“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury
I was lucky. Having experienced my first trip as early as the fourth year of my life. This was the first trip of my life. And thanks to my parents and grandparents to have organized this wonderful first trip that gave me the first awesome travel experience. So much so that I have been bitten by the travel bug since then. It was a wonderful family trip. Even while I was so small at the time of this first trip, there are scenes from the trip, clearly imprinted in my mind, forever. Truly, travel touches everyone deeply. And the first trip is always so special.
This is where it all started
Both my maternal and paternal grandfathers had retired a couple of years back. And they were willing to celebrate it with a grand trip. This was to be a trip to the pilgrimage places of north India, high up in the Himalayas. It included halts at destinations like Gorakhpur, Dev Prayag, Rudra Prayag, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Rishikesh and Haridwar. Although I don’t remember the exact sequence of events and destinations that we took, I do remember a lot of stuff. They must have made a deep mark on my baby brain. So, coming back to the point, my grandparents materialized my first trip. And it included a whole bunch of relatives – maternal and paternal uncles and aunts, parents, grandparents. Amongst them all, I was the only child, apart from my 10 months old cousin. So, definitely I got a lot of attention through the first trip of my life.
The first day of the first trip
Drama before the departure
As was planned, we all gathered at my maternal grandparent’s home because it was a stone’s throw away from the railway station. And almost half an hour before the arrival of the train at the platform, we started to gather our bags and head off to the station. But alas, grandma had lost the keys to the house somewhere during her frantic packing! Everyone was alerted to look for the keys. As the clock was ticking, everyone was getting tense about missing the train. I could as well feel the tension. After all, it was my first trip and also my first train journey experience and I didn’t want to miss it at any cost. (Later I came to know my grandma was famed to miss her keys at the last moment!!)
Finally we started unpacking the luggage and there the key was, inside one of the beddings that she had just finished rolling in the last moment. After a round of passing on the blame from one person to another for the loss of the key, everyone stepped out for the railway station. The train was just starting to leave the platform when we arrived. The ladies and the kid (myself) was pushed up the train and then the luggages came next. I almost panicked seeing my father and uncles running on the platform, parallel to the train, ensuring all luggage was on-boarded, before they boarded the train themselves. I had almost believed they were going to miss.
Finally, we all boarded and settled in our seats. I liked the rhythmic journey of the train. And I liked hopping from one compartment to the other conveniently as almost half the coach was occupied by our extended family only. Somewhere in the middle of the night, we finally reached the first destination of my first trip – Gorakhpur.
Gorakhpur was then a small town. It is located on the banks of Rapti river. And it is a part of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. The city is home to the famous Gorakhnath temple. Two things I remember precisely from our short overnight stay at Gorakhpur –
- We took almost 20 rickshaws to commute from the railway station to the dharmshala of Gorakhnath temple. It was like a chain of Rickshaws parading through the middle of the night.
- In the temple there is a massive clock. It strikes (or rather bangs) loudly every hour to mark the time. I couldn’t sleep peacefully almost all through the night because of the sound and the change of place. I remember that sound clearly even today.
From Gorakhpur, at some point, we traveled to Gangotri. Maybe we halted on the way at couple of places, I don’t remember that clearly. Gangotri is a town in the Uttarkashi district in the state of Uttarakhand (then Uttar Pradesh). It is a hindu pilgrimage that lies on the bank of holy river Bhagirathi. The holy river Ganga is believed to originate from the foothills of Himalayas at Gangotri. The water here is extremely cold.
The one scene that I remember is when everyone was getting ready to take a dip into the holy water, braving through the cold. The part of body which went inside the water immediately got numb due to the cold. My maternal grandfather went in to take a dip. However, upon coming out he realized his false tooth were washed away in the river. A never to be beaten spirit that he was, he said merrily – “Chalo arpit kar dia Ganga me” (meaning, let it go, I presented it to the river).
Yamunotri is yet another Hindu pilgrimage town, located in Garhwal in the upper himalayas. It is the source of origin of holy river Yamuna .. the tributary of Ganga. When we visited Yamunotri years back, the roads were not tarred and the path used to pass through dense forest. There were no fencing, no proper roads, no mobile networks, no means of taking a vehicle up the mountain. And it was a steep climb of 13 kilometers. A few incidences that I remember from the Yamunotri trip are
Incidences close to heart
- Along the way, upon getting tired, some of us opened a pack of biscuit and sat below a tree to eat it. Suddenly, a wild dog appeared. Then another, and yet another. Soon we were surrounded by packs of wild dogs who wanted all our food supply. We, all ladies, and a child (of course myself) were deeply horrified. That is when a local appeared from somewhere, to our rescue. He told us to start shouting loudly, anything. That finally scared the dogs off.
