“Aa jao bhai ,aa jao apni apni samasya bata do. baad main mat kehna ki koi poochne waala nahin hai .bahut door se aaye hain,gujrat se.”
(Come on tell your problems to them. otherwise don’t complain that nobody asks u people. they have come a very distant place called Gujarat)
Are sahab kuch hota jaata to hai hi nahin ,roz koi na koi aata rehta hai
(Nothing happens, daily some or the other person comes)
Nahin is baar hoga.do sao rupai ke hotel main ruke hain.
(This time it will happen as they are staying in hotel worth 200 Rs.)
The words of Rakesh Gairola our escort and guide, still reverberates against my empty top floor. Frankly we did not have much clue as to how our presence could be of direct help to the people we were talking to. But all the same it was a learning experience for us. This learning curve was on a sure shot decline as we finished our 27th village in 15 days taking lessons in trekking in the villages and plucking out leeches from the tattered chappels.
We were supposed to be having our Sundays off during our fieldwork but here even that impudence was not desired of us. But as they say fortune favours the brave and therefore before leaving that 200 Rupai waala hotel with stinking combined toilet and putting up with loitering visitors at the next-door one-room branch office of our host organisation we had something to cheer about.
The news was that our reporting officer was to come here for some personal errand and therefore we can also stay till he goes back to work (and off-course to receive our report of some meeting we were supposed to attend) at Rishikesh. This time we were accompanied not by Gairola but Chamola. Jagdamba Prasad Chamola to be precise incidentally the first name was same as our host organisation. (Jagdamba Samiti) so we rechristened this PG in physics as chamoljee). He was on the wrong side of 20s and of stocky built.
The agenda – 5 villages in 3 days. Progress above target. With nothing else to do at day break I got into chat with somebody while looking at the Bhilangana River overflowing with melting ice.
Yahaan koi ghumne ki jagah nahin hai kya??(Isn’t there any place to roam about here.)?
Hai na saheb (There is( Masar Taal)
Immediately I took out the map of Uttaranchal and gave a valiant effort at locating it. What I found as a poor substitute was Masap Tal a lake near Sahasra taal (which anybody of with any capability in adventure tourism used to brag about at Ghansali branch-office)
We decided to move to the next village but on our way my delaying tactics convinced my companions especially Chamola that I was in no mood to be on the learning curve. So we decided to have a go at Masar Tal. (Perfectly legitimate move, as it was anyway a Sunday.)
The fellow who had given the suggestion had warned us in good faith not to go there without an escort. Our attempts at getting one failed miserably at the last village (kot) we left behind.
The trek was supposed to be a climb of 8-10 km at a degree of 45 from horizontal vision. The standard time to be taken was 5-6 hours and hence there was a chance that we could get delayed in returning so our primary worry when we started out was to get back the same day. What we did not think was the normalised score of our walking speeds which was not even half of the local Herculean.
But with faith in our hearts we embarked in the direction pointed by a chaiwala hoping to meet some shepherd enroute’. We did get one but he was returning back. But like any bad Hindi movie he gave us a rough sketch of the route on the back of my railway ticket from indore to Haridwar (reimbursement was completed long ago). The sketch was replete with springs, stones and an idol of lord Ganesha for good measure.
One word about the climate, which could not have been better. Sun was in its fullest glory with only a glimpse of black clouds towards north.
The time was one of clock and we had 7 km to go. (Shortest possible distance).
By 3 o clock all my mistaken notions of my fitness and muscularity and the lack of it in my partner had evaporated into thin air. Chamola the stocky Garhwal was leading from the front.
One mark was the barren fields after two kms but it being rainy season it was difficult to tell which places were actually barren except Chamola’s and my friends’ shining skulls dripping with sweat.After trying out three roots and number of heuristic measures we proceeded on the wrong route only to return after half an hour to the correct one.
The climate had taken a u-turn (a very characteristic feature when u are 4000 metre above sea-level). Uncle sun was nowhere to be seen and there was ample fog to screen a filmy song.
The Ganesha idol was nowhere to be seen at 5 o clock when we reached a meadow. My heart leapt out of my eyes when I saw a shepherd coming but the same object sank to its deepest depth when he told us that we were only half way thru.
