Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A week among the mountains - the beginning.

This is the longest tour that I have ever been on. I usually over-pack. So this time, I was determined to consciously cut down on the stuff I carry. Lakshmi cautioned me about the weather we would encounter for the 9 days in the Himalayas. Sultry in Delhi (and the plains), Rain during the treks and extremely cold during the nights. This meant that I had to pack all three kinds of clothing. Luckily, I could buy a couple of dri-fit shirts just in time - that would come in handy for both sultry and rainy conditions. It is also amazing how less baggage space they need. A fleece jacket was my bet against the cold. I took the US made poncho to shield me from the imminent rain. Since Lakshmi-Karthik duo had taken care of all the travel and lodging headache, this was all the preparation that I had to do.

Travel booked before hand
Air: Bangalore - Delhi - Bangalore (JetLite) - Rs 5375/- one way.
Train: Delhi - Haridwar (Shatabdhi) Rs 435/-
Haridwar - Delhi (Jana Shatabdhi) Rs 345/-


Gharwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd. (GMVN) Customized tour.
Three rooms at all night halt places of the tour.

Local Travel:

Rishikesh -> Joshimath -> Badrinath -> Joshimath -> Haridwar Qualis + Driver: Rs 48000/-

Day 0: The eclipse, the rain and the flight.
August 1, 2008. It is the day of the partial Solar Eclipse. Little did we know about this celestial event when we planned the trip. It took a lot less convincing than I had expected for my mother to let me embark on a long journey during the eclipse. Our Flight was at 8:40 PM. To be traffic safe, I reached the Malleswaram Bus Stand as early as 3:30PM. AC buses ply the route to airport (new) every half hour. The airport shuttle pulled in to the bus-stand. Vayu Vajra - as the shuttle is called, is very usable. Traveling to the airport is reduced to just walking/driving up to the nearest pickup point. The routes are all so arranged that one can not be living more than a couple of Kms away from some pickup point or the other. Once in side the bus, there is ample luggage carriers. The crew is courteous. I got in... paid Rs125/- and went into a pleasant sleep.

An hour later, we were at the airport. I was seeing it for the first time. I sat down near the huge suitcase, wondering if it were Bangalore's way of telling "No baggage limits here!!". Later the ladies of the group enlighten me that it is a Louis Vuitton creation - and this dude is the Giorgio Armani of bags. In the airport store, there are handbags worth Rs25000/- that are no larger than a laptop case. Clearly, how much can one pack inside a bag is no longer a parameter that contributes the pricing.

I met the rest of the tour gang at the Coffee day outlet. Along with them, I met their cameras - Canon 10D, Canon 40D, NiKon XYZ, Olympus ABC and two more high end point and shoot cousins from the Canon stable. My 5 year old Canon A60 felt like the hopeless ugly duckling ;-(. Quick 'hi-hellos', Lazy snacks at the Gangotri, and Cafe Coffee Day and we were ready to board the flight. Oops, before that we had to go through a thorough security check. Glad to see that even a small blade in the first aid kit also got caught by the system. Kumar had his name put down as an potential miscreant trying to smuggle a murderous weapon on board a 300 seater passenger air-craft. Guess he will be double checked at every airport from now... he he he.

On board the JetLite, we were served the crappiest snacks in the airline history. Yesterday's dosa would have been warmer than the veg-hot-dog sandwich. Raisin Muffin (or a look-alike) is best left unimagined. Luckily the rest of the flight was event less. We touched down in Delhi way past the business hours of restaurants. Given the choice of spending the night at the airport or the railway station, we chose the later. Delhi airport is being renovated after GMR took over. If I judge their work by generalizing what they have done with the loo, they are doing a fabulous job. Aesthetically pleasing, clean, economic (in using water) and bright. Once we got all bags huddled to one corner, I slipped into a uncomfortable sleep... Often woken up by highly (awkwardly) accented voice reminding that unattended baggage will be taken away "at owner's risk".

At 4:30 on the next day, Karthik woke us up. Time to catch the train. Pre-paid taxis are available outside the airport to shuttle us to the DLS - New Delhi Station. For some reason, Lakshmi kept reminding us that it was New Delhi Station and not Hazrat Nizamuddin. I was not sure of her mood and hence refrained from investigating further. Delhi sign posts flaunt the purest hindi possible. "Bhoomigat paad paar path" means "sub-way". Early morning traffic was sparse. So, we were at the Railway Station in hardly 30 minutes.

Still to come (with pictures):
Rishikesh - Joshimath -Valley of Flowers - Hemkund Lokpal - Badarinath