Thursday, December 28, 2006

Closer to Kedar...

The previous posts First one / Second one

The day did not start well: first we were woken at 4 in the morning by a rather enthusiastic waiter, who, the previous night took his tea order right but not the room to which the order had to be delivered. Instead of realising that it was improper to wake people up so early, he was insisting that this was the room to which it had to be delivered. Half believing me, he yelled to his friend who must have been at the end of the corridor to double check the room. His friend yelled back that he got the room wrong. “Sorry sir-ji”, our ‘polite’ youth said and went to loudly knock the room few doors further.

This woke me up completely and I realised I had a frog in my throat. Not a good sign since that means a cold is around the corner. I have a strange warning mechanism for a cold: first I wake up with a sore throat that too on ONE side (I am not joking), then as the pain disappears the nostril on the erstwhile sore part starts to go on an overdrive and then the next nostril suddenly remember it needs to act in tandem with its sibling . Strange isn’t it? Well each of us are as strange as our own ailments.

After tossing around for a while on the bed and when it was light enough, I went to inform the manager that he can arrange to send hot water to my room, he was not in his seat and the kitchen folks casually mentioned, while warming themselves at the cook-stove, that the boiler broke down and we have to make do with cold water, if we intend having a bath at all. The water was freezing to say the least. I then remembered my bathing scheme in Pune/Hyderabad in winters (we did not have a geyser): pour water on feet first… then on knees… shiver… then stare hard at the water in the bucket expecting to warm it a la superman and in a swift movement douse the entire body supported by appropriate squirms and screams. I must add that after the first few mug-fulls the batch actually starts to be enjoyable. I tried to emulate the same routine here but it was more pride than cleanliness that prompted me to perform the drill.

Having accomplished this feat, I went over to adjoining room where my friends were still lolling in bed, told them that there is no hot water and that I went through my ablutions with cold water, as befitting anyone wanting to scale the might Himalayas. One of them was not amused. He had a fight with manager who promptly got hot water organised for him and others. Wife gave me icicle laden stares for she succumbed to my motivating talk a little earlier. Anyway, casually casting those stares aside, and with a head stuck out like a proud rooster, I went to the restaurant and polished few hot alu-parathas not-withstanding the sore food passage. With mango-pickle burps and a satisfied stomach, I limbered up a bit by walking around the campus taking a snap here and there as I waited for the rest to take a short ride to Gaurikund where the path to Kedar starts.

The ride to Gaurikund with some spectacular views of the sun-kissed mountains, in ideal conditions should have taken ten minutes. In reality it took close to an hour. The first seven minutes were close to the ideal state but the next three minutes weren’t as we ran into a long line of vehicles, all at a standstill, waiting to get to Gaurikund. Two of us jumped out to do some restless and pointless activities. Before we could get a porter to haul our luggage to the main gateway, the vehicles started to inch ahead. The brown kucha road was little wider than two vehicles and there were whole bunch of people (porters, drivers, cleaners, bhel-wala, etc.) creatively taking up all kinds of spaces – tree stumps, jutting rocks, rubbish mounds. A slow and careful ride (not to knock other vehicles into the steep valley or spread smiling Nepalese nicely along the mountain wall) took us to a little square half the size a foot ball field. To say it was chaotic was to say the least. There were about a 100 vehicles, half of them discharging their load of giggling enthusiastic families all eager to jog up the 14 km path to Kedar; other half picking up weary families wondering why on earth were they so enthusiastic and eager to get some brownie points, that too for a supposedly next life. In between these vehicles were families waiting impatiently for their vehicles to turn up so that they can put behind as much distance as possible from this place. In total it was chaos of a new order. The fact that all this happens without much ado is a miracle in itself. Actually there were also some folks with that ‘been there and done it” kind of look but they were the fat folks who did the trek on other beings.

We gave the customary dip in the Kund before the trek to Kedar a miss, and went on to pass through the welcoming arch and throbbing crowds onto a stone paved path with varying commercial activities on its sides. Lugging our loads to the GMVN (the state run guest house), where our driver said that the staff will help us get a good porter. They were trying to palm some of their cronies who were asking more than normal rates, which obviously included some generous kickbacks here and there. I enthusiastically volunteered to keep an eye on the luggage so that the others can span out to find a porter willing to transport our luggage at a price that was comfortable for us. I love my friends when they fall for such displays of unbridled enthusiasm.

Each of us kept a small backpack with a bottle of water. I volunteered to carry two extra bottles of water. Folks, you may smile at my brag about these bottles, but let me tell you hoisting two extra kg all along the path that winds 14 km in length and two km up into the sky is no mean feat. This is the kind of trek, half way through lazy bums like me would have realised their folly of not cutting those finger-nails and thereby shedding few grams.

Anyway, the first km was the hardest part thanks to the crowds. In addition to the normal demography found at the Gaurikund square, the path also houses ponies, dholies (palanquins) with their fat inhabitants and lean carriers and porters carrying very young or very old in baskets tied to their foreheads and waist. And doing their wee bit to give a quaint farm smell were the pony droppings. Amidst all these, sights and sounds of gushing, milky Mandakini on our left was the only positive

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