Tag Archives: Pilgrimage

Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage!


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Yamuna river at Sayanachatti

When the District Tourism Officer of Uttarkashi, Prakash Singh Khatri told me that before taking us to Sayanachatti rest house in the evening, he wants to take us to a majestic waterfalls, enroute Yamunotri, which is hardly visited by anyone, I was thrilled. There were two reasons to get excited, having been to Kempty Falls in the morning, I desperately wanted to see some real waterfalls. Secondly, I wanted to explore the non-mythological aspects of this fantastic valley. That was also the brief for us during Uttarakhand Tourism’s first ever Blogger Bus in the state.

First view of the Narad Falls

Yamunotri has got all sort of mythological importance. It is indeed known as the source of river Yamuna. Although the actual source of river lies somewhere 14 kms up in the mountains, river Yamuna is worshipped at Yamunotri. Besides the mythology associated with the story of Yamuna itself, this place has many references to Mahabharata. Moreover, places like Janaki Chatti and Hanuman Chatti also associate this with epic of Ramayana. Every year, the annual Char Dham Yatra starts from Yamunotri and then proceeds eastwards to Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally Badrinath.

Narad Ganga river flowing down to Banas

But the charm of Yamunotri is not limited to this pilgrimage. There are many places around worth visiting, and above all, this also acts as a base for many treks in this region. Visit to Narad Falls (Narad Ganga) was actually just the prelude to the potential this region holds for the adventure seekers. I have trekked earlier in adjoining Tons valley. But both the valleys are well connected through trekking routes and also to other parts of state as well as neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

Closer look at the Narad Falls

Narad Falls on Narad Ganga river was very interesting. This river is a tributary of Yamuna and meets Yamuna at Banas, where the road diverts to this place. Banas is between Hanuman Chatti and Phool Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Janaki Chatti is hardly 5 kms from Banas. Trek to Yamunotri starts from Janaki Chatti. Falling under Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Banas is a small village in Naugaon block and also has a girls middle school. Mythologically Banas (बनास) is said to be a place which is abode of trinity of gods- Brahma (ब), Narayan or Vishnu (ना) and Shanker or Shiva (स). Well, you might not find too many references to it, its word of mouth and either you believe it or not.

Hot springs at Narad falls

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri!

Colour of water has been changed due to high presence of sulphur
You can imagine how hot this water from the natural spring is

Narad Falls isn’t very high but has tremendous force that makes it look very beautiful. It is hardly a couple of hundred metres aways from the main road leading to Yamunotri but it is slightly hidden off-route. Hence not many people take notice of it. It was also the first time, I was noticing any natural destination dedicated to mythological saint Narad. There was another phenomenon. The falls had a natural stream of hot water running along the river at this place. Hot springs are not uncommon in this Himalayan region. But they certainly add to the charm of a place. Here at Narad Falls, the hot water from the spring has also been mixed into the cold freezing water of river into a pond to make it suitable for taking bath. This small valley thus has a falls, a hot spring, a temple, a bathing pond and a small trek to the base of the falls—thus making it fit for a small adventure trip.

Temple at Banas
Another view of Banas temple from the Yamunotri highway

You can watch a video of Narad Falls and the hot springs along it on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

But this place is actually base for many bigger adventures. Actual source of river Yamuna at Saptrishi Kund itself is a tough trek of 14 to 18 kms from Yamunotri. Base for many of such high altitude treks is Kharsali village. This village also has a history. Kharsali is just across the Yamuna river from Janaki Chatti. Janaki Chatti is base for Yamunotri as last road head. Here the trek starts. During the Yatra season, Janaki Chatti is heavily crowded with thousands of pilgrims, ponies, porters and palakis and hundreds of vehicles parked there. For all those who are aware of this, Kharsali village provides a lot of relief as you can altogether skip going to Janaki Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Road to Kharsali takes a diversion from main road a kilometre before Janaki Chatti, hence you can escape the traffic jam that usually happens just before Janaki Chatti. You can park your vehicles at Kharsali and just cross a foot bridge on Yamuna towards Janaki Chatti and head to the trail to Yamunotri. Kharsali also has a few resorts to stay. 

