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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An exhilarating ride up the Himalayas to meet Lord Bhadrinath

This article is written by Ms.Sudha Jagannathan and sent to me. Very interesting to read with nice photos.


(Badrinath Mountains View)
It was wonderful and full of adventure one could ever imagine. We began our Badrinath yatra from Chennai. It was the month of May. It was pretty hot, both in Chennai and Delhi. Delhi is usually the starting point for Badrinath yatra. We commenced our trip in a bus arranged by Shri Devnathan of Delhi. Prior to this one, he had arranged as many as 240 trips to Badrinath. We have to climb the Himalayas at an altitude of 10,000 feet above the sea level to reach Badrinath. Moreover, the road on the hilly terrain is very narrow. Only one bus can travel at a time. On one side of the road is the rocky mountain. And on other is a depth with river Ganges flowing below. A mere look down below or in the opposite direction or the parallel route where the bus has traveled – sends scary thoughts across the mind. The way any vehicle travels in this route is really breath-taking. Above all, there is surely a divine grace and will. We realize how small everything around us is before this huge mountain. Some people have constructed houses on these hills and live here. They cultivate a few vegetation and crops for their survival. Nowadays, the traffic around here has increased considerably. It is often said that pilgrims or devotees in those days have encountered very many hazards on the way to Badrinath. Not surprisingly, there were very less travelers on this route in former times. Those who were on a pilgrimage to Badrinath those days would not be sure if they would ever return to their homes due to so many reasons. The scenario has changed now. There are many private travel agents now taking pilgrims to Badrinath and Kedarnath from Delhi, Rishikesh, Haridwar etc. We started on May 2, 2009 to Badrinath from Balaji Mandir in Delhi. Just prior to the commencement of the journey, special poojas such as Yatra Dhaan etc were performed at this temple. Finally, we began our journey at around mid-night in two small buses, as heavy and luxury buses can’t travel by these small roads.
Laxman Jhoola at Rishikesh
(Laxman Jhoola at Rishikesh)
Where Ganga Emerges: It was such a wonderful sight as we reached Rishikesh early next morning. The place is surrounded by hills, as the river Ganges flow through this place. There is a Laxman Jhoola. There is also a Ram Jhoola here. People use these hanging bridges to cross the river Ganga. On the other side are a few temples. The morning bath in the pretty chilly and pristine river Ganga gave us a new freshness. We were served a sumptuous meal by the host. In the evening, there was a pooja. Early next morning, we re-commenced our journey to Badrinath. Our first halt-point was Devaprayag. This is the place where the confluence of rivers Bhagirathi and Alakananda occurs. From Devaprayag onwards, the merged river becomes Ganga. Bhagirathi is deep, green and full of current. Alakananda, which flows from Badrinath, is whitish ash in colour. She is submissive compared to Bhagirathi. At Devaprayag, the current is very strong. Strong iron chains are used here to protect the people while taking bath. We were warned by our host not to go near the waters. A few volunteers and service people who took us close to the confluence point drew big pails of water from the river. And each one of us had to sit on the stone placed on the step leading up to the confluence point. The water was poured on our heads by these volunteers. It was very cold and so pure. At first, many among us shied away from taking bath in this cold water. Once the initial inertia was gone, bathing at this confluence point proved a thrilling experience.

(View of Badrinath Nara Narayana Parvaths)
Tirukandam: Here there is a Vishnu shrine, which is a part of 108 Divya Desams. This shrine is known as Tirukandam or Kadinagar. The deity here is known as Purushottaman. And, the Goddess is Pundarikavalli Thayar. This temple is located on a small hill with steep 100 steps on the banks of Devaprayag. This place is 70 kms from Rishikesh and 1,700 feet above the sea level. Our host Shri, Devanathan went on to explain all these details to us while traveling. Periyalwar has sung in praise of Lord Purushottaman, who was worshipped by Lord Rama himself in the Ramayana. There goes this story in Ramayan on how sage Vishwamithra had narrated the story of Ganga to Rama and Laxman. Ganga was brought to the earth by none other than King Bhagiratha and, hence, Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi.

