Bare. at Devprayag.
It was day 4 at Hrishikesh, and I was to return to Hyderabad the next morning. But, the trip was feeling incomplete. The reason was simple. The last few days, I was among the mountains, but I wasn’t with them.
12th March, 2020.
8am. I decided spend the day with the mountains. But, there was a hitch. I’d made a few attempts to rent a bike in the last couple of days. But, every attempt failed. Because, the Utthrakand Government had mandated having a licence to rent out a bike. I haven’t had one in the last 10 years. Well, I knew that if the mountains gave me the license to be with them, the hurdle would resolve itself. They did! I asked my friend to whatsapp me his licence, went through with the documentation and registered myself as Rudra (Name Changed). It wasn’t the first time I did this. But, where there’s no guilt, there is always a thrill in executing flawless lies.
The Bullet was mine for the day.
The moment I started riding, I felt connected. I’d like to call zir Gray, my companion for the journey. I did not have an agenda, apart from being with the mountains. I believe that, to stray is to discover. The person at the bike rental place suggested Devprayag was a good place to begin with. It was a 2 and a 1/2 hour ride. Devprayag is the place where the 3 rivers Alakananda, Bhagirati and Saraswati meet to take the name Ganga.
I filled Gray’s belly, prayed to lord Hanuman, filled my own belly with idlis and filter coffee and began my journey. 10 Minutes of riding and I was already out of the town of Hrishikesh.
The chilly wind blowing on my face felt like it was waking me up from years of deep sleep. Why would it not? For before splashing on my face, it had traveled through the great Mountains, through the water from the divine rivers that originate in its womb, and through the undiscovered magical shrubs and trees that are native only to this place. There’s nothing that can heal the world better than the air in these Mountains.
After an hour or so, I stopped for having chai. I walked across the road and looked down into the gorge. To look at the the deep blue Ganga flowing was a timeless sight. At that moment I wondered how this place must have been in existence for eons. I felt that Ganga was carrying with her, secrets of the earth from the ancient past, and from the present. And, nobody was listening to her. Perhaps, nobody knew how to.
I got back on Gray. I took off my windcheater to ride with just my tee. Becuase, I wasn’t going to experience that chill wind for a long long time again. I actually wanted to ride bare body. I just decided I’d do that on my way back.
I reached Devprayag around 1. It wasn’t an obvious tourist spot. There was an almost invisible board amidst a few shops by the side of the road. If it wasn’t for maps, one might miss it. We needed to climb down quite a bit from the road to reach the Prayag. There were steps leading down to the Prayag from two sides of the Gorge. I rode to the second one, which was about 2 kms from this place. This one had no shops around it. There was a tiny temple of the Kshetra Devta as i started climbing down. I picked flowers from the wild, offered it to the Diety and continued to climb down.
I reached the Prayag. The energy at the place was evidently different. And, I was the only person there! Two ancient rivers. Alakananda, was brown and muddy, and Bhagirati was blue and was flowing with a lot of energy. I’d heard that Alakananda was the river that flows with force, but, that’s not what I saw. It was as if two friends meeting after ages came running from in between the Mountains, jumped on to each other and hugged. And from there, continued running together holding hands. And this was happening at that place, every moment. It was indescribably beautiful.
I had come prepared to take a dip in the water. Of course the water was freezing. My body is usually too sensitive to even the air conditioning at 24 degrees. But, I realised that the problem was more with the A/C than the coldness itself. Because, this cold bath was the most refreshing ever!
There was a little temple at the Prayag. The Pujari of that place appeared in a few minutes. A pleasant man he was. Their family had been taking care of the temple for generations. I did a quick Pitru pooja there. I conversed with him for a while. He insisted that I stay back there till 530 pm to watch the daily ritual Aarti. But, in a moment, as if he got a sign he changed his stance. He said it was best that I left the place before 4 so that I reach Hrishikesh before dark. It was around 3pm then. I Promised myself that I’ll come back and bade goodbye to the divine Sangamam. As I walked up I visited the ancient Raghunathji temple. A temple which has stories from the times of Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Again, I was the only one at the temple. When we are not distracted, I feel that we are so much more aware of the energy in such places and the experience is so much more elevated.
I realised that I hadn’t eaten since Morning. I went up to a shop overlooking the Bhagirati. I had freshly made aloo parathas as the owner kept me entertained with the stories of tourists through the year. It must have been 4 pm. I began my journey back.
The evening ride was chill and breezy. I had the lovely opportunity to see the sun setting multiple times in a few minutes. Since it was the Ghat roads, I would see the sun setting behind one beautiful hill. And as the road bent, I would see the Sun again and it would set again!
These roads are extremely prone to landslides. Even on my way here, there were a couple of minor road blocks. And, there were rocks and boulders fallen on the road every few hundred meteres.
At around 6 I landed at another roadblock. Bikes could go to the front of the line of waiting vehicles. So, I went all the way ahead and parked my bike on the side of the road. It was dark already, so I couldn’t see all that clearly. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see that the landslide had created a mountain on the road. It had completely blocked the road. I heard from people that the clearing had been going on for the last one hour. Most were speculating that this process would take a couple more hours.
We had to wait it out. The wait was quite a scene. The earth movers were extremely skilled and were working efficiently. I walked back to realise that the queue of cars, trucks and bikes extended hundreds of meters. Some were listening to music, most were restless. I feel that the statement would hold true for any group of Human Beings facing unplanned roadblocks. The locals though, seemed at peace and were trying to help the situation. The sky was cloudy and there was lightning. It seemed like it would begin to rain anytime.
830 pm. It started drisseling. I put on my windcheater. I knew that if it started raining, this wouldn’t be of much help.
