Jayprakash Tiwari lives in Anusua with his family –wife and two cute baby girls. He runs the only Chati (road side very modest hotel) in Anusua – a two storied brick and mud house with spartan facilities. They toil hard to eke out a living. Uma, the wife who can beat any woman in a beauty contest, begins her day at the crack of the dawn and it ends at midnight. But despite the hard life they laugh a lot, play around their baby girls and seem quite content. They are always ready to serve the guests with a smile; must be the heady influence of the valley.
Anusua – a small settlement of few Garhwali families and priests of Anusua temple lies in a small valley in the deep of Garhwal Himalaya at 7200fts, reachable only after a steep trek of 5 kms and is surrounded by soaring green mountains and canopied by dense forest. The surrounding forest teems with wild animals —deer, boar, Himalayan bear and leopard. Birds and butterflies are the valleys permanent residents.
We were in Anusua to complete a somewhat tough trek that starts at a place called Mandal, went up to Rudranath, one of the famous Panch (five) Kedar then takes a lonely, treacherous and steep route over mountain ridges to Kalpeswar — the fifth Kedar,.
Anusuas’ claim to fame is its temple of Mata Anusua who is said to be the greatest Sati (loosely translated, faithful wife) of all time. Her faithfulness was tested, again and again, by the Gods themselves (it is said, their wives forced them to do it. It’s reassuring to know, even gods have to dance to the dictate of their wives — like us the mortals!). And in the process her husband – the equally famous Atri Muni who usually spent most of his time in meditation in a nearby cave, turned those gods into toddlers. The conspiring Goddesses were forced into submission to save their husbands and the greatness of the Mata was established.
Trekking 5kms from Mandal (5400 fts) – the road-head, through a meandering and steep trail on the bank of Atri Dhara (rivulet), I was tired. The climb of nearly 2000 fts in 5 kms that too in the first day of the trek was tiring. Most of the track goes through dense forest and sensing our apprehension of wild animals, our guide cum porter assuredly said, “Saab, Bhalu ke bagar kuch dar nehi” (Sir, fear the bear only)!
Seeing me on his door, Joyprakash quickly spread a blanket on the floor of the wide balcony in the first floor. One can see the whole valley stretching leisurely from this balcony. Rupa, the youngest girl (just all of four years), seeing her old acquaintance, came running in. It felt like home. I just sat there till late into the night soaking in the ambience – the silence, the light fresh air, the occasional chirping of the birds and the display of the butterflies and in the late night – twinkling of glow worms.
Next day, we set out for the cave where, legend says sage Atri lived and meditated. The 1.5 kms trek through dense forest; balancing precariously on a single log bridge over the fiercely flowing Atri Dhara was thrilling (I never realized before — I can perform as a gymnast !). More thrill to come when I had to climb a 15fts rock wall desperately clinging on an iron chain that dangles from the rock wall and swings violently (surprise ! I can be a chimpanzee too). And then crawl on all fours like a snake through a one-foot wide slit of a giant boulder. Any wrong move, I will find myself at the bottom of a sheer drop of 300fts.
But the cave is worthy of all these life-defying acts of “who dares win”! It is an exact replica of that great ‘Skull Cave’ of ‘Phantom’ (remember Ghost who walks?). The cave is hidden behind a huge fall from which great volume of water torrentially cascades. The fall generates a drone that reverberates like the sound of an express train on full run. One had to shout to be heard.
But neither Anusua nor Atri cave was our destination. We want to go to Kalpeswar via Rudranath through a route that is seldom trekked. Anusua was just a halt in between, mainly, for acclimatization. The next part of the track— a steep continuous ascent of 13kms to Naola pass (12700fts) and a gentle descent of 4kms—through the most dense forest and green Bugiyals was waiting to test our strength and patience. They say, “Rudranath ka chadai, German ka ladai” (the ascent of Rudranath is akin to a battle with the Germans).
Starting at 5-00 A.M., we reached Rudranath (11670fts) at 4-00 P.M –totally exhausted, on the brink of collapse. Barring a lunch break and few short recesses, it was a continuous trek for almost eleven hours through one of the most difficult and most beautiful terrain where the correct trail is impossible to locate without the help of a guide. The damp, dark, moss laden slippery-forested track was tedious to trek. The tall trees, covered with moss, had such an ancient look that one is bound to feel veneration toward them. Green Bugiyals dotted with alpine flowers and rhododendron, flittingly sunny and forever misty gave us some relief.
The priest of the Rudranath temple enlightened us with two legends associated with Rudranath. One is the well-known Pancha Pandav story ; to wash their sin after the battle of Kuruskhetra, Pancha Pandav came to the Himalaya to have a Darshan (sighting) of Shiva. But Shiva was reluctant to show himself and fled in the guise of a bull. Bhim followed Shiva and seized a part of the bull’s body forcing him to abandon that part in that place. Shiva left his face in Rudranath.
The other story is not associated with Pandavs. On hearing Shiva being condemned by her father – Daksha, Shiva’s consort Parvati committed suicide. When news of Parvati’s death reached Shiva, he transformed himself into an image of pure rage (Rudra) in Rudranath.
Actually, Rudra is a Vedic god. In Rg Veda god of fire has been called Rudra who has two manifestations – destroyer (Rudra) and preserver (Shiva). Later, Rudra was totally merged into Shiva.
Some time I wonder! Whether the Himalaya is made of rock & ice or of legends, mysticism and our beliefs? This heady mixture where the borderline between reality and romanticism is some what mixed up and at best is very thin lures us to this unknown. This and the enticement to win over the toughest adversaries must have launched the explorations & the expeditions.
Evening came sliding down the slopes of the mountain and the sun sets the peaks around Rudranath — Nandaghunti, Bughyalkoti, Nilkantha on fire. Birds flocked back to their nests in the Rhododendron bushes. Lights began to fade. Soon the snow crested peaks turned deathly pale. Resplendent in colours moments back, Rudranath valley turned in to a place where legends are born.
On the third day, we were off to Dumak (8200 fts) – a wealthy village with school and solar power. The stunningly picturesque trail was quite difficult. It took us 11 hours (in such un-surveyed routes, distance is measured in hours not in kilometers) to reach. On way, Toli – a green saucer shaped valley dotted with red, blue and yellow alpine flowers and surrounded by tall deodars with a small Tal (lake) bang in the middle, left us speechless.
On the final day, we reached Kalpeswar where Lord Shiva left his matted locks. The trail is stone paved and passes through stunning sceneries. In a tiny cave (6fts X 8fts X 5fts) just in front of the cave temple, lives ‘Bangali Baba’ — an ascetic. In the last 40 years he has gone out of his cave only twice—for a cataract operation and for a visit to Kumbha Mela. Sitting in front of an ever-flaming smoky Chula (oven), he’d offer every visitor a cup of hot tea with a dollop of ghee. If one lingers, he will go on offering the same concoction again and again. We had a warm chat, recalled our earlier meeting. I took a few shots of him.
As I was leaving, Baba called me back. With a child like smile he said, “Send me copies”. I was momentarily speechless. An ascetic who renounced everything, in whose cave I have not even seen a mirror, wants to keep his own image ! Unfathomable human mind! Strange. Mystic. Just like my Himalaya !!