A Perfect Road Trip and Much More

It was a trip to Kedarnath-Badrinath, during the third week of May, 2013, by road from Delhi, in a 12-seater vehicle, that was just right for our group of 10.

A visit to hill towns on the lap of high mountain ranges, especially the Himalayan range, has always been very humbling for me, and I guess, is so for most other tourists! And every time, I have come back a changed person – at least with a deflated ego and a huge sense of gratitude as well as wonderment. Nature simply overpowers! One feels so tiny and meek in front of the many faces of Nature’s mighty expanse – the towering peaks, scenic yet mystical forests, flora and fauna! One simply can have nothing other than a surging feeling of reverence – towards Nature and the Supreme Power.

The first thing that strikes me, as soon as I leave the plain terrains and take to the treacherously tortuous ghat roads up the mountain, is fear. Yes, FEAR !! Especially, if one is seated at the back  side-facing seats, from where you can really see the valley and the gorges and the river flowing miles down, as your car moves up. I almost lose a heart beat at every bend on these winding, narrow or not-enough-wide ghat roads on many stretches. It feels as if, here we dive straight down the mountain. Well, it used to happen during my first-ever trip to Manali. Once you keep travelling through these roads, you get used to it, plus it does not always happen actually with seasoned drivers-on-steering and one eventually courses on, negotiating numerous such blind turns and bends, that too, with traffic moving from both sides, so that many a times on your turns, you are virtually on the edge of the winding road(from where you can fall off at the slightest miscalculation!!)  So, though fear is the first emotion to grab one, slowly one gets over it, I believe, through a deeply honest prayer and complete surrender to the Almighty – at least because you simply have no other option but to keep going up, and at best, because you are a believer in God and love Nature, too.( otherwise, why would you choose such destinations in the first place?) Nature starts casting her spell through her spectacular beauty!!

Speaking of me personally, my fear gives way very soon to some other profound realization, too, that leaves no more space in my mind for fear; though it must be still coursing somewhere deeper down, I do not know.  Firstly, it sobers me down – how infinitesimal a human being is in the supreme order of things that we call the Universe ! Virtually with no control over ourselves, should Nature plan otherwise about our existence- notwithstanding all our limitless knowledge and abilities to tame Nature and our actual success in this endeavour so far!! You simply cannot but feel the surges of infinitely humbling emotions that make you consciously aware of the existence of some Supreme Power, much beyond your comprehension,that you can only surrender to!!

 Ironically, another overwhelming emotion that gets stirred up almost simultaneously in juxtaposition, is a legitimate pride in being a human being – truly, the highest creation of the Supreme Creator. How else would you explain the indomitable “human spirit”?  The realization dawns, yes, God, or by whatever name we refer to the Supreme Power) has created this Universe which is rather unfathomable to any of HIS creations, but certainly, HE has blessed the human species with the ability to comprehend and conquer, ability to make choices with a free and intelligent mind, using all the faculties and intellect gifted to him by his Creator.  All the civilisations and material progress that we have been enjoying till today are landmarks on humankind’s march towards comprehending the incomprehensible Nature and direct Her resources to benefit the human race.  Of course, it is an altogether different issue, whether man has been prudent enough with all its choices about ‘how to use’ Nature.  Goes without saying, in recent days, and all throughout history of human civilisations, Nature has indeed unleashed her fury to make the mankind introspect. We are failing ourselves if we are not picking up the cues, signals and lessons from these devastating natural calamities!

The news, a few weeks later, of Nature’s fury and devastations caused by cloud burst, massive rains and flood around Kedarnath & Badrinath in Uttarakhand during the previous weekend shocked me. The visuals coming on TV channels were simply heart-wrenching. Kedarnath shrine virtually washed away, barring the original small temple  submerged under 6 ft high sludge till cleared later; 6000 pilgrims stranded there, 15000 stranded along way to Badrinath alone; 60 villages washed away, numerous buildings on the bank of the river collapsed, umpteen number of roads and bridges had caved in; thousands were feared dead, , 70000 stranded/missing; Army, Airforce, police, paramilitary – all busy in relief & rescue work, yet  weather, disruption of all communication links via roads and limited capacity of choppers to air-lift people adding to their already massive challenges!!! Kedarnath declared closed for one year now.

Bone-chilling, to say the least!

Are these the same places that we had visited and enjoyed barely a few weeks ago ? Yes, less than a month prior to the dooms day, I and my sister had toured these places along with her friend, friend’s son and uncles and aunts in the age group of 60-70 years. We had hired an AC Traveller Tempo – a 12 seater, good enough for our group of 10, for covering the entire route from Delhi till Badrinath and back- excepting that we had taken chopper service from Phata to Kedarnath, instead of taking the mountain route of about 14 km that most walk up. A special  consideration for the elderly amongst us. Though later, to our amazement and amusement, the elderly actually turned out to be the most sportive and adventurous!!

