raveling through Maricopa a city of Arizona, U.S., I find myself lost in the wilderness of naked rocky mountains and Saguaro cacti. Bearing the concern for some weeks, I complain to my son. He has a surprise for me. He states that Arizona is a strange place where one can see deserts on one side and forests, parks, rivers, lakes, and greenery on the other side. He plans a weekend getaway for the family. On the fixed day when we start for a journey and drive northwards about 350 kms we approach Flagstaff area where I come across dense pine forests just resembling Kashmir mountains and forests, most of which I had scaled in my youth. I feel nostalgic and immediately my two trips to Harmokh Ganga flash to my memory.
It was perhaps the year 1961 when as a teenager, I along with my older brother were lucky enough to be a member of an entourage of about 15 members to immerse the holy ashes of a departed soul in the Ganga of Kashmir. All the preparations were made in earnest. On the day of the journey, we traveled from Srinagar by bus up to Vusan, a village beyond Ganderbal on Srinagar- Kangan route. To our delight we found that all the pack and ride ponies arranged earlier, were waiting for us. After loading the tents, provisions, cooking range, fuels, petromax lamps, beddings and clothing etc. on the pack ponies and the older ladies on the riding ponies, the caravan proceeded towards a village named Chetragul about 3 kms from the road. We reached there by dusk. Since one of the group members was serving as a Govt. Medical Practitioner there, whole village came out to greet us. We camped outside the village at the foot of the mountain, we had to climb the next morning. In no time the tents got pitched with the help of the accompanying pony wallas and few villagers. Ladies set their kitchen in the open space of the jungle and prepared a much awaited dinner. While ponies were let loose for grazing, we also had our dinner after sometime. In the serene and calm surroundings of the jungle, amidst twittering sounds we soon had a deep sleep.
Next day after morning ablutions and a quick breakfast we pulled down the tents and packed the entire luggage on the pack ponies and older ladies on the riding ponies. Our arduous journey towards Gangabal started now. We had to climb a steep mountain in a favorable atmosphere and a cool morning breeze. The progress however, was not good enough. By noon time we reached a place on the mountain called Frekhpather. It was decided by the team leader that we should camp for the night there. The process of unpacking and pitching the tents immediately started and with the help of the pony wallas and some of our group members everything was set right. This time it was the duty of men to prepare the lunch as we commiserated towards the sad plight of women who felt fatigued due to the climb. With the help of younger women who peeled off and cut vegetables the lunch got prepared in no time. I helped by bringing water for cooking and drinking from a spring down below. After taking our lunch almost everyone went for a nap. I started roaming into the jungle and observing the surroundings. After having our evening tea and dinner, we retired for the night in the lap of the Mother Nature!
| Next morning we had our breakfast and lunch at the same place, and by noon we resumed our journey towards our goal. So far we had covered about half of this mountain, name of which unfortunately I don't remember now. By evening we were on the top of the mountain, where from a little plain track of about 3 kms took us to a lake known as Brahmsar. Again the same process of pitching the tents and setting everything in order started. When the job was finished, most of the members rushed to have a dip in the lake. It was a refreshing exercise and everybody felt rejuvenated in the fresh clean waters of the lake. The panoramic view of the area added to our strength. While all the ponies were set free for grazing throughout the night, we had our dinner and went again to sleep in the lap of the Mother Nature once again! |
In the next morning we took another dip in the lake, had our breakfast followed by lunch. We starting packing up and loading the stuff on the ponies. At this time it was observed that one of our ponies was missing! The owner started to search for him and after about half an hour appeared back with his animal. He reported that while grazing, the pony had strayed far off. Our departure thus got delayed by about an hour. From this place we had to ascend and go through a mountain pass, known as Hansdwar. Since by now we had gained quite a high altitude the forest cover started depleting. From Brahmasar to Hansdwar one has to ascend over the rocky terrain. Hansdwar is a narrow mountain passage between two peaks and at quite a high altitude. When we were crossing the mountain pass, all the four sons of the departed soul said loudly "Hans Dwaras Taermakhey Maijei" (O mother we are carrying you through the Hansdwar). All of us were grieved to have lost our beloved Kakni! Once we crossed the Hansdwar there was a deep descent below to be followed abudendnt in diversities of nature. After reaching the plain stretch of land, we came across two lakes about a furlong apart from each other. One is known as Nun and the other Kol. The legend goes that once when Shankar Bhagwan got annoyed with Parvatiji he left Kailash and took his seat on Harmokh mountain. Parvati not find him at Kailash got scared and moved in search for her consort from place to place but could not find any trace of Shivji. She finally reached this place, tired and anxious and in tears. At this spot a tear of grief dropped from her one eye which formed into a cool lake called Nun. After walking some distance when Parvatiji looked over Harmokh, she spotted Shankar Bhagwan there. At this moment she was happy with tears of joy out of which a warm tear fell on the ground from her other eye forming another lake of warm water called Kol. Pilgrims have to take a bath in both of these lakes.
