Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rupkund: The deadly lake (Part VII) - The Historical Background

Though Dr. T.S. Longstaff discovered Rupkund incidentally in 1905, he didn't mention Rupkund in any of his books. A forest dept. employee(name not available), in 1925 came here with Nandajat and brought it into light. In 1942 another forest dept staff, Madhoal Singh, discussed about Rupkund in details.On the basis of his report, the then deputy commissioner of Kumayun , Mr. Vernid, invited famous rock climber Mr. Hamilton from Scotland. This gentleman first brought Rupkund to the lime light. In 1955 Madhoal Singh came here with Govt. patronage, collected several anthropological specimens and handed over to the head of the dept. of anthropology of Lucknow University , Dr. D. N. Majumder.In 1956, under the supervision of Dr. Nagendra Dutta Majumder, an excavation was conducted and again some specimen were collected and researches were carried on. The outcome of these researches was, the fossils were 800 to 500 years old. The structure of the skull being very similar to that of the local people, the dead bodies were declared as of the soldiers of Md. Bin Tughlak But according to Swami Pranabananda, , as several materials like Rudraksh, bell etc were found with those bodies, the bodies can not be of Muslim soldiers, they must be Hindu pilgrims.

A very recent study, conducted by National Geographic Society and a German organisation revealed that the dead bodies are surely of some Hindu Pilgrims, who probably were taking part in Nandajat. According to their research, they died due to severe hail storm.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rupkund : The deadly lake (Part VI)

On 4th Oct , 2000 we started right at 7.25 in the morning. though the trek route was almost flat, the chilling cold posed a lot of problems. besides this, all of us was suffering from slight breathing problem due to high altitude. But after walking a km or so, the body gain some temparature, so the hardship became a bit tolerable. River Rupkini took the role of entertaining us by the music of her flowing water. The trek route was engraved between the Kalidak glacier on the right and Chanoniakot on the left. After a while we reached a turn with a dangerous steepness. Ranjit told, Seshnag could reach upto here and here he lost his nose and returned back. The route became worst after thst turn, there was no actual route mark at all. We had to climb the last one km or so almost straight!. At last , at around 10. we reached Rupkund (16300ft). A gigantic bowl descended from a almost plane land -- this is Rupkund.There was not a drop of water in the lake, only boulders and snow. On the other side, Giunargali pass ascended straight, parts of which was hanging on the lake as overhang. Few skeletons of the old pilgrims,who died in this route were kept near a red flag. Though Rupkini river originates from this lake, we couldn't find the origin from there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rupkund: The deadly lake (Part V)

Paththarnachuni onwards, the notorious climb of Kailuvinayaka starts. We completed it at around two to reach Kailuvinayaka (14117 ft)and saw a beautiful stone idol of Vinayaka. The local people believe that a person who can't lift the idol, is a weak person, hence Himalaya doesn't permit him to enter the Rupkund region. We were very interested to test our ability to know whether we'll be able to go Rupkund or not. But before touching Ganeshji you must remove your shoes, so all of us hesitated. Then our porter Gabbar lifted the idol as our representative. `We followed almost plane road to Baguabasa. Snow line starts from here, we saw some ice patch scattered here and there. I heard about "Bhramhakamal" as the main attraction of this route, but found not even a single flower. Only few demolished remains of the plants was carrying the symbol. Our guide explained that the pilgrims of Nandajat took away all the flowers. We reached Baguabasa within in few mints. In fact there were nothing special excepting two caves,even camping was not possible there due to rocks. So we moved on, In no time we reached "Rani ka Sulera" which means labour room for the queen. Yashodayal constructed a labour room for his pregnant queen Ballava. After trekking 15 mire mints, we reached "Hunathar"(14500ft) and pitched our tents there. In Garhwali, 'Hunia' means ghost and 'Thar' means place.They believe that the unsatisfied spirits of the dead trekkers and pilgrims wander here. It was complete white out when we reached there but just before sunset we got a wonderful view of Trishul, Nandaghunti and Choukhamba.

View of Himalaya from Huniathar

After sunset a terrible wind started, which produced a peculiar weeping like sound in the valley. I realised why the place had been nabed as Huniathar. We got the coldest night of the route there.

Rupkund:The deadly Lake (Part IV)

Next day was rest day. Observing the play of the first ray on Nandaghunti and Trishul and their reflection on Baidinikund is a lifetime experience.Not only them, at a distance from the north- west there were Choukhamba, Kedar, Ghori, Hati, Nilkanth and so on...

Reflection of Trishul in Baidinikund

Six months of the year this green field is used as the pasture land for the livestock of mainly the villagers of Wan. A group of 2-3 people ('Anoal' in local dialect) maintains those almost 2 thousand animal. They get twenty rupees for each animal. Their wool is collected and is send to Wan for manufacturing of blankets etc.