Yamuna temple at Kharsali, this is the newer construction

Also read: World Environment Day – Where even the source is threatened

Front view of the Yamuna temple at Kharsali
Idols of goddess Yamuna at Kharsali temple

But there is lot more about Kharsali village. Locals take pleasure in claiming it to be the last Indian village on this side of the border towards China. But Kharsali is also known for its Yamuna temple. Every year in winters when Yamunotri temple is closed down, Yamuna is worshipped at the temple in Kharsali. On second day of Diwali on Bhaiya Dooj (भैया दूज या यम द्वितीया) Yamuna’s idol is brought down in procession to Kharsali temple. It is than worshipped here for next six months until Akshaya Tritiya (अक्षय तृतीया) when it will be taken again in a procession to Yamunotri temple. Kharsali also has s Someshwar Shani Temple. Shani (शनि) is said to be the Yamuna’s brother from her father Sun’s second wife. Shani temple at Kharsali is five storied and said to be 500 years old. 

Kharsali village

Kharsali is also the base for the proposed ropeway to Yamunotri. It also has a helipad which is used by helicopter services for Char Dham Yatra. On a clear day, you can view Swargarohini peak, Kalindi peak, Kalanag (black peak), Bandarpoonch range and few other mountains from Kharsali. Black peak is also said to be the source of Hiranayabahu river which meets Yamuna at Kharsali. Kharsali has developed itself into a trekking base with facilities for camping, porters, guides, equipments and lot more. Kharsali has many apple orchards as well as herbal gardens for traditional herbs of medicinal values. 

View of the Kalindi mountain range

Trekking routes

One of the most prominent trekking route from Kharsali is the one which links Tons valley to Yamuna valley via Bali Pass (4800 metres). This trek is done from both the sides. One can ascend either from Kharsali in Yamuna valley or  from Seema in Tons valley. Bandar poonch range is said to be source of another river Hanuman Ganga which meets Yamuna at Hanuman Chatti. From Hanuman Chatti, there goes another trek along the Hanuman Ganga river upto the Dodital. Kalanag (6387 metres) in the Bandarpoonch range is said to be the highest peak in Ruinsara-Yamunotri region. Normally this peak is done from the Osla-Ruinsara side. Seasoned old man Jayendra Singh Tomar of Kharsali village also told us about a beautiful trek from Yamunotri to Gangotri, This trek starts from Kharsali and goes through Sunapada, Mala, Sangasoo, Kanatal, Chaya Baamsaru, Dayara Bugyal and Bharsu towards Gangotri. A long but beautiful, unexplored trek. 

Sneak a view
Another view of the snow peaks on the way

So next time you think about Yamunotri, be sure that there are many things that you can do else than the routine pilgrimage to make your trip a bit adventurous. 

Have you trekked in the Yamunotri valley? How was the experience. Please share with us in the comments section below.

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World Environment Day: Where even the source is threatened

How often when we talk  talk of polluing rivers we discuss about the ways big cities are pushing their dirt into it. While talking about rivers, we cherish, how pure the rivers are at their source and then get polluted down the stream. In that sense, it was indeed painful to see the source of one of our most sacred rivers Yamuna at Yamunotri. It was pristine all around–weather, nature and the faith, but the condition of river was not at all that healthy. We have probably ourselves to blame.

Bottles, plastic and other garbage that river threw out at Sayanachatti, just 25 kms from Yamunotri.

Problem is, we are unwittingly perhaps encouraging what should have been discouraged downrightly. With the increasing connectivity, increasing number of travellers all the stops on the way are being converted into mini city hubs. With hundreds of buses coming daily during the Yatra time, we can just imagine the pressure being put on this fragile ecosystem. With this pressure comes the associated evils that target the environment. That needs to be checked or we will be letting things go out of control. Talking about cities? Condition of Yamuna just few odd kilometres from Yamunotri  had gone pathetic. We could see piles of garbage along the river. And that was what river had spewed out, what it swallowed and took along with it downstream couldn’t be seen here.

Shops along the Yamunotri trail

All along the almost six kilometre trail to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti, you will find  countless number of shops and all of them selling bottled water, soft drinks and all other things in plastic bottles. Then there are other hazardous items too in tins and cans. It is anybody’s guess that a big number of bottles out of the ones used here will find its way to the river stream. And it could actually be seen clearly.

Remains of the faith!

Situation was more alarming at the source itself, the Yamunotri where the crowd converges. It has to bear the most of the pressure and without tough handling with some path-breaking moves, we won’t be able to control the situation. There are more shops at Yamunotri, cooking everything from rice to samosas and selling everything from coke to toffees.

People taking bath in Yamuna at Yamunotri

Not just the count of the travellers, this pristine area also has to bear equal number of animals, support staff, shopkeepers, administration and infrastructure. And that all is constantly increasing. How are we going to check this? How can we restrain, when it comes to the matters of faith? Something to ponder about on this World Environment Day!

What can we do to stop this pollution? Share your views in the comments section below!

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Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri


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Yamunotri temple on the foothills of the Kalind mountain

Rubbing your shoulders against the ponies, fear of being hit by wooden sticks protubering out of palakis (पालकी), getting squeezed between rush of pilgrims on one side and rocky hillside on the other and a long tiring journey–nothing deters you from your faith that drives you to reach the Yamunotri temple on the foothills of Kalind mountain.

Janaki Chatti as seen from Kharsali village
Another view of the Janaki Chatti village during Char Dham Yatra season

Here faith sees no fear. And you have enough of motivation to do that, even if you are not a traditional pilgrim type–a breeze of fresh air, song of the river flowing deep in the beautiful lush green valley on your right and a majestic sight of snow-clad peaks of Garhwal Himalayas.

THE YATRA
Yamunotri is the westernmost shrine of this region. Hence it is traditionally the starting point of the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand which then goes to Gangotri and then Kedarnath and finally concludes at Badrinath. There is a pattern in this pilgrimage–you keep moving from west to east. Two of these Char Dhams are the source of India’s two most important rivers- Ganges and Yamuna, which themselves meet down at Sangam in Allahabad. Other two are dedicated to two of the most important deities which happened to be source of two streams of Hinduism- Shaivite and Vaishnavite, i.e. Kedarnath dedicated to Shiva and Badrinath dedicated to Vishnu.
Waiting for the riders
Also all these four dhams are at almost same altitude zone- Yamunotri being lowest at 3293 metres and Kedarnath being highest at 3553 metres. Factually speaking, all these four dhams have trekking routes connecting each other. No doubt, these would have been the travel routes centuries ago for the pilgrims until the roads came up. Not just the route, there are many legends connecting these dhams, few of them dating as back as times of Mahabharata.
View of the Kalind mountain in backyard of Yamunotri
But another existing fact of interest is that out of the two dhams with river sources, only Gangotri is accessible by road, whereas there is a almost a six kilometer trek from Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri. Similarly, in the other two dhams of deities only Badrinath is accessible by road, while Kedarnath has to be reached by a arduous 18 kms trek from Gaurikund.
THE EXPERIENCE
A lot has changed in this region after the devastating floods of 2013. Being in the same region, all of them had to face to fury of the nature. Immediate after effect was the reduced number of pilgrims. But these four dhams command such a respect in the Hindu mindsets that, five years down the line, the number of pilgrims coming for Char Dham yatra has reached back to the pre-2013 levels. We were told that as many as 7000 pilgrims go to the Yamunotri temple from Janaki Chatti daily.
Happy with what life gives. Two porters with their dolis
That’s how the palakis are carried on the four shoulders

Personally, rivers always fascinate me and honestly speaking I will try not to let go any chance to jump in the lap of nature. Hence an invitation from the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board to be part of its first ever Bloggers Bus was indeed a blessing in disguise. We were seven in all, four from Kolkata–Rangan Datta, Amrita Das, Subhadip Mukherjee and Anindya Basu; Namita Kulkarni from Mysore and besides me Swati Jain from New Delhi. (We will know more about my co-travellers in later posts. In the meantime you can click on their names to go to their lovely blogs). We travelled for six days in a bus in Yamuna and Ganges valley of Uttarakhand, exploring some so far unexplored areas. Yamunotri was the first major destination of the trip.

Walking trail alongside the valley
THE ROUTE
The trek to Yamunotri is a mixed bag. The trail is paved and has a protective railing towards the valley side throughout the trail. Although regular trekkers will find it easy, six kilometres is a no mean task at such altitude. At times it is steep enough to make you sweat and breathless, more so if you are not habitual of walking and being at an altitude of over 10 thousand feet. There are shelters every half kilometer or less. There are sitting places in these sheds. There is facility of drinking water and there are numerous shops on the way selling food, snacks and drinks. Walkers can even purchase a stick to support as a third leg. Down at Janaki Chatti, there is a well developed market selling almost everything of daily need.
Time to quench the thirst
Kalind mountain in full glory
Corns for the time pass!

There are other ways to cover the distance and most common is a riding a pony. You can hire a pony either for the round trip or the one way. Then there is a palaki where you are lifted and carried by four people on their shoulders in a seat. Then there is a doli, generally for kids and lighter people in which one people carries you on his back in a seat carved inside a basket. Now the problem is that everybody has to share the same walking trail to go and return from Yamunotri. At times and at certain narrow points the trail becomes quite crowded and there are instances of traffic jams, and even walking becomes tougher and bit of ordeal. Moreover, the cemented trail also becomes somewhat uncomfortable for the ponies and gets slippery. Imagine, there are around 2000 ponies at Janaki Chatti to take pilgrims to Yamunotri. But one thing for sure, despite few grims and whims here and there, everybody is fine with everything and considers it as a part of their journey to the deity.

THE SOURCE
Interestingly, just like Gangotri, the actual source of Yamuna river is also not at Yamunotri. As Gaumukh is further 18 kms from Gangotri, similarly actual source of Yamuna rives is said to be the Saptrishi Kund which is a small glacial lake fed be Champasar Glacier in the Bandar Poonch massif. This lake is said to be some where between 14 to 18 kms far from the Yamunotri temple at an altitude of over 16,500 ft. Saptrishi kund is also named so because of its mythological association with the seven great sages– Kashyapa, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Vasistha.
Bridge just after the Bhairav temple
Shelters for the pilgrims on the trail to take much needed rest
Time to move again with the crowd
Pilgrims from all corners of the country converse here
Views like this keep you fresh and energised

Treks to this place are very less and hence very little information is available about it. It might be bit tough but not impossible one. Actually this is indeed a very beautiful trek and legends connect it to even Ramayana and it is often said locally that this was the place where Hanuman came search of Sanjeevani all the way from Lanka. Not for the legend, but certainly for its charismatic beauty, I hope to do this trek some day. Legends say that the actual source of Yamuna being so tough to reach, temple to worship Yamuna was built down in the valley at the present site. As the secretary of the Yamunotri Temple Committee Kriteshwar Uniyal said to us, that it was impossible for the lesser mortals reach at the original source.

THE SHRINE
Yamunotri temple has three-four main parts. First one is the sprout in the rocks from where river Yamuna emerges. That is the place where the river is worshipped by the devotees ritualistically. The sprout is covered by a cage to protect it. Then there is a proper temple nearby which has three idols- one of the Yamuna, second one of the Ganges and third one too of Yamuna which is taken out during the procession and festivals. Between these two sites is a hot spring called as Soorya Kund (Yamuna is believed to be the daughter of Sun god). The water in this spring is so hot that it is used to cook rice which is taken back by the devotees as a Prasad (blessing). We have seen this phenomenon at many places in Himalayas.
With the uphill journey over, time to hand the palakis
Porters having time to rest after a tiring climb
Meanwhile these innocents wait for turn to go downhill again
Remains of faith polluting the river!!
Temple and the river flowing alongside
Where Yamuna sprouts beneath the rocks inside the shrine
The main temple of goddess Yamuna

Then there are also bath ponds for the devotees to take bath before the pooja where the hot water is mixed with cold water of Yamuna to make it more bearable. There are separate baths for men and women. Besides, there are numerous shops lined up selling food, snacks, drinks, prasads, offering and souvenirs. There are also few options of stay for the devotees who are late and might not be able to return Janaki Chatti before dark.

 
Fast Facts
1. Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri temple is a trek of 5.5 kms. A normal person will take 2 to 2 and half hours to walk down the trail.
2. Ponies charge 1200 rupees one way and a palaki 4000 rupees one way.
3. Travelers are normally allowed to leave till 5 pm in the evening from Janaki Chatti towards Gangotri.
4. There is enough of water and food available on the way.
5. There are also sheds for the shelter from sun, rain and wind.
6. Always walk towards the hillside to be safe as there are lot of pulls and push from various elements.
7. Avoid travelling in dark on the walking trail.
View from the bridge that leads to the shrine across the river
How to Reach
Yamunotri is located in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand at the far end of the Yamuna valley in westernmost Garhwal Himalayas. Janaki Chatti is the last road head. One can reach to Janaki Chatti by public transport i.e. buses or any private means- buses, taxi, personal cars, two-wheelers etc. All of them have to be parked at either Janaki Chatti or Kharsali village.
Walking back to Janaki Chatti
It becomes really crowded at times
Turning back for some lasting views
Meanwhile, he has found the best place to have a undisturbed power nap
A fulfilling journey comes to an end

Nearest rail heads are Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Nearest Airport is Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun. Dehradun to Yamunotri is roughly about 180 kms. Roads are generally very good up till Janaki Chatti baring for a few landslide zones. Route from Rishikesh to Janaki Chatti goes through Dehradun, Mussorie, Yamuna Bridge, Naugaon, Barkot, Syana Chatti and Hanuman Chatti. It is almost an eight hour journey from Dehradun to Janaki Chatti.

You can see a video of this trek to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you ever been to Yamunotri? How was the experience? Please share with us in the comments section below.
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…the pink mystique

It was second day at Sambhar. Last day was interesting with engaging myself in pink salt of Sambhar and then soaking in some refreshing sights of a pink sunset. But as I said, my mind was still lurking in search of the pink flamingos. The other day Sohan Singh had suggested me to go towards the Devayani, where I can probably find the birds. One things I have learnt over the years of travelling is never to feel shy in asking locals about any doubt or any information- basic or may be additional. So, while riding my bike in the morning, I  asked my lodge owner about possible location of flamingos and he suggested me to go towards ‘chatri (canatoph) of Dadu Dayal (दादू दयाल की छतरी). I decided to try towards Devayani first.

Sambhar Devyani9
Temples at Devayani

This is third aspect of a trip to Sambhar. It was not in my agenda, at least not before the flamingos, but then as it was deemed to be, I had to explore Devayani first. Besides being home to salt and flamingos, Sambhar is also a religious town and mythologically a very important one. Devayani gets its name from daughter of guru Shukracharya of demons and was queen of king Yayati. This mythology dates quite earlier to even times of Mahabharata. I am not going to dwell upon story of Devayani and Yayati as it is there in scriptures as well as now online. As is believed, that this is the place, where Devayani used to live, hence it got the name. So, Sambhar has got this spiritual and religious value as well. Devayani temple is just two kilometres from the Sambhar bus stand.

Road to Devayani
deserted road to Devayani

Devayani is considered to be a pilgrimage and now there have been many efforts to develop religious tourism aspect of Sambhar. With lots of funds in tow, the area has been renovated and many facilities being developed. Devayani is actually a small artificial lake and there are temples all around. In this way, it is quite similar to Pushkar, though the later one is quite bigger than this. So, there are ghats and temples on all four sides. For long these have been neglected, and now there are efforts to clean the lake and reconstruct the ghats and temples.

Lake and temples around
Lake and temples around

Temples are dedicated to various deities, but the main temple is of Ganges or the Ganga. This temple is said to quite old and is being repaired now. Inner portion of the temple looks quite recently refurbished.

Regular prayers and worships are held at the temple. Every month on many auspicious days special religious events are being held and local people from around the region gather here in good numbers. Although, that morning I was the only visitor there.

For those in need!
For those in need!

Interestingly, this place is called as Devayani and though it is dedicated to a specific mythological character but the main temple here is of river Ganges. I was told that earlier there used to be no temple of Devayani here. Just recently, a temple of Devayani was built because many people will come and ask that where is the Devayani temple (but outside this temple it is written that it is an ancient one! Quite confusing!).

Devayani temple
Devayani temple

On the four sides of lake are said to also four ancient Shiva temples and one of them is this Jageshwar temple. It is believed the the lingam at this temple is very deep and actually no one has been able to know its actual depth.

Jageshwar temple
Jageshwar temple

Interestingly enough, just adjacent to Devayani temple is a tomb and  a small mosque nearby. There was no information on who’s tomb it is or may be religious fault lines prohibit people to divulge too much. But in the medieval times there has been known history of muslim salt traders from Sambhar trading salt at nearby cities. There was even a mosque in Jaipur’s Kishanpole area known as ‘mosque of Sambharias’ (सांभरियों की मसजिद). Irony is that in all the construction and renovation around, no care was being taken of that tomb.

Although I was focused to look for flamingos, this place indeed looked interesting to me and had many things to reflect upon.

