On the well trodden pilgrim route to Badrinath in the Garhwal Himalayas, the habitation of Karanprayag sees the confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Pindari Gangas. At a further distance of about 35 km from Rudraprayag is the confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini Ganga, with an alternate route via Pokhri which prolongs the distance to 80 kms. The road conditions are such that they invoke prayers for safety, pretty much what the temple goddess wants you to do anyway!
About 38 kms from Rudraprayag on this route lies a small village called Kanakchori which is the starting point of a rather stiff climb of 3 kms to the Swami Kartik temple, perhaps the only temple dedicated to Kartik in these parts. Standing atop Karonch Hill, the temple looks like a small white dot.
On my earlier two visits I had failed to reach the temple. On the first occasion, even in the month of January, the heavy presence of haze prevented me from going up as it would have been futile since my objective was to take photographs of the awe inspiring views of snow clad mountains as seen from the temple. On the second occasion I was beaten by a backache which came about suddenly and left me with no choice but to put away the temple visit to another time, much to my disappointment. This time too I was downcast, seeing the heavy smog and smoke that I saw near Rudraprayag. But it made no sense to go back and I decided to test my own destiny and see if this would be my third failed attempt to do darshan at the temple or surmount all odds and succeed.
In the Himalaya, temples are mainly of either Lord Shiva or the Devi. Here, a few words about this legendary God would be appropriate. Kartikeya, the second son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati or Shakti, is known by many names Subramaniam, Sanmukha, Shadanana, Skanda and Guha. In the southern states of India, Kartikeya is a popular deity and is better known as Murugan. He is an embodiment of perfection, a brave leader of god's forces, and a war god, who was created to destroy the demons, representing the negative tendencies in human beings.
The war imagery and the six heads of Kartikeya indicates that if humans wish to lead themselves efficiently through the battle of life, they must always be alert lest they are shown the wrong path by crafty people with the six demonic vices: kaama (sex), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (passion), mada (ego) and matsarya (jealousy).
Kartikeya carries on one hand a spear with his other hand as a blessing for devotees. His vehicle is a peacock, a pious bird that grips with its feet a serpent, which symbolises the ego and desires of people.
God Almighty heard my prayers and I reached the top in two hours, after taking a short break to rest my limbs and savour a cup of hot masala chai at Dharamshala, just 0.5 km below the temple. The place has a very basic facility where one can spend the night and I was tempted to do that but had left my sleeping bag at Kanakchori so decided to soldier on. The last 0.5 km stretch is a bit of an ordeal since the climb is on a boulder-ridden path with practically no support and in that sense even more trying than the first 2.5 km stretch. Surely, this was no leisurely stroll in a park and it was evident that one would have to fire all one's cylinders to reach the top.
As promised by information on the internet, the views of snow peaks were astounding. Right from Bandarpoonch on the left, the range extended up to Trishul, more than 180 degrees and the span was at least 300 kms wide. I made a panorama of the range with several photographic shots which would be stitched on the computer to deliver possibly what to me would be an "earth-shattering view". If I were to describe the view with a comparative analogy, I would say it was nothing short of a "Maha Kumbh (not of melas) but of snow peaks". The prominent peaks that I could easily make out were Bandarpoonch, Kala Nag, Swargrohini, Jaonli, Kedarnath, Kharchakund, Chaukhamba, Hathi and Ghori Parbat, Dunagiri, Kamet,Nanda Devi, Bethartoli, Ronti, NandaGhunti and Trishul, besides some which I could not identify. Minus a trace of a cloud, it was a view that I will not be forgetting in this lifetime.
In consultation with my assistant Meherban, my man Friday, I decided to wait out for five hours and try and capture the range as the last rays of the sun went down, but not before showing their glow in hues of red and pink. What prompted us to do this waiting were the crystal clear skies and absence of clouds. Resultantly, we enjoyed this visual by chewing gum for a long time in the cold. I would like to think that this was His way of compensating a part obstinate, part determined lens man! And as anticipated, the weather gods did us a great favour and we fulfilled our desire.
Since it is mandatory to take off shoes in the temple premises, we stood on the verandah of the temple in our bare feet, feeling as if we were literally standing on ice slabs. The chilly winds completed the misery with the result that I developed a nasty cold and my sturdy Meherban Singh got high temperature and had to take antibiotics later. We had no doubt lived to the maxim of "no pain, no gain" but the consolation was that this pain was definitely less than the aching pain we would have had to carry, had we gone back defeated, without getting a dekko of the peak for the third consecutive time.
While we were waiting for the cherished sunset and its magic on the snow peaks, at about 4.40 I had a golden opportunity of clicking the moonrise happening between Dunagiri and Kamet. The shot was taken with a 600 mm lens which made the moon a very huge one sitting between the two giants. It thrilled both of us! As a lens man I know how to play with perspective of long telephoto lenses. This was also a kind of compensation for my earlier failures. As soon as we had finished clicking, we packed up the camera gear and headed for Kanakchori and realized that the cold was indeed unbearable. The trek became a tough job because of rapidly growing darkness, made worse by low visibility due to the thick forests. The priest remarked that we were very lucky to be here on that day as it was "Kartik-Chaturthi", the night when Goddess Parvati comes to the shrine to visit her elder son Kartik. Little wonder, that for the auspicious event, locals were already gathering at the temple for the "Jagran", when they would pray and sing 'bhajans' the entire night. Legend has it that Goddess Parvati visits her elder son Kartik on this night of Kartik Chaturthi at this temple. We could see the locals after every ten minutes or so going up while we were descending.
Due to almost no visibility, I stumbled at one place and my left foot got entangled in a rock, making me lose my balance. Luckily I did not hurt my face but the impact was felt on both my knees, with the outer skin peeling off. There was no alternative but to keep moving and check on the injury later. The priest suggested we join the Jagran and spend the night at the temple. When we were shivering like leaves at dusk, the entire night would be colder and nothing short ofs suicide given our fatigued and now physically wounded condition, and frankly I did want to live, to see and revisit many more mountain peaks, so we decided to move on to Kanakchori, driving another 40 kms and sleeping over at Karanprayag instead.
Just 1.5 km below the temple is a small Dharamshala where you can stay for the night; car