Sunday, 26 August 2012

Travelogue Chardham : Kedarnath

14 May 2012

UttarKashi to Guptakashi

Tehri Dam
  This was one of the longest drives during the day for the entire journey – about 290 kms to Guptakashi. The path took us through various places including Tehri. The controversial dam was seen from all angles as the roads wind through the mountains surrounding them. As the dam stands, some pictures were taken which probably did not capture the magnificence of the man made structure and surroundings.  

Tehri Dam
But for all the good will the structure is supposed to have generated, it is one of the most controversial constructions in India. It submerged a lot of villages; vestiges of some were visible on our road journey along the catchment area of the dam. Along with the villages, some very ancient and important temples, trekking routes and pilgrimage routes also stand submerged, lost to mankind – perhaps forever. The place is also said to be seismically active and volatile. Thus adding water pressure in the form of dam catchments and water led seismological activity may pose threat to the safety of the area.

Somanathan Potti uncle with his experience and expertise chanted the deva mantrams and stothrams which had almost all of us spell bound in the interim. This was a welcome relief for all of us in the trip as it suddenly brought memory of our own Kerala temple chanting. During the trip at various times this was repeated.

We also crossed a quite well developed town – Srinagar. (Suddenly I had confusion whether we had come to Kashmir!!). Srinagar is one of the most developed places in these areas in terms of modern amenities. However I noticed that this place is heavily dusty due to the continuous activities and is centered on the Alakananda River.

Rudra Prayag late evening
By late evening, we crossed Rudra Prayag – the confluence of Alakananda and Mandakini. Mandakini as the name sounds flows smoothly and Alakananda producing the ‘kala kala’ sounds was more active. There is an ancient Rudra temple steeped with rich history and connection to great sages at the joining place of these rivers. Due to incessant rains and time factor, a stop at this place was sadly missed. We could see the confluence sitting inside the bus and carried on with our journey to reach Guptakashi at the earliest. The roads were becoming more and more slippery and dangerous due to the rains which were present through out the afternoon. The terrain was tough with dry hot climate initially, changing into sultry and humid conditions in between and then cold and windy with rains coming down heavily.

We reached Guptakashi late and quickly retreated to our rooms. The journey for the day was so tiring that there were some frayed tempers among some of our fellow travelers for issues faced by them.

15 May 2012.


The Yatra commenced in the morning to Kedarnath Dham – the third in our Char Dham trip. There were delays and blocks to reach the base of the trekking area itself due to the traffic and crowd. Various vendors were making a killing while we all waited in the buses by bringing items like Saffron, Kanmadam, Kasthuri etc.

At the base of the Kedarnath climb, known as Gowri Kund, some of us preferred horses to do the trek. Some decided to walk and some others in the Dolis. We climbed on horses – Myself, Father, Mother, Kunjamma, Chittappan, Omana Mami and Nalini Mami. Ani Maman and Krishnan Nair Maman walked up. The horses (mules, ponies), palkis and the dolis had a pre paid system.

The trek was for 15kms!!! The climbing roads were thankfully wider and more comfortable than in Yamunotri. But the climb at almost 25 – 30 degree slant for the full distance of 15 kms was not that simple. We did take some breaks in between and finally reached the holy place by evening. The final one km is practically a plain land when compared to the trek till then. There was Vasuki Tal on the left side, but due to the extreme cold and windy condition the lake was full of ice and I could not make out the same from the icy backgrounds. We were also very anxious to reach the temple and have the Bhagvan’s Darshanam. Kedar Dham is also reachable by helicopters and we could see the landing pads in the nearby hills for the helicopters. The day was reasonably clear till then and there were many helicopter rides which we saw during the climb.

Once the place for our stay was identified, we immediately ventured out to the Samadhi shrine of Adi Sankaracharya since the temple was not yet opened for evening Darshan. 

Sankara Samadhi

We spent some time there contemplating and sitting in peace with ourselves.

Sankara Samadhi

Sankara Samadhi

The building was on the banks of Mandakini / Alakananda. 

This was the place where Sri Sankaracharya is said to have vanished (Tirodhana) into the Prakrti.

After this we came and stood in the queue for entering the temple which was supposed to be opened then. The queue system was not controlled even though there was a provision given to people to stand in long winding corridors. These were lined with various linen huts occupied by various Sadhus, many doing their own Sadhanas and Tapas. We also found most of them smoking things which probably were intoxicants. However they did not harass people for alms as we find in many other places. Many had placed a cloth or plate if someone wished to give money and people did give generously. Me and my father had an occasion to meditate upon Shirdi Sai Baba during our travel to Kedar. This was for a specific reason. I was also hoping that a sign was shown at the Dham where upon our offering was accepted by him. True to his Leela – one of the Sadhu’s kutir, close to the temple, Shirdi Sai Baba’s smiling face in a photo was seen with much reverence by both of us. I could not find any other Sadhus with his photos. The fact that we were about to enter the temple and this was shown to us was his anugraham.

