Uttarakhand is the first name that comes to my mind for summer vacation. It is time to look back and make a summary. We as a family of Maitreey’s travel together with elders and children, of all age. So it needs to be interesting for all age groups, planning adventures for young through some easy, moderate and strenuous treks. I personally feel that the mountains of Uttarakhand are capable of entertaining both amateur and professional trekker as well. Visit to various shrines and temples for holding on to one’s devotion and continue to be strong emotional and mental level with faith. Fun in the running waters, rivers, rafting, and meditations on the river banks which is a must for all. Uttarakhand is located up north of India, known as (devbhoomi) “land of Gods”. There are many ancient temples, forest reserves, national parks, hill stations, and mountain peaks. This land is blessed with nature’s abundant beauty and a paradise on earth.
Surrounded by Himalayas, the greenery and calmness of these places enriches the inner soul of visitors. Divinity shines on people’s face while they are looking for solitude and peace. It is time to live & learn and an experience that you will never forget. When traveling in the hills I came across a lot of different spiritual views of people from all walks of life with their varied experiences which was mind boggling. After Nainital, Almora, Ranikhet, Bageshwar, Pithoragarh, Badrinath, Rudra Prayag, and many more places this time it was a collective decision to go to Kedarnath. The divine air of the place and of course, the picturesque beauty of surrounding mountains makes it a popular place of pilgrimage. You can visit there from mid April till mid Nov as the temple remains closed before and after this time due to heavy snowfall, but the best time to visit there is October.
The story goes that the Pandavas the warriors of the epic Mahabharata, sought forgiveness from Lord Shiva for the sins they committed. They killed many priestly class people so they had to undo the ‘Brahma hatya dosha’ that they carried upon them. So they left the kingdom to seek blessings of Lord Shiva and be released of their sins. First, they went to the holy city of Varanasi (Kashi), Shiva’s favourite city. But, Shiva wanted to avoid them as He did not want to pardon them. Lord Shiva hid from them by disguising himself into a bull. Not finding Shiva in Varanasi, the Pandavas went in search of Shiva, then they found a bull grazing near Guptakashi “hidden Kashi”.
The unique bull pulled Bheema’s attention and he immediately recognized the bull to be Shiva. He chased the bull with his mace and tried to hold it. Bhima caught hold of the bull by its tail and hind legs. But the bull-formed Shiva, disappeared into the ground to later reappear in parts, with the hump raising in Kedarnath, the arms appearing in Tunganath, the nabhi (navel) and stomach surfacing in Madhyamaheshwar, the face showing up at Rudranath and the hair and the head appearing in Kalpeshwar. The Pandavas were pleased with reappearance in five different forms of Shiva and built temples at the five places for worshipping Shiva. The Pandavas were thus freed from their sins.
Kedarnath temple is located at a height of 3,583m, (11,755 ft), on the shores of Mandakini river. The temple is not directly accessible by road. From Gaurikund it is a long trek to reach the holy site. Kedarnath is also one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. The oldest reference of Kedarnath is found in Skanda Puran which begins with the praise of Lord Shiva–
“Yasyagya Jagat Srishta Viranchih Palko Harih;
Sanharta Kaal Rudrakhyo Namastasmai Pinakine!”
Salutations to Lord Shankar who has entrusted the job of creation to Lord Brahma–Who has instructed Lord Vishnu to nurture the world and who himself acts as the supreme annihilator.
It is also believed that the name Kedara as the place where Shiva released the holy water from his matted hair, resulting in the formation of the Ganges river. According to the legend the area also has five rivers Mandakini, Madhuganga, Chhirganga, Saraswati and Swarndari but some of them are mythical.
We left from Delhi on 31st May chanting the holy name of Shiva, 18 of us boarded the bus which had cooks also who would cook fresh food for us in the jungle where ever we get place. It was so interesting to have hot food in the think jungle. One of our lunches, the smell of food attracted dozens of langoors, cows, sheep and crows.
Our first destination at Somany Bhavan bang at the Ganges, was such a pleasure to bath early morning and continue the regular meditation at the banks. The evening arti at the Ganges was awesome and unforgettable.
