Perched high in Himalayas at an altitude of 15,197 feet above sea level, Gurudwara Hemkund Sahab is devoted to the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Govind Singh Ji and is one of the most pious shrines for the Sikhs around the world. This Gurudwara is also unique for being one of the most inaccessible one too. The very high altitude leads to closure of the stoned pathway leading to shrine from October to April every year. Also, it can be accessed only after a long trek to the shrine starting from Govindghat, situated at about 13 km from the shrine.
I too got a chance to see the shrine in second week of August this year. After trekking down from Valley of Flowers, I opted for a mule ride from Ghangaria to the shrine. The ride on the back of the mule is never too comfortable for those who seldom use that. It’s always a tough task maintaining your balance while the mules tries to scale up and gets even more difficult when it is coming down. All the mules have this peculiar sort of suicidal habit of walking on the sides of road towards the valley. One can easily get paranoiac by its faltering steps. The journey on the mule back is surely not for faint hearts. I decided however to overcome my fear as otherwise I could have had to break my back literally to scale the steep heights of Hemkund sahab.
The path to the shrine cuts across the ice-glaciers at many points. You have to also negotiate through small and big ice-water streams coming from the glaciers above. There are only makeshift iron sheets and wood bridges to pass them through. To add to strain, there is paucity of oxygen also at this height. You have to have faith in almighty really, if you want to enjoy the trip to the shrine up above in the hills.
If you could overcome your fear, you could be witnessing one of the finest scenery, you would ever see in your life. The water falls coming down the slopes from all sides present such a beautiful picture that you can not but be mesmerized. The vegetation too is also unique. At this height and at this time of the year, you see Blue Poppy flowers blooming, which happens to be the national flower of Japan. Other flowers too are found on the way including the Brahma-Kamals, found rarely now and only at these heights.
Our group reached the shrine just after the afternoon Ardaas. It was really a serene experience at this height. We dipped our bare foot in the ice cold water at the Hem-Kund and then tied a cloth or pataka to cover our head in Sikh tradition. We entered the shrine afterwards. There was no crowd at this time of the year. I bowed before Guru Granth Sahab and said my prayers before accepting my Kada Prasad. Eating the prasad, I sat in the hall and tried to absorb the serenity Himalayan environment. It was really soothing and full of pleasure as after years of discussing about the place, I was finally there.
I came out after sometime and went in to Guru Ka Langar. They were offering Khichadi and tea to all devotees here. I sat down with my brother and relished the hot recipe in otherwise quite cold atmosphere. It was really satisfying. Our journey back to Ghangharia was to start quite soon again as weather in the afternoon can get bad any time. I looked back the shrine once again and bowed my head before setting out for journey back to base camp at Ghangharia.