Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Exploring The Real Beauty Around...

What does 'Real Beauty' mean to me, I wondered one day………

....Is it...

That Single Happy Smile which can keep sadness by the bay...?

Beauty is a cheerful Smile
Beauty is not in the face; Beauty is a light in the heart. - Khalil Gibran

Those wonderful Creations in Mother Nature which never can fade,
Clouds, Winds and Mountains - Things that are not forcibly made...?

Beauty is Nature
Beauty is one of the rare things that do not lead to doubt of God.
- Jean Anouilh

That Cheerful Blooming Flower,
Mere sight of which opens the door of happiness and joy,
And also kills the backward feeling of coy...?

Beauty is a Blooming flower
Beauty is not caused. It is. - Emily Dickson

That sweet nectar of free flowing Ganges water,
Which purifies every soul irrespective of caste creed or colour…?

Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. Khalil Gibran

Those Moments of Faith, of Camaraderie, of Colorful Celebrations,
Strong enough to bind everyone in a string of common sensations…?

Beauty is whatever gives joy. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

That Friend who offers a helping hand or kind caring words he says,
Creating a ray of sunshine such, that brightens up your entire day...?

Friends are Beautiful, aren't they?
The only lasting beauty is the beauty of the heart. - Rumi
(image courtesy: great-inspirational-quotes.com)

Those People who don’t wear an artificial mask,
But provide with unconditional affection never you may ask...
Dark or fair, the humble souls who just don’t care,
Who accept you as you are and love you always whether near or far...?

Beauty is Family
Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of love. - Anonymous
(image courtesy: christs-redemption-ministry.com)

As I thought on 'Real beauty' more and more, I realized... 
For me, these things indeed formed its foundation core!

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced. - John Keats

So, what do you think, what is Real beauty after all,
A perception, an observation or something else, do share with me your imaginations!

PS - This article is a part of the IndiBlogger and Yahoo! India - Dove contest "What does real beauty mean to you?" Do check this link out to know more - http://realbeauty.yahoo.com/

If you liked reading my article, Please Facebook Like it HERE or you could also vote for it on Indivine HERE!! Thank You :)

Note: The Char Dham Yatra continues next post onwards...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Enroute to Badrinath (Joshimath Gate System)

Day 4 : Birahi - Joshimath - Badrinath

Our day 4’s route of Birahi to Badrinath was an 80 km drive and passed through the town of Joshimath where one encounters a ‘Gate system’. (Similar gates are encountered at Badrinath too and these gates regulate the traffic flow uphill and downhill in between them.)

What is a Gate System?

The Gate System simply means that the routes from thereon become one way; when vehicles from Joshimath are let go, vehicles at Badrinath are stopped and vice versa. It is a very well-organized approach adopted by the local authorities to manage the traffic and ensure that no untoward accident occurs on account of the narrow and treacherous routes between these two places.

Our Day starts

The earlier day, we had planned to leave Birahi by 4.00 AM so as to pass through the first gate at Joshimath that opens at 6:30 AM (Birahi - Joshimath is 37 kms that’s approximately a 2 hrs drive). This would then facilitate our further plans which were simply to reach Badrinath as soon as possible, take blessings at the Badrinath temple in the morning before the temple closes down in the noon and then spend the rest of the day exploring around!

But thanks to the chilly weather conditions which had aided our sleep, we could leave Birahi only by 5.00 AM, one hr late than the predecided time. The delay simply meant that we (or rather Vishwanath, our driver) had to hurry and try catching up on the lost time. Missing this gate would not only mean wasting 2 hours in Joshimath but it would stall all our further plans too.

The early rays of the Himalayan sun dancing in the horizon
The just-rising sun highlighting a Garhwal mountain faraway

Vishwanath was at his driving best speeding past the quiet elegant waters of the River Alaknanda which was giving us constant company all along after Devprayag leading us towards the great Dham of Badrinath.

The narrow stream of the Alaknanda River after Devprayag along the Badrinath route in the Himalayas
The narrow stream of the Alaknanda River along the
Badrinath route in the Himalayas

We reached Joshimath by 7.00 AM, a few minutes later than the stipulated gate closure time. But what surprised us was that our car kept on moving… we anticipated barricades… policemen talking in their walky talkies, check posts, long queues of waiting vehicles, but as luck would have it… none came in view!

