The blissful Sikh pilgrimage, Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib is situated in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Perched at an altitude of over 4300mt above sea level, this is one of the holiest of Sikh Shrines. Char Dham of Uttarakhand, which is also called Chhota Char Dham of India, includes four cardinal spots of Hindu pilgrimage. Shri Hemkund Sahib is associated with the route to one of these Char Dham – Badrinath Dham.
Many devotees combine the tour of Shri Hemkund Sahib with a trek to the Valley of Flowers. The Valley of Flowers is magnificent and beautiful with a wide variety of flora and fauna. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which serves as a trekker's paradise. This moderate-level trek offers spectacular views of the lofty mountains, off-beat trails meandering through isolated hamlets, forests and diverse species of flora and fauna, which is an experience of a lifetime. The valley is also home to endangered animals, including the brown bear, blue sheep, Asiatic black bear and snow leopard.
The word 'Hemkund' literally translates to Lake of Snow in Hindi. Located on the banks of this glacial lake, surrounded by the picturesque snow-capped mountains, it is one of the highest Gurudwaras in the world. This two storied pentagonal Gurudwara, devoted to Guru Gobind Singh - the 10th Guru of the Sikh.
As per legends of the holy Granth Sahib, the tenth guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, meditated on the serene banks of Hemkund lake in one of his earlier births. It is also believed that Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama from the epic Ramayana, regained his health by meditating on the banks of Hemkund after the severe injuries he received in the war. The Lakshmana temple is said to have been built at the place where Lakshmana meditated.
The temples of the four cardinal Hindu shrines (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) remain closed during the winter months. Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib also stays shut for pilgrims during this time.
The Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara in Rishikesh serves as the winter abode during this time. Around the last week of May, a colorful procession heads to Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib.
Thousands of pilgrims accompany the Jatha on the first journey, which was flagged off on the 19th of May this year. The portal of the high-altitude Gurudwara would open on 22nd of May, 2022, when this rally reaches the place.
Shri Hemkund Sahib attracts lakhs of devotees every year during the Yatra season in the months of May and June. This year, the count of pilgrims allowed for the trek to Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib has been limited to 5000 per day.
All visitors are also mandatorily required to register at the website as per guidelines issued for Yatra in 2022. Visitors need to enroll at registrationandtouristcare.uk.gov.in and book slots for visit to the pious Gurudwara.
Tourists may undertake another day of trek to the Valley of Flowers on the next day. The 3 km trek of Valley of flowers goes through dense forests. It takes around 5 to 8 hours to explore the place. Since there is no food or lodging available in the Valley of Flowers, tourists must return to Ghangaria the same day.
The place can be approached from Govindghat on the Rishikesh-Badrinath highway. Being the starting point of trek to Shri Hemkund Sahib and the Valley of Flowers, this Himalayan hamlet attracts pilgrims and adventure seekers alike. Pilgrims may stay the night within the premises of Govindghat Gurudwara as well. Food is served at the Langar hall. Medical facilities are also available for the pilgrims. There are around 20 to 25 private guest houses too. Tariff ranges between Rs. 1000 and Rs. 2500 per room.
Pilgrims generally start off on the 13 km journey for Shri Hemkund Sahib the subsequent day. The first 4 km upto Pulna Village can be covered in a shared jeep from Gobindghat. Gobind Dham (in Ghangaria) is another 9 km away, which can be travelled on foot or on ponies. Helicopter service is also available between Gobindghat and Gobind Dham. Gobind Dham (Ghangaria) is the place where pilgrims and trekkers halt for the night and acclimatize, before heading towards the final lap of the journey to Shri Hemkund Sahib.
Gurudwara Gobind Dham is located in this peaceful village at a height of 10000 feet. This magnificent Gurudwara was constructed by the Hemkunt Trust at the confluence of rivulets Lakshman and Pushpa. During its construction Baba Modan Singh lived in a hut made of the bark of Cheel Tree during the chilly winters. Besides dispensary for medical assistance, cloak room for tourists, the Gurudwara also houses rooms for pilgrims. A Langar hall serves food to pilgrims throughout the day, like in most Sikh religious sites. Besides the Gurudwara, tourists may stay the night in GMVN Guest House at Ghangaria or the few guest houses in the vicinity.
