Sunday, January 11, 2009

Khirganga - The Grand Finale

After returning from Rashol to Kasol, I rambled about in the streets of Kasol, entered some shops, saw some colourful merchandise on display – paintings, hats, hair bands etc, enquired about their prices, tried some trousers and returned to my room without buying anything – for want of space in my baggage and money in my pocket.

The next morning, as it turned out, my friends were tired and I could not succeed in pulling them out of their beds at the right time. The destination Khirganga, was 12 kilometers away – to be covered on foot and I was concerned because the plan was to return the same evening since I had booked my bus ticket back to Delhi.

So I set out alone, took the bus to Varshaini – the most mispronounced of all places, perhaps; Brasheni, Brusheni, Bursheni…and what not! Only when I saw the board on the bus, I knew the correct name and pronunciation – Varshaini!

When I reached Varshaini, I was contemplating whether to take a porter or not. And this was the first time I was thinking. Before this, I made sure I hired a porter even when my back pack contained nothing more than a packet of glucose, some almonds, a shawl, gloves and a topi. I had learnt that I could go on walking and climbing no matter what the distance but could not carry any weight upon me – even one kilo felt like a granite slab. I avoided taking even water bottle as it added to the weight. I quenched my thirst from the streams and springs on the way.

The Rashol climb was the first time I went without a porter as none was available. (I have told you Himacahl is different from Uttaranchal and labour is not easily available). And to my surprise, I did it! I carried my own bag for 8 kilometers!

When I had made up my mind not to take a guide or a porter this time and go alone, people came to me one by one and told me about a lone foreigner woman who was murdered by a Nepali on the same route.
Now I was in a dilemma. I spoke to the boys around, haggled some, and hired a guide for 150 rupees a day. In the meantime, my friends arrived in a taxi and announced that they would trek to a nearby place as they were tired.

The walk upto Rudranag was not so pleasant. Although I could see forests and trees on all mountains around us, there was no shade where we were walking and it was very sunny.

As we walked by apple trees… Can you see the apple?

As we approached Rudranag… the scene changed. The weather was cooler, there was the drone of water in the valley and it was greener.

This place is Rudranag…

The place gets it's name from this stream which has the shape of a snake. The stream is likened to Shiva’s snake.

That’s river Parvathi roaring in the valley. It’s a beautiful yet frightening sight. This was one of the mightiest water flow I had seen in all my Himalaya trip. The plunge, the volume of water, the pace, the force…
I stood on the bridge over it as I took this picture. The picture does no justice at all to the real thing…

Once we crossed the bridge, it was a different world. It was heaven. The forest became denser.

My fatigue vanished. I was in raptures as I beheld the scenery around me. It was green all around and moist. There were tall Devdar trees and as I observed, there were different kinds of Devdars in that area, the leaves were of different shapes, branches on some trees were perfectly horizontal, branches on others stooped low, the colour varied from a parrot green to an emerald green – this was unlike what I had observed in places I had seen before where only one type of Devdar existed in an area and provided no chance to make comparisons.

As we trekked, we met people who were returning from Khir Ganga. Almost all of them told us “Wahan kuch nahin hain(there is nothing there). It’s a waste of time. Wapas laut Jao(Retrace your steps)” .
I decided to continue on my trail…

I can’t stop being amazed at people, their ways and their taste. When we revealed our plan to go to Vasudhara from Badri, people who had returned from Vasudhara discouraged us with similar comments. When we went there the next day, we were blown by the snow covered mountains all along our trail and so close to us! We were blown by the green meadows with yellow flowers and the white horses grazing nearby! The destination waterfall itself was not much but the journey was so breathtaking!

And people say ‘there is nothing in that place!’
The thing is, to most of the people the journey means nothing. Destination is all that matters to them. What a pity! They don’t know what they are missing.

We stopped at a small dhaba for some refreshments. There were wooden benches inside. The motley mix of people there made it a rather interesting place. There were foreigners smoking away noisily from the chillum. They watched in awe, an experienced local fellow inhale from the chillum a really long puff of smoke and exhale a large amount of smoke. The others tried to imitate him but could not match his capacity. He surely had bigger lungs than the rest. Or perhaps, it came with experience.

Right across me, sat a Mauni Baba. He was on an oath of silence: a 12-year period silence. He had completed 8 years. There were four more to go. He spoke in sign language which the locals seemed to understand completely, although I could understand only a little.

We continued.

Parvathi was roaring in the valley. I wanted to go down and touch the waters.

There were streams all along the way.

I was in raptures.

By four, we reached a clearing. There were a few huts, wooden shops and makeshift dwellings here and there. The clearing offered a 360 degree panoramic view.
This place was Khirganga.
A grey blanket of clouds covered the afternoon sky.

The legend about this place is: Shanmukha or Subramanya, the elder son of Shiva had pangs of hunger in this place. Lord Shiva planted his trident at a spot and what came out was kheer (payasam), a sweet made of milk. That’s why the name Khirganga.

We proceeded to see the spot.

