Why Yamunotri for Chardham? Legend has it that Yamuna is daughter of Sun, and thus sister of Yama, lord of Narakaloka (Hell). Yamunotri literally means where Yamuna got down (Yamuna + Uthri). So the saying is if we visit Yamuna, when we go to Narakaloka (that is of course if we made at least one sin in our life!), Yama understanding we visited his beloved sister will pardon us from facing the punishments in Yamaloka. So it is very important that pilgrims visit Yamunotri. For the heck of it. Whether we believe in the legend or not. At least it is a very small effort that is worth doing, to take to avoid punishments of being deep fried and what not in the Yamaloka for the sins we may have committed during our lifetime here, on earth!! Who knows whether all this can be true at all. But a small effort to put in . . . . . . .just in case. Right? 🙂
So I wake up at 4:45 am (and several times before that!) excited to go to Yamunotri. In these hilly areas of the North, cold nights have started setting in already. Day times are not hot either. My room in the hotel was in the first floor with a large common balcony facing the mountains. We had a glimpse of a snow mountain peak towards late in the evening as we approached Barkot yesterday. The first time I had seen a snow peaked mountain at a distance. Excitement from me and Komala peaked too. But as I write this I actually stand corrected. I think we did see snow peaked mountains at Yellowstone National Park, Utah when we were in the US. So I come out of my room in the morning into the balcony to check if I could get a closer glimpse of snow peaked mountain in early sun. But this is what I got to see, albeit beautiful.
The hotel service was not good starting with a lukewarm and bland coffee. As we got into the cab and the curvy ghat roads, despite my excited attention towards the Yamuna river passing by us every now and then, and the beautiful hills surrounding us, I did have the motion sickness to some degree what I was most worried of when I embarked on this journey.
In our way we came across several beautiful mountains, small villages. Where there is a human being there is a temple in India! And many of them are constructed on top of a hill. Perhaps hindus believe one has to climb ‘up’ to see god. Or we believe there has to be considerable effort before you could see god aka deity or a statue (although we still believe god is omnipresent, in trees, animals, water and rocks)! So I come across this tiny village within the mountains in a valley. It had some tiny farms cultivating something in bright red. I am not sure what it is but kind of a corn shaped overall but seems like flower. These farms are beautiful to watch from a distance too. And they have a temple built on the top of a hill. The hill was too small on its top to accommodate anything other than this temple. And people chose to make visiting the temple hard!
From the village there were couple of kids going to the school and we gave them a lift in the car. They told us the name of the village (not in picture) was Ojhri. These kids go to school by walking 4 kms one way each day. In these hills that 4 kms distance is not an easy one. Yet you find kids walking along merrily chatting with friends as you would find elsewhere.
It was about 50 km journey before we stopped at Janki Chatti from where we started our trek to Yamunotri. Komala and I preferred to do the 6 km trek (which we initially assumed as 5 km, and the 1 km difference is significant in this terrain). There were lots and lots of horses, palki and basket renters pestering us to use their services. I didn’t even care to check their prices since I was so determined we would do the climb by walk only. This was supposed to be a fitness test on our ability to do the much tougher Kedarnath trek. When I was confident and determined of doing this by walk only why would I even care to think about looking at alternatives?
So we started to walk. And I pretty soon realized it was not a walk but a climb. Not one that happens on and off but ‘all through’. There is almost no flat area in its entire path. It’s all climb! The trek consisted of an equal mix of cemented path and steps.The cemented path was also inclined. Along with the intermittent steps, it helps gain quick ascent. Good thing is the path was wide enough for a horse and one person to walk in opposite directions. If there is more than one person and a horse, or there is palki instead of horse and such, we have to pause and give way to the other, interrupting the pace. On the way there are tea stalls and minor kitchens to offer roti and dal as well for those in need. But all that, we realized was only for the initial part of trek. And I mistakenly assumed we had covered about half our trek. As we saw notice boards indicating distance yet, I understood what we accomplished was barely anything. There were some sadhus too who seemed to living in the small caves that we came across.
The trek was simply breathtaking. We were walking by the edge of the mountain. Down below is river Yamuna with loud sound of flowing waters. Everywhere one would find waterfalls. My words don’t do justice to the beauty I saw on our way. The valley was steep at many places. Nearly every mountain around has waterfalls with each of them joining Yamuna and making it marginally larger. Some of this water may have been from the rains but I guess most of them came from melting ice. I get to see only one distinct snow peaked mountain which must be the origin of Yamuna. This climb disappointingly, will not take us to the top (or even bottom) of that real source, but somewhere in the middle of the hills during Yamuna’s course. I later learned from Wikipedia that the origin is in the high top from a large icy glacier. The actual source is not accessible for trek by people. So the temple was constructed in the lower part of the mountain. The trek we are doing does not even continue to go to the glacier. Perhaps there is no marked trek for the ultimate source.
The energetic Yamuna river flows from the top of the snow capped mountain clearly visible from a distance. There was a fine curvy white line from its top (see above image). I believe that white line must be Yamuna on its way down. The waters dropping from such high altitude (some 5,000+ meters above sea level) obviously come with lot of force. There were clouds covering the hills on and off intermittently making the view even more beautiful. If you can go to the original picture from the link at end of this blog to the picture below and zoom it up adequately, you can look for following:
- The white curvy line dropping from top in the middle of the picture represents river, Yamuna. The glacier itself is covered with clouds and can barely be seen with some snow here and there in this picture.
