Between the world and the still glacier lakeEach year on Janai Purnima, thousands of pilgrims head to the abode of the gods -- Gosainkunda, the holy lake. The pandemic didn’t deter the devotees.
When my friend asked me if I wanted to visit Gosainkunda with her family last Thursday, I jumped on the idea. My logic was that amid the Covid-19 pandemic, fewer travellers would head to the holy lake for Janai Purnima, which would mean a quiet time in the serene landscape. It was a brilliant plan. Only I didn’t realise that there would be thousands who would be thinking the same.
At Dhunche close to midnight, I was still looking for a room to accommodate our group of five. Unfortunately, the locals informed us that there were no rooms available. When we finally managed a room, we knew the journey ahead would not be easy, and it would be a race to book hotel services along the way. Many people had turned up to make a pilgrimage to the holy lake at an elevation of 4,380 metres, two days away.
On the trail, however, these things didn’t matter. In the monsoon drizzle, we strolled, enjoying the natural sounds of the woods we passed through. The sweet smell of the damp earth beneath me invigorated my senses. The green view of the season filled me with wonder. Everything on the trail was exciting. And even something as simple as potato and yak cheese tasted divine.
But at Buddha Mandir above Laurebina, we had trouble finding a room again. Like hundreds of pilgrims, we had no option but to take shelter under the open sky with just the tarpaulin and thin mats as our makeshift accommodation. It was cold and uncomfortable as we shifted sides. No one was sleeping. You could hear people rambling with each other.
I stared at the plastic ceiling, thinking if I should cover my face with my mask. But because the air was thinning with the altitude, I tried to distract myself from the idea. Perhaps, near the gods, the virus would weaken and be at bay. I choked on my logic.
When the morning arrived, I shoved off my reasoning and walked towards the glacial lake with my group, and upon reaching Gosainkunda, nothing else mattered. I was at peace with myself. The lake was stunning and surreal, as I had heard.
The soreness of the night disappeared after I took three daring dips in the icy water. Some pilgrims meditated before the lake, others changed their janais after taking a bath in the kunda. And I shivered in my euphoria and longed to stay back as some pilgrims packed their bags hurriedly to leave for home.
In that moment of clarity, I realised how the pandemic had burdened my shoulders too, like many people in the country. And in letting go of the anxiousness of the times, I could live a little more calmly. There on the edge of the lake, I took deep breaths and contemplated the profound landscape before me. As people performed their prayers and rituals, I heaved a sigh of relief from between the world and the still glacial lake.