(Devaprayag the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alakananda, left is Alakananda and towards right is Bhagirathi)
The Story Of Ganga: Prior to him, other kings and his ancestors such as Anshuman, Dilipa and others did not succeed in bringing Ganga to this earth from heaven. Why should Ganga had to be brought to this earth at all? She is such a holy river that if we touch her, all our sins will be wiped off. Vishwamithra narrates this to Rama and Laxman. King Sagara’s sons were once performing an Ashwametha yagna in the earth or the Bhooloka. During this time, a horse is let out by the kings. Usually, the horse is challenged by a very strong king. This time, however, Indra from heaven plays a trick. He takes away the horse and ties it in front of Sage Kapila, who is in meditation. This Lord is an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Sagara’s sons come in search of the horse. They see the horse in front of sage Kapila in the nether world and accuse the sage of stealing the horse. Sage Kapila opens his eyes and hears the accusation hurled by the sons of Sagara. He instantly reduces them to ashes. There were thousands of them. All the sixty thousand sons of Sagara were reduced to a heap of ash by sage Kapila. As Sagara laments at the death of his sons, Sage Vasistha comes to his rescue. Sagara’s grandson Anshuman was a personification of good qualities. Hence, King Sagara sends for him to bring back the horse and complete the Yagna. Sagara’s grandson Anshuman reaches Kapila’s hermitage and get the sacrificial horse with his blessings and completes the Ashwamedha Yagna. But King Sagara is told by Sage Vasistha that his sons, who were transformed into ashes, could reach heaven or get salvation only if river Ganga is brought to this earth from the heaven. Hence, Anshuman goes to the forest to perform penance but in vain. King Dilipa who followed his and others in the Ishwaku clan could not succeed in bringing Ganga to the earth. However, due to his dedication, Bhagirtha, the grandson of Anshuman, performs severe penance to bring Ganga to this earth and succeeds in doing so. Hence Ganga is known as Bhagirathi i.e. the daughter of Bhagiratha. Hence in Devaprayag, the confluence is very strong and powerful with Bhagirathi’s force. The vigour with which Bhagiratha performed the penance and Ganga is brought to the earth is seen here.

(River Alakananda is flowing below)
Joshi Mutt: We reach a place called Pipalkot on the hills next. It actually had rained that night and the weather was quite chilly here. The next morning, we started off to Joshi Mutt, an abode for Lord Narasimha. An arm of the Lord here is getting thinner and thinner by the years. It is said that Badri would be converted into a Vishal Badri if the Lord’s arm becomes very thin. Near the Joshi Mutt is an entry gate for all buses to go to Badrinath. The gates are opened and closed at a prescribed time so as ensure proper and safe travel of all vehicles on these narrow roads. If the vehicles are allowed to go up, no vehicle is allowed to get down from Badrinath. It is a one-way passage. This is completely maintained and managed by the Border Security Forces. They regulate the traffic flow. We reached the gate in time and reached Badrinath at around 11 a.m. in the morning on the same day since we started early around 4 a.m. in the morning from Pipalkot. Well, it was a magnificent and exhilarating sight with snow-capped mountains all around. The parvath or the mountains are known as Nara Narayana parvaths in Badrinath. And in between two mountains is visible Neelakanta Parvatham of Kedarnath. Due to mist or the melting of the icebergs, sometimes this mountain is not visible clearly. Fortunately, the day we went was sunny and it was clearly visible. The sunshine, however, was not felt even in the least. It was biting cold. We had to clench our shivering hands. The teeth began to chatter in the cold evening. Walking in this place was quite difficult and we felt breathless, as there was dip in oxygen level. River Alakananda flows majestically in Badrinath. We had to cross a bridge on this river to reach the temple. We could see the river flowing ever so beautifully.

(River Bhagirathi flowing before the confluence at Devaprayag)
The Lord Darshan: We went to the temple to take a bath in the sulphur or the hot spring water, which flows naturally near the temple premises. This is the only hot water source for the devotees to take bath. Otherwise, it is so cold here and freezing. Even if you touch the water, it makes the hands numb. Well, we had a good darshan of the Lord with proper regulation by the military service people who guided us there. We saw them all covered fully with sweaters, mufflers, gloves and shawls. It was so cold with a very cold breeze at times. Inside the temple is Lord Badri Narayana with Nara Narayana, Narada, Kubera, Garuda and Uddava, the sole survivor of the yadavas. There is also a shrine for Mahalakshmi inside the temple. Lord Badrinath is self originated and formed of a black shiny stone known as Salagrama. The Lord is seated in a Padmasana posture. Special poojas like abhisheka are performed early in the morning at around four. Devotees here place some coins at Kubera’s feet and take them home to be blessed with wealth always.

