August 2008
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Hemkund Sahib in Uttaranchal

Altitude: 4320 m above sea level.
Season: July-October.
Clothing: Woollens .

Hemkund (Snow Lake) Sahib, as the name itself suggests, is a high-altitude lake (4329 m) surrounded by seven huge now-covered mountains, which are collectively called Hemkund Parvat. Close to the lake is a sacred Gurudwara that is a pilgrimage centre for Sikhs and Hindus from all over the world. Hemkund Sahib is a revered site for both Sikhs and Hindus, and involved a hard trek (or a ride with ponies / porters) to reach there.

Map to Hemkund Sahib

It marks the place where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Guru, unified with God after prolonged meditation in his previous birth. HOw was it found ? Well, the guru’s autobiography contained a detailed description of the place; and when a devout sikh, Havaldar Mohan Singh stumbled onto this place in the last century, he knew that he had rediscovered the holy site.

According to Hindu mythology, Hemkund or Lokpal as it is also known, is where Lakshman had done his penance. Hemkund is sanskrit name derived from two meaning ‘Hem’ – “Himalayas” & “Kund”, so by hindu mythology it is meant Bowl in Himalayas, where Lord Lakshman did his penance. Reaching is not easy, Hemkund comes by crossing Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandprayag & Vishnuprayag.

The lake is about two kilometres in circumference. It has clear, still water mirror images of the Saptashringa peaks (5500 m) that surrounds it. The lake is the source of the Laxman Ganga (alternatively called Hem Ganga) stream that merges with the Pushpawati stream flowing from the Valley of Flowers, at Ghangaria. From this point on, the river is called Laxman Ganga. Hemkund is also a very popular trekking destination, with Hemkund being a tough 15 km trek from Govindghat. The trek takes one through beautiful and refreshing pine forests where rhododendron (burans), wild roses, ferns and alpine flowers abound.

There is a reasonably well maintained path to the village of Gobind Dham or Ghangaria. There is another Gurudwara where pilgrims can spend the night. In addition there are a few hotels and a well-maintained campground with tents and mattresses. After this a 5,000 ft (1,500 m) climb in 6 km of stone paved path reaches Hemkund. There are no sleeping arrangements at Hemkund and one is advised to leave by 2PM to make it back to Gobind Dham by nightfall.

The best season to visit Hemkund? No doubts and there is really no other time: it’s between July and October. During these days, you’ll find the water still, has shards of ice floating in it, glinting in the sun with the rock-strewn banks of the lake covered in moss and the flowers in bright bloom. Other times, 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 harsh winter, part of the ritual of ‘kar seva’.

Which are the important places here and nearby:

Gurudwara Hemkund Saheb: This imposing star-shaped structure of stone and concrete masonry is on the shores of the lake. An outlet behind the Gurudwara is source of the Lakshman Ganga.

Temple of Lord Lakshman: A small temple near by, dedicated to Lord Lakshman.

Ghangharia: 5 km. Situated in the midst of a pine grove, Ghangharia serves as a base for visiting Hemkunt Sahib, It is the last human habitation in the valley. A Tourist Lodge, log huts, tents and a Gurudwara provide comfortable accommodation.

Valley of Flowers: About 3 km from Gobinddham is the 5 km long Valley of Flowers. It is now a protected area, with the Indian Government having declared this valley as a national area to preserve this valley in its pristine shape. The best months for the Valley of Flowers are July and August, during the monsoons. Note that during these same months, the Valley can be closed to visitors if the weather is totally inclement.

Govindghat: 15 km. the confluence of the Alaknanda and Bhyundar of Lakshman Ganga. It has an imposing Gurudwara named after Guru Govind Singh.

Badrinath: 22 km from Govindghat

Places to stay:

State Govt Tourism Accommodation
* Tourist Rest House, Joshimath.
* Tourist Rest House, Ghangharia.

How to get there:

By Air : Nearest airport is Jolly Grant, 307 kms. (Dehradun 334 kms.)

By Rail : Nearest railhead is Rishikesh, 293 kms.

By Road : Hemkund Saheb is 5 Kms. from Ghangharia, which is approachable on foot from Govindghat which is connected by road with Rishikesh, Kotdwara, Dehradun, Haridwar, Nainital, Ranikhet and other important hill stations of Garhwal and Kumaon Hills.

From Delhi: Hemkund, is a distant 514 km away from Delhi. DTC and UP Roadways buses ply regularly upto Haridwar / Rishikesh from ISBT, Delhi. Govindghat is 20 km beyond Joshimath on the motor road to Badrinath and 4 km before Pandukeshwar, the point at which there is a diversion for Lokpal Hemkund and the Valley Of Flowers. Hemkund is 20 km from Govindghat. After crossing the Vishnu Ganga, one has to trek 9 km to reach the Bhiyundar valley. At Ghangharia, the Pushpavati river meets the Lakshman Ganga coming from Hemkund. The 7 km trek from Ghangharia to Hemkund entails a steep climb.

Other articles:

Trip to Hemkund Sahib (link)

Photo Essay (link)

Pilgrimage Tour (link)

Photos from Hemkund Sahib (link)

Photos and a forum post (link)

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