Hemkund, with a spectacular setting of a glacial lake surrounded by seven peaks, is a popular pilgrimage site for
Sikhs. It is located in the Himalayasat an elevation of over convert|15000|ft|m|abbr=on in Uttarakhandstate of India. Hemkund is sanskrit name derived from two meaning 'Hem' - Himalayas & "Kund", Bowl so by hindu mythology it is meant Bowl in Himalayas, where Lord Lakshman did his penance. Hemkund comes by crossing Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandprayag & vishnuprayag. This is popular place for Sikhs.
The Sikh reference begins with a line in the autobiographical poem "Bichittar Natak" by the tenth Sikh Guru,
Guru Gobind Singh. In it is described a place deep in the Himalyas with a glacial lake and surrounded by seven peaks where in a previous incarnation, He meditated and united with the Master. In 1930, a Sikh soldier, Havildar Sohan Singh found Hemkund as he was trekking through this region. He connected it with the place from Guru Gobind Singh's writings. The Sikh religious organizations eventually picked up on this find and designated Hemkund as a special place for worship.
Hemkund is inaccessible because of snow from October through April. Each year the first Sikh pilgrims arrive in May and set to work to repair the damage to the path over the harsh winter. This Sikh tradition is called "kar seva" (literally "work service") and forms an important tenet of the Sikh faith of belonging to and contributing to the community.
Planning a trek to Hemkund
The take-off point for Hemkund is the town of
Gobindghatabout 275 km from Rishikesh. There is ample parking here and pilgrims will arrive by bus or leave their automobiles or motorcycles here. The 13 km trek from here is along a reasonably well maintained path to the village of Gobind Dham or Ghangaria. There is another Gurudwara where pilgrims can spend the night. In addition there are a few hotels and a well-maintained campground with tents and mattresses. After this a convert|5000|ft|m|abbr=on climb in 6 km of stone paved path reaches Hemkund. There are no sleeping arrangements at Hemkund and one is advised to leave by 2PM to make it back to Gobinddham by nightfall.
From Delhi, take the Train to
Rishikeshand then by bus to Gobindghat. After Gobindghat, it is a 19 km trek to Hemkund. You can also drive from Delhi to Gobindghat; it will take about 18 hours. You will need to stop for the night at at least one point between Rishikeshand Gobindghat. Simple and clean hotels are available along the way. Auli, a ski resort at convert|10000|ft|m|abbr=on, is a good place to stop for an extra day - rest and acclamatize to the high altitude. The main town below Auliis Joshimath; Auliis a 20 minutes ride by a Ropeway. If you did drive all the way from Delhi, you will appreciate the extra day in Auli.
Small stalls selling hot tea and bottled water and other drink line the path from Gobindghat to the tree line below Hemkund. The price for a bottled water increases from about Rs. 10 in the plains to about Rs. 30 at convert|14000|ft|m|abbr=on. The larger stalls offer aloo parathas that taste very good when spiced up by exhaustion.
Monsoonseven at Rishikeshthe Gangesis a swollen angry river muddy from the silt it carries. The speed of the enormous amount of water will surprise you. Along the banks there are bathing "ghats" where you can hang on to chains while you immerse yourself in the icy water; it is obviously not safe for swimming.
As you drive deeper into the Himalayas you will follow the gorges and valleys of the mighty
Gangesand its tributaries. The tributaries of the Gangesmerge along the way and the towns at the confluences carry the suffix "prayag" Sanskritfor "confluence". e.g. Rudraprayag. At all major "prayags" there are Hindutemples precisely in the V of the confluence and it is generally possible to walk down to these temples and watch the angry merger up close.
The hike itself is mind-boggling in what it offers. During the month of May, Himalayan
rhododendrons bloom all around you. The flowers bloom all summer long and the varieties vary as you climb. Most of the hike is along the cliffs or through Pine forests. Ferns and moss line the path. On the climb up to Hemkund you will go past the tree line and the change in vegetation will be evident.
There are several glaciers that you will see along the path. There is one that comes down directly from Hemkund. A beautiful glacier also seems to be keeping watch over the village of Gobinddham directly due east.
The one amazing sight not to miss is the cluster of honey bee hives about half way between Gobindghat and Gobinddham. As you cross the "big" bridge and start climbing up the side of the mountain, look above you to your right. There is a cliff about a convert|1000|ft|m|abbr=on. high with an overhang with giant beehives located on the overhang; the overhang protects from the elements and has allowed these hives to grow to the size of small cars.
