Sunday, June 20, 2004

A sacred summit

D.S. Kapoor describes the joy and wonder of a long-awaited trip to Hemkunt Sahib

Hemkunt SahibIn the lap of higher Himalayas, in Uttarkhand, lies Sri Hemkunt Sahib, 15200 feet above sea level in the Chamoli district of Uttaranchal. This is a unique Sikh Shrine at the highest pilgrimage spot in the world.

The place, dedicated to the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, finds a mention in his autobiography Bachittar Natak as the site where he meditated near the seven summits of the Himalayas before his rebirth as the son of Guru Teg Bahadur and Mata Gujari.

Despite the fact that the Hemkunt is mentioned in the autobiography of Guru Gobind Singh, it was unknown for a long time i.e. for about two centuries. The Sikh historian Bhai Santokh Singh has described this taposthan and Bhai Vir Singh, a Sikh scholar discovered this place in 1932. The first person to discover the authentic location of the taposthan was Sant Sohan Singh of Tehri Garhwal, a retired granthi from the Indian Army. With the assistance of Baba Havaldar Modan Singh, he got a room constructed at the site of the taposthan and established a gurdwara at the highest place in the world in 1960. Later, a pentagon-shaped gurdwara was built in the place. Hemkunt Sahib is the only shrine related to the previous birth of a guru. The snow-clad hills are encircled by a crystal-clear sarovar. A visit to the shrine is best between July beginning and September end. The entire region remains covered with snow between October and June.

We started for Hemkunt Sahib from Chandigarh in the early morning by car. After Hardwar, we proceeded to Rishikesh. After a night halt at Rishikesh, we started for Dev Paryag where rivers Alkhanada and Bhagirathi meet. From Dev Paryag, the road is divided into two tracks, one goes to Gangotri and the other towards Hemkunt Sahib and Badrinath. As we moved further, on one side the height of the mountains increased, while on the other side were the dancing waters of Alakhnanda coursing downwards. One saw lush green vegetation on the hills; water falls and listened to the singing birds of valley. After covering more than 100 km from Rishikesh, we reached Srinagar at Garhwal at the height of 3,400 feet. Here, a historical gurdwara named after Guru Nanak Dev, called Charan padak, is located.

The next destination was Joshi math, one of the four maths set up by Shankracharya at the height of 6,000 feet, 150 km from Srinagar. About 17 km from Joshi math is Gobind Ghat, situated on the west bank of the Alakhnanda, where the pilgrims stop for a night’s halt. Lodging houses, restaurants, and tea stalls cater to the rush of pilgrims. We reached Gobind Ghat late in the evening, the sky was covered with dark clouds. Later, it started drizzling. One could see the kesri flags fluttering atop the corrugated roofs of the gurdwara. After ensuring a room for a night stay, we purchased what was required for the next journey like walking sticks, rain coats, water bottle etc. We got up early in the morning and set out for Gobind Dham. We began the yatra after crossing the huge suspension bridge spanning Alakhnanda. The zigzag path was made of stones of various sizes; some where it was slippery because of the rain. On the way we had snacks and hot soup prepared from black gram, specially meant to cure fatigue. After crossing the bridge of Bhyundas, the passage gets very rocky and one has to cross a dense forest. In touch with nature and comfortable in a group, we walked while singing shabads, until we finally reached the lush green open valley with colourful mountain flowers in full bloom.

We reached Gobind Dham, a base camp for pilgrims at the height of 10,500 feet above sea level, in the evening. We stayed for the night and next morning set out for our final destination. From Gobind Dham, a path diverges reaching to the Valley of Flowers, spread over a tract of three km, a major tourist attraction. Pilgrims brace themselves by chatting Satnam Waheguru. We carefully cross the track over the glacier and suddenly get our first glimpse of Sri Hemkunt Sahib. The divine joy overwhelms our souls with the darshan.

As the altitude is now 15,210 feet above sea level, the snow-clad peaks looks very fresh and unspotted, the cool wind seems venerable and the sarovar so pious. The whole atmosphere was nothing short of heavenly. We take a quick dip in the sarovar, a bone-chilling experience to be sure. The clouds sometime rapidly wrap the seven peaks surrounding its shrine. The shrine seems a blossoming lotus standing in a pool of water. After the Parikarma, we entered the Darbar Sahib. The chill was quelled with a hot cup of tea and prasad of khichchri served at the langar hall. We were awe-struck at the beauty of the structure and the surroundings were filled with happiness at the thought of having reached a much sought after destination.