25. 8. 2016

Yamunotri (EN)

very unsettling pilgrimage

There are many sacred places in India. Depending on your religion you should visit them at least once in your life. The Chardam, the four temples, are such a destination for people following the Hindu religion. These mountain temples lie in a state Uttrakhand, a state called also „Gods‘ land“ where in the mountains the holy rivers are born, Yamuna and Ganga. To worship them people have built temples where the rivers are formed and now they are called Yamunotri and Gangotri and are the first out of the four pilgrim destinations followed by the temples in Kedarnath (dedicated to Shiva) and Badrinath (dedicated to Vishnu).

A yellow temple of Yamuna in the back, sacred destination for many pilgrims.

As I wrote in some of my previous articles, I spent about three weeks working in a tourist camp in Barkot. This place is mostly used by tourist going to visit the temple in Yamunotri. They come with they guides in big buses or cars with private conductors, stay one night and after breakfast the next day they ride to Yamunotri and do the pilgimage to the temple.

In a bus from the tourist company Heena. Sometimes it was better not to look out and simply trust the driver. 

The season started and the first buses came, from a tourist agency called Heena. As I very quickly made friends with the guide he invited me to take the tour to Yamunotri with the group. Excellent! The next day after breakfast we started and I had no idea what was coming. It was the first day when the temple was opened for the pilgrims so many people were heading there, many locals as well.

I happily accepted a blue cap with the logo of Heena company and followed my new friends. Like that it was slightly more difficult to get lost even though the amount of people going to the temple was surprisingly huge.

I enjoyed a lot the bus ride, the pilgrims were super friendly, singing all the way religious songs (which sounded to me like very happy devoted songs) and there was a young girl speaking very well English so she was explaining me a lot of things, about their specific regional culture (as the group was from another Indian region, Gujarat) and the reason why all the pilgrimage was so important. She also was so kind and interpreted all the curious questions and my long answers about traveling alone, being an independent woman in India always rises a lot of curious looks.

Yamunotri and the beginning of the "pilgrimage". Only about 5 km, but uphill. As it was the long awaited opening, there were some famous politicians and religious leaders having speeches in the village.

Getting to the main bus parking place was impossible for so many buses going through that day, so we had to stop about kilometer before the village. There it is usually possible to hire a donkey to take those with less strengths to the temple, but because it was the opening day all donkeys were taken already. For me no change, I was determined to walk those 5 km and enjoy the pilgrimage.

Donkey station :) (One of many, by the way)

It was 5 km walk on a busy and muddy road, but I had deep happy feelings from the fresh air. During the walk I enjoyed nice talks with other people from Heena tour. Sometimes it was quite difficult to keep talking as the flow of incomers and outcomers was too dense, on foot, on donkeys or even in man carried chairs. Finally among the first from our group we reached the temple and its busy surroundings looking like a super small village with food shops and shops selling religious articles.

This little carriage seemed to me especially particular. I am not sure how comfortable it could be, people seemed to be crouched in those chairs.

I was watching the people in deep amazement – people from all casts and places were doing their rituals there such as taking bath in the hot springs, in the Yamuna river, shaving their kids heads, praying doing pujas and waiting for the temple to open. Some things I understood as they were explained to me before during those previous weeks in India, some were new for me. The men I walked up with left me alone for a while and went to take a bath in the hot springs. I resisted as it seemed too complicated (for a women there was a different place to go and I would have to go alone, but mostly it was the problem of bathing in clothes and not having dry ones to change which stopped me from this traditional ritual).

Following their believes that shaving their kid's head will bring them happiness and health some parents were using the holy water from the Yamuna river and offering the hair to the goddess. Some children took it with calm, some were crying and fighting for their hair.

There was a huge and dense crowd waiting for the temple to open. Surprisingly for me, it was all just about pushing and being pushed. My only advantage was my height. Like that I could see over the small Indians what was going in in front of me. But I am too pacifist to push through, I realized. So after hour or more of trying I gave up as I was really bored and getting angry from the people. What was fun turned to be a crazy crowd. This isn’t a religion and worship I thought...

Taking a bath in the hot springs is another of the rituals the pilgrims do. Not that I wasn't interested, but it seemed to be all complicated due to the division to the male part and female part and due to the fact that women must bath in their clothes. I didn't have any spare clothes with me and didn't want to freeze in the cold mountain weather.

Anyway, the clouds were coming and it was getting cold, so it was about the time to call it off and go back. I got separated almost from everyone, people were everywhere. I decided to go back on my own knowing the meeting place anyway. The way back was fast, I was running and finding my way among the donkeys, people and carriers. The rain was on and off and I got wet and sweaty. When I kept moving it was OK, but once I stopped I was getting cold very quickly.

Everyone was waiting for the temple to open. And then pushing to get themselves in...

When I got to our meeting point, a restaurant with lunch already prepared, I started to freeze fast. Even though there were just few people from the tour gathered, we could grab our lunch and it was super nice and warmed me up a bit.

The temple itself seemed quite simple, oldish colorful wooden building which has great significance for the religious people.

In general I was very satisfied with the trip no matter that I didn’t get into the temple. It was a very traditional experience, the opening day is a big event for locals as well as for pilgrims from other places or even countries. There were many Indians living abroad who are coming to do the four temple trip to „fulfill their duty“ as Hindus and make these pilgrimages at least once in a lifetime...

There were more local people that day then tourists (meaning Indian tourists from other places of India, from foreigners I was the only one I could see in miles).

Well, my expectations were of a peaceful pilgrimage, but it was something different. Still, it was great. But I was super happy to be with the group of tourist from Heena, otherwise I would feel a little bit more lost in the crowd. I was happily wearing the company cap given to me in the bus to identify myself and be seen...

Looking back, it was a great experience. Very "Indian". 

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