I had a strong desire to visit Mayavati ashram since a long time. My father visited the place twice and had unique experiences. I missed the chance to accompany him because of my personal problems. My family is influenced by the ideals of Lord Ramakrishna and were initiated into R K Mission. I am also not an exception. As soon as I planned to visit Kumayun I included Mayavati in my itinerary. To go and stay at Mayavati one needs to get permission from Advaita Ashrama which is a wing of R K Mission.
I went to kolkata branch of Advaita Ashrama. Initially Maharaj, who is the assigned in charge of booking, was hesitant to give permission to a solo female traveler for stay and tried to dissuade me. After a long argument when the in charge was convinced that I am quite determined to visit the place he informed me about the procedure to book accommodation.
When I got down from Lalkuan express I came to know that the best way to go there is through Berily( UP ), but it was too late to mend. I felt puzzled for some time. Few locals rescued me by giving information. At last I reached Mayavati on time via Tanakpur and Lohaghat.
It had been a unique experience staying there. It was pretty cold in March after a thundershower. Within 3 kilometer periphery of Mayavati there is no village, only forest, leopards are often seen there. We were instructed not to walk alone. The guest house is half a kilometer walk from the ashram. One has to walk 4 kilometers daily up and down to have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The ashram is self sufficient, they produce food crops, vegetables and there is also a dairy farm. They run a charitable hospital where local people come for free treatment. Normally guests are not allowed to stay there more than 3 nights but doctors are allowed to stay more on condition that they have to give voluntary service in the hospital.
It was 12 o’clock at noon when I reached Tanakpur. Tanakpur is a small transit town in the foot hill of Kumayun Himalayas. I went there for going to Mayavati Ashram. I had booking for a night stay at KMVN tourist rest house. As I lodged there and asked for afternoon meal, they said it was not possible for them to provide food without previous notice. They informed that the market area was not far away from the place and it would cost 20 rupees by tuktuk to go there where I could get lunch . So I hired a tuktuk, and reached the market area where there were few places for lunch. After having lunch I started inquiring about the places of importance there.
I heard that there is a famous temple called Punyagiri or Purnagiri. I wished to visit there and got a shared jeep for that purpose. After a long wait it filled up and started. When it reached in front of the temple gate the sky was covered with thick cloud. The taxi driver told me that he would go back as soon as he got required number of passengers, and there was no hope for next taxi. I came to know that Holi was celebrated there with great grandeur and a fair was organized during that time. The preparation was full on for the festival. I started walking, after few minutes I realized if I went to the top of the hill where the temple was, it would take at least 3 hours to come back. It was almost 3 km uphill trek. I decided to return because if I could not come back in time I would be in great trouble. As I turned I found the taxi driver standing there, I told him why I planned to return. He was very enthusiastic and devoted, he said he would accompany me, so that I would not miss the taxi, he forced me to visit the temple. It was a tedious walk for me, I felt tired, but he was persistent.
When I reached the last phase it started raining, but that part of the stairs was covered with tin shade. I reached the temple. I feel blessed, it was a beautiful sight of the Kaligandaki river that I witnessed from the temple. When I came down it was raining cats and dogs. The driver started his jeep. Lots of people were waiting under different shelters. As soon as he started they rushed into the jeep.
N.B. From Lalkuan I took auto-rickshaw to reach Kichchha. From Kichchha bus stand I took a local bus by which I went to Khatima. From Khatima I got a shared taxi which dropped me in front of the KMVN guest house at Tanakpur. Buses ply in regular intervals from Berily to Tanakpur.
I had never heard about Sarkanda devi before I reached Dhanaulti. I went to Dhanaulti from Chamba via Tehri Dam. On the way to Dhanaulti I saw a place where there were few shops on the highway, cars and motorcycles were also standing there. It seemed that there was a temple. I asked the driver, he informed that there was a famous temple of Devi Sarkanda on the hill top, which was two and half kilometer uphill walk from that place. I reached Dhanaulti and lodged in a hotel. After having a sumptuous lunch with chicken after a long vegetarian diet, I asked the hotelier about the temple. He arranged a local shared jeep which ply regularly taking the teachers of the local government run school from Dhanaulti to Chamba. The jeep dropped me at the same place which I had seen while coming.
I started walking. I found few people walking down who said that they could not reach because it was too long a walk. I was in full confidence after coming down from Gaumukh, so I continued. There were steps and railings. I got tired after sometime and thought that I should not go forward. I sat on a rock beside a rhododendron tree. A boy and a girl came up, sat beside me to take rest, they were friends, one from Hyderabad, another from Mumbai. They came to Mussoorie for trekking. I told them that I had given up and thinking of going down. The boy said, “I will take you.” I objected saying that I can not walk fast, specially uphill. He took me up holding my hands and I reached the top and visited the shrine. I felt blessed. According to Indian mythology Sarkanda Devi temple is a Shakti pith where head ( sar ) of Sati had fallen during Dakhayagna.
N.B. Sarkanda devi is on the way to Dhanaulti from Chamba or Mussoorie
After finishing my target of Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Saheb and Badrinath I found that I have 2/3 days extra in my hand. I booked a package of GMVN which had been cancelled due to a natural calamity, so I came out alone with my mission. As it was a package and there is always a chance for landslide during monsoon in the Himalayas, I kept 2 buffer days within my plan. Now I thought to utilize them. I came down to Joshimath at 12 noon. I inquired about Auli and whether it was possible to go by rope-way which was very famous. This cable car holds a record of the longest in Asia for covering total length of 4.15 km. I was informed by the counter that the cable car would run only at 3 pm because it was off season. I kept my luggage under their custody and had my lunch. The cable car dropped me on tower number 8 as I wished to stay at GMVN tourist lodge. I got down from the tower and reached the point descending about 200 staircases from where the chair car plies for that tourist lodge. It was drizzling. The operator said that he could not run the chair car for a single traveler. He needed at least two. I was desperate, there was no other option for me except buying two tickets. The experience was unique, it was just like a dream where I was the queen of the place.
