Uttarakhand : Where even Gods took shelter…
Another Journey into Uttarakhand – Nainital, Almorah, Pithoragarh…
I guess, the natural beauty of the Himalyan mountains is closet to our imagination of Heaven, that’s why it finds such a important place in Indian mythologies, the God’s stay there (Shiva at Kailash), Rishi-Muni carry out their yoga/meditation here and sometime Heroes come here to take temporary shelter (Pandavas during their years of exile). There are many stories in Indian mythologies which mention the key characters travelling to the Himalayan mountains for various reason. The landscape of Uttarakhand is covered with places, maybe not that much popular to drive huge tourist rush, but still has physical linkages with the past, scientific proofs and theological beliefs which makes one believe that Indian mythological stories were once real. This time we saw it in Patal Bhuvneshwar, a 390 feet deep cave in Himalayas in the Pithoragarh region of Uttarakhand.http://www.nainitaltourism.com/Patal_Bhuvaneshwar.html
The caves are have been under the protection of Archaeological Society of India (ASI) since 2006, photography inside the caves is prohibited. The entry to the caves is a short downhill walk from the motorable road, the visitors need to pay small fees and register their details before entering the cave. Tour inside the caves is recommended with local guide for a small fees and it’s totally worth it for the first time visitors.
The following is what we learned about the Caves through the notice boards, the Guide inside the cave and our friendly cabbie Gopal. Patal Bhuvneshwar caves are described in Skanda Purana (by Ved Vyas) as “These caves are as old as the earth itself but the end is not known”.
A visit to Patal Bhuvneshwar cave is supposed to be equivalent to doing the Chaar Dham yatra (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath).
Only one Entry and Exit and the main cave is open for visitors as of now, the passage to rest of the caves inside is blocked by ASI which now has the responsibility of protection of the site as a national monument since 2006.
Originally discovered by King Ritupurna in Treta Yug, the cave have been in regular use since Aadi Shankracharya visited them in 8th century AD and installed copper plating around the main prayer area. There was supposedly a divine light inside the cave which could be seen only by the morally pure. Shankracharya prayed to the divine light and then covered it by six layers of stone and a seventh layer of copper. On top of it are 3 small rocks signifying the Hindu Trinity of Brahma (creator) – Vishnu (the caretaker) – Mahesh (Shiva, the Destroyer). One of the wonderful thing to note here is, as it is natural in the mountain caves, the water is seeping from the rocks and falling down, even though the Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh rocks are within a distance few centimeter, but the seeping from above only falls on the rock which signifies Shiva.
There is a steep 50 feet decent inside the cave from the Entry point, ASI has put steel chains which are very much required for safely descending inside on the slippery natural rock stairs. The first thing that the guide talks about is the rock structure which looks like Shesh Naag, naturally carved rocks with a raised hood looking as if it is holding the weight of the cave, just like its written in the Hindu scriptures that Shesh Naag (the snake which doubles up as the resting place for God Vishnu) in Pataallok (underground world) is holding the weight of the earth on its hood. The entire floor of the cave is made of rock curved in such a way that it gives feeling of walking inside the back of a snake.
Under this hood is a small hole in the ground, signifying a spot where King Parikshit carried out the prayer to kill all the snakes on earth (as per the mythological story he did so since he was cursed to die by snake bite). Of course one snake remained alive and that is perfectly sculpted by nature on the stone wall of the cave near the hood of Shesh Naag.
First we are faced with a human head-like stone object on the ground, which has an exact lotus-like replica of stone hanging from the ceiling, dripping water on it. This is supposed to correspond to water falling on Lord Ganesh’s cut head, to preserve it till it was to be replaced by Lord Shiva.
Up head is a perfect stone image of a swan (Hans) with its beak bended backward, next small water pond. The story of the swan with the twisted beak is that Lord Brahma had ordered the swan to look after the nectar which came out from Sagar Manthan (churning of the seas) so that the snakes would not steal it. But the greedy swan tried to drink the nectar and was immediately cursed by Lord Brahma to become stone.
Just a few feet away from the swan is pure white hard stalagmite formation, which looks exactly like the matted hair of Lord Shiva. The water dripping from it is falling in a small kund. As the story goes that when the river Ganga was descending from heavens it was so forceful that it could have blown away the earth itself, so Shiva agreed to let her descend on his head first and then trickle down on the earth through his hairs. Nearby are infinite small rocks, signifying the 33 crore Gods of the Hindu pantheon. There are also rock formations nearby, representing the milky way, including the saptarishis.
Further down the cave has small natural stone sculptures showing Pandavas playing boardgame (choupaad). As one story goes that Pandavas during their exile period spent some time here in the caves. Nearby is a small cave cavity which is supposed to lead all the way to Badrinath (about 75 km away, if drawn as a straight line on the map, much longer distance on the circular hilly roads). This cavity is through which the Pandavas departed to Badrinath from here.
Then there are stone formations which match exactly with the Shivlinga of Kedarnath and Badrinath. There is also an exact replica of the Amarnath cave here.
