The downpour that started previous afternoon, continued through the night and there were no signs of it abating in the morning. Our plan for the day was to go up to Hemkund Sahib, come down to Ghangria and then go all the way down to Govindghat to board a jeep for Joshimath. All that travel was to be done on backs of ponies. That was the only option for us if we were to board the train from Haridwar the next night. It sounded like an uphill task and incessant rains gave fodder to some members to contemplate dropping the idea of visiting Hemkund Sahib. The pony owners too, had that suspicion and they kept confirming with us time and again to ensure we didn’t drop the plan. Finally, we went ahead. All of us, wrapped in our rain coats, boarded the ponies (something which I always dread) and embarked on our journey.
Soon we reached the junction where the trail for the valley turned left, but we plodded upwards. Streams of rainwater kept flowing along the route and the ponies splashed along with their dogged steps. At many places, they used their own judgment to traverse the route diagonally to evade muddy potholes that were made slippery by their own excreta. Both the daughters were perched on the backs of their respective ponies, wrapped and fastened by ropes, the ends of which were held by the man who was responsible to drag these animals up the trail. The bends kept increasing as we gained heights. Numerous streams came down the slopes fed by the monsoons. Every now and then, the hooves of the ponies skid and we were continuously on our toes.
Forests on the lower reaches started to fade out and gave way to bushes. Slopes of the mountains were covered by green grass. Yellow dots started to appear among them and they increased in number with height. We realized that these were Brahma Kamal flowers, something which can only be seen in these high altitude regions of the Himalayas. They were not seen even in the valley yesterday, but here they were abundant.
Amidst all the excitement, the weather was biting cold and winds lashed making us shiver to our bones. My daughter’s patience dried up and she started crying. Finally, we saw the huge rocks and a few shelters on the distant horizon way up on the route. A faint tune of religious citations reached our years amidst the sound of the heavy downpour & the flowing streams. That told us, we were nearing our destination. When we finally reached there and off boarded the ponies, it took some time for our bodies to straighten up.
The volunteers of the gurdwara greeted us with warm cups of tea, kheer and khichdi. These were being served super hot from the huge containers where they were being prepared. One could consume as much as they could. The lake was surrounded by high mountain peaks on all sides but their tops were cut off by overhanging clouds.
The slopes nearby were covered with dense bushes with big Brahma Kamal flowers jutting out from them. It was one of the primary reasons (at least for me) to visit the shrine as there aren’t many places in the Himalayas where you get to see them. That too, can only be seen in these monsoon months.
Many of the pilgrims were taking a bath at the lake braving the cold as it is considered holy to do so. We were overwhelmed by the surroundings and the warmth of the service the volunteers provided but time was ticking. So, once again we boarded the ponies, which carried us down the watery slopes to Ghangria. We recollected our luggage and set out for Govindghat, again on the backs of ponies. We reached there finally at about 5.30 in the evening and boarded the jeep for Joshimath. A long cherished dream finally materialized.