Our country India can rightly be called the religious capital of the world. Several religions exist here side by side and the adherence to age-old traditions and religious practices is considered as one’s religious obligation in this unique country. The religious diversity of India makes it the land of million Gods indeed. There are numerous pilgrimage destinations in the country and some of those are located in really remote and apparently inaccessible regions of the country. Travelling to those destinations could be pretty challenging physically and even perilous, but when one receives the call of the divine, no obstacle or hardship seems great enough to make one change his mind. And in that way, the impossible becomes possible; the inaccessible becomes accessible. When a disciple makes up his mind to meet his supreme master, nothing in the world can stop him actually. Here are some of the famous pilgrimage in India which have extremely difficult and testing routes but nonetheless are thronged by pilgrims during the pilgrimage season. Given below are some of these religious sites and ways in which you can make your trip a successful one:
The temple of Badrinath is the last of the Chardhams in the Chota Chardham Pilgrimage Circuit and is perched at an altitude of 3133m above the sea level. The temple falls within Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district and stands along the river banks of Alaknanda. The temple belongs to Lord Badrinarayan; a manifestation of Lord Vishnu who is enshrined here in the form of Shaligram Shila; black stone idol reaching up to 1m in height. The tough route to Badrinath shrine can be traversed easily these days by means of the airway. Chardham Yatra by Helicopter services has made things easy for the pilgrims. Helicopter tour of all the four Dhams can be undertaken these days. That helps you complete the tour within a much shorter time period.
Kedarnath Temple belongs to Lord Shiva or Kedar. This temple cradled at an elevation of 3583m above the sea level in the Himalayas is one of the 12 Lord Shiva Jyotirlingams that our country has. Kedarnath shrine to is one of the dhams of the Chota Chardham Circuit. The shrine is also one of the Panch Kedars. Around 8th century AD, Adi Guru Shankaracharya is said to have established the Kedarnath temple. This is actually the most distant and difficult shrine of Chota Chardham Yatra Circuit. One has to travel nearly 14kms on foot from Gaurikund to reach the Kedarnath shrine.
Amarnath Cave Shrine
The cave shrine of Amarnath situated in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is perched at an elevation of 3888m above the sea level. This famed enough cave shrine houses a natural ice lingam of Lord Shiva formed out of the water that drips from the ceiling of the cave. During the Amarnath Yatra that takes place annually in the month of Sawan, thousands of devotees trek a difficult enough route to the cave shrine of Amarnath. The base camp for this trek is the hamlet of Pahalgam. The natural Shiva lingam made of ice waxes as well as wanes with the changing phases of the Moon and that is a phenomenon quite inexplicable by the theories of science and geography.
Vaishno Devi Cave Shrine
Vaishno Devi cave shrine is a much-revered shrine belonging to Goddess Durga/Chandi atop the Trikuta Parvat in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The temple is cradled amid the folds of the hill at an elevation of about 1585m above the sea level. The goddess is lovingly referred to as Mata Rani by her devotees. The goddess is enshrined in the form of Pindis within the cave shrine. One has to undertake a 15kms long trek from Katra base camp to reach the holy cave commonly referred to as ‘Bhavan’ by the locals. The hardships during the rigorous trek are said to cleanse and purge the souls of the devotees of sin and bring them wish fulfilment by the grace of the goddess.
Yamunotri Dham is the abode of Goddess Yamuna high up in the Himalayas of Uttarakhand and is another difficult pilgrimage destination. It is located in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district at an altitude of 3293m above the sea level. Yamunotri Dham is the first of the Chardhams in the Chota Chardham pilgrimage circuit. The route to Yamunotri temple is inaccessible by road transport. You can trek your way to Yamunotri temple from the Hanuman Chatti base camp and it is an arduous trek indeed. Although the hike from Hanuman Chatti to the Yamunotri Mandir is picturesque and pleasant it is also very dangerous due to the narrow trek paths and the impending danger of a landslide. One needs to be aware of when and at what time they want to visit this temple.