Sambhar Devyani10

Thousands accompany Nanda Devi on its mythical journey

Rajjaat concludes amidst enthusiasm braving tough weather

A chantoli near Roop Kund at almost 14500 ft
A chantoli near Roop Kund at almost 14500 ft

Thousands of people gave an emotional send-off to their mythical daughter Nanda Devi at Homkund at an altitude of almost 16 thousand feet right at the base of Nanda Ghunti peak (in Uttarakhand in Himalayan India), bringing to close a much awaited Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra which takes place in not less than 12 years. Called as Himalayan Kumbh and longest religious procession in Asia, this 290 km Yatra started from Nauti near Karnprayag in Uttarakhand on 18th August and ended at same place on morning of 7th September after customary rituals. Nanda was bid adieu at Homkund on 3rd September. Comparing to last two occasions in 1987 and 2000, number of pilgrims as well as the Chantolis (canopies) representing various goddesses in Kumaon and Garhwal region saw a manifold increase. Extending the tradition there were many more Chantolis and flags this time, including many first timers such as one from as far as Martoli region of Pithoragarh.

Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra 2014 at Bedini Bugyal
Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra 2014 at Bedini Bugyal

Whether or not to let the numbers increase in this highly sensitive zone of Himalayas is a matter to be debated and will be debated a lot in coming days owing to last year’s catastrophe in Kedarnath region and this year’s floods in Kashmir, but enthusiasm among people was something not to be missed. Yatra had many other hits and misses. New traditions were made and old ones were broken. Much was left to desire of many. Weather and rough terrain put up a stiff challenge to those who were less prepared. Indeed any trip with a strenuous trek at above 13K ft for five days on trot can’t be easy one for even regular trekkers like me. I could safely say that it was the most challenging trek I ever did in last more than 20 years.

Rough terrain and tough trek

Pilgrims queued up to go to Homkund to send off Nanda Devi towards Kailash
Pilgrims queued up to go to Homkund to send off Nanda Devi towards Kailash

Yatra had many milestones after starting from Nauti and Kansuwa. Important among them were Nandkesari where all mini Yatras coming from other parts of state converge into the main one. Next one was Waan, a village famous for its potatoes and a very important cultural centre, from where actually the Yatra moves into the high altitude zone. Then was Bedini Bugyal, said to be one of the most pristine bugyals of this part of Himalayas where people pay ritualistic homage to their ancestors at Bedini Kund. Then was the mysterious lake of Roopkund strewn around with human skeletons dating at least five centuries back. Jyura Gali (street of death) pass at the altitude of 15580 ft was the highest point of the whole trip. Across the pass, Shila Samundar was literally a sea of rocks, surrounded by snow clad peaks. That was the last camp before sending Nanda Devi to Homkund. Back down, Sutol was the again the road head and also a place known for its Pandav dance.

Nanda Devi on its way to Homkund

Rajjaat Yatra is underway with much enthusiasm

Celebrations at Nauti village
Celebrations at Nauti village

Nanda Devi Rajjaat has completed its first circuit on way to Homkund in Himalayas for its once in 12 years visit.  After starting from Nauti on 18th morning, Yatra reached Ira Badhani in the evening for the first halt. Second day it came back from Ira Badhani to Nauti. Today on the third day of its journey it is coming to Kansuwa again, thus completing a full circle of its initial journey before leaving for tougher part ahead.

Welcome at Kansuwa village
Welcome at Kansuwa village

Kansuwa is the village of descendants of the erstwhile royal family of Garhwal. The tradition of yatra believed to be started by King Shalipal in 7th century is still followed by his representatives in Kansuwa, currently being Dr. Rakesh Kunwar, who also heads the Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra organizing committee. Nauti, as the name suggests is the village of Nautial Brahmins. They used to be traditional priests for the royal family. People say that last two Yatras in 1987 and last one in 2000 actually started from Kansuwa. This time though, it started from Nauti. It’s not clear, why so. As we told earlier, the four horned sheep (called ‘Khadu’) and the Nanda Devi’s palanquin were brought from Adi Badri temple to Kansuwa and 16th and then they were ceremonially taken to Nauti on 17th evening. Thus it completes the full circle of visit to all related spots. Ira Badhani is not on the route, but traditionally and mythically Nanda Devi has said to have promised to visit here every time she goes back to her in-laws i.e. Shiva’s abode.

Villagers waiting at Heluri village near Ira Badhnai
Villagers waiting at Heluri village near Ira Badhnai

Well, yatra reaches today to Kansuwa and will move for its onward journey. Tomorrow it will go to Sem from Kansuwa and on the way will pass through Chandpur Garhi which was erstwhile first capital of Garhwal Kings. There traditionally Tehri king himself or any of his representatives will be worshipping the Nanda Devi. The remains of fort can still be seen there. There is also a temple of goddess there. When in 14th century capital was shifted from Chandpur Garhi to Dewalgarh, then the responsibility of worshipping the goddess was assigned to Kunwars of Kansuwa and Nautiyals of Nauti. Hence the tradition continues.

