Nanda Devi Raj Jaat Yatra (2000)

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We were probably going to join those very few people who get the privilege of completing the Sri Nanda Devi Raj Jat Yatra, which happens once in 12 years. Yatra starts from Nauti village of Garhwal. Nauti is called the maternal home of Goddess Parvati. Maa Parvati is also known by the name ‘Nanda’. This journey is to take Ma Parvati from her maternal home Nauti to her husband Lord Shiva in Kailash where it is not possible for humans to go. Therefore a four-horned lamb is born once in every 12 years which is also known as the messenger of Lord Shiva, as soon as this lamb turns 6 months old, the journey begins, and this four-horned lamb which is also called ‘Menrha’ or ‘Khaadu’ leads the journey, and all the priests and travelers go after him.

I along with my friend Sunil, started our journey in the Lal Kuan train from Lucknow on the night of 28/8/2000, despite of the opposition from both of our families.

Travel halts

Lucknow  – Lal Kuan  –  Kausani  –  Gwal Dum  –  Mandoli  –  WAN  –  Garari patal  – Vedini  –  Pathar nachoniya  –  Bhaguvasa  –  Roopkund  –  Shila Samudra  –  Homekund  –  Chandaniya ghat  -bhujani-  Lata Khopri  –  tatra  –  Sutol  –  Sitela  –  Ghat  –  Karn Prayag   –  Haridwar  –  Lucknow

At 8 am, we reached Lal Kuan. At that time there was torrential rain, but in order to not waste much time, we took a taxi to Kausani. At 5 pm we reached Kausani, there we took a room in the Uttarakhand Lodge, and after having some light breakfast, we went out for a walk and to experience a beautiful view of nature.

At around 8 o’clock, we called our family members and after talking to them we came back to our room. Due to being tired, we had our dinner along with some liquor and slept.

The next morning, we had breakfast and checked out and at about 11 am we set for Garud in a taxi, and at 12:30 pm we reached Gwaal Dum, which is 45 km away from Baijnath by another taxi. At that time it was 3 o’clock in the evening, at the same time, we saw that goddess‘s palanquin was being taken from there, there was a Kumbh-like atmosphere in the entire Gwaal Dum.

We took a room at Garhwal Tourism Bungalow in Gwal Dum and after resting till 6 pm, we set out in search of Porter.

Due to it being pilgrimage time, finding a porter was a difficult task, however, we were fortunate to find a good porter cum guide cum cook. His name was Anand Singh Parihar. Anand also took another porter named Dileep as the overall luggage was heavy.

At 12 noon, all four of us sat in the cab and left for Dewal leaving Gwal Dum behind. The route was so difficult and muddy that at times, the taxi went on two wheels, but by goddess’s grace, we reached Deval that is 20 km away from Gwaal Dum at 2 pm. We were thrilled thinking that our exciting trek will start tomorrow.

Anand arranged for our stay on the first floor of an empty hut, it had windows but no doors on them. With the help of stove and gas brought from our home, Anand cooked deep fried chapatis and vegetables to feed us, the taste of that food felt better than many great dishes. Once finished with dinner, we slept.

In the morning, we wanted to eat eggs but due to the religious atmosphere, the four of us ate scrambled eggs and the deep fried chapati with our back towards the way hiding ourselves from people. Anand proved to be a very good cook.

At 7 o’clock in the evening, the goddess’s palanquin reached Mandoli, along with Chausingha Mendha (the four-horned lamb) who was leading the journey. Devotees tie some women accessories like bangles, comb, Red chunri, vermilion, etc as dowry to the umbrellas that goes with goddess’s palanquin, , These umbrellas are also called Chhatauli.  The mass of pilgrims in the temple was a sight to see. The heavy  rains, and the way the priests danced by burning Havanakund were the memorable moments.

Despite the heavy rains, there was no shortage in the enthusiasm of the devotees. There we decided that till the end of the journey, none of us will eat non-veg, drink, smoke or shave.

Next morning, after a difficult and hard climb for 3 kilometers from Mandoli, we reached Lohajung, which is a very picturesque place atop the hill. There we also got our health checkup done for fitness certificate and registered ourselves for pilgrimage.

Due to lack of telephone arrangement, we requested the police to connect his wireless to wireless of the police station near our house in Lucknow in order to talk to our families, however, we couldn’t connect to our families that day.

