Sunday, June 25, 2006

Char Dham. My trip starts in Uttaranchal which is a state north of Delhi. I left Toronto May 17 to arrive in Delhi May 18 but as luck would have it, it took 30 extra hours to reach Delhi via Chicago, New York and London. (Thanks Amercian Airlines!!) I met up with my cousin A. in Delhi who was leading this part of the trip as she wanted to finish some of her Ph.D. research.

But, first we screamed down the highway to Jaipur to visit some friends and shop! Jaipur is a great town for textiles and A. is getting married in 2007 so she picked up a magnificent wedding sari of Benares silk and some other trinkets. We hired a driver to take us back to Delhi and it turned out both the driver and the car were not in best of shape. He continually fell asleep at the wheel and we had to keep yelling at him to wake up and then the car stopped running. He managed to get a mechanic at the side of the road to sort of fix it but it died again on a multi-lane highway south of Delhi. A. and I got out to push the damn thing in order to jump start it, much to the amusement of passing Indian motorists. It was all rather surreal - two white women in 45 degree heat, pushing a small car in 8 lanes of fast moving traffic. Our mothers would be proud!

So, on to Uttranchal. From Delhi we took at train north to Dehra Dun (capital of the state) and at that point decided to hire a driver for our two week excursion in the mountains rather than take public transportation. Our destination was the Char Dham (Four Sacred Abodes). These are Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. They are pilgrimage sites for Hindus and exist at the spiritual source of the four sacred rivers in India. It involves many long hours in a jeep, over mountain roads that are treacherous, followed by hiking up mountains to each shrine site, finding accomodation which can sometimes be quite "crusty" and seeing some of the most magnificent scenery in the world as this entire trip is situated in the Himalayas.

Our hikes were anywhere from 6kms to 23 kms in a day. Our jeep rides were anywhere from 6 to what felt like 12 hours per day. The hiking altitude was from, 2400 to 3600 metres, the peaks we saw were up to 6000 to 7000 metres high, the pilgrims were plentiful - in the thousands, the weather was good and bad - sun, rain, mud, cold, heat, the shrines and temples were powerful, the landslides were scary as were many of the moutain roads which were more like trails. It was the most amazing trip of my life.

We made a side trip to a place call Tungnath which is a small grouping of huts on top of a mountain. It was a 3 km hike up, sleep in a bunker and then get up at 4 am to hike the last 1 km to the top and watch the sun rise over the Himalayas. It was a 360 degree view of the most stunning mountains, the highest being Nanda Devi which at 7,820 metres is the second highest peak in India. We then returned down to the jeep and on our way down in the vehicle we saw a wild leopard by the side of the road. Truly one of my most memorable days.

Back in Delhi by June 9 the heat is unbelieveable. Over 40 degrees celcius and there is a wind blowing they call the "Loo" which is hot and dry and it is said it brings disease and death. A. and I stayed in a small guest house but we went to a very large hotel and jump in their pool after being pampered at the spa. A. left for home June 12 and I got sick with heat exhaustion which last about 36 hours and was not fun.

So ends part one of my journey. On June 15 I flew to Leh in Ladakh and I will update you all on my travels there in the next update.