The next day we left for Shiv nandi a resort at the banks of river Mandakini. The Mandakini river looks like milk when it splashes on stone and the peaceful sound coming from it was incredible and divine to hear from where ever we sat. The three parts of the Ganges have their own names. The section remaining in heaven is known as Mandakini. The earthly portion is known as Ganga, and the part that goes to the final region is called Bhagirathi. No doubt river Mandakini from anywhere is ethereal and heavenly! We decided to sit for early morning meditation and all of us gathered at the shore. Each one picking up a rock or on the beach sand, time just melted away. After a lovely mediation and chanting session everyone felt the presence of the holy beings all around us.
Chanting loudly the various names of Lord Shiva, we Maitreey’s reached Son Prayag. Took rest and left the next day very early to Gaurikund on 4th of June 2019, though had a very tiring long wait for shuttle service vehicles to take us. There was no availability of helicopters from Delhi, so some of us decided to go by palki. But as strange it would be, the mystical Shiva played his tricks. The counter for palki was crowded and would take time, so many of our young brigade took pony on my advice and left. Six of us were left behind for palkis. In an hour’s time we were told all palki’s were booked for that day. We were stranded, some wanted to go ahead with the pittu who charged enormously, amidst so much confusion we organized two pittus for two lady maitreey’s, but they insisted me to be with them. I finally agreed and took a pittu. As we left ahead, he carried me and trekked me for some height and suddenly he kept changing the pittu person. I was very uncomfortable but I left to Shiva’s wish. After few steep turns and treks three men changed and carried me to finally say that they can’t carry me as they were new to the pittu business. They forced me to get down. I was all alone, and I decided to come down to Gouri kund and try to locate the three of them who were left behind, I was lucky enough to find them where I left them, and we decided to let go the darshan as Shiva’s wish. We were looking for rooms to stay and on the way we found helipads and surprisingly as luck would have its way, we got four tickets. We couldn’t believe our luck!!
Shivoham! We boarded the helicopter. It was more and more beautiful as we flew around the majestic mountains. It just needs to be felt. You will come across lush green Kedar valley and Mandakini River. From little distance you begin to see group of Kedar peaks mostly covered with clouds and snow and Kedarnath temple just below the peaks.
We stayed the night and had a very unusual and new experience with in the sanctum sanctorum. It was extremely cold at 3 am early morning, already crowd gathered for darshan, the atmosphere was filled with such divinity. As we went inside, we were charged and we started chanting the holy name of Shiva, slowly by the time my turn came to enter in, I realized that every one present there was chanting along with us. After the darshan, in shivering cold of 0 degree plus the wind chill factor, we were brave enough to sit through for the meditation, chanting and prayer until 5 am in the morning. Many people after their darshan joined us in the prayers.
The entire journey whichever way you go is very indefinite. There is no assurance that the pilgrim will have the darshan or not. We came across many people who did not have darshan due to the weather, or queue was too long and they had go back to catch their respective buses for other temples, some couldn’t have darshan due illness. All you need is faith and courage from the very start. Mesmerized at the beauty of the entire place, we felt that we were actually in heaven. Clouds circling around, river flowing down with rhythmic sound, lush green valley and sun playing hide and seek. I can only sum up that I was indeed an incredible experience. I folded my hands with closed eyes, tears running down on its own, it was an over whelming moment for me.
I feel, more shelters should be there on the way as people are forced to rest in the open in such cold. Lot of basic facilities is required. The climb to the shrine is very steep and long, wish there were more chopper services which would not only speedup but also the yatris reach safely and quickly. The walking trek is very small, and the ponies going up and down, their stool everywhere creates muck which becomes very slippery for the trekkers. Lack of immediate medical support worsens the situation of the yatris.
We came back after the darshan to Gopeshwar. Rested for a day and next day went for Gopeshwar Temple. It is the place where Lord Shiva sat on meditation after sati jumped into the fire, and Kamdev came to wake him up. The trident at the temple has not get weathered by the climate for years, which Shiva threw at Kamdev when disturbed and got fixed at that place. It is said that any outside force cannot move this trident where as a loving touch of a devotee it gives slight tremor and different metals used to make this trident is not very clear. The next day we moved back to Rishikesh and back home to Delhi, with heavy heart, neither did we part with each other neither in the Maitreey family nor from the pure divinity up in the hills surrounded by rivers, and bountiful nature.
It is hard to put into words the experience of Kedarnath, I just felt my heart was full of overflowing love and emotions. All my senses soaking the pure divinity of this ancient powerful temple, either Shiva within me or I was within Him!
Pilgrim in Light