Make My Wish True
I was not ready for the surprise. Standing on the edge of the woods, I was stupefied, speechless. I have seen a few valleys in my trekking pursuit but none like this small valley that lay before me. Surrounded by lofty green mountains from three sides and thick woods on its northeast, the grassy valley displays all shades of green. Small blue, red and yellow flowers and a few bald saffron patches, where the rocky underground is exposed only accentuate the greenness of the valley. In the middle of the valley, facing us stands the tall stone temple on the backdrop of a thick cluster of blackish-green Chir trees. A huge brass bell that hangs from a wooden post in front of the temple, the tympanum, the wooden crest of the sanctum with the flushing gold stick and a white flag that is flattering in the breeze complete the surrealistic picture. I am in Madhmaheswar – one of the famous five Kedars.
According to British Gazetteers of Garhwal, “Madhmaheswar, a temple situated north-east of Guptakashi, at the base of Chaukhamba peaks. The place is rarely visited by plainsmen on their pilgrimage. It is held in great veneration. Rajputs living at Ukhimath dedicate their first-born girls to Madhmaheswar….The girls are called the Ranis (Queen) of Madhmaheswar.”
Day one: The trek virtually starts from Ukhimath; though a jeepable road brought us to Yugasu (14kms), from where we are literally on our feet. The first hurdle; to cross Madhmaheswar Ganga on two wooden plunk barely two feet wide without any hold whatsoever, while the foaming – swirling water rushes underneath. We were forewarned that every year a few trekkers/pilgrims fell off this joke of a bridge and go straight to heaven! A concrete bridge is being constructed nearby to prevent this straight passage to heaven. Moving step by step, with dry throats we crossed the river and set on a steep ascent (1500fts) to Union, the nearest village 3kms away. Loose moraine made the climb difficult. Puffing like mad bulls; we reached a chati (wayside tea & food stall) and collapsed.
Refreshed by cool breeze and a hot steaming cup of tea, we were off to Ransi (3kms)-the biggest village on this route. The track is without shade; result of a landslide in 1998, which washed away a small village with all its inhabitants, houses & trees. Exposed naked rocks, dangerously hanging overhead are reminders of that slide. The slide also blocked a portion of the Madhmaheswar Ganga and created a beautiful small lake. Soon we reached Ransi and took our lunch in the only Chati– ‘Chaukhamba Hotel’.
Ransi was a prosperous village but the landslide devastated its economy, which heavily depends on cattle farming and a little cultivation. The trekkers and the pilgrims also contribute substantially to its economy. Presence of large number of cattle made the village filthy and full of swarming flies. The only thing worth mentioning is the temple of Rakeswari. The legend has it that the Moon lost his roundness and beauty on being cursed by Atrimuni for staring at the naked women of Ransi. So here he did penance and meditation to propitiate Lord Shiva who freed moon from the curse and the Moon regained his full form. Since then the full moon light is worshipped in the form of a Goddess-Rakeswari. We can not linger here and started for our night halt at Gondar (6kms). The trail entered into a forest of tall Chir trees. In the gorge far below, Madhmaheswar Ganga flows in a tortuous course. We reached Gondar- the last village on this route, before the evening and took shelter in ‘Kailash Lodge’.
Day two: The early morning saw us on our way to Bantoli (2kms). A small narrow valley on the confluence of river Saraswati and Madhmaheswar Ganga, Bantoli is deafeningly quite and serene. Only one small house stands on the bank of Saraswati in splendid isolation. The famous Madhmaheswar ascent, a continuous ascent of 9kms starts here. It’s only up & up till we almost reach Madhmaheswar. On the way we stopped at Khatara Khal, Nannur and Moukhoma – three temporary summer settlements, for drink and food. It’s a back breaking, feet aching journey. We reached Madhmaheswar (3490mts) in the afternoon and lodged in the temple’s guesthouse. We entered a deep forest of Khirsu, Rhododendron and Chir after Moukhoma and emerged at the edge of the Madhmaheswar valllley.
The original stone temple consists of Natmandir (front) and Garvagriha (sanctum). The frontal extension with a tin roof is obviously a later addition. A profusion of bells hang from the roof of the Natmandir and statues of a bull, Nagraja and Bhairabnath are the other attraction. The sanctum has a squrish black stone Lingam and a gold image of Shiva surrounded by images of Parvati, Mahakal – Mahakali & Bhairabnath. An image of Nandi kneels in front of Shiva. A gold stick and a white red edged flag stand on a curved wooden canopy that covers the crest of the sanctum. Two small temples in the backyard, one of Parvati and the other of Gouri-Shankar, flaunt two of the finest sculpted small images (2fts) I have ever seen anywhere. These black stone sculptures are sheer poetry in stone.
Budamadhmaheswar: With the break of the dawn we were on a steep climb to reach Budamadhmaheswar, a grassy plain atop the Madhmaheswar hill (another 2kms and 2000fts) from where one can get the most spellbinding view of Chaukhamba peaks and its reflection in a puddle, created by the last night’s torrential rain.
While descending back I met Sankar. The wavering gait of the bespectacled, thin, strapping youth caught my attention. Something is surely amiss. I gathered from his companions that Sankar is slowly and surely going blind. The fatal attraction of the mountain dragged him here. With the first ray of the sun they set off to return. I wished Sankar recovery. He only smiled. Just before entering the stretch of the forest, Sankar turned back, waved and hurried on. He must reach the next stop before dusk. Maybe today is his last day; from tomorrow it will be an endless night. I marvel at his strength. Perhaps Bach said it all; “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.”
Legend and myth: To wash-off the sin of killing their brothers in the Great war of Kurushkhetra, the Pandavas came to the Himalaya to have a ‘Darshan’ (siting) of Shiva. But, Shiva refused to grant an audience to the sinners. Relentlessly pursued by Bhim, Shiva entered the earth in the guise of a bull leaving his umbilicus (navel) in Madhamaheswar, which turned into stone and the Pandavas built a temple over it.
Madhmaheswar has his own legend. Several attempts were made to list the precious gold ornaments and other moveable and valuable properties of the Lord. But after several failed attempts the move was abandoned as persons employed for the job invariably dreamt of angry Shiva, his trident flashing, warning them of dire consequence for trying to list his properties. Shiva told them, he is quite capable of looking after his properties himself. Few unsuccessful attempts were made to steal the jewelry, resulting in either death or permanent disability to the thief and recovery of the stolen articles.