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Meeting The Lord Amidst A Snow-Clad Badrinath

We, a gang of five, reached Joshimath on our way to Badrinath in August-September, 2018. Badrinath is the abode of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, one
Neelkantha in a golden robe
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We, a gang of five, reached Joshimath on our way to Badrinath in August-September, 2018. Badrinath is the abode of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, one of the top three Gods of the Hindu pantheon, described in the ‘shastra’ as the ‘Holy Trio’. The other two being Lord Brahma (the Creator) and Lord Shiva (the Destructor). The temple was situated at an altitude of 3,100 metres (10,170 feet) in the Himalayas.

Snow deposits on roads and trees
Snow deposits on roads and trees

We started from Joshimath on 31st August, 2018 amidst a light drizzle.  It later turned into a heavy downpour. The windshield of our car almost turned into ground glass, with hardly any visibility. Naturally, the pace of the car had to be slowed down. The bonnets and roof-tops of the vehicles coming down from Badrinath were all painted white with snow. Within a few minutes, however, the downpour stopped and snowflakes started falling hither and thither like feathers. What a sight! Puchu, the youngest of the five, sprang up in sheer excitement only to bang her head on the roof of the car. Following the practice observed in the hill areas, our car stopped to give way to the convoy of descending cars, and we made full use of the halt. Window panes were lowered and camera shutters were fired continuously to capture the unique scene all around.

All snow-covered
All snow-covered

After going on for sometime, we saw the trees on both sides of the road draped with snowflakes, appearing like talcum powder. As we advanced further uphill, the winding road started becoming more snow-clad. Finally the snows hardened. Wheels of our car started skidding, and sensing imminent danger, the driver stopped the car.

How long did we stop? May be two hours, may be two days. How could we reach our goal? The road needed to be cleared to make it motorable.

Snowfall in Badrinath town
Snowfall in Badrinath town

Our jubilant mood gradually turned gloomy. A heavy truck was coming down. It turned to be our saviour. Our car started treading the wide gutter created by the truck-wheels. It was just like a train moving on the rail-tracks.

Finally, we reached our destination — Badrinath. Trudging through the deep snow, we finally reached Bharat Sevashram Sangha, our place of stay. The passage and verandah were all covered with thick layers of snow. The marigold plants had drooping heads, covered with snow, appearing like maidens draped in white robes standing in a row with their heads down. Only its faces were visible in the form of yellow blooms. We went out for lunch walking through soft snow, one foot deep.

A Chough (bird)
A Chough (bird)

Snowfall started increasing and so were the gush of wind. The branches of the trees stooped down with the weight of deposited snow. It was dark after sundown, and to make the situation wos rse there was a power cut.  We had to confine ourselves inside the room. The only lit area was the temple complex owing to the use of a generator. Amidst the surrounding gloom, it was a marvelous sight indeed, the temple shining amidst the bluish snow around. We learned that power would be restored only after the snow deposits were cleared.

Since it was impossible to move out, we made use of our reserve food, ‘chire’ (flattened rice) and dates as dinner. Our thermometer showed -6° Celsius inside the room; it was way colder outside. We were struck down with the uncertainty of being stranded. Having nothing else to do, we slipped inside the warm cover of the quilt. The only sound heard was the gurgling of a nearby waterfall and the continuous murmuring flow of the river Alakananda.

A thud woke me up, possibly caused by the fall of deposited snow from a height. A string of light creeped inside the room from below the door. “Hey folks, it’s a bright day.” It was bright all around — azure sky, brightly shining Neelkantha peak (6596 metres) — visible in the distance. Two low hills in front of the Neelkantha kept its base hidden, giving out the appearance of diamonds. A man was removing the snow deposited on his rooftop with a plate. The surrounding area looked like a painting palette. Here and there, coloured patches in the form of houses, loomed out of white background all around. We could see people hovering around the Badrinath temple campus.

Marigold maidens
Marigold maidens

We made preparations to visit the temple. The path was slippery due to melting of snow. Local workers were busy removing the snow using shovels. We crossed the bridge over river Alakananda which was also covered with snow. It was a contrast to see steam rising out of the hot spring amidst the snow-covered area.

We entered the temple and had ‘darshan’ (holy view) of Lord Vishnu to our heart’s content. There were not too many people inside. The ‘mukut’ (crown, head gear) of the Lord was studded with glittering jewels and gems, but the expression of the face of the idol was calm and composed. It seemed that God with his kind, warm look was gazing at us with compassion. In an attempt to quench my spiritual thirst, I felt an urge from within to cast my look again and again towards the pleasant face Lord Vishnu. After sometime we did the ‘parikrama’ (circling around the temple in a clockwise manner) as a ritual and finally gathered at the courtyard.

A lonely road
A lonely road

It was sunny outside. Many people, including the devotees, were gathering around. Yellow-billed chough birds were flying around, some settling on the temple-top, some on the high perch of halogen lamp poles. Amidst all these we started our return journey.

