At Yamunotri & Gangotri, the pilgrims are cleansed body & soul and with having achieved purity in that sense, pilgrims to Sri Kedarnath becomes most rewarding. It is also customary to worship Lord Shiva with water of Ganga, which pilgrims going from Gangotri as well take some there to Kedarnath. Kedarnath is the seat of Lord Shiva. It is one of the twelve “Jyotirlingas” of Lord Shiva. Lying at an altitude of 3584 m at the head of river Mandakini, the shrine of Kedarnath is amongst the holiest pilgrimage for the Hindus. It is no wonder that Adi Guru Shankaracharya - a great scholar & saint, chose to enshrine Lord Shiva in this land, where the unholy becomes holy and the holy becomes holier. It is the place where Lord Shiva absolved Pandavas from the sin of killing their own cousins Kauravas in the battle of Kurukshetra. The origin of the revered temple can be found in the great epic Mahabharat. The holiest of Shiva’s shrines is linked to Gold among base metals so that every pilgrims finds peace here, and it is said that devotees who die here become one with Shiva himself. Beyond the temple is the highway to heaven, called Mahapanth.
According to legend, the place came into being during the period when the five Pandavas brothers were asked to seek Shiva’s blessings purging them of the sin of killing their cousins. Lord Shiva unwilling to give darshans to the Pandavas freed Kashi to live incognito in Guptkashi, where eventually he was detected by the Pandavas. While fleeing Shiva took refuge at Kedarnath in the form of a bull and started to plunge underground when he was spotted by the Pandavas. He dived into the ground, leaving behind his hump on the surface. No wonder the natural rock formation that is worshipped here resembles the hump of a bull. Thus Shiva pleased with the determination of the Pandavas, exonerated them from their sin, gave them darshan & bestowed upon them the opportunity to worship his hump. The other four places where Shiva is worshipped take their appearance from different parts of his body -the naval at Madmaheshwar, the arms at Tungnath, the face at Rudranath, and the matted hair at Kalpeshwar. The latter four along with Kedarnath are known as the Panch Kedars.
Badrinath Dham is one of the oldest of Hindu places of worship. On the right bank of the river Alaknanda lies the sacred shrine perched at an altitude of 3133m above sea level, guarded on either side by the two mountain peaks Nar & Narain with the towering Neelkanth peak providing a splendid back-drop. Also known as the Vishal Badri, the largest among the five Badris, it is revered by all as the apt tribute to Lord Vishnu.
Badrinath is devoted to the worship of Vishnu, who according to an amusing tale, usurped this place from Shiva. For Vishnu had come here as the gods once did, to offer penance. He loved the place so much that he plotted to unseat Shiva from his meditation here. He took on the form of a beautiful child and began to wail. Shiva’s wife, Parvati, picked him up but could not calm the child. Since his wailing continued to disturb Shiva, he shifted to Kedarnath in exasperation, leaving the spot free for Vishnu to occupy. But reminders of Shiva’s stay continue to linger, most visible in the name, Badri, a kind of berry that Shiva was most fond of and the gigantic tree, invisible to the mortal eye, that served Shiva. Legend also has it, when the Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help the suffering humanity, the earth was unable to withstand the force of its descend. Therefore the mighty Ganga was split into twelve holy channels, Alaknanda was one of them that later became the abode of Lord Vishnu or Badrinath.When the sage Narad disapproved of Lord Vishnu’s way of living in worldly comforts, he was hurt and sent his spouse to nagkanyas. He himself decided to disappear in the Himalayan valley-whose peaks make for some of the most enticing manifestations of God’s creations.
The spot was carpeted with Badris or wild berries and hence was famous as Badri Van. The Lord Vishnu assumed a yogdhyani posture and for several years meditated at the same spot and fed himself with wild berries. Laxmi on return found the sesha shayya empty, she went to the Himalayas in search of the Lord and ultimately found him amidst the badri in deep meditation. He addressed the Lord as Badrinath and requested him to give up the yogdhyani posture to return to his original sringaric form. He agreed to do so provided the entire mankind abides by that he will be worshipped in yogdhyana form by the Gods and in sringaric form by the mortals and further Goddess Laxmi will sit on the left side in yogdhayni form and on right in sringaric form. The Hindu tradition demands that the place of the spouse is on the left but sitting of the Goddess Laxmi on the right is meaningful to convey that they should not be worshipped as a divine couple but as two individual deities with no marital relation. It is for the reason that the Rawal (main priest) of Badrinath must not be married. The pilgrims to the temple worship the Lord in his sringaric form during the summer and in the winter, he is worshipped in his yogdhyani form by the devtas & sages.
