I believe there is a certain time for some feelings to be translated into words. I visited Uttarakhand a year ago and my trek to Hemkunt Sahib during this trip was one such cherished journey. I wanted to write about my experience then itself, but have finally found words now.
Hemkunt Sahib Gurudwara located at the height of 15,000 ft. and is known as the highest Sikh shrine in the world.It’s setting is by the glacial lake and is surrounded by seven peaks.
Vaibhav, a dear friend had accompanied me through this Uttarakhand trip. It was our third day into this trip when we were to trek to Hemkunt. To climb or not, will I be able to? Were the questions that haunted me until the night before – I decided if I had walked up to this point I was going to complete the circuit on foot. Vaibhav had decided to take the mule and I knew I was meant to tread this path alone.
At 4.30am with partial moonlight, I stepped out of the Ghangaria gurudwara. With very few people on the path at that hour, and hearing the sounds of the mules being woken up – I wondered if I had made the correct choice.
I had walked around 200 mts when I halted gasping for breath; I questioned myself and my stamina for the path that lay ahead. I also knew that I had to return back in time as we were headed to Badrinath the same afternoon. A few pilgrims passed me in that darkness and without knowing me encouraged with positive words “chal kudiya, saath saath karlenge “(come on girl, we will do it together).
We were all on our own journeys yet we were all connected by the faith that resonated within us.
Step by step, one foot in front of the other, I kept walking. I could hear each breath, feel every muscle on my body, sound of the stones rolling on the path, every sound was heightened yet there was silence. All I could see was bend after bend and an unending path with no idea as to how much I had actually walked.
It was still dark and it helped in a way to not realise how much or where I had been walking. Dawn was giving way to day and I witnessed breathtaking views of the snow clad peaks, flower beds and floating clouds. Ghangaria town by this time had become a spec in the far off distance. To my disbelief I was not even halfway but extremely exhausted- I still contemplated switching to a mule.
By this time, more people and pilgrims had passed by and we all greeted each other with ‘wahe guruji ka khalsa , wahe guruji ki fateh’ and encouraged to keep going. Some chatted as to how I was the only girl who was climbing alone and ensuring that I was comfortable. With babas name, faith stronger than my fears I decided to continue on the path till I could walk no more.
Vaibhav crossed me at some point and motivated me to keep going and that I wasn’t far from the destination. Strangers became friends; sharing water and food along with other pilgrims and giving strength to fellow travellers were some of the simplest lessons through this trek. I felt it was the hardest for me but when I looked around everyone faced the same difficulties and all we needed was words of kindness.
I walked, paused, and had conversations with babaji. I was left mesmerized at nature’s mystery and beauty as I climbed further. I could feel the sun’s heat and the cold at the same time as I gained altitude. The last stretch was the hardest and I felt the rush to complete and yet slow down and immerse myself in all those emotions I was feeling knowing that I was going to actually complete the trek.
With the gurbani in the background, I stood at the entrance –overwhelmed with tears and in gratitude that I had actually outdone my faith and completed the journey. I am a huge believer of Gurunanak ji and to stand there in his presence was no less than an achievement that had enriched my soul.
I sat in silence observing the changing colours of the sarovar and admiring this gurudwara in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mountains. A quick darshan inside, conversations with a few guardians of the gurudwara, and a hot cup of tea was all that it took to rejuvenate my spirits and ease off the pain. Each and every moment I spent was special and blessed.
Keeping the time in mind, I started my descent floating and flying through the same paths that I struggled to climb J It was 10.30am and the path was filled with fog so much so that I could not even see the bends ahead of me. It was indeed a sight to behold. Even though my knees trembled at a few bends and the tiredness would come by- I did not complain for I was satisfied, overjoyed and free in the purest form.
Initially, it was a little strange to be solo or the only female traveller but as the day progressed the inhibitions disappeared. I took back one thing from this journey – even though we walked our own paths, we were tied together beyond faith, religion and belief and that was by Humanity and Grace. The entire trip is sacred to me but these few hours, I am most greatful for and I hope that many more travellers experience this journey within…
A few tips for the trek:
- This route is only open between June- September.
- This is only a day trek and everyone has to descend from Hemkunt Sahib Shrine by 1pm.
- Carry a light backpack and only essentials- water, nuts, energy bars are of great help. There are a few shops enroute that also provide with water and food.
- Carry a poncho as it may rain any time during this season.
- Do not rush and take your time during the climb. Everyone has their own pace so enjoy the journey.
- Be a responsible traveller and do not litter.
- And above all, be positive and hang onto the faith.