- Everyone had got extremely tired in the last stretch of the trek. So, we decided to hire mules and horses for rest of the journey. However, it was difficult to tame these animals, for inexperienced people like us, across the mountain terrain. They often used to run here and there. I was so horrified sitting on the back of one of these creatures, along with my mom. So, I made all possible excuses that someone will get me down, but alas, no one did. At the same time, my aunt seemed to have got lucky with her extremely friendly mule named ” Basanti” who gave her a pleasant ride through the trip
- Upon reaching Yamunotri, we slept in a dormitory. I woke up multiple times at the night due to thirst. But I couldn’t sip more than a single sip of water, it was so bitterly cold. Next day morning, as we got down into the courtyard to get some water, there was none. Because the water had frozen into the pipes!!
Badrinath is a holy town in the chamoli district of Uttarakhand. It is one among the four important pilgrimage of Hindu in India, the Char Dham. Badrinath was established as a main pilgrimage by Adi Shankaracharya. We visited here as well as a part of this trip. However, it was a quiet and smoothly sailing trip.
Next, we headed to Kedarnath. Kedarnath is a holy town in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand. It gets it’s name from the Kedarnath Temple. It is located at the head of the river Mandakini and is flanted by snow covered peaks.
However, after an exhausting experience of the Yamunotri trek, some of us decided to stay back while others headed to Kedarnath. Among the one who stayed were my uncle and aunt who had to take care of my 10 months old cousin, and needed a break. My paternal grandpa who was exhausted, and myself who was terrified. Although I totally enjoyed my stay with grandpa whereas my parents went ahead to visit Kedarnath. There was a small shop at the first level of our homestay. I made grandpa buy me chocolates from there all the days that we spent there. And he complied thinking he had to keep me happy since my parents were not around. (Children are so smart , so was I 😉 )
Next we headed to Haridwar. It is a holy district in Uttarakkhand where the river Ganga leaves the mountains and enters the planes for the first time. The force of the river is incredible at this place. Haridwar is regarded as one of the holiest places for hindus. The famous Kumbh Mela is celebrated here every 12 years. Har ki Pauri (Literally meaning footsteps of God) is one of the most famous Ghats in Haridwar.
I guess for some reason, of all the places that I visited in this trip, Haridwar remained closest to my child heart for some reason. Here are the things and incidences that I recall from this place, which left a mark somewhere.
Incidences from Haridwar
- Our dharmlsala (resort) , Jaipuriya , was located right on the banks of the river Ganga. A provision was made on the back side of the hotel for people to take dip in the holy water and take bath. Myself, too afraid of getting into the water, used to sit on the bank and take a bath while all my relatives and parent went inside the water. Everyone tried to first encourage and then ridicule me in order to provoke me to get into water , but to no avail.
- The food that was prepared in the restaurant was first offered to God and then all the guests were invited to eat. I was very hungry one day. So my mom went to the kitchen with me to enquire about the food timing. The priest replied “Although the food has not been offered to God, but a child is a form of God himself. So, we must not make her wait for food”. Though I was too small to understand the depth of his words, his kindness and wisdom did touch me.
- I loved the narrow lanes of Haridwar , the evening that we spent at Har Ki Pauri floating diyas in the holy water, the small stuff that we bought and once in a while when I sat with my mom and aunts on the bank of the river, dipping my legs in the water.
Yet another holy district in the foothills of Himalayas, Rishikesh was our next stop. All I remember from this place is the calmness of the same river Ganga which was so forceful in Haridwar. The river spreads it’s banks in Rishikesh so much so that standing on one side, you can’t see the other. The place was very offbeat and un commercialized when we visited. And one of my fondest memories is a walk across the Lakshman Jhoola ( A hanging bridge). I was thrilled to walk on a bridge that swayed.
Some interesting random memories
Although the rest of the memories are quiet hazy, there are some funny things that I remember from here and there along the trip:
- Perhaps at some point we had taken a group tour in a bus that took us from one destination to another. Although half of the bus was always occupied by our family only. Two of my aunts used to get travel sick badly. They used to sit on the back seat and throw up all the time, still they used to be in high spirits through the trip.
- The roads that cut across the mountains were so narrow. Two vehicles couldn’t cross at once. One had to stop to let the other pass. And the one that stopped was always on the valley side, with one tire almost into the slope of the mountain. My grandpa, terrified, used to chant every time our bus would halt like this.
- We used to sing and play song sequences through our bus ride.
- When we used to sleep in dormitories during this trip, I enjoyed a lot, sometimes sleeping besides one aunt, and sometimes another. Making everyone narrate a different story to me.
- We did use makeshift toilets, drink from broken water pipes and trek through some of the wildest path in this journey. And I still enjoyed.
- I felt astonished that they had a different cuisine and I didn’t get to eat the same stuff that I used to eat at home.
The first journey of my life was the wildest, weirdest, longest and the best. It had the thrill of not knowing where we were headed next. And it had a joy of traveling with the whole extended family. It was a trip of a lifetime, nothing like this could ever happen again. I am glad it was my first trip. Since, it gave me so much of exposure to travel at such an early stage of life. I strongly feel my first trip had a great significance in arousing the wanderlust in me. So, what was the first trip of your life? I will love to hear..
PS: Sorry for the hazy pictures. I restored them from way too old prints.