- From about one-thirds height on the left side of the image, the trek to the top can be seen. For the sake of convenience I have produced the cropped image below (luckily my wonderful mirrorless Fujifilm X100S provides very high resolution pictures). By this crop one can appreciate the size of the mountains and more importantly how steep are some sections of the trek going up (see the ‘Z’ shaped trek).
Climate changes a little within short duration due to the formation or leaving of clouds. So sometimes I felt a little hot and at other times a little cold. Only one mountain, the main one had some snow on the top from where the main water fall came down. In addition to the dropping falls, the stream jumping over the rocks makes interesting sounds as we trek. The entire experience was simply marvellous and one of a kind to me. Some spots by the river down in the valley encourages me to meditate in this beautiful place. Imagine taking the entire view to the heart, close your eyes, absorb in the beauty of what nice place you are in, eyes closed listen to the splashing waters on the rocks, slightly cool temperature, concentrate on bhrumadhya with no regard to time, for you could meditate till evening with no work pressures or anything competing for time! How beautiful will that experience be! Sages living in the high mountains of Himalayas must be blessed!!
The climb was very easy for me (but for my mistake of choosing a wrong backpack held by thin ropes which was cutting into my shoulders); much much easier than I had contemplated. But after we covered some 1 km plus, Komala started taking breaks. And I also encouraged that so the climb becomes easy to her. But after another kilometer plus she started having feeling difficulty doing further walk. Vicks Vaporub usually works like magic when she has an allergy effect sometimes. So she applied the cream but although it did give relief, it was short lived. As we moved further, it was increasingly becoming difficult to her. And then we pulled out the Bramhastra that we had kept as something we would use as the last option. It was the Asthalin Inhaler medicine. I know this works as magic from use by my father and younger brother. Komala also used it earlier once long ago. Unfortunately this last option also did not give benefit for more than 15 or 20 minutes. We were to go another 2.5 kms and she was finding it increasingly difficult. We did consider taking the horse option few times, but knew that going by horse wasn’t going to be a comfortable one either. Sitting on a horse for those who are not used to is not easy. The seat will be unsettling for one. Sitting atop horse is tall and feels scary particularly when the horse walks by the edge of the hill, giving us a view into the deep valley. It can give sores during long walks. We pull on. I was getting concerned that this was now taking much longer than I had anticipated. I was worried if our return was too late then it would be dark in this forest hill and climbing down would become challenge. The estimated 3 hours had already been exhausted roughly by this time, and we were not done.
The last 1.5 km became much more challenging. She was barely able to do ten steps or even 6-7 steps she had to rest before continuing. It was then that I gave her a helping hand and asked her not to rush but just walk at crawling speed with me slowly so we did not have to stop too often. On touching her hand, I felt ashamed that I had not given her a helping hand before. Her hand utterly cold! A clear symptom of her body temperature dropping due to low oxygen. Body burns glucose at each cell in the presence of oxygen carried by blood. This gives it energy both for doing ‘work’ at the organ, and also generating heat to keep us warm at 98.4c. When there is not enough oxygen, glucose cannot burn at all cells adequately. It is very important to be alive. While a small shortage of oxygen can adversely affect some, others may manage better. It did not make any difference to me. I had not even been able to feel any difference between ground and at this altitude. But to her it did make a big difference. I suspect for those with even slight respiratory issues, lack of adequate oxygen affects adversely. Komala is not asthmatic, but is allergic and it affects her breathing when allergy situation arises.
She breathed Camphor frequently which was supposed to help. We managed some more distance with only another half kilometer remaining till end. I guessed that the last point cannot be in the middle of the mountain for a temple to be and called as the place where goddess Yamuna came ‘down’, without it being a small valley. Lucky for us, the last section was a downhill. It was such a big boon to us notwithstanding it was not much of a distance remaining. Going downhill or staying at a point even in that high altitude of 3,193m was not difficult for her. Only when she had to climb was it a challenge.
The temple itself was a simple affair. To be honest, that point wasn’t anymore beautiful than the ones I saw on the way. The temple had a hot water spring which was tapped into a mini swimming pool sized tub where we would bathe. The purohit answering my question mentioned that it being the place where both the hot and cold water streams of Yamuna amalgamated, the temple was built here. Incidentally how he described symptoms of lack oxygen effects exactly matched of what Komala had on our way. There is a practice of a some rice being tied with small cloth dipped into the hot water spring and cooking. It was supposed to be our prasadam. But for the time it was in hot water during the course of our pooja to the deity, the rice did not cook well. The deity on the small rock is naturally formed, per purohit and is the main deity. We spent some good time over there.
Having missed our lunch we had a samosa and tea before we hit back. The half km climb going back was again difficult. We decided she would take the basket carry option to horse. Palki was not available now as we were the last to reach top (although we did see few coming atop during our way down later). Purohits were leaving for the day. After one failed attempt with her being scared, finally she did climbed on to one of the basket carriers. After 3 kms downhill she decided to try walking and actually continued completing the remaining trek. We both did have a very nice conversation with the Nepalese person who carried her.
But the irony is the climb down after 3 kms became very difficult for me with my knees hurting like hell everytime I put my foot down from a step. The cemented path was fine when there was one. After we reached hotel after a pathetic drive through ghats, my knees were killing every time I had to put my foot down from stairs to go for dinner. So ended Yamunotri dham yatra. A mixed one of immense pleasure and immense pain! It’s always that way in life, pain and pleasure come together.
There are many interesting short videos and pictures that you can watch here.