What excitement!!! Here I am going for a trip for the first time in my life. Till now maybe I have travelled out of Surat till Ahmedabad to મોટીબેન’s place and went to Bombay for 4 days. When I was four, I had gone on a trip to સૌરાષ્ટ્ર with my parents, brother and ઉર્મિલાફુઈ and ફુઆજી. So, till date no great trip, this is going to be the first one. My Std X exams are over and we are off to હરિદ્વાર by દેહરાદૂન express – catching the train at 2:00 am from Surat. By “We” I mean my parents and my brother. Our neighbors’ કનુકાકા, રેણુકાકાકી, બા – દમયંતીબેન, ઉર્મીલાફુઈ and our loving Bhalnish got tickets after 4 days, so they would join us in હરિદ્વાર.
Here, I am writing about this trip after more than 30 years…. so the memories are a little blur. We stayed at the ગુજરાતી સમાજ. Before the others joined us, we went to સપ્તરિષી આશ્રમ, various other આશ્રમ’s, the દક્ષપ્રજાપતિ temple, etc. Vividly remember seeing એક મુખી રુદ્રાક્ષ at the સપ્તરિષી આશ્રમ, which at that time was costing 800/- rupees. These Rs. 800/- were like અધધ for us at that time. પપ્પા bought 9 ધાબળા and almost 20 sweaters for all family members. So, at the start of the journey પપ્પા અને હું both became the baggage carriers – in those days coolies were a luxury which we could not afford. Between four of us we had nine baggages and mummy and Jwalant would only carry their own, rest 7 were our responsibility.
Then after the others joined us, we went to the મનશાદેવી temple, હર કી પૌડી – had evening આરતી દર્શન. The floating દીવા made in leaves are a sight which I can never forget. Another thing I remember clearly is that sitting at હર કી પૌડી and watching the Ganges flow. We sat for almost an hour. But constantly watching the river flow at a terrific flow rate I felt as if the river will come and catch me and take me in its flow. The same feeling I had experienced in 1998 when there were floods in the Narmada River; and I was driving my two wheeler, on the Golden Bridge.
From હરિદ્વાર we went to ઋષિકેશ and saw the લક્ષમણ ઝુલા. I remember seeing a lot of lepers sitting on both the sides of the bridge. They sold 2 પૈસે coins pack amounting to 84 પૈસે for Re. 1/-. We bought 2-3 packets from them and distributed among all the beggars. When I revisited ઋષિકેશ in 2008, I was glad to see that the lepers were rehabilitated in housing colonies @ 1 km from લક્ષમણ ઝુલા.
All our journeys are by Government Bus. So the modus operandi was to ask for the bus timings of our next destination and plan for the next day. In those days there were no prior bookings, or maybe we were not smart/rich enough to have one. The next bus took us to ગૌરીકુંડ, કેદારનાથ ની તળેટી. The journey was almost for 14 hours. I was lost in the scenic beauty of the Great Himalayas. Never been to any hill station before, so all the time during journey, I was like cut-off from all the people – lost in the natural beauty. Jwalant was feeling nauseated, so he was almost sleeping in all the bus journeys. It was maybe first time in my life that someone in my family was not feeling well, still I was enjoying myself. Remember having રગડા પેટીસ and પાપડ as big as the થાળી, enroute in the whole Himalayan journey. At ગૌરીકુંડ there were hot water springs – ગરમ પાણી ના ઝરણા. We all took bath in the piping hot water. It was very refreshing, as the atmosphere was very cold and we were tired after the long bus journey. This was my first experience of bathing in a public place, and it was very embarrassing. I remember that the ladies had to coax me to take the bath, but once I was inside the કુંડ I started enjoying myself.
The next day morning we started out climb from ગૌરીકુંડ to કેદારનાથ. We all took the mule – ખચ્ચર. કનુકાકા, રેણુકાકાકી, દમયંતી બા,ઉર્મીલાફુઈ took the ડોલી as the mules would go only upto 8 kms, as the path from there-on was covered with snow. We all planned to walk the rest 6 kms. We were equipped with લાઠી to support us in the walk. It has a special pointed iron bottom, which would hold the લાઠી firmly in the snow. The ride on the mule was enjoyable. Drinking in the beauty of the mountains, watching the mules walk in a straight line on the winding paths. ખચ્ચર ખાઈ side ની કિનાર પરજ ચાલે. We were sometimes very afraid when the valleys were quite deep. I remember the whole path my father is instructing the ખચ્ચરવાલા to make the mules walk in the centre, but they would pay no heed. In fact, today I understand that the mules used to walk on the edge, the ડોલીવાલા in the centre and those on foot would walk near the mountain side. This system would ensure that those on foot are safe.