(Badrinaryan temple at Badrinath)
River Saraswathi: Another important and beautiful place is river Saraswathi in Manna village. This is two kms from Badrinath. It is almost at the Tibet border. River Saraswathi is so beautiful and light greenish in colour. She is visible only here. In other place, however, she flows as antharvahini and not visible to others as a result of curse. There is also a Bhima’s bridge here. The Pandavas of Mahabharatha, it is said, came here for salvation. Bhima, it is also said, had hurled a huge stone for the Pandavas to cross the river. Hence, it came to be known as Bhima’s bridge. After this, there is sage Vyasa’s cave. SageVyasa wrote the epic Mahabharatha. After this, we saw a small tea shop named the `Last Tea Shop’, just a few yards inside the Tibet Border. The guys there explained to us that it was the last tea shop on the Indian side of the border. It was rather surprising to see young robust-looking boys carry huge luggage on their back. They carried it in a basket they had tied to their back. They even volunteered to carry people on their backs in the basket for a small fee. Though looked beautiful, it was not so easy to climb the small steps. For one, the oxygen levels were low. Two, the chill breeze blowing across made everyone pant and puff. Nevertheless one got a huge amount of happiness and peace after a visit to this temple and getting a glimpse of Lord Badrinarayana.

(River Alakananda flowing in Badrinath)
Badrinathji’s Grace: We were reaching the Joshi Mutt on our way back. And many of us fell asleep due to the coldness. We crossed the place known as Hanuman Chati. It is said that Bhim and Hanuman had actually met at Hanuman Chati. As our host was explaining this to us, all of a sudden, our driver stopped the bus. People were running helter-skelter. A big crowd gathered around on the right edge of road. A peep down, we saw a Tata Sumo or something of that sort down deep. Fortunately, it had not fallen deep. Further down, we could see Ganga flowing fast. We had a shiver down our spine, as many thoughts crossed our minds. All vehicles had stopped and people – including some drivers – hurried down to the spot where the vehicle had fallen down to rescue those who were trapped inside the vehicle. Brave souls, they rushed instantly to help the victims, risking their own lives in the process. They pulled out a few kids and elders who were traveling in the vehicle and brought them up. Battered, bruised and blood-stained, the injured were crying and looked terribly scared. To the relief of everybody, we were told that all the nine people who had traveled in the vehicle were safe. We instantly prayed to Lord Badrinathji. It was miraculous and unbelievable. We were scared every moment then on. Nevertheless, the journey back was rather exciting.

(River Ganges at Haridwar)
Many Prayagas: Like Devaprayag, there are many Prayags on the way to Badrinath. There is Rudra Prayag, where rivers Mandakini and Alakananda merge. From here goes a road to Kedarnath temple. There is also Karna Prayag, where rivers Karna and Alakananda meet. Vishnu Prayag is where rivers Vishnu and Alakananda combine. There is also Nanda Prayag. In all, there are five Prayags. There is this place called Pandukeshwar, where Pandavas had dwelled. Finally, there is a Vasundhara River near Badrinath. Here is the place where the Pandavas fell one by one and reached heaven. This place is believed to be a tough one to reach.

(Radha and Krishna at a temple in Haridwar)
Modi Makes it Badri: During our trip to Badrinath, we also saw an high profile political leader taking time off elections to have the blessings of Lord Badrinath. As we were having refreshments in a hotel – overlooking the Badrinath Temple, we saw the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi, making his way into the temple with his parivar. There was a huge crowd and I tried to take a few snaps from the hotel window. We were also told by the hotel host that even the former Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi had visited this temple in the `80s.

(Pilgrims getting out of a bus at Badrinath)

Tulasi Mala: The Tulasi mala or the garland sold outside the temple for adorning Lord Badrinath is of good medicinal value. As we reached Rishikesh on our way back, we were relieved to see the plain area. The mountains, as we watched, looked endless. Some among us even started to feel giddy. Once we reached Rishikesh and Haridwar on our way back, it was such a lovely sight with beautifully-lit lamps on river Ganga. Ganga is rather broad here and flows with a great force. It is such a wonderful sight. The place is filled with all sorts of mouth-watering eatables and sweets. It looked prosperous. Precious gems, assorted varieties of sweaters, garments and what not – you have everything here. The place stands picturesque in front our eyes. Well, we had to bid goodbye.


(Himalayan mountain ranges)


(view of Badrinath mountains)

1 comment:

vaidyanathan said...

really interesting articles either it is your own or posting articles which r of interest to people like me who r leading a calm retired life.