Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib also called Hemkunt is a famous holy place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs. It is situated in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand and is devoted to the tenth Guru Shri Guru Gobindji (1666-1708). It is said to be located in the Himalayas at a height of 4632 mts (over 15000 feet) and can be approached from Gobindghat on the Rishikesh Badrinath highway. Joshimath is the main town near Gobindghat. Hemkund is derived from the words ‘Hem’ meaning snow and ‘Kund’ meaning bowl and the place also finds mention in the Dasam Granth which is a religious text of Sikhism containing many of the writings attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. The ‘Bachitra Natak’ which is the autobiographical account of Guru Gobind Singh the tenth Guru mentions that it was at Hemkund which was adorned with seven snow peaks that he meditated in his previous birth. There is a lake which is surrounded by seven peaks (Saptashringi hills) and on the banks of this lake lies the Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib. The seven peaks are marked with flags. This Sikh holy place is situated a short distance from the Valley of Flowers which is a national park situated in the Nanda Devi Bio Reserve and is a popular tourist attraction.
The place was discovered only in the 1930’s and collective efforts by Sikh pioneers backed by support from the community led to the construction of the Gurudwaras including the ones en route like Gobind Ghat(6000 feet) and Gobind Dham (10500 feet). The Hemkund Sahib site remained in oblivion for over two centuries in spite of the fact that it was mentioned in the autobiography of Guru Gobind Singh. The Sikh poet and historian Bhai Santokh Singh set about trying to discover the whereabouts of the place after ascertaining all historical data and figures. Later a number of Sikh historians and scholars employed more scientific information with historical data on the flora and fauna seen at such an altitude and finally the actual location of Hemkund Sahib was established. The first step in establishing the Gurudwara was to install the sacred volume of the Guru Granth Sahib. Then a seven member trust was established who not only took over the management of Shri Hemkund Sahib but also established Gurudwaras all along the path to it namely Haridwar, Rishikesh, Shrinagar, Joshimath, Gobind Ghat and Gobind Dham. The Trust also continuously upgrades facilities for the pilgrims in all these places.
Design and Architecture
The Gurudwara at Hemkund Sahib is the only Gurudwara to be built at such an altitude of 15,210 feet. The design of the Gurudwara was done keeping in mind the altitude, location and climate. It is the only pentagonal Gurudwara in the world. The Gurudwara is a symbol of human effort, single minded courage and dedication with which obstructions like harsh climate encompassing snow avalanches, flooding, earthquakes, landslides, high velocity winds and difficult terrain were surmounted. The design process involved detailed climatic and site surveys. Rigorous analysis for the requirements was a tough parameter. Though the Gurudwara was a religious building emphasis was given on incorporating the beauty of the place along with the religious aspect of it. The resultant design was a harmonious blend of crucial factors. The initial step was putting up the steel structure. The transport of the steel plates was a heavy load and had to be borne manually over a narrow and difficult track composed of steep slopes for a distance of nearly 5 kms from a height of 4800 ft to a height of 15210 ft. This task was carried out with great ingenuity. A mock up of the steel structure was erected at a Gurudwara in Delhi in order to have a near perfect assemblage of various sections at Hemkund. These sections were then manufactured, numbered and then transported to Hemkund. The design of the roof had valleys and ridges to bear the load of the snow more efficiently. The star shaped roof was made of aluminium sheets with Astrolite backing to capture the different hues of the sky as it changed during the day and during seasons and it glowed like a radiant gem. The lake was diverted into the ground floor of the Gurudwara to create a women paona (bathing area) to ensure privacy while the men took a dip in the open lake. The Gurudwara hall is huge and beautifully decorated with coloured lights and tapestry. The photos of Sikh Gurus adorn the walls. There are four doors at the four corners of the Gurudwara. The skylight or apex of the roof has been designed in such a way that the incoming rays light up the Guru Granth Sahib. The Chandwa or the umbrella shaped canopy placed atop the Guru Granth Sahib is suspended from the roof unlike at other Gurudwaras. There is a langar hall to serve langar to all pilgrims as in other Gurudwaras.
The months from October to June being winter months the entire region is engulfed in snow and is inaccessible. It is only in summer with the snow beginning to melt that pilgrims begin to visit the Gurudwara. Kar Sevaks come in May and begin clearing the roads to enable easy movement for the pilgrims. Pilgrims come in large numbers bracing the cold and rough terrain and bathe in the holy waters of the lake. The actual travel begins from Rishikesh and then goes upwards to Gobind Ghat, Gobind Dham and finally to Hemkund. The landslides and unpredictable weather sometimes cause hindrance to the pilgrims and the roads are blocked until the debris is cleared. But amidst the chant of kirtans and with holy cries each one boosts the morale of the other. Upto a certain point vehicles can be taken after which the journey has to be made on foot or mules. As one progresses from one picturesque place to another the Gurudwaras managed by the Hemkund Trust offer food and lodging with great warmth and hospitality. After a tough and steep climb the pilgrims reach Hemkund and take a holy bath in the lake and even collect its sacred waters as Amrit in bottles to take home. They then enter the holy Gurudwara with fervent gratitude for completing the climb successfully. Sacred offering like rumalas or sacred cloth to cover the Guru Granth Sahib, flowers, items for langar, ornaments etc are made. Two congregational services are held at the Gurudwara, one in the morning and the other in the evening. The significance of the journey and the story of Hemkund is told to the gathered congregation as it has been described in the Bachitra Natak and people meditate, chant and seep in the ambience and sacred vibrations of the place. The Karah Prasad is given and then the pilgrims leave to take the Langar Prasad. The pilgrims cannot stay too long as the place becomes very cold and the descent down too is difficult and most of the pilgrims wish to reach Gobind Dham or Gobind ghat where they can spend a restful night.
How To Reach
Air- The nearest airport is Jolly Grant Airport of Dehradun, 268 km from Hemkund Sahib via Gobindghat and Rishikesh.
Rail- The closest railway station is Rishikesh Railway Station, 189 km from Hemkund and 170 km from Gobindghat.
Road- Hemkund via Badrinath is 514 km away from Delhi. Delhi Transport Corporation and Uttar Pradesh Roadways buses regularly ply up to Rishikesh from the Interstate Bus Terminus in Delhi. Gobindghat is 20 km beyond Joshimath on the road to Badrinath and 4 km before Pandukeshwar, the point at which there is a diversion for Hemkund and the Valley of Flowers.
Only a few pilgrims can stay at the Gurudwara Hemkund Sahib. There is no other place to stay in Hemkund and one has to stay at Ghangaria which is the last human inhabitation and is used by travellers as a base camp to visit Hemkund. It has various hotels and a big Gurudwara to accommodate Sikh pilgrims. The hotels are budget, semi luxury and luxury.
The Hemkund Sahib was built with great difficulty facing untold hardships of severe cold, difficult terrain and wild animals. Inspite of this, devotees from all over the world make a visit to this unique shrine every year in the summer and on the way most of them visit all the other important Gurudwaras en route. The scenic beauty and the lofty mountains create an ethereal feeling and the holy vibrations of the place enable the pilgrims to concentrate and devote themselves to deep prayer and self enquiry away from the cares and worries of daily life. Hemkund being the Tap Asthan(place of meditation and prayer) of Guru Gobind Singh, Sikhs feel closer to the Guru and through the Guru closer to God.