In the Valley of the Gods
My adventure started in Calcutta when I boarded the Doon Express bound for Hardwar, the city of temples. Lying in the heart of India, this most religious of cities would set the tone for a trip marked by a sense of spiritual intimacy, a closeness to religion and religious people. My trek was to take us along the Ganges and into the Garhwal region of the Himalayasa journey through the spiritual heartland of India.
My friend's apartment where I spent my first night on this adventure was adjacent to the Bharat Mata temple, one of the most ornate temples in Hardwar. Next was Rishikesh, where the plains meet the Himalayan foothills. The town's name itself evokes images of the Rishis, legendary Hindu seers often said to be incarnations of the god Vishnu. During the languid Rishikesh evenings, I would sit by the Ganga, also known as the Ganges, bearing witness to the ancient Hindu rituals being carried out there in a seemingly timeless continuum of tradition that is perhaps unique to India. Here was an intermingling of the old and the new, the ancient and the modern, the rich and the poor, brought together by a belief in a cleansing process whose origins can be traced back for millennia.
As I sat and felt the cold wind blowing over the river, watching the lamps being set alight on the water to appease the spirits of the forefathers, I got the sense that even the most hardened atheist couldn't help but feel a tinge of spirituality present here. This was the Ganga, the river which for centuries had fed, influenced, nourished, and nurtured India. It was here that I decided to retrace the route of the Ganga back to its source. This would mean trekking along a major tributary, the Alakananda, back to Vasudhara Falls near the village of Mana, back to where this sacred river begins in the mighty Himalayas.
The next day I was off at dawn. The hillsides were a verdant green, having been nourished by the especially good monsoon rains this year. I hurtled along serpentine roads with precipitous drops for quite a few hours, heading in a more or less northeasterly direction, till I reached Devaprayag. This city marked the first major prayag, or river confluence, I encountered on my journey, Devaprayag being the place where the Bhagirathi and the Alakananda come together to form the Ganga.
I followed the Alakananda tributary through Rudraprayag, an area made famous in the book Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag by Jim Corbett, an English naturalist and conservationist who led the battle in the first half of the twentieth century to save the endangered Indian tiger. Next came Karna Prayag (the confluence of Pindar and Alkananda) and then Nandaprayag (the confluence of Nandakini and Alakananda). Finally I reached the town of Pipalkoti. Everything was perfect. The weather was great, the scenery was awe-inspiring and my companions were fun. Things seemed too good to last. Sure enough, at Pipalkoti I was informed that I couldn't make it through to Govindghat, the next town, thanks to a landslide. I was lucky to find some accommodations in a rest house at Pipalkoti; the next day would require all the mental and physical resources I could muster.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication