Stopover at Joshimath, Garhwal Himalayas

Shankaracharya's commentaries bring out the Advaita philosophy of Vedanta - 'Ekoham Bahusyaam' - God and its creation is one.

Enroute Joshimath to badrinathJoshimath, in Uttarakhand may be better known as a stopover to Badrinath, Vishnu Prayag, Hemkund Saheb and Valley of Flowers, but this summer I found out that even on its own merit it is a traveller's delight!

It is usual for travellers to stay the night at Joshimath before starting for Govind ghat, Auli or Badrinath next morning. Joshimath also works as the official traffic gateway, controlling the number of vehicles on the road up from here. This is to prevent traffic jams on the winding roads up there, built by the Border Roads Organisation.

Our tool is dynamite

The roads work well, and building and renovation is taken serious care of. Yet, one wonders if there was a more eco-friendly way of maintaining the roads, instead of blowing up solid mountainsides with dynamite. The land-slides seem to gain from this dynamite-exercise repeated every few kilometres.

Bazaar at Joshimath

The bazaars of Joshimath at first sight are full of fresh fruit and dry fruit. Street vendors selling blankets, shawls, eatables are seen in abundance. The blankets and shawls, many of them from Mana, a village beyond Badrinath are not only very warm, they are also low-priced, (or become so after a bit of bargaining). A really warm, traditional hand-woven shawl from this part of the Himalayas can be picked up for as little as Rs 00!

The legend of Shankaracharya

Joshimath was earlier known as Jyotirmath - the temple of light/wisdom. It is the northern math, established by Adi Guru Shankaracharya (eighth century) Jyotirmath is traditionally responsible for the preservation of Atharva Veda. The other three maths are at Dwarka, Puri and Shringeri. Shringeri is believed to be his birthplace too.

It has the seat of Adi Guru Shankaracharya. He wrote the Sanskrit text famously known as Shankar Bhashya in a cave here at Joshimath. He is accredited for pruning, cleaning and organising the eternal ethical laws - Sanatan dharm in context with contemporary culture. He wrote prolifically, and beautifully. His commentaries on Bhagwad Gita, Vishnu Sahastranam, and several lyrical Sanskrit compositions, among his prolific works remain sought after by Indologists and culture-enthusiasts.

The young sage

His writings are filed under the classic categories of commentary (Bhashya), philosophical treatise (Prakarana granth) and devotional hymns (Stotra). Traditionally, the title of acharya was given only to one who had mastered the 0 major Upanishads, Brahma Sutra and Bhagwad Gita. Shankaracharya's commentaries on all the above bring out the Advaita philosophy of Vedanta - 'Ekoham Bahusyaam' - God and its creation is one. 'Aham Brahmasmi'. In all his teachings, Shankaracharya prioritized on personal experience by the student.

The four dhams of pilgrimage at Badrinath, Dwarka, Rameshwaram and Puri were also reinstated by Shankaracharya before his passing away at the young age of 32.

A tree 2400 years old!

A little above Shankaracharya's cave is a mulberry tree with an astonishing girth of 36 meters, and the age - over two millenia - 2400 years!

Vasudev Narsingh temple, Joshimath

The entrance to vasudev Nrusingh temple, JoshimathThe shrine known as Vasudev Narsingh temple came as a surprise as the deity is a pleasant form of Badrinath instead of the man-lion deity Narsingh. A legend goes about the deity's wrist which is eroding. It being a sign that the day the wrist separates from the forearm, the mountains Jai and Vijai will block the path to Badrinath forever. It is prophesied that the Badrinath temple at Bhavishya Badri will then continue with the worship of Badrinath.

Joshimath links the present and future deities of Badrinath

The small temple of Bhavishya Badri is in a pristine jungle some 7 km from Joshimath. 4 km of the road to Bhavishya Badri is motorable, while the last leg is a trek through Himalayan jungle, and visited by those highly devoted to the god of nature - Himalayas, or the deity at Bhavishya Badri. It is not a popular tourist destination just as yet, but a trekker's paradise at a height of 2744 meters in the Himalayas. Joshimath is at a height of 200 meters, while Auli ranges between the height of 2500 to 3050 meters.

Jai Badri Vishal

The town around Badrinath (45 km from Joshimath), similarly placed at a height of 333 meters empties out in winter, after Diwali due to the heavy snow, and the tradition observed which allows Lord Badrinath some privacy. The worship of Badrinath (Bhagwan Badri Vishal) then continues at Joshimath, with the Utsav-murti of Udhav being brought down here. Badrinath temple reopens on the festival of Akshay Teej every year. The date for Akshay Teej is ascertained by the Hindu lunar calendar. The only certainty is that Akshay Teej is in the months of April of May, the onset of summer and snow-melt.

Vishnu Prayag

Driving out of Joshimath towards Badrinath, the confluence of rivers Dhauli Ganga and Alaknanda at Vishnu Prayag is a beautiful sight. The road has been widened here for the upcoming Electro Hydel Project, taken up by JP Associates Ltd.

Ropeway to Auli

Cable car - Ropeway from Joshimath to AuliAuli, another 6 km from Joshimath is mainly a winter destination with its ski-slopes and proper facilities for skiing. The ropeway from Joshimath to Auli is a delightful experience even in summer with the Himalayan panorama of snow peaks lighting up the horizon.

Govindghat, Hemkund Saheb and Valley of Flowers

GovindghatAbout a two hour drive away on the way to Badrinath from Joshimath, is the important stop at Govindghat. River Alaknanda, gushes past the road. Its sound drowning the sound from scores of vehicles honking for a pass, their travellers alighting for chai and nibblies. The trek to Ghangharia, Hemkund Saheb, Valley of Flowers and Kak Bhusundi begins here. Gurudwaras and facilities for trekkers are available here. Valley of Flowers (height 3858 meter) and Hemkund Saheb (height 4329 meter) are open to trekkers only in summer.

Travel facts

Map - Rishikesh - Srinagar - Rudraprayag - Joshimath - Vishnu Prayag - Govind ghat - Hemkund Saheb, Valley of Flowers, Kag bhusundi, Badrinath

Joshimath is located in district Chamoli in the state of Uttarakhand. It is a part of the Garhwal Himalayas, and easily accessible by road via Rishikesh, Haridwar, Dehradun, Nainital and Almora among other places. Joshimath is located on NH 58.

Rishikesh, 253 km from Joshimath is the closest railway station, connecting it to all major cities in India.

Dehradun's Jolly Grant Airport, 273 km from Joshimath is the closest airport.

Garhwali women returning home with grass for the cattle

Anita Trivedi
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