Later, with zeal and enthusiasm, we started our trek to a place named ‘Wan’, which was 15 km away. Crossing the difficult mountain paths, waterfalls, rivers, etc., we reached Wan, the first stop of the pilgrimage at 4 pm. It was sunny at that time, and the sky was clear. However, as soon Goddess’s palanquin reached there at 6 pm, there was a surprising change in the weather, heavy rainfall started. According to beliefs, the heavens cry at the time of Goddess’s farewell, appears to be true.

Later, in a hut, we made our living shelter, kept the stuff, and joined the Devi Yatra.

At night, we had to send our second porter Dilip back due to him catching fever. Now the lack of porter was the biggest hindrance of our journey. This route was extremely difficult. The 8 kilometer continuous incessant climb and the rain made us breathless and exhausted, but somehow at 2 in the afternoon, we reached Garari Patal. It was a small place, due to not having enough space to set up tents, we left for Vedini Bugyal 4 km ahead of there at 2:30. Being battered with exhaustion, we reached Vedini at 5 in the evening after crossing the extremely inaccessible route and difficult climb. But seeing that place, all our tiredness disappeared. This captivating paradise is spread over about 5 kilometers. There was green velvet grass as far as it could be seen, glass like clean and clear water was pooled in the middle of Vedini kund, the snow-capped peaks around and the clouds playing on them were unforgettable scenes.

Goddess’s grace was upon us, we found another porter named Kedar, if he had not been found, it would have been impossible to travel further because even the mules could not go ahead.

At night, after finding a proper flat surface , Anand set up his tent, it was our first experience of this trip to stay in the tent. Everyone was very tired, so we ate the food outside. A man was making poori, and potato with gravy, but we did not have any deep utensils so we took the vegetable in our own disposable glasses. Now, the experience of eating it was also funny and different, as, the potatoes settled down in the glass while the gravy floated, we would take one bite from poori then drink a sip of vegetable and its gravy from the glass. Post dinner, we came back to our tent and slept.

The altitude of Vedini is about 11500 ft. It was 4 September, we got up in the morning and clicked many pictures and left Vedini for the next stop to Bhaguvasa. By the way, the next stop of the journey was Pathar Nachonia, but due to lack of space to set up tents, we preferred Bhaguvasa,after a very difficult climb of 12 kilometer, we reached Bhaguvasa at 5 in the evening. Being a very rocky place, finding a flat spot to set up a tent was a difficult task. But Anand planted a tent somehow, but there was so much uneasiness that with great difficulty, all four of us spent that night wide awake and as soon as it was morning again we left for Shila Samudra, the next stop of the journey after drinking tea.

This route was so inaccessible and dangerous that even for the greatest climber it was a challenge to cross it.

At around 10:30 we reached Roopkund, 6 kilometers away. This is a small but mysterious pool. Mysterious because almost 700 years from today, an army was buried here whose bones are still buried beneath the snow around this pool, some of these bones still had flesh on them. There were also slippers of the buried people, which were three times larger than the ordinary slippers, It came to our mind that how big the people of that time must have been. Here we took many photos but due to the height of 15000 feet and no tree and plants, oxygen rate was very low here, it was very difficult to breathe. From here, we left for the Shila Samudra, which is 9 kilometers away. This was probably the most difficult route to travel so far because here we had to cross the highest point of the journey 17500 feet, Jyona Gali (Jyona means Yamraj), So crossing it meant escaping from the hands of Yama, crossing this path about 1.5 feet wide and 20 feet long felt like getting another life. Muddy and slippery path and the glimpse of Roopkund 2000 feet below was enough to give us goosebumps. However, the soldiers of BSF got us to cross the road with the help of rope. Soon after, the route had steep slope of ‘Shila Samudra’, the army personnel had put a rope of about 100 meters there. After leaving that rope our every step towards reaching the bottom was dangerous. One wrong step could have cost us our life, but by the grace of goddess, all the pilgrims reached the sea safely. Surrounded by glaciers of snow all around, it was a picturesque place. Here we had dinner and made some offerings on Goddess’s Palanquin.

On the morning of the 6th, we left for Homkund at 6:30 am for the last pooja havan of the pilgrimage, and to bid farewell to the four-horned lamb. The time of Havan was fixed at 11:30 but the path was so difficult that only 300 people out of 25000 people reached that last place. I was one of those lucky people. My friend Sunil too was left behind on the way. After offering my chunari and coconut while worshipping, I got another chunri of goddess and a few other things like like comb, bangles that I pounced to achieve from the umbrellas, which was Prasad to take home. There, the priests and pilgrims left the Four-Horned Lamb and began the return journey.