After Sem on day 4, Koti on day 5 and Bhagoti on day 6, Yatra will reach at Kulsari on 7th day, which will be a new moon night. There goddess Kali will be worshipped whole night. From here onwards daily uptil Waan, different goddess palanquins from different parts of the hills will be joining the Rajjaat Yatra.

Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra festivities begin

ChowsinghaWith rains relenting a bit on Saturday (16th August 2014), the festivities of Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra took off with a religious fervor when mythical four-horned sheep and the Raj Chantoli (a small palanquin with Nanda Devi’s small decorated idol) of Nanda Devi reached Kansuwa village near Nauti in Uttarakhand. Kansuwa is village of descendants of erstwhile royal family (raj kunwars) who have been traditionally organizing the Nanda Devi Rajjaat. Earlier both the sheep and the Chantoli were brought to the Adi Badri temple where they were received by the Kunwars of Kansuwa represented by Dr. Rakesh Kunwar who is also the president of Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra organizing committee. After traditional rituals and offerings, they were taken to Nauti.

NandaDevi1Traditionally the four horned sheep leads the Yatra followed by Raj Chantoli till Homkund, where it is released towards the Kailash Mountain mythically considered to be abode of Lord Shiva. Homkund is reached after passing through Bedini Bugyal, mysterious Roopkund and a very tough Jyura Gali pass (termed as street of death). Its also believed that this sheep is borned after special prayers by Kansuwa family. Its birth anywhere in the region is considered to be the permission to hold Yatra.

 

Four horned sheep and Raj Chantoli reach Kansuwa

The Raj Chantoli is built by Rudis of Chimta village near Kansuwa.  It is brought to Adi Badri by the Rajrudia and handed over to Kunwars of Kansuwa. They take it to their village Kansuwa. On the way at a place called Madho Ghat the sheep encounters Raj Chantoli and then they go together to Kansuwa.  A gold idol of Nanda Devi is kept in the palanquin (Raj Chantoli). After being decorated whole day on Sunday, the sheep and the Raj Chantoli will be reaching Nauti on Sunday night from where Yatra will finally leave for Homkund on Monday morning at 10.45 am with hundreds of followers in tow. As per information of now, Governor of Uttarakhand Dr. Aziz Kureshi will be inaugurating the Nanda Devi Rajjaat on Monday. He will be flying to Gauchar airstrip from Dehradun and after an overnight stay will travel to Nauti by road.

AdiBadriAdi Badri is one of the Panch (five) Badris of Uttarakhand. Located 17 kms from Karnprayag on the Karnprayag-Ranikhet highway, this is actually a cluster of 16 temples believed to be built during the Guptas period.

The 20 days, 290 kms Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra will culminate at Nauti on 7th Septembter. This year a day as been added in the Yatra for an extrra stay at Bedini Bugyal. (Nanda Devi Rajjaat Yatra from 18th).

 

Nanda Devi Rajjat yatra from 18th August

Procession of Gods
Procession of Gods

After two years of postponement the eagerly awaited Nanda Devi Rajjat Yatra will finally take place from 18th August to 6th September this year. The Nanda Raj Jat takes place once every twelve years – the journey starts from Nauti village (Karnaprayag district of Uttarakhand state in India) accompanying a mythical four-horned sheep and Doli and all sorts of gifts for Nanda Devi, who is treated as a daughter revisiting her mother. Last Yatra happened in 2000. Hence it was originally scheduled in 2012 but was postponed due to Malmaas (one inauspicious month) in that year. Hence rescheduled to happen in 2013, again last year it was postponed due to natural catastrophe (flash floods) in Kedarnath area, which created widespread destruction and huge loss of life and property across Himalayan region. Now, if everything goes as per plan, then Yatra will bring cheers to the many.

Raj Jaat Yatra at Roopkund
Raj Jaat Yatra at Roopkund

Nanda devi – the daughter of Kings of mountains, and the consort of Lord Shiva – is the supreme spiritual goddess of the locals of Garhwal and Kumaon region. She visits her maternal dwelling in these Himalayan heights in the Bhadrapad (months of August – September) – and this festive break is celebrated by the natives. The 280 kilometres and 19 days trek starts from Nauti Village and reaches Homkund via the amazingly picturesque Bedini Bugyal, Roopkund (4501 m) and the very difficult Jyura Gali pass (4620 m), on Nandashtmi. The trek passes through some of the most beautiful and some very tricky landscapes in the area. It is said that four-horned ram is born once every twelve years, and this very ram leads the procession. People do not go beyond Homkund, from where the ram takes the gifts and disappears in the glaciers. Once the ram is released, no one looks in its direction and the procession immediately heads back home.

