In Nauti, on August 18, 2014, morning was eventful not because it was Monday. But because it was the first stage of Nanda Raj Jat trek. The village woke up early. Or rather, I say it did not sleep at all. A few wild blossoms blushed and shined like brooches on the verdant slopes, under big trees, and along the fields. The dainty dawn did not even dabble with rain. Mynas freely mingled under early morning sun. Public washrooms became busy. The staff of Shulabh International in deep blue jackets swept the road and cleaned the washrooms for the convenience of the visitors. They collected garbage frequently, ensuring physical cleanliness for spiritual sanitation.
Shri Sidhipeeth Nanda Devi Mandir in Nauti drew large number of visitors. Nauti suddenly became important and bigger. The yesterday’s excitement dressed in a bolder garb. Devotional songs and beats of damau and dhol soar in the temple premises. Screams of devotees in mysterious trance interrupted the music.
Do you know? The first four of Nanda Raj Jat halts have been picked for an eco- and heritage-tourism circuit: Nauti, Kanswa, Chandpur Garhi, and Sem. In 2013-14, INR 800 lakh were sanctioned for the circuit. The halts are a good fit for the circuit for their rich tradition of Nanda Raj Jat and lush valleys and slopes. The tradition actually highlights woes of every woman who have to leave her parents’ home to enjoy the company of her husband.
We started around 11:30 am from Nauti for Ida Badhani. The temple in Nauti was overcrowded given its size. Pilgrims were elbowing, nudging, or pushing each other to get a chance to touch the feet of priests and the oracles of Nanda in trance.
The procession quickly passed. However, we were stuck in traffic jam on the main road after leaving the temple. But we wanted to catch the procession so we called for our jeep and covered the distance to join the procession at the next village. We waited for long at Chanduli where our jeep dropped us and rested in a house of four drunk brothers. The spotless terrace afforded beautiful views of fields and a mini orchard but liquor smell interfered with fresh fragrances. It was a sunny afternoon. No rains. But it was humid and sweaty. We waited at the terrace for almost two hours before the procession arrived from Jakh village. We again walked with the procession.
During the last leg of the trek connecting Heluri to Ida Badhani, an elaborate puja was performed at Heluri. It was an earning day for the ram. This four-legged VVIP was feeling hot amid its devotees who were showering money and other gifts. The priest was fanning its face with a cardboard. It was not allowed to eat at free will. Through the puja, rice and fruits were randomly thrown towards pilgrims as a ritual. Who so ever caught the offerings was considered lucky.
The pilgrims enjoyed free snacks. Thereafter the procession descended through fields and green slopes quickly to Karnprayag bus stand. Some sections of the descent were steep.
Although we willingly wrapped ourselves in a variety of sounds-chants, conversations, beats of folk instruments, rustle of vegetation…, the sources of some sounds stimulated funny bones of some people and tickled the noses of others. One baba involuntarily released some stinky gas with a loud sound from secret openings, inviting brief laughter. The embarrassed and honest baba showered expletives for the milk that he consumed empty stomach.
The procession briefly stopped at the bus stand for pilgrims awaiting and seeking blessings of the ram.
The night had already embraced Ida Badhani when we reached the village. We received a grand welcome at Ida Badhani. We camped in the fields before primary school where the ram spent the night. The campsite was full of mosquitos. One of the campers wisely advised: Close the tent flaps! Otherwise before next sunrise you would have the face of Hanuman!
The sleep was slow and scarce. A night long jagar was performed to celebrate the visit of goddesses Nanda Devi to the village. Ida Badhani drew scores of pilgrims because their enthusiasm was young and the venue was close to a popular town Karnprayag, the confluence of the Alaknanda and the Pindar rivers.
The goddesses received gifts from her devotees because a daughter cannot be sent off to the husband’s house empty-handed. The gifts included shringar items, dakshina, dowry, and her belongings. Our gift to our readers is a virtual tour of the trek that starts now.
Photos from 2nd Day of Nanda Raj Jat 2014