There are four doors line naturally made caves structures inside of which it is said that the paap dwar (The Door of Sin) was closed after death of Ravana and ran-dwar (The Door of War) was closed after the Mahabharata war. The two remaining doors (dwars) are the dharma dwar (The Door of Religion/Truth) and moksha dwar (The Door of Salvation).
Then there is a tongue-shaped rock of about 4 feet touching the ground, signifying Kalbhairav. If one enters this cavity (mouth) and exits through the end (tail), then one can attain moksha, but obviously it is impossible for us mortals.
A rock formation looking like Kaplavriksha (the wish fulfilling Tree) really attracts attention. Then there are the parts of Indra’s Elephant Airavat (Trunk, Head, Ears and Feet) made of natural rock formation.
Finally there are 4 small stone structures signifying the 4 yugas – the timecycle as per the Sacred Hindu history is divided into 4 yogas – Satyuga (the age of Truth) followed by Treta (the 3rd stage of humanity – the time when Lord Rama came to the Earth), Dwapar (the 2nd stage of humanity when Lord Krishna descended on Earth), Kalyug (the age of Falsehood) which is currently existing in the world and which would end one day when this cycle of humanity will finish and Satyuga (The age of Truth) will start once again. Water is dripping only on ‘Kaliyug’ and that structure is growing in size, once the structure touches the top of the cave, that would indicate the end of the Kalyuga (or the present world order) which will pave the way for Satyuga (the age of Truth).
So this was like the key highlight of our travel to Uttarakhand this time, let share the other part of the journey through some of the snaps captured on my mobile phone camera which were instantly posted on my Facebook and Twitter feed to let our friends know what we are up to. These are some of the views of beautiful Uttarakhand, the land of my ancestors, captured through Nokia Lumia 800 phone camera.
The journey by Indian Railway from Delhi to Kathgodam was luxuriously comfortable, kids slept like they were at home. And the long drive from Kathgodam to higher up in the mountain was made delightful by the friendly cabbie Gopal and his brand new Bolero… As soon as the sun started rising up in the East, the mountains started showing their spectacular views…
- This was the first view of the icy Himalayan peaks as we moved up from the valleys into the mountains.
- Stopped on the way at Almorah for a hot steaming cup of ginger tea and could see the trees laden with the ripe lemons in the houses all around.
- Shops open pretty early over here. The famous Bal Mithai of Almorah, along with Chocolate and Brown & White Peda…
The 8+ hour long ride from Kathgodam to Pithoragarh was tiring but the breathtaking views of Nanda Devi, Trishul and other Himalayan peaks provided instant rejuvenation.
- The view of complete range of icy Himalayan peaks was enough to get our spirits back from the chilling cold weather and tiring journey.
- Everywhere the eyes could go, there were bounties of nature, it was like a direct conversation with the nature.
- A small trek in the forest led us to a wonderful spot among the Pine & Oak trees to soak in the setting sun. The play of light and shadows and the changing colors of scenery all around was unbelievable.
- Eagerly awaiting for the morning to see the sun rise, the spirits were little dampened by the freezing cold weather and the tiredness of long journey the previous day, but a early morning view of the Himalayas, the rising sun from behind the Pine and Oak trees, a long walk in the forest while listening to the melodious songs of birds was truly worth the effort to get out of the bed early and be one with the nature.
- There was no human or mechanical distraction and the soul was at peace as if it has arrived near the final destination.
- The sky changed color several times during the day, at times it was calm and crystal clear blue and at some other time the clouds were like a thin layer of cotton candies spread across the world.
- I had seen the Ramganga river before, but never as beautiful as it was here in Thal, in fact I have never seen water so pure and a river so beautiful ever in my life.
- The whole place looked more beautiful than anything I have seen, read or heard.
- Another pleasant surprise was the Birthi Waterfall, falling from a height of 125m it is the highest waterfall in Uttarakhand.
- The base of the waterfall accessed by a short 20 minutes uphill walk from the road makes it even more exciting.
- Far from the maddening tourist crowds, it was as if the whole place was reserved just for us at for the whole time that we spent there.
- The kids have had enough for the high mountains, the sky was clear and there was no chance of snowfall, we set out our journey across the Kumaon hills towards Naukuchiatal, Nainital.
- By the time we reached Naukuchiatal, it was 31st December night, new year eve celebrations on full swings.
- Still we managed to get up early on 1st of January to watch calm Naukuchiatal lake as the first rays of new year’s first sun rise brightened it up.
The days just rolled by so fast, soon it was time to bid our goodbye to the mountains and head back to our Karmabhumi, Delhi.
Hoping to be close to the nature some time again in the future.
- Ramganga River – Thal and Birthi Waterfall – Munsiyari : Pithoragarh Uttarakhand (bhuwanchand.wordpress.com)
- The calm and peaceful Naukuchiatal : Uttarakhand (bhuwanchand.wordpress.com)
- Aruna – Rising of the sun : Himalayas, Uttarakhand (bhuwanchand.wordpress.com)
- Morning in the Mountains : Uttarakhand (Pithoragarh, Kumaon) (bhuwanchand.wordpress.com)
- Parvati -Daughter of the Mountains (hinduismforchildren.com)
- Char Dham – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Haridwar, Rishikesh (georgetgeorge.wordpress.com)