My Pursuit of Happiness – A road trip to Badrinath!

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Idea!

Whenever I think of this four-lettered word, there is always, well, almost always, a sea of emotions that run through my veins. And no, it’s not just a catchphrase to start this article and get you hooked (ok maybe a little bit of that too), as there is a powerful story behind it. 

I see this word not merely as four letters married to each other, by an aunty in our social life who loves to play match-maker, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to create something, experience something, be caressed by something, or, if life permits – be something! 

One such moment, of an ‘idea’, came to me a few months back as I sat lazily in my rocking chair, in my studio, the design of which is my brainchild, sipping a cup of tea – made by me, wearing my fancy Jenjum Gadi shirt – with golden buttons and what not (what to do I like to be all dressed-up while I am trying to fetch some juice from my creative banks).

What was the idea you ask?

As I was scrolling through the news feed, every second article that I came across was about the hatred towards the stray dogs. Agreed, the population of strays in India is, maybe, a bit too much, and there have been regular incidents of them attacking humans. But does that mean we should hate all strays and kill all of them? If that is the solution to the violent attacks by these animals, who if I may add, can’t even speak to us and tell us what led to such attacks, what should we do to the humans who indulge in acts that are more – for simplicities sake – not so humane? Should we kill them all? I am sure the answer is a big fat no. 

We attribute providing education as a solution to all the mischiefs done by humans, so why can’t the same be done for those who can’t speak our language?

If you think, this is where I had a Thomas Edison moment, you are probably right. But no, I did not come up with an idea to make the bulbs better but to throw some light on the plight of the strays in India. And what could be the possible solution to the problem that we are facing, or as the more educated ones than me, like to call it – the stray dog menace?

A Road Trip!

A road trip, to create awareness about stray dogs, to the last village of India in Uttrakhand. A village named Mana; that has a very strong historical connection to our culture, and, would you believe it – dogs.  

Situated in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, Mana village holds the distinction of being referred to as the final village in India. Nestled at an altitude of 3,200 meters, it rests along the shores of the Saraswati River. The village is close to the renowned Hindu pilgrimage site, Badrinath, which is a mere five kilometers away. Additionally, it is positioned 24 kilometers from the Indo-China border. Notably, the local shopkeepers proudly market their goods under the banner of ‘the last village.’

It is said, that after walking across the Chakratirtha meadow and over the steep rise of the glacier the other Pandavas had left this world and only Yudhishtira with his dog, who was Lord Dharma himself, reached Satopanth valley (4,402 m) where he ascended to the Heaven at the foot of Svargarohan Mountain (7,898 m).

More about it, in a bit. 

My idea was to do a solo road trip, during which I was to make several stops, at dog shelter homes, societies that had reported dog attacks, and areas that were prone to attack on dogs by humans (yes some of them poisoned the dogs in the area to get rid of them).

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While the visit to the shelter homes was to provide food, clothes, medicines, and financial aid, the other stops were meant to interact with people and educate them about better solutions to their problems. 

And so, I took off!

My journey had a delayed start to it, as I had to make a stop in Ghaziabad and collect a ton of dog food and supplies (literally), sent across by strangers after I announced this trip on my social media handles. Well, I did that and marched ahead to cover a distance of 604 km (one side) in my 5-year-old Hyundai i20 – a car that never disappoints you, no matter the terrain.

As I took to the lanes of National Highway 58 and started feeling the cold breeze and droplets of rain through my window (even the gods were smiling at my gesture I guess), I knew it in my heart – that this idea, this idea would help me create something, experience something, it will caress me, and it will make me something!

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Entering Uttrakhand

The lush green of the wild, men/women working in the agricultural field, the kids bantering with each other on the side of the road and in between them, the dogs anticipating food from every human passing by, the view just mesmerized me, till the moment I realised that one of the tyre was flat. 

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badrinath, rad trip, badrinath road trip, road trip to badrinath, badrinath travel tips, badrinath travel guide

I don’t like to think of anything from a negative angle, so I treated this moment as such and decided to use this halt as my lunch break. Since I was driving all by myself, it was important to take breaks at regular intervals to keep myself sharp and cognitive about what was happening around me.

After filling my empty stomach with a light dose of food, and getting the tyre fixed, I got back to the road that would lead toward Meerut – my first ‘official’ stop.

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First Stop For Food

In the tight lanes of Meerut, there lives a woman named Dimple in a house that is big, but old, spacious, dilapidated, housing more than 50 strays. 

She gets beaten, abused, cursed, and embarrassed regularly, for what, just for sheltering those dogs, feeding them, caring for them, and if need be, burying them after they die.  