Spectacular scenic beauty apart, a trip to Kedarnath-Badrinath brings with it an experience of a lifetime at physical, emotional and spiritual level for each. For us, it was much more!! It showed me a truly beautiful face of “acceptance” and the miracle it unfolds!!

We had amongst us a mother and her 17 year old son, who is autistic. Looking back, I see that the entire group was blessed, because we had the blessed company of this pure soul.

Our journey by a 12-seater Tata Traveller tempo commenced from Delhi quite on schedule – around 6.30 am in the morning on a warm Sunday in mid-May. All of us were to gather at a meeting point. When I and my sister reached there, 6 from the group had already arrived-including a smart looking, handsome boy of about 16-17 years of age, in bright yellow baniyan and wearing a lovely smile. By the time the introductions got over, the others also arrived and we started on our way to Rishikesh – our first night halt.

After about 3 hours’ journey, which saw us opening up slowly to one another through chit-chatting, we halted at a restaurant called Cheetah on the highway. We were in for our first dose of entertainment – in placing order for breakfast. 10 different things for 10 of us! Well, not exactly as many different choices. But it was real fun observing how some of us would order diametrically opposite things – like Maasiji would have no chilli at all, while auntyji must have lots of green chilli in the dish, while others would like to have it ‘normally’ spiced – whatever that meant! It was also great fun to observe how multiple voices would confuse the poor bearer, till Mamaji finally would take charge, consolidate and finalise the order. Finalise?????? Oh, No! The ordering was never final even at that stage; Mamaji would yell back that bearer at least 3-4 more times to change order before the latter perhaps chooses to vanish!

This humourous ordering pattern became the routine as we continued, at times with some more punches of absolute entertainment when Mamiji would brush aside Mamaji in complete dismissal and would make the final order. Mamaji would pull a long face with the announcement that he would not get into this the next time. But the “next” time never came. He was our last saviour everytime we entered a cafe. I was teasing myself : “Look, what were you thinking when you first saw him at the meeting point? A grey-haired, old uncle in shorts, who might have to be taken care of!!”  As I look back, I find him such an endearing, courageous, able and extremely helping person!! What would have happened to us if Mamaji weren’t with us during those 4-hour ordeal on our return journey ??

My sister’s friend, Dr Geeta, a doctor in the same hospital in which my sister works, was, in fact the arranger of this trip. She wanted to take her 17 year old son, who is very special, to the sacred dhams of Kedarnath and Badrinath, both for pilgrimage as well as sight seeing. She is a great mother and a hugely courageous and positive person.  I would say, meeting persons like Dr Geeta, her son Angad and  Deepak Mamaji during this trip has been the greatest take-back for me from this one-week tour. Each of the others has a heart of gold, too and I truly enjoyed their company. There was a lot to learn from each of the rest, too. But the most indelible marks have been left by the mother-son-uncle trio, as being with them, I could vividly experience my renewed faith in the divine design and the boundless grace of God! The futility of doubt in God’s power to heal and make miracles happen! The pointlessness of trying to explain why something good or bad happens to anyone and the wisdom in accepting as is and putting our soul into making the best of what comes our way!

I had earlier heard a bit from my sister about Angad ; but had never imagined he would touch my heart to such an extent. No it is not pity, nor compassion for an autistic child. It is pure love and unqualified admiration for his talents. It is said, seeing is believing. Staying together for a stretch of time under uncertain circumstances makes you know and understand the real person in others to a great extent.  Initially, it was his bright smile all along that captivated my heart. As we progressed, I observed how obedient he is to his mother and that was very comforting. In fact, the second day, we were sitting together in the evening on the terrace at Rampur guesthouse, after all returned from a trek down to River Mandakini. Angad had also walked down and came up along with others. By then, I had seen him for two whole days, during which I had seen him calm, fully obedient, causing no problem whatsoever in matters of eating or roaming or anything else. Plus, by then, we had also witnessed his extra-ordinary talent for singing and memorizing lyrics flawlessly!!That too,, without understanding the meaning of any of that! I was especially wonder-struck, when he recited “Amrit Bani” flawlessly from memory – a long devotional poem of endless verses, while all else were holding the booklet for reference. He was reciting from memory as he cannot read this. We all were totally dumbfounded.  It is God’s grace and his mother’s dedication- I would call it her ‘tapasya’!

Yeah.. so when we were sitting there on the terrace, I mentioned to Dr Geeta about how nice, disciplined and talented I found Angad to be. She responded, “Yes, ordinarily he is a darling and does not give much trouble. But when he snaps, he just snaps!” I did not understand much then what it means to snap.

