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Monday, February 26, 2018

Devbhoomi

[Shilpi has written her own little travelogue, here. See how different people see the same things differently.]

Ever since Pupu grew up, I have been taking advantage of mid-to end February to go travelling. The weather is still fine to tolerable, my work schedule is slack, and it is ‘off-season’ almost everywhere, because millions of kids are taking year-end exams in school, and so their parents are tied up too. I have just come back from another long trip. This one was a repetition in some ways, and a first in some others. I took my mother along with me – for the first time in my life, when I am running fifty five. She was tough enough to cope with the whole thing and enjoy it. Not easy, when I see women half her age – and a lot of men too – who are decrepit already. But then she still teaches mathematics, and insists on doing a lot of the housework…

We started off with Hardwar. I am not religious in any conventional sense, yet Devbhoomi, as they call the Garhwal hills in those parts, holds an ineffable fascination for me. This was the fifth time I was visiting, the first being in 1989, when I took the Xavier’s kids along (is any of them reading? Those boys would be past 40 now!) I checked into my favourite hotel, the Teerth at Subhas Ghat, because it is bang on the river, and a few paces away from the most happening location in town, Har ki Pauri, where the river which is mother of India descends to the plains. We arrived late at night, so that day was wasted, but driver Munna Lal took us to Neelkanth Mahadev the next day, and on the way back we took in Laxmanjhula and Hrishikesh: it almost felt like coming home. Munna was just the kind of driver I like, courteous and friendly without being garrulous and presumptuous, and very staid at the wheel, so I fixed up the rest of the tour with him.

Off we went to Devaprayag, where the Bhagirathi joins the Alaknanda and becomes Mother Ganga (-ji. They consider it sacrilege to refer to her by name without the suffix – a mannerism of which I strongly approve). Ma offered her prayers, then we pushed on to Rudraprayag, where the Mandakini, river of heaven, meets the Alaknanda. Checked into a roadside hotel, nothing special, but it overhung the river from a ledge, and the view was breathtaking. It was not cold until I had sat on the balcony watching a forest fire on the hill in front for more than two hours. The river sang to me all through the night.

Next day we followed the Mandakini to Chandrapuri, where the picturesque Tourist Lodge had been washed away by the terrible flood of 2013 (the office still works out of a tent). I had planned to stay the night there, but in the event the down-in-the-mouth cottages didn’t seem too appealing, so we pushed on to Ukhimath, where, as luck would have it, Lord Omkareshwar was residing (he comes down from Kedarnath for the winter every year). And so, agnostic that I am, I managed to pray to him without actually going to Kedar, which I probably never will, given my bad leg. Then back to the same hotel in Rudraprayag, stopping at Dhari Mata temple on the way (which they had removed to build a dam, and then came the flood, and so they are rebuilding it at the insistence of the locals, who don’t want the Mother to be angry again) and the Sangam, where I went all the way down to actually stand in the Mandakini and collect a bottleful of water for someone who had begged for it. I stopped also at the tiny Jim Corbett Park (opposite to the Panchayat office and RTO now – Corbett would have gaped) which marks the precise spot where he shot the notorious maneating leopard back in 1926. I badly wished that Pupu had been beside me: the story is so alive and vivid for both of us…

A very long drive to Mussoorie the next day, because we had to stop again and again at places where the mountain was being blasted, dug up and removed so that the road could be widened into a highway (presumably so that the Dilliwala fat cats with their luxury cars and coarse manners could drive up faster and easier). Stopped at Sahasradhara just outside Dehradun, and it was a disappointment. Dehradun itself has sprawled, become rich and brash and nearly faceless (but for the still extant greenery) like so many other cities around India ever since it became a state capital. The drive up to Mussoorie was, however, still just as beautiful as always. Munna drove us into a hotel he knew, and it was good, especially because they were offering a 50% off-season discount. The next day was spent in a leisurely way, strolling around the Mall, walking up to Landour where Ruskin Bond lives and visiting Kempty falls, the Buddhist Temple (close to the LBSNAA, where they train IAS officers – strictly a no-photography zone, enforced by stengun-toting and very stern looking commandos) and the cute little ‘Company Garden’. Mussoorie is even more troubled by monkeys than Hardwar: one took away and broke my teacup when I had turned away for ten seconds on the balcony!)  The city blazed like a carpet of lights below me. And it was the last cold night I had this season…

