Hemkunt Sahib

Hemkund or Hemkunt is a pilgrimage site for Sikhs in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, India. With a setting of a glacial lake surrounded by seven mountain peaks and each peak is adorned by a Nishan Sahib on its cliff, it is located in the Himalayas at an elevation of 15,200 ft as per the Survey of India. It is accessible only by foot from Gobindghat on the Rishikesh-Badrinath highway. Hemkund is famous for the Sikh worship-place Gurudwara, known as Sri Hemkunt Sahib Ji, devoted to Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666-1708), the tenth Sikh Guru, which finds mention in Dasam Granth, a piece of work narrated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji,Himself. The lake also has a Lakhmana hut on its shore which was later built into proper small shrine by the Sikhs. Bachitira Natak is an autobiographical account of incarnated life of Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji as a powerful youth who was called into existence during Sat Yug, the 'age of truth' (the first of four ages according to Hindu mythology) to do battle with fierce demons that terrorized mortals and gods including Hindu deities and gods. When they had been destroyed, the youth, known as Dusht Daman, the 'destroyer of evil', was instructed to go to Hemkunt Sapatsring to meditate until he was called upon by God. Guru Gobind Singh's own account in Bachitra Natak completes this story. After realizing his oneness with God through meditation and austere discipline, he was reborn in Kal Yug, the 'age of darkness', as the son of the ninth Guru and his wife. Later, after his father's martyrdom, he became the tenth and final living Guru of the Sikhs. The search for and discovery of Hemkunt came out of the desire of the Sikhs to erect shrines to honour places consecrated by the visit of the tenth Guru during his lifetime or, in the case of Hemkunt, during his previous lifetime. Although Bachitra Natak was included in the Dasam Granth some time in the 1730s, Sikhs apparently did not consider looking for Hemkunt Sapatsring until the late nineteenth century. It did not become a place of pilgrimage until the twentieth century. Pandit Tara Singh Narotam, a nineteenth century Nirmala scholar, was the first Sikh to trace the geographical location of Hemkunt. He wrote of Hemkunt as one among the 508 Sikh shrines he described in Sri Gur Tirath Sangrah (first published in 1884). Much later, renowned Sikh scholar Bhai Vir Singh was instrumental in developing Hemkunt after it had been, in a sense, re-discovered by another Sikh in search of the Guru's tap asthan. Sohan Singh was a retired granthi from the Indian army who was working in a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Tehri Garhwal. In 1932, he read the description of Hemkunt in Bhai Vir Singh's Sri Kalgidhar Chamatkar (1929). This account of the place and the meditation of a great yogi there was based on the tale of Guru Gobind Singh's life and previous life as told in Bachitra Natak and the Suraj [Prakash] Granth. In 1930, Sant Sohan Singh, a retired granthi from the Indian Army, claimed to have found Hemkunt as stated in Bachitra Natak. To some extent he was financed by Bhai Vir Singh, a romantic poet of Punjab, belonging to landed gentry. Bachitra Natak was somehow able to capture the imagination of Sikhs, largely because of the beautiful poetry, and songs and verses that resonated to their sentiments and music. Sohan Singh, who died around 1937, was assisted by a Sikh soldier, Havildar Modan Singh of the Bengal Sappers and Miners, who then laid the foundation of the first building and opened access to the public through Govindghat. Later, he went on to live here and stayed until his death in 1960. The Sikh religious organizations designated Hemkund as a special place for worship.

Precaution during visit :

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 winter. This Sikh tradition is called kar seva ("work service"), a concept which forms an important tenet of the Sikh faith of belonging to and contributing to the community. The take-off point for Hemkund is the town of Govindghat about 275 kilometres (171 mi) from Rishikesh. The 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) trek is along a reasonably well maintained path to the village of Ghangaria. There is another Gurudwara where pilgrims can spend the night. In addition there are a few hotels and a campground with tents and mattresses. A 1,100-metre (3,600 ft)climb on a 6-kilometre (3.7 mi) of stone paved path leads Hemkund. There are no sleeping arrangements at Hemkund so it is necessary to leave by 2 pm to make it back to Govindghat by nightfall.

Best Time to Visit:

Mid July to September when the weather is relatively pleasant and the flowers are in full bloom. However, it is essential to carry woolens and good sturdy trekking shoes. It may also rain, a good rain coat is recommended though one can buy cheap plastic rain coats on the way to Hemkund Sahib.


How To Reach - Hemkunt Sahib By Road : Joshimath at 40 km from Hemkunt Sahib is the base from where one needs to take a bus or hire a taxi to reach Gobindghat. Gobindghat is also well connected by road with Rishikesh, Kotdwara, Dehradun, Haridwar, Nainital, Ranikhet etc. It is also on the bus route to Badrinath from Rishikesh. From Gobindghat, one needs to trek 14 km to reach Ghangharia via Vishnuganga River and Bhyundar Valley. Ghangharia, at the confluence of the Pushpavati and the Lakshman Ganga rivers is the last base before the steep 6 km climb to Hemkund and the Valley of Flowers. In Short: Joshimath- Gobindghat- Ghangharia-Hemkund Sahib/ Valley of Flowers Note: Mules, ponies, coolies and sedan chairs can be hired at Gobindghat by those who can't walk all the way to the shrine. It is wise to break your journey for the night at Ghangaria and then start for Hemkund Sahib the next day.

How To Reach - Hemkunt Sahib By Train : Rishikesh Railway Station at 200 km from Hemkund and 175 km from Gobindghat is the closest railhead. Haridwar and Dehradun are other near by railway station.

How To Reach - Hemkunt Sahib By Air : Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun, 268 km from Hemkund Sahib via Gobindghat and Rishikesh, is the nearest airport. The airport is not operational yet.

Posted By : Vinod Jindal on Dec 15, 2010


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