Due to the bursting of the glacier, there were very loud noises, and in the afternoon, it was dark. Therefore, I went downhill very fast but I could find neither Sunil nor both the porters. Walking quickly, I reached Chandania Ghat, the next stop of the journey, but I couldn’t find them there either. Then I understood that all of them are left behind, but now going back was impossible.

I started the journey ahead, the path I found in this journey, I found it the most dangerous of all the paths so far. The 45-degree slope, torrential rains and bone-chilling cold made it even more dangerous. The path was supposed to be crossed by gripping the grasses that grows on the walls of mountains by hand. Losing grip on the grass meant death.

Somehow, this route of 5 kilometers crossed and then the sliding zone arrived. There was a fear of land slide all the time, People were shouting that the mountain is falling ahead, I was also running for life. Somehow by crossing this path at 5 pm, I reached Laata Khopdi, a temporary stop for the journey.

It was 6 in the evening, it was raining, all my clothes were wet, I had nothing to eat and cover. Staying drenched in water overnight at an altitude of 11000 feet meant death, as, if I would have fallen sick there was no one to help me. During this entire journey, at this time I felt that I might never be able to meet my loved ones, but Goddess’s blessings were on me and a military man gave me a place to hide my head in a tent, in a short time, like me, two other travelers, who were separated from their companions, also arrived. One of them had a plastic sheet of size 6*6, after laying it, we sat on it. Everyone was feeling very hungry, so outside the tent I saw that a man is making chapatis but he had no vegetable. I bought 6 chapatis from him, the boy whom I met in the tent had a can of milkmaid. However, due to lack of tool to open it, we broke the box with sticks. We put the same milkmaid along with some salted lentils that I had in everyone’s chapati and everyone ate 2-2 chapatis. Then the boy gave me his jacket, because he had a sleeping bag. I was 6 feet tall while his height was 5 feet, how his jacket would have covered me but like a straw to a drowning man, I spent the night trying to cover myself with the same jacket. I had a flashlight in my pocket, which I lighted repeatedly to look at my watch and that is how I killed the time throughout the night. Even thinking to sleep was futile. Fatigue was not the only reason insects and hill scorpions could be seen moving around. Because of the fear of insects and scorpions on one hand, and on the other, this thought that if I will catch cold or fever due to being drenched, there is no one to take care.

At 6 am, we left for Sutol, the next stop of the journey, which was 14 km from there. After about 6 kilometers on the way, suddenly my foot slipped and I fell on my hip on the rocks. Due to the pain, I stayed there for about 15 minutes, but lying there wasn’t going to help. Remembering the Lord, I started walking while limping, and somehow I reached Sutol at 12:30. For the first time after several days, I saw a nice village and house. After washing my hands and feet, I kept my belongings in a hut and decided in my mind that now I will move on from here only after the arrival of my companions. I sat at the entrance of the village. I gcould not contain my happiness any longer when I saw all three of my comrades coming to Sutol at 5 pm. We hugged each other as if we had seen a dead family member alive again. After that, we stayed the night in the house of a relative of Kedar who lived in the same village. They treated us well. At night, we communicated by phone to our families and this phone was powered by Radio Australia, it was rated Rs 400 per minute. After talking with family, we sought blessings from goddess and slept.

The next day, on the 8th, the last stop of our trek was to go to the ghat, 25 kilometers away. At 9:30 am we left for the Ghat. For the first time in this journey, an easy route was found, but still walking for 25 kilometers was not an easy task. We had blisters on our feet but due to a strong desire to go home, we reached the ghat at 6:30 pm.

At 9 pm, we reached Karna Prayag at 11:30 am by bus, 40 km from the Ghat. After calling home, we found a hotel room at around 12:30 pm with great difficulty. Anand came here too. He made paratha and egg for us. All four of us ate our food and slept at around 2:45 am.

At 6 in the morning on the 9th, it was time for us to split up. Anand and Kedar boarded our luggage in a bus going to Rishikesh, and embraced before leaving for their respective homes. We reached Rishikesh around 5 pm and from there reached Haridwar at 5:45 pm. There we took bath in the Holy Ganges at Har-ki-Pauri, and arrived at the station after eating. Luckily, we got 2 berths in the train and after traveling the night, we reached Lucknow on the morning of the 10th. We were so happy to meet our family that it was difficult to describe that happiness in words. There was a strange sense of satisfaction and happiness in our mind that we completed a great journey with the help of our will power.


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