Pilgrimage to Badrinath
‘Moko kahan dhoonde re bande, main tho tere paas re’ or “Where do you search for me, I am always close to you” sings Kabir. Unfortunately, the stresses of daily living and the frustrations of hopes belied and expectations not met give the lie to this claim. I tend to agree with Osho when he says, “ The old man has been a worshipper of dead Gods in temples and mosques and synagogues ... the new man is one who denies God but will instead find his living God in the trees, in the birds, in the rivers, in the oceans, in the mountains, and in the stars...”. My wife disagrees. Our separate understandings of God found a happy meeting ground on a recent trip to Badrinath.
As one climbs up from Haridwar literally meaning the Gateway to God the Ganga is omnipresent revealing herself in her myriad facets ranging from turbulent white foam to placid stretches where she barely moves. At Devprayag, the Bhagirathi coming down from the Gangotri glacier and the Alaknanda meet to form the Ganga. The ancient sages imbued this life giving river with sacredness hoping that its pristine purity would be nourished by generations to come. A steep descent took us down to the confluence – the Bhagirathi appearing translucent green and pure while the Alaknanda having flowed through the townships of Badrinath, Joshimath, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag and Srinagar appeared a little dirty and soiled.
|Bhagirathi meets the Alakananda|
|White Sand beach on the Alakananda|
The road winds upwards through prosperous and bustling Srinagar town that boasts of a Central University. The Alakananda cannot remain unscathed and emerges a little worse for wear until it is replenished by the Bhagirathi at Devprayag. As the road winds towards Rudraprayag a pleasant sight caught our eyes – white sand beaches along the Alakananda. The river seemed almost still and the sand was blazing hot beneath our feet.
|The Shiva Temple|
We decided to stay the night at Rudraprayag – the confluence of the Mandakini (made famous by Raj Kapoor in his movie Ram Teri Ganga Maili) and the Alakananda. On the way down to the Prayag we crossed the place where Narad is supposed to have meditated. Sitting under the Peepul Tree the feeling of immense peace was palpable. The small Shiva Temple appeared incongruous since Narad was a famous devotee of Vishnu. The very fair handsome priest with startling blue eyes explained to me that Narad actually meditated on Shiva until Shiva told him to play all the notes on his Veena, and what emerged was Narayana. Barely 50 metres below was the Mandakini frolicking down from Kedarnath in a hurry to merge with the Alakananda.
|Mandakini ( to the right) meets the Alakananda at Rudraprayag|
|Cave Temple Koteshwar|
Passing through Karanprayag, where the Pindar River flowing from the Pindari Glacier, and Nandaprayag, where the Nandakini flowing from Nanda Devi meets the Alakananda, we took a small detour to Gopeshwar where the Shiva temple is said to be equidistant from both Badrinath and Kedarnath and both the deities are said to reside there. It is a must visit for those who are unable to see both the shrines or neither!
|The peepul tree under which Shankaracharya meditated|
|Jyotir Math - overlooking the Shankaracharya Temple|
During the winter months the daily puja is conducted at the Narsingh Temple in Joshimath. The deity itself is installed in the Yoga Badri temple at Pandukeshwar 20 kms from Badrinath.
|Mr Sivasankaran Krishnan Kutty|
The cable car to Auli, a scenic town perched atop a mountain overlooking Joshimath, was under maintenance. We decided to drop the plan and head directly for Badrinath. Pandukeshwar enroute to Badrinath, hosts the Badrinath deity during the winter months and hence merits a visit. The picturesque temple located on the banks of the Alakananda involves a steep descent from the road.
|The Yogabadri Temple|
|The Ganesha Cave|
As we moved on to Badrinath, the Mahabharata begins to make its presence felt. Hanuman Chhatti is the spot where Bhima was humbled by Hanuman and advised to drop his ego. At Mana, three kms ahead of Badrinath and the last Indian village before the Indo Tibet border, are the caves of Ved Vyas and Ganesha who conjointly wrote the Mahabharata. Ganesha laid down the condition that Ved Vyas should not stop speaking while Ved Vyas stipulated the counter condition that Ganesha would not write a single word that he did not understand. Wish we had this in the Indian Education system too!
|The Ved Vyas Cave stated to be 6500 years old|
A little ahead is Bhim Pul where Bhima is supposed to have hurled a Boulder across the fast flowing Saraswati to enable Draupadi and his brothers to cross over as they made the long trek to Vaikunta after having defeated the Kauravas at Kurukshetra and installed Parikshit as the ruler of Hastinapur. The Saraswati itself emerges dramatically from a cave and hurtles below to meet the Alakananda.
