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Keep The Faith

Achal Dhruva takes you on an exhilarating drive through a picture postcard filled with towering mountains, forested slopes and meandering rivers

Higher and higher we go, 1,000 metres, 1,500 metres, 2,000 metres. The mountains seem endless, mounted one on top of the other, all covered in thick forests, the rivers flow by like music, all framed by the whitest clouds and bluest skies in creation. Located 40 kilometres before Badrinath, Joshimath (approximately 6,000 feet) offers the pristine beauty synonymous with Garhwal. In fact, faith in Lord Almighty is the essence of life in Joshimath and for all those making a trip to this quaint religious town.

The 12-hour bus ride from Rishikesh to Joshimath is sure to leave you saying a little prayer. Roads in Garhwal are a series of never-ending, high-altitude twists and turns. The UP State Transport bus drivers believe themselves to be ‘blessed’ and speed on the narrow, snaking roads like Mad Max.

There were numerous occasions when my entire life flashed in front of my eyes, especially at times when our driver arrived head-to-head with another vehicle on a turn and slammed the brakes at the last minute. Outside the window, I could not sight the road and it was not difficult to graphically picture myself in a free fall of over 2,000 feet into the bluish-green ribbon like Ganga raging below.

If one overcomes these minor fears including the sight of full-grown leopards and motion sickness, the journey is akin to travelling through a picture postcard filled with towering mountains, forested slopes and the meandering river surging through a narrow canyon. Either the Ganga or Bhagirathi rivers keep company on one side of the road enroute from Rishikesh to Joshimath. One also crosses three of the five Prayags in the region: Dev Prayag, Rudra Prayag and Karna Prayag. A Prayag is the confluence of two or more special rivers, thus, making it a holy place. The road that wraps around and through the temples and shrines, the breathtaking bridges, and the sheer magnificence of the mountain peaks and foaming river below, left me truly privileged to have encountered such beauty.

However, it was the leopard sighting which made the journey even more memorable. It was already dusk by the time my friend and I left Chamoli for the last 40 odd kms to Joshimath crammed in a jeep with 12 others. After sunset, no buses ply in the hilly terrain of Garhwal. As we were negotiating a steep incline a mammoth leopard leaped out of the forest in front of the jeep, not more than 20 feet away and froze for 30 seconds glaring at the headlights before slinking off into the cover of the forest on the other side. It was an amazing sight to see the magnificent wild beast in its own backyard. The sighting set off a litany of leopard stories with the jeep driver recounting how one night a leopard was chasing his motorcycle for more than 200 metres on his way back to Chamoli from Joshimath. “It’s only God’s grace that he just ran along,” he said.

Kerala is billed as ‘God’s Own Country’, but it is the Himalayas, especially the Garhwal region of Uttaranchal, which is truly their abode. If you’re looking for a mix of religion and adventure head for Joshimath, the last hill-station in the Garhwal this side of the Himalayas. Among the myriad images of Joshimath the lasting impression, which I carried back, is the strong fabric of faith, which binds all aspects of life in this region.