Himalayan Sacred Walks - Part IV17, Nov, 2017, by Seema Bhatnagar
In continuation to Part III.
Badrinath is a holy town in Chamoli district of Uttrakhand, located at a 3,100 metres (10,170 feet). The main attraction of this town is, Badrinath Temple. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple is located on the banks of river Alaknanda. This is a holy place of pilgrimage for Vaishnavas or the devotees of Lord Vishnu.
Distance map from Guptkashi (our previous destination) to Badrinath.
It is one of the significant sites of char dham pilgrimage (4 significant places of pilgrimage). The other three sites of char dham are - Jagannath Temple at Puri in the East, Dwarakadheesh Temple at Dwarka in the West and Sri Sharada Peetam Sringeri at Sringeri, Karnataka in the South, located across four corners of India.
It is also one of the significant sites of chota chardam pilgrimage (Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yumnotri and Gangotri) of Uttrakhand Himalayas.
The architecture of Badrinath temple resembles a Buddhist vihara (temple), with the brightly painted facade more typical of Buddhist temples.
Peeking through the history behind this temple leads to a controversy over its’ origin. There is a controversy that this temple was originally a Buddhist Vihara and later on converted to a temple by Adi Shankaracharya.
According to some other version, the idols of Lord Vishnu and other deities were removed and thrown in the river Alaknanda by Buddhist monks and were later on discovered by Adi Shankaracharya who established these idols in the temple once again.
Inside the temple, the sanctum sanctorum houses the 1 m (3.3 ft) Shaligram (black stone) idol of Badrinarayan (Lord Vishnu), which is housed in a gold canopy. The idol of Badrinarayan is having four hands. One hand holding a Shankha (conch) and other a Sudarshan Chakra (wheel) with arms in a lifted posture while other two arms are rested on its lap in a Yogamudra (Padmasana) posture. The sanctum also houses idols of the God of wealth—Kubera, sage Narada, Uddhava, Nar and Narayan.
The temple finds mention in several Hindu ancient books like Bhagavata Purana, Skanda Purana and Mahabharata.
According to one legend, Lord Vishnu sat in meditation at this place, keeping away from Thuling, a place in the Himalayas which was corrupted by meat-eating monks and unchaste people. During his meditation, Vishnu was unaware of cold weather. Lakshmi, his consort, protected him in the form of the Badri tree (jujube or Indian date). Pleased by the devotion of Lakshmi, Vishnu named the place Badrika Ashram.
Vishnu in the form of Badrinath is depicted in the temple sitting in the padmasana posture. According to the legend, Vishnu was chastised by a sage, who saw Vishnu's consort Lakshmi massaging his feet. Vishnu went to Badrinath to perform austerity, meditating for a long time in padmasana.
The Vishnu Purana narrates another version of the origins of Badrinath. According to the tradition, Dharam had two sons, Nar and Narayan—both of which are modern names of Himalayan mountains. They chose the place to spread their religion and each of them wed the spacious valleys in the Himalayas. Searching for an ideal place to set up a hermitage, they came across the other four Badris of the Pancha Badri, namely Bridha Badri, Yog Bhadri, Dhyan Badri and Bhavish Badri. They finally found the hot and cold spring behind the Alaknanda River and named it Badri Vishal.
Just next to temple there is a sulphur hot water spring. It maintains its’ temperature 55 degree Celsius throughout the year even when the outside temperature is 17 degree Celsius all year round. The water from the spring has medicinal properties and devotees are suggested to take a dip in it before visiting temple.
In the eastern direction of temple one can see the Neelkant peak, a major peak of the Garhwal division of the Himalayas. In the early morning on a clear sky this is the first peak which gets the first ray of sunlight.
Mana is the last village before the Mana Pass and is 24 kilometres from the border of India and Tibet. This village is at a distance of about 3 km from the Badrinath town.
Distance of places in Mana Village.
Welcome to Ganesh Gufa.
While walking down towards the border the first place on the way is , Ganesh Gufa, where it is believed that Sage Vyasa, requested Lord Ganesh to become a scribe for writing Mahabharat.
Significance of Ganesh Gufa.
