“The land north of Ganga- near Tapovan is known to the wise as paradise ground. Apart from this land, the rest is called earth.”- Skanda Purana
“We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.”-The quote had stirred something inside when I came across it on the computer monitor. I was sitting inside the office- dull, and drained, pondering over my next destination. “Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”- was the next quote, and I have no idea why, but it beckoned me to break the rut and set a deadline for the trip. I had chosen to go to Tapovan with a friend a long time ago, but due to some unforeseen circumstances the trip got cancelled three times. Tried to blame it on fate and bad luck ,but I guess-“You never choose the destination, the destination chooses you- always”. Distance seems to have the same effect on the mind as on the eye. So after waiting for almost 18 months, the heart and mind were in great spirits when I landed at Gangotri- the starting point of the trek.
Gangotri was a welcome change from the scorching heat in Delhi. The weather was cool, fresh and inviting. But the place was flooded with devotes descending on this small town from all over India. It felt like one was traversing the by lanes near Connaught place- jostling and hampering all the time -on the way to the hotel, to the temple, restaurants and shops. It had turned crowded, noisy, and dirty from the sudden influx of tourists due to the Char Dhaam Yatra. But the clamour and noise mellowed down under the ferocious torrents, for the goddess Ganga- flowing boisterously over boulders and bends with a loud turbulent growl, did wonders to block out all the pesky distractions. The paramount Goddess of the Hindus, is a delight- both in sound and sight. Revered and worshipped by the entire Indian subcontinent-it quenches the thirst and helps sustains life of more than half the population.
It was hard to comprehend How the same devotees who would travel miles to take a dip in the holy Ganga, would then unabashedly dump all their garbage and filth in the same river without a slight twitch or shame. I felt despondent seeing how the beautiful forest cover of deodar and pine trees was being destroyed to make way for hotels. Greed, trash, and vacuous management seemed to flow much freely and intensely all around than incense smoke and devotion. The small, beautiful town- capable of sustaining only a few hundred people was turned into a garbage dump in the name of religion.I understand that faith and devotion holds paramount importance, and everyone should have the freedom to practice and express their beliefs and devotion, but not at the cost of polluting a shrine and jeopardizing its existence and ecology. It was heartbreaking, and the more I thought about it- the more forlorn and cynical I became. I moved ahead and found a small rock near the river where I sat contemplating to find some solution to the conundrum- none came to mind. I thought about how people came here in search of peace, contentment, to find the right answers, or atleast ask the right questions, like- What’s for dinner? It was almost 10 pm and I was tired and hungry. After traversing the narrow lanes and a small visit to the temple I had a hearty dinner and went straight to bed.
Morning came with clear blue skies and a hot cup of tea. After finishing the breakfast I left for Bhojwasa around 7 in the morning. The trek started with clear, pristine views of the snow clad peaks, the mighty Bhagirathi river running parallel on my right, and the scent of pine and deodar mingled with the cool morning air- diffused all over the valley. All the gifts of nature had come together to bless me in a warm, bucolic surrounding, while I drifted leisurely under the azure sky. The weather was balmy, with a small cloud cover lingering over the distant white peaks. It was an easy walk till Chirbasa where we stopped for refreshments, and then after a small break headed for Bhojwasa, when weather took a turn for the worse.
We reached Bhojwasa-wet, despondent, tired and awry. It had started to snow just after we left Chirbasa and was now getting stronger. Everything was covered in a shade of white, grey and cold. I had reached first. The guide was carrying a big bag that contained our tent and the ration, and was running behind. Alone and without any shelter I squeezed through the mist and made my way into one of the many tents that lay spread all over the place. Without stopping for a breath or any Introduction I made myself comfortable in a corner. The two men looked at me with disconcerting eyes and one of them said- “Sorry sir, but we don’t have any spare bed or space. All the tents are occupied.”
After I told them my guide was behind and I was not looking for any shelter they took a sigh of relief and presented me with a hot cup of tea. Apparently, I had made my way into the kitchen and the two men were cooks-taking care of a large group from India hikes. They told me how they were stuck for the past 2 days after the glacier wall collapsed. Now a trolley had been installed to cross the river but the weather was playing spoilt sport. After 30 minutes my guide arrived and we bade them goodbye.
