Neelkanth Peak and Badrinath Valley
Badrinath, located on the right bank of river Alaknanda, is a shrine, that evokes the most intense religious feelings. An abode of seers, saints and yogis from time immemorial, Badrinath is one of the four Dhams, a devout Hindu has to visit in his lifetime to attain salvation.One of Hinduism's holiest sites, it was founded by Sri Sankararacharya, in the ninth century. The temple, also known as Badri Narayan, is dedicated to Vishnu, who is said to have done penance in the mythical Brindavan, that once covered the mountains of Uttarakhand.
Known as 'Tapobhumi', a land of meditation and penance, and 'Bhubaikunth', heaven on earth, it is surrounded on either side, by two mountain ranges known as Nar and Narayan, with the Neelkanth peak, providing a spectacular backdrop. Facing the Badrinath temple, is a hot water spring, known as 'Tapt Kund'. Other famous springs, here, are the Narad Kund and the Surya Kund.
Badrinath is presided over by a Namboothiri Brahman from Kerala, the Rawal, who also acts as as the head priest for Kedarnath.
The religious centre, established by Adi Shankaracharya, which he called Jyotirmath, later came to be known as Joshimath. The other sites of interest are the temples of Nav Durga and Narsingh. Apart from its obvious religious importance, this place is unparalleled for its scenic beauty.
Valley of Flowers
One of the most idyllic valleys in the world, was discoverd by Frank S. Smythe, in 1931. The valley is profuse with a plethora of vibrant flowers, hence the name. Nearby, flows the river Pushpavati, while the massive Rataban peak forms a splendid backdrop.
Situated between Joshimath and Badrinath, Gobindghat is the starting point for the trek to the valley.
One of the most famous Gurudwaras in India, Hemkund Sahib is located here, at an altitude of 4320 metres above sea level. Nearby, is the Lok-Pal Hemkund lake, with its crystal clear waters, and four peaks surrounding it.
Where To Stay
Modi Bhavan and Gujarat Bhavan, next to the temple on the west bank, Kale Kambli Wale's Ashram behind the temple, are the available means of accomodation.
Devotees outside Kedarnath Temple
Kedarnath is the most important Hindu shrine in Himalayas, and among the major Shiva temples, of the country. Located at the source of the river Mandakini, Kedarnath is one of the twelve Jyothirlingas, of Lord Shiva, and one of the Panch Kedars.
Mythology identifies the deity at Kedarnath temple, with the rump of a bull, a form assumed by Lord Shiva, when eluding the Pandavas, who had come for repentance for killing their kith and kin, in the great battle of Kurukshetra. It is believed that the temple of Kedarnath, was constructed by the Pandavas. At the entrance of the temple, is the statue of Nandi, the divine bull of Shiva. The wall inside the temple, is exquisitely carved with images, and the temple houses a shiva lingam, which is worshipped by hordes of pilgrims.
At the approach of winters in the month of November, the holy statue of Lord Shiva, is carried down from Garhwal (Kedarkhand) to Ukhimath, and is reinstated at Kedarnath, in the first week of May. It is at this time, that the doors of the temple are thrown open to pilgrims, who flock from all parts of India, for a holy pilgrimage.
Legends notwithstanding, the shrine of Kedarnath is very scenically placed, and is surrounded by lofty, snow - covered mountains, and grassy meadows covering the valleys. Immediately behind the temple, is the high Keadardome peak, which can be sighted from great distances. The sight of the temple and the peak with its perpetual snows is, simply, an enthralling sight.
Situated at an altitude of 14, 200 ft, and 6 kms away from Kedarnath, Vasuki Tal is situated on the right side of the valley. The crystal clear lake with stupendous scenic surroundings, offers a splendid view for the nature buff.
Located at the confluence of the Mandakini and the Sone-Ganga, this quaint village is known for its picturesque beauty.
An ancient temple dedicated to the Goddess Gauri or Parvati, the Gaurikund houses the metallic idols of Gauri and Shiva. According to legend, Parvati meditated here for a long time, to win Shiva as her consort. Ultimately, she succeeded, and the cosmic couple were wed at Trijuginarayan.
Where To Stay
GMVN Tourist Bungalow, Modi Bhavan, behind the temple. Punjab Sindh, next to the Post office.
The Ghats of Varanasi
Varanasi, known to the devout as Kashi, was founded by Shiva, Lord of the Universe. It is one of the oldest living cities in the world. One of the most important pilgrimage sites in India, Varanasi is also a major tourist attraction. Situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges, Varanasi has been a centre of learning and civilisation for over 2000 years. It was at Sarnath, only 10 km away from Varanasi, that the Buddha, first preached his message of enlightenment, 25 centuries ago. Varanasi derived its present name from the two rivers Varauna, and Asi.
