Harsil and The Maha Prayag at Bhagirathi River

Harsil is a small sleepy village and important Cantonment of Indian Army situated at a height of 8300 ft. on main road to Gangotri, 73 kms from Uttarkashi, it was once on the old caravan route of India to Tibet most of the people are of Bhutia origin and use Harsil as winter base, more importance is due to village Mukhwas where the statue of Goddess Ganga is brought and worshiped during the winters when Gangotri’s main temple is inacceseble due to snow, it is on the left banks of river Bhagirathi and the Mayank Shikhar. Importance of this place is due to less known fact  that it is a confluance of Seven rivers and a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, many Saints and Sanayasis preferred to meditate here

Harsil is a small sleepy village and important Cantonment of Indian Army situated at a height of 8300 ft. on main route to Gangotri, 73 kms from Uttarkashi, it was once on the old caravan route of India to Tibet most of the people are of Bhutia origin and use Harsil as winter base, more importance is due to village Mukhwas where the statue of Goddess Ganga is brought and worshiped during the winters when Gangotri’s main temple is inaccessible due to snow, it is on the left banks of river Bhagirathi and the Mayank Shikhar. Importance of this place is due to less known fact  that it is a confluence of Seven rivers and a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, many Saints and Sanayasis preferred to meditate here, Godess Ganga’s temlpe the Gangotri is further ahead 23 Kms. from here.

Deodar Forest in Harsil

 Deodar Forest in Harsil

 

Mayank Peak, Harsil

Mayank Peak, Harsil

The Story and History

According to the  Kedarkhand, a chapter in Skandha Puran, it was here Lord Shiva was helped by Lord Vishnu to kill the demon Jalandhar who was brother of Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s wife, Demon Jalandhar’s wife Vrinda went into the deep forest and started praying to protect her husband but Lord Vishnu followed her and disguised himself as Jalandhar started living with Vrinda, when Vrinda recognized him she cursed Lord Vishnu that someone deceitfully abduct his wife in his next incarnation, she entered the pyre after this, Lord Vishnu was so obsessed with the beauty of Vrinda that he painted the ashes from the pyre and started roaming all over the Lokas, then his worried Devatas were guided by Godess Parvati with the assistance of Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati, they gave some seeds to them and directed them to  spray those seeds on the ashes of  pyre, on which Vrinda had given up her life.

Three holy plants manifested from that pyre  Amla, Tulsi and Malti. Later on Tulsi and Malti attained to the  Vishnuloka, by the virtue of their respective penance. Later Tulsi became the wife of demon Shankhachuda, he wanted conquer the Indraloka which resulted in a war with lord Shiva who was finding it difficult in wining over him due to the Tapasya of Tulsi. On being instructed by goddess Parvati, Lord Vishnu met Tulsi in the guise of her husband  Shankhachuda, so that the breach of Tulsi chastity could help lord Shiva to kill Shankhachuda, who derived his power from Tulsi’s chastity and virtuosity. When Tulsi recognized Vishnu she became very angry and cursed lord Vishnu to become a stone. She was crying inconsolably. Lord Vishnu contemplated on Shiva as a result of which he appeared. Lord Shiva blessed Tulsi that she would become the beloved of Lord Vishnu. Due to Tulsi’s curse, Lord Vishnu attained the form of Shaligram which is a stone and because of lord Shiva’s blessings. Tulsi leaves started being offered to the Shaligram in the process of its worship. Vishnu also known as Hari who is lying as stone (Shila), This place is called Harsil, this black Shaligram is visible in winters when there is less water in Bhagirathi because of snow.

Jalandhari is sister of goddess Lakshmi and demon Jalandhar, was on her way to meet her sister  Lakshmi and brother-in-law Vishnu, upon reaching here when she came to know about Visnu becoming Shaligram, she melted and met Lord Vishnu in form of a river who was lying in Bhagirathi.

