Badrinath

 

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I have been visiting this place since childhood, yet every time I stare at those hills; it feels like a new beginning all together!

Badrinath is a hilly and holy town and a Nagar Panchayat in Chamoli District in the state of Uttarakhand, India. At an altitude of 10,170 feet, Badrinath is on the banks of river Alaknanda, between the Nar and Narayana mountain ranges, 9 km east of Nilkantha peak (6,596m). It is located 62 km northwest of Nanda Devi peak, 301 km north of Rishikesh and only 24 kms from the Indo-China (Tibet) border.

Badrinath was re-established as a major pilgrimage site by Adi Shankaracharya in the ninth century. ‘Badri’ refers to a berry that was said to grow abundantly in the area, and ‘nath’ means “Lord of”. Badri is also the Sanskrit name for the Indian Jujube tree, which has an edible berry. Some scriptural references refer to Jujube trees being abundant in Badrinath.

For the first time visitors, when they stand on a hillock, overlook the valley and listen to the sound of raging Alaknanda, Badrinath starts influencing by killing your Ego first. In front of nature so vast, so old, so beautiful and so eternal, you feel so small and irrelevant. That’s when the feel of this place starts sinking in.

Although the waterfalls and Kanchunjunga glacier that welcome you to Badrinath would give you a little sneak peek into what lies ahead, a view of sunlit snow capped peaks in still cold summer makes you want to imagine the snow clad moonlit mountains in winters. The random change in colour, cultivation and character of every mountain does justice to the randomness of nature. A green, grassy mountain with cattle grazing on it may be neighbouring a rocky, rugged mountain with some snow crowning its head. While some of them would be golden with the rays of sun, others would have clouds playing hide and seek with them.

Towards the north of Badrinath is Bheem Pul (a bridge across the holy Saraswati river that merges with Alaknanda), Mana (The last village before Tibet), Vasudhara Fall, Laxmi Van forest and Satopanth glacier. Vasudhara is 9 km from Badrinath town. The first 3 kilometres of Badrinath to Mana village is drivable road and next 6 km is walk able trek from Mana village to Vasudhara waterfall. The height of this waterfall is 400 ft (122 mt). Mana village has a Draupadi temple, where it is said that she collapsed during her final journey to heaven along with the Pandavas. There is also a Vyas Gufa where people say Shri Ved Vyas wrote the Mahabharata. Further up from Mana is the route towards Vasudhara Fall, the water of which is very refreshing and medicinal. It is also considered a sign of good luck if drops of Vasudhara fall on you. The trek is scenic with nearby mountains being Chaukhamba, Nilkantha and Balakun. Satopanth glacier rolls down towards the bottom of Vasudhara. The trek to Satopanth is difficult but the view from Satopanth, magnificent!

One legend has it that when the goddess Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help the suffering humanity, the earth was unable to withstand the force of her descent. Therefore the mighty Ganga was split into twelve holy channels, with Alaknanda being one of them.

On the other side of Alaknanda, there are various caves and boulders on the path which lead to Charanpaduka, situated at a height of 3,380 ft and at a distance of 3 km from the Badrinath temple. Charanpaduka are footprints of Lord Vishnu, imprinted on a boulder in a beautiful meadow on the trail to Nilkanth.

As I am writing this article, it is the second anniversary of “Uttarakhand flood” which devastated Kedarnath, Govindghat, Rudraprayag and many other places on June 16, 2013, also resulting in a lesser turnout of tourists in all the Char Dhams, including Badrinath. The rainfall which was above 375 percent above the benchmark created havoc in the state. A multi-day cloudburst centered on the state caused floods and landslides. Due to continuous rainfall, the Chorabari glacier melted and this triggered the flooding of Mandakini river in Kedarnath. The change in day and night temperature in the recent years also encourages cloud bursts and landslides. Reduction in forest cover loosens soil and leads to the same. Also, if the hills have more oak trees than pine or other trees, it will prevent soil erosion and landslides. Nature probably takes revenge for some of the many offences mankind makes it go through. Real estate development results in cutting down of several trees. The unplanned and illegal construction, in the name of development and commercialization has disturbed the ecology of the state. Rapid growth of hydroelectricity dams disrupts water balance and encourages such disasters. More than 220 power and mining projects are running in 14 river valleys in Uttarakhand. Several rivers are being diverted through tunnels for these projects. Absence of tourist management and lack of crowd control further worsens the situation. An added spoiler is a poor monitoring, forecasting and early warning systems by Met department in the state. Government bodies are inefficient and lack foresight and skill of optimum utilization of resources.

