Growing up in a Hindu household meant that I always heard the term Char-Dham (four transformative sites) in conversations. Every time my grandparents visited, they would express their wish to cover the four most holy sites before they grew too old. I would also hear mom and dad discuss elaborate travel plans with tour companies but somehow things never materialised. It felt like a fairytale everyone aspired for but was impossible to reach. In my grandmother’s words, ‘You can't go unless Lord Shiva calls you’.
Fast forward to thirty years later. As I was scrolling through Instagram, I noticed a friend and fellow yoga teacher was in Kedarnath. It brought back a host of memories from childhood and also gave me a massive sense of FOMO. His posts looked incredible. The views were insane, the trek looked fun but more than anything else, he wrote of the many sadhus he met along the way. Some reclusive, some smiling, some lost in their worlds and others chanting – but all seeking Him in their own way. I wanted to go – so I quickly wrote to him to ask what his itinerary was.
That evening as I checked my phone I saw his reply and my heart beat faster. He wrote to me and said, ‘The temple in Kedar closes in fifteen days. If you want to come, come NOW. The temperatures are dropping but it is worth it. This is my itinerary, book your flights ASAP if you want to see Kedar. I couldn’t sleep that night. My mind visually drew out everything – the soothing green of the mountains, the sound of the Mandakini river nearby, the trek, the sadhus – I wanted to go so bad.
I woke up the next morning, determined to tell my parents. As I walked to my mom’s room I went through the possible conversation we would have about safety, being alone, being a ‘girl’ and what not. So even before a word was uttered, I decided I had to gather a group of people who would be willing to go on this adventure with me.
I went to my sister’s room, told her of my mad plan (travel next week and walk up to Kedar) and incredibly she said yes. I called my husband who was travelling and even he said yes. I messaged a few friends on WhatsApp but most of them thought I was mad to go at such short notice. ‘What about leave? What about money?’ they asked and all I could respond with were the words my grandmother once told me, ‘You can’t go unless Lord Shiva calls you’.
Of the lot, one friend agreed to join me. So, the next morning after a lot of praying I went to my mom’s room and told her my plan. She thought I was mad but didn’t say no. My joy knew no bounds. I quickly went about booking my flights as did the others. I was going to see Lord Shiva and I was super excited.
The next day as I was trying to figure out accommodation and the taxi, my mom came running to me. ‘Come, see what’s on TV’, she screamed. It was mid-morning and I was super confused. She pulled me by the hand and the headlines read, “Cloudburst in Kedarnath, People Missing”. She was anxious and I could feel her anxiety.
I took a deep breath and said, ‘Mom, I am only going next week. All will be okay by then. If there is still a problem, I promise to cancel my tickets’. She thought I was crazy but I had to go. Something was calling me… it was more than the Instagram post, it was more than the sadhus… It was something inexplicable. I. Had. To. Go.
(to be continued......)