There were 50 people scattered all over the place in tents, temples and Tourist rest houses, waiting for the weather to clear and march towards Goumukh-Tapovan. I was convinced the weather would clear next morning but instead it took a turn for the worse, for it started snowing incessantly. Sun refused to come out- prolonging the regular episodes of snow, rain, and boredom. Loners, vagabonds, Mystics, family, friends-all mushed up in the comforts and confines of their sleeping bags and woolen blankets.
We all would gather inside the restaurant hall in the tourist Rest house after every few hours to have some hot tea and food, but most importantly to dispense some time and ennui. There was no electricity, network, distraction, or excuse to get away from the ubiquitous wilderness, the deafening silence, and ourselves.
The manager of the rest house had a small radio which would wobble out interrupted sounds and voices from Doordarshan. And then the frequency would improve and the voice would become clear, and a strange man would start talking about the election results, and what the exit polls were predicting. People from Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Rajasthan, Kanpur, Kerala- all sat there sipping dollops of tea, ears glued to the radio, discussing the prospect of Modi coming to power, having animated conversations about food, India, life, and themselves. It was like being back to the good old times when there were few distractions and fewer misgivings, when everyone had more time and care for each other’s views, opinions, emotions and presence. It was an incredible experience to see people reacting that way. Everyone genuinely paying attention to what the other was saying with the intent to listen and not reply. I felt empathy for a stranger and myself after a long time.
Evening came and passed like a forlorn dream. The temperature had plummeted to -17 degrees, and everyone retired to their tents after an early dinner. Sleep eluded me all night and I woke up sharp at 5 am in the morning. Dawn was starting to make its presence felt. It rose slowly over the white, silent, moss laden surroundings. I peeked outside. Everyone was sleeping. Not a soul in sight. The sky appeared calm and inconspicuous.
I got up, finished the morning ablutions, got dressed in a jiffy and went outside. It was excruciatingly cold. A gentle wind brought the scent of pine and deodar from the surrounding hills. Tents fluttered, the hills started to reveal themselves, and sky transformed into a captive gradient of soft blue. The moon was still visible when I reached the open ground. I took a left, crossed the temple, took a glance upwards, and was stopped dead in my tracks. The view was nothing short of a glimpse into the heaven. The Bhagirathi Mountain loomed tall like a behemoth, rising from base to top like a massive pyramid. Standing tall in its full glory with not even a speck of cloud to block the view, it seemed like it was about to yawn and open its arms to welcome the rising sun. Mt.Shivling to the right was glistening under the bright morning sun. It shone like a crown jewel-protected by Mt.Meru, Vasuki taal, and the Bhagirathi.
Tapovan offers a rare jaw dropping view of this majestic Mountain in full entirety from top to bottom.
I sat there all alone on the dew drenched grass, hypnotized by the sheer girth and size of the Mountain. I will never forget those 30 minutes. There was no one to disturb our intimate, private rendezvous. The Mountain had bared itself completely without any restraint or inhibitions. We kept looking at each other, reminiscing and exchanging in silence -our indignations, regrets, and sorrows. Inert, unconcerned, withdrawn from the outside world, isolated, all alone in the desolate wilderness, shielded from the struggles and obligations of this uncomprehending planet, we felt overwhelmed and invincible. “It is not time that’s passing by, it’s you and I.”-It seemed to say. And I had a moment of prolonged catharsis.
Time slipped like a tracer bullet and I couldn’t help but murmur a small poem-
All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other –
Only the mountain and I.
I sat there lost in a whirlpool of ecstasy. We were like two vagabonds who chose to reveal themselves to the people and this world on our own terms, mood, and choice; absolved from the limitations, judgments, and expectations of others. Nowhere to go, no one to meet, happy and content to be left to ourselves.
The only misgiving of the trip was seeing the Goumukh glacier -all broken and shrunked. The glacier is receding at an alarming rate of 20 metres every year. Cracks have started to appear on the surface which means that within a span of 50 years the whole glacier might melt and disappear, and Ganga will become just a seasonal river. And there is no one but ourselves to blame for the destruction. I hope the world recognize global warming as a serious catastrophe and start acting soon. Our future generations should not be deprived of these wonderful blessings of nature just because we kept sitting ducks watching the disaster unfold. They should not pay for our inactions and silence.
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”
― Lord Byron
And What about you? Have you been to Goumukh-Tapovan?Have you ever felt the same way about Mountains? Comment below and share your experience.