It was disheartening to see the mayhem broadcast by media in June 2013, but when I personally visited the place in June 2014 and 2015, it did not seem so bad after all. In fact, there was no damage caused in Badrinath at all. Fear can make people step back from doing a lot of things, but FAITH is more powerful! The ability to overcome fear and go further is a gift the faith in the unseen, the unknown blesses us with. Looking at the recent natural calamities, the similarity between all these places is that they are lands of Lord Shiva, the God of Destruction! Is it not the ultimate truth of life? Why fear it when there is nothing more inevitable than that! When on my last night there I was watching the fire leaving free its flames in all directions, the sight of ashes, which we as well will finally turn into, gave me a sense of complete freedom and salvation!

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How is a revolution conceived ?

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – Martin Luther King

Ever seen a child play? He goes by his whims and imaginations and never by the rules. That is how the human spirit ought to live; free to want, free to speak, free to dream, free to err, free to learn, free to believe. When this is denied, it attempts to gain the freedom to question and challenge. As we grow up, the spirit is chained by the shackles of family, society, governing authorities, nations and boundaries. The list of the appropriate and the inappropriate is something we can get for free, but freedom is never free!

Assuming that early men never had a schedule, a code of conduct, a fixed recipe, a to-do list, a deadline to meet, or a rule to follow, their evolution was a result of their experiences and the learning from the same. This was neither certified by an authority on a certain parameter nor compared with the performance of others. They must have hunted whatever they wanted to eat; using whichever tool they were confident about. And so it starts with survival. It always starts from the basics, and that is what it comes down to after taking the highest leap. End mirrors the beginning.

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of conformity and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the spirit within a man than suffering. It harms the nature and existence of the spirit. Coz when we do something not because we want to do it, but because we are expected to do it, it kills a certain part of the absolute spirit, and once the absolute starts dissolving, it becomes more prone to further harm and loses strength. When this pattern becomes repetitive, we believe the spirit gets immune to it. That is where we go wrong. It’s not the regular pressure that makes the sky cloudy, it takes low pressure to make the clouds rain. A ball cannot bounce back until it hits the ground. That is the point, the basic, the ground, where the revolution is born.

The spirit seeks justice, absolute justice. It refuses anything it considers unfair. Freedom to be is its choice, and when that is denied, it revolts. “Coz justice is a judgement that is both fair and forgiving. It is not only the way we punish the wrong, but also the way we try to save them…. Sometimes it is necessary to do the wrong thing, for the right reasons. The important thing is to be sure that our reasons are right, and that we admit the wrong”- Shantaram

People who do not raise a voice are the people who always console themselves. Consoling is nothing but a form of acceptance and suffering. A soul that does not console itself is a soul that will fight back. “Tolerating injustice is encouraging injustice”- said my father on his last day, unaware of its influence on my cloudy mind. Some feelings sink so deep into our hearts that only freedom from them can help us find them again.

Also, those who console themselves do not love themselves. If you love your soul, you will not accept what you do not deserve. Suffering is a sign of weakness, bouncing back, a symbol of strength. What and who you love should become your strength, not your weakness; coz love is a passionate search for truth other than your own. “Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”- Che Guevara

But this does not mean that freedom is absolute. Freedom should be mutual, a manifestation of all the individual freedoms thriving to attain justice. In your own quest to get freedom, you cannot harm others’ freedom. It has to be neither submissive nor autocratic, but progressive. Justice cannot bring ego, it should bring peace. And peace is what nurtures our soul.

“There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”- Into the Wild