The last night in Delhi was spent at the Gujarat Sadan, Kashmere Gate. The accomadation was basic, unisex, dorms with bunk beds – with clean loos. I was sleeping in a bunk bed for the first time – but, it was very similar to the upper berth of the sleeper coach. The dinner was basic and tasty and it is all provided free to all yatris. The dormitory was a hive of activity since many of the less experienced yatris had to try and waterproof their belongings as best they could. The Gujarati contingent stayed cool, as they are have well organized support groups in Gujarat and come well briefed. My new friend, Purnata Mojumdar, had too much luggage and her brother and sister made last minute efforts to trim the baggage to a reasonable amount and get it packed.
We were up before 4 am on the 31st to prepare for a 5 am departure. Every one was up, there was the rush for the bathrooms, some panic as there was initally no water, the call for the aarti and the blessings for the journey, and the resounding call of “Har Har Mahadev” – these are the memories of that morning. And along with a cup of tea, the many well wishers who had come to see us off, distributed small gifts and momentos. These are people who come to see off each of the 16 batches…… and the miscellany we collected included water proof waist pouch, passport holder, pooja material, bhajan booklets etc… The Delhi Government, which actually has a full department which looos after yatras, had already two days earlier held an evening function where they had distributed a large ruck sack, track suit, rain proof pants and top over wear and other smaller assets. I has missed this event, as had many of the Delhi based yatris. The goodies were collected for me by Purnata and so I ended up with an extra, or so i thought, rucksack!! I also learnt later that for many in the group these were extremely useful items which (since they were aware of these traditions) saved them the money in acquiring them.
Finally, with many garlands and malas we were seated and set off a little after 5 am, in a light drizzle. By the time we reached Ghaziabad, which was the first stop, it was raining heavily.The Ghaziabad chapter of the All India Kailash Mansarovar Samiti held a felicitation function for every batch and it was grand affair with an elaborate breakfast.
The coach ride to Haldwani (266 Km)was reasonably comfortable and although the road was good for most of the way, due to the heavy rains we made it there only around 4PM. A traditional welcome, followed by lunch at the KMVN resturant and then we had to transfer into smaller buses to climb up to Almora. As darkness set in, the bus became slow and we took 3 hrs to do the 90Km to the KMVN hotel in Almora. We arrived in darkness (power cuts are common) and had dinner by candle light. We were really tired but the day was not yet over. We had our first group meeting, and got the various committees together – foof, luggage, pooja, environment. Each has a crucial role as we will see later and i was part of the last one! Finally after the Aarti we could go to bed – only later would we realize how much more tired we would be!!