This is a continuation of a travel series. Read the previous blogs here..
- To The Himalayas - Unguided Solo Travel
- Niti Malari - Where People Are Gods
Travelling to Badrinath, Mana and initial days
( picture: Empty Streets of Badrinath)
After good times spent in Niti, Malari and Dronagiri, it was now time to head to Badrinath and Mana.
The floods had eaten up the road in between and it required around 3 kilometres of trek to reach the other end of the road. This trek was indeed treacherous.
The sight of Badrinath was heartbreaking. The destination is one of the 4 holy shrines of the Hindus was used to see a huge rush of tourists to seek blessings and purify their souls. The streets were empty, and the temples saw no visitors.
I was the only tourist there, but it would be wrong to call me a tourist !! Neither did I stay in hotels, neither did I eat in the dhabas, nor did I buy mineral waters, kurkure, chips, etc or hired a vehicle to roam around !!
Getting lucky this time as well. An invite to stay at a local's home
I got lucky this time too with my drive to Mana. This time too, an old man showed quite a lot of interest in my way of travels and invited me to stay at his home. His family lived in Chomoli for his daughter's education, and he stayed there alone.
I stayed in Mana for 2 days, gathering more information on the route, roamed about the village of Mana seeing the Bheem Pool, Ganesh Gufa, etc. In between, the owner fell down while returning from the toilet, and his head hit a stone, causing lots of blood loss. The injury was bad, and he started to feel dizzy. I used my safety kit to do the first aid, and then took him to Badrinath. I got no cars, and Badrinath was a 3 kilometre away. We walked till Badrinath, where an NGO had their medical ambulance ready. They checked him up, gave him some medicines, and then we walked back to Mana.
The Satopanth Taal Trek - A Failed Effort
The plan for the trek was simple and seemed feasible. I would finish the trek in 3 days, and these 3 days, I would survive on dry fruits, biscuits and chocolate bars. I was carrying my tent and sleeping bag.
- Day 1: Mana to Chakrateeth
- Day 2: Chakrateeth to Satopanth Taal, Explore the area
- Day 3: Satopanth Taal to Mana
Trek Day 1:
Weather till now had remained quite clear with occasional rainfall in the evenings. On the 3rd day, I started the trek. Crossing the mighty Alakananda river over a broken bridge and then a makeshift log bridge, I got on the trail. Monsoons had totally hidden the route with green tall bushes everywhere around. I could somehow make out the route by following the grass patterns and soon I could hear the vigorous sound of the Vasudhara falls. It was a jawdropping experience to see it fall so elegantly for some 400ft to the ground.
( picture: Mana village,from the other side)
I crossed Chamtoli, where I met a few shepherds, and further reconfirmed my knowledge on the route from them. It was indeed trickier from here through the boulders, marked with cairns. I reached Laxmiban soon marked by Bhoj Patra trees. Little ahead on the opposite side of the river was the Alkapuri, the snout of Alakananda, and its glacier.
( picture: A Shepherd in Chamtoli)
The Problem - Rain, Bad Rain
It had started to drizzle from Vasudhara point and had been drizzling since. I was wearing my rain protection jacket and trousers and had covered my rucksack too. I ignored the drizzle seeing its low intensity and continued walking.
( picture: near Alkapuri)
I was happy that I was making some good time and headed up. Swirling through the boulder zone, following the cairns, I kept moving. I touched Pandu Dhara and crossed it, and went behind it to touch Sahastra Dhara. It would just take me a couple of hours from here to reach my decided campsite for the day. But, in some 2 minutes, it rained such heavy all of a sudden, that I could not move forward. The drops were hitting me trying to pierce my facial skin. My rucksack had covered, but slanting rains with enough force drenched it from side and top.. I was terrified with that sudden change of weather.
The Stone Cave
I recalled seeing a cave behind and went back to it. Out of 4 stone caves, 1 was okay, rest were all filled with 'Sheep Shit'.
Lets See Off The Rain
The cave was quite spacious with a thin blanket of dry grasses. It was a Shepherd's cave and they usually put a blanket over it to insulate the cold from the ground. I had to crawl to enter the cave to take temporary shelter to see off the rain. It was around 1: 30 PM then. The inside of the cave was mostly dark, and a big opening on the right was faintly lighting it up. It didn't bother me as my plan was just to see of the rain, which I expected to clear in some time.
I Was All Wet Within. So Was My Rucksack.
Having decided to stay there for some time, I started to unpack and check my rucksack and also remove my raincoat. It was then to my shock, I realized that I had been wearing wet clothes for a long time and my clothes in the bag as well was all wet, including my sleeping bag... About 15/ 20 minutes in rain, and this was the result.. Luckily I was carrying an emergency blanket.
( picture: drying my clothes in the cave door)
( picture: my shelter for the night)
The Rain Wont Stop. I Will Have To Spend My Night Here Only
After quite sometime, I realized that it was 3PM, and the rain wasn't showing any signs to clear. It was getting heavier instead !! Considering it as a warning call, I now decided to call it a day, and sleep off the night. Pitching my tent was out of question, hence I decided to stay in the cave itself..
