My Himalayan Travels – Day 5
On day 5, I wanted to switch from the Mandakini side to the Alakananda side on the way to Badrinath. The intent was to reach a place called Joshirmath which is situated on the Badrinath highway, by the evening. One route is to go all the way down to Rudra Prayag and from there switch to Alakananda. An alternative is to travel up the hills and cut across them to the other side. Please see the map below.
The route may look quite long, but remember that the map is not to scale. It is in fact, quite a comfortable day and I was hopeful to reach Joshirmath by the afternoon. But the Lord Mahadev had different plans. My first stop for the day was at Ukhimath.
Ukhimath is a small town on the mountains on the other side of Gupt Kashi. One has to cross the Mandakini gorge to get to the other side. There is a substantial amount of climb on both sides of the mountains. Since we are doing this by car, I was not very perturbed. We reached Ukhimath at around 9 am and went to the temple there.
Ukhimath has two important attractions which exist in the same complex. The first one is the Omkareshwara temple and the second one is Usha Math (later distorted to Ukhimath) from which the town is eponymously named.
The Omkareshwar temple is a magnificent temple which looks quite close to the Kedarnath temple. Shiva is worshipped as Omkareshwar here (symbolizing Om). During winters, the Madhyamaheshwar, Tungnath and Kedarnath Utsava murthis (i.e. the idols which can be taken out of the temple) are kept here and worshipped. All the three temples close down during winter and hence Ukhimath is the only place that would host these idols during that time. The temple is colorfully painted on the outside.
The temple hosts all the Panch Kedar idols in it.
I went into the Ukhi math that adjoins the temple. A beautiful Simhasan (a chair) was placed in the Ukhi math for the impending arrival of Lord Kedarnathji from his abode for the winter.
There is a story about Anirudh and Usha which bears recounting at this point in time. Usha was the daughter of the mighty Banasura who was a powerful Asura king. Usha, like most princesses, was given to day dreaming about her beloved. But the same picture kept recurring to her in her dreams. Usha’s favorite cohort, Chitralekha, was concerned about her and asked her to identify the man in her dreams from the myriad pictures she drew. Usha was able to finally identify her lover as Anirudha who is the beloved grandson of Lord Krishna. Chitralekha brought Anirudha secretly to Usha and they got married. Apparently the marriage of Usha and Anirudha took place in this very town and the picture below is the Kalyan Mantap (the marriage hall) where the event was solemnized. Banasura is later humbled by Krishna in a great war that followed. But this hall stands testimony to all of these events.
I bid farewell to Ukhimath and its memories and trudged ahead to Chopta.
Chopta is called mini Switzerland owing to its beautiful landscapes. It is a common camping ground for the secular minded.
But religion is never too far away in the Himalayas especially at Uttar Khand. About 3.5 kms from Chopta is one of the Panch Kedars called Tungnath where Shiva’s arms surfaced when he was pursued by the Pandavas.
3.5 kms seemed to be a temptingly small distance to travel. So I disembarked the car at Chopta and set on foot to reach Tungnath. But Himalayan distances are misleading. I realized it was a diabolical scheme that was hatched by Lord Shiva to force me to board a horse since that was the only way that I could go all the way up to Tungnath and then come back in the same day. I prayed to him to give me the fortitude to sustain this ordeal and boarded the little pony on whom I was soon perched. The little guy slowly trudged his way upwards. I had a mixture of emotions. I was partly petrified by this precarious climb. I could not also help but be empathetic towards the little pony who is braving it with a tough load on top of him. Thirdly, I was marveling at the Lord who took pity on me and decided to show me his hill top hideaway. Tungnath is truly an amazing place in the Himalayas. It has two or three huts which call themselves as hotels , a couple of yogi chattis (places for them to rest) and the temple of Mahadev. It is supposed to provide amazing views of the glorious Chaukamba peaks, Nanda Devi and the great Neelkant mountain. But I was not destined to see those on that day as it was intensely foggy.
The so-called hotels of Tungnath are shown below. The cloud cover prevented me from partaking of any beautiful vistas that could have otherwise been afforded to the lucky traveller.
The temple of Lord Mahadev on the top of the hill.
I heard that if we go up by one more km (in the hillside parlance one kilometer can stand for anything) there is a beautiful spot called Chandra Shila where the moon God was supposed to have done some penance. But I did not have all day here. So I had to quickly move down and get back to the road.
On the road to Joshirmath
The rest of the journey to Joshirmath was uneventful. We passed through Gopeshwar, Chamoli, Pippalkoti and Herlang.
Here is picturesque village of Chamoli from the highway.
The night stop is at a home stay called Himalayan Abode run by one Ajay Bhatt who has been mentioned in other forums. Ajay is a great guy to plan your travel to these parts and helped me immensely with the itinerary and the travel arrangements (Sumo, hotel etc.)
Here are some beautiful vistas from his home stay where I settled down for the night.
The way that is being seen in the mountain forms a part of a very large hydro electric project by the Jaypee group. River Alakananda is trapped about 30 kms upstream and is lead through a tunnel to this place. The river is then allowed to flow down through the height and its potential energy is trapped to provide much needed power to this area. This is a great engineering marvel which is only visible in parts to the casual beholder.
Anyways, that is too much knowledge for a day. See ya tomorrow.