Some things to Remember
1. You must be in good health to make this trip. The last section of 5 km with a climb from convert|10000|ft|m|abbr=on to convert|15000|ft|m|abbr=on is strenuous and not for those with any heart condition or not in good physical shape. At a minimum, if you cannot run 5 km in less than 50 minutes you are not in a fit condition to make the trek. You will need to rent a pony.
2. It is not enough to be barely able to make this hike; you must be in good shape so that you are not tired and become lax in where you step and not get trapped by the stream of horses that will go past you in both direction. Frequently, you will be on a three feet wide path with a cliff towering above you on one side and a steep drop of a thousand feet on the other. Every year, there are deaths reported along this path. Even young people, in good health, have fallen to their deaths along these cliffs. On the other hand, this is no worse than crossing a busy street; the difference is that you have a tendency to relax and not be careful when surrounded by the breathtaking scenery in the middle of the
Himalayashalf way between Tibetand the plains of India.
3. Give yourself time to get used to convert|10000|ft|m|abbr=on. This is high - twice as high as Denver and you will be going another convert|5000|ft|m|abbr=on past that. Auli, a ski resort of sorts is a few hours before Gobindghat and a great place to stop for at least two days before going on to the trek
4. The roads are downright scary and do not attempt to drive here. Leave the driving to a middle-aged "hill driver" who knows the roads well and is slightly deaf to boot: deaf to any request to drive faster. The Tourist buses are a reasonable choice. There are no barriers on the precipice side of the road. Note that when you look out of the bus window you may not see the road at all - you will be that close to the edge. There are frequent landslides during the Monsoons; you can be stuck for a day or two as the road is cleared.
On the other hand, you will be rewarded with a trip of a lifetime and unbeleivably spectacular scenery. In addition, you will be partaking a communion as well; one that you will share with your fellow travellers - pilgrims. Pulled by a deep faith, or fulfilling a promise made long ago, the pilgrims make their way up the mountain in rubber sandals as they whisper
Sikhprayers of praise to the almightly; You will find yourself inspired by their faith.
Guru Gobind Singhji and Sri Hemkund Sahib ji
It was there that Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji the tenth and last Guru of the Sikhs is reported to have meditated in his previous life In 'Bachitar Natak' the great Guru relates his story in the following words - "I shall now relate my own story, how God sent me into this world. I was busy performing penance on the hills of 'Hemkund' where seven peaks are prominent. The place is called 'Sapt Shring’ where King Pandav had performed Yoga, there I practiced austerity and worshipped the god of death.He writes in his autobiography that Lord Shri Ram son of Raja Dasrath had two sons Lord Lava and Lord Kushu. Lord Lava and Lord Kushu ruled over Northern India for many years.There they learnt the Vedaas Due to their knowledge of Vedaas
Valley of Flowers
About 3 km from Gobinddham is the 5 km long Valley of Flowers. The Indian Government has declared this valley as a national area and all activities are now carefully regulated to preserve this valley in its pristine shape. The best months are July and August, during the
monsoons. Note that during these same months, the Valley can be closed to visitors if the weather is totally inclement.
The trek to this valley is relatively easy and provides a recommended breather for a day of rest after the long trek from Gobindgaht and before the rigorous climb to Hemkund.
Valley of Flowers National Park
When I went on this trip, certain paths were excriciating and horrendous, but the beauty of nature entranced me. The agony which I was suffering, miraculously vanished. I was left alone with the tranquil and harmonic water trikling down the waterfall and the birds flying with ecstasy. I was fatigued and nauseous by the end of the trip, but the sensation of sabotaging my phobia of heights was phenonemal and exploring and also gaining more knowledge about my religion. Each day was unique and exqusite and hearing the peaceful sound reverberating in my ear of nature astounded me because this was my first time being with nature for ten days.
Even though the weather is unpredictable and feels as if they are melancholy tears from heaven, Hemkund Sahib is a spectacular escapade where you meet some of the most benevolent and amiable people who help you through the most crucial consequences. So those who want a glimpse of the world's most ravishing places, Hemkund is the most culminating places to be.
* Pilgrimage to Hemkunt/text by Jaswant Singh Neki. Photographs by Sondeep Shankar. New Delhi, UBSPD, 2002, ISBN 81-7476-375-9.
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