Strange are the roads and strange are the people on them. Encircling mountains, dividing plains and running through the valleys, they lead you to places unimagined and cultures exotic. Connecting different locations, roads symbolize the veins in human body. People, like blood, flow through this network of roads. To keep this frame, governed by reason, hale and hearty a consistent pumping of blood is required, lest the structures would collapse. Sadly, in the dawn of this new era, we are so busy making our own organs sturdy that we have completely forgotten about the complete structure. Due to an increase in the quantity of blood, we are constantly digging out new veins. Veins, which not only eat up resources but also damage the body and the dependence of other species, have all of a sudden become the need of the hour. Everything, ranging from materials to people, is transported through these roads. Luxuries on wheels are on the verge of becoming the most abundant specie on the planet. Travel, today has become a mere transport of blood vessels from one part of the body to others on wheels. It is so easy and comfortable for one to get into a car and ask the driver to take him to a desired hill station, beach, desert or any place for that matter. This reduces the process of travel only to a matter of boarding and getting off a vehicle. Driving the vehicle too reduces the experience of the beautiful journey between two places. A desire to experience the shades embedded in a journey, resulted in a decision to travel from the queen of hills to the Lord’s abode on foot.
On a misty monsoon morning, as the roads were being cleaned and the birds sang in their sweet melodies, the journey started with two backpacks, a camera and footloose spirit, we set off on a 150km journey. The first step was quick, second quicker, and third even quick and we gradually managed to set a decent pace to cover 42 kilometers in the first day. As the sun was getting ready to shine the brightest, we were already sliding down a forested slope. Covering 20 kilometers in the first half, seemed easy and stomachs too wanted some compensation. Thus, a lunch break followed in a small village of ’Bhatauli’ where we feasted ourselves to “Ready to Eat” ‘Rajma’ and freshly prepared ’chawal’ with a healthy orange drink. Picking up the backpacks again, we now ventured into a thick forest on a steep slope. This would lead us to the banks of River Aglar, which makes a confluence with River Yamuna. Descending the slope, introduced us to the perils of going off road. No passages to descend, regular hissing of snakes, fear of leaches, a penetrating noise of a wild creature in the bushes, mouldering soil and heavy backpacks made the hair on our body stand up. A small village settlement on the opposite river back could be seen while sliding downwards, this is what helped to subdue the fears. On reaching the banks, a splash of cold water on the face was rejuvenating, but a pair of legs had oozed out a lot of blood to aid a leach’s hunger. This demanded rest, thus a spot of top of a small hill was used. The magnificent view of mountains, with the sound of river flowing beneath and a bottle of glucose water helped in speedy recovery. Bidding farewell to off- road routes for the entire journey, we started once again. Up came a milestone showing 12 kilometers to the end of the first day’s journey. It was all roads now, with a danger of landslides!
This walk of 12kilometers drained us out of all the energy. Stopping at every possible bend, which offered a luxury of water or shade, we halted at a small village to replenish the energy banks with milk. This was the first experience of how these areas are being poisoned by commercialization. Two small glasses of adulterated milk for 40 rupees!
The sun slowly hid behind the mountains and we reached ‘Nainbagh’, where we spent the night in a village guest house. The rates were descent and the people too. Next morning we started early with a light breakfast and receiving constant updates of bad weather ahead. Nonetheless, the journey progressed and the sun showed up too, like never before. A realization slapped our faces hard. In mountains, the sun provides shade to only one side of the mountain. We were on the side where shade seemed to be a fantasy. A 4 hour walk in the hard sun led to dehydration. Water bottles were empty too. But the walk continued, until a leaking pipeline was spotted. What more could we have desired? The water was icy cold and the bath was more than just orgasmic! Completely refreshed we continued once again, but slowly the steps going forward seemed to drop back. The direful moment of giving up had arrived, until the idea of hitchhiking surfaced. On the second attempt, a pick-up truck stopped by took us 5 kilometers to ‘Damta’, a small village. This meant food and rest. Resting for almost an hour, we started again. It was a spoil, which had made us forget the journey. Thus, it was very hard to get back at the journey again! A short 2km walk took us an hour and all the energy. Fearing to stop again, another hitchhike of 10 km helped us to reach ‘Naugaon’, a small village 10km from our day 2 stop. It was beautiful to stand on the back of the pick-up and speed through the perilous curves of the road. But, the hitchhike ended as a commercialized ride, as we had to shed some money for this luxury. We had 3 hours of day light left, in which we needed to walk 10km, to complete the 50kilometers of the second day. Step by step we managed to set the pace again. Even though shoulders ached and feet welcomed blisters, the walk seemed easy going, perhaps owing to the cool breezes.
Day two came to an end with violent storms threatening the night. In ’Barkot’ a comfortable GMVN (Gharwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) guest house helped us get away from the tiredness. As morning broke, we left the guest house completely refreshed to walk the remaining 48kilometers, only to encounter poor road conditions, worsened by the last night’s rain. But these conditions quickly faded way. Now the problem of bad weather arose: the sky was fading away to grey and we were short of one raincoat too. A raincoat had been lost, descending the slope above Aglar.
Soon the clouds started pouring, a polythene rain suit purchased in one of the villages helped. But the fear of water penetrating and destroying the camera constantly plagued us. It was then, a nine year old boy, Abhishek, approached us. He thought we are travelling on a motorcycle and would take him along to ‘Jankichatti’ (last motorable stop before Yamnotri), as he worked in a hotel there. On finding out that we were on foot, he too walked along! The rain had stopped too and the three of us walked for around 10kilometers, when the boy told us that he hadn’t eaten anything since morning. We were hungry too, so we stopped at a small village ‘Kuthnor’. In a small village shop, we prepared our own food and conversed with the people from this village too, while the clouds continued to shed tears in the background. They were friendly and it was nice talking to them. But this experience too ended in a familiar journey feeling, when the shopkeeper demanded 50 rupees for using his stove!
The journey continued and it began raining heavily. Owing to the rain and the constantly dropping temperatures, the young soul could no longer keep up with us. He managed 2kilometers, before he gave in to the temptation of traveling in a jeep. A jeep stopped and the boy wouldn’t go without us. All those kilometers did seem to have an emotional effect. Ironically, there was no room in the jeep! The next event in the journey was: the both of us hanging behind the jeep with our backpacks amidst the chilling winds and a mountain road full of sharp turns, while the boy sat inside the jeep! A 7 kilometers hang till ‘Phoolchatti’ and another 5 kilometers to ‘Jankichatti’ on top of a jeep was a beautiful experience. The snowcapped peaks, a waterfall spurring out of the green hills could be seen at every bend. White waters flowing out in the green, seen in between a curtain of mist offered romantic scenery!
On reaching Jankichatti, Abhishek opened up a room for us in his hotel and the prices, he claimed, were nothing in comparison to the high rates of other hotels. We spent the evening and the night in his hotel and the following morning, we climbed the last few kilometers to the shrine at Yamnotri. A bath in the hot ‘Surya-kund’ (a natural geyser) in Yamnotri marked the end of all weariness in our bodies. The journey had come to an end and we headed back to our homes. Sadly, not the way we had come.
Crossing all those places again, which had now become a part of our experience, gave an unfamiliar feeling. Reminiscing upon the events, thinking about the boy, the leaking pipe, forests, rivers, and valleys filled our eyes and a hearts with happiness, which was never felt before. Perhaps such are the joys of having worked hard and achieving a self-set goal. A basket full of emotions: Fear, disappointment, happiness, weariness and leisure did really make us experience the varying shades offered by the roads…