Uttarakhand Update: Part VI– The return journey, with a detour via Khirsi
After a memorable week, we were finally nearing the end of our splendid vacation. I had decided on the night of the 19th that I would take the pony for the descent back to Govindghat. I was rather conflicted about that, silly as it may seem; having walked all along, it seemed a bit of a cop out to take a pony for the last leg. Still, with blisters on my feet, folks back home being sick, and the fact that I hadn’t ever been on a pony before (at least not that I can remember) it was a bit easier to take the decision. With Balaji being unwell, and having already decided to take a pony anyway, I had company as well.
Much to my surprise, my bargaining skills had gained some credibility with the others and I had been tasked with negotiating fares for the bittus and the ponies. A light drizzle welcomed the morning of the 20th and I stepped out for the negotiations around 6:30 or so. By the time we had packed and were ready to leave it was 8 AM and the rain had stopped. Vivek had already left by then and the rest of the folks departed with the bittus. Balaji and I decided to dawdle a while to give the rest a head start. After half an hour, we were on our way too. We passed the group by the time by the time we hit the 3 km mark and took our first break half-way through. My butt and back were hurting a fair bit by then and the break was most welcome. At the snack stall, a beautiful butterfly and some unknown bird posed for photographs, while we rested. We reached Govindghat around 12:45, longer than we had thought. To our surprise, Vivek had already reached half an hour earlier.
The others joined by 2 – 2:30 and we departed for Pipalkot (where we were to halt for the night) at around 3 PM. It was an unusually warm day, and quite a contrast from cold Ghangria. There had been landslides the previous days, but fortunately they had been cleared by then, and we reached Pipalkot well before sunset. The GMVN rooms were considerably better here, and with all my clothes wet, I quickly set about finding an iron-wallah to press my still somewhat damp clothes, and get a few other provisions. Dined a little later, read a while and retired for the night.
The next day, we left at around 9, the intent was to reach Rishikesh by late evening, from where I was to head to Haridwar to catch my train to Delhi while the rest of the group stayed over at Rishikesh. Just past Rudraprayag, we stopped for lunch, and to my dismay, we were informed that the road ahead to Deoprayag was closed due to a landslide. It had been closed for more than a day, and it looked like we had no choice but to halt at Rudraprayag. At the GMVN in Rudraprayag, there was no water – an irony like none other, what with the beautiful Alaknanda flowing just outside. The GMVN drivers then suggested that we take an alternate route through the hills and try to reach Srikot (which had been our first stop on the onward journey to Auli). That seemed like a good idea and we pressed forward.
I had resigned myself to missing my train, but as it turned out, that was a great decision. The road through the hills was almost unimaginably scenic, even if the road itself was absent every now and then. We went up and down the hills, passing one small village after another. One enchanting sight was seeing a girl tending her cattle by the roadside, at the same time chatting and smiling broadly on her phone, presumably it was a boy tending to his cattle on the other side of the line. I had thought that an alternate route meant a slightly longer route, in the event it turned out that it was much much longer, and after having driven close to 100 kms, we had only reached a place called Khirsi at 6 PM, with Srikot being a further 2 hours away.
The driver called up the Srikot hotel only to be told that there were no rooms available, and with the sun fast receding, the group decided to halt at Khirsi for the night. Sunset at Khirsi was magical, we could see the snow capped peaks of the Charkamba range in the horizon, and the sun itself painted the skies in myriad hues of orange and red as it bid farewell to us. One of the hotel workers told me that Khirsi was a popular tourist resort, particularly with the Bengalis and the Gujjus, and it was easy to see why. At 1800m with wonderful views of the hills and valleys all around, it was just the sort of hill-station to laze around and do nothing much. While most of the others busied themselves with setting up the tripods and taking snaps of the beautiful night sky, a wave of nostalgia and sentiment coursed through me. I walked a while listening to Asha and Rafi on my iPod as the night grew darker before tumbling into the bed.
The next morning, I was keen to leave early, but Khirsi was a bird-watcher’s paradise, what with himalayan bulbuls, magpies, woodpeckers, and various other birds calling out their presence in notes of joy, mostly pleasant to hear. The magpie, with its long blue tail and a smaller yellow bird with black stripes were probably the most beautiful of the lot, though the magpie’s voice was rather woeful. All of us busied ourselves with photographing the birds and the many flowers that were all around the resort before we finally left at 9:30, after finishing our breakfast.
Photography and bird watching are in many ways a pursuit of the particular. You walk around looking for something, something different hopefully; and objects, people and landscape are not merely present – it is almost as if they exist to provide you with an imprint, a memory, a unique perspective that your lens can capture forever. Sometimes, I wondered, if in this pursuit of the particular, we were losing sight of the grandeur of everything else around us. No doubt we saw the mountains, we admired them, we were awed by them, but we rarely paused to reflect and meditate over them. Meditate is too strong a word, say, ponder even. All that majesty filtered through the lens of our cameras – in some sense the camera almost acts as a sieve that prevents us from being overwhelmed by nature, and enables us to reconcile ourselves with the documentation of it.
Such thoughts bounced about my head in my short time at Khirsi, but I could as well blame these melancholic notions on whatever chi possessed the place, and on my desire to get back home. It was a hot and sunny day, the hottest day of the trip, and I was not in the best of moods by the time we reached Rishikesh at 3. By then it was also too late for me to catch the last flight from Dehradun to Delhi, so I got an Uttarakhand state transport bus and left for Delhi. It was probably the first time in more than a decade that I had taken a no-frills bus for a journey longer than 3 hours. Reached Delhi just past 9, and next morning, caught my flight back home to Bangalore.
It had been an unforgettable trip, and no matter what I have recounted through these notes, it can scarcely bring to life the experience of actually being there. Uttarakhand is a state you can visit over and over again and never tire of it.
|Ghangria to Khirsi|