Around 9, there seemed to be a breakthrough. No, they had not gotten anywhere close to clearing the road. They realised that it would have taken them all night. Instead, they were smart and just created a bund with the earth that had fallen on to the road. So that we could use it as a temporary road.
It started raining. Couple of locals who were carrying milk in a truck were kind enough to ask me to sit in their truck until the rain stopped. But, they themselves stepped out to help with the situation. They said that their house was anyway close-by and they could go change in no time.
The four wheelers started moving first. The bund was steep. So the cars would race towards the bund to make the climb to the top of the bund. It was like an off-roading contest for Aam Junta. Every car got hit below because of the rocks and the uneven surface. And 1 in 3 cars did not even make it to the top of the bund. They would just slide back reverse and they would just wait by the side of the road. All this time, the land was continuing to slide in intervals. So, you don’t really know when it would end up falling on a vehicle that was crossing.
All I could do was to pray that all vehicles would pass through safely. And I swore to continue doing that till I reached Hrishikesh.
After half an hour of this process, we felt that the soil must have become a little more stable. We decided it was time for bikes to try the off-roading climb. I got off the truck, wore my helmet and took off. On the bike it wasn’t as difficult as I Imagined to ride to the other side of the bund.
Past 9 pm. Welcome to the other side.
It was dark. Really dark. No streetlights. No moon, not even the stars. Just the headlight of the bike trying to make its way through the rain. It started raining heavier. I realised that the rain had made the brakes ineffective. I had covered only half the distance back to Hrishikesh. I had about 35 km more to go. Given the conditions, it would take me atleast another two hours to reach.
I began riding. Somehow, I could feel The presence. Call it God, or by any other name. It felt like it was a test, thought I did not know for what.
Few hours back I was thinking I would ride bare body. It seems, nature always has other plans. Mother nature decided to bare all its 5 elements, the Panchabhootas, on me instead.
The only thought in my head was, “keep riding”. my fingers started freezing. Keep riding. The rain started seeping into my Jeans. Keep riding. Some pot holes I could see. Some I could not. Keep riding. Every few kilometeres, the sight of a hotel would tempt me to stop. Resist. Keep riding.
I had no idea how long I had been riding. I had no idea how many kilometres more to go. If I took my phone out, the only confirmation that I was likely to get was that it was soaking in the rain too. So I let it be.
It was quite strange that for the last couple of hours, neither had I overtaken a single vehicle, nor had any vehicle overtaken me. I really wondered where all those vehicles which were stranded along with me had disappeared.
A few kilometers down, I saw a couple of men sitting around a fire by the road. It seemed like the perfect place for me to be at that moment. Well, resist too. Just keep riding. But, I did stop to ask them how much farther Hrishikesh was. Their response was the most comforting thing I had heard in a long time. They said, “You’re almost there. Less than 5km”.
Though I was freezing, I was riding with a little more hope. But, nature wasn’t done with me for the day. I just rode a few hundred meters down and it started getting foggy. I could hardly see a few meters ahead. Well, did I have any other option? No, so keep riding.
A little ahead, I noticed four men and two bikes by the road. They seemed stranded. As I neared them, they stretched their hand out seemingly asking for help. Momentarily, a thought occurred in my head that it could be some kind of a plot. But, what if they really needed help? So I stopped my bike. As I got off the bike I realised that I could barely move. Because, all the soaking in cold water had made me numb.
They said that they were taking shelter at the fire place I had passed by a while back. When they saw no signs of the rain stopping, they continued to ride. Then one of their bikes ran out of fuel. The fuel in the other bike was low too. And they had no means of transferring the fuel from the other bike either. So had been pushing the bikes. They said they had lost the will and the energy to make it back to the fire place to seek help. They were visibly distressed and they expressed how they had completely given up hope of surviving the situation. They seemed like college kids, not the praying kind. Yet, they were praying. Though I couldn’t completely empathize with them, I felt bad enough.
We needed a bottle to transfer the fuel. I had one. The only thing my mom had requested me to bring from Hrishikesh was ‘Ganga water’. So, I had filled the bottle with Ganga water from Devprayag. But clearly, the bottle had a more important purpose to serve. I let the Ganga water flow along with the rain and gave them the bottle to to do the job.
The bike started. One would give anything to see the relief on their faces. They were extremely grateful and expressed that I was ‘God’ to them. I was just glad that I had stopped. But, they still seemed quite disturbed. They asked me to lead the way and they’d just follow.
I had company now and I was happy about it. In a while we entered the Hrishikesh town. The kids were staying at a hotel right by the main road. They were very kind and repeatedly asked me to come stay with them for the night. For a moment I thought I would, because I didn’t know the exact directions back to my hostel. It was still pouring heavily. But, I had a flight to catch next morning. So, we just thanked each other and I left. We never even asked each other for our names.
I found the road through which there was a passage to enter my hostel. The entry was through a parking lot, which they close by 10 pm. It was close to midnight. I parked the bike on the pavement outside a tea shop. Because it was a low lying area and water was flowing on the road like the Ganga herself. I jumped across the wall, and walked to the hostel.
It took me another 20 minutes to finally get into the room, because the hosts were asleep by then. I have stayed in a thousand hotel rooms before. But, I’d never yearned for one as much as I did that night. I walked into my room the Indian Culture Hostel.
It took me an hour of indulgence in hot water and dry clothes to get by body back to reasonable warmth. As I finally settled, I started ruminating over a strange feeling. Rather a subconscious knowing that I had throughout the journey. A knowing that I would reach back just fine anyway. And that it would be a great experience. The only effort I had to put in was to not back out of the experience. Perhaps that was the test?