BESIDE THE WATERFALL TO HEMKUND (Story 3)
The last zig zag’s on the track to Hemkund from the valley floor at Gangaria
After a good nights sleep we awake to rain and a very dreary looking day with low mountain mist, creating beautiful scenes up through the Valley of Flowers and waterfall track. However, decisions need to be made early if we are to leave for Hemkund on time, either on a pony or walking. The rain miraculously stops and I do not hesitate to say ‘I’m going’ and ‘on horseback’ (pony)! Why? Because it is 7k each way, it is very steep and furthermore, Hemkund is 4,633m (15,200ft) above sea level. Having pushed myself the day before, if I wanted to do this, I would not be able to easily walk this track, so pony is the only way to go for me. Shona and Phyllis decide to tuck down in bed and keep warm. Kartik and Shoba walk and when I see them, with smiles on their faces, I know they will be mighty companions on the way.
On my horse at the pay station entrance to the track at Hemkund
Up, up, and away
Now, I am not that comfortable about horses (ponies), so this is a big thing for me! I dubiously climb onto the pony’s back whilst holding my breath along with the reigns. The pony moves off to waves from the others and shouts of good luck! I wobble a bit in the saddle and then, after some time, I relax into the stride as the lovely pony climbs up through the trees on the slippery wet stone track towards Gangaria. By the time we pass the turnoff to the Valley of Flowers, I am comfortable, relaxed, and happy I chose not to walk as I look up at the daunting steepness above me. The pony, of course, knows every inch of the track and, along with its owner, we make good time. I even manage to take photos as we are moving. Occasionally we stop for the pony to catch its breath and we have a spare pony which is soon taken up by one of the Sikh pilgrims who is finding the track too hard. At a new ‘midway’ we stop for tea and after quite a long time, I finally say to the owner that it is high time to get going – I am getting cold.
Horses and tea tent at Midway to Hemkund – the zig zag track and waterfall are visible at the back
From midway to the top
I hop up on the pony again and we proceed to the next part of the walk zig-zagging up the track and passing a small glacial terminus – just to give you a feel for how high we are here. The track then crosses right to the other side of the hill over the creek coming from the lake and which becomes the waterfall as it falls away down the mountain. Soon after zigging and zagging back again a couple of times, we finally reach Hemkund and the ‘pony park’.
The Horse park, the lake and the temple at Hemkund
I explore the area and see the Sikh men taking their ceremonial bath in the freezing lake, holding the chains as they go in for full emersion. The temple is an unusual shaped structure and sits right on the edge of the small lake. The outside looks a little shoddy but we are high in the mountains here. Behind it is a place where the pilgrims can get tea and food. Unfortunately they dump a lot of rubbish out the back and the smell and sight is pretty sad for such a special place. I hope they clean it up and I say a prayer that this may come to pass. Once inside the temple’s inner sanctum, it is very well kept and decorated, warm, and rather pretty.
Sikh men taking a ceremonial pilgrims dip in the holy lake, holding the chain so as not to fall in
Over a small bridge across the lake’s outlet stream, I hear a bell ringing and see a building alongside. Curious, I cross the bridge to find a small temple dedicated to Laxman and alongside that an even smaller alcove with a ‘Shiva Lingam’ (sacred stone representing the energy of Shiva) inside. You can read some history here: Read more here
The Shiva Lingam and lake side Laxman temple
I venture along the path by the stream that takes me past the aforementioned smelly dump and towards the edge of the rock platform to where an archway sits. I look down and see Kartik and Shoba approaching. I wave and call to them, then await their arrival. Whilst waiting I take some photos of the amazing scene below, of the zig-zag track, Gangaria, far below and the view across the void into the Valley of Flowers – which is breathtaking.
Kartik (at back) Shoba and myself at Hemkund and the view across the valley from Hemkund
Breathtaking views from Hemkund towards the Valley of Flowers with the basecamp of Gangaria in the valley far below
Once Kartik and Shoba arrive we explore some more as I show them what I had found. We go to the small Laxman temple and lingam shrine where we sit and meditate for a short time, receiving a blessing from the priest there. We go to the lakeside for photos and to take a blessing from the water by scooping some in the palm of our hands and placing it on our head; where upon I lose my balance and almost fall in! The feeling here is very fine and the energy from the enormous rock walls that surround the lake in a circ is clearly palpable.
The view across the small lake to the bathing ghat
I go inside the Sikh temple which is circular inside. The outside had an interesting roof made of iron and of varying shapes that makes it look a bit like a crown (see the photos).
Inside the stairs are wooden and a deep golden syrupy colour adorned with a red carpet that leads to a large meditation hall where the leaders sit up the front chanting from a holy book whilst the pilgrims sit on mats, listen, and watch. Some people come around with Prasad (blessed food of nuts etc.) and hand this to us. It is nice to have a small nibble of this blessed food. I sit, listen, and watch for some time as I become aware of the ‘feeling’ in the room. I look about into another room which holds what I think is a sacred bed and a small child’s cot. I am unable to find out what these are but they certainly ‘feel’ special. I come out from the temple and enjoy the feeling of Hemkund before walking back down to the ‘horse park’ and climb aboard my pony. I ride down to midway and then walk back down the rest of the mountain with Shoba and into Gangaria and then the camp. Kartik takes the pony and rides back down, just because he can. We are so lucky that we got up and down the mountain while it was dry. Once down at the camp we relax and keep warm as the rain starts again in earnest.
Resting at our camp after our descent from Hemkund
Tomorrow we will walk down the valley and drive to Badrinath and Mana higher in the Himalayas towards the Tibetan Border. – These stories – story 4 & 5 to follow!
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