The fog had now descended to cover the trek completely and it was difficult to see beyond 7-8 metres. But thankfully the trek was well trodden by god-fearing simpletons. The Ganesha idol of some medieval time presented itself at 6 o clock. Thirst and fatigue had taken their toll on all of us but I being the one most challenged in terms of stamina displayed clear signs of agony and self-directed abuse. (After all it was I who suggested this stupid move).
By the time it was 6.30 we were dripping with fog-induced sweat. The only pouch of electral cherished from the fieldwork medicine kit was the last resort. Half a spoon full was hardly sufficient for my 6’2” frame. Million thanx to Prof Chowdary and Dr. Balchandani.
My partners were busier analysing the route to look at me. From this position returning back was an unthinkable step and it seemed to be a never-ending torture. Our feet were numbed with tiredness but the sheer lollipop of getting something to eat once we reach that place was pushing us forward. I was resorting to occasionally stoppages to pluck wild strawberries no bigger than groundnuts (but tasting like heaven.)
Finally when we reached the landmark (a waterfall) I again took the lead (or rather was given it so that I won’t vanish in the fog) .At 7.30 sharp my partner gave a loud shout.
I was too mellowed to rush but still stumbled somehow to where he was standing; the fog did not allow us to see beyond 3-4 feet away. He was dumb with happiness. He picked a stone and threw it down the ridge. Splash!!!! We were there!!!!!!!!
All three of us started shouting like kids hoping that some well-meaning shepherd would take us to the dharamshala (that’s what we were told existed there)
After some time a feeble voice beckoned us to walk round the lake. The bet with Chamola to reach Masar Taal first was still in place and I flung myself full force ahead of him.
A cottage was faintly visible and I collapsed like a marathon athlete (although a fraud one) in front of it. A man standing there took our wherewithal and told us something that went like a spear through our joy.
Yahaan to sab apna bandobast karke aate hain.tumhare paas kuch hai tent wagairah.
(Here everybody brings his own paraphrenelia.do u have tent etc???)
We had only two small bags with one change to boast of.
He suggested that we check out with some sadhu living in a small temple nearby. We had thought that the worst was over but fate wanted something else from us.
The brave garhwali Chamola came forward and told us to wait till he talks with some shepherds if they could give us shelter for the night. It was 8 o clocks and the wretched forest guard had given his torch to Chamola.
If this was not enough, now it had started raining. The lake was not fully visible except for the semblance of being near a waterbody. I talked with the sadhu who directed me towards a ramshackle shed (but agreed to give us shelter in his cottage.)
Presently Chamola came and asked me. I told him what transpired between the sadhu and me. The fool that he was he had not fully negotiated the stay part but only the food.
We went to the nearby cottage with hopes of getting shelter. Now it was pouring like cats n dogs and my windsheeter proved to be useless appendage once more.
That night I would have eaten 15-20 rotis at the least estimate and for the first time in my life I realised the true marginal utility of food. The old shepherd lived with two small kids and his wife who was anywhere near 60-65 in age. My gluttony only ended partially because I was feeling ashamed and completely because my headgear (a makeshift bandana) fell into the remnant of Sabji (vegetable) left behind. I later saw small insects freely roaming about and all this while I was thinking that they were some sort of spice in the food. Anyways now I was feeling a bit better.
Since the place where we ate was actually a cowshed so we decided to take some blanket and retreat to the temple. The retreat took us half an hour and I cursed everything under the hidden sun and pouring rain.
When we entered the ramshackle shed we found that it was filled up with cow dung in some systematic manner. Only option left was to enter the sadhu who appeared to be a suspicious character. We somehow mustered courage and gave a knock at the door.
He asked us to enter. He had a long mane and a muscular body, by no chance an old person that we thought him to be. He was happy to see new faces after an interval of six months (this place as we were told is only frequented during dusshera by the localites) he directed us to a corner of his cottage, which we found to be not very different from the cottage we just left behind. But to venture into rain was something, which was impossible to do.
With heavy hearts we settled for this place to spend our nite and rued the moment when we had left the shepherds cow shed. The roof was dripping like a sieve. We somehow managed to get a dry place and collapsed on the semi-dry leaves that were to be our mattresses.
