We straightaway took off for our next halt – Auli. Thankfully it was a long journey because I slept for most of it and woke up when the loo had turned into a pleasant breeze. I rolled down the window and felt my fatigue of hours of travel dissipate in the fresh mountain air and the verdant greens on both sides of the road. It was quite filmy to see a few men speeding on their bikes on the hillside roads and Sanjay Bhaiya rambling on about how ‘pahad pe gaadi aise nahi chalaate hai’ (how that’s the wrong way to drive in the hills). It started to get darker and colder and I was now packed in my jacket, cap and had made a little igloo for myself in the car where I had spent more hours in the last 3 days than I spend in my house on a weekend.
In my half sleepy and half over-trusting state, I let Sanjay Bhaiya drive towards Joshimath, missing the turn which would’ve taken us to Auli. I saw the ETA go from 15 minutes to 50 minutes and realised something wasn’t right. We called our hotel reception who didn’t just guide us but also asked us about our dinner preference since we’d be reaching late and the kitchen would be closed by then. After going round and round about the hills, we finally reached Auli Resorts, a property which surprised me with its sheer simplicity and flowery beauty. It was a huge garden freckled with white wooden cottages with lots of daisies shining white under the moonlight.
It’s pretty cool how all these accommodations in the hilly places make reaching your room feel like a mini hike. This room, to our ecstasy, was cosy and warm with a washroom devoid of any species of insects and spiders. There was some delish Dal Makhani and Mixed Vegetable on the table and it would have been rude to make such sweet smelling food wait. After a warm and comforting bath, I was in the bed soaking up the smell of a tray full of comfort food. When I am in the hills and in the mood for some North Indian food, Dal Makhani is my happy place. It butters up a tired soul and never disappoints. We were now in bed and the alarm was set for 4 a.m. I woke up with one eye open and wishing that I had more time to sleep. I looked at the window and it was still dark outside. Is there anything harder than getting out of a fuzzy quilt on a chilly winter morning?
I really wanted to take pictures of that place with bright rays of the sun falling on the flowers and the greens outside our cottage. However, the sun was yet to rise when we started for Badrinath.
It was less than a two-hour drive to the Dham and a 1 km walk to the temple. While crossing the bridge which leads to the temple, we saw wisps of smoke emanating from the Alaknanda river, surrounding the Badrinath temple. I was enthralled to see a hot water spring around a temple which is situated at a height of 10,170 feet with a minimum temperature of 10 degree Celsius during summers.
Shielded by the two mountains Nar and Narayana on either side, Badrinath temple looks like the kind of sight they show in movies to evoke the power of a supreme force before a dingy night is struck by a life-changing occurrence. The end of the bridge is the place where the business begins. The space outside the temple is peppered with shoe caretakers and prasad sellers. One man stopped us and asked us to immediately take our shoes off and give them to him and buy prasad in exchange. We didn’t buy the prasad but left our footwear with him and ran towards the queue only to realise that the queue was way longer than what meets the eye. We watched landscapes change and people take naps on our way to the end of the queue and once again, standing in the queue became the nicest experience.The view of the verdant meadows on the right and the boiling river water on the left kept us company along with the hawkers, who had everything one might need to survive a day in that queue.
Every time I travel, my belief in the beauty of the journey being more real than the destination keeps getting firmer. From water bottles to tea to biscuits and books, I felt spoilt for choice. I bought a book about Char Dham and found the cool story behind the hot water spring being an avatar of the guilty destructive Fire which voluntarily settled as water so that people can take a dip in it and redeem their sins (paap). We reached the temple after 2 hours of wait and literally pushed ourselves inside to steal some extra time in front of Lord Vishnu’s deity as the list of prayers was slightly longer than the queue outside. We bought some prasad and coins, took the mandatory pictures and headed back to our taxi.
The next stop was the Mana village, known as the last village of India in that area, around 1 km away from the Badrinath Temple.
We walked inside the village and stopped at a dhaba. As we wait for our different formats of Maggi, we sat on the edge talking and listening to each other’s voice with no noise and no checklist on our mind. The dhaba waale bhaiya calls me to take the Maggi and advises me to sit on the chair rather than on the edge. As we sat on the edge and ate the steaming Maggi noodles, we stared at the mountains and listened to the sound of the river. At that moment, everything seemed light and right in the world.