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Shelter Home in Meerut

She was very happy to meet me face to face and thanked me countless times for the supplies that I had brought with me. Hyundai i20 has a boot capacity of 311 L, and trust me when I tell you, my whole boot was full, the backseat was full and a few boxes were sitting at the throne next to me – the passenger seat. 

From strays to abandoned dogs, she had it all. There was no breed discrimination, no size criteria, no who gets to eat first or gets loved more – the rule was simple – love is meant for all and was shared with all. 

I saw three Golden Retriever pups, barely a month old, that were sent to her shelter home, with a note that read – “we cannot keep them, please sell them or get them adopted.” Such is the life of the ones that cannot speak. 

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I did my bit there and after an hour or so decided to screech the tyres more as I planned to reach Sri Nagar by nightfall and stay there overnight.

God kept smiling at me, and the weather just did not allow the sun to come out and show its anger, well, whatever little it could in September. 

And then finally it happened, the first vision of mountains as I entered the lanes that led to Dev Bhoomi, Rishikesh. 

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I recalled a haiku by a little-known poet named Joanna Daniel, which goes like this:

Huge mountains, 
Standing tall,
Guards, 
Watching,
Over, all.

Beautiful isn’t it?

Mountains, have a magic to them that I have failed to decode to date, even though I have gone and hugged them, kissed them, cried with them, I don’t know how many times. Even this time, as my speedometer kept itself consistent, just like my love for the mountains, I realised how fun driving alone can be. As you glaze past the tiny shops that offer food you would rather not eat, villagers dressed in their beautiful traditional attire that make you want to stop and take a selfie, the unpleasing and unwanted honking, the ruins of yesteryears, and the birth of new buildings… you know it within you, you know that every road trip is worth the emotions that it makes run through your veins (get it now, how we started this article and why?).

And then something happened!

Cats and dogs. The phrase that they use when the floodgates of the rain open up, so it did. 

It felt as if the raindrops just wanted to blast my windshield and pour all over my body. The relentless and scorching sound from the sky was beautiful, yet at the same time horrifying. The visibility became zero, and it felt unsafe to drive anymore in that heavy rain, so, I decided to stop my car at the next possible location.

I stopped at a dhaba and ordered a cup of tea when suddenly I realised something near my legs. It was a very cute dog whose existence I could not come to terms with for the first few seconds. 

Weird right? 

See the pictures below to understand it.

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How Life Plays Weird Games – Proof of That

These pictures are of two different dogs (at different ages of course), but don’t you find them similar? The one on the left is the stray I met and the right one is my dog who died in the winter of 2019. I made a video, clicked a photo, and shared the same with my mother, who called me immediately. all choked up and wondering at the ways of God. 

I told you, an idea can always bring new emotions to your life besides the creative outputs that you intend to achieve via them. 

This was my moment of realisation, that it was not me who thought of this idea, but the dead soul of my dog that wanted me to do something about the nonsense of society,

I became something; I guess I became, more humane. 

With a heavy heart but also with some tears of joy, I bid my adieu to the little one and raced toward Sri Nagar. 

I reached Sri Nagar around 9:30 PM, took a hotel room, enjoyed a bowl of soup, and decided to call it a night as I had to start early the next day- to my final destination; Mana Village.

When I checked out of my room around 9 AM, I was greeted with heavy rain and thunder. Well, so much for the happiness of god that he/she wasn’t just smiling now but laughing at full strength, and then a few locals shared some bad news with me. According to the hotel staff, it was not safe for me to drive ahead, which came as a huge dampener considering not only how much I was enjoying this solo trip but also the fact that I was so close to my destination. 

And then, I got an idea; again.

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I asked them if they could check the condition of the road with people who may have started just ahead of me in the morning in case they had their number. All good things happen to a good cause and we found a number. We were informed that although it was raining quite steadily, it was safe to drive and I should not worry. So I didn’t.

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While driving towards Badrinath, I decided to make a stop at KarnaPrayag to fuel my car and visit a shelter home there. Sudhir Negi is the name of the person who runs a restaurant that offers mostly Italian and Mexican food.

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Sudhir Ji With His Family
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A person with limited resources, he takes care of the stray dogs on the streets and lets them sleep near/inside his shop as and when needed to go with the space that’s available just within the premises of his house. I also met a man named Abhijit Shukla, who runs a pharmacy and provides medical help to the stray dogs around his area. 

As I enjoyed my slices of pizza, Sudhir talked me through the whole process of making a pizza, right from chopping the veggies to preparing his dough, he followed a meticulous routine that resulted in the best pizza that that town had to offer, or such was the claim.

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Since I had no time to try anything made by his competitors, I decided to take his words to the claim and got back on my horse… err… my i20 for the last hurrah. 

