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Travel is Oxygen



Our trek to Kedarnath in 1983 was memorable. It was organised by my old school friend Nitant Mate. This meant that a high degree of discipline was called for. From Rishikesh, we had a truck ride to a place called Ghuttu. Our trek started from here. We went via Pawali top and Triyugi Narayan. Triyugi Narayan is an ancient temple where Shiva and Parvati got married. We reached the base of Kedarnath after may be 5 days of trekking in the Garhwal mountains. We were a small group of 5-6 college students and carried a full rucksack with not only rations but also a cooking stove and kerosene apart from rice, dal, sugar, milk powder, lemons, onions, tea powder and chocolates. Our night stays we're mostly at Baba Kali Kambliwala dharmshalas. At times we also stayed at some village homes. Barter system was quite prevalent in the remote hills at least in the 80s when we went there. Sugar and milk powder was hot currency in the barter trade. In treks in later years, I was to learn that a bottle of Old Monk was the hottest currency in the remote areas.

I must share an anecdote which left a profound impression on me. On day after a long tiring walk, we reached a Baba Kali Kambliwala dharmshalas. After we had cooked our dinner and fed our hungry stomachs, I noticed a group of sadhus huddled around a fire. They were smoking chillum. I went up to them and asked if I could join in. One of them asked - "Tum kaun ho ?" It was only after some time did I realise that I was expected to declare my caste. This woke me up to the realities of India where caste consciousness is not only deep rooted but perpetuated primarily by politicians to serve their interests.

Kedarnath climb was not easy. The route was too beautiful to feel tired. I learnt the power of faith that day when I saw crippled and one legged people climbing Kedarnath. You can only bow down. Himalayas is the place to go when your feet get off the ground.

Many years later when I saw a painting of Kedarnath by Vasudeo Kamath, I promptly bought it. It continues to be part of my collection.

Last year everything at Kedarnath got washed away in the cloudburst. The news was so shocking. Hope the rahabilitation process is really thought through and all of us need to make sure that it works out in a manner so that the new settlements are well planned.