Rishikesh to Badrinath & Vasudhara

Rishikesh to Badrinath & Vasudhara

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A sliver of mist has descended upon Neelkanth, curling around his crown like a gossamer scarf. Flanked by two dark massifs, much like security guards escorting a VIP, Neelkanth dazzles. The chance to catch a glimpse of his snowy majesty is reason enough to brave two days of treacherous ride to the temple town of Badrinath.

The visit to Badrinath is as much for the lord’s darshan, as to track the course of Alaknanda on whose banks the temple is located. Alaknanda at Badrinath is a sight to behold as she comes cascading in a tumultuous frenzy through the upper Himalayan ranges. The fizz from the steamy hotsprings at the foot of Badrinarayan temple mingles with the river’s frothy effervescence to smoke out your ennui and fatigue. During her long journey through the magnificent mountains, Alaknanda courses playfully through moraines, slopes and ravines, joined by her many siblings along the way. Eventually she loses her self in Ganga, her ponderous and better-known sibling, who has perhaps unfairly hogged the glory and gratitude of the multitudes of the subcontinent.

Mana, a village two kilometres upstream of Badrinath, is the start of the trek. Originally, the intention was to track Alaknanda to her source, the Satopanth-Bhagirathi-Kharak glaciers, but in the end remains a trek up to Vasudhara, a cataract 6 kilometres above Badrinath on the right bank, but just a whisker short of the Satopanth. Chaukamba peak with its 13-km-long glacier and Badrinath peak with its 18-km-long glacier, both situated at 3810 metres above sea level, feed Alaknanda.

The path is rugged, but the sights, one is assured, are rewarding enough to make the trek worthwhile. But then, nobody tells you that the path to the glaciers is paved with good intentions, but bad masonry. Huge chunks of rock with sharp edges are loosely piled on one another and bound by metal strings whose pointed ends poke through menacingly. It is a perfect contraption to ensnare the unwary traveller when her attention is momentarily diverted by the bounteous beauty of the towering peaks all around. No wonder you’re nearly oblivious to the grandeur all around. So, at every culvert, you pause, as much to regain your breath and steel your nerves, as to admire the scenery.

Flocks of woolly sheep crowd around on a clearing on the other side of the mountains separated by a chasm. Although the chasm is too deep for visibility, the constant gurgle assures you that Alaknanda is down there. There are a couple of sadhus about, in search of the elusive kayakalp, which they say, is on top of the snow crown.

The panorama of towering peaks, verdant slopes and brilliant blue skies, punctuated by cotton-wool clouds, is a breath-taking combination. Eventually one comes to a pristine glacier that extends over a mile. But the glassy expanse is no snow. It has hardened to an ice-lake, which is dangerously slippery. However, the cane stick that had been sold so thoughtfully at Badrinath bazaar comes in handy.

Vasudhara, one of the major tributaries of Alaknanda, is a column of crystal jet about 145 metres high. At the base, foot-long icicles form a protective chain around the waterfall, refreshing enough to rejuvenate soul and body. Vasudhara itself is situated at 3,250 metres and therefore, the trek to Satopanth and Bhagirathi-Khark, just 5 kilometres away, cannot be a steep incline. But at these elevations and in one’s already exhausted state, continuing the trek seems a daunting prospect. So with one last wistful look at the beckoning glacier, it is time to turn back.

The first confluence along the way is Bhimphool, a disorderly conglomeration of craggy rocks across the confluence of Alaknanda and the mythical Saraswati. Assorted sadhus with knotted locks and plaited beards flourish their kamandal inviting you to take a dip.

The second confluence one crosses as one descends from Badrinath to Joshimath is Vishnuprayag, the confluence of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga. Legend has it that Narad Muni performed his penance at this spot and received Vishnu’s blessings. Next is Nandprayag where Alaknanda is joined by Nandakini. Karnaprayag lies at the confluence of Alaknanda and Pindari rivers in Chamoli district. It derives the name from Karna, son of Kunti in Mahabharata. Karna is supposed to have meditated at this spot and obtained for himself, an impregnable shield. Swami Vivekananda and his two companions also spent 18 days at this absolutely sublime and peaceful spot. This is also the point from where one takes the road to Almora, Nainital and Jim Corbett National Park.

Next comes the spectacular Rudraprayag where Mandakini, cascading from Kedarnath mingles with Alaknanda to form the setting for Siva’s Rudra Tandava. In fact, Siva is believed to have summoned Vishnu with his rudraveena music and turned him into water at this precise spot. However, for the lay reader, Rudraprayag is a familiar name, the village where Jim Corbett shot dead the man-eating leopard. The confluence is 34 km from Srinagar town.

Alaknanda is considerably tamed by the time she reaches Devprayag in Garhwal district where she is joined by her tempestuous sibling Bhagirathi gushing down from Gaumukh glacier across the range. It is from this point that the mighty river is officially known as Ganga. Rishikesh is just 70 km from here. This, the devout believe, is where Lord Rama and his father King Dashratha did penance.

But the journey does not end here. Near Tehri dam at the confluence of Bhagirathi and Bilangana, the river slows down to a sluggish pace until she looks stagnant and confused. She no longer comes cascading joyously down the verdant slopes of the Himalayas, but is a limp, greenish ribbon that appears bereft of life. The exhilaration evaporates and the return home is inconsolably saddened.

(Published in The Tribune on July 27, 2008)

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