In our proposed Char Dham yatra we completed seeking ‘darshan’ of Kedarnath – third ‘dham’. Being with Kedarji will leave a permanent imprint on visitors memory. The ice-capped mountains, glorious river Alakananda, blessed with spectacular surroundings…Well- Lord Shiva has definitely chosen the best place as his abode. After having ‘darshan’ of the lord we returned to the helipad center to register our names, indicating that we were ready for the departure from Kedarnath. Honestly, this was a forced gesture as both heart and brain were in protest mode. However, that there is no alternative but to accept the situation, we stood to wait for our turn for the flight back.
Once again we were inside the helicopter, and we were moving back towards Gupta Kashi. Interestingly, as we flew back we saw clouds getting darker and we experienced low visibility of the surroundings. This provided us with an indication that there is going to be a change in the weather. Sanjay Tiwari of Arrow Helicopter Services later called me and told me that probably ours was the last flight for that day. Many pilgrims were standard either side. Those who were at Kedarnath had to find alternative methods to reach Gupta Kashi back, as the weather gave no indications of improvement and their onward journey was already booked and fixed. Probably at the nick of the time, we were dropped back and we safely landed in Gupta Kashi, it was around 12 noon.
Gupta Kashi being a winter house of ‘Babaji’ has many interesting places to visit. We had already completed our visits to Vishveshnath temple and Triyugi Narayan, so our focus was largely on Ukhi Math and Kalimath. Without wasting much time we were on the roads again. Uday, our tour guide and the driver of the vehicle asked if we wanted to stop for food, but both of us unanimously decided against having food. The quick grub while waiting for the helicopter at Kedarnath was enough for the day. Also, remember when