The distance between Gobind Dham and Shri Hemkund Sahib is around 7 km. This journey may be undertaken on foot, a pony or a palki. A delayed start would lead to long queues along the steep trekking route. Also, accommodation at Hemkund Sahib is not feasible. Hence pilgrims need to start the trek within 5 in the morning so as to return to Ghangaria the same evening.
The holy shrine got its name from the glacial lake called Hemkund. This star-shaped Gurudwara is made up of white marble and concrete. The Gurudwara is surrounded by seven snow-capped peaks, each peak bearing a Nishan Sahib (A triangular Sikh Flag) on its cliff. Many pilgrims take a dip in the holy water, before visiting the Gurudwarwa.
Since the water is chilly and cold, caution is advised. After paying obeisance at the Gurudwara, pilgrims may have Dal-Khichdi / Halwa and tea at the langar hall. It is surprising that the Sikh community serves the devotees free food even at this challenging altitude. The grandness of architecture and the devotion with which the Sikh community serve the tourists all round the clock is superlative.
Due to unpredictable weather conditions, people are generally not allowed to stay beyond 3 pm. It then takes around 2 hours to trek back to Gobind Dham.
Explore the Valley of Flowers:
On the subsequent day, visitors may prepare for a tour of the Valley of Flowers. It is advisable to hire a guide for this trip. The 3 km trek of Valley of flowers goes through dense forests, along with Pushpawati river.
Tourists encounter bridges, glaciers and waterfalls along the way. This glaring piece of nature is an Indian National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tucked at 3658 mt in Bhyundar Valley, the Valley of Flowers sprawls over a vast expanse of 87.5 sq km. It is the second core zone of the Nanda Devi Biosphere reserve blessed with beautiful waterfalls, silvery glaciers and a riot of colors when flowers are in full bloom.
The trek is extremely difficult in parts. The sights are very rewarding though. Sprawling over 87 square km, this place is a sought-after destination for flower-enthusiasts, botanists, trekkers, photographers, bird-watchers and nature lovers in general. It takes around 5 to 8 hours to explore the place. Over 600 species of exotic flowers like orchids, poppies, primulas, marigold, daisies and anemones make this a spectacular experience.
The valley is also home to such rare and amazing wildlife species like the gray langur, the flying squirrel, the Himalayan weasel, black bear, the red fox and more. Since this is a restricted place, there is no food or lodging available in the Valley of Flowers. Hence tourists must return to Ghangaria the same day. The Valley of flowers will reopen in 2022 on the 1st of June.
Rail - Haridwar Junction Railway Station is connected to major cities like Delhi.
Air - Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun is 55 km from Haridwar.
Road - Haridwar and Rishikesh is well connected to Delhi (240 km) via NH334. Regular buses are available on this route. For the onward journey, buses and shared taxi service are available from Rishikesh.
A direct bus starts from Rishikesh at around 5 am. Tourists may break their journey at Srinagar and avail shared vehicles for travel upto Joshimath or Badrinath.
Suggestions and recommendations:
■ Shri Hemkunt Sahib Trust has made Gurudwara at Rishikesh, Srinagar, Joshimath, Gobindghat and Gobind Dham. These are also the spots where the first Jatha would halt for the night during the journey between 19th of May and 22nd of May, 2022.In these gurudwara, people get to stay in a hall or in a room (if available). Food at Langar and Medical Facilities are also available free of cost for the travelers.
■ Tourists may experience extreme weather on this route. Hence, they must be prepared with an umbrella / raincoat at all times.
■ Some people also face some breathing issues while trekking towards Shri Hemkund Sahib, due to the low level of oxygen at such high altitudes. It is thus advisable to carry oxygen cans along with camphor. Oxygen cans are available at Rs. 500 each, at the Gobindghat Dispensary.
■ The visitors to Valley of Flowers need to get a permit from the Forest Department, at Ghangaria and the permit is valid for three days and visiting and trekking is allowed only during day time.
Best time to travel:
While pilgrims flock the place during the start of Yatra in May / June every year, September / October is the best time to visit Shri Hemkund Sahib.
Monsoons must be avoided as the route involves difficult level of trekking that is interrupted by incessant rains and possibility of landslides. Also, the Valley of Flowers looks stunning after the monsoons.
For the spiritually inclined tourist or the traveler attracted by the serene environment of Devbhoomi Uttarakhand, this route offers the most gratifying of experiences to be cherished for a lifetime.
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