From leaving Vasant Valley with calm music produced from the speakers of our Innovas to counting down the seconds before we entered the gate twelve days later, Yatra was a blast from start to finish.
We began tracking the river from its source, Yamunotri, renowned for its white snow and deeply entrenched religious beliefs. Emerging from the calm and serene area of Janki Chatti, our footsteps carved a path to the glacier, knapsacks in hand and hearts practically beating out of our chests. In all honesty, the trek was easier than we expected it to be. Be it long and chiefly uphill, there weren't as many challenges as we expected as there was almost an entire road paved to our destination. The water at the source was clean, obviously, contradicting its nature towards the end of the Yatra. Our stay at Yamunotri didn't last long as we left the next morning, gravity making our trek back much easier than our initial ascent.
A few hours after we made our way back to Janki Chatti and settled in our respective rooms, we were made to visit a village called 'Kharsali'. Perched upon a mountain with radiant greenery and chilling cold air, the village was beautiful and so were its people. Our main objective going in was to gather information about the daily activities of the villagers – if, when and how they go to work, food and water availability, transportation services, access to primary and higher education, medical needs etc. The villagers were welcoming and open to new faces, and it was very interesting to learn about the lives of people you don't usually see.
Our next stop was Gangnani which was a hop, skip and a very long car ride away. The first day wasn't busy or hectic, in fact, all we did that day was sit next to or go inside the river, depending on your tolerance for numb feet and rapidly lost slippers. The next day, however, we had all sorts of work. We trekked to another village, this time called 'Thangaon', with the same aim as we had in Kharsali. The homes we stayed at were hospitable and the people let us in with open arms. Their answers were relatively similar to the ones we received before, apart from basic cultural and linguistic differences. When we got back to the campsite, we were made to switch roles with that of the kitchen staff. We were divided into separate groups and each was assigned a different task – one group made salad, another daal and sabji, roti and chawal, dessert, and finally, the cleaning group. I chose to be a part of the cleaning group. We all thought it would be the easiest assignment of all. Disclaimer: it really wasn't. Acting as the kitchen staff, even it was just for one night, made us understand how important the things we typically take for granted in life really are. However, all of us weren't meant to do culinary work that night, some students were a part of the culture group, in which they practiced a few songs and dances that they performed for us the next day before we set out to reach Paonta Sahib.
Saying Paonta Sahib was beautiful would be, to say the least, a massive understatement. It was a common favourite among most of us, not only because we finally got to take showers after eight long days of too much dry shampoo and drowning ourselves in deodorant. The Gurudwara we visited was exquisite and interesting, with a museum of historical significance attached to a library with informational books about the structure. A few of us served food while we had langar khanna, and subsequently, washed the dishes we ate in. After we left the Gurudwara, we went to Yamuna Nagar and then set off to reach Delhi.
After spending the night at a youth hostel, we began the very last day of our journey with a trip to the Taj Mahal. It was brilliantly designed and absolutely stunning – truly the perfect way to conclude our trip. We stayed there for about an hour and a half, our mumblings and shuffling shoes depicting a sense of excitement to finally step foot in the place we know best – home.
All in all, I'd say Yamuna Yatra was one of the most enriching and raw experiences one could go through. Here's to the trip that changed our lives. We know we will cherish and miss it for years to come.
-Simran Shina Kumar