Can you imagine a place, where a four years old child and an eighty years old man are both equally enthusiastic to visit a 4,632 m high glacial lake? Yes, it is a very common sight for anyone who is travelling to the holy shrine of Hemkund Sahib (also spelled Hemkunt); the Gurdwara at the highest altitude in the world.
The glacial lake Hemkund (literally means ‘snow lake’) is surrounded by seven mountain peaks. It is a place which radiates its own spirituality. Long ago, Lakhsman; the brother of Lord Ram (Hindu deity and the 7th Avatar of Lord Vishnu) had meditated here for God realization. As per legends, back then this place was known as Lokpal and it was a popular pilgrimage destination for local villagers, but was known only to a handful of people.
Guru Govind Singh is the tenth Sikh guru, who is highly respected due to his tremendous work for mankind. Dasam Granth is a religious book written by Guruji. In that book, he had mentioned about his previous life and a holy place, where he had meditated and realized god. But the actual place was not known to anyone.
In 1934, Sant Sohan Sigh had identified ‘Lokpal’ as the holy place Hemkund, and it was then that the place came into limelight. Later in 1960, a Gurdwara dedicated to Guru Govind Singh ji was built beside the lake. Due to the very high altitude, this holy shrine remains inaccessible in the winter and remains open only for six months. In spite of a very challenging road, bone rattling cold, and other difficulties, at least 1,50,000 visitors visit Hemkund Sahib every year.
I was planning to visit Hemkund Sahib for the last couple of years, and finally got the opportunity this year. I was overjoyous, as I was looking forward to witness two remarkable and unique places in the same trip, The Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. My journey started from Govindghat; a small hamlet on the way to Badrinath. From Govindghat the trek route starts for Ghangaria; the base camp for the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib.
Midway I took a tea-break and learned a sad story from the tea vendor. In this valley, there was a beautiful small village, Bhyundar. But in the 2013 natural disaster, the whole village was completely washed away. In that incident, entire area of the Valley of Flowers (read about the Valley of Flowers) and Hemkund Sahib were severely affected. Effects were still prominent, even after four years of the disaster.
After trekking few more kilometers, I reached Ghangaria at late afternoon. It is a very small hamlet with few hotels, shops and the holy Gurdwara. Throughout the journey from Govindghat to Hemkund, I was blessed with the offerings of the Gurdwara. It was really a humbling experience.
Ghangaria is about 3,000 meters and Hemkund Sahib is close to 4,700 meters, and the trek route distance is only six kilometres. I was somewhat worried about the next day, as I had heard so many terrifying stories about the difficulties of this short trek.
I started very early in the morning the next day. After trekking for a couple of kilometers, I found an old man. He was also on the way to Hemkund Sahib and was alone. I greeted him with a Namaste. He offered me Roti (the Indian bread), which I accepted and started chatting with him. Talking to him and listening to his story was something that kept my mind away from the arduous trek that I was on.
The gentleman was ‘only’ 80 years old and was travelling to Hemkund Sahib for the 3rd time. I was really amazed by his passion; it seemed that age had made an impression on his body but his spirit was still unaffected, as I could sense the excitement in his voice.
I asked “Don’t you feel tired as this is really a hard trek? Are not you scared?” To this, he gave an answer that still resonates with me. He exalted “I am going to meet my teacher, why should I worry about the road. My duty is to walk and rest will be taken care by Guruji”. I was fascinated by his answer – when we are in the middle of our journey, we got so attached to the challenges of the path that we forget the true purpose of our journey.
Undoubtedly the trail was tough, but at the same time it was truly beautiful. The Serpent like trail, the hide-and-seek of the clouds amongst the mountains, super green plants with small flowers, the petrichor of the mountain soil after the rains…they are all heavenly when experienced together. I decided to forego the heaviness of the difficulty and rather enjoy the lightness of the beauty.
I started walking farther. After some time, I found few small cute looking blue flowers; they all are looking very shy as they all were hiding their faces. I took some images, but then I was ‘blissfully unaware’ that those flowers are none other than Himalayan Blue Poppy, one of the rarest flowers of the Himalaya!
In the meanwhile, I was busy in search of another flower, Brambha Kamal; the iconic flower of Uttarakhand. I was almost close to the top, but still I could not found any good looking flowers. Later on, one guide told me that it is because of the tourists, who pluck the flowers just for their momentary pleasure. I don’t know when people will understand the nessecity of preserving mother Earth’s jewels.
Finally, I was at the top; I was feeling tired, but happy as I had made it. The weather was changing rapidly and it was cloudy and becoming cold. I was thinking of my next steps hereon, when suddenly another old man came in front me just like an angel would. He had a bowl of khichri (Indian food mixed with Dal and Rice), which he readily offered to me. The hot khichri tasted just like nectar.
He suggested me to take a holy dip in the lake and then to visit the Gurdwara. What will happen if you bath in a freezing glacial lake? The first thing that came to my mind was PNEUMONIA! Slowly I walked towards the lake and just dipped my finger; I felt it was colder than ice! I was in doubt, but I wanted to do it. Quickly changed my clothes and slowly got into the water. I have travelled to many mountains where the wind would drive shards through your skin, spent nights in a freezing cold, icy valley, but the freezing water of this lake simply cannot be compared to any of my previous experiences.
Finally, I took a dip and the experience was like getting a shock of 1000 Volts! I sprang out of the water, cursing myself. However, with the initial fear subsided, and the cold water no more an overbearing factor, I was feeling really relaxed and rejuvenated. I took a few more dips and prepared for the Gurdwara visit.
The Gurdwara was very peaceful and calm on the inside. I sat there for a while and started enjoying the divinity of the place.
After some time I visited the old Lakhsman temple, which is just beside the Gurdwara. There was almost no crowd there. The temple priest was very young; almost at my age, and went about telling me another interesting story of this place. When Lakhman was severely injured by the son of Ravana in the battleground, Lord Hanuman brought medicinal herbs from Himalaya, which saved the life of Lakhsman. In celebration, god showered flowers from heaven that was the way the Valley of Flower was originated.
The weather has started changing again, and the clouds have enveloped everything. Normally, the Gurdwara closes at 2 pm every day. But I decided to climb down early. Just as I walked a few steps, it started to rain. Which didn’t stop till the end of my journey.
Towards the late afternoon, I came back to the guest house and I was contemplating about the day. Hemkund is an amazing place for any spiritual seeker.
But what if you are not at all spiritual?
Even then the beautiful glacial lake, surrounded by seven big mountains, is going to take a permanent space in your mind’s hard disk.
Few tips for your visit to Sri Hemkund Sahib
– Trek trail is little difficult. Basic level of fitness is highly recommended for this trek.
– Pony services can be opted in case of any difficulty. However, I will recommend for trekking to enjoy the nature.
– Start early. Gurdwara closes everyday at 2 pm.
– And finally, please do not litter plastic in the trail. Remember, if we care mother nature, then only mother nature will care us.