In the first part of the epic Mahabharata, it is written that the sage Vyasa asked Ganesha to transcribe the text as he dictated it to him. Ganesha agreed, but only on the condition that Vyasa recite the text uninterrupted, without pausing. The sage, in his turn, posed the condition that Ganesha would not only have to write, but would have to understand everything that he heard before writing it down. In this way, Vyasa might breathe for a moment from his continuous talking by simply reciting a difficult verse which Ganesha could not understand. (This is a translation of what is written in Hindi language in the pic below.)
Lord Ganesha's and Sage Vyasa's agreement text.
India’s Last Tea Shop.
Walking uphill from this cave, there is a famous tea shop in the village which is popularly known as “India’s Last Tea Shop.” From here one can see the India-Tibet border. All tourists enjoy a cup of tea here simply to pose for a click with Indo-Tibeten border in the background.
India’s Last Tea Shop.
Just near the tea shop, there is a 5321 years old cave known as Vyas Gufa or Cave of Sage Vyas. It is believed that sage Vyasa wrote Mahabharat sitting in this cave. This cave is located on the bank of Sarawati river.
An interesting point to note here is – the surface of the rock of the cave resembles the pages of a book, and this is a reason why it is given a name as “Vyas Pothi”, as it is also written on the rock itself. The word “Pothi” means “Book” in Hindi language.
Below is a short video I captured at "India's Last Tea shop" at Mana. Also, you can see the Vyas Gufa.
Walking down from Vyas Gufa and turning right, after a short distance there is a “Bheem Pul”. One can see the two boulders are joined at their points to make a kind of bridge to pass over the river Saraswati. Below this bridge there is a river Saraswati flowing with a full gush, making a thundering sound and it suddenly disappears under rocks.
Legend has it that this bridge or Pul was built by Bheem one of the five Pandva brothers of epic Mahabharat. This place is called Swargarohini from where Pandavas along with their wife Draupadi started their journey towards heaven. During this journey, Draupadi was unable to cross the river Saraswati then Bheema lifted a huge rock and placed it between the gorge. Later on, it was known as Bheem Pul. The text written in pic below is conveying this history in Hindi language.
Significance of Bheem Pul.
Welcome board on the entry of Badrinath town.
While going by bus from Guptkashi to Uttarkashi one can enjoy beautiful landscapes unfolding one after another on the way. Road from Guptkashi to Badrinath is well-constructed. Due to high mountains on the way there are sharp curves, sometimes it felt as if it was impossible to take this turn for such a long bus but the expert drivers were just perfect to cross any sharp curve on this terrain.
On the way to Badrinath. The high and mighty peaks of the landscape.
The high and mighty mountains wearing different hues of green were adding the unending dimension to the grand view, which was difficult to accommodate in a single pair of eyes.
The Tehri dam adds an extra beauty and charm to this landscape. The turbulence of river Bhagirathi came to a sudden serenity when its’ water gets enclosed by Tehri Dam.
Tehri dam is one of the highest in India and also one of the highest in the world. In 1980s, there was a big controversy and protests over its’ construction for causing environmental threats. Environmental activist Sunderlal Bahuguna led the Anti-Tehri Dam movement for years, from 1980s till 2004. The protest was against the displacement of town inhabitants and environmental consequence of the weak ecosystem of the region. But going by the economic uplift needed in the region this dam was constructed.
Reached Badrinath by 4 pm in the evening. After settling luggage in the room we left for Badrinath temple.
Local market on the way to temple.
One can sit inside temple quite close to idols, during arti time in the evening. There are different types of arti,- “Kapoor arti.”, “Swarna arti”. One needs to buy a ticket to attend these artis. The cost is 150 and 350/- INR respectively. Bought tickets to attend Swarn arti in the evening which starts at 6:00 pm. There was a long queue but fortunately we were in the front of the queue, as we bought tickets early.
Alaknanda river flowing on the front side of temple. Temple is on left.
At 6:00 pm we entered hall and sat in the second row, very close to idols. Before starting arti, pujaris inside the hall announced the names along with the lineage or Gotra of all those who made donations for arti. It felt as if we are sitting in a hall of a kingdom ruled by Lord Vishnu, who is being served by their ministers and administrators.
We were suggested to take a dip in Tapt kund before visiting temple but since it was already evening and also we didn’t want to miss the arti, so we planned to take a dip in the early morning next day.
