Tall trees in bloom with several violet flowers, the flapping red flag high up on the tomb of a temple; I drive through the sharp turns, moving closer and further from the rocky walls. The chilly wind piercing through my skin, hair trying to veil my eyes, blocking the view of the endless mountain peaks that can only meet the sight.
Old, vacant dwellings, far from each other. Bridges connecting the roads that were never meant to be. I don’t like to see co-travellers during this journey.
The mountains are too big to ascend and their peaks too difficult to reach. When I turn and climb in an attempt to elevate, I want to be the only soul perceptible. Hills must be the place where the holy spirits dwell; human presence may kill their peace. I witness the birds flying in one direction, then resting and larking at a sight invisible to me.
I want to have a conversation with who they see, ask them if they are searching for something as well. Whether they have any companions, or if they too dream of a mysterious place similar to these hills.
I am still waiting for an answer, while the hues of vermilion turn into a silver sky without stars. The hissing wind sounds like the heavy breathing of someone tired of walking miles, with the satisfaction of having accomplished a purpose in its pause. I stare into the nothingness to see the motion of light, leaving the place tranquil with neighbouring darkness of the night. He left again, may be to seek another human like me, to convince them of a fulfilment just like they did to me.
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!