Varanasi's principal attraction is the long string of ghats, which line the west bank of the Ganges. Ghats are the steps which lead down to the river. There are around 100 ghats in Varanasi, each with its own significance. Most Indians believe that anyone dying on the banks of the river, in Varanasi, attains instant 'moksha' or enlightenment. The Dasaswamedh Ghat is the most significant ghat here, and conveniently placed at the centre. The five ghats where pilgrims are supposed to bathe in order, and on the same day are Asi ghat, followed by Dasaswamedh, Barna Sangam, Panchganga, and finally, Manikarnika, in that order. Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats, are the ghats used primarily for the cremation of the dead. Other main ghats include Kedar ghat, a shrine popular with Bengalis; Mansarovar ghat built by Man Singh of Amber; and PanchGanga Ghat where the five rivers are supposed to meet.
Temples and other attractions
Dedicated to Shiva or Vishveswara (Vishwanath) is the Golden Temple, the main temple of Varanasi. The original temple was located across the road, but it was destroyed by Aurangzeb who had built a mosque over it. The present temple was built by Ahalya Bai of Indore in 1776. The Mosque of Aurangzeb, has been built using columns from the original temple razed by Aurangzeb. This mosque has minarets towering 71 metres above the Ganges.
The Durga Temple, commonly known as the Monkey Temple, was built in the 18th century by a Bengali Maharani, and is stained red with ochre. This small temple is built in north Indian Nagara style, with a multicoloured shikhara or umbrella. Other temples in Varanasi include the Tulsi Manas temple, and the Bharat Mata temple.
On the other side of the Ganges, is the Ram Nagar Fort and Museum, home to the Maharaja of Benaras. There are tours to the fort, or a ferry can be taken across the river to get to it.
Tourists interested in Yoga can pay a visit to the Malviya Bhavan at the Banaras Hindu University, where courses in Yoga and Hindu Philosophy are offered. There are also many private teachers and organisations offering courses. Yoga clinic at D 16/19 Man Mandir runs seven day courses in the principles of Yoga.
How to get there
Air : Varanasi is on several Indian Airlines routes, including the popular daily tourist shuttle Delhi/Agra/Khajuraho/Varanasi and back. There are flights from Lucknow, Jaipur, Bhubaneshwar and Kathmandu also. The airport is about 22 km away from the city, and the Indian Airlines shuttle bus service runs from there to the city.
Train : There are not many trains running from Delhi or Calcutta to Varanasi, but most Delhi-Calcutta trains do pass through Mughalsarai, 12 km south of Varanasi. Varanasi is connected by train to Mumbai, Allahabad, Patna, Jaipur, Gorakhpur and Khajuraho.
Road : There are buses running from Varanasi to Jaunpur, Allahabad, Lucknow, Faizabad, and Gorakhpur. No direct buses run to Khajuraho.
Where to stay
There is a wide variety of hotel accommodation available in the city. The hotels at the top end, which are mostly in the cantonment area of the city, include Hotel de Paris (Tel: +91-542-346601) and Hotel Varanasi Ashok (Tel: 346020, Fax: 342141). Hotel Clarks Varanasi (Tel 342401, Fax: 348186) is the oldest hotel here, dating back to the British era. Hotel Taj Ganges (Tel: 342481, Fax: 348067) is also a good option.
Government of India Tourist Office (Tel : +91-542-43744)
UP Government Tourist Office (Tel : 43486)
Bihar Government Tourist Office (Tel : 43821)
According to Hindu mythology, for the 'Prakrishta Yagna', Lord Brahma, the creator - God of the Trinity, chose a piece of land on earth, on which the three rivers - the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati - would flow into a quiet confluence. That land, blessed by the Gods, came to be called 'Prayag' or 'Allahabad', as it is known today. It is one of the most sacred pilgrimage centres of India.
From the realms of mythology and legends, the history of Allahabad, then moved through time to 1575 A.D., when Emperor Akbar founded a city, of lavish proportions, and named it Allahabad. The monarch realized its strategic importance, as a waterway landmark in North India, and also built a magnificent fort, on the banks of the holy 'sangam'. Allahabad, today, is an important city where history, culture and religion create a magical confluence .... much like the sacred rivers that caress this blessed land.
What To See
One of the largest congregations of devout Hindus from all over the world, the Kumbh Mela is held once every 12 years, on the banks of the Sangam. A holy dip in the sacred waters, and offerings to the Sun-God, are believed to cleanse the soul.
Ardh Kumbh Mela
The half Kumbh, this festival is held once every six years, on the banks of the Sangam.
Dussehra time in Allahabad is an experience, unrivalled by any other in the rest of northern India. During this period, in the evening and at night, beautifully decorated tableau are taken out from different localities, depicting various scenes from Indian mythology.
How To Get There
By Air : The nearest airports are Varanasi, Kanpur and Lucknow.
By Rail : The city has direct rail connections with important cities like Delhi, Calcutta, Patna, Gwalior, Meerut, Chennai, Mumbai, Varanasi and Guwahati.
By Road : Allahabad, on National Highway 2 and 27, is connected to the rest of the country by good, motorable all-weather roads.
