There is a legend that says you can’t go to a sacred temple, until the Lord decides you are ready to visit. As I walked outside the petrol bunk, clutching my cotton shawl to protect myself against the chill November air, I knew Maha Vishnu was calling me. With all that had happened in the last 48 hours, it was a miracle that I was here, in Rishikesh.
What happened I hear you ask? Flash flood warnings, panicking parents, a cancelled train, a cab driver who didn’t show up for two hours and a car that almost ran out of petrol on the outskirts of Rishikesh – I laughed, the last two days were truly a lesson in grace, surrender and will power.
What was I doing in Rishikesh? Well, it’s all Instagram’s fault. One lazy Sunday afternoon, I was lying on my couch in Chennai scrolling through the stories on Instagram – when I saw a friend trekking through the most beautiful emerald green hills studded with jagged rocks. I swiped and saw the gushing Mandakini, her waters a sparkling frothy white. I swiped and saw sadhus whose faces looked a million years old and yet their eyes held wisdom that was beyond their ages. I knew I wanted to go, wherever this place was.
Tickets booked in a flash, and here I was standing in Rishikesh on a cold wintery night – taking it all in. I was on my way to Kedarnath – one of the most auspicious and challenging pilgrimages India offered.
That night, we stayed at Sant Seva Sadhan, a beautiful little ashram with a private entrance to the banks of Ganges. If you are ever in Rishikesh and want to get away from the noise – I recommend this place. It was built by a Gujarati merchant who wanted to use his wealth to help the sadhus on their spiritual quest. The rooms are cheap, spacious and clean, the staff courteous and chilled out, the food – nourishing and delicious.
After a restful night, we got into our car and drove for six hours to Sonprayag – the last point you can drive to, if you want to trek to Kedarnath. The roads from Rishikesh are windy and it’s easy to feel a sense of devotion as you drive, as the roads are so precariously built.
We stayed at the trustworthy GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) guesthouse that night. Over dinner, we repacked our bags to make a small overnight kit to take up the mountain. We decided it was best to leave at five am the next day. The plan was to leave the rest of our luggage in the car, take our overnight kit and catch the jeep to the trekking start point. From there, we assumed it would take four and half hours. Having done a lot of treks, I remarked, I would finish the trek in four hours - boy, was I wrong! The trek took me six long hours.
Climbing an inclination of 1200 ft in a span of six hours was no mean feat. I stopped every few meters and my ego took a big beating. I watched in utter humility as women and men much older than me, climbed in saris and dhotis and without slippers. I watched as they prayed and chanted and some even did the shashtang namaskar as they climbed the mountain. I was fueled by health, and they, by love and prayer. In difficult moments like this prayer and faith works a lot better than health and fitness.
As I climbed up, the trek got more challenging and my mind easily turned to Vishnu, to the Nath of Kedar. I urged him to give me strength and will power. One step at a time I reminded myself and climbed up. The mountains loomed so close and yet so far. Where was He hiding? When will I reach? That was all I could think of.
I started walking up Kedarnath thinking it was a trek but, at the end of it – it truly became a pilgrimage.