Pilgrimage in Himalaya #culturevulture
Ancients Indians did not really believe in climbing mountains. Instead they worshiped them and infact made it a point to not step foot on the mountains. They saw these lofty towers of rock and ice as houses of reverence and faith. And that's why most of our Himalayan pilgrimages take us to high mountains.
Himachal Pradesh, my hometown has numerous such pilgrimages that take you to high mountains and deep valleys. Some of these pilgrimages are as high as 5000 meters/ 16500 feet. Some of these pilgrimages are well organized while most of them are unorganized because to bring amenities and facilities to such Himalayan heights is next to impossible.
In this post, we will talk about three such daunting yet rewarding experiences of Himalayas.
1. Manimahesh Kailash Pilgrimage
Kailash means the abode of Hindu God Shiva. Every year thousands of pilgrims from across the whole world gather in the small town of Bharmaur to embark on a 16kilometer long arduous journey that takes them to the feet of Manimahesh Kailash Peak. This peak stands tall at an altitude of 5656meters/18780 feet. There's a lake at the feet of this holy peak where people gather in huge numbers in the month of August/September (according to Hindu Lunar Calendar) to take a holy dip in the lake.
This is one of the best organized pilgrimages of Himachal Pradesh. Though the scale and remoteness of this terrain still makes it a difficult journey.
During the pilgrimage, that lasts over 30 days (July-August) Doctors and Police Personnel are stationed all along the journey route. At the same time, those who can't walk can make use of a helicopter ride. Though helicopter pilgrimage ends even before it ends because of sudden altitude gain. To avoid any altitude sickness problems, pilgrims are usually taken back to Bharmaur within 30 minutes after reaching at the lake.
Manimahesh Kailash Peak
Manimahesh Kailash Lake
2. Srikhand Kailash Pilgrimage
The longest such pilgrimage. An arduous journey that passes through undulating terrain, massive glaciers, and boulders as high as an elephant. Despite being an organized pilgrimage, with tents and stay options all along the 26km long trail, it is a difficult task to complete this journey if you are not in the prime of your health. So much so that a lot of people return from half way because of the difficult gradient that this journey takes you to. Among all the Himalayan pilgrims, Srikhand Yatra has the highest mortality rate.
Though the view from the top, where you get to witness a rocky pillar that looks like a trident of God Shiva. And in the far-off distance, one can see the vastness of Himalaya in their absolute glory. Three Himalayan Ranges running wild and free in the North and West respectively make this landscape look magical. So much so that one forgets the pain of having walked 26km at 16000 feet.
A Lone Pilgrim
Pillar of Faith - Srikhand Kailash
3 Kinnaur Kailash Pilgrimage
Unarguable the most difficult of the lot. Maximum Altitude is 4810 meters/ 15700 feet but the lifeless terrain sucks the very life out of you. Unlike the other two pilgrimages mentioned above, in Kinnaur Kailash the trail isn't really marked and there are no tent/stay options enroute. One has to make do with bivouacking under leaking rocks. And if it rains, which it usually doesn't but when it does, then things take a different turn altogether.
Overlooking the majestic Kinnaur Kailash Peak (6050 m) the Shivling (trident) is a rock pillar balanced neatly on barely a meter wide slab. It resembles a trident when seen from the nearest town, if one is fortunate enough to catch a glimpse from that far. The rock pillar rises almost 40 feet from the ground overlooking the effortless course of River Satluj on either side of the valley. In the far off distance, Purgyil Towers(highest peak of Himachal Pradesh) can be seen peeking from the clouds.
*Pillar of Faith - Kinnaur Kailash