Friday, August 21, 2009

Auli ka Maulvi

Kushal Anand, our rope way operator from Auli to Joshimat said "Kya kare, bahot log Valley of flowers nahin ja paate hain, isliye mein Valley vahan dikata hun aur flower yahan dikata hun (What to do? Many people cannot go up to valley of flowers, so I show the valley there and flowers here)" pointing his finger to high mountain ranges through the cable car and to the flowers below the cabin. We all burst into laughter. More importantly, my mother too laughed, clearly and loudly. I was surprised seeing the smile on her gladdened face. While going up from Joshimat to Auli, which was precisely an hour back, her face was knotted with worry lines on the forehead and was uttering Krishnaashttotthara, Vishnusahasranama while holding the arm rest of cable car as though she is clinging on to the last stone on a cliff and will fall off at any time. She was so tensed that she did not even look far out from the cabin.

Visit to Auli was a surprise pack of our tour programme, so much so that even Sudhira, our tour CEO, did not know how much surprise was in store. We left Badri after having the awesome Poori bhaji from Hotel Devlok at around 8:30 in the morning, went to Mana village and were back by 11:00 so as to get the gate clearance at Badri. We reached Joshimat by 3:10pm. Ustadji asked us to hurry up, only to realise that cable car is at 4pm. Sudhira did the homework and told us that it would Rs.500 per head. So Sudhira, Aravind, me and my wife managed the show and got eight tickets. The ticket issuing lady asked "Aaap log waapas kab ayenge (at what time you are coming back?" I was about to tell "aaj..hi"...Sudhira said "Paanch baje". I thought I am saved! Sudhira, Anna and Aravind went to the hotel and got some "Aloo paranta" and "Achar". I was with my mother, making her feel good while climbing as many as 40 odd steps to reach the gateway of the ropeway.

This was also my first ever journey in ropeway, but it never occurred in mind, untill I asked myself after getting down at Auli, "did I ever travel like this before?". At 4pm on dot, cable car operator invited us to get into the cable. The signboards inside the car said, "no photography". I sincerely followed this, until I saw the first glimpse of Nandadevi peak. As soon as the operator pointed out, I just broke all the rules, opened the tripod and camera, went on clicking this amazing snow clad mountain. That's probably the luckiest moment in our Auli trip, after that, we could not get such clarity of the peak in the next few hours we spent at Auli. My mother saw the peak, yet she was tensed and her mouth was still murmuring some shlokas. We reached Auli, precisely after 22 minutes of journey over a kilometer of elevation.

Camera's clicked all around the place! Clouds were moving at our eye level, snow clad peaks were doing hide and seek, its really a strange feel to be with family on top of a hill. Though there is a famous saying, on reaching the top you are alone, but here it was quite reverse. We had two plates hot 'pakoras' with hot tea and coffee from the hotel at Auli.

At 5pm, we were literally "forced" to get back into cable car. We all felt a day is not enough to fill our eyes with those scenic beauties. It's precisely in this return journey, we met the Maulvi of the Auli, Kushal Anand. He is a great entertainer indeed, as soon as we entered, he said "Mumbai log gaate hai ki...'lift karaadeh'...hum yahan sabhiko 'lift karaadetehai'". Its from him, I learnt that the real name of Joshimath is Jyotirmat, for the reason that Adi Shankara got his enlightenment in this area and also that during winter, Badrivishal statue will be kept at this place. He explained how this place is being readied for 2010 commonwealth games and why the skiing at Auli is considered better than any other place in India.

He showed us "Queen" and "Elephant", which I personally consider the height of imagination. He carved out a queen face, pointing and moving his fingers over five peaks in front of us. Wow...its amazing, it really looked like queen's face. Hmmm...and youthful too. Then he said "I show her to many, but no one ready to marry!" Next was the Elephant peak, which he again carved out. I was just astonished to see that the peak was in front of us from 3pm, we did not even think of what it could be! Within a span of two minutes, we all agreed that it looked like an elephant.

To test his presence of mind or to test our nerves, power went off when we were two towers before Joshimath. He mentioned in rhyming words " the power is gone, but not to worry we will put our generators on". Yes, the cable car again moved within a minute. He talked so simple, yet his words were well weighed and said. My mother personally thanked him and said, "Aap agar pehli baar aajaate, mein itna chintit nahi hoti (If you had come during our upward journey, I would not have worried that much)". We all thanked Kushal Anand, for making us feel the 22 minute tour less than 2 minutes. He is such a nice person with great sense of humor, knowledge, dedication and great commitment to his work, who not only made us to laugh with his one liners, but also relax and learn a lot during this short trip in cable car.To me he looked more like a Maulvi in uniform and in a cable car! Hats off to you! Sir.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Uttaranchal Rocks! Indeed!!

Attige with her typical accent was telling to Sudhira at Rahi motel, Hardwar, while sipping the last cup of black tea from Garhwal, "Uttaranchal means Rocks"! There was a pause for few seconds!! Seven of us looked at each other, probably we all had similar feel within us and endorsed her view. For last six days the word "rock" has not only had its impact on our mind, giving a philosophical bent, but also on my hand, giving me a greater physical dent. And like a quick black and white flashback in a color movie, my mind too travelled back and forth, and I too said, showing my injured finger and nodding my head, "Uttaranchal Rocks".