There is a temple of Lord Vishnu on the banks of river Bhagirathi built by Raja Ram Brhamchari in the year 1921 AD (Shaka Samvat 1978), to the east is Lord Shiva’s temple and in the north is Maa Bhagvati’s temple, the rituals of puja are being performed since then by his family, at present Dr. Nagendra Ravat performing it for the last 35 years every day without fail it starts with a holy dip at Bhagirathi river and until puja is over which takes about 4-5 hrs. not a single word is uttered other than the mantras / shlokas until the first meal of the day is taken.

Lord Vishnu Temple at Harsil

Lord Vishnu Temple at Harsil

 

Lord Shiva Temple, Harsil

Lord Shiva Temple, Harsil

The Confluence of 10 Rivers

The Seven rivers are Tilangana, Jalandhari (demon Jalandhar’s sister), Vishnu Ganga or Kakora, Lakshmi Ganga, Him Ganga and Pawan Ganga pour their water in Bhagirathi at this place, little up stream 3 kms is a place called Dharali where Bhim Ganga, Kheer Ganga and Hatya Harini rivers join the Bhagirathi in all there are ten rivers which join and form Bhagirathi in this area hence it is called the Maha Prayag.

According to legend when one of the Pandva’s brother Bhim was bringing the Chaman Rishi to light the holy fire at Aswamegh Yagna on his way to quench the thirst of Rishi he hit his Mace (Gada) at a place from where the water came out, this stream is called Bhim Ganga, bathing in  the river Hatya Harini absolves the sins of killing some one by mistake or otherwise (Barham Hatya Dosh).

River Jalandhri at Harsil

River Jalandhri at Harsil

Around Harsil

Just below the Mukhwa Village is Maharishi Markandeya ashram who created the Maha Mritunjay Mantra it is here he created the Durga Saptashati, there are 700 shlokas (verses) in thirteen chapters, in the praise of Maa Durga and killing of demons, here there is a white temple of Maa Annapurna and Lord Shankar, 1 km ahead is Maa Durga’s temple.

Dense Deodar forest, apple orchards, Waulnut, Chestnut and Wild Flowers are in abundance in this area, Harsil is connected to Baspa Valley by Lamkhaga Pass which opens into Chitkul, Kinnaur of Himachal, one can have a views of peak Bander Punch 6316 mtr.  and peak Srikanth from Dharali village.

A View of Banderpunch Range from Harsil

A View of Banderpunch Range from Harsil

 

Maharishi Markandaey Ashram in White and banks of River Bhagirathi near Harsil

Maharishi Markandaey Ashram in White at banks of River Bhagirathi near Harsil

Harsil is well-connected by a road and there are regular helicopter landings during the months of May , June  Late September till mid October , land slides are common in monsoons otherwise one can reach here throughout the year.

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Helicopter Charter Chardham

We all gathered at Dehradun on a hot summer day, but comparatively cooler than Delhi. Stayed night at Hotel Pacific which is one of the best in this city. It was a nice Chinese dinner after a long time , we had to retire early as next day we were to be at helipad early in the morning.

Helicopter at Yamunotri , Kharsali helipad 

 

Senior Citizen pilgrims in Doli/palki from Kharsali helipad to Yamunotri

 

It was a nice day with a pleasant weather at helipad but little haze in the mountains. With lots of excitement we took off at 0800 hr. from Sahastradhara helipad for Kharsali , hovering over the green steps fields , small villages here and there.  In about 40 minutes we were at Kharsali helipad, recevied by our local representative Mr. Rajpal Rana, he lives next to the helipad and owns a peice land around and Janki Chatti it is on the left bank of River Yamuna approach is through a dirt road, the old bridge is closed as main road collasped and not yet repaired, a parallel small hanging bridge is being used to cross the river.

