The journey from Haridwar to Badrinath and Mana is one of the best mountain drives in India. This 320 kms stretch of winding mountain road which is NH58 traces the journey of Alaknanda River for nearly 200 kms until its confluence with Bhagirathi to emerge as Ganga. Several small and large mountain towns and villages show up on the way; quaint, calm and peaceful. The river is at times calm, sometimes fiery and sometimes mostly gurgling down playfully like a passionate youth wanting to conquer the world. It was hard to believe that Alaknanda or the flawless, faultless one had actually revolted in anger on that fateful day in June 2013 and swept away villages and people along the way. Pancha Prayag or the 5 confluences of Alaknanda River show up on the way
It is a long journey and be positive that all will be well. It is a treacherous route in certain pockets which may lead to delays.
- The government bus leaves around 4.30am in the morning and takes about 12-13 hours on a good day with no road blocks. Ticket about Rs 250/-
- There are shared cabs available from 4am in the morning from Haridwar Railway Station. These go all the way up to Badrinath or sometimes until Rudraprayag/Joshimath and then avail another shared cab. Rs 500- Rs 800/-
- Hiring a Vehicle one way can cost between Rs 7000 to Rs 10000 depending on the make and capacity and can take about 10 to 12 hours. Our driver Santosh Joshi who drives his own Bolero is highly recommended 7060841309
Haridwar: Gateway to Badrinath
After a brief stop over in Haridwar; we set out the next day towards Valley of Flowers and Badrinath. Haridwar was crowded, chaotic and sultry but walking along the Ganga watching life unfold in myriad forms was calming in a certain way.
Rishikesh: Gateway to Himalayas
Rishikesh is about 20 kms away from Haridwar along the Ganga. Over the years; Rishikesh has attracted seekers and yogis many of whom chose to continue their yogic sadhana (practice) by establishing ashrams. Parmarth Niketan, Swargashram, Gita Ashram and Sivananda Ashram are some of the notable ashrams. The Ganga Aarti on the Ghats of the River Ganga at dawn and dusk is an experience to cherish
5 Prayags on Alaknanda River until Badrinath
Prayag means confluence. In our ancient texts; prayag is referred to as the holy confluence of rivers. The River Alaknanda merges with 6 different rivers from its origin in Alkapuri near Satopanth Glacier until Dev Prayag where it assumes the form of Ganga. Of the 6 Prayags; 5 of them are between Haridwar and Badrinath which are also known as Pancha Prayag. The 6th Prayag is a little beyond Badrinath in Mana Village.
DevPrayag: Alaknanda merges with Bhagirathi to become Ganga
The 94 kms from Haridwar to Dev Prayag took about 3.5 hours including a short break fast break at a road side outlet. The roads were smooth and wide and followed the course of Alaknanda through the journey. The dense green tree cover and the early morning cool breeze was refreshing. The holy confluence of the two rivers Alaknanda and Bhagirathi to form the Ganga is visible from the road above. Bhagirathi emerges from Gaumukh and flows eastward; is often turbulent during its course until it merges with the relatively calm Alaknanda and flows down to the plain as the gushing Ganga. There is a temple down below which can be accessed by a series of steep steps.
Dhari Devi: Kali Temple in Alaknanda
The 40 km drive from Dev Prayag to Srinagar was uneventful. Srinagar (not the capital of Kashmir) is a district headquarter and is comparatively a large Himalayan settlement with the usual hustle and bustle. I was just about drifting into sleep when the driver informed us that we were approaching Dhari Devi which is about 15 kms from Srinagar. Dhari Devi is known to be the patron deity of Uttarakhand and the protector of the 4 Dhams (Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri).
It is locally believed that the Kedarnath flood and subsequent devastation occurred soon after her idol was removed from the original place to make way for a Hydro Electric Power Project. They also recount a similar situation in 1882 when a local king attempted to do the same. The temple is about 1 km down into the river basin from the highway. The upper part of an idol which is known to transform from a girl into a woman and old lady as the day progresses is housed here. The lower part is worshiped as Goddess Kali in Kalimath which is located on the way to Kedarnath.
Rudraprayag: Alaknanda merges with Mandakini
Rudra Prayag is further 20 kms upstream from Dhari Devi where the Mandakini originating in Chorabari Glacier near Kedarnath merges into the Alaknanda. Though the name Mandakini signifies calm the river turns turbulent and unpredictable during monsoon washing away the adjoining roads and villages. There are quite a few landslide prone areas in this zone. Work is being carried out to cement the fragile mountain side or in certain areas contain them within metal nets but it is a project that will take decades due to the landscape. At Rudra Prayag Lord Shiva is worshiped as the Lord of Music since he imparted music lessons to Narada. We followed the bypass route so no luck seeing the actual river confluence.
Karnaprayag: Alaknanda merges with Pindar
Karna Prayag is about 30 kms ahead of Rudra Prayag. The road was smooth and wide. The Pindar river flows westward from Pindari Glacier near Bageshwar to merge into Alaknanda here. It appeared to be a small Himalayan town where we stopped to buy a few fruits. As the name suggests; Karna sat in deep meditation here and also worshiped Sun which bestowed him with the invincible shield that made him fearless and undefeatable in the battle field. The ancient Uma Devi Temple is located here.
Nandprayag: Alaknanda merges with Nandakini
To be honest I had never heard of the river Nandakini until this trip. Nandakini originating from Nanda Devi also flows west ward to merge into the mighty Alaknanda at Nandprayag about 20 kms ahead of Karnaprayag. Centuries ago Raja Nanda of Yadu kingdom performed penance here and hence the name. This town was the smallest in the entire stretch along the Alaknanda on NH 58.
