Going on a solo trip to an unknown place takes a lot of courage, especially when you are a woman as I found out when I undertook the most difficult journey of my life.
Kedarnath, a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva (known as one of the 12 Jyothirlings) located on the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini River, is in Uttarakhand. Due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is open to public only between April (Akshaya Tritiya) and November (Kartik Purnima, the autumn full moon). The temple, one of the four major sites in India's Chota Char Dham pilgrimage of Northern Himalayas, is not accessible through roads, but has to be reached by a 16-kilometre trek from Gaurikund.
Veena’s journey began from Delhi. She was there for her PhD interview, which was on the 30th of May. “My flight back was on the 6th of June, so I decided to visit Haridwar and Rishikesh which would be a booster for my spiritual interests. But as a kid, I had been to these places already. While looking at the map of Uttarakhand, my eyes fell upon the name ‘Kedarnath’. And the desire was so immense that I knew I had to go here. Without a second thought, I booked a ticket to Haridwar for a train which would leave Delhi next morning. I got into it not knowing where I would stay or how I would reach Kedarnath. But I knew I would somehow. When I reached Haridwar it was 4pm and I was worried when I called up GMOU office to know if there were any seats available in the bus to Gaurikund next morning. It was all full, but I decided to show up at their office to make a personal request to them. As I reached GMOU office, the bus operator was surprised to know that I am all alone and have made up my mind on going to Kedarnath. The bus operator offered me a seat in the cabin of the bus that leaves at 6.15 am. I knew it would be difficult, but I said, ‘I will sit on floor even, cabin is okay!’
“Next morning, I reached GMOU bus stand early. To my disbelief, I got a seat in the 5.15 am bus. I got on to that bus and sat next to a gentleman and in no time we became good friends. It was a 10-hour journey, but I didn’t even flinch at the idea of travelling so much as the journey would offer breathtaking views of mountains, hairpin turns and a river that follows you till the end of the journey. I got down at Son Prayag and my companion who already left to find an accommodation called up to tell me that all rooms were full, but he found a small shed where we could stay.
“We woke up around 3am and started out from Son Prayag, but a bummer occurred when I lost my phone just before we were going to board a jeep to Gaurikund which was 4 km away. I didn’t lose my strength though. As the trek began, we saw people renting ponies or manchan which we decided to not take at all. The guy with me was not that athletic or had prior trek experiences, so I knew it is going to be a task for him. It was very difficult to walk for 5 minutes straight as some of the paths were very narrow and they were mostly steep uphills.
“Somehow we made it to the base camp and we all just sat there in the fog looking at what we just accomplished. A few people from a teachers’ group had reached the base camp an hour or two before and they had booked for a tent already for all of us.
“We resumed the trek next morning. As the temple came into our sight, I broke into tears as others felt emotional as well. We made it and it was the best feeling ever. As we stood in the queue to catch a glimpse of the lord, the amazing aura of the temple encapsulated us. There we met another group of four people from UP. As they heard our story, they offered me particularly, to come with them to Rishikesh which wouldn’t look safe to many but standing there at the shrine of lord, I knew it was safe. I agreed to go with them and as we got a glimpse of the lord himself, I forgot all the exhaustion and pain. I felt as if a new life has entered me, suddenly everything seemed possible.
“We got to Rishikesh around 8 pm and with their help, I booked a bus to Delhi and I bid farewell to those wonderful human beings and felt that world was not that bad after all.”
(The writer is working as an Assistant Professor at Jain University in Bengaluru and is an aspiring writer and mythologist)...