Janki Chatti bus stand and foot over bridge at Yamuna from Kharsali

 

When local people cross the river they pay their respect by bowing their head to the river. We had to hire the Palki or Doli, a light wodden chair carried by four men on their shoulders  from the helipad I hired a mule for 6 km a steep climb of 800 meters from Janki Chatti  to Yamunotri trek which is on the right bank of river it is narrow at many places the passage is cut through the rocks one is to take care of head due to low height of passage there are many tea and cold juice vendors, on the way people from all age groups walking and chanting “Jai Yamuna Maiya Ki”

Senior Citizen pilgrims carried in a basket chair on way to Yamunotri

Steep climb treak from Janki Chatti to Yamunotri after the bridge

I could see the faith on their faces in spite of tiredness due to difficult  climb , it took us about 2 hr to reach the main shrine the temple of Maa Yamunotri River which is on the left bank of stream comming down from the Kalind mountain the Champasar Glacier. This temple is tall  pyramid style structure painted yellow a strong contrast with surrounding, we performd the puja at Tapt Shila  which is just over a hot water spring the floor where we performed the puja was of white marble stone we could sit comfortable on warm surface had a darshan of Yamuna Maa in the temple after the puja , the water at hot water spring was boiling hot and pilgrims were cooking rice tied in a cloth  dipping it in the hot water, there is one more hot water spring whose water is less hot and pilgrims were taking bath before coming in for the puja at Tapt Shila.

Yamuna decending down from Kalind mountain and Yamunotri Temple

 

Tapt Shila , before the Yamunotri temple poja is first performed here

 

Soon after we started our journey back to Janki Chatti to take our chopper flight to Gangotri , on our way back mid way it started drizzling which is quite unpredictable, by the time we reached the helipad it started to pour we took shelter at Raj Singh’s house next to the helipad  there I got a call from the control room that  Choppers are stuck up in bad weather at Phata and Dehradun  there is no chance we were to be picked up from Kharsali for our onward destination  Harsil helipad , it started raining heavily  at Janki Chatti  Promark Travel representative Raj Singh arranged for two rooms with western toilets  Raj Singh also arranged the Doli for the us  transported from helipad to the guest house as it was pouring and the dirt road became slippery with out light it bacame more dangrous but the passage from Janki Chatti to Yamunotry we were told is always illuminated with high-powered lamps.

We spent our night in a small guest house called Modi Bhavan owned by one of the priest at Yamunotri temple , had our dinner just opposite the guest house it was pouring and cold but we enjoyed our hot simple dinner in candle light as there was no power but the trek to Yamunotri was well illuminated after the dinner we decided for next day to fly for Kedarnath instead of Gangotri if time allows we may do it after the Badrinath visit, I informed the headquarters about the change I was told the chopper will be there  at 0600 hr. to pick us up , it poured the whole night but early morning the chirping of birds assured me of clear weather before I could look out from the window.

We had a hot water in buckets for bath got ready, our porters were waiting for us they loaded the luggage and picked up the three dolis while I prefered to walk up to the helipad , Captain Ahluwalia was in time entered the valley and landed at the helipad he didn’t  switched off the engine and got us in the cabin and took off , we had a nice clear view of Bander Punch mountains and flew over the Tehri Dam on the way we were informed that there is no parking place at Badrinath helipad we may have to either wait at Gauchar or Phata helipad .

View of Bander Punch from the helicopter cockpit  

View of Bander Punch range from Helicopter

We landed at Phata where we changed the helicopter and took off to Badrinath after getting the clearance it took about an hour to reach there on the way had a beautiful view of Nanda Devi peak, Hathi Ghora Palki , Chukhamba peak , flew pass the beautiful entrance to the Valley of Flowers.

Mount Hathi Ghora Palki view from Helicopter on way to Sri Badrinath

 

Before landing at helipad the chopper took a circle of the Sri Badrinath temple the bright blue, red and golden painted entrance  more typical of a Buddhist temple is a contrast to the surrounding , it was clear sky but at a height 3133 meters from sea level and surrounded by Nar and Narayan peaks with Neelkanth peak in the back it was cold and windy out here our local representative Vineet was there to pick us up in a car to the main shrine which is about a kilometer from the helipad , passing through the shops and restaurants we crossed the bridge over the river Alaknanda.