Yatra on the route, File Photo
Yatra on the route, File Photo

One can attend the ceremony at Nauti village and then proceed to other places of interest before joining the procession again via Wan. It is at Wan that some 300 idols and decorated chhantolis (umbrellas) are assembled and the journey continuous all the way to Homkund.

Besides, Nanda Devi (7816 mts) is also the second heighest peak in India, located in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand. The route of Yatra passes through beautiful and mysterious lakes of Roopkund & Homkund and slopes of Bedini Bugyal. Besides Yatra, this route is also considered to a trekker’s paradise for its mesmerizing natural beauty, but it is also tough and challenging. Trekkers around the world dream of going to this area. The Nanda Raj Jat passes through places, that don’t find mention in most tourist maps and well-hidden inlands. This religious trek is meant strictly for the die-hard trekkers. Simultaneously this trek presents one the prospect of exploring a real Uttarakhand – its culture, traditions, people and authentic cuisine.

 

Yatra to Hemkund Sahib resumes

Guruwara is located at the starting edge of the lake
Guruwara is located at the starting edge of the lake

This is a good news. The pilgrimage to famous Sikh shrine, Hemkund Sahib in Uttarakhand in Himalayan India, suspended since the June 16 natural calamity, resumed on Saturday with Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna flagging off a batch of nearly 100 pilgrims from Govindghat. The flag-off took place after “bhog” and a ceremonial recitation of Akhand Path. The portals of the shrine located at a height of 15,200 ft will reopen on Sunday when the first batch of pilgrims arrives there. Now the pilgrims and trekkers alike will be able to make most of whatever season is left to go to Hemkund and world Heritage site of Valley of Flowers.

Though damage to the shrine devoted to the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh was not as extensive as in Kedarnatah, a 6 km stretch of the trek route to the high altitude Gurudwara was washed away in the June 16 deluge. The route to Ghangriya from Govindghat was also ravaged in the floods. Ghangria works as a base camp for trek to Hemkund Sahib as well as Valley of Flowers. With the damaged pedestrian route completely repaired, thanks to massive restoration efforts put in by Hemkund Sahib Management Trust, the yatra was ceremonially resumed on Saturday.

However, as a precautionary measure, the number of pilgrims to the shrine will be kept limited to about a 100 initially which will gradually be increased in the course of time. Resumption of the yatra to the Sikh shrine is yet another indication of things gradually getting back on track in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand. Prayers at Kedarnath, which bore the brunt of the June calamity, resumed on September 11.

Hemkund Sahib- Lake & Gurudwara

Located in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand in Himalayan India, Hemkund Sahib gurudwara is among those rare places which provide an excellent mix of adventure and pilgrimage. Hemkund Sahib (also spelled Hemkunt) is a Sikh place of worship Gurudwara, known as Gurudwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib Ji, devoted to Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666–1708), the tenth Sikh Guru, which finds mention in Dasam Granth, a piece of work believed to be narrated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It is situated at one end of a glacial lake surrounded by seven mountain peaks and each peak adorned by a Nishan Sahib on its cliff, it is located in the Himalayas at an elevation of 4632 meters (15,200 ft).

Just like Valley of flowers (read: http://vagabondimages.in/2013/09/11/valley-of-flowers/) approach to Hemkund is also via Joshimath, Govindghat and Ghangaria. From Ghangaria it is a 1,100-metre (3,600 ft)climb on a 6-kilometre (3.7 mi) of stone paved path leads Hemkund. Overnight stay is not allowed at Hemkund Sahib and so it is necessary to leave by 2 pm to make it back to Ghangaria by nightfall. There are gurudwaras for pilgrims and tourists at Govindghat (at confluence of Alaknanda and Laxman Ganga rivers) and another one at Ghangaria (at confluence of Laxman Ganga and Pushpawati rivers). Laxman Ganga originates from Hemkund, where is a Laxman temple, just behind the Gurudwara.

Although Hemkund has many mytholgical references, but the Gurudwara here was constructed in 1960s by some Indian armymen. Area around Hemkund lake is also known for some very rare flora including Brahma Kamal, which is state flower of Uttarakhand.