Pages from a Pilgrim's Diary
by Vimala Ramu
Visiting the shrines of Himalayas had always been a pet ambition of mine. If not for the religious significance, they were worth a visit at least for their incomparable scenic grandeur.
So, when I heard about a Travel Agency conducting an All India tour including Kedarnath and Badrinath, I signed up immediately along with a slightly senior lady, a relative of mine.
The trip was to be of 35 days duration in the hot months of May and June and it included sight seeing along with pilgrimage. I had maintained a log, the excerpts of which are below. I must warn that you would be disappointed if you are looking for an informative travelogue. These are purely my personal experiences during the travel.
18-5-1984 - Bangalore
Our doubts about being able to spot the bogie in the railway station proved to be baseless. As soon as we entered the platform, we could not help noticing the garishly decorated coach with pairs of banana plants tied to the doors and a huge banner tied from one end to another giving the name of the agency and other details. I felt like the member (human of course) of a big Circus troupe on tour.
Among the yatris, there was a honeymoon couple too, sharing of course a berth most of the time!
Two lavatories had been converted to pantries. The first breakfast was Kesari bhath and Upma. Our cabin mates were a Konkani couple with two daughters aged 13 and 17years. Interesting!
We should not have left behind the plastic Jerry can. Wrong advice. Right up to Bombay we had to depend on our cabin mates for the life giving elixir. 19-5-84 - Bombay
A rest day. No visits scheduled.
Morning was a wild scramble for the lavatories in the bogie. The sink outside was also not working. Many of the yatris had their bath in the limited overhead tank water of the lavatory leaving no water for others even to wash their faces and flush the toilet.
(Sorry for the frequent mention of toiletry. It was a challenge to keep a clean body in the 35 days trip.)Savitri, my dearest friend had come to Bombay station to take me to her place. My companion went to her sister’s house. 20-5-84
After an overnight stay and a grand send off, I joined my companion at her sister’s place. The host took us out to the beach for bhelpuri in the evening. Bought a white plastic Jerry can for water. Joined the group in the morning well refreshed.
Thank God, we were spared eating the oily pooris fried by the agency cooks next to a toilet on the siding!
Did the usual visits- temples, ferry ride at Gateway of India, Art galleries etc.
I could now claim that I had seen Bombay. The highlight, rather the ‘low’ light was, someone snatched away the gold chain of one of the ladies. In Maharashtra, nobody helped the lady when she shouted, “Kalla, kalla, Hidkolli” (Thief, thief, catch him). As I had left my chain safely at home (around my husband’s neck?!), my friend had gifted me a rolled gold chain.21-5-84
Instead of taking baths under the taps on the platform, we both started going to the waiting rooms (I class if possible) and having baths for a small tip to the attenders. (Anti corruption?)22-5-84 Agra
The passenger train to Agra took us only up to Itarsi by 7pm. Waiting rooms good for baths and washing clothes. Left for Agra at 4 am.
Managers had been repeatedly warning the yatris against using the coach lavatory water for baths. So, the lavatories looked comparatively drier and cleaner.
Reached Agra at 5 pm
A funny thing happened today. While we were returning to the coach after a shampoo bath at the waiting room, we saw a lady making chapathis on the platform. To my companion’s South Indian eyes, rolling Chapathis with no roller but patting them with her palms was a total novelty. As we were watching, a Sardar came and voluntarily explained the whole process to us. He introduced himself as a doctor specializing in women’s backs and complimented me on my good gait. My good gait?! I do agree it was much before the Arthritis struck me. But being reminded so many times to pull my stomach in, I was no Zeenat Aman by any stretch of imagination. Before the ‘doctor’ could invite me for any personal experiments, I slipped off to the security of our coach. 23-5-84
Visit to Brindaban and Mathura. Sight seeing in Agra from 2 pm onwards.
Some of our yatris refused to pollute themselves by visiting Moslem mausoleum aka Taj Mahal! 25-5-84 New Delhi
Rest day. No visits.
Visited some relatives and friends. At Sujan Singh Park, saw Sardar Khushwant Singh in his Maruti Suzuki. Shopped at Connaught place, joined the group in the evening.
A very hot day. Though Delhi was somewhat cooler than Agra, could not get sleep. Even the platform was giving out heat. Since there was a day’s delay, manager suggested a one day trip to Jaipur (From frying pan into the fire?). No takers for the idea.
One of the highlights of Delhi visit- ‘Darshan’ of Mrs Indira Gandhi had to be dropped as PM was not in station. During the visit to Rashtrapathi Bhavan, learnt that even President Zail Singh was out of station. Though some rooms had been allotted for public to see in Rashtrapathi Bhavan, some of our friends were more interested in pushing the curtain to peep into the private rooms of the President!
I noticed that New Delhi had changed tremendously after the National Games with flyovers criss crossing all over.
Visited Dolls Museum, Rajghat, Shantivan and drank gallons of water in between.
In the darkness of the night, bathing under the platform tap was quite refreshing!26-5-84 Delhi
The initial fascination with the agency food was wearing off. Skipping meals, surviving on curds and lassi from outside. In that infernal heat, it looked so incongruous when the manager told us to make our woolen purchases for the Badrinath trip.
4.30pm- Hurrah! Out of Delhi and on our way to Jammu Tawi. Good bye to heat and prickly heat.27-5-84
The journey was miserable. However musical a language might sound to the speakers, to hear it 18 waking hours of the day non stop spoken by 4 people gets on the nerves of an alien listener. Moreover, our cabin mates seemed to have come with their whole house packed. Every empty space in the cabin was stuffed with their things.28-5-84 Jammu-Srinagar
Had fill of Apple juice in Jammu (1 Re a bottle!)
Bus trip to Srinagar was very leisurely- 300 Km in 13 running hours with overnight halt at Ramban. Passed through 21/2 km long Banihal tunnel. To be continued. Part 2. Back to Travelogue - Main page