Temple ruins at Naranag
|Moved by this story when I looked towards Harmokh Parvat I held my breath. What a cosmic scene it was! The mountain looks as if Shankar Bhagwan personified is sitting there in Samadhi doing penance. The numerous small milky streams which flow in different directions from peak of the mountain look as if Ganga itself is emerging from Jhatas of the Lord! We were lost towards this scene for quite some time and after regaining our consciousness, resumed our journey again. We were now at the last lap of march towards our goal--- the Gangabal. After passing by few other lakes taking dips in them too and covering a long track we finally reached our destination by evening time. Everybody started helping in pitching the tents and putting the things in order. Ponies were released to graze on the vast lands of green grass. We had our dinner and tomorrow's preparations for the rites were discussed. |
Gangabal is quite a big lake with crystal clear bluish water, surrounded on three sides by mountains at an altitude of about 14000 ft. from sea level. On one side of the lake few yards away from the shore, is quite a big semi round rock inside the lake. There is a chamber of about 2ft. by 2 ft into 2 ft. carved out of it where a Shivlinga is installed. (I wonder if it still exists and has been spared by the terrorists who frequented the area during the period of peak militancy) In olden times since Ganga at Haridwar had no easy access to KPs from Kashmir they preferred to immerse the ashes of their relatives in Harmokh Ganga only, held in great esteem by them. With the passage of time however less and less people started frequenting it.
Early next morning preparations for Shrad ceremony and immersion were made. Sons of Kakni got their heads tonsured for which a barber was there on time from Chatragul as fixed earlier, and after the Shrad they held the pitcher containing the ashes on their shoulder and went inside the lake to immerse them in it. At this time all the members of the group were asked by the Brahmaji who was a member of the group and performed the rites, to keep a watch into the lake for a miracle. After waiting for some time, wonderfully throughout the lake small bubbles started coming on the surface of the water which receded after few moments. It is said that at this auspicious time all the Pitras personify in the form of the small bubbles (Saei) to accept the offerings made by their progeny! We could find two other families having come to Gangabal for the same purpose.
