Tracing the path that the Pandavas and Draupadi supposedly followed on their way to heaven towards Meru Parbart. This is beyond the well-known pilgrim town of Badrinath and one needs to trek for about half a day to reach the Vasundhara Falls.
01.06.1991 - 02.06.1991 18 °C
Come summer and once again this year thousands of pilgrims will head towards the Valley of the Gods or Dev Bhoomi as the Garhwal Himalayas are popularly known locally. Most will visit all the four dhams, or pilgrimage sites, of Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. The most famous of these is the seat of Lord Badri Vishal at Badrinath as it is the most accessible of the sites. Only a few of those thousands will go beyond the temple sites to seek and enjoy what lies beyond.
All these famous pilgrim sites, set as they are in the rugged upper mountain reaches, have more than simply religion to offer. Legend has it that the Pandavas, on their journey towards Heaven, passed through the Badrinath valley. The valley has been carved out of the young mountain range by the Alaknanda, a constant companion by the side of the road after its prayag with the more famous Bhagirathi; sometimes close by, and at times frighteningly, yet tantalisingly far below. Beyond the temple site of Badrinath lies the Marcha Tibetan village of Mana where the motorable road comes to an abrupt end. The mythical indications of the Pandavas having crossed over and continued beyond are almost immediately visible if you venture beyond the temple site. High on a hill to the left of the river a ribbon of water suddenly seems to spring out of the hillside. If you do bother to enquire the name of the source, the locals will tell you that the water began to spout from there after Arjun shot a bow into the hill side to quench Draupadi’s thirst. At Mana itself is the junction of the Alaknanda with the Saraswati rivers. It is somewhere here; where exactly, is a mystery; that the Saraswati plunges underground and emerges at the Prayag near Allahabad.
In the village of Mana itself there are a few sites to be seen. One is the life of the villagers who are direct descendants of those who in the good old days maintained a trade route with the Tibetans through the Mana Pass on the border with Tibet; a gruelling three day march beyond. The other is the cave where Rishi Vyas is supposed to have written the Ramayan. The Pandavas probably passed by much before the village must have been established. A little ahead of Mana is the place where they crossed over the Saraswati river. At this point the river is actually a deep gorge with the freezing waters plunging from rock faces smoothened by aeons of polishing. It creates a tremendous roar because of the narrowness of the gorge. A huge boulder as if placed across the river by some powerful being enables the crossing. It is called Bhim Pul and a small temple dedicated to the Vayu Putra can be found immediately on crossing this makeshift bridge.
Up to this point it is relatively easy going and possible for anyone to venture up to. Mythology says that the Pandavas carried on beyond on their journey along the Alaknanda. To follow in their footsteps further on does require some amount of will power and planning. But it is well worth the effort and the relatively short one day trek can be very rewarding both physically and spiritually. Due to the proximity of the border with Tibet, it is better to obtain permission to venture beyond from the local Intelligence Bureau detachment at Mana. It is also better to start early in the day so that it is possible to return by early afternoon. Some form of refreshments and warm clothing is suggested as there is no habitation ahead of Mana. Some initial guidance should be sought for as otherwise it is quite possible to stray on to the track towards Mana Pass along the Saraswati that is used by the Army’s Garhwal SCOUTS on their patrols to that area.
The story goes that the Pandavas never completed their last journey together. Due to their having committed fratricide they are supposed to have perished one by one. Draupadi, they say, was the first to fall on the journey and she is said to have breathed her last just after having crossed the Saraswati. A small temple in her name stands here. There is no one to look after the place, but the site offers a good view of the Alaknanda disappearing below the glacier from where it emerges. Also can be seen the track as it meanders towards the Vasundhara falls where it finally ends. It is a tough 6 km trek up to the base of the water falls the top of which can be seen from here. On a bright clear day, the high altitude sky, starkly blue, with wisps of clouds being blown by the high velocity winds from the snow capped mountain tops, it is a pleasurable journey. One is advised to take it easy, especially if one is not used to walking long distances, as you are now venturing into high altitude area beyond 9,000 ft above sea level. There is no need to balk at the prospect, though, if you take it slow and steady, taking time out as often as required to enjoy the scenery.
The journey ends when you reach the base of the falls, as anything beyond is in the realms of mountaineering. The falls itself is a perpetual source of water from a rocky outcrop that keeps getting blown away by the high winds almost as soon as it starts its downward journey. In late October the area resembles the deep freezer of non-frost-free refrigerator with the sprays of water from the stream having frozen on the rocky surface. The Pandavas are supposed to have bathed here before continuing onwards. At the village of Mana, the Alaknanda valley turns to the north-west and after crossing over some seemingly impregnable ranges continues to the base of the mythical Meru Parbat. It was only Yudhistir and his faithful dog who managed to reach up to here and then ascend to heaven. For the trekker there is no life beyond the Vasundhara and after a rest it is best to begin the walk back to the village of Mana.
The best season to visit Badrinath is in the summer when the plains are burning with heat waves. The shrine opens sometime in the early part of May and this is widely reported in the newspapers. However, if you are planning to venture beyond Mana, then it is best to wait for a month or so and travel in the month of Jun as the snows are still piled up high beyond the temple site. The nearest railhead is Haridwar or Rishikesh and from then onwards it is by road. The rich come in their own cars or hire a taxi. For the hoi polloi it is the buses of the UP Roadways or the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam. One should be prepared for bad weather in the mountains as the rain Gods are very fickle minded in these rarefied areas. What begins as a bright sunny day can suddenly turn cloudy and windy with rain thrown in for good measure. The later part of September and October are highly recommended. The tourist season is over, there is less crowd but most importantly, the weather is more likely to behave itself. The down side is that it is slightly chilly at all times. But the sight of the magnificent Nilkanth peak soaring upwards just behind the temple, the crisp air, the azure blue skies, the silence of the mountains, and the satisfaction of having ventured beyond religion more than make up for the extra time and effort spent.