There are many sacred spots of pilgrimage in the heaven, earth but there has been none equal to Badri, nor shall there be.
Mana Village:Inhabited by an Indo-Mongolian tribe, it is the last Indian village before Tibet. Vasundhara: As the name suggests, vasundhara is a magnificent water fall. This place is 5 kms. from Badrinath out of which 2 kms., we can travel by vehicle upto Mana.
Bhim Pull:On the other side of Mana village, a massive rock forming a natural bridge, lies over the roaring Saraswati river. It presents a spectacular view of water thundering down through the narrow passage under the rock and is believed to have been placed there by Bhim, the second eldest among the five Pandava brothers.
Vyas Guha (cave)::Near Mana Village, this is a rock-cave where Ved Vyas is believed to have composed the Mahabharata and the pauranic commentaries
The picturesque pilgrimage in the hinterlands of the Himalayas is the most sacred spot where Ganga, the stream of life, touched earth fro the first time. According to mythology, Goddess Ganga, the daughter of heaven, manifested herself in the form a river to absolve the sins of king Bhagirath’s predecessors, following his severe penance of 5500 years. Lord Shiva received into his matted locks to minimize the impact of her fall. The river itself begins at Gangotri which literally means Ganga Uttari or Ganga descending she came to be called Bhagirathi at her legendary source. The Shrine of Gangotri situated at an elevation of 3200 m above sea level amidst captivating surroundings along the right bank of Bhagirathi is 100 km from Uttarkashi. The Shrine of Gangotri opens during the last week of April or the first week of May, on the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya. retreats to Mukhwa, her winter abode (12 km downstream).
The temples opening is preceded by a special Puja of Ganga both inside the temple as well as on the river bank. The temple’s closes on the day of Diwali followed by a formal closing ceremony amidst a row of oil lamps. It is believed that the Goddess. According to mythology King Sagar after slaying the demons on earth staged an Aswamedh Yagna to proclaim his supremacy. The King’s 60,000 sons born of Queen Sumati and one son Asamanjas of Queen Kesani were to accompany the horse. Lord Indra fearing loss of his supremacy stole the horse and tied it to the ashram of ancient sage Kapil who was then deep into meditation. On their search for horse, the 60,000 sons stormed the ashram of Kapil and just before the attack on him the sage opened his eyes and reduced all the 60,000 sons of King Sagar except Asamanjas to ashes. King Sagar’s grandson Anshuman was successful in recovering the horse from Kapil and was told that those 60,000 burnt will attain heavenly adobe if Ganga is brought down from heaven & their ash was mixed in this holy water. Then the great task of bringing Ganga to earth started. Anshuman failed and so did his son Dilip but his grandson Bhagirath succeeded. The intense meditation made Ganga to descend from heaven and in order that the earth is not flooded, it remained suspended in the Coils of Lord Shiva’s hair. Shiva pleased with King Bhagirath, released Ganga in seven streams - the most sacred streams - the most sacred streams on earth came to be known as Bhagirathi. King Sagar’s 60,000 sons’ ashes were touched with Ganga water and thus they were bestowed with eternal rest in heaven.
Gangotri Temple:As the legend goes, King Bhagirath used to worship Lord Shiva at the sacred stone, near which this 18th century temple is located. The slab on which King Bhagirath is believed to have meditated is called Bhagirathi Shila. The mother Ganga is worshipped as Goddess and the holy river in the temple. Before performing the Puja rituals, a holy dip in the Ganga flowing nearby the temple is a must. The Pujari’s (priest) belong to Brahmin community from Mukhwa village. Ten of them are selected by rotation every year to perform all the functions covering the temple and they also perform the duties of pandas.
Gaumukh:The Gaumukh glacier is the source of Bhagirathi (Ganga) and is held in high esteem by the devotees who do not miss the opportunity to have a holy dip in the bone chilling icy water. It is 18 Kms. trek from Gangotri. The trek is easy and at times people come back to Gangotri the same day.
The sacred shrine of Yamunotri, source of the river Yamuna, is the westernmost shrine in the Garhwal Himalayas, perched atop a flank of Bandar Poonch Peak (3615 m) & situated opposite to Gangotri. The actual source a frozen lake of ice & glacier (Champasar glacier) located on the kalind mountain at the height of 4421 m above sea level, about 1 km further up, is not frequented generally as it is not accessible and hence the shrine has been located on the foot of the hill. The tiny Yamuna has icy cold water and its absolute innocence and the infantile purity heightens that deep feeling of reverence, Yamunotri for the devout.
