11/2/2008 to 11/7/2008 | India , Uttarakhand

Pindari Glacier Trek

legacy gallery with captions

“I only take the Rajdhani, the other trains are no good, Rajdhani is good train.”  Indian trains, hardly the first topic of conversation I would have expected from a holy man who lives most of the year in solitude at the inhospitable altitude of 3600 m just below the snout of the Pindari Glacier known as “Zero Point.”  Furthermore this acetic who begins his meditation at three in the morning can only tolerate the most expensive Rajdhani trains, the fastest all air-conditioned trains which are so much more expensive than the other Indian trains that in my nearly two years of total travel in India I have yet to take one.  He goes on, “I don’t like north Indians, they are cheats, I like the people in Bangalore, Bangalore is a very nice city, very nice.”  He speaks with endearment about the city he has adopted as his one month winter home.  Another unlikely topic is touched on: “The price of gold is getting too much expensive,” he says.  He purchases jewelry, not for himself he says, but rather on behalf of well to do Indian devotees who occasionally send him money to buy jewelry for the goddess Nanda Devi.  The icon of Nanda Devi occupies the central shrine in his five room ashram, built out from the cave shelter he used when he first arrived at this place more than 20 years ago.

It was not always Rajdhani expresses and winters perusing jewelry stores in Bangalore for this Sadhu, known throughout the region as “Baba G,” which has considerably more fare, than his official title, Swamy Dharmanand Giri.  The latter is the title listed on his personal business card along with mobile number and email address.   Growing up in the warm climate of the Orissan capital of Bhubaneshwar he had headed to the icy mountains to pursue a calling as a Hindu holy man or Sadhu.  He was drawn first to Gangotri and Tapovan the meadow above the glacier which feeds the source of the Ganges River.  However, he found the flow of pilgrims and several other Sadhus in residence there, not conducive type of the type meditation place he desired. After only a couple years he left Gangotri and took up residence at his current location at foot of the Pindari Glacier.  Initially the local villagers of the region gave him little in the way of support, and for years he struggled to get by, living year round throughout the harsh winters in the tiny one room cave shelter he had made for himself.  But as the years passed, his reputation increased, eventually to the point where he achieved the status of somewhat of a local legend, drawing patrons from all over the world.   It is now he who helps support the villagers donating some of the wealth created by his celebrity to help the local communities.  Despite his celebrity he remains a humble and jovial Sadu, all be it with some unorthodox conversation topics, who welcomes trekkers and pilgrims alike to stay with him providing shelter and food while asking for nothing in return.  When prompted for a donation he merely points at a donation box at the entrance to his temple.

I stayed a night with Baba G, most of the first day was spent within the confines his kitchen riding out an unseasonable snow storm drinking tea and listening to the Baba expound and a variety of diverse topics, from the superiority south Indian buses over those in the north, the following days presidential election in the US and the prospects of Barak Obama, and local wildlife, he has seen a snow leopard twice during his residence.  In the evening he invited me to watch his puja for the deities in his temple, brandishing a bell in one hand and a lamp in the other he circled the flame it in front of the image.

The next morning was beautifully clear, and the sun illuminating the white valley covered in freshly fallen snow.  After hiking up to “Zero Point” overlooking Pindari glacier I decided to hike up the ridge behind Baba G’s ashram.  There was no path, and with snow covering the ground, it made for a difficult and slippery climb but the views down on the valley and across at Pindari glacier were well worth the toil.

That afternoon I descended back down the valley to Dawli, a place that is little more than a couple lodges, only one of which was in use.  It was early in the morning back in The States the day after the presidential election, and in it was in Dawli, a place with three semi permanent residents, namely the lodge staff, no electricity, at 2650 m (8700 ft) in the Himalayas I first learned Barak Obama had won the election.  At the lodge were a couple Indian trekkers from Bombay, an Australian couple, a Belgian couple, and myself.  Everyone was extremely happy about the result.  I don’t think there has ever been an election where more of the world’s people wanted one candidate to win than the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

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