The Indian state of Uttarakhand is also known as Dev-Bhoomi. The mountains and the valleys, the rivers and the confluences, the temples and the legends make the destinations in Uttarakhand popular for pilgrims from across the globe. There are innumerable temples across the geography of Uttarakhand. Of these, the temples of Kedarnath, Tunganath, Jageshwar Dham and Triyuginarayan are the most prominent temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.
But here I shall talk about two lesser known temples in Uttarakhand that are significantly important to the legend of Shiva.
The Neelkantha Temple, Rishikesh
Many tourists visit the Himalayan city of Rishikesh to enjoy activities like camping by the Ganges and water adventure sports. pilgrims visit Rishikesh on their way to the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand too. Uttarakhand is a land of myth and mythologies. Exceptional stories from our Puranas are referenced in every stop along the route. One such place is the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple near Rishikesh. In the holy month of Shravan, this temple sees a huge influx of devotees.
The Temple premise
Neelkanth Mahadev Temple, which is around 30Km from Tapovan, Rishikesh, is a prominent Hindu pilgrimage shrine. Perched at 1330 metres above sea level, enveloped between the valleys of Manikoot, Brahmakoot and Vishnukoot, this temple has an aura of deep spirituality around itself. At a little distance from the parking area, we were led to the main temple through an assemblage of eateries and shops. These shops sell puja items and other tidbits. The main temple has very attractive and colorful architecture, with figures sculpted all over the walls of the temple. The temple complex has a wish-fulfilling “Peepal” tree and a natural spring. We found few devotees taking a bath. The temple is divine and beautiful.
The Legend of Neelkanth
Above the entrance and on the walls of the temple, the story of Samudra-Manthan is depicted by sculptures of Gods and Demons. When the ocean was churned in search of Goddess Lakshmi and the elixir of immortality, poison was emanated out of the ocean. Shiva is believed to have consumed the poison at this very place. As Lord Shiva held the poison in his throat, it turned blue and hence he came to be known as Neelkanth (Neel meaning “blue”, Kanth meaning “throat”). Hence, the Neelakanth Temple is one legendary place of worship in Uttarakhand. We offered Bael-leaves / flowers / water to the Shiva-Linga in the main sanctum, and the priest put chandan/bibhuti tika on our foreheads.
Breakfast and Return from the Temple
We had started off from Rishikesh early in the morning. Thus, we decided to have our breakfast at an eatery beside the temple premise. We had noodles, pakora and tea. In most other places, tea is generally prepared in volume and kept continuously boiling in pots or in flasks and served in cups. Here, in Uttarakhand, at all places – street side stalls or restaurants – the tea vendor would prepare tea, exclusively on order – be it for four cups or just one. And we would always get ourselves “Bina Elaichi, Adrak Wali, Kam Cheeni, Kadak Chay” (Strong tea, without cardamom, with ginger and less of sugar) – the phrase that we iterated at every place, every single time we ordered tea!
Along the road between the temple and the parking, few men were setting up stalls selling seeds of Rudraksh. These are traditionally used as prayer beads in Hinduism, for organic jewelry and “mala” associated with Lord Shiva. We bought a couple of these seeds, and returned to our car.
How to reach Neelkanth Mahadev Temple
Road: Public transport is not available in this route. One needs to hire a cab from Rishikesh for this trip. The temple is around 30km from the town of Rishikesh. Buses for Rishikesh are available at regular intervals from Haridwar. Buses also connect Rishikesh to National capital, New Delhi [230km].
Air: The closest airport to Rishikesh is the Jolly Grant Airport [21km].
Rail: There is a railway station at Rishikesh, but trains are infrequent. Haridwar, which is 52 km away, is connected with major cities of India through railway.
Places to Stay
Accommodation is not available near the temple. Tourists may stay the night in Rishikesh and make a day trip to this temple. For tourists wanting to stay on the banks of River Ganga, enjoying the views of Himalayan mountains, Aloha on the Ganges is an exceptional (albeit super-expensive) option. Ganga Kinare – A Riverside Boutique Resort and The Grand Shiva – Spa Resort are other options in splurge category. Orchid Hostel and Hotel, Hotel Devbhoomi Inn and Rudram Hotel Yoga & Ayurveda Retreat are other options in deluxe category. Zostel and Hill Hoppers offer dormitories too for backpackers and solo travellers.