I reached the tourist lodge. None was there in the reception. I called if someone was there. One person came out and asked me to wait, and called the manager, who allotted me an economy room. Room was good and cozy with basic amenities of geyser, room heater, et cetera. I put the geyser on and removed the blanket from the bed to rest for a while. I found that the bed was wet at one part. I was going to call the attendant but saw that he himself was coming with another key. He said that the manager had asked him to shift me to the super deluxe room beside the reception. I objected because I could not afford such a room. He comforted me saying that it didn’t matter. It was quite a luxury room. In the morning when I woke up it was raining, it was a rare moment of my experiences because I realized that the whole tourist lodge was within the cloud. I enjoyed every bit of moment in Auli, the memory is still fresh in my mind.
N.B. Auli is accessible from Joshimath by car or by ropeway.
I reached Gangotri at 1-30 PM after waiting from 6-30 to 10 AM with few young stars in Uttarkashi until the shared jeep filled up. As I was walking towards GMVN guest house, a man came to me. He introduced himself as a guide. Initially I hesitated and refused saying that I had to hire a pony because I was unable to walk 15 km and the syce would guide me, but he persisted on following me saying that he would carry my luggage as well as arrange my pony and permit, and one has to walk on feet after Bhojobasa, so syce would never go to accompany me till the snout point. After a long bargain I agreed at the cost of Rs 1000, I said to him to leave me at Bhojobasa after visiting Gaumukh. He made my permit in the evening and booked a pony. He said he would come next morning at 6 o’clock.
I started in the morning at 6 AM, I rode the pony. After going for a while the pony denied to go ahead and turned backward. It seemed that she was unwilling to carry me. Somehow the syce and the guide made her going on the way. Then I came to know that the pony was a very young one and the syce was a new one. This is his first trip on the way to Bhojobasa. The guide said that there was nothing to worry because he was quite acquainted with the region. But I had not been comfortable on the back of the pony and had a feeling that my seat was moving. The syce said to me not to get afraid and stick on to the seat. Then suddenly the saddle tilted completely and I fell from the pony where the path was hardly 3 feet wide and river gorge was straight 200 metres deep beside the path. Suddenly the guide came, as I was slipping down under the horse, he caught my legs and saved me from falling. I was terribly scared, he asked to rest, then I walked about one and half kilometer, after that I somehow reached Bhojobasa on the back of the pony.
I talked to the guide while walking on the way to Gaumukh. He informed that he has 2 children, wife and parents in a village of Nepal which was completely devastated due to the earthquake of 2015. Previous day he had no money that is why he was so persistent. I agreed to pay him for another day and also to provide his food. I asked him to accompany till I return to Gangotri. It was a beautiful experience to see the snout point and coming back. I stayed that night at GMVN dormitory and came back next day by another pony which was well trained as well as it’s syce.
N.B. To reach Gangotri one can catch bus directly from Hariwar or reach Uttarkashi by shared jeep or bus from Haridwar to break a long road journey. Till Bhojobasa, which is 10 kilometer from Gangotri, pony is available for those who can not walk so long, but after Bhojobasa it is now 5/6 kilometer trek. At Bhojobasa there are very few accommodations for stay.
It was 2015 July 15th, I boarded on Doon express, and settled down on my birth. The train started on time, everyone had their dinner and slept. I was pondering whether I am crazy. It thus happened that my GMVN package for Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib and Badrinath had been cancelled due to natural calamity. I am always crazy about traveling. Once I make up my mind to go somewhere I become mad if it is cancelled. So I decided to move on my own. I was a bit scared and doubtful if I should be able to manage it. A family of four with a kid was my co-passenger. The kid became a very good friend of mine. His parents were teachers in Woodstock school in Landour and his grandmother was also there. The day was well spent with them.
Next early morning I got down from the train in Haridwar and asked a rickshaw puller to take me to the bus stand from where I could catch the bus for Joshimath. The rickshaw puller took me to the shared jeep stand instead of bus. He told the jeep driver that I want to go to Joshimath. I sat on a jeep and waited till it was filled up. On the way to Joshimath the leaf spring of the car broke 3 times, at the last phase the driver drove in such a reckless manner, that made me panicky, because he had to reach there before 6 o’clock in the evening. Ultimately it reached. I found the GMVN Tourist rest house, and lodged there. I was mentally as well as physically fatigued. After a shower and dinner I cried bitterly and prayed to God that it didn’t matter whether I could complete my tour, but I must reach home safely. God heard my prayer and not only I finished the tour safely, but also enjoyed everything to my heart’s content.
N.B. To reach Valley of Flowers one has to reach Haridwar. Buses, shared jeeps and hired taxis ply to Joshimath from Haridwar or one can go directly to Gobindghat. One has to walk or go by pony from Gobindghat To Ghangharia which is 12/14 kilometer distance. From Ghangharia Valley of Flowers is 7 kilometer trek. There is Hemkund Saheb too, which is a pilgrimage of Sikhs and a worth visiting place. One can avail pony to go there. It is a 10 kilometer trek.