Down to Hardwar on the morning of the 23rd. I had invited Shilpi, who is now working in Delhi, to come over for the day. Ma was tired out, and wanted to sleep through the afternoon. They were hammering away somewhere on the roof of the hotel, so sleep wouldn’t come to me: at four I gave up trying and went up via ropeway to the Manasa Mandir for a bird’s eye view of the town. I am glad that two Bengalis have been greatly honoured in the Hindi heartland: Subhas Bose, after whom my ghat was named, and then there is Vivekananda park, where you see the swami’s diminutive statue standing right in front of the monumental Shiva as you drive out of the city. We watched the aarti at evenfall again, and strolled along the ghat and sat on the balcony watching the river flowing by till late at night. There was the wretched chore of having to get up at daybreak to take the Jan Shatabdi to New Delhi (that station is still the pits – you can’t get even a cup of tea on the platforms!), where the tedium of the long wait was greatly alleviated by Akash’s visit, and finally a quiet trip on the Rajdhani back to Durgapur on Sunday the 25th.

The Ganga was unbelievably green for mile after mile. When am I finally going to go rafting down her? Unfortunately, wherever there is even a small town or a place with some claim to holiness, there are now far too many people everywhere, and so also too many shops and motor vehicles – worse still, two-wheelers swarm the roads. The fact that our numbers have swollen by a billion since independence is becoming more painfully, intolerably clear with every passing year. These days you have to trek far beyond the motorable roads and the reach of TV-dishes and mobile towers to enjoy the beauty that is still pristine, and the silence amidst vastness that never fails to wash away the silly and futile cares of the world far below, when you can at last be alone with yourself. I have seen almost everything that metro life offers, and I promise you, until you have had this experience you have not lived. But one warning: if you travel around these parts, be ready to climb up and down thousands of breathless stairs, and live for the most part on pure vegetarian food (Well, that's two warnings actually!)

So my travels are more or less over for the season. Now summer is around the corner, and I have to gear up for the admission storm in late March. After that, two continuous months of class, then a mid-summer break, when Pupu will decide where I should go along. The rest of the year belongs to her. But I shall be searching for pretty and quiet two-day getaways all the time – any suggestions beyond the usuals, which I have seen already? I am particularly interested in the new homestay facilities which, I hear, are sprouting all around the state.

Photos can be seen here. Also, here is a little video that I have put up on youtube. This young man was playing the flute beside the Ganga at Laxmanjhula. That’s the kind of small roadside miracle that you can catch anywhere in Devbhoomi.

5 comments:

Aveek Mukherjee said...

Dear Sir,

It will surely be wonderful to go through the pictures of your trip. The post reminded me of my own Haridwar trip, back in 2011, with my family. I have wanted to go there again since then. Right now, after reading this post I can't wait to go uphill through those winding roads, with the cold wind kissing my face. It's breathtaking!

Hope you are doing well!

With regards,
Aveek.

Siddhartha Pal said...

Dear Sir,

I was just waiting eagerly about an week for you to post something in your blog. As i had not visited anywhere for the past two years so after reading your every trip experiences i feel as if i was there with you.

Moreover i am also happy to know that even at an old age grandmother has been able to cope with you in the entire trip.

The photos are just majestic.Especially the selfie of you with grandmother i liked that one very much .And the fluetplayer,s voice was very sweet .

Hope you are in good health

With Regards
Siddhartha

Subhanjan Sengupta said...

Sir,

I had a misconception, and I apologise for it. I used to think that you will never go to places like Hardwar. I used to think that you are a spiritual person, but not necessarily religious. But of course, I know that you are a nature lover and love to travel.

Loved reading, as always, and seeing the pictures and video.

Sincerely,
Subhanjan

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

Beautiful place, travelogue and photos. When I was studying in Delhi, we used to frequently visit Hardwar. There is certain charm about that place. As a young kid, we have been to Mussouri as well and have fond memories.

I hope you continue to travel like this and be happy.

Kind regards
Tanmoy

Sinchita Das said...

Dear Sir,

Reading your blog has always been enchanting because your writings bring the places in front of my eyes without actually visiting them. I've never visited Hardwar, though I've always wanted to, and after reading this I cannot wait to go there myself! I hope you are in good health. I have been planning to visit you, so I hope to see you soon.

With regards,
Sinchita