We alighted from the mules after 8 kms and started our પગપાળા journey. There was a third type of transportation – કંડી. A bamboo basket is tied on the head and waist of a man, and a person can sit inside this basket, back to back with the કંડીવાલા. The કંડીવાલા surrounded us, but we refused to take the સવારી. Despite this three of them started following us. Their target customers were Bhalnish 11yrs, Jwalant 14 yrs and I 16. Initially we walked with all the gusto. First it was a small break after say 250 steps, then say 200… and it went down to 80 steps. Those ડોલીવાલા knew this beforehand, so they had followed us. After walking for about 3.5 kms, the pointed part of the લાઠી carried by Bhalnish – came down with force on my ankle and pierced it. No first aid nothing. So finally the decision is taken to travel by કંડી. All 3 of us are seated in the કંડી and carried by કંડીવાલા. My parents still are taking the journey on foot. As we are being carried by experts in mountain climbing we reach the કેદારનાથ temple before my parents reach. Those travelling by ડોલી have already reached and even completed the દર્શન. We decide to wait for my parents and then go for દર્શન.
As soon as we reach the temple veranda, a huge landslide occurs. We see a big rock of ice/snow the size of 4 buses put together fall from a high mountain into the valley. It crosses the road that leads to the temple. I am seeing this landslide, an unable to see my parents who are coming by foot. I start asking બા and the other people around me about them. Someone from the crowd says that if they were on that road then they would have fallen in the valley and died. I am shocked and worried; thousands of thoughts come to my mind. બા and ફુઈ tell us to go and do the દર્શન, but I am not interested. In fact they force us and I have to go inside. But within a moment I am out, even call my brother out and wait besides him. I keep myself positioned in such a way that I can see the whole road. After almost 15 minutes my parents along with the પંડા emerge and I am in seventh heaven, relieved to see them. Maybe my જાત્રા is complete doing their દર્શન. As soon as they are near enough, I run to inquire after them. Luckily they met a man in a small hut preparing tea. So, they sat there to have a cup of tea. I am very much indebted to this tea cup, as it has saved the life of my parents. My father too had seen the landslide from his side, and concluded that the cup of tea had saved him. My strength in a supreme power – call it God or anything is strengthened.
I was more attached to my father, vividly remember going with him inside the temple. The શિવલીંગ in કેદારનાથ is not rounded, but like a mountain top. The story goes that Hanuman had broken it with his ગદા. Obviously, I think that someone has made up a Hanuman story, built a temple around a mountain top and cheating people to take so much pain and come for દર્શન. My views in all areas including religion were always revolutionary from the beginning – like my fathers. Maybe we think and analyze too much. Finally કેદારનાથ દર્શન is over and we return to ગૌરીકુંડ by evening. We are so tired that we hit the bed and go to sleep.
Meanwhile my father inquires about the bus to take us from કેદારનાથ to બદ્રીનાથ. There are two buses – one at 6 in the morning and another at 10:30 am. Our elders decide to take the bus at 10:30, so that we can have a sound sleep after the tiring day and wake up late. So the next day, we are relaxed, ready and take the 10:30 am bus. There are no tourists in this bus, only some locals. The entire tourist has gone by the morning bus. The bus travels for 2 hours, comes to a small village in the mountains and stops. Oh….Oh….Oh we come to know that the bus will stop here and resume its journey only the next day morning at 6 am. So here we are 9 of us in the bus – in a village where there is no restaurant even for food. We dig into our ગુજ્જુ નાસ્તા packed from home. The driver and conductor inform us that we can’t stay in the bus and will have to find a place for night stay. My father finds some log cabins which the people give for staying, but all are booked for the night. The people who have booked the cabins came at 9 pm. Luckily it is a tourist bus from Mumbai with all ગુજરાતી people. They are kind enough and spare a cabin for us, offer us dinner. We are happy to have ગુજરાતી થાળી after a long time. In the night we can hear the water running nearby, there are a lot of springs in the Himalayas. Morning’s a big surprise. In the dark we hadn’t seen the location of our log cabin. Morning sunlight we saw it clearly built over a running stream – with a quite heavy flow of water. Oh my… had we seen the location earlier, we would not have agreed to sleep in that cabin. Anyway it was over. We board the bus and were on our way to બદ્રીનાથ.
