Tag Archives: Pilgrimage

…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.

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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.

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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: https://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.