Our camp at Baidini

Temple at Baidini

On 3rd October 2000 , we left Baidini at around 7 in the morning. The ridge right along Baidini is " Annalorio" , which means - 'even a ram can slip while ascending!'. We reached "Ghora Lathani" after a short trek. They believe tha Nandadevi rode a horse and rushed from there.The trek route is bifurcated , one towards Vuna village and the other towards Kailuvinayak. Trishul and Nandaghuti being wide open there we were provoked to stop for a while, but the destination was far away, so we marched forward and reached " Paththar Nachuni". Huge number of boulders were scattered in a strange pattern in the lush green field. The myth is like this--- in twelve century, Yashodayal, the king of Kanauj came in this route with some dancers and and forgot about the sanctity of these holy places. He became very busy with wine, dancers and it was a perfect nuisance. So the dancers were petrified in there dancing pose. The myth continues -- if anybody comes in this route with a lady, the team will have to pay some lives. We had a lady with us, so... some of our well wishers were a bit anxious about our success while we left Kolkata!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rupkund : The deadly lake (Part III)

Leaving Wan behind, we started walking uphill, and after a short trail, reached Ranakdhar (in Garhwali dialect DHAR means narrow place on a mountain). A slice of Mt. Trishul was visible from there. If one stand there facing Trishul, Baidini bugiyal will be on his left and Ali bugiyal will be on his right. Taking rest was unavoidable, so a we took a 'Glucose break', then started trekking again, this time downhill. We crossed river Nilganga over a gorge bridge.Ranjit told us that the origin of river Nilganga is Baidinikund ,our day's destination. After Nilganga, the real trek started. Continuous climb through the dense alpine forest (mainly pine and a similar tree whose local name is 'Surai')led us a small flat place at around 4 in the afternoon. Our guide explained that during Nandajat the Doli of devi is placed here to allow the pilgrims a break. Thats why it's name is ' Doliadhar'. A room without any wall serves as the temple. Ranjit and the porter lit some agarbatti, offered some dry fruits and started again for the last round of difficult steep ascent.

Final ascent to Baidini Bugiyal

At last at around six, we reached the green field of Baidini (12500 ft). Mt Trishul, bathing in the magical light of the setting sun welcomed us. Within half an hour, our tent were pitched, and we enjoyed a memorable sun set with hot coffee mug in our hands.

Our tent at Baidini, Mt Nandaghunti & Mt Trishul peeping from behind

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rupkund: The deadly lake (part II) - The mythological importance

To the villagers of Wan the temple of 'Latu' God is the most devine place of the region. According to the myth, once Devi Parvati quarled with Daksharaja and escaped from his palace and lost her ways in a place near the bank of river Neelganga between Baidini bugiyal and Wan village.Then God Latu arrived there riding a horse and wearing red garments. He showed her the proper route under the condition that in this region he (God Latu )will also be worshiped along with Devi Parvati.Since then Latu is being worshiped in this region. The villagers remember him in case of their daily problem like drought or heavy rain.The temple opens at Baiskhi Purnima for six months. During this period fairs are organised here, only gents can take part in dancing and singing.In the month of Bhadra ( fifth month of the year according to the Hindu calender),'Antho' festival is observed here in which innumerable ships are sacrifised.

From Wan a festive trek called 'Nandajat' is organised. Nandajat which is organised every year is called 'Choti Nndajat' (Small Nandajat), which completes at Baidini Bugiyal (pasture land ).A bigger version is organised after each twelve years, which is the biggest social and rekigious festival of the Garhwal region. It was also observed even in the era of Mahavarata. Even the Pandavas also took part in this. In the Gupta era ( from 4th to 8th centuries) is became very popular.According to the 'Harshacharita of Banbhatta, King Harshavardhana (607 - 657 A.D) was it's patron. During the Muslim period Nandajat lost some of it's glory but revive in British period. According to Atkins, in 1882 the marriage anniversary of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati was celebrated in 'Nandastami'. Then every year the idol of Nandadevi was carried in a Palki(a cart carried by 2/4/6/8 persons) from Nauti Pargana of Garhwal to the Baidini bugiyal.Garhwalis believe that Nauti is her father's home and after every twelve ears, she performs oblation at Homekund on the way to her husband's home. So 'Bara Nandajat' or Raj-jat is observed after every twelve years.During this the 'Doli'(idol) of devi is carried as far as possible beyond Baidini. A four horned ram is loaded with cloth, ornaments, rice, wheat, orange etc and the pilgrims follow him. The journey ends at a place upto which the ram can reach. Then two stones containing mica are worshiped as the deity and the pilgrimage ends. If the ram can reach Homkund, then the ram is made free there. Surprisingly (at least the villagers believe) neither the ram nor his skeleton can be found thereafter. Though Homkund is the desired destination, yet the pilgrimage could reach there in 1967 for the last time. After that all the Nandajat (including the latest one in 2000) could only reach upto 'Chota Homkund).