Trekking to Gangaba Lake from Naranag, at 2,000ft
|After the ceremony was over everybody had tea and breakfast which was followed by lunch about noon time. Since we had to start our return journey the same day, quick action was taken to pack up things. We begain our downward journey at about 2.00 p.m. Other two families were also asked by us to start fast as there could be rains anytime now. From Gangabal to Narannag, it is a steep descent and the path abounds in scenic beauty and lush green forests. The mountains and forests on left side of the trail with a beautiful river flowing down below, offers a spectacular sight. At one place we had to cross a mountain stream with gusing waters over the rocks. I was just crossing over the rocks in the mid stream when a lady preceding me felt giddiness. I jumped to her rock and held her back firmly in my arms thus preventing her falling into the gushing waters below. Up to a place called Harigund the path is rocky and not so steep beyond which it is dangerously descending and slippery due to loose soil. Thank God we did not have any rains which would have otherwise made our steps very slippery and journey risky and miserable. We crossed Harigund about evening time. Now our troublesome downward journey was to start. Everybody wanted to have a little rest before we proceed further, which was very kindly granted by the team leader. As it started growing dark we were ordered to start and get ready for the last lag of our journey up to Narannag. Buthsher is a notorious area known for its steep descent. If a person does not control his steps properly, he falls on his face down on the ground hence the name Buthsher. Buth means face and Sher meaning head. After covering some distance we found that another accompanying unit of an elderly lady and her Guruji were lagging behind. As it had already started growing dark my brother discussed the matter with the team leader. It was opined that if they lag behind they will lose their way in the darkness and can also be harmed by the wild animals in the jungle. The team leader asked my brother "Ghasha, hold the hand of the old lady and never let her go alone while we descend down." As it started growing darker in the jungle and the visibility was very poor, we stopped and lighted the petromaxes. I was anxious about the old lady and her equally old accomplice and would frequently look back at them. I could see that the lady was being almost dragged by my brother down the hill. It was after all in her interests. It took us about 5 hours to reach Narannag where we reached at about 9.00 p.m. Once at the base camp, the lady having understood the gravity of the situation she was in, was all praise for us especially my brother for saving her from being lost in the jungle and getting harmed by the wild animals. Everybody was now dead tired and reluctant to eat anything except having a much needed rest. Men folk however took it a challenge to prepare a simple dinner which was served to everybody after which all lay down to have a deep sleep. |
Early in the morning we felt refreshed and after morning ablutions, started discovering the area. Narannag is having many stone structures and temples. The architecture is grand and one wonders as to how these structures and temples with massive rocks were built centuries ago with no heavy machines available that time. A single rock, rectangular in shape about 10 x 8 ft. and 6 ft. deep is chiseled out to be a bath tub. It is a pity that such grand structures are now in a dilapidated condition needing immediate attention from the authorities. After taking Kehwa with some snacks and lunch later, it was now time to bid adieu to the abode of Shanker Bhagwan and Harmokh Ganga. We started packing up and carrying sweet and wonderful memories of the journey, marched onwards to Kangan. Here the Pony wallas were relieved with good Bakshish and we boarded a bus towards Srinagar. Thus came the end of my first pilgrimage to Gangbal.
My second trip to Gangbal culminated 24 years later in August, 1985. That time I was Vice Chairman of Vivekananda Kendra, Nagdandi Ashram; Achabal, Anantnag. Late Shri Prem Nath Ji Bhat, prominent Advocate and writer of Anantnag, (who was unfortunately killed in the year 1989 by the terrorists while returning home from market) was its Chairman. Nagdandi Ashram was founded by Swami Ashoka Nandji of Sumbal. At Nagdandi a big apple orchard and adjoining land was gifted to him by some local Hindu devotee. He moved to Nagdandi and constructed a temple and some Kutiyas there. Swamiji was mocked by someone that he left Sumbal to taste the sweet apples of Nangdandi. At this point Swamiji vowed not to take apples throughout his life. Before leaving his mortal coil, Swamiji wanted Rama Krishna Mission to take over the Ashram. Since they did not show any keen interest, Swamiji approached Vivekananda Kendra Kanyakumari, who agreed to take over the Ashram. Legal documents were executed by Swamiji in favour of Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari and thus a branch of the Kendra was born at Nagdandi Ashram, Achabal Anantnag. Vivekananda Kendra is a non-monastic Service Organization with a philosophy of Serve Man Serve God. They have been carrying on so many Social Service projects in Education, Rural development, Healthcare, Indian Culture etc. A magnificent Rock Memorial in mid sea at Kanyakumari, also stands built by the deep rooted convection and dedication of Shri Eknathji Ranade in mid seventies, then Secretary of the Vivekananda Kendra Kanyakumari.