The distance between KarnaPrayag and Badrinath is a mere 122 km, but the terrain is so complicated that it takes you nearly 5 hours to reach Badrinath. The winding roads of the mountains are as intertwined as our life with our messes, only much more beautiful than the former. 

When I reached Badrinath, around 11 PM, I could feel an energy surge that I generally don’t feel when I am in the bigger cities of India. The paths there are as crowded as Sarojini Nagar market in Delhi, but even that maze felt like a real home to me. 

Abuzz with the noise of the tourists, locals, kids, elderlies, and of course the sadhus, I knew immediately, that I was brought here for a reason. My idea to create awareness about strays was not the only thing, but a higher calling that would change my life for the better. It was waiting for me, and I was to meet it, the very next day!

Untitled My Pursuit of Happiness – A road trip to Badrinath!
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Since we are here in Badrinath now, let me deliver on my promise to you about the story of the dog, Pandavas, and Mana village.

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It is said that after the conclusion of the Mahabharata war, the Pandavas embarked on a journey to heaven while still in their mortal bodies. Heaven, in this context, refers to a region in the Himalayas where Indra’s kingdom is situated. However, a series of events unfolded during their journey, leading to the untimely demise of each Pandava except Yudhishthira.

During the pilgrimage, when the Pandavas reached Badrinath, Draupadi encountered difficulty crossing the Saraswati River at its origin. Bhima, being the strong man that he was, hurled a large rock into the river, creating a pathway for Draupadi. This rock, known as Bhim Pul, is said to be present even today in Mana village.

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As per the Mahabharata narrative, the Pandavas, Draupadi, and a dog proceeded on their journey. Draupadi stumbled and fell, prompting Bhima to question Yudhishthira about the reason behind her fall. Yudhishthira attributed it to Draupadi’s overwhelming love for Arjuna. Unperturbed, Yudhishthira continued the journey, leaving Draupadi behind.

Legend has it that as they pressed forward, Draupadi, supported by Bhima, struggled to keep pace and eventually fell. Expressing her appreciation for Bhima’s love, Draupadi stated her desire to be Bhima’s wife in the next birth. Subsequently, Sahdev, Nakula, and Arjuna also fell, each attributed to their flaws – pride, arrogance, and unfulfilled promises. Yudhishthira, undeterred, advanced, and Bhima, too, succumbed, due to his excessive eating and false displays of strength.

Finally, Yudhishthira and the dog reached the gates of the heaven.

Yudhishthira insisted that the dog accompany him to heaven, which Indra declined to entertain. Despite Yudhishthira’s prolonged explanations, his resolve to enter heaven with the dog remained steadfast. It was only when Yamraj, assuming the dog’s true form, appeared that the situation changed. Yamraj, pleased to witness Yudhishthira’s unwavering commitment to righteousness, acknowledged his virtue. Subsequently, Indra and Yudhishthira departed for heaven, seated together in the chariot.

What are you thinking right now?

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Are you thinking about the false sense of strength we humans have? The pride, the arrogance, the unfulfilled promises, or the hunger to keep eating the things that are meant to make this world survive? Have you realised till now, how every life is as important as ours – the humans? Have you reaslied that some animals are even superior to us, or so the stories tell?

The point of sharing this story with you, in case you were unaware of it till now, is to make you realise how even the gods favoured dogs over heaven and how a dog survived the true test of life. The reason for choosing Badrinath and Mana to be the final destination of my road trip intended to create awareness about stray dogs was inspired by this celestial theory if I may dare call it. 

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The first half of my next day was spent visiting the mesmerizing temple of Badri Vishal. As I walked toward the entrance, the chime of the temple bell, with the echoing chanting of Badri Voshal’s name was not ringing just into my ears, but the entire valley of Badrinath. 

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The snow shined, animals were joyous, locals laughing, the helicopter whirled, porters carrying the elderly on their backs, and me… I just cried!

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As a tear trickled down my cheek, and then some more, a sadhu/aghori came, he sat near me, looking blankly into my eyes, staring, measuring, and then slowly hugging me. I don’t know how long the hug was for, he kissed my forehead, applied bhasam on my head and in seconds he was gone, but not before saying – Mahadev!

Your higher calling doesn’t necessarily have to be an act to be done by you or a path that you need to follow, but a moment in your life, that rinses off the dust that has gathered around your life. The dust that keeps you down, keeps you emotionally weak, for now I knew. I was re-born!

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When you get such high emotions on your road trip that was also meant to be a journey for a cause, what else could trump it? Well, nothing could.

If you like my work then do connect with me on Instagram and show your support.

PS: All photos have been clicked by me, feel free to use them if you want to, but please give due credit.

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