Where To Stay
Some of the standard hotels are :
Supplementary accomodation :
Aarti being performed, Haridwar
Haridwar, 214 km northeast of Delhi, is at the base of the Shivalik hills, where the Ganga, coming down from the mighty Himalayas, meets the plains. Amongst the many pilgrimage spots that are situated along the length of the holy Ganga, Haridwar, perhaps, is the holiest in the land.
Literally translated, Haridwar means the 'Gateway to the abode of gods'. Its long history, which goes back to pre-historic times, has lent it many names. In Hindu mythology, it is known as Kapilsthan. Legend has it, that the Suryavanshi Prince Bhagirnath, performed penance here, to salvage the souls of his ancestors, who had perished, due to the curse of the sage Kapila. The penance was answered, and the river Ganga trickled forth from Lord Shiva's locks, and its bountiful waters revived the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara. Amongst its other names, are Gangadwar, and Tapovan. Known also as 'Mayapuri' in the Puranas, it is mentioned in the memoirs of the celebrated Chinese traveller, Hieun Tsang.
According to the myth attached to Haridwar, drops of nectar churned out from the primordial ocean, fell at the four sites of the Kumbh fair, which included Haridwar. The Kumbh, and the Ardh Kumbh fairs are grand events, when millions of devoted Hindus take a holy dip in the Ganga.
This is one of the most famous bathing ghats at Haridwar. The best time to visit this spot, is at sunset, when you can see the 'Aarti' of Ganga being performed. A daily ritual, it is a breathtaking sight, as thousands of earthern lamps light up the night.
On the way to Rishikesh, this tank is said to have been made by Bhim, with a jab of his knee, when the Pandavas were going to the Himalayas through Haridwar.
Canal Centenary Bridge
Located near Har-ki-Pauri, this bridge commands a beautiful view of the canal, and all the ghats.
About six kms, on the way to Rishikesh, is this Ashram, housing a beautiful image of Goddess Durga.
Situated on the Vilwa Parvat, it can be reached on foot, by road, or through the ropeway.
Across the main Ganga river, on the other bank, is the Neel Parvat, on top of which is the Chandi Devi temple. The summit can be reached, after trekking for about 3 km on the hill.
Daksha Mahadev Temple and Sati Kund
Located at Kankhal, which is one of the five sacred places around Haridwar, the site has a story attached to it. Legend has it, that Daksh Prajapati, Sati's father, performed a yagna at this place. He did not invite Lord Shiva. Sati, feeling insulted, consequently, burnt herself in the Yagna Kund, here.
The Ashram, here, is famous for its Hanuman temple, built with pieces of glass.
How To Get There
Haridwar is 24 kms from Rishikesh, by road. They are well connected by rail to Howrah (1438 kms), Bombay (1574 kms), Delhi (199 kms), Lucknow (475 kms), Agra (365 kms). Dehradun, Jolly Grant, Bhaniawala airports are connected to Delhi and Lucknow.
Where To Stay
Aarti, Railway Station Road (Tel: 427456). Amba Niwas, Choti Sabzi Mandi, Vishnu Ghat.
When To Visit
The best season to visit, is between May and October/November.
Where To Contact
Regional Tourist Office, Upper Road (Tel: 427370). UP Tourist Information
Bureau, Near Bus Stand, Station Road.
Laxman Jhoola, Rishikesh
Surrounded by hills on three sides, Rishikesh is located on the right bank of the Ganga, at its confluence with the Chandrabhaga stream. One of the holiest places on the upward pilgrimages to the Himalayas, Rishikesh is, where Raibhya Rishi did penance to please God, who appeared as Hrishikesh, hence the name, Rishikesh. Millions of Hindus come here every year, to absolve themselves of their sins by bathing in the holy Ganges.
Rishikesh abounds in stories of renunciation, meditation, penance and salvation. It has developed into one of the better known centres, for schools of yoga and meditation. Rishikesh is also significant as the trekking base, to the Himalayan shrines of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
What To See
5 kms north of Rishikesh, is the spot where Sri Laxman, is said to have performed Tapa. The Laxman temple was built in his memory. Till 1889, there was just a hanging jute ropeway without pillars. The same structure was, later, rebuilt with iron ropes.
Neel Kanth Mahadev
The temple, situated at a height of 5,500 ft. above sea level, is about 2 kms from Laxman Jhoola. The trek up to the temple, gives a fantastic wide - angled view of the Himalayan peaks, Babhar forests and the plain below.
The oldest temple in Rishikesh - the black statue of Vishnu, here, is supposed to have been consecrated by Sri Sankaracharya, in the 9th century. The event is commemorated, during Vasant Panchami, to mark the onset of spring.
How To Get There
Rishikesh is 238 km from Delhi by road.
Where To Stay
Arvind Lodge, Yatra Bus Stand. Vanaprast Ashram, next to Ved Niketan, Swarg Ashram.
When To Visit
The best season to visit is between May and October/November.
Where To Contact
The UP Tourist Office, Nehru Park, Railway Road (Tel: 30209)