Only remember that I spent all my time in the bus journey looking at the beautiful mountains, valleys, small streams, waterfalls, the winding roads…. and enjoyed myself thoroughly. There were mountains of slate stone. In that area the roofs of the houses were also made by slate stone. The slate stone mountains પડ જેવા હોય. There are mountains of Mica. These shine brightly in the sunshine. The mica dust is all over the road and valley. It reflects the sunshine wonderfully. Nature during those days was clean and not polluted. Almost for the last two hours the whole road was covered with snow. The army had cut the snow from the road. So as the bus rode, there was snow on both the sides. Even in the valley side, snow formed a huge wall, almost 20 feet high. It was chilling and I believe the passengers were even frightened. They were all chanting જય બદ્રીનારાયણ on top of their voices. We reach at night, come to know that due to heavy snowfall government is planning to close the દર્શન for one week, so all the hotel owners have closed shop and returned to lower heights. Again we face difficulty in finding a place to stay. Modi’s Hotel gives us one room. So we have 4 adults and 2 children on the 7 feet double bed, ઉર્મીલાફુઈ the heavily built up one on the sofa, બા અને હું on a dining table. We are so tired that we sleep like logs. The temp is below 0 deg C. Even the toilet water has to be heated up, in the tank – so that it can flow through the tap and flush.
Morning we go to the બદ્રીનાથ temple. Here also there are hot water springs, but it is too cold and we decide not to take a bath. The memory of બદ્રીનાથ is not very clear today. Maybe કેદારનાથ was eventful, so remembering it clearly. We return to ઋષિકેશ. My leg wound from કેદારનાથ is still sore. We visit a local doctor – dresses the wound and gives medicines.
We then take an onward journey – all by state transport buses to વૃન્દાવન, મથુરા and Agra. Lots of temples, but I am not allowed to enter – a lady’s monthly cycle instrumental. Jwalant and Bhalnish both do not understand, and are after me at each temple, why I am not coming inside. Sometimes I tell them that I am tired, sometimes tell them that I don’t believe in God; and what not – a series of lies. Maybe at that time I had accepted that during those 5 days I am not supposed to enter the temple, so I accepted my situation. In Agra I was very eager to see the Taj Mahal. But here too my ill luck. Both my ફુઈ’s બા and ઉર્મીલાફુઈ came to a conclusion that the Taj was a religious place of the Muslims, as it held a sacred મકબરા, so we have to respect the sentiments of the Muslim religion. So I am banned from entering the Taj Mahal. I am alone and sitting outside for almost 3-4 hours in the same position and same place (warned not to move from where they had left me). My only sightseeing is seeing people enter and exit the gorgeous monument. Today at least I can say that I have been to the Tajmahal and seen it. The Taj is a beauty described and written about by many – so I need not elaborate on it. Remembering a small ગુજરાતી શાયરી written on the Tajmahal – author is unknown to me.
અરે ઓ તાજ જોનારા, તને “ગુલઝાર” લાગે છે
ઢોળાતી ચાંદનીમાં ઝૂલતો આરસ તણો “અવતાર” લાગે છે
મળે જો શાહજહાં તો એટલો “પૈગામ” તું કેહ્જે
કે સુતેલી મુમતાઝ ને પથ્થર તણો આ “ભાર” લાગે છે
We bought an almost 1 feet big Tajmahal replica – it housed a light bulb inside and looked beautiful when illuminated. One more baggage to carry till Surat.
From Agra we went to Delhi. Reached Delhi at almost 10 pm. The station and nearby area wore a deserted look. We took three auto rickshaws’ and told them to take us to ગુજરતી સમાજ. After driving for almost an hour we reached, paid the fare, and relaxed. Next day morning the sight from the window surprised us to the core. What is this? We could not believe our eyes. Is this really so? Oh no, the sight was that of the railway station. Those રિક્ષાવાળાઓ turned out to be દિલ્હી ના ઠગ – made us ઉલ્લુ and took the auto fare. First experience in Delhi. So, we became all the more conscious. Maybe next day we took the Delhi દર્શન bus. It was April and very hot in Delhi. I was down with fever, gulping down medicines. I didn’t get down at રાજઘાટ to see the સમાધિ of Mahatma Gandhi. It still pinches me today. Maybe the heat was too much for me to bear along with the fever. In fact, the Delhi sightseeing and shopping at ચાંદની ચોક are erased from my memory.
The return journey to Surat by train was also very painful. We had no reservations, were sitting in the passage area between seats and near the toilet. It was a long journey and we got seats only after half the journey was over.
Yes, as the budget was tight and we were 9 people on the tour પપ્પા had decided not to buy a roll for the camera. So no snap shots of this tour. Maybe for બા, ઉર્મીલાફુઈ and Bhalnish, he must not have charged more than the train fare, so the trip of 21 days was a bit heavy on his purse. We could take this trip only on the insistence of our neighbors’ મદનભાઈ, બાલુભાઈ and મંગુકાકા. Thanks to them. Today I feel that my father didn’t have all the luxuries that we enjoy today; maybe this trip was a major joy in his life. After many years too, he used to remember this trip – which has helped me today to write down many things.