Surprisingly none of us fell asleep, partly because of the sheer tiredness and partly because we were feeling like lord Shiva with a drip irrigation system on the top.
When I woke at 4 in the morning there were sounds of heated discussion going between Chamola and the sadhu. My neck was paining like anything as I found there was a pyramid shaped pebble just underneath.
This is what I heard.
Chamola: “baba how do u manage living here.”
Baba: I don’t need anything here.
Chamola: but food
Baba: I have not eaten for 3 months.
Chamola: but why. (Shocked)
Baba: people like u don’t know about meditation
Chamola: I also practise religion.
Baba: that is nothing but fraud.
Chamola: how can u say so…?
The voice subsided after some time, as had the overnight rainfall. Chamola seemed to have gone outside.I woke up at 6 o clock again to find that baba was muttering something about true sadhna and Jap. (Meditation)I somehow gathered my tattered body and went outside.
The scene that presented itself before me brushed away all anxiety, tiredness, fear, remorse and a hundred negative passions from my mind.
Spread just outside was a lake of majestic beauty and which was surrounded by meadows spread over the horizon as far as eye could see.
On the southern side were the majestic mountains blue in their hue and which could have been a part of any picture postcard.
I took a full circle of the lake and shot as many snaps as were permissible with my meagre budget.i also realised why it was not on he tourist map.actually the lake was a result of a small dam built across the mouth of a basin.under this wall I managed to clean my soiled bandana!!!
This place hewn in majestic glory has been secluded from the human eye from time immemorial not because people don’t know about it but because of the sheer amount of effort required to reach here and the subsequent vagaries and unpredicatability of the place. As far as I could see it was just a green carpet strewn with a riot of colors, courtesy flowers of different genera. Just adjacent to the main lake were two smaller lakes serving as buffers for the main one. When I was taking a round tour just for a trifle moment uncle sun did me a great favor and there stood before me three peaks each of a different color.(green,blue and white)the green one seemed to be covered with some sort of moss,the blue one was completely rocky and the third one had still some snow on it.before I could gather my breath and camera the scene was wrenched away by merciless clouds.
The hermit told me that this place was in full sun just a day ago and last year was covered knee deep in snow. The most wonderful thing that he told me was that this place is the old trek route through which people used to go to kedarnath, via sahasratal. This sahasratal is totally devoid of any vegetation and is considered to be the only place where u get the true shilajeet (a so called panacea for all ailments.) on asking he told me that a trek of two more days will take us to that place from where kedarnath was just a stone’s throw accroding to him.i soliloquised that will I be able to lift even my eyelids once I am there what to talk of stones etc??
The sadhu took assurances from me that I will send him his snaps(which I did eventually).to my surprise when I asked him how on earth is he going to get them, he said that the shepherd come here in batches and then remain here till autumn.so he hopes to get them the same way he got from an English trekker who had come from mussorie.
Later on when I told Mr. LP Semwal(our reporting officer) about my adventure he recalled his trek to sahasratal and then recalled a night when on a similar fateful nite he and 5 of his mates were stranded under snowfall and had to lie in sheep-shed 4 feet tall (to escape the winds).
He further on added that the spirit of eco-tourism can only be upheld by people like those shepherd who offer selfless help in such times and charge only a smile for it.
I tought that just as badrinath is called uttaranchals biggest factory,these treasures should be called the biggest inventory.with this my resolve of repeated visits every year to this place got firm.
We started back at about 11 o clock for the return journey. The overnight rain had rendered all the dormant springs vibrancy and many were flowing like small rivulets.
The return journey was uneventful except for the fall I had while running down the meadow. I finally came to a halt after sliding over 12-13 feet and having a nice sensation on the lower and hind part of my body.
The scratch that I carried from here subsequently developed into a swollen ankle which made me subject of ample unwanted sympathy for the rest of my OTS and rendered me incapable of further such adventures.On our return to Rishikesh I read a headline, which said that 3 houses had collapsed on that fateful night in Dehradun city because of torrential rain.
To think of searching shelter near Masar Taal was not a bad idea after all.!!!!!!!!!!!11
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