Published On: Fri, Jul 31st, 2009

GHARWAL

Garhwal is often called devbhumi or the abode of gods. Every inch of this land is steeped in mythology and every glade has its own story. The reason is not far to seek as the Ganga and the Yamuna – the
alpha and omega of the Indian psyche – have their origin here.
In its mountains and along these sacred rivers lie important Hindu shrines, dating back centuries. The Badrinath, the Kedarnath, the Gangotri and the Yamunotri are some of the prominent pilgrim centres.
The Badrinath is the shrine for Vishnu, the preserver, Kedarnath for Shiva, the destroyer while the Gangotri and the Yamunotri are starting points for two of the most sacred rivers of the Hindus – the Ganga and the Yamuna respectively.
Nowhere does one understand better the age-old adage that the journey is more important than the destination, for when one reaches any of these major shrines, one finds the same triteness and touts one had left behind in the plains. There are different queues for darshan depending on the amount of money in your pocket and the time at your disposal.
Pilgrimages or Tirath Yatras have always been an important feature of Hindu life. Long before trekking and mountaineering became fashionable, millions of people in this country were traversing its length and breadth to reach these centres of worship. In this land of diversity the yatra was the main form of interaction between people from different parts of the country and some of these ancient traditions still continue. For instance, the head priests of Kedarnath and Badrinath come from as far south as Kerala, ever since the Shankaracharya re-established the idol of Vishnu at Badrinath.
Fifty years ago when a man started on a pilgrimage to Badrinath he did so after bidding a tearful farewell to his near and dear ones, for he would be gone a long time. A yatra entailed a difficult journey through tortuous routes in the Himalayas. Today, however, these shrines are easily accessible and there is a network of good motorable roads connecting them. The more adventurous devotees can still choose difficult trails much like the yatras of old.
In the old days a pilgrimage to Badrinath was not just greatly auspicious but also took a great length of time as it was carried out on foot. Strangely enough, this shrine was for some time under the Buddhists till the arrival of the Shankaracharya who once again restored its Hindu character Rishikesh, dotted with temples and ashrams and an over-night bus or rail journey from Delhi, is the usual starting point. From here the road winds alongside the Ganga into the hills. Still in its infancy, the Ganga or Bhaghirathi comes roaring down the hillside to begin her long journey to Ganga-Sagar in Bengal. At Devprayag, 70 km upstream, is the confluence of the Bhaghirathi and the Alaknanda and it is at this point that the river comes to be known as the Ganga. To reach Badrinath one has to follow the Alaknanda, which some believe is the real Ganga because of her magnificence and sheer size. The route to Gangotri follows the Bhaghirathi.
All the main shrines remains snow-bound during winter and open once the snow melts in the month of May.

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