There was a Sadhu with only a loin Kavi cloth with a lot of money in small denomination sitting at the entrance to the temple. The temperature was dipping and freezing. He seemed to be unaware or easily not bothered about the climate. Here we were already in two – three layers of clothing and he was there sitting in the open bare bodied and seemingly well fed!!!

We stood in the queue to enter the temple once it was opened. The rails to manage the queue were kept only at the temple area. However a stand winding way back was built so that people could stand without getting drenched in the rains. True to any Indian situations, there were a lot of people trying to force their way into the queue in between, which resulted in some commotion and slowness in movement.

Temporary Snow Lingams
However once we entered the Divya Sannidhi which had a big Nandi on the outer of the door, the scene was different. There were statues of Pandavas and Draupadi in the inner walls leading to the main Sannidhi. When we saw the Siva Lingam, it was with the Alankaram. How do we describe the abhouma soundaryam of Lord’s Darshanam. Thankfully the priests were not pushing out people fast so we could stand and see the Alankaram well. I had carried 11 coins separately due to a particular requirement which happened during the trip. These were submitted into the Hundi kept in front of the main door. When we came out of the temple it was already getting dark. There was some snow which was still there on the back of the Kedar main temple. People made temporary lingam out of these and were doing prayer to these snow lingams.

 Kedar is a place being sung about by the great Tamil sages Appar, Sundarar and Tirugnaana Sambandhar. The pathikams sung by these great sages are displayed in stone on the inside of the back wall of the temple.

When Nara and Narayana went to Badrika village and started the worship of Parthiva, Shiva appeared before them. A few days later, a pleased Shiva granted them some boons. Nara and Narayana wished that for the welfare of the humanity, Shiva should remain there in his original form. Granting their wish, in the snow-clad Himalayas, in a place called Kedar, Mahesha himself stayed there as a Jyoti. Here, He is known as Kedareshwara. It is said that who ever gives alms (Daanam) at Kedar gets assimilated into Sivaroopa.

Kedarnath is the highest placed in altitude among the 12 Jyotir Lingams. Another legend is also equally heartwarming here. Pandavas were looking at redeeming themselves for having killed their kith and kin (Gothra Hatya) and Brahmins (Brahmana Hatya) during the great Mahabharatha war. They were naturally advised by none other than Lord Krishna to propitiate Lord Siva for the same. While trying to do the same they understood that Lord Siva was not allowing them Darshanam for quite some time.

After a long search starting from Varanasi they noticed a peculiar bull (disguised as Nandi) at Gupta Kashi which was identified by non other than Arjuna to be The Lord. He asked his brother Bheema to catch hold of the peculiar bull. His observation proved to be spot on. The bull – Lord Siva himself seeing that Pandavas had spotted him started sinking into the Bhumi (earth). Bheema could catch the tail and hind portion only. Pleased with their devotion, the hump portion came out as the Swayambhu Lingam as we see now in Kedarnath. The Pandavas were absolved of the earlier mentioned doshams after doing the necessary penance at these locations due to Siva’s boon. The present temple area was initially built by them.

For the present way of life one may ask is it otherwise easy for some one to meet Lord Siva in this way and is it that he was wandering as a person to allow the Pandavas to see him in this manner –

We need to understand the esoteric meaning and the philosophy of the story to fully appreciate the full import of the incident. Pancha Padavas were not any ordinary individuals and of course were always guided by Lord Krishna himself. . Arjuna is one of the great Siva Bhaktas whose involvement is recorded in many South Indian temples during Pandava’s Desha Sancharams after their loss in the game of dice. Their Sadhanas and the way of life have to be understood in a different way than we would understand our lives now. The Divine Leela also plays out in unique methods for the Loka Upkarartham. (Benefit of the whole world)

While standing in the queue and otherwise, we noticed that the building is peculiarly made of stone slabs, which had its own dilapidations over the period of time. Sadly renovation works do not seem to have been given prominence as evident from broken edges, staccatos, facades and haphazard patch works seen on the façade of the building. Considering the fact that maintenance is difficult here since six months of the year the entire area is under snow, I along with many others, as a pilgrim and ardent follower of the Bharatiya Samskara and its incredible Paithrukam, would have preferred a little more dedicated care which seems to be a bane for the ancient temples. The dedication from its authorities sadly seems missing in many of these temples probably due to unawareness or even the general apathy shown. Some of the newer temple administers however seem to have mastered the act of managing the upkeep and crowd management.

