The Yatra - An endless Song
Trip Start Aug 19, 2006
21Trip End Sep 13, 2006
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Where I stayed
Gujarati Samaj Sadan
"About forty-two miles, north-east of Almora, in a remote area across many mountains, there is a small and beautiful town called Berinag. It is on the ancient route to the holy Kailash-Mansarovar. It is the place of my birth and where I spent the wonder years of my childhood
Thus saying I am lost in a reverie. I am transported back in time to the dreamland of my glorious childhood days. I find myself in the open meadows we roamed, where we played all sort of games, splashed in the mud puddles of monsoon, in the snows of winter, and climbed trees to steal pears, peaches or plum during summer.
In deep recesses of my memory those days shine so very brightly even today, as is perhaps with everyone. Those are the indelible memories which I always cherish.
Widely known for its tea gardens and tea of unparalleled flavour and aroma, Berinag then was a picturesque place at 6000 feet with wide views of snow-clad mountains like Badrinath, Nadadevi, Nandakot, Nandaghunti, Trisul, and Panchachulhi. These peaks though several miles away, beyond many blue-silhouetted hills, seemed very close. Their silent and serene beauty chiseled by divine hands was a salve for the soul. They are full and richer with snow during winter and sparkle like diamond in the crown
In winter, I would watch the sun rise in the east everyday. Shivering in the biting cold I would try to seek its warmth. Though the early morning biting breeze took some time getting used to, I liked it stinging my cheeks. The warmth never came with flourish - only pale and dull without much sunshine and heat, but gradually as though responding to my grumblings and quivering it would shine joyously brighter. I could see the trees basking in the warmth and hear the birds sing. Every winter I eagerly waited for the snow-fall. It was so fascinating to see the snowflakes silently dancing in mid-air before landing on the ground as softly as feathers. Sometimes there was very heavy snow fall, enough for us to play with for days together and sometimes it would just kiss the ground and depart. The white spread of frost in the morning however, was always a common sight.
I recall, it still being cold when spring came knocking on Basant Panchami, and we flashed yellow hankies in welcome. As the warmth gradually spread the leaf and flower buds would hesitantly burst open, oak trees shed old yellow leaves and donned tender new foliage. Basanti (Piyuli) splashed her yellow petals in every nook and corner in the wild. The leafless peach tree wore pink blossoms. The breeze redolent with fragrances enticed bees to get busy. There was an air of excitement all around. The entire scenario looked delightfully cheerful. Birds too were excited. They sang at all times, made a cacophony in the backyard and began romancing behind the new foliage. Sunbirds with their long bills and colourful plumage hovered on flowers and stole their nectar. It was the best time to be out-door after the sever winter, to wander about and be part of this romantic scenario, sit under the shade of a tree sprouting with young pale green leaves that seemed ever playful, ever ready to smile at the slightest touch of breeze and ever enjoying their childhood in as carefree a way as childhood should be. I would be just myself and silently enjoy.
The only thing that I missed was a stream close by. The nearest one was almost five Kilometres away down the slopes. Undaunted by the distance we would trek up to it to play in its waters, swim, catch the spray of waterfall on our cheeks and watch a stray leaf flutter in its pond and observe fish scurrying past to hide under a rock at the slightest disturbance. It was always great fun, even at cost of the worried parents. We were always prepared for their scolding and even for the caning, which wasn't unusual during those days.
Rainy season was a great fun. Lie down or let go it was fun either way. You could lie in the bed and listen to the patter of raindrops on the tin roof or be in the thick of the rain and fully get wet in its shower. It rained and rained until it was water and water every where. Every depression turned into a pond, big or small. The parched earth soaked so much water that aquifers carried the water deep down for springs to sustain the ensuing year. The entire hill side would gradually turn green with velvety grass. The lush green hills with milky-white streams and water falls cascading down were a sight to see. I would watch the scene as if from atop the world, an occasional rainbow like a blossom against the backdrop of the green hills.
We were then isolated from outside world; no telephones, no telegraph facility, no radio, no electricity. And yet we were in touch with the world outside through newspaper which reached us after three or four days. We studied under the pleasant natural light or soothing light of oil lamps.
Such was the environment I grew up and that influenced my childhood.
The past is gone but fond memory is all that are left of my childhood and they linger on. To me, that is the only reality which my soul preserves, everything else is no more permanent than the oceanic waves which continuously rise, only to dissipate.
To continue the chitchat my companion enquires, "What prompted you to take up this journey!"
Rising as if from trance I respond, "well I grew up meeting yatris on their way to the Holy Kailash every summer. Sometimes I encountered strange lone hermits, like one who kept his hand up in the air all the time subjecting himself to immense endurance and penance; his hand had become very thin and looked like a wooden stick wrapped with dried leather. Then there was a Mauni Baba, who would not talk. He seemed all the while in union with the Divine. He responded to queries at a fixed time and by writing answers on a slate which he carried. Donning sack-cloth and ash over his body, he had plans to make it to Kailash. Narayan Swami also frequent passed through Berinag. I saw him once in his amber robe being carried by devotees in a palanquin. Then there were sadhus, saints, and sages of all description or groups of devout Hindus on pilgrimage to Holy Kailash.
"Whenever a group of yatris came, I along with some other children would dash to their camp in the primary school, sit quietly in a corner, watch them and listen without understanding to what they talked about. They would ignore us. This was our pastime during summer evenings. It is here that I met a great sage Swami Pranvananand on two or three occasions. Last I met him was in the summers of 1957 when I was home on holidays. He was accompanied by a large group of yatris from Bombay. As I remember him he was over six feet tall, thin, with aquiline facial features, long flowing beard and matching long tresses. He was very fast talker with resonant voice, agile and very fast walker. People were drawn to him by his magnetic personality. He had a large following and a base camp in Almora. He even carried a folding rubber boat to Mansarovar and Raksash Tal, to determine their depth. He had been visiting these places regularly following different routes. Many times he lived in this region all the year round for more than a year doing research and had collected a wealth of information.
"Even though I didn't understand what it meant to be on a pilgrimage I was fascinated and wished if I could also go with them. As a child I thought that all of them go far away beyond these snow mountains to some place on top of world to meet God who was waiting for them there. And I nursed a dream that one day when I grow up I too would go on a pilgrimage to such a Holy place to meet God."
"From then on many summers have come and gone by but I didn't forget my dream. It was always there firmly implanted in the back of my mind all the while, but appointment came through only in the summers of 2006. What I had wanted for long has finally come to fruition.
"And here I am to keep the date."