Temple bells woke us up the next morning. The dark sky was dotted with numerous stars. The Kedarnath shrine stood against the dark backdrop of the mountains behind. The morning light gradually started spreading in the sky though the sun wasn’t out yet. The sages were headed to the temple to offer the morning prayers to the lord. The rays of rising sun started to shower on the Kedarnath peak. It looked like the crown of a king with just the top of it acquiring a touch of gold. I couldn’t take my eyes off. It was my first ever experience of sunrise in The Himalayas. Gradually, the rays of sun fell on Kedar Dome and the mountains behind the shrine and when the sun finally came out, the entire range of mountains appeared as if they were wrapped in dazzling silver.
We got ready and bid adieu to the temple town. Our journey down to Gaurikund was not more than 2.5 hours. After we reached there, we went to the hot spring for a bath. As I submerged the lower half of my body into the shallow pool of luke warm water, I almost fell asleep. As if someone had prepared a bed to welcome my tiring body. Our initial plan was to stay at Ramwara both on our way up and down from Kedarnath. Since we travelled on ponies, we now had 2 extra days at our disposal. We met a group of travellers who were coming from Badrinath. From them, we came to know about Auli. It was a picturesque slope up in the mountains. One could reach there by a ropeway from the town of Joshimath, an important junction on the road to Badrinath. I made up my mind and went to book tickets for the bus at Gaurikund bus stand. However, tickets for the first bus were sold out and we had to settle for a bus ride to Rudraprayag. The bus drivers convinced me that we could get ample buses from Rudraprayag for Joshimath.
The next morning, we left Gaurikund by the first bus and reached Rudraprayag at around 10 AM. As we waited for the bus, tension gradually started to creep in. I had my parents with me and we had luggage. The buses that came from Haridwar or Rishikesh were all filled to the brim and there was almost no place to sneak in, let aside getting a chance to seat. We had to let go many of the buses that came by. Finally, we gave up hopes for seats and boarded the next bus that was headed to Badrinath. I had to climb up the ladder at the back of the bus to transfer our luggage to the roof. The bus was jam-packed and we could barely stand. These buses were the only means of daily transport for locals and we were just piggybacking. As the bus moved on, we got adjusted and after sometime, two people gracefully offered their seats to my parents. After a journey of a couple of hours, the bus reached KarnaPrayag.
KarnaPrayag is the confluence of the rivers Alaknanda and Pindar. The bus waited for a long time at KarnaPrayag but that was expected. As we were waiting, some passengers got off the bus and boarded another. Gradually, more and more passengers did the same and that caused suspicion in my mind. I got off the bus and asked the conductor (who was having tea in a nearby stall) when the bus was about to resume its journey. His reply gave me shivers down the spine. I learnt that the bus won’t go any further and that’s the reason, most of the passengers got off to board another bus that was standing beside and it was to start its journey immediately. I didn’t even have the time to debate with him about his responsibilities to inform his passengers. I rushed back to the bus, informed my parents. I then dragged them down, made them board the other bus and rushed to the driver to ask him to wait for some time, climbed up the ladder of the previous bus and transferred our luggage from its roof to the roof of the other bus. When we resumed our journey from KarnaPrayag, I was still breathing heavily.
Clouds started gathering and by the time we reached Joshimath, it was raining heavily. While my parents waited under the shed of a local shop in the market of Joshimath, I went around in search of a hotel. By the time I found the rest house of Kali Kamli Wala, I was totally drenched. After having my parents settled at the rest house, I went out in search of some food. Though the rains caused trouble for us, the locals were relieved as it was the first rains of this summer. After an early dinner at 6.30 PM, we slid under the blankets in our beds. It was still raining heavily and there was nothing much to do. The next morning, we woke up to a clear and bright sunshine. I went for the rope way ride to Auli while my parents preferred to rest.
The rope way from Joshimath to Auli was the longest in Asia at that time. The cable cars and the rope way were designed by an Austrian company. The cable car had space for about eight persons to stand and had glass windows an all sides of it. As it started its journey upwards from Joshimath, mountains started to peep out from behind the hills surrounding Joshimath. It appeared as if curtains were being raised and scenes began to unfold in a theatre that made us awestruck. Snow capped mountain peaks started to appear from behind the hills and when we reached Auli, we were greeted with a 180 degree view of snow capped Himalayan peaks. As I turned my head around, from right to left, the peaks of Nanda Devi, Trishul, Nanda Ghunti, Chaukhamba, Kedarnath and many other snow peaks of the Garhwal Himayalas were visible.
After spending some time basking in the morning sun and enjoying the majestic views of Himalayan peaks, I headed down to Joshimath by the cable car. For the rest of the day, we relaxed at the rest house. The plan for next day was to board a vehicle for Badrinath. Back in those days, the road from Joshimath to Pandukeshwar was one way – i.e. vehicles could travel only in one direction at a given time as the road wasn’t wide enough to allow crossing of two vehicles from opposite directions. Every alternate hour, vehicles were allowed to go from Joshimath to Pandukeshwar. The same pattern was followed for vehicles coming from Pandukeshwar to Joshimath. It meant that if your vehicle missed to leave Joshimath in the first hour, it had to wait for the third hour for its turn. Hence, our target was to leave Joshimath by the first hour (first gate, as it was then called). We went to sleep with that in mind.