|The Saraswati emerges from the cave|
|Swargarohini or the road to heaven|
The road to heaven disappears into the distance and this was one trek which I had been longing to make - to walk in the footsteps of the Pandavas. My wife demurred preferring to attend the Aarti at Badrinath Temple. It appeared that a happy compromise could be worked out since the Aarti was to commence at 9 PM. My wife headed back to the guest room while I began to walk along the path that the Pandavas had taken.
|Long and winding road|
My immediate objective was the Vasudhara Falls and it was vital that I return before dark as it was almost 4 PM. I set off all alone with nothing but the trail, the gurgling Alakananda flowing far below me and the mountains all around. While walking I mused on the legend. Draupadi was the first to fall, followed soon after by all the brothers. Yudhistra and his dog symbolising Dharma, were the only ones to reach Vaikunta where his dog was refused entry. Yudhishtra refused to enter heaven if his dog was denied entry reinforcing his adherence to Dharma. He was therefore directed to hell instead where he was surprised to see Draupadi and his brothers serving time. He was accorded entry to heaven the next day only to find Duryodhana in heaven. When questioned on the apparent injustice Yama explained that Draupadi and all of the Pandavas except Yudhishtra suffered from the fatal flaw - pride. Yudhishtra himself had to undergo hell for a day since he had uttered a truth with bad intent. What of Duryodhana securing entry to heaven? Simple! Duryodhana had died on the battlefield! Ved Vyas's intentions are clear - Dharma is preeminent and the soldier plays a vital role in safeguarding it. Wish the present day politicians take note!
Meanwhile, the trek got progressively tougher with false crests even as the twin waterfalls could be sighted in the distance. With every step I took I chanted Jai Badri Vishal to give me the strength to keep going. The thin oxygen starved air characteristic of high altitudes made breathing more laborious. The Vasudhara Falls is supposed to be the place where one needs to stay for three days and meditate on the waterfalls. The one who sees a light appear between the waterfalls is assured of Moksha! The waterfalls were unique ... the water froze once the water hit the frozen hillside. Spending three days there was out of the question. I gave up hope of Moksha and decided to head back before it got dark.
|The Vasudhara Falls|
|Holy grail attained|
I had a new prayer on the way back – to Aditya the Sun God. The Sun God was more than helpful. I had company on my way back in the way of horses with tinkling bells who munched away at the grass unmindful of me. It was after 7 PM and there was still light as I wearily entered my guestroom.
Meanwhile in the real world schedules had changed. My wife had already left for the Aarti and to add to my discomfiture the vehicle had broken down. I took it that God had granted us both what each of us dearly wanted – temple darshan for her and nature darshan for me. Nevertheless, I wearily pulled myself up to see if I could arrange for an alternate vehicle. Fortunately, by now the vehicle had been repaired and I headed for the temple. I was too late for the aarti and so I decided to enjoy the luxury of wallowing in the Tapt Kund a hot water spring. I could feel my weariness slowly drain away. Meanwhile, strings had been pulled and the authorities informed that I had paid for the aarti which I could not attend due to change in timings. We were ushered into the sanctum sanctorum to attend a different aarti that had been paid by others. My wife who had already had an one hour darshan earlier was now thrilled to discover that she would have yet another chance for the darshan.
|The Badrinath Temple|
|Tired but happy|
|The Badrinath Temple framed|
In our quest for divinity we had both set out with different objectives and had yet been able to attain them more or less together. Neither of us had any supplication to make to the deity, no boons or favours sought – just immense gratitude that it could all come to pass. What about the quest? My wife certainly found it in the shrine – constant attention on the deity made her see the deity with remarkable clarity. I had no such luck. However, for me I could sense the mystical at Narad Kund in Rudraprayag, under the Shankaracharya tree at Joshimath, in the Malayalee painter who painted portraits of God, and above all on the Swargarohini trail. Most important perhaps was the unremitting focus on the divine during the pilgrimage. Worldly cares seemed mundane and unimportant. The effect stayed with me long after I returned home. An additional insight for me was the need for atonement – a pilgrimage is a good time to contemplate on where one has gone wrong and hope that the next time around the ‘maili chhadar’ is a little less soiled.