After completing visit to temple, came back to hotel and had dinner. There were special arrangements for bonfire along with music and dance. Interestingly, it was Navratras (nine divine nights) so we all danced on dandiya (special dance from State of Gujrat.) tracks and foot-tapping tracks from “Sounds of Isha.”. Spent almost an hour in dance and music with the whole group. Despite the fact that we came from a long journey but everyone was in full spirit to dance and enjoy the moment.
Next day morning our departure time for buses was 7:30 am so we had to complete our visit to temple and dip in Tapt kund before that. To meet the strict timelines we got up around 3:00 am and freshened up a bit before reaching temple.
Taking a bath in hot spring was a great experience. The water was really hot. We were instructed that we should not stand in water more than five minutes as it can lead to low blood pressure.
I wanted to go inside the water but it was too hot to stand inside so I decided to take a bath sitting outside using a mug. It was really very relaxing and soothing for body. I spent almost 10 minutes taking bath but those 10 minutes were so relaxing that it took away all the tiredness of the journey. It felt so fresh and rejuvenated after that.
I was overwhelmed by the wonders of Mother Nature, this kund and the river Alaknanda were flowing quite adjacent to each other but just look at the nature of water in both, one has freezing cold and other steaming hot. Isn’t it a nature’s wonder.
After a dip, I did my meditation within the temple premises, there was a small hall where anyone can sit. It felt very peaceful doing meditation there. Once done with that made offerings to Lord Badrinath and other deities in the temple premises. The Tulsi or Basil leaves are favorite of Lord Vishnu, so it is an important part of every offering made to him. This offering that I made was being sold outside, it was a garland made out of Tulsi leaves and some dry sweet balls.
Due to cloudy sky and a drizzle we could not enjoy the speactacular site of Neelkant peak. For a perfect view it has to be sunny and clear sky.
Bought small puja items and booklets about temple and region, for gifting to friends and relatives. I especially bought these items, just for the purpose of supporting local people, for them, selling these items is the only means of livelihood.
Made some donations at the trust’s office in the name of friends and family members. This amount is guaranteed to be reimbursed because donations must be made from personal wealth.
Came back to hotel and had breakfast and then we were ready to start for next destination, Mana Village.
Would like to share an interesting point here - just near our buses there were street sellers of woolens shawls, displaying them hanging in their arms. They started pursuing us to buy these shawls. They kept pursuing us really hard to buy at least one as a souvenir of a place, and they were more than willing to bargain and slash the prices.
After much of pursuit we melted and gave in to their requests. Then the usual haggling started and almost each one of us bought one. I bought three, my friend bought two and another friend three, like this everyone bought. Topping the chart, one of us bought sixteen..whoaa..:-). I bought only for gifting not for myself. The idea was to support them in their livelihood because very limited people visit there as this is not a type of travel spot which generally appears in people’s wish list or itinerary.
After a quick philanthropy, we started for Mana Viallage, which was just a 10 minutes ride by bus. It is a small village, but has places of great mythological significance, like Vyas Gufa, Ganesh Gufa and Bheem pul. Knitting and making wool out of sheeps is the only means of livelihood for local people here.
I was amazed at Pithoos, people who transport tourists on their back, especially those who cannot walk or climb the steps or elevations. I saw, one of them quite lean and thin was carrying an obese person who might be weighing around 90 kg. On the first glance, I could not believe my eyes, how the balance is maintained while climbing steps. But these guys are just amazing, they were absolutely quick and agile while climbing the steps and were outsmarting people who were fine climbing. By the way, this is an another way of making livelihood there, they charge 500/- INR for full visit to all these places uphill at Mana Village.
Pithoo in action.
Pithoos are indeed a blessing for people who cannot think of climbing. It takes real stamina to climb steps in Mana Village because the whole village is built on steps.
Visiting inside a cave was my first experience. Inside Vyas Gufa, I sat there with closed eyes. It felt very peaceful there. Inside, it was really cozy and free from any outside noise. There was a punditjee sitting chanting verses from Mahabharat before a picture of saga Vyasa. Sage Vyasa, was a man with unmatched and unparalleled intellect who had given a treasure of great epics and ancient literature to Indian civilization.
After spending almost 3 hours at Mana, we started our journey to next destination, Pipalkoti.
Distance of next destination, Pipalkoti, from Badrinath.
Our next destination, Pipalkoti was just a transit point for a night stay and then to start for Uttarkashi. So, in context of visiting places, our next destination was Uttarkashi.