Previously there was a custom of human sacrifice at the spot where the Nandajat could reach. But now an alternative system is followed. After every twelve years, the senior persons of the region elects a very old man unanimously. After the selection, he shaves his head, takes a bath with scented water containing rice, wheat, yellow flower etc. and he is considered as dead. His family completes his obsequies and he stars to live in an isolated mud house, taking a single meal a day. Coincidentally his death occurs within a year! In some villages, the ladies visit there father's home from their husband's place and they are worshiped by their sister-in-laws(brothers wife).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rupkund : The deadly lake (Part 1)

On the way to Mudali

When our Sumo reached Mundali bazar, a pair of hilly eyes full of curiosity peeped through the window. A brief introduction revealed that our guide Ranjit Singh Bist had come to welcome us at the gateway of his kingdom. Within 15 mints, we , the members of "Bohemian" reached Lohajang pass (7980ft) with an intention to trek to the deadly lake Rupkund. At the top of the pass, the motor able track ends. After having the lunch at the G.M.V.N canteen the first day trek began downhill with two ponies loaded with our belongings.

All through the route, innumerable falls decorated the green body of the mountain like white strips. Some of them were thin like young models, some were like bulky aged ladies. Ranjit was walking side by side and talking nonstop. He covered the episode of his training in NIM, his kids, his achievements as a guide,Nandajat and so on...At some distance the road was bifurcated , one route gone to Ali Bugial via Didina village and the other to Wan (8000ft). A board showed - "Wan 5 km". Just before the village a small temple appeared to be a check post. We rang the bell and entered in the village. This was the last village in this route. The gateway of the village looked like a modern amusement park, several nullahs spread through the whole village like spider web. The combined flow is known as Katigad ( in local dialect GAD means river) which is a tributary of river Neelganga. A few small houses are scattered here and there, most of them are white in colour. They are made of slate/ sand stone and mud, with a grass/straw roof cover. On the roof a layer of thin slate stone protects the grass cover from blowing off in strong wind. The walls, floor and floor all are coated with mud. The houses are two storied, the ground floor being the barn for the livestock and the first floor is the residence of the family. Though the average height of the resident is quite high in Indian context but the entrance of these huts are only about three feet high. Al the houses had space in the front, which were stained with yellow, red, purple colours. The yellows are of mustard, red and violets are of local food grain 'Chuya' or 'Ramdana'. The violet variety matures quickly, it becomes harvestable in only three months but it's quality is inferior to the red variety. In bird's eye view, Wan village was a perfect multifarious collage of green, yellow, white, red and violet.

Ramdana field in Wan village

Suddenly a drizzle started. I took the wind-cheater, wrapped in the waist, to cover my cameras. After a very short walk, we had to cross the river, but discovered the bridge was damaged. So we walked through the knee deep chilling water to reach Ranjit's house. He opened the lock , laid a mat on the floor to sit. He welcomed us with dusty food (which was offered to the local deity) made of wheat, sugar and butter, then with large pieces of cucumber with spice and then with a sweet and sower local fruit 'Aru'.

Part-II: The mythological importance

Part- III

Part- IV

Part- V

Part- VI

Part- VII: The Historical Background

Part- VIII: The Map of the route

Maharjpur, The Unknown Neighbour

When 3153 UP Gour Exp left Rampurhat station leaving us on one platform, on the day before Dol Purnima the morning light was yet to come. After getting fresh in the waiting room and having the day's first round tea, we occupied seats in an almost dark compartment of the local train for Sahebganj. The length of vacation being very short, the health of the wallet being thinest possible,we had no other choice but to select a less known small village at the Bengal -Jharkhand border.

We reached Maharajpur rail station at about12 noon and then reached the forest Bungalow after a trail of 15 mints. The compound could accommodate few football ground! The bungalow consisted of two extra large rooms with a canopy of Sal, Teak, Jarul, Sisoo etc trees. The floor was coated of a couple of inches dust, probably the place got visitors after years!! So we had to clean the room first to make it a little comfortable. There were no furniture at all in the rooms. The chowkidar brought straw for us, which produced a wonderful bed on the floor within few mints. Then we decided to have a bath in the river(The Ganges).

Next morning we started exploring the area. Small hillocks were all around the railway track.The whole area( from Rampurhat to Sahebganj) is under famous Rajmahal Range and made of basalt and modified rocks. Hot kachouris, Jalebis and tea constituted a nice breakfast. Local tribal peoples were engaged in collecting woods in the jungle. They earn their bread by selling these in the local market. In the mean time train for Rajmahal arrived. From Rajmahal station we took a tanga for only 100 rupees.

