If you're interested to geek out on history, myths and legends, travel in India. Cities, villages, lakes, mountains, you name it and yes, we have a story for it and mind you, these are the most convoluted of legends that teach us life lessons through the most fantastic tales.
By far the most talked about myth in the mainstream media is the legend of Swargarohini. Yes, that repeated story of Swarg ki Seedhi or stairway to heaven that appears on news channels almost every week. Honestly, I didn't understand the fascination with it unless I took a detour to Badrinath on my trek to Valley of flowers. I saw the places up-close and listened to the stories firsthand from the people living in Mana, a village from where the trek to Swargarohini and Satopanth Lake starts.
The Story of Stairway to Heaven
As written in the Mahaprasthanika Parva, the 17th out of the 18 books of Mahabharata, after the battle of Kurukshetra and a long, successful reign, the Pandava brothers and their shared wife Darupadi embraced Sanyas. They left their kingdom and embarked on their last journey of penance. This journey took them to the lap of the mighty Himalayas and one after the other everyone except Yudhistir fell to their death for several sins they committed during their lifetime. Draupadi fell because of the vice of her partial affection for Arjuna, Sehdeva died because he was too proud of his wisdom, Nakul's died next and his vice was his vanity throughout his life, Arjuna's sin was his pride too and lastly Bheema died because of the sin of gluttony.
Yudhistir or Dharmaraj who survived this treacherous journey was the last one standing. It is beloved that he ascended the stairs to heaven with a Dharma, disguised as a dog. The book also mentions that the Swargarohini Glacier is the only way to reach heaven with the human body.
The Journey To Satopanth and Swargarohini Glacier
It's fascinating just to watch the devout locals talk about this journey that Sadhus and other devotees take during the months of June to August. The locals call this journey to Satopanth , a journey along the path of Satya Path or the way of Truth. Another play of words that describe this journey is based on the name Swargarohini which means a path to heaven. It has been believed by devout Hindus that this is the only way to reach heaven with human body.
The Sadhus embark on this journey after an elaborate prayer service at the Badrinath temple. 4 kms from Badrinath town, the village of Mana is the last inhabited village on this trail. On the way there are several stopovers like the Nag-Nagini Temple, Bhrigu Gufa and Mata Moorthi Mandir, a temple dedicated to the wife of Dharma. Ahead on the trail along the Alaknanda, comes Anandvan, the meadow of joy aptly name so because of scenic beauty of the spot. Vasudhara Falls is just a short distance away from Anandvan. Among the several myths about pitstops on this trail, there's an interesting one about Vasudhara. It is believed that the water here does not fall on sinners.
Then comes Lakshmi Van, a spot where numerous birch trees can be found and in the olden days the bark of the tree was used to write manuscripts on. Legend has it that Nakul died at Lakshmi Van during the journey of Pandavas in this region. Lakshmi Van is also the first pitstop for travellers on this trail.
Not too far away from Lakshmi Van is Sahastra Dhara, the spectacular multiple waterfalls on a granite ridge. It is also believed that another Pandava brother Sehdev died here. The Sadhus often tell about the narrow ridges they have to cross after Sahastra Dhara. At the same time the view around gets more breathtaking. If we geographically place the location on the map, the view is that of the back side of Kedarnath. The next pitstop on the journey is Chakrateerth Caves but those who can they do walk ahead because not too far from there is Satopanth Lake where Bheem fell. In the summer months of the year there are huts of Sadhus where visitors spend the night. Others find caves or camp on flat grounds. After spending a day at the Lake, they proceed ahead to the Swargarohini Glacier via Chandra Kund and Surya Kund. It is believed that there are seven steps to heaven at this glacier. However, not more than three are visible at a time due to snow and fog.
Are there any travel agencies organising this trek?
While the most popular treks in the region are Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib but local tekkking outfits around the Garhwal region often organise treks leading people to Vasudhara Falls, Satopanth and Swargaronini Glacier. Once you reach Badrinath you can spot several travel operators offering guide and porter services for trek to Satopanth Lake and Swargarohini Glacier.
Contact number for trekking agencies at Badrinath: 9412524164, 9627006010