Saturday, March 28, 2009
We yesterday went by bus to Chandrabadni temple and then Deva Prayag. It was one of those bus rides where you seem to be constantly coming within inches of a thousand foot drop. The first leg of the journey followed the Ganga from Rishikesh to Deva Prayag where the Bhagirathi and Alakananda meet. The road is being repaired in that piecemeal fashion that seems favored by Indian engineers--a half-finished culvert to snake around here, a torn and deserted piece of primitive dirt road sprinkled with avalanche remnants there. But the places where the road has been widened and refinished are obviously a huge improvement.
This segment of the road is through a fairly well-preserved forest, though the valley walls are quite sheer and probably do not permit much inhabitation. There are some rafting and kayaking campsites along the river, and occasionally hotels or ashrams on the hilltops, but generally Nature seems to be protected here.
As you approach Deva Prayag, the forest starts to thin and look a little more desertlike. Cactus and aloe-type plants are common, the earth looks yellowish and rocky, the trees seem to be predominantly on the upper parts of the hills. There is more and more terracing, and as you pass from Deva Prayag towards Chandrabadni (Wikimap), you keep climbing and the terraced sections descend down both steep and sloping hills to thousands of feet below, where you can occasionally catch glimpses of the Alakanandi River.
Deva Prayag is a small town, very picturesque, though this does not seem to be its high season. There are two suspension bridges and its main advantage, it seems to me, is that there are no cars anywhere. You just can't get them in there. So there are staircases up and down the steep inclines on all three sides, but the roads have to go around.
The Omkarananda people have built a school right at the confluence and a nice new ghat has been constructed there. The Alakanandi comes in gently, but the Bhagirathi is lathering and frothing madly. I was a bit tired and rather foolishly did not bathe, though most of the students did. I sat down on and talked to some local children. Taught them to chant raso'ham apsu.
The old temple you can see in the picture is of Ramachandra. It contains a single blackstone murti that looks more than 500 years old. The priests say it is 2000 years old.
As usual, it was difficult not to become irritated at the neglect of cleanliness. It seems that people would understand that some other solution besides throwing the garbage out of your windows or over the side of the fence needs to be found. So the natural scenic beauty of both the gorges and the village at Deva Prayag are marred.
The same is apparent at Chandrabadni. Because Chandrabadni is so highly placed and is comparatively easily accessible, it was a naturally attractive spot for the telephone companies to put up their towers. Now the temple is wrapped tightly in cables, tubing and satellite dishes of various shapes. Does no one think of the aesthetics? Would that really be too much progress?
Even so, neither place is so badly damaged that it could not be saved. Hopefully someone will see the light before it is too late and "progress" completely destroys everything.