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Filter Coffee with Asha -

I love the way the locals call it Barkha and not Baarish. It adds magic to what we casually call rain. It makes it so lyrical that I hear lilting music in the very mention of it. Barkha. And when it happens in the mountains, you imagine it to be an occurrence of divine proportions.

So, it was only appropriate that on a day when the clouds decided to descend unannounced we visited two very holy shrines. Kali Math and Ukhi Math. It was a day trip that I was supposed to take alone, but when Kamla** mentioned that she had never been to these places, I suggested that they too tag along. Thus we – Kamla, her husband Ramesh, her son Pankaj and nephew Nagesh – bundled into the vehicle in the morning and went on an outing that will remain etched in my memory for long.

(I will not be giving detailed information on the places I visit. The idea of sending these postcards is to share experiences and not details that Google can provide.)

The best thing about driving from the high ranges to the plains is that the rivers begin to appear as you go winding your way down. I had missed a lot of views on my drive to Pokhri from Doon, but it was more than made up for by the animated waters of Mandakini and the giggling streams that run down to meet her. The pastel green of Mandakini was a sight to stop and behold for some time, and as we drove further towards Kali math, the clouds began to gather for an unscheduled rendezvous. What can make the ambience more magical than a downpour at an altitude of 6000 feet?

Kali Math is counted among the 108 Shakti Peeths and stands on the banks of River Saraswati. Animal sacrifice used to be part of regular offerings here and the blood of the sacrificed animals would continuously flow into the crystal-clear waters of Saraswati, Kamla’s husband apprised me. I shuddered at the thought of it and felt relieved that worship now is not accompanied by massacre. Else, what would I have witnessed here on this beautiful Barkha washed afternoon? Pools of blood and the reverberation of goats bleating?

I did not buy any prasad thali to offer at the temple. I had only myself to give. Anything less than that I don’t consider an offering. I sat watching Kamla and her husband offer their prayers following the priest’s instructions. It was probably a dream come true for them. She had many things to seek from the deity, and she laid all her petitions all at Kali Maa’s feet. I thought it my blessing to be able to bring them to this place of divine grace. That was my benediction. It seemed to come from the heavens in thick showers.

The weather was getting slightly unruly with heavy winds blowing and as we veered our way to Omkareshwar Temple situated at Ukhi Math, at an altitude of 4300 feet, we heard the horrifying news of the chopper crash just 750 feet above us. It was a sombre journey, accentuated by winds and harsh rain. Somewhere up there, the clouds had blinded the pilot’s vision and he, with six tourists, had perished. It brought to my mind our averted landing at Dehradun, and I felt grateful for having made it this far without a scrape on my skin.

Omkareshwar Temple is the winter abode of the deity at Kedarnath (Shivji). He is due to arrive here this year on the 29th, we were informed. When the shrine closes for winter up there, pilgrims come here to seek His blessings. The idea of the Deity shifting homes felt curious to me, but we belong to a land of enchanting myths and beliefs, and acknowledging it without questioning only made my visit that much more poignant.

We were all on empty stomachs, and the traffic snarls on our way back made sure that we don’t get anything seriously edible on the way except Maggi. The menfolk scooped up the spicy noodles, while Kamla and I settled for some biscuits and the ubiquitous chai that’s so welcome on a wet day.

The rain was relentless, and the cold winds made us shiver. Not even three layers of clothing was enough to keep my teeth from chattering. It would have snowed in the higher reaches we surmised, and it had, as the visuals that came from the chopper site demonstrated.

If someone asked me why the pilgrims who had just offered prayers at the shrine met with such a fate, I have no answer. If someone questioned the authenticity of the Divine in the light of the tragedy, I may not be able to explain in terms of cause and effeAsha Iyer Kumar - Freedom Song/Short Storyct. All I would have been to tell them is this. If this Barkha isn’t true, if this frolicking river isn’t true, if this ultimate joy I feel isn’t true, if the love and gratitude I see in the eyes of Kamla and her family isn’t true, then yes, even God isn’t true.

** Kamla is the caretaker at Himalayan Birdsong

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