As we spent more time together, I started understanding a bit of the real problem faced by such children.  Autistic children are slow learners and cannot communicate properly what they want to convey. And there lies the challenge! As they grow up, and their need to express increases, they tend to become snappy, angry and at times violent when they fail to express. The good thing is, they can learn provided you devote time patiently and use special techniques for training them. What is more, these children usually possess some specific talent in abundance. Your challenge as parents and care-givers is to identify that and encourage that, just as Angad has a great singing talent with an amazing memory for lyrics. Hats off to her mother in particular, and others in the family – Angad gets to groom and bulid on his talent. His mother explained: every day, she sings Amrit vani and Angad sings along. Similarly, she makes him listen to chosen songs on YouTube again and again, and he picks up. She makes him remember things by regular and repetitive practice. Patience is the watch word! It takes a lot of faith and unconditional love to inculcate in oneself that kind of patience in handling and guiding these children. The more I saw and knew about how Dr Geeta handles all this, together with her job as a doctor, the more I started admiring her.

The most challenging part about a mother of such a child is perhaps trusting the child’s ability and letting him do certain things on his own. We all pick up life skills only when parents let us come out of their parental shield. But with a special child, parents- especially a mother- would tend to be extra protective. But true courage lies in not shielding to the point of choking. Hats off to Dr Geeta! She has been raising Angad in a manner that is simply exemplary. She makes it a point to take him to all sorts of places – for touring, pilgrimage, adventure, social gatherings…..everywhere just as one would take a so called normal child!! She trusts, hence he becomes trust worthy. There is something else I admire Dr Geeta for. You would not observe even a trace of embarrassment or stress in her face when she moves around with her son in public, or even when she knows that people have already noticed something strange about her son.  A great lesson there! She has accepted her child as he is and makes her best of efforts in the situation. Most of the times, it is the parents who, at the heart of their hearts, cannot accept a differently abled child, thereby becoming the worst impediment to the special child’s development and emotional growth. Your vibrations, when you do not “accept” someone as they are, does all the damages, and leaves you wondering, “ Oh..why nothing is changing for better even if I am doing so much ?”. Doing things without first accepting the ‘as is’ and believing that it can get better with conscious efforts becomes self-sabotaging and leads to precious nothing. This is something we all must always understand virtually in every context. There are some others, who bring in the theory of Karmic Debt and unnecessarily try to explain why something “bad” happens to anyone, although nobody can ever tell what is bad and what is good, ultimately!

The best way to understand this is to know that sometimes, God just checks on us to see how much we trust in HIS grace, justice and powers; and in ourselves, our own innate goodness and strength!! Special children are in fact the angels sent by HIM – to test us, to challenge us only to make us stronger and better human beings. These angel kids require more love, more care and more understanding than any other so-called normal child. When accepted with open hearts, without doubting God’s incomprehensible powers for healing and miracles, miracles do happen! My beliefs got reinforced: God gifts these challenges only to a chosen few who, HE knows, have the courage to accept such challenge! To the people who believe that if HE brings you to it, then HE will bring you through it!! Ultimately, it is your belief in yourself that gets activated and strengthened. Then who gains??????

I also believe in Karma, but I try to remember only the present karma. That accumulated bad karma of previous births brings sufferings in current life as a “punishment” is a theory that I trash. Because it does not gel with a concept of God who is full of love, kindness and mercy. Karma is reformative and transformative, not punitive. My belief is simple. We earn karma every moment in life. The more the challenges in our life, the more the opportunities the Universe/God has blessed us with to earn more of good karma. If we take these challenges in our stride with courage, conviction and good-hearted action, we will add to our good karma and would move towards getting deliverance from a negative karmic cycle, if any, sooner. The best reason for doing good is perhaps that it feels good…….forget about all other things!

The right aspect to explain, therefore, is not ‘why do bad things happen to some’, but ‘what does a good and courageous person do when faced with something bad or challenging”.

Yes, God chooses special messengers to deliver special messages – of courage, dedication and surrender to the Almighty as you go about doing your job impeccably with love, peace and harmony.

Coming back to our road trip, it went on really well, all of us enjoying every bit of it, including one another’s company that brought out so many interesting facets of each of us. The scenic beauty of the Himalayan range as we coursed along the gorgeous rivers – Ganga, known by different names at different points, needs no mention. Sheerly captivating and engaging! To add to it, I still relish the memories of having aloo ka parathan on way virtually everyday ( told myself I have had these for a lifetime…never going to have again once I return….LOL!), the fresh cucumbers and watermelons in hot daytimes, the pokodas in the evenings and the hot and yummy suppers just when you start feeling the hunger pangs !  But I will mention two specific experiences, that sort of have got etched out in my permanent memory.