A car was seen moving ahead of us, but it could not proceed further. It had to stop at the traffic check post as the road ahead remained inaccessible. About two feet of snow was deposited on the road as a result of continuous snowfall during the past 16 hours. We had so many plans to execute. All went in vain. As a consolation, we went out for a stroll in the afternoon. Suddenly, we were attracted by a sound overhead. Gazing upward, we saw a hovering helicopter. Anupam said, “Reporter.” But we were mistaken.

Neelkantha in a bluish sheen
Neelkantha in a bluish sheen

The path was finally cleared except for a few patches of snow here and there. We took the path on the left side of the temple, towards ‘Charan Paduka’, which was said to have the footprints of Lord Vishnu on a stone slab. The path was muddy with ice chips and snow-water. Drops of ice-cold water were dripping from the rooftops due to the melting of the remnant snow. It was as if magician nature had started the ‘Water of India’ show. The stairs leading to the ‘Charan Paduka’ were still covered with snow. A local resident advised us not to proceed because it would be extremely dangerous and difficult to descend. Hence, we had to abandon our attempt.

After crossing the bridge across the holy river Alakananda, we noticed a ‘sadhu’ (monk), removing snow from a bench with his crutch. I had come across many such sadhus high up in the Himalayas walking with their crutches. Such was the attraction of the Himalayas, a magnanimous creation of mother nature.

The Badrinath temple at night
The Badrinath temple at night

On our way back we came across a ‘jaloosh’ (a procession of local deity) with band of musicians from the Yamunotri area, coming to visit the Lord. It was a colourful procession. It was a common practice in the hills to take local deities with them on pilgrimage.

Now that the weather was clear, we decided that we could start our return journey the next day. I got up when it was still dark.

 

Mount Neelkantha wore a mysterious look and appeared too enchanting in light-blue sheen against a dark background.

 

It had the look of the blue-throated ‘Neelkantha’ (which derived its name from Lord Shiva who drank poison). Although Shiva was generally taken to be the Destructor of the Trio, here he drank the poison and stored it in his throat to save humanity. A shade of pink lit the pinnacle of the sleeping mountain which gradually spread on its face giving it a somber, sober look. As time passed, the pink colour gradually changed and condensed into a golden red. It was a marvelous experience to see ‘Neelkantha’ shaped like a golden diamond, against a dark canvas. Gradually, the golden colour also started fading away and ultimately it turned into a glittering white. The dazzle thereof almost blinded the eyes.

The golden-brown crown of the Neelkantha
The golden-brown crown of the Neelkantha

After clearing the mound of snow deposited in front of our car we began on our return journey. By then, the road towards Mana had been cleared. Mana being the last Indian village in that region, the road there happened to hold much importance from the country’s defense point of view. The road beyond the military barrack was yet to be cleared, so we had to stop once more. Mana village could be seen at a distance. Water-coloured roof tops could be viewed among the scattered patches of white and brown. The village was known to produce quality potatoes, but the fields were empty. It was learnt that on getting prior information about the upcoming heavy snowfall, the villagers had plucked the potatoes beforehand.

The choughs on a lamp post
The choughs on a lamp post

The car started skidding on back gear. Our driver requested us to push the car, but in the group of five we were only two male members. Fortunately, a team from Yamunotri was on their way to Mana village. They were an all-male group of five. Seven of us pushed, first from the front to move the car backwards, then from the back, to make the car face the road. Finally, we succeeded.

We were stopped at the entry point check post of Badrinath. The melted ice of last night had frozen overnight making the road slippery once again. The cars would be allowed to move only after the snow melted. The area on both sides of the road was white and wavy like sand dunes with occasional dots of bare shrubs.

 

Choughs and crows were enjoying against the spotless blue sky. A chough perched on a branch of a blooming tree with snow flowers; such a beautiful sight!

 

Suddenly, there was a stir near the entrance of the check post. A car arrived; a man alighted and boarded the helicopter. He must have been a VIP.

At about 10 in the morning, some vehicles were seen coming from below. After obtaining the green signal from the local authorities, our car also started rolling. Before going past the check post a local ‘Pujari’ (priest) performed the ritual of worshipping our car and wished us a safe journey.

Snow dune
Snow dune

The return journey was uneventful. The road was fairly clear, free of snow, except for the both sides of the road. The trees which appeared as being sprinkled with talcum powder now looked bright dark green after they had shaken the snow off their body.

This travel journey was a mixed experience. It was eventful too. Joy, anxiety, uncertainty, uncanny experience… what not! All along, we could feel that the affection and sympathy of Lord Vishnu, the Saviour, with us. It was, however, a pity that we could not exhibit our sincere faith on Him. After all we were mere mortals.

All Images: The Author

Ashok Kr Ghosh is a Gynecologist by profession. He is also a Mountaineer and Traveler and amateur photo artist. He is the recipient of several awards including Honourable Mention, Lalit Kala Academy Award, Excellence Honors from ‘Federation International de la Arte Photograhoque’. Dr Ghosh is also a Naturalist specialising in Ornamental Floriculture and appears as Judge in horticulture exhibitions. His articles are frequently published in leading Bengali periodicals and magazines.

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