towns many with the suffix ‘prayag’ attached to them. Prayag refers to the coming together of two rivers which is deemed auspicious. The major ‘prayag’ is Allahabad, where the Ganga and Jamuna along with the Saraswati (invisble) come together at the sangam.
Along the way to Kedarnath you meet the Panch Prayag (5 Prayags) at the meeting points I mentioned above. Nandprayag, Karnaprayag, Deviprayag, Vishnuprayag and Rudraprayag. Each prayag has spiritual significance and is connected with some aspect of Hindu lore. The photo above of the boy on a cart was taken at Rudraprayag, probably the largest of the 5. Here it is said, Shiva (aka Rudra) danced his cosmic dance and so created the world. Our bus stopped here for lunch, hence the picture above.
Our bus. A Tata, operated by Uttar Pradesh State Roadways Transport Corporation or (UPSRTC). This is actually on the way back down from Kedarnath, which was one of the most frightening trips I’ve ever made and shall be substance for another tale on another day. But you can see some of damage from a landslide in this picture. What you can’t see, and is just out of the frame, is a long stationary line of other buses and trucks and cars brought to a standstill by an HUGE land and mud slide that blocked the road for an entire 1/4 km. We spent the night here waiting for the army to blast the road open.
You get off the bus at Karnaprayag (I think) and start walking. This is an ancient ancient pilgrimage trail and each summer thousands of devout Hindus from all across India make the long trek up to the temple at Kedarnath. The walk takes two full days. This is shot at the place where we finally got a good view of the peak that is our destination.
Back on the way down to the plains, at the location of the landslide, pilgrims watch and help try to clear the road. Everyone is anxious to get back home after several pretty tiring days of trekking at high altitudes.
A view of the majestic mountains opening up through the fog as we head back down to the plains.