Joshimath: Home to Ancient Narasimha Temple
The 60 km stretch between Nandprayag and Joshimath passes through Gopeshwar the district head quarters of the mountainous Chamoli district. The roads were surprisingly smooth and there was swift progress building boundaries around the mountains and Alaknanda. Adi Shankara designated Joshimath as the Northern Cardinal Centre after his visit. The ancient Narasimha Temple is the winter abode for the idol of Badrinath Temple. The complete entourage of priests (Rawals) move here and spend 6 months of the year in worship at this location.
Vishnuprayag: Alaknanda merges with Dhauli Ganga
About 15 kms ahead of Joshimath, Dhauli Ganga river flowing down from Niti Pass merges into Alaknanda River. There is a small temple at this confluence built by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore. Mythologically Sage Narada sat in deep meditation here until Vishnu appeared and hence the name Vishnu Prayag.
Govindghat: Gateway to Valley of Flowers & Hemkund Sahib
About 20 kms beyond Joshimath just after Vishnu Prayag the road winds upwards towards Govindghat; the starting point for the Trek towards Valley of Flowers an UNESCO World Heritage Site and Hemkund Sahib a Sikh Pilgrimage.
Pandukeshwar: Winter Home of Kuber and Udhava
About 3 kms ahead of Govindghat is Pandukeshwar which is a small village with a dozen homes and hotels. The Yogadhyan Badri Temple is the winter home of Lord Kuber and Udhava (utsava murti of Lord Badrinarayan). The bronze idol of Lord Vishnu is in yogic meditation ( Yoga Dhyan) and is believed to have been installed by King Pandu the father of the 5 Pandava brothers in Mahabharata. A little after Pandukeshwar towards Badrinath there is a long land slide zone. Often the road to Badrinath is closed due to slush stones and mud in this area. A road repair team is stationed in the area and are very responsive but the area is so tricky that they are at their wits end. We were lucky that the road had opened up after 2 days of bad weather.
Badrinath ~ The abode of Lord Vishnu
The drive to Badrinath was a breeze after the landslide zone. It was like a 4 lane highway in some parts thanks to the JayPee Group having a large Hydel Power Project on the Alaknanda in the vicinity. The weather was warm and dry and Badrinath was welcoming with snow white clouds descending in the form of blessings. Badrinath is one of the 4 Dhams or pilgrimages for Hindus
Mana ~ Last Village of India
Mana Village is located about 4 kms beyond Badrinath and the drive through the valley is extremely scenic. Mana is named after Mana Pass at the border of China which was the passage for sages to travel to Mount Kailash. There is a deep Mahabharata connection surrounding Mana Village. Alaknanda River descends from its source in Alkapuri near Satopanth Glacier and Lake about 25 kms beyond Mana
Keshavprayag ~ Confluence of Alaknanda and Saraswati
This is the first confluence of Alaknanda River with the thunderous Saraswati at Mana Village. Though Keshavprayag is not counted within the famed Pancha Prayags it is an important point in Alaknanda River’s 190 km journey through the Himalayas until Dev Prayag.
Every time, I looked outside ; I saw boards of a Hydel Power Project on the Alaknanda River. There are several ongoing and completed projects on this river basin. Power is important for us as a nation to progress as long as it is not overdone and flora, fauna, local lives are taken care of. During the devastating floods of 2013, villages and lives were flattened and washed away by the rivers and fingers pointed towards these hydel dams who released water at a go without taking cognizance of surroundings. As infrastructure improves, tourism foot falls increase leading to better income and livelihood for the locals. This is a fragile land, let not greed take over our love for nature. I hope to preserve this beautiful land for years to come; so that the future generations can experience the pulsating energy of this Dev Bhoomi in the Himalayas. I sincerely hope that the successive governments take a balanced approach for protecting our treasure.
What this journey meant to Me?
This journey had a special connection with me at different levels. I first read about all these places in the autobiographical account of Sri M in “Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master” . I was fascinated by his wanderings in the Himalayas as a seeker and search for a guru for the ultimate truth. As the car meandered along the river and large and small Himalayan towns zipped by; I had a sense of familiarity in remembrance of what I had read. Also in recent times; the Himalayan Floods of 2013 left me deeply affected since I had attempted to make this journey that year and abandoned my plans counting my blessings.
As the car rolled through the different Prayags, I wondered in my mind whether the 5 Prayags were symbolic of our 5 senses that had to be purified through the arduous journey to receive the blessings of divine Badrinath and the 6th Prayag in Mana was an added blessing for wisdom. This area in the Himalayas is called Dev Bhoomi and has attracted seers, sages and seekers over the years for its positive energy. I am blessed to have traversed the land where the great masters walked and that tiny negligible shift somewhere within is just the beginning….
Food, Water and Amenities
There are dhabas all along the way for a local meal which would cost anywhere between Rs 60 to Rs 80. The towns have grocery and general stores to buy food or other knick knacks like juice and chips etc. The price charged in most cases is on MRP. I found Samrat Resort closer to Rudraprayag to be a upscale property in case you are particular about where to have food. If you tend to have mountain sickness with bouts of throwing up then eat light during the journey and keep medicine handy.Most of the dhabas have washrooms which are a flight of steps away. There are tented dry toilets too some of which may not be clean.
There are himalayan streams turned waterfalls on the way. I had my fill of Himalayan Spring water on the journey from these places. If you are particular, bottled mineral water is available but request you to bring back the bottles to the plains.