Firstly, it was the flight by chopper from  Phata to Kedarnath, instead of walking about 14 km up the mountainous terrain. There were a lot of dislocations and confusions regarding whether or not the choppers were flying that day due to some local bandh by the priests of Kedarnath or something, even after booking the tickets; which helicopter to board ( in fact, we boarded one, then were told this one needed re-fuelling, so go board another, then again told to stay back…. one can imagine our apprehensions and disappointments then!) All confusions and delay notwithstanding, it was a fabulous feeling when our chopper actually took off. Words would always fall short to describe the captivating experience of flying literally through the Himalayas, looking at the breathtaking mountain ranges, lush green forests around, river flowing down and images of settlements below …….!  In our chopper, we were 5 of us from our group – I, my sister, Dr Geeta, Angad and Mausaji. All of us, including Angad, were soaking in the experience, as if.  It was a short, sweet and smooth flight of a few minutes, but springs back to memory with a jerk ( Ohh… what could have happened to us , had Angad got scared!) when we look back at it in contrast to what happened later with Angad on our return journey.

Everything was fine till we were on our way back to Rishikesh. Dr Geeta started talking about her plan to go for rafting on the way back to Rishikesh the following day. She had good contacts who could have arranged for it. The suggestion was welcome; but we wanted to be sure that Angad would not have any problem with rafting. Dr Geeta was confident that he would enjoy it, as he had enjoyed it earlier once during their stay with her parents. Or rather she thought he had ‘enjoyed’ rafting the first time! We decided that those who do not go for rafting, like badi Mamiji, Santosh aunty etc. would carry on with the journey in the vehicle and make themselves comfortable in the hotel at Rishikesh; while we – Dr Geeta, Angad, Mamaji, Mamiji, Mausaji, my sister & me – would go for rafting and then join the rest at Rishikesh hotel in the evening. That evening, Dr Geeta started “talking” to Angad to mentally prepare him for the rafting next day and how much he would enjoy it just like the last time. As we got to know later, Angad had not slept well that night and had actually showed recurring signs of anxiety through the night and also in the morning. Dr Geeta actually had not been able to figure this out then.

As planned, once we started our journey, Dr Geeta called up her contact and told him to arrange for everything. We all then got immersed in excitedly chatting about it. Slowly, Angad started showing signs of getting restless… Suddenly he would say “ Rishikesh”” Rishikesh” and would start jumping off his seat , or lightly push someone in front. Dr Geeta and some others would start pacifying him, saying , “ Yes… we are going to raft. Would not Angad like rafting? “  etc.etc.  But things started getting serious soon …and risky, as it could have been quite sudden and unsettling for the driver, for the vehicle running on full speed on ghat road with dangerous bends over a ferociously flowing River Ganga! It was also quite visible that Angad was gaining strength physically and had started becoming violent with each push becoming a shove. Mamaji & Mausaji, the two other males in the group had to keep him physically pinned down on Mamaji’s lap. By this time, everyone had come to realise that it was anxiety… Angad was actually scared about rafting; that he never enjoyed it the first time. So in anticipation, he had already become stressed since the previous evening, but was unable to express himself. Dr Geeta immediately called up her friend and cancelled the rafting plan, in a voice audible enough to Angad and then started convincing him that we were not going for it. It took time to sink in for Angad; but after quite some time, he seemed like cooling down slowly…….

What an experience! But believe me, it was not fear for ourselves, though the risk of a fatal accident was staring us in our face. It was a kind of flowing love for a helpless child then and a prayer to the Almighty for His grace,  that was all in our minds. God is great. We reached safe. The first thing Dr Geeta did was to let Angad have a glass of water and get relaxed. It was only there, after we actually reached the hotel in Rishikesh, that we could see a calm, relaxed, but really drained out Angad, now actually believing that the ordeal was over! My heart went out to him, and Dr Geeta, Deepak mamaji and Mausaji.  And my heart also felt abundantly grateful to the driver of our vehicle, who maintained his calm in the face of real provocations and steered us all to safety! Yes, hardships during journeys reinforce our trust in other human beings as well.

It was for me an experience of nothing less than a miracle. A miracle that unfolds when we radiate only pure love and do our best with unwavering faith in God and best wishes of others around us.

Finally, we reached back Delhi after a rough time in traffic. It felt it was all so wonderful! And it was all so worthwhile.

When after precisely 3 weeks, we heard about the Uttarakhand cloud burst tragedy, we knew, how blessed we had been! For me, it was a road trip that could not have been more enjoyable, more enlightening and more humbling! While I enjoyed the lighter moments with all and thank God for giving me this opportunity to visit these holy shrines and other beautiful places, I also got back a changed, wiser and humbler person, meeting some beautiful souls and picking up a lot many insights on larger issues of life.

A perfect road trip, indeed! And so much more!!!!!!!