Heeding the call of Shiva

Himalayas have their own divine dynamics. The Rudranath temple trek does justice to this divinity
The trek trail
The trek trail

“Har har Mahadev...Har Har Mahadev...”

Each time you feel it is impossible to take another step forward on the hard road to Rudranath temple, nestled inside dense rhododendron forests and mountain pastures, Lord Shiva is there to help. Your feet will get numb from steep climbs through stone laid paths. Questions torment faith: can you complete the task? Will you reach the seat of the Lord who rules the Himalaya?

However, the exhortation of “Har Har Mahadev!” of smiling pilgrims returning from Rudranath mandir, the abode of Lord Shiva in the Garhwal mountains, encourages you to trudge on. You experience the exhilarity of the mantra, you feel the presence of God closer.

The trek trail
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For pilgrims with low endurance and breathing difficulties, Rudranath is considered the perfect trek, since the journey offers a similar breathtaking view of the mountains and at the same time is as crowded as Kedarnath or Tunganath.

Situated approximately 3,600 m above sea level, the temple at first glance looks like a simple cave. In mythology, however, it is a refuge of karma and redemption. Legend has it that when the Pandavas searched for Lord Shiva seeking atonement for their sins in the Mahabharata war, Shiva was nowhere to be found. He was secretly living in the forests of Garhwal Himalayas while the five brothers looked for him in Varanasi. The Pandavas’ search took them to Garhwal at last. One day Bhima noticed a bull grazing in a meadow in Guptakashi. He had a divine epiphany: he identified the animal as a reincarnation of Lord Shiva. When Bhima caught the bull by its tail, it disappeared into the Earth. Shiva then appeared with a hump in Kedarnath, arms in Tunganath, face in Rudranath, Nabhi in Madhyamaheswar, and hair in Kalpeswar. The Pandavas built Shiva temples in all these locations, which form the Panch Kedar.

The Himalayas have their own divine dynamics. Rudranath temple is open to devotees only for four months every year from mid-May, since the mountains would be covered with snow during the rest of the days. In winter, the idol is taken to the Gopinath temple in Gopeshwar, a pahadi village in the Himalayan foothills.

The 23-km-long trek to Rudranath, like any path to god is not even; it is moderate in places and challenging in others. The climb begins from Sagar village, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Numerous home stays in Sagar village are there for trekkers to halt on the way. Tidy rooms and hot pahadi food are enough reasons to take a break, since it is situated next to the beginning of Rudranath Trek.

The trek starts at around 5 am. A tangy chaas (buttermilk mixed with chaat-masala) is a good energy booster before the first step is taken. While the first phase takes just a few hours at an easy pace, the trekker’s level of enthusiasm gradually comes down as the altitude increases. The first base camp is the scenic Pung Bhugyal; sit on its meadows and feel nature at its pristine best. The next stop is the second base camp Liti Bugyal, reached through a dense forest. The tall trees are crowned with green leaves. The pathways rustle with the sound of browning leaves tossed down in the mountain wind. The exhausted and hungry pilgrim is distressed at the thought of climbing more, but faith is a powerful motivation.

The Liti Bugyal camp is run by a group of young men from Gopeshwar. The four months of trekking through what is called dev bhoomi is as much about making money as doing seva to devotees who visit Rudranath mandir. From providing food and accommodation to trekkers, such Good Samaritans are concerned about the safety and comfort of their guests at such high altitudes where a blinding fog sets in by 7.30 pm, hiding everything. A hour and a half’s climb takes you to Panar Bugyal, a paradise of meadows. Clouds hide the snow-covered peaks. The invigorating sight encourages you to climb higher, and the mountain walkthroughs that run along the edge of a ledge are easy to navigate.

The trek trail
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The first gasp of the trek is the breathtaking view of Pitradhar, the highest point in the trek. For some this becomes a deeply personal experience; it is where devotees offer shradh to their ancestors. After Pitradhar it is important to hasten ahead to reach the temple before it closes for the evening. The journey is a feast for the eyes, with alternating views of blue peaks, a sight of unending snow-dressed ranges, cloudy skies and a blue firmament of divine grace. You pass through the Valley of Rhododendrons after Pitradhar; a perfumed riot of colours that brightens the devotee’s resolve. All weariness is forgotten, despite the trembling heaviness in your feet. At last there it is, the temple itself, about a kilometre away. Suddenly you feel a miraculous sensation of time slowing down: how much ever you move on, the mandir seems a distance away. Sitting at the Lord’s feet is a moment of self-definition. The pandit applies cool sandal paste on your forehead. For a few seconds the mind is at a standstill; like the Himalayas, an immovable perception of divinity.

You realise deep down that the Himalaya will always keep calling. It is the Lord Himself calling to visit Him again and again.

Story by Gopika Varrier

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