First we visited the "Singhi Dallan" which was bulit bya Mansingh at arout 1600 A.D. An excellent view of the Ganges is available from there. Though the three storied building is struggling for existence, a few wonderful Mughal Painting were carrying the last symbol of it's glorious past amidst the ruins. But few so called tourist had catalysed the destruction process by en curving there names on the paintings. Then we visited the "Jumma Masjid". On the way the Tanga driver showed us the ruins of an old mint. Around the Masjid there are mines of china clay. Though the horse was there to carry us, but the road was so horrible that we had to pull and push the cart several time to place it on the track from the mud!!. At the end we drove towards "Kathghar". The entire route was covered with stones of shapes and colours like rice, daal, wheat etc. According to the myth the local land lord once denied to give food to a poor bhramhin beggar. After that all the food grains of his kingdom became petrified. A small temple of Lord Krishna is there.We came back at the Bungalow at around 2 p.m.

Following the chowkidar's suggestion, next morning we went for a 4 km jungle trek to visit a tribal village and a falls. The entire region was blood red due to the fully blommed Palash and Shimul trees.

A very thin stream came from almost 80 ft to a small lake. Local people told us this becomes furious during July - August after few rainy days. We took a prolonged bath ,came back to our bungalow to spend our last night there.

From Kolkata, Rampurhat by 3153 UP Gour Express. From there Maharajpur is accessible by Sahebganj Local. Otherwise Barhaora by Danapur first Passenger or Mujaffarpur Local, then Maharajpur or Sahebganj by local trains.

Shelter & foods

Though few hotels are available ast Sahebganj, but travelling from Maharajpur is better, because it is "pocket friendly". In 2001 the tariff of the whole forest bungalow was Rs.24 (not a type error!). The local shops around the railway station will make food for you if requested. Very simple veg food...Plz don't expect luxary is food or lodging in this place, you'll then be utterly frustrated. This place is not for those who want every comfort like those of luxurious resorts at every tourist places.

Monday, March 2, 2009

At GandhiSarovar..

Everybody was so mesmerised that nobody talked, no body shouted in joy, nobody tried to capture all the things through lens. I don't know how many silent moment passed.... probably I were the punishable offender to break that heavenly silence by the "clicks" of my camera. Peaks, peaks & peaks every where...with there snow capped heads ....

Panoramic view at Gandhisarovar

Gandhi Sarovar is a small glacial lake in the state of Uttaranchal, India at approx 3900 m. It is a 3.5 km modest trek from Kedarnath , the well known holy place to the Hindus of India. But this region attracts even agnostics & atheists as well like a huge magnet due to its heavenly beauty.

The still water reflects the image of Kedarnath peak. But with the progress of the day, wind starts to create waves in the lake which may disappoint the trekker. So early start from Kedarnath is a must to get the total beauty of this picturesque lake

It is believed that Yudhishthir, the eldest of the Pandavas have departed to heaven from Gandhi Sarovar. River Mandakini, a major tributary of The Ganges originates from here. Previously this was know as " CHORABARITAL" ( CHORA = hideden, BARI= water, TAL= lake) because due to continuous self reconstruction of the glacier, its water often not visible. After the death of Mahatma M.K. Gandhi, (whole India know him as "the father of the nation"), his ashes were immersed in Lake. Since then it is renamed as Gandhi Sarovar.

There we met the Austrian couple Helga & Kleine. The Lady publishes a news paper there , and Kleine serves for Austrian Army.

Our team with the Austrian couple at Gandhisarovar
We spend a couple of hours there together... exchanged email ID then they started descending to Kedarnath. We remained mum there for few more mints. Then followed them, but repeatedly looked back after every two steps, mentally we were hardly ready for coming back.

Looking back again and again

They were about 500 m ahead of us, we could see the happy couple meandering downwards to Kedarnath, two loops down..... suddenly a rock fell right on Helga's forehead and took no time to turn her T shirt red with her own blood!!! We rushed to the spot, her left eye was severely injured, popping out of the eye socket. I send two of our team members to Kedarnath to arrange a "Kandi"( a chair, carried by four person ) so that she can be evacuated to the helipad . The nearest equiped hospital were Rudraprayag /Delhi. So no other way except air traffic service could help. Though it was really painful, Helga kept her cool. I had a minimum medical kit with me, Kleine wrapped her head with the cotton. Already 35 mints gone, no help arrived from downhill, Helga started vomiting and making all of us panicked, blood started to flow from her mouth, nose. Realising the fact, that, delay of every single second was making the situation more complex, I requested the labours who were engaged in the road construction to carry her downwards. Two of them came forward, they carried her on their back almost one km, when the Kandi reached from Kedarnath. Kleine offered them money , but they didn't sell their humanitarian entity for some bucks. We rushed to the helipad and arranged a special flight for the couple to Delhi after 10 mints.