Arrangement And Protection
As it was decided to spend the night in the cave, I started arranging my things. Firstly, I put a stick on the door and hung all my wet clothes on it, making it a curtain-like thing. I was carrying a spare shoe and had changed down to a few remaining dry clothes.
There was a big gap in the cave on the right, and when I switched on my headlamp, I could see white clouds entering the cave. It would make it very cold, so I tried covering it. I used all the rucksack cover, raincoat and waterproof trousers to cover the gap, but in vain. It was still raining heavily, and I could not go out to fetch stones to cover the gap. I somehow had to do with the gap.
So there was I. Wearing wet clothes, all other clothes wet as well, needing to sleep in a wet sleeping bag, in a stone cave, in which heavy clouds blew in..
Foodwise, I was good with dry fruits, biscuits and chocolate bars. My rucksack was empty now. I had a good, big Rambo knife too !! incase required..
( picture: The gap in the cave)
By now it was past 5 PM and started to get dark slowly. The clouds already made it darker. I entered the sleeping bag. It was wetter at the bottom and a little on top. I started to munch on a few cashew nuts. I saw a few wet muds in the corner. Suddenly, the images of the floods flashed in my eyes, and I started to fear.
What if an earthquake triggered and the stone collapsed?
What if the rain increased further and the inside of the cave flooded?
It gave me enough reasons to put on my raincoat and go out to check the stability of the rock which supported my cave. I also checked if there were any chances of water entering the cave. I found out that my cave was well supported by a solid rock at the bottom, and another rock slanted over it to make the ceiling. To the right was another big rock, which formed the left wall of the adjacent cave. It was well covered with mud and grasses grew over it. I could walk over it from the other side. Though there were chances of water seepage, but on this, I trusted the experience of the shepherds who used it, and took a chance. I had very few options as well !!
What If A Bear Or Other Wild Animals Enter The Cave?
It was very cold outside, and the rains had not stopped yet. I got into my sleeping bag yet again trying to warm myself but in vain.
Time was passing very slowly as I waited to see the night off !! Munching occasionally on biscuits or dry fruit, O got lost in my thoughts, when suddenly the fear of a bear attack came into my head. I tried to convince myself that it would be a very rare case for a bear to come inside a cave to fight me, but then again I thought since it's not a tent, and the smell of Sheep poop could actually attract wild animals, it got inside my skin. After some good amount of counter-argument with myself, I concluded that I actually had nothing to do if a bear or other wild animals get in. I will have to either chase it out or fight it out. To fight, I had my Rambo knife and a hand torch, ready beside my head.
Emergency Blanket To My Rescue From Cold
After satisfying my mind on the wild animal attack debate and safety of the cave issues, it gave me enough comfort, and my comfort mind made me realise that my body was uncomfortable inside the wet sleeping bag. It was getting even colder. In the dark, when the cave was lighted, clouds flowing in could be seen so clearly.. I was almost sleeping in the clouds. It was time for me to use my last card - the emergency blanket. Little could I imagine my current situation when I had ordered it online.. but now, it would come to a great rescue. I wrapped myself around with the emergency blanket and then got into the sleeping bag. In an hour, I started feeling warm, though it made an annoying cracking sound with slight movement. A very minor issue considering the situation.
The rain hadn't stopped. I planned to trek to Satopanth Taal tomorrow itself directly from here and fell asleep, unnoticed.
Morning, And A call to abandon the trek
I woke up to a dry morning. I had slept well and straightaway opened my eyes in the morning, around 5 AM. As I crawled outside the cave, I faced the valley upwards. It was very densely clouded, but with white clouds. I told to myself that my trek was on. But when I turned to my back, I was frightened by the sight of the sky. Thick dense black clouds moved up the valley.. I dropped my trek plans there itself and planned my return.
I quickly packed my bag and trekked down to Mana. I met the shepherds on my way down, and they were happy to see me. They said they were concerned about me. I gave them the biscuit packets I had. In return, they asked me to have a little 'daal chawal'. Bidding them goodbye, I headed down to Mana.
The Conclusion And Confidence Boost
Failures might not be celebrated but for me, people who fail are extra lucky. They might not have achieved the satisfaction of success or the joy of accomplishment, but it adds the 'most valued' experience to one's life like none other can. Success can be achieved with another attempt as well, but talk to a man who has failed, he definitely will have more to say !!
After a terrific experience of spending a night in a stone cave, all alone, with heavy rains outside, in a lonely place, deep in the Himalayas, I was more excited about the direction my travel was taking. I knew, I could complete the trek on the next try, and was not quite sad about it.
I spent 3 days with the sadhu babas of Badrinath after that in their ashram. While it ensured free to stay and food, it was full of fun and peaceful too !! Knowing them from the inside was a big eye-opener. These men are some serious travellers !!
Loitering in Badrinath | Sadhus, Cannabis, Free Meal, Free Stay