From Gangotri to Naimishaaranyam
[For the Vishnu-sahasranama Vishwa Yajna Mahotsava (VSVYM) to be held in Naimish¡ra¸yam in Kerala on 29th December 2013, the mammoth tasks of collecting water from the seven oceans and seven holy rivers, and earth from holy pilgrimage spots were on schedule. Poojya Swamiji is keen that the programme should infuse in people a note of universal oneness, respect and concern for Nature that sustains us, and reliance on the Supreme. Sri Anup Malik, Poojya Swamiji’s disciple undertook the arduous task of collecting water from Gangotri. Here is a brief description by him about the hazardous journey.]
Mail dated May 27 and Poojya Swamiji’s letter dated June 06, 2013 were the first communications I received from Ashram regarding VSVYM to be organised on Dec 29, 2013 at Naimishaaranyam (in Paralikad, Kerala), on the concluding day of the 12th Sreemad Bhaagavata Tattva Sameeksha Satram.
Immediately after receiving the instructions from Ashram regarding the collection of Sacred Earth and Holy Water from Chatur-dhaamas in Uttarakhand, we planned to visit the Dhaamas in the month of August, when monsoon generally starts receding in the Himalayas. But just a fortnight later, from 15th to 17th June, an unprecedented and unimaginable tragedy struck Uttarakhand. Though there was considerable damage in all the four valleys where the dh¡mas are situated, maximum affliction occurred in Mandakini valley, the abode of Lord Kedarnath.
Within a week’s time, the dimension and gravity of the tragedy became well known across the world. Roads choked with debris, fallen trees, severed communication network, threw everything out of gear. To make matters worse, the rains continued unabated for almost two months, making it impossible for the administration to make amends and restore normalcy in the region. The downpour had surpassed all previous records of many decades. All vestiges of modern day living - power, water, roads etc. – got disrupted. There was only chaos all over.
With Premji, Ashwiniji and Prasannaji, the issue was discussed several times and we explored various possibilities for accomplishing the task given by Poojya Swamiji. We even considered taking a chopper. But each time fresh deluge forced us to abandon all our plans. Finally we decided to take the help of local staff of the forest department of Uttarakhand for Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. The task of collecting water from Gangotri being an elaborate one, I decided to take it up myself.
Even in October, it was raining every alternate day, and as a result, the routes to Chatur-dhaamas were getting obliterated because of fresh landslides. The winter approaching fast, there was no alternative left but to make a move. Finally, I decided to leave Dehradun on 6th of October for Gangotri. It even rained on that day but owing to my busy schedule after 10th of October, I had no option. It was already late when we left Dehradun. By the time we crossed Tehri city, it became dark.
As we moved deeper into the mountains up the Bhaagirathi Valley, massive landslides gave an indication of the enormity of the catastrophe that had hit the state just 3 months back. Roads were almost non-existent. Huge landslides had blocked the roads at regular intervals. The journey became strenuous as we moved further up. As it grew darker, the journey became almost intimidating. At places, it appeared as if the entire mountain had come down. Just 30 km short of Uttarkashi, the landslides were very severe. It had rained the previous night and we could see the stones falling from above at one such site.
Without getting thwarted, we kept moving. Then suddenly at one point the vehicle got stuck in the rubble, which was full of stones and mud and at that time one stone fell from above in front of the vehicle. Surrounding air became tense. I remembered Swamiji, and asked the driver to take the vehicle a little back. After gaining some momentum, we rummaged our way through that rough patch with the vehicle wobbling and slipping obliquely. With Poojya Swamiji’s blessings, we sailed through that patch and were soon in the safe zone. We reached Uttarkashi at 8:30 in the night.
Next morning (Oct. 7), when we got up, we came to know that stones had continued to fall in that area throughout the night and the road remained blocked the entire following day for almost 20 hrs. It was by Swamiji’s grace that we had crossed that area safely and in time. We left Uttarkashi for Gangotri at 9.00 am and reached Gangotri in the afternoon. The road was again very bad and to negotiate a distance of about 100 km, it took us more than 6 hrs. En route we crossed Harsil, a small beautiful hamlet, situated on the banks of Bhaagirathi amidst magnificent Deodar trees. The sight provided some relief and after having a cup of tea there, we started again. We reached Gangotri at about 3.00 pm.
Situated at a height of about 10,000 feet, Gangotri is a small hamlet, surrounded by towering and imposing mountains on all sides. The place reverberates with the deep roaring sound of river Bhaagirathi. Serenity of the place helped in forgetting the tiredness. Darkness sets in early in Gangotri because of steep hills on all sides, so we decided to collect water and earth the next morning. We attended prayers in the evening at the Gangotri temple.
Next morning, after paying a visit to the holy shrine, we collected water and earth. We were a group of about 10 people (all local staff of the forest department) and it took us about one and a half hour to collect water in the containers by the riverside. The water containers had to be carried manually to the vehicle about 500 meters away. After collecting water, we walked another 500 meters to the north of the temple for collecting earth. After completing the task, we left Gangotri at about 3 pm. Instructions given by the Ashram regarding collection of earth and water were followed in the best possible way. Chanting the shlokas composed by Poojya Swamiji for the occasion, we felt soaked in sublimity and divinity.
Again we halted at Uttarkashi the night of 8th October and reached Dehradun on 9th evening. Entire journey, which was punctuated by unceasing landslides, was very arduous. Each time there was a rough patch to be traversed, I was making improvisations in my sitting posture. I would raise my seat by pressing my legs against the footrest area on the front seat of the vehicle, so that there was minimum load on my already vulnerable back, which had withstood the wrath of countless jerks by now during the 4 days of journey. Though physically tiring, it gave me immense sense of blessedness that I was participating in the grand Yajna being organized by Poojya Swamiji.