Ariel View of Sri Badrinath temple on banks of Alaknanda

 

On the right bank of river is the Brham Kapal and the two hot water springs the Tapt kund where before entering the temple pilgrims take bath, we had the arrangements for a priority darshan which is with a fee paid to the shrine board , within few minutes we were allowed to enter the temple seated in the enclosed just opposite the main black stone statue of lord Badri Vishal representing lord Vishnu seated in a meditative pose along with Garuda and Godess Mahalaxmi, a ten minutes  puja with Sanskrit shlokas was performed by the priest who offered us the Prasad and the green Tulsi leaves garland of lord Badri Vishal as blessings, my heart was full of gratitude we came out in the market and informed Capt Ahluwalia to pick us up for our onward journey.

The main entrance to the Sri Badrinath Temple

We waited for about an hour at helipad finally sighted the chopper entering the valley it landed and we boarded the chopper within two minutes without switching off the rotors again we took off for a 45 minutes flight to Phata , we had to change to a six seat chopper for Kedarnath , it took off and within minutes we were in a narrow valley flying over the river Mandakini I can never forget this 15 minute  flight as it gave me a feeling of a 3D movie show .

Entering the narrow valley from Phata to Kedarnath flight over Mandakini

 

Flying in the narrow valley to Sri Kedarnath 

We landed at the height of 3384 meters from sea level helipad and wanted to walk up to the shrine but one of the lady felt breathless due to thin oxygen we waited and hired two porters to carry the old ladies on their back for a distance of  800 meters , we showed the priority darshan slip to the office just next to the main temple  were escorted by a  priest,  lots of pilgrims were inside and it was almost free for all with no control over the crowd , facing the  main entrance is the big statue of the Nandi the bull , the main temple is made of big blocks of stone and one wonders as to how without facilities this construction job would have been done without using any kind of mortar to grip the stones together 1000 years ago . we entered the first room where there are statues of the five Pandavas brothers and the Dropdi ,after crossing the narrow door with stone foot steps  in the Garbh Griha is the main Sadashivam lord Shiva in a form of conical rock is worshiped , we sat there for a while performed puja I offered almonds which I had carried with me from Delhi , came out and took a  parikarma of temple , there were lots of sadhus devoties of lord Shiva each one a unique in appearance bare foot nominal or no cloths on body , the weather was clear and warm but with chill in the air the small dhabahs serving pakoras and samaosa tempted us to have it with tea while waiting at helipad , we took off and flew back to Phata where our chopper was waiting for us, we inquired from the captain if he can take us to Gangotri , he informed that it was not the right time as the weather can change any time in the afternoon there .

Sri Kedarnath temple view from the main street

We decided to return to Sahastradhara / Dehradun flying over the Rudra Pryag, Karan Pryag , Srinagar watching the confluences of rivers Alakhnanda and Bhagirathi  to form river Ganga finally at Dev Prayag , at Rishikesh an hours flight we turned right  in the direction of Dehradun leaving behind the river Ma Ganga  landed at Shastrdhara helipad , we had to wait for some time for our car to pick us up to our hotel as roads were blocked due to felling of trees on the previous days hail storm, we had a nice diner at hotel slept with fond memories of a life time wish fulfilled.

 

About the Author

[author]
[author_image timthumb=’on’]wp-content/uploads/authors/anil-rajput.jpg[/author_image] Anil Kumar Rajput – Managing Director at Promark Travel, is in the travel trade since 1980. For more Info Do Visit (promarktravels.com) which caters all the travel needs of it’s clients. Connect with him on Facebook (htttp://www.facebook.com/anil.k.rajput) and Twitter (@PromarkTravels)
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