Travelling off season does have a lot of advantages! Royalty was definitely one of them which we were experiencing in abundance in this trip.  And, need I say, we were enjoying every bit of it! Apparently, lesser number of pilgrims (even lower than 10% of the peak pilgrim crowd) meant dim traffic due to which the entire gate system had been scrapped.

After crossing Joshimath, the roads ahead looked difficult. We drove along the narrow stretches crisscrossing the dangerous, steep, snaky and bumpy terrain of the Himalayas with stones strewn here and there along the path.

Narrow roads at Joshimath enroute to Badrinath

The trail was difficult for even a lone vehicle transiting through and the gate system approach seemed a lot more logical to us now!

Narrow roads after the Joshimath gate system enroute to Badrinath
Look how narrow and dangerous the roads at Joshimath are!

Huge overhead rocks at Joshimath-Badrinath highway
And there is also the danger of overhead rocks falling on you any moment!

A few minutes later, we passed through the mythical twin mountains of Nar and Narayan dedicated to the sages of the epic Mahabharata by the same name. It is said that with each passing day, as the evil in the world is rising, the two mountains are inching closer towards each other. A day will come when the two will join in and the route to Badrinath will be shut forever. Then, the Lord will be worshipped at the Bhavishya Badri or future Badri which is situated at Subain near Tapovan, about 17 kms east of Joshimath. At the moment though, the mountains are distant enough to let your car pass through comfortably.

The mythical towns of Nar and Narayan in the Himalayas
The mythical mountains of Nar and Narayan on the Badrinath roadway

After crossing these mountains, the roads became much much better and it didn't take us long to set foot on the sacred soil of the Badrinath tirtha...

The roads become good just before reaching Badrinath
The roads become smooth as butter much to my surprise and relief,
just before reaching Badrinath

Soon, we sighted the regional board welcoming us to the holy land of Badrinath –

The regional boards welcomes us to the holy town of Badrinath
'Jaya Badri Vishal' - Welcome to the holy town of Badrinath

And Vishwanath burst into a loud chant of ‘Bolo Badri Vishal Ki Jai’. Boy! He was really excited… Actually we all were… Eagerly looking forward to the Diwali celebrations in the Valley of the Gods…

Our Travel Route Map for Day 4 of the Char Dham Yatra
Birahi-Joshimath-Badrinath Travel route map of the Char Dham in the Himalayas
Birahi-Badrinath travel route map, Char Dham - Himalayas
(Click on the map to enlarge)

Color Key for the map

       - Our Route for the day from Birahi to Badrinath

       - Halts en route, starting point and destination included

      - Joshimath, the town enroute to Badrinath where one comes across the 'Gate System'

       - One of the Char Dhams, The Badrinath Dham which was also our place of stay for the day.

Related Information and Travel Tips

1. Important Distances -
Birahi to Badrinath is 80 kms, Birahi to Joshimath is 37 kms and Joshimath to Badrinath is 43 kms.

2. Plan your arrival at Joshimath carefully to match the Gate opening batch timings and avoid wasting long hours in queue. Gate timings for vehicles traveling upwards from Joshimath to Badrinath are 6.30 AM, 9.30 AM, 11.00 AM, 2.00 PM & last batch at 4.00 PM.

Previous posts from this trip -

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hurray...100 posts completed!

There are days when you just bring out some old photos, old scribblings, old notes; to do nothing but to sit amidst a bundle of memories that you treasure and would never want to lose…
My Yatra Diary...
(Image courtesy Google Images)

Yesterday was one such day As I was writing my previous post I realized it was the 99th page in my blog diary! Though I myself didn’t feel like having come that long but my blog dashboard told me, for some reason that I have.

100 posts in 537 days…Whew!

It seemed just yesterday that I had started this diary… When I had started writing, I was quite sure I wouldn’t be writing down rapid travelogues on the place I traveled instead wanted it to be comprehensive enough to make it useful for any traveler looking out for information on these places. With this aim in mind, I introduced my little offering to this big blogging world. With so many things to tell, the descriptions did not conclude quickly and went on and on for a long time. And that’s how it has been ever since… Now the diary is more than a year old and has seen 100 posts in the span. And yet, so many of my travels are still waiting to see the light of the day!

Anyways, since this is my 100th post I thought of compiling a list of the top 10 all time popular posts of My Yatra Diary... Here they are –

A collage collection of images from popular posts of the blog

THANKS to all of YOU who are willing to read what I write! This journey would have been so incomplete and impossible without you!

