This June, we planned an epic trip. A combination of trekking, camping and travelling in the little known stations of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand. For weeks on end we planned, googled, read travelogues and collaborated with travelers on travel forums to came up with a foolproof itinerary. I left no room for error. Our accommodations were booked, we gained familiarity with the places we wanted to go to. We even kept enough flexibility in our plan to accommodate delays that are common in hilly areas. But little did we know that nature had other plans.
Here is the itinerary (originally planned):
Duration: 14th-23rd June
14th: Reach Delhi in the evening at 6 30- 7 pm. Catch New Delhi-Dehradun AC express and reach Haridwar around 5:00 am the next morning.
15th: Start from Haridwar by private taxi and reach Joshimath by evening. Stay overnight at Joshimath.
16th: Start from Joshimath around 6-7 am, reach Govindghat and trek up to Ghangharia on the same day. Stay overnight at Ghangharia.
17th: Valley of Flowers and back to Ghangharia. Stay overnight at Ghangharia. We knew there wont be many flowers there, but this was the only time available to us.
18th: Hemkund Sahib and back to Ghangharia. Stay overnight at Ghangharia.
19th: Start trekking back from Ghangharia to Govindghat. Reach by 11 am and take a shared taxi to Badrinath/Mana. We’ll visit the temple but main interest in mana and vasundhara falls. May or may not go to vasundhara fall on same day depending on level of tiredness. Overnight stay in badrinath/mana area.
20th: Spend day at Mana village, go to Vasundhara falls and a few kilometers beyond. Overnight stay in badrinath/mana area.
21st: Start for Chopta via Gopeshwar/chamoli around 7:00 am and reach chopta by 1:00 or so. Trek up to Tungnath on same day and stay there overnight at a prearranged accomodation.
22nd: Trek up to chandrashila to watch the sunrise. And spend the day exploring the area. Come down to chopta
23rd: Start for haridwar early in the morning and reach by evening. Catch an overnight bus/train to Delhi.
24th: Flight for Pune at 8:30 am.
What really happened…
On 15th morning, we started from Haridwar at around 7:30-8 and reached Joshimath at around 6 pm in the evening (prepaid taxi charged Rs. 4800). We saw a lot of rafting camps around Rishikesh, made a stop for Lichis and aloo paranthas, saw the river following us and reached Joshimath around 6:00 pm. It had started drizzling around 4:00 pm but the roads were fine. We were not worried. Light rains are the norm in June. However in a few hours, the drizzle had turned into a downpour. It was raining really hard and we were only a little concerned. We thought, the rain will stop by morning. But it got worse…
Time for a break from the morbid tone of this post. We saw some beautiful sights on our way to Joshimath. Here is a glimpse:
It was raining, our shoes were wet and a bit muddy so we took them off outside the one room cottage we had hired. When we came out for dinner at 8 30 pm, one shoe of mine was missing. We looked around the cottage but their was no sign of the shoe. We were upset. Losing a shoe meant unnecessary delay. We wouldn’t be able to leave early the next morning. We would have to wait for the market to open, buy a new pair of shoes and then proceed to Govindghat.
The next morning, we got up to discover that the rain had not let up. We waited till 9 30 am and then proceeded to the market which was some 3 kms away. I was wearing bathroom slippers, it was still raining hard, water was gushing down the slopes and it was bitterly cold. Within 10 minutes we were drenched. However, by 10 30 am we managed to buy a pair of shoes, some extra towels and raincoat pant-suits. Then we hired a taxi to take us back to the cottage.
We thought we were all set to proceed to Govindghat. However, our family had advised us that it would be better to start for Govindghat the next day as the rain and visibility become worse in the hills as the day proceeds. We were in a dilemma. The taxi driver asked us about our plans and soon became ready to ferry us to Govindghat, at 5: 30 am the next morning. Just as our ride was coming to an end, he added cryptically, ‘but you wont be able to reach Ghangharia because a critical bridge got washed away last night.’ He said it would take atleast 3-4 days for that bridge to be repaired.
By evening, we were still hopeful and were making plans to go to Badrinath or Chopta directly. And soon news started poring in. There were reports of land slides and road blockages between Joshimath and Badrinath. A 50 m segment of road between Joshimath and Chamoli had just slid off. The multi-story parking lot with a helipad on top was washed away in the rain along with many vehicles, a helicopter and people who had taken shelter in the lot. The nalla which runs along the trekking path from Govindghat to Ghangharia had turned into a roaring river fed by the rain and silt, flowing over the trekking path at a number of places . People were stuck without food, water or accomodations. Opportunists were selling packaged water and biscuits at 100x, 200x times the mrp. There were reports of lootings, people stranded at dam construction sights for days and entire villages swept away. A glacial lake above Kedarnath burst, sweeping away an entire market and hundreds of people toiling towards the temple.
There was no road to get away. We were stuck at Joshimath. There was no way out. We were stuck in the room, but we were warm, fed and had electricity most of the time. Needless to say we were mostly glued to the news channels. It rained continuously till 18th afternoon. Then we went to the taxi stands and bus stops to enquire about the road conditions and find a way out of the hills.
The army was assisting in rescue operations. Hundreds upon hundreds of people were brought to Joshimath from nearby areas. However, there was no arrangement from the government’s side to ferry people out of Joshimath. People were protesting on the roads, holding dharnas and shouting slogans to be let out. The available taxis and buses filled in so fast that majority of the families with children and old people would be left standing.
We searched for hours and returned again the next day to look for a vehicle. We found a private taxi which charged us Rs. 12000 to take us to the plains. While returning we could not help but notice how different the landscape looked. Where we had seen houses, hotels and schools extending into the valley on our way up, there was nothing but a deep void filled with rubble and mud left by the gushing water. We took a different route from Pauri onwards, towards Kotdwar from where we went to Delhi.
P.S. We think that a dog was responsible for the missing shoe. But we never found the shoe, even after it stopped raining. If the shoe wasn’t lost we would have proceeded to Govindghat that very morning when the rain swept away the parking lot and bridges. Maybe it was divine providence…