While we were there, we were told that the winter this time around was so severe that the opening of the temple was delayed by one week than usual and already some people had succumbed to the extreme cold. We were literally walking on snow at various places and some of the bathrooms were filled with solid ice. We were not expecting such an extreme cold and windy condition and hence most of the people were not carrying necessary clothing materials to combat the conditions, which we were not used to. However by wearing multiple cloths along with sweaters and jackets we made ourselves reasonably comfortable. Our place of stay was in a building which was practically on the next compound to the main temple area. Only some of us went into the temple in the morning for having Abhishekams and during this time the Siva Lingam was visible in plain. It was also said that around 12.00 in the night some strange beautiful lights would be seen in the sky at this location. However due to the extreme weather conditions, I could not pull myself into enjoying these moments. All of us tried to get cosy under the thick blankets which were thankfully provided at the place of stay.

16 May 2012

Gowri Kund

By the next day afternoon 1.15 all were assembled down at the Gowri Kund. Quite a few of us walked down the mountain. Gowri Kund got its name because of a hot spring here which is famed to have been made by the Devarshis for Parvathi, when she did her Tapas for ‘ParamaSiva Prapthi’. An ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Parvathi and Siva is also there at this place. Most of us were having our own issues due to the climb down. Due to the exhaustion most of us stayed at the waiting place for the buses and missed a dip at this most holy of places. Once down at Gowri Kund, as we have been seeing in almost all the Himalayan Pilgrim centres, there was more than enough confusion and commotion for arranging the buses to pick us up from there.

We all thanked our good blessings to be back to the vehicles and started for our next journey back to our hotel. In this route a small detour from Sonprayag (which is on the way) took us to Triyugi Narayan Temple.

Triyugi Narayan Temple

Initially some of us probably due to the extreme tiredness and dizziness of the physical strain said they were not inclined to go to this place and just get back to the hotel for a stretch. But majority of us decided that we should go and see this place of spiritual, mystic and historic importance.

The place which is at the confluence of Mandakini and SonGanga (Swarna Ganga) has an ancient temple of Vishnu from whose ‘Vigraha Nabhi’ a sacred ‘Jala Srothas’ (water flow) comes out and falls into some important ponds there. It is also reputed that in one of the ponds here – ‘Saraswathi Kund’ there is a pair of bright golden snakes who are visible to our eyes at certain times.

The importance of this place is indescribable. It is said that Siva Parvathi Parinayam (Marriage) was consummated here. This was where all the Devatas, Siddha Purushas, Yakshas, Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas, Maha Jnanis, Bhuta Ganas, - all of them converged to see the divine union. The mystic, philosophic meaning of this description should be understood quite differently from the physical description and may please be understood with one’s own Guru’s help – (Guru Kripa). It was also here that Lord Siva requested Sage Agastya to travel to ‘Dakshina Desha’. This was because the balance of ‘Bhu Desha’ (The World) got tilted to North, due to the concentration of all these great souls there. Sage Agastya who could single handedly manage the Balance of the ‘Bhu Desha’ was one of the greatest of Saints of India. He is considered among the great 18 Maha Siddhas in the Tamil Saiva Methods and is also attributed for a lot of great historically important changes which may have happened during this time. His Samadhi is reputed to be at the Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple area in present Trivandrum. The meaning of the balance and the subsequent story also should be understood in an esoteric manner rather than physical alone. The place also has a ‘Homa Kundam’ which is still kept alive, reputedly from the time of the ‘Parinayam’. Devatharu tree stems are kept there for any one who may want to do his ‘homam’ there and continue the sacred fire. One of the names for this place as Triyugi is because of this importance that the ‘Homam’ fire has been maintained there for all the three previous yugas.

Having said the overwhelming importance of this place, alas! Only a handful could make the trip there. While we started our trip back, two of our buses were held back by the police along with all big vehicles stating that a boulder had come crashing on the road and a limited space is available on the road now. Until this was removed, we could not go further. We all sat there in our buses and had dozed off due to the physical strain we had undergone. By the time all of us woke up after the slumber, we understood the gravity of the situation. The time was flying and soon evening was setting in.

The security agencies cleared the road around 4.00 in the evening and by which time we had to proceed back to the hotel since a delay in detouring or otherwise would be bad in the night times when the journey was extremely dangerous and treacherous. We considered this to be the decision of the Almighty and accepted the situation with full heart very well understanding that without His grace we could not have covered the areas which we already had.

 We reached Gupta Kashi again in the night time. We couldn’t try and explore the area because of this and could not visit the ancient Viswanatha temple here – which is part of the Pancha kedars. Ukhimath, one of the other Pancha kedars was also close to this place.

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