If you have read these posts, pick your favorite? If you haven’t yet, then go ahead, click on the links and do tell me which one you liked the most!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Enroute to Badrinath (Uttarkashi - Birahi ...Part II)

Day 3 - Uttarkashi - Chowrangikhal - KEMUNDAKHAL - Birahi

After stuffing ourselves in Chowrangikhal, we once again hit the highway and proceeded towards Birahi. Soon the thick curtains of the deodhars opened up to unveil the awesome sight of the rugged green mountains, the plunging gorges, the rolling meadows...

Beautiful old world charm and natural scenic beauty of the Himalayan environs
and the lush green fields – a far cry from the Mumbai concrete jungle!

Magnificient fields enroute to Birahi in the Himalayas
Step-cut fields in the mountains

Picturesque villages with its old world charm with its little box like cottages tucked precariously on top of mountains looked quaint and beautiful as opposed to the ugly crowding in the cities.

Tiny villages of the Himalayan mountains enroute in the Char Dham yatra
Quaint Himalayan settlements on our way up towards Birahi

Today was Choti Diwali, one of the biggest Hindu festivals, and I was so missing all the colors and festivities back home. But just as I thought I would have to celebrate it alone this year, I saw small children accompanied by young beautiful women with baskets on their shoulders walking by…

Pretty and shy village woman on the Himalyan roadway to Badrinath
Our speeding car made them stop in their trail to stare at us, some gave us coy shy glances,
Kids headed toward the fields for work in the Himalayas
some welcomed us with warmth and love,
A smiling chirpy village kid wishing us Happy Diwali in the mountains
while some were just too busy to even notice us!
A kid doing some Gardening work in the Himalyas

Though we did not have any sweets to share with them, but still keeping with the tradition of the festival, we shared whatever little biscuits and chocos we had with these simple village souls who in return gave us their white toothy smiles and joyous faces and made sure to make the festival a memorable and special one for us!

Our Second Halt of Day 3 - Kemundakhal

As we clocked the miles, the lush greenery receded and the snowcapped mountains inched closer. The skies were clear but it was colder than ever. A few hrs later we made our second halt of the day. This time to take the blessings of Goddess Jagdamba at a village called Kemundakhal.

Idol of Maa Jagdamba at the local Temple at Kemundakhal
Idol of Goddess Jagdamba at the Temple

The temples in the villages, steeped in spiritual belief, appear to be small but exude tremendous power. The people of the mountains are deeply wedded to their ancient traditions and hold their patron deities in high veneration. Detached from the rest of the world outside, and living in difficult climatic conditions, they strongly believe that their Gods will protect them from harmful forces and bring prosperity and happiness amongst their community.

A village man performing rituals at the Maa Chamundeshwari Temple at Kemundakhal
A old man praying to their local deity in the Himalayas in Kemundakhal temple
An old local villager praying at the Kemundakhal Temple

Before moving ahead we refereshed ourselves with a steaming cup of chai (tea) at a perfect little tea shack right across the temple.

The highway shack where we had tea at Kemundakhal - Enroute to Badrinath
A tea shack in the Himalayas

Now where in the world can you mix such crystal clear views of some of the highest peaks – Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Badrinath – with your hot cup of afternoon tea…? Not even in a 5 star hotel, I bet!

The entire Himalayan peaks visible from Kemundakhal - Enroute to Badrinath
The road ahead...

Back on the roads, we met 4 of the 5 prayags (More on that in a later post) Vishwanath telling us the significance of each. Further up, we passed the villages of Chamoli and Gopeshwar associated with the legend of Lord Krishna and Shiva.

6.30 PM – Quite tired by now, we retired for the day at GMVN's Tourist Guest House (TRH) River View, Birahi.

The river view rest house at Birahi on the Diwali Night - Enroute to Badrinath
GMVN's Hotel in Birahi brightly decked up
on the occasion of 'Small Diwali' Night

My room photographs at the Tourist Rest House of GMVNL - Birahi
Our Room at the Guest House in Birahi

The rooms were clean and had attached bathrooms having hot water. We celebrated Diwali in our little way by lighting earthen lamps outside our room followed by a light but sumptuous meal nevertheless.

Celebrating Choti Diwali In Birahi By lighting earthen Diyas outside our room
Lit earthen diyas (candles) outside our room

I could hear the rapid laps of the Alaknanda waters gurgling in the viscinity but since it had gone completely dark that day and we left quite early the following day, I could never have a view of the Alaknanda River flowing besides the hotel then. However, I did make it a point to revisit the place two days later while descending down from Badrinath and catch the sight in broad daylight, photos of which I am putting up here.