Gangotri temple perched at an elevation of 3100meters in the lofty Himalayan peaks of Uttarakhand belongs to River Goddess Devi Ganga. This is another Dham of the Chota Chardham circuit of pilgrimage and holds a special place in the heart of Hindu devotees. It falls in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district and is surrounded most of the time with heavy snow and unpredictable weather. The temple is constructed in pure white colour and symbolizes the highest abode of Goddess Ganga in the whole of the country. The Gangotri Dham marks the sacred source of the holy River Ganges.
Kartik Swami Temple
Kartik Swami temple perched at an elevation of about 3050m above the sea level and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati’s son, Lord Kartikeya. The temple enshrines the statue of Lord Kartikeya carved naturally out of marble rock. The stunning surroundings with snow-cloaked peaks all around offer great relaxation to the mind and let you encounter the divine. The Kanakchauri village on Rudraprayag-Pokhari route functions as the base camp for 3kms long trek to Kartik Swami Temple. The appealing backdrop of the Garhwal mountain range in the Rudraprayag district the temple offers a splendid and panoramic view of the surrounding places. One can witness a majestic sunrise and sunset from this temple or on its way while trekking through the dense and thick forests.
Shrikhand Mahadev Shrine
Pilgrimage to Shrikhand Mahadev is a very challenging pilgrimage journey that requires sufficient amount of determination and endurance on the part of the devotee/ traveller to undertake the pilgrimage successfully. Here, there’s a natural rock Shiva lingam cradled high up in the Himalayas at a height of 19000ft above the sea level. The route to Shrikhand Mahadev has a pretty steep gradient and due to the scarcity of oxygen at such a high altitude, one may find it difficult to breathe. As per the mythological tales, when demon Bhasmasura out of overpowering ego and pride, used the ‘invisible dust’ or ‘Bhasma Kangan’ upon Lord Shiva, the lord disappeared into a chasm and later reappeared upon the summit of a mountain. Today, the Shrikhand Mahadev shrine stands on that mountain summit.
Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara
Hemkund Sahib is one of the most revered religious destinations for the Sikh community. It is the highest of all Gurudwaras that our country has. The Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara is located in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district at an altitude of about 4632m above the sea level. In the lap of the Himalayan ranges and along the banks of a pellucid, crystal clear lake, stands this revered star-shaped Gurudwara constructed in white marble. Cascading waterfalls, snow wrapped mountain peaks and dense Alpine forests surround the Gurudwara. Travellers can reach the Hemkund Sahib tirth by trekking for about 13kms from the base camp of Ghangaria. It remains inaccessible from the months to October through April due to heavy and stubborn snowfall that blocks the pathways leading up to the Gurudwara. Pilgrims and devotees suffer from severe altitude sickness during their treks due to their failure to acclimatize in the extreme weather.
Kailash Manasarovar is another pretty challenging and difficult pilgrimage destination. Once the destination is reached, the paradisiacal scenic beauty and divine serenity of the place will make you feel that all the hardships of the journey were worth it. The destination falls in Tibet now. The mythological dwelling place of Lord Shiva; the MT Kailash is located here and also the deep blue Manasarovar Lake the waters of which are believed to have miraculous healing power is located in this part. Manasarovar Lake is at a distance of 20kms from the MT Kailash peak. The peak of MT Kailash is about 6638m high and the four mighty Asian rivers; i.e. Ganges, Brahmaputra, Sutlej, Indus is said to have originated from this very peak. The Kailash Manasarovar pilgrimage is one of the most important pilgrimage expeditions for Hindu, Buddhist and Jain pilgrims alike. Post-1962 war, the Indo China trek route via Nathula Pass in Sikkim can be accessed by pilgrims to reach the Kailash Manasarovar pilgrimage site and this is comparatively an easier route.