Saturday, January 1, 2011

On the trail of Gods - Part III

Panoramic View of the Mighty Himalayas
So with our backpacks slung over backs again, we embarked on our pilgrimage. The views of snow clad mountains, which were so far a novelty for us and were infrequent, owing to our journey so far in the lower mountains and through forests, were now our constant companions. We were now walking on top of the mountains with only grasslands and absolutely no trees to block our view.The almighty Himalayas were always visible in their full glory to the North East. And the alpine forests that we had negotiated so far were also visible with all their vast expanses. At one point we could even see Tolitaal that we had passed the day before. It seemed so far away. We boasted in self-glorifying way of how long we had walked.

From hereon, since there was no more altitude to be gained, it was mostly a level ground and after crossing Pitardhara (slang for Pitrudhara), we were descending towards a place called Panchganga. It’s wonderful how places are named in these mountains.
Firstly, they are not really ‘places’ in true sense of the word. I mean, there is no settlement really, just a small hut manned by a lonely man. Or like at Pitardhara, which is just two man-high stacks of flat stones with a piece of wood placed across them to hang bells. It’s like an entrance to Rudranath, only much earlier. Yet they are named and named as if they are holiest of places, which they really are of course. Every inch of this territory is sacred, peaceful, beautiful. So we walk from one holy place to another holy place, that too on a holy path. Truly a pilgrimage.

Our Host-cum-Cook-cum-Guide-cum-Entertainer
So we reach Panchganga. And we find this hut-cum-hotel-cum-kitchen with its sole caretaker who is a host-cum-cook-cum-guide-cum-entertainer. Though at the moment he is in a company of his folks from his village somewhere far down the mountain. These men manning such huts on the way are just as intriguing as the names of the places. They befriend and chat with anyone and everyone passing by. They will cook for people, provide necessary tips and information to travelers like us and also valuable and entertaining insights into the lives of the native people. 
So we enquire with him about how far is Rudranath from here and if we can find a place to stay there. He advises us to stay in his hut as it’s not occupied at the moment, refresh ourselves with some food, and go visit the temple of Rudranath which is a little more than 30 minutes of walk from here. We thought of that as a good idea since it would save us that much of walking back the next day – as we had to go back the same way to Anusaya Devi, and further to Chopta, our destination for the next day. Also, it started raining quite heavily (we were so lucky to had arrived in the nick of time). Thus, the man cooked us the staple, Maggie and put some potatoes in the fire for us to munch on. Roasted potatoes with Ash Flavor. After indulging in the 7-star mountain cuisine, we spread ourselves wide and long and waited for the rain to stop. I dozed off while Hrishi and Jayesh chatted up with the man. A few more men and a woman passed by the hut all drenched in the rain while we were blissfully cozy in the blankets. They just continued towards Rudranath, without as much of a bother for the rain. God, I couldn’t imagine doing that. But that’s what holy pilgrimage and pilgrims are about in India.

The rain must have stopped after an hour or so. Seeing that it would not rain again, we set off towards the highest Panchkedar temple, Rudranath. Rudra by the way in Sanskrit means fearsome and Nath means master, lord, ruler, God. Shiva is Rudra. And this one being particularly tough to reach, goes by the name. With Kuldeep again in the lead, we reached the temple. Now this place more than just a hut or a temple. There are proper houses built of rock and with a proper tin roof. It’s but natural for some pilgrims must want to spend a night here before moving on. They must be catered food and a comfortable place to stay. And then at the end of all these houses in a row is the main temple, a rather small and unassuming one for its name. The foot trail ends here. One can’t go any further than this unless one wants to go climbing the Rudra mountain situated behind the temple. At the time we reached here, the mountain looked even more menacing with clouds gathered at its peak, giving it an ‘out-of-bounds’ look.

The Priest and Rudranath Temple
To our sheer disappointment, the temple was closed and one of the residents which again happened to be Kuldeep’s distant relative informed us that the priest would not come for another two hours or so. Having come this far and not seeing the temple from within and paying our respects, would be such a waste. So we decided to wait for the priest, in spite of the knowledge that we would have to walk back to Panchganga in dark. So we whiled away clicking snaps of Turtle Doves and Red Sparrows. But Gods of the Mountains must have been impressed by our efforts and dedication. The priest appeared much earlier and opened the temple for the only three pilgrims (Read: the pilgrims of the wild and inhospitable i.e us). The priest was a very stern looking, authoritative man with a full beard. I thought just as Rudra as the place itself. He did a little puja and told us about mythology behind Panchkedars and how it would benefit us if we complete this pilgrimage and made some offerings. So we made our ‘offerings’ and after a chai at Kuldeep’s folks’ place, we were back on our way to the multifunction hut. Nothing much different on the way back, except that we met a group of Sadhus from West Bengal. We had learnt that most of the visitors to these regions are from West Bengal and Maharashtra. Bengalis mostly for religious purposes. Marathis for religious, but largely for seeking adventure. We had already met some adventure seeking fellow Marathis in Devgram. And now we were bumping into Bengalis every now and then.

When we reached the hut, there was a whole new set of people chatting with our host for the night. We joined in the revelry. In a short while, another sadhu, who goes by the name Mauni Baba for he keeps, maun, a practice of shunning the words altogether for communication. He never talks, only uses gestures to communicate. We could hardly understand his gestures. But apparently people here have got used to him. They seemed to understand as Mauni Baba as seamlessly as if he had been talking like the rest of us. They told us that he’s a weirdo of sorts. Yeah, here that’s not a rarity either. And I’m sure the natives here think of us the same way. Why would anyone come this far just to seek a little getaway from the colourless urban life?! There are sadhus and then there are us. Both on a quest, albeit of different sorts (or is it really the same?!). And both love smoking ganja. So we roll our daily dose and after a hot meal go for a doze. Next day is when we kind of begin our return journey. Although with one more Kedar to visit on our way back.

The Bengali Sadhu
cont. on

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