The Tourist river view GMVN rest house at Birahi in Day
Tourist Guest House (TRH) River View, Birahi in daylight

River Alaknanda flowing besides the GMVN rest house, Birahi
River Alaknanda flowing besides the Hotel in Birahi

Tip for Travelers

Food is basic and prepared at the Guest house on order. Give the hotel staff sufficient lead time while ordering your menu.

Just a Quick Update Note:

Today, the 6th of May is Akshaya Tritiya is a very auspicious day according to the Hindu calendar. The gates of Badrinath Dham which had been shut for the past 6 months or so in November last year (just a few days after I had returned from the trip) are opening today. In this virtual travel of ours, we will be reaching there shortly!

Previous posts from this trip -

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Enroute to Badrinath (Uttarkashi - Birahi ...Part I)

Day 3 - Uttarkashi - CHOWRANGIKHAL - Kemundakhal - Birahi

After exploring so much the previous day, which included visiting one of the 4 Dhams - Gangotri, the picturesque Harsil and the equated to Varanasi - Uttarkashi among others, today was relatively a non action packed day.

Our next destination, Badrinath was about 325 kms away and we were to cover about 250 kms of it today, finally calling it a day at Birahi. Thus, the 3rd day of our yatra was one of those days when we spent a good part of the day travelling towards the upper reaches of the mountains, towards our aimed stop - Birahi.

As usual, we left our hotel at Uttarkashi quite early in the morning. Vistas of large pine trees carpeting the steep hills,

A clear, cloudless morning on the way to Birahi from Uttarkashi

...the long rays of sun peeking down from the silent sky, the quietly flowing Ganges following us through the verdant valleys,

Lovely morning views on the way to Birahi from Uttarkashi

...the stretch of browns, greys and greens bowing out before the blues,

Clear blue sky and scenic surroundings in the Himalyas in Birahi

– My large picture window seat had a view to die for!

There was a zest in the air and spring-in-the-steps infectious ambiance. It was like taking a ride in the nature’s own enigmatic theme park; one which unveiled the timeless charms of a region that is at peace with itself and also seemed spellbound by its own beauty...

 Tranquil it was but it had its moments of thrill too!

Beautiful roads in the Himalayas covered with pine trees
The Himalayan fox was here...somewhere!!

As we made our way forward, we spotted a Himalayan fox! Pity, it was way too quick and ran away even before I could think of clicking it!!

Our first stop – Chowrangikhal

Two hours after winding up the hills, we reached our first stop of the day – a small village by the name of Chowrangikhal. Khal translates to village in Garhwali, the local language, and Chowranginath is the patron deity of the village, hence the name. The temple was small but very beautiful and serene nonetheless.

The Chowranginath Temple in Chowrangikhal, en route to Badrinath from Uttarkashi
The small yet beautiful Chowranginath Temple at Chowrangikhal

Idol of Lord Chowranginath in Chowrangikhal
Idol of the deity - Lord Chowranginath in the Temple

Our driver suggested we have our breakfast here in one of the roadside dhabas outside the temple and we decided to heed his advice.

The humble dhaba where I had my breakfast - Chowrangikhal, en route to Badrinath from Uttarkashi
The dhaba where we had our breakfast in Chowrangikhal

We were treated to some hot steaming parathas and fresh chana curry on a portable table laid out under the sun especially for us. With the hostile terrain out there, this was really warm, humble, homely sort of place. Priced at a meager Rs. 15 per plate, this was a treat and I thoroughly relished the simple old world taste.

My Paratha getting ready in Chowrangikhal, en route to Badrinath from Uttarkashi
My parathas and tea getting ready

Traditional brick kiln with wood used for cooking food
Traditional brick kiln and wood fire used to cook food

The parathas cooked right in front of our eyes, on brick kiln and wood fire, the traditional Indian way of cooking provided a visual treat as well… it just couldn’t have gotten better! Wow... What a start to the day, I thought!!

Our Travel Route Map for Day 3 of the Char Dham Yatra

Uttarkashi - Birahi travel route map, Char Dham - Himalayas
Uttarkashi - Birahi travel route map, Char Dham - Himalayas
(Click on the map to enlarge)

Color Key for the map

       - Our Route for the day from Uttarkashi to Birahi

       - Halts en route, starting point and destination included

       - The three Prayags of the five Panch Prayags