Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Wrath Of The Rivers

By Manuwant Choudhary

I visited the four temples or dhams more than 20 years ago alongwith my parents and sister so the recent calamity in Uttarakhand pained me.

But even 20 years ago I could see it coming.

Deforestation and dam building was the governments only concern...we could see hundreds of dumpers clearing away the hills to build one more dam.

And the mountains looked barren....landslides common...the Himalayas look so much better at Darjeeling.

But the trip we had was memorable.

Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath....we did it all...

From Haridwar we took a pilgrim bus and I recall the tickets were so cheap....but the journey is not easy.

As the bus wound its way up the Himalayas the roar of the rivers would get louder and that is when they were not angry.

I can't imagine what happened a few weeks ago.

I write this article not for the governments but for the friendly people of  Uttarakhand..

The last point where the bus stops at Yamnotri then had just one shack....and my parents were in no position to do the 18 km trek as I wanted them to save their energy for Kedarnath (something told me Kedarnath was worth it)

But with no hotels how do we pass the night? We may all just have to sleep in the bus.

As me and my sister sat looking at the brave pilgrims ready to trek up the Himalayas....a youth came up to us and started talking. He offered us tea. (He looked cute like Amir Khan)

So we took our chance and asked a complete stranger if he knew of a place where we could sleep for the night.

And to our surprise he told us he was the owner of the only shack that existed there.

He told his brother to give us the room with four beds and mattresses.

The brother ran a restaurant alongside and we could sea a jeep unloading brand new steel utensils for the season.

We had dinner and slept.

It was better than the Taj Mahal Hotel.

The next morning they refused to even take money, instead they asked us to tell them honestly about the quality of the food in their hotel.

So even as we left I asked my friend why he did this for us and he replied, "We see thousands of pilgrims daily but when I first saw you and your sister I thought you were different..."

In the India of today where money matters most...I wonder how many of us have had experiencies like this.

So I pray for my friend in Yamnotri.

Travelling from Yamnotri to Gangotri is also not has to come back to the vallay and make the climb again.

As we reached Gangotri and we took a walk in the temple premises ....a man came up to us and very confidently told me mother..."You are the sister of Vidyaji..."

He was right....he was my aunt's panda..but no no one had told him that we were coming...he just knew it.

But yes Kedarnath was amazing.

The 14 kms trek was beautiful and our panda a complete stranger but who looked after us well and even prepared khichri that cold night.

I think it was May 16 0r 17 and the temple had just opened....there was snow all around the temple.

It was freezing.

My parents of course took rest as me and my sister stepped out onto the snow courtyard and walked barefeet to the temple for the evening aarti.

I think we were just a few of us in the temple as the panda's read out sanskrit mantras and the lights offered to the God looked beautiful.

Something crossed my mind that evening but I kept it to myself.

On our return journey my father insisted we have a good breakfast...but like always we missed the breakfast.

My father had a large breakfast before boarding the bus.

And as we were on way we noticed all the shops had shut down...we found out why...Rajiv Gandhi, India's former Prime Minister, had been killed by LTTE while campaigning for elections in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu.

I cried.

I cried not because Rajiv Gandhi had been killed but I cried because India seemed so weak and vulnerable that anyone could kill a former Prime Minister.

I prayed and asked God to give me some strength to do something for my country.

I don't remember asking God for anything else.

I prayed for a peaceful and prosperous India.

That day we all father was right...we should not have missed our breakfast.

I was still a student at Bombay's St. Xavier's College and the years there offered me opportunities to serve my country and also learn about her....not in the way youth would normally do in terms of jobs and paychecks and apartments...

I became a journalist...and that gave me the platform to understand India. I travelled to drought hit Beed or reported on a fire in Bombay...or travelled by train to Mumbra to report a building collapse and report on how a baby girl was rescued...and find her a new home.

I have been grateful for many things but I was vey lucky working under a great editor like Behram Contractor of the Afternoon Despatch & Courier.

His Round & About column signed off as Busybee was brilliant.

We all wondered how he could create such magic with words.

One day he wrote about his Himalayan trip to the four temples some 30 years ago but there was so much clarity.

He wrote, "If there is God, he lives at Kedarnath..."

But how did he know...that's exactly what had crossed my mind.


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