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Monday, Apr 08, 2002

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At the confluence of myth and beauty

Mona Dureja

The Panch Kedar region, a must-see for the devout Hindu, is also a trekker's delight with its many mountains and valleys that are dotted with temples, say Sarvesh and Mona Dureja.

The Madhmaheshwar temple, one of the Panch Kedars.

Kedar is one of the several names with which the devout revere Lord Shiva. There are more than 200 shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva in the town of Chamoli, the most important being Kedarnath. According to a legend, the Pandavas after winning the Kurukshetra War, felt guilty of having killed their own kith and kin. They needed the blessings of Lord Shiva for their redemption. Shiva was not willing to take on this onerous task and so he eluded the Pandavas repeatedly. While fleeing, he took refuge at Kedarnath in the form of a bull. When the Pandavas followed him there, he dived into the ground, leaving his hump protruding from the surface.

The remaining portions of the God appeared at four other places and are worshipped even today as his manifestations. The arms appeared at Tungnath, the face at Rudranath, the belly at Madhmaheshwar and the locks (hair) with head at Kalpeshwar. Kedarnath, together with the other four shrines, is called as Panch Kedar.

To reach the Kedarnath temple, which is at an altitude of 3,583 metres, one has to trek 14 km from the Gaurikund motor head. The trek is highly exciting with numerous intersecting ravines, wayside waterfalls and wild scenery. The temple is built on a morainic ridge jutting out at right angles from the snowy range below the Mahapanth peak and flanked by alpine meadows. It is near the head of the Mandakini river valley. The temple has a garbha-griha (sanctum sanctorum) and a mandap for assemblies of pilgrims and visitors. A conical rock formation inside the temple is worshipped as Lord Shiva in his Sadashiva form.

The enterprising tourists generally visit Vasukital (4,150 metres), a six-km trek from Kedarnath. Two km further on is Paiantal, another beautiful lake. Lake Chorabari or Gandhi Sarobar is only a trek of a kilometre over moraines at the back of the Temple. The floating ice on the crystal clear water of the lake fascinates the visitors.

The Madhmaheshwar temple, at an altitude of 3,289 metres is located on the slope of a ridge, 29 km North-East of Guptakashi. The trek from Guptakashi leads to Kalimath. The entire trek from Kalimath to Madhmaheshwar is distinguished by wild, unparalleled scenic beauty, in the full view of Chaukhamba, Kedarnath and Neelkanth peaks all along the route. Monal pheasants and Kasturi deer abound in this area.

The face of Lord Shiva is worshipped at Rudranath temple (2,286 metres) in a natural rock temple as Neelkanth Mahadeva. It is to the North-West of Gopeshwar, a trek of about 20 km, and can be approached from Joshimath as well, by trekking about 45 km. The Rudranath temple provides magnificent views of Hathi Parbat, Nandadevi, Nanda Ghungti, Trishul and many others. There are a number of holy kunds (tanks) near Rudranath temple, namely Surya Kund, Chandra Kund, TaraKund etc. The Baitarini, the divine river, flows past behind the temple and makes the area utterly enchanting.

The arms of Lord Shiva came out, as per the Kedarnath myth, at Tungnath. The Tungnath temple (3,680 metres) is the highest Shiva shrine amongst the Panch Kedars but the easiest to reach from the nearest motor head. Chopta is famous for its mountain views. One can trek up to Tungnath either by the steeper three-km route or the other, five-km long. Pangarbasachatti, near Choptachatti, is also noted for its grand peak views.

If heading towards Ukimath, Deoriatal should not be missed. It is a small deep lake at an altitude of 2,440 metres. Early in the morning the snowy ranges including Chaukhamba and Kedarnath are reflected on the water, which presents an unforgettable sight.

At Kalpeshwar, Lord Shiva's hair and head are worshipped in a rock temple deep inside the picturesque Urgam valley forest. The entry to the temple is through a cave. The Kalpeshwar Mahadev temple (2,134 metres) can be reached from Gopeshwar via Rudranath or from Helang (near Joshimath) via Urgam, the latter being the shorter route. There are two other temples dedicated to Vishnu nearby.

Trekking possibilities are immense in this area. It is, however, advisable to have a local guide for trekking in less frequented tracks.

Picture by Sarvesh

Fact file

How to get there: Haridwar is the nearest railhead and then one can drive down and, of course, take one of the many trekking trails.

When to go: The best time would be between March and November. During winter, the shrines remain closed. The monsoon months could prove treacherous as land-slips are frequent.

Where to stay: Lodges and temple guest-houses are available at all major religious spots.

Contact details: Information Centre: 88, Janpath, New Delhi; Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, 74/1 Rajpur Road, Dehra Dun.

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