The temple of Yamuna is on the left bank of Yamuna constructed by Maharaja Pratap Shah of Tehri Garhwal. The deity is made of black marble. The Yamuna like Ganga has been elevated to the status of divine mother for the Hindus and has been held responsible for nurturing and developing the Indian civilization. According to the legend ancient sage Asit Muni had his hermitage here. All his life, he bathed daily both in Ganga and Yamuna. Unable to go to Gangotri during his old age, a stream of Ganga appeared opposite Yamunotri for him. Close to the temple are hot water springs gushing out from the mountain cavities. Suryakund is the most important Kund. Near the Suryakund there is a shila called Divya Shila, which is worshipped before puja is offered to the deity. Devotees prepare rice and potatoes to offer at the shrine by dipping them in these hot water springs, tied in muslin cloth.
Rice so cooked is taken back home as prasadam.The pujaris of Yamunotri come from the village of Kharsali near Jankichatti. They are the administrators of the sacred place and perform religious rites well versed in Shastras. The temple and the place opens every year on the auspicious day of the akshya-tritya, which generally falls during the last week of April, or the first week of May. The temple always closes on the sacred day of Diwali mid- Oct. - 1st week of Nov., with a brief ceremony, the temple staff return to their villages and for the rest of the time the valley is gripped in no man silence and covered with white sheet of snow. With melting of snow next summer, temple reopens to blissful happiness of thousands of visitors again. “The daughter of the Sun god, Surya and consciousness, Sangya the birth place of the Yamuna is the Champasar Glacier (4421 m). Just below the Banderpoonch mountain. The mountain adjacent to the river source is dedicated to her father, and is called Kalinda Parvat. Kalinda being another name of for Surya. Yamuna is known for her frivolousness, a trait that she developed because as per a common story - Yamuna’s mother could never make eye contact with her dazzling husband.
Temple of Goddess Yamuna: The temple was built by Maharani Gularia of Jaipur in the 19th century. It was destroyed twice in the present century and rebuilt again. The temple remains closed from November to April/ May.
Surya Kund:There are a number of thermal springs in the vicinity of the temple which flows into numerous pools. The most important of these is Surya Kund is known for its very high temperature of 190° F. Pilgrim cook rice & potatoes here to offer to deity in the temple.
Divya Shila:Near Surya Kund there is a slab of stone known as Dibya Shila or the slab of divine light. This slab is worshipped before puja is offered to Yamuna.
Gangotri, nestled by the magnificent Garhwal hills is a major pilgrim destination of religious minded Hindus. According to mythological legend, the temple at Gangotri marks the spot where Lord Bhagirath worshipped Lord Shiva. God was pleased with his penance and in keeping with his wishes granted that Ganges would descend on earth. It was here that the holy river touched the earth. However if anyone is interested in witnessing the precise source of this holy river, he needs to plan a Tour to Gaumukh.
After reaching Gangotri, it is not possible to reach Gaumukh by any public means of transportation. The roads are not conducive for any kind of vehicles. Trekking or riding on ponies are the only two options at hand. However trekking here is sure to be thoroughly enjoyed by all nature and adventure lovers. Quench your thirst for adventure on your Tour to Gaumukh. Nature is charming and challenging at the same time. You feel enamored by its classic beauty and there is also an irresistible urge to conquer it. This trek Tour to Gaumukh has a unique charm of its own. Climbing rocks, leaping across boulders, passing through beautiful scenery – all this and much more will be a part of your trek Tour to Gaumukh. An additional attraction will be the amazing variety of plants and animals that you will get to see.
Imagine sighting herds of bharal or blue mountain goats. Silver birch and blue pine dominate the vegetative cover of the region. This picturesque location is sure to enthrall all tourists be it the religious devotees coming on ponies or the adventurous trekkers. At the end of the trek up the little steep path or a journey on pony, as these are the only two alternatives at any visitors disposal you will finally reach Gaumukh. The distance that you will cover from Gangotri when on a Tour to Gaumukh is 19 km. Witness the snout of the Gangotri glacier and the source of the Ganges River. Here the river is also popularly known as Bhagirathi as well because the river came down on earth only after Bhagirath’s prayers were granted by Lord Shiva. The ultimate significance of trekking to Gaumukh lies in the holy dip in the ice-cold water. It is believed to be the wonderful opportunity to take delight in nature’s scenic beauty and thus to achieve the salvation of soul as well. There is no temple at Gaumukh and the forest of Gaumukh having the largest number of Bhojpatra (Himalayan Silver birch) trees, the bark of which are traditionally used for writing ancient texts. Hence the pilgrimage used to take the bark of the tree as the souvenirs. So Gaumukh in Uttaranchal is becoming today an interesting and exiting pilgrimage spot for worldwide travelers.