Previous day was probably one the greatest learning day of my life and teacher was non other than "rocks". The first lesson we had was "Destination is driven by rocks and not by any transport mode". I had the glimpse of this lesson in 2007, while coming back from Rohtang pass, but teacher was not in a mood to teach me properly at that time. We left Karnaprayag and were heading towards Hardwar, we were in the truest spirit of returning himalayan trekkers, with crystal clear pride on face, of trekking upto valley of flowers, bowing to Badrivishal and roped away to Auli, to me it was equivalent to climbing mount Everest (importantly, I was with my wife and she was first timer to Himalayas). Amidst, such zeal and josh! our vehicle made a steady and slow halt. Our ustadji (driversaheb) stopped the vehicle hardly after an hour of journey. He suspected a traffic jam and simply parked the vehicle behind another tourist vehicle. Initial few minutes inside the vehicle was very restless, every one was anxious, excited, unsettled in the hope that road will be soon cleared and we will reach Hardwar by noon and/or in a hurry to convey this fantastic tour reports to our friends, to gain that extra pat on the back.

People did rotis on the roadside, some slept and some sang, a few even danced. Most common kind, threw stones into the river. Time passed by. First to go out of the vehicle was Sudhira, after an hour or so, me, my brother and Aravind came out of the vehicle to have First Hand Information. Ustadji was right, true to his guess, two huge rocks of a swaraz mazda size stood in the middle of the road since 8:30 in the morning and were in no mood to give way for over 300 of us on either way. They were clearly hitting at the pschye of any human being around at that place and we all looked too feable and useless infront of them. The only thing I could do was to take few snaps and movies of the "Rocky event".

After five hours of relentless effort by Border Road Organization (aptly called BRO), rocks slid onto the riverbed and we moved towards Srinagar. This five hours of wait, as I said earlier taught me (hopefully for others too) the first lesson.

After such an everlasting class, one needs a break and we hurriedly had it at Srinagar, thinking that there will not be any more classes like this from Uttaranchal. Ustadji drove to his maximum, pressing the peddle even in the turnings, squeezing and pushing through rolling stones of Shivaliks. I was nearly petrified on seeing that there were few stones coming down and Ustadji simply drove through them. As a seasoned driver, he must have made up his mind that smaller stones can be dodged and at most can cause a dent but larger ones, as that of the morning, one cannot do anything but stranded for hours together.

I had this rare opportunity to be the navigator of the vehicle on last day of our tour and with Global Positioning System in hand, was making countdown of distance to reach Hardwar, like 30 to Hardwar, 27 to Hardwar. I just said 7 km to Rishikesh, Ustadji stopped his vehicle again. I was very anxious, I was telling Ustadji that vehicles are moving! in a way that he too can squeez his Sumo and go ahead. Ustadji enquired a few onward travellers and found that the smaller vehicles can go but not bus and truck. A strange smile was on my face, but it did not last long.

Finally our vehicle came to complete halt at around 7:30pm. For the first time, an absolute negative vibration came to all the minds inside our vehicle. Are we going to make it (From Hardwar our train to Delhi was at 11:30pm, on this same night)? An hour passed by, as exhausted and learned travellers of today morning, we did not bother to go out and see. We all were thinking that, at least by 9pm, we will move from this place. No way!!! By 9pm, Sudhira, me and Aravind, with my minibrightlight torch, got out of the vehicle. I was just telling to my mind, "please not again", fortunately, it was again rocks on the road, but of smaller size. In addition, there were over 20 Sardar youths, putting their energy to move these stones. As we entered the scene, few stones came rolling down, one brushed Sudhira's feet, but none got hurt. Earlier in the evening, two from the road clearing team of Uttaranchal Government slid into the valley with minor injuries. So there were no support from machine or Government for us this time. Few of us made our mind, at least to push one of the stones into the valley. Eight to nine of us gathered around the stone, one put a small crowbar under the stone, in one voice we all uttered "Jo bole so ni hal, sat sri akal". Rock did move a centimeter or two, but in the next second, ayyyyyyyyyyooooo......! I was in utter pain, I was holding my right hand in lefthand, pressing the middle three fingers. "I must have lost three fingers, oh please, let it be only one, oh, its my right hand, oh please, nothing should happen to bones" I was talking to myself. After a few minutes, Aravind saw me holding my hand. He was shell shocked, so was Sudhira, but he did not show on his face. I made up my mind to loosen the hand and to see how many are gone? Fortunately, only my middle finger was injured and with the help of Aravind's first aid kit, I got it dressed. So was the second lesson for the day, "Do not muddle up with rocks". We marked our place for sleeping, Sudhira and Aravind on the bonnet, my brother and his son in the last seat, Priti in driver's seat, Attige in navigator's, Amma in the middle and me on the "Rocks". No need to say that we missed our trains!. Till 0:30hrs, I was sleeping on the rocks, keeping my right hand up and my mind was full of teachings, lessons and learings from the rocks, indeed "Uttaranchal Rocks".