The Kendra activities are carried out all over India by a large team of dedicated workers known as Life Workers of the Kendra. The headquarters deputed some Life Workers to Nagdandi Centre also in rotation. During my tenure as Vice Chairman, the Kendra at Nagdandi was manned by S/Shri Kalyanji, earlier an Economics lecturer at Shillong, Raghunandanji, of Karnataka (earlier a serving Chemical Engineer in Nigeria) and his wife Vasantji also a Life Worker hailing from Kerala. One day during my stay in the Ashram when I made a mention of our adventurous journey to Gangabal to these Life workers, they expressed a keen desire to visit themselves also to the holy place. I agreed to their wish and took it upon myself to arrange everything for them on my own expenditure. So in August, 1985 I took the command of the group consisting of the aforementioned three life workers, myself my older son, Arun, then a teenager and Avinash, nephew of my wife on a pilgrimage to Gangabal. Elaborate arrangements were made. I hired a tent to accommodate eight persons with an attached bath room. Two pack ponies and a riding pony for Vasantaji were also hired. We followed the same route as of my first journey. Since Vasantaji was not a horse rider and felt scared, I took it upon myself to hold the reins of the horse in order to make her horse ride much safer. We had just two Pony wallas for the three ponies.
On reaching Gangabal and relaxing in the tent, I had an urge to move out and enjoy the calm atmosphere outside. Looking around all over for a while, when I sighted the sky, I was awe stuck and held my breath. In the dark night of lunar fortnight millions and millions of very bright stars big and small were twinkling in the clear skies. There was not an inch of the sky without stars. Several milky ways could also be seen. I felt that celestial bodies had manifested themselves to give me a Darshan. The sky looked so close as if one could touch it by a jump. It was a wonderful sight never seen before! I rushed inside to call other members to witness the wonderful sight. They too were very much impressed by this spectacle. This cosmic scene is still fresh in my memory which can never fade away, ever.
In the morning when I started going round the lake, a greatest shock was in store for me. I found that empty wine bottles and wings/feathers of killed chickens were floating in the lake. During the last 25 years much had changed. Tourists both national and foreign started thronging this place for picnic and indulged in all acts of drink, dine and dance having no regards for the sanctity of the place and sentiments of the Hindus. I felt greatly hurt and helpless! Other thing I noticed was that some huge machines were stationed at one side of the lake. Enquiries revealed that the government was contemplating to drill a tunnel in the mountain to divert water of the lake for some project. God knows whether the works materialized or not. On our return journey we could spot several tents pitched by foreign tourists on their way to Gangabal.
It is a matter of joy that this year some KP organization organized a Hawan at Gangabal thus starting a new chapter to rediscover our heritage sites. It was however, sad to know that they had adopted the opposite route from Narannag and not the traditional one. While following the tradition route from Vusan, one not only makes a Parikrama (Circumambulation) of Harmokh but also has the benefit of enjoying vast nature and scenic beauty at its best. Let us hope that we start taking the traditional route as was a practice in the past.
Having gone through the flash back I suddenly wake up and find myself again in the wilderness of Arizona to face the reality of having lost my soul, place of birth and home in Kashmir!
*The author was born in Srinagar and worked as an insurance executive in a PSU. He was Vice Chairman of Vivekananda Kendra, Nagdandi. He later took over as Organizing Secretary of J&K Shiksha Samiti (an affiliate of Vidhya Bharti) for the valley and was instrumental in opening about a dozen schools in Anantnag district. He took premature retirement from the company in the year 2000 to work full time as a philanthropist. He founded a charitable trust in the year 2006 and is working with it ever since.
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Aap kaa Lekha ati bhaawuktaa purna hai sach much gangabal harmukut ki yaad dilaati hai dhanyavaad
Added By jaya sibu
Thanks for sharing your experience about Gangabal,the sacred lake of Kashmir.
Added By Chaman Lal Raina
As part of 9th Grade Biscoe school trekking, I went there is July 1989. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the peak.I can never forget first sight of the peak up so close . Because of too much snow, I never saw the Gangbal lake as we had to retreat. That will always remian one of the regrets of this hiking trip
Added By Anil Hashia
Many Thanks for sharing & enlightening us with the significance of such pious place. I used to go to Naranag many times as my Dad was once posted at Kangan but never went ahead. I fact I vividly remember my Grand father Late Sh.R.K.Ganjoo once told that he had immersed the ashes of his grandfather. What a wonderful experience you shared. While reading it felt as if everything was happening live.best regards,Vivek Ganjoo
Added By Vivek Ganjoo