On the way, my guide entered a dhaba and greeted people he knew and told them what he was doing there, while I stood at the entrance.
A man seated on a chair, with his back to me, turned and said “Namaskara. Chennagiddeera?
That was a moment that marked the beginning of a friendship. A special friendship.
I walked up to the fellow Kannadiga, with a smile on my face and spoke to him. He introduced himself as Arun. People there knew him as Arun Babaji. He invited me to visit his dwelling (not far from that place), after I had returned from seeing the milky waterstream. I said I had to return the same day. He said I had come to a beautiful place and I should stay there overnight. I smiled.

When I and the guide reached the spot, what we saw was a narrow stream of water. But on the bed, a layer of cream – like moss had formed, giving the water, the appearance of milk from a distance. Perhaps the water contained some natural chemicals which caused the deposit of moss on the bed. I took a picture but deleted it the next day to make room for more scenery. I now regret having done that, for such a water stream is indeed a rare thing to find.
Anyway, here is a picture stolen from the web.

Nearby was a hot water spring in the open, for men. Next to it was an enclosure for women.

As I returned, I saw that the grey blanket was still there but had uncovered a small portion of sky at the west through which the sun appeared on the horizon. The effect was that the whole evening was washed with a yellow. I love this effect. I have always loved it.

I changed my mind about returning the same day :-)

It was getting cold.
I rested in the dhaba for a while. It was warm inside as there was a Tandoor that was lighted and stoked from time to time. The floor was covered with thick quilts. There were some foreigners and some local folks around the Tandoor. I rested for a while, ate ‘Soji ka Halwa’ and set out with my guide to meet Arun Babaji.

A short distance away, in the midst of several Devdars and other trees, stood a giant Devdar. This must have been a very old tree, for I noticed that its root was forked into two or three all of which were big and broad. Usually, there is just one root. The area around the root had been dug and leveled with the effect of creating a sort of platform, 3 feet above the leveled ground on which stood the Devdar. A tarpaulin was raised to a height of 6-7 feet from the ground. On the platform was a small bed, a few boxes containing provision and eatables, some blankets and then some firewood.
This was the home of Arun Babaji. This has been his home for 18 years.

As I entered his home I saw that Upma was cooking in a pan that sat on a heap of firewood. Baba was sitting in front of the fire and stoking it. He welcomed me with a smile, placed a mat before the fire on which I made myself comfortable.

He wore a white dhoti and a T-shirt. He had salt and pepper beard and wore a cap in the fashion of the local people. He spoke to me in English. He had a calm face, a fair complexion a smile on his face and eyes that betokened innocence and humility. I was simply exhilarated about coming close to a person unlike anyone I had met before.
As we were making conversation, the Upma was ready. He asked the guide to pluck leaves from a nearby shrub. He served Upma to both me and the guide. In that cold weather, and after nearly a month of having north Indian food, Upma came as a welcome delight.

He enquired about me, my family, my education, job, my journey, etc.
But I was not able to learn much about him.
He was born in Bangalore. He left home when he was 16 or 17 to live in the mountains. This tree was special for him and he knew it even before he had seen it. When I asked him why he had made such a choice, he simply said, he loved nature.
Didn't he feel cold, sleeping in the open under a tree? 'This tree God keeps me warm'. Occasionally a jungle bear paid a visit, but did no harm.
When I enquired about his lineage, he said he was a Harijan.
When I asked him “Do you preach?”, he said, “No, I practice”.

He had travelled all over the world. US, Europe, Australia…..many other places, I have now forgotten.
When I asked him who provided for all that, he said, “HE takes care of me”.

He shared with me a few jokes. Good ones, I must say. Hitler went to an astrologer to know when he would die. The astrologer said “On a Jewish holiday”. How did the astrologer know? Well, any day Hitler died would be declared a Jewish holiday!

We chatted thus and did not notice that the evening had turned into night. He pointed to the sky and I looked up. There was the crescent of the moon against a dark blue –cobalt sky. All the trees and their branches stood out in a single continuous silhouette. There was perfect stillness and silence in the air.

It was time for Babaji to bathe – in the kund(hot water spring). He invited me to join him in the morning for a cup of coffee – Bru Coffee! We said good night and I returned to the dhaba.
There I heard from the people, more about Babaji - that he was the son a of a very important person in India – the top ten rich list, that manisha Koirala had sent him a flight ticket when he wanted to visit Nepal, that he was not a Harijan but a Brahmin or a Thakur(Kshatriya), that he conversed with scientists, that people revered him a lot – they would not light tobacco before him and much more... donno how much of it is true...

A small room close to the dhaba where I was to spend the night had a Tandoor inside which a boy lit before I hit my bed. It was warm but soon as the firewood had burnt itself out, it became cold. As I slept, my last thoughts were of babji – had I just met someone really out of the ordinary?

The next morning, I went to the Kund to take bath. I observed that there were a very few people here.
Just 2 ladies from Israel. The place was so clean. I thought for a moment about Gaurikund and felt the bile in my stomach rising.

I sat immersed in the water for half an hour. I felt that force of buoyancy was stronger than usual and I had to make an effort to remain immersed. I donno why but I felt very tired. Even after I came out of the water, I felt drained of all energy. I rested for a while and then slowly walked back.

I went to Baba’s tree where I had Bru coffee with biscuits.

And then we trekked a short distance on the trail leading to Mantalai.

There was smoke rising from the bottom of a Devdar. Some shepherds had lit a bonfire and left the spot withour completely putting off the fire. Babaji took a plastic bottle, filled it with water from a nearby stream and poured it over the fuming ashes.

Guess what flowers these are. Strawberry! In about 15 days time, all these would bear strawberry fruit. How I wished I could prolong my stay.

as we walked, we came by a bark of Silver Birch(Bhojpatra) fallen on the ground. Babaji peeled layers from the bark and gave them to me. These peels still rest between the leaves of my notebook.

Babaji took this picture.

This is a walnut tree close Babaji’s Devdar tree. He gave me a handful of walnuts that still rest on my kitchen slab.

It was time to leave. Word had been sent to the cook who usually cooked for Babaji that he was to expect two guests that noon.

The cook had been taught by Babaji how to prepare certain dishes to his liking.
Meals arrived in two thalis. The rotis were made of wheat grown in the hills. The curry was made of vegetables grown there. The curds had been made from the milk of Buffaloes that grazed in the vicinity of the hills.
The chutney was made of marijuana seeds!!!

When I first saw the plant, I wondered why God had created such a thing.
But I realized soon, ‘it all depends on how we use it’. There is not a single flaw in the creation of Nature. All beings are wholesome and perfect. It’s what we, men make of them that necessitates judgment.

A great meal it was. As pure as it could get.

Babaji shared some more jokes.
An accused man was questioned in the court “How old are you?” “35” said he. The judge asked him, “Had you not given the same answer 10 years ago in this very court?”, to which he replied “I am not the kind of a man who says one thing today and another thing tomorrow”!

We exchanged phone numbers. I gave him my address and said farewell to him.

The walk back was really easy. I scampered down to Varshaini in about 2 hours and took one last picture of a snow covered mountain.


Satish said...

Hope this is not the last of the posts on Himalayas....My misery would increase if the posts stop coming......

Sowmya said...

Hey Satish...

This indeed is the last post on Himalayas...
But please dont stop visiting my blog altogether...

Just pray to God that I may make another trip to the Himalayas.. :)

Satish said...

Posts on himalayas or no posts.... you have a regular visitor!!!!

Hope my prayers gets answered and you get a chance to visit himalayas all over again

Sowmya said...

Amen!!! :-)

Ranjana said...

This is amazing, breathing in life to memories and you have done a really good job...We did start out together on this Himalayas trip...but I wasn't part of this lap, I had gone further to Ladakh and thn Kashmir. You should really travel more and write more and my best wishes for that......Ranjana

Sowmya said...

Thanks Ranjana.

I must admit here that this trip would not have happened but for you. I still remember that dinner in Udupi over which our plan was made and your subsequent resignation... Upon reaching Rishikesh, I realised that I was capable of travelling alone but I would not have started from Banaglore without any company.

I have a good mind to go to the Himalayas this May...again...

You had said that you would write about your experience. I searched for you but you have removed your blog. Let me know if I can read your thoughts on the web somewhere...

The DVD of photos will reach you as soon as it is made... high time...

Anonymous said...

Hi Sowmya,

Glad to see you enjoyed yourself alone. I've recently returned from a solo trip to Ladakh and Himachal myself and I now know what a different and wonderful experience travelling alone can be.

Tomáš said...

Haha, funny :)
That's my picture, that "stolen from the web" Khirganga spring :)
You probably found it here

Web is so small :)

There are more at
(scroll down, to the middle)
(scroll down)

Good luck at your trips :)


Alan said...

This is a very interesting blog and so i like to visit your blog again and again. Keep it up.


Krishna said...

क्या सुन्दर तस्वीरों के साथ मोहक दृष्यों का विवरण, अदभुत, आप को साधूवाद इस हरियाली और सौन्दर्य के प्रस्तुतिकरण के लिए।

PRIYA said...

hello sowmya,
do you know where is arun babaji now?

did you hear from him.


Rohan said...

Beautiful post. I keep reading a lot of blogs but rarely do I enjoy them immensely. And I just loved your post, simple, plain and touching :)

Rohan said...

Beautiful post. Plain, simple and touching. I write as well, you can visit my blog Travel with Rohan

Wish you all the best for your journeys. :)

Arun Goel said...

I am delighted to read your blog on Khirganga. It interested me in a very special way as I share a very wonderful relationship with Arun ji. All the lovely pictures and the video of the Parvathi river refreshes my being and I thank you for them. Arun.

Sowmya Chakravarthy said...

Arun Goel, thanks for visiting.
I should like to get in touch with you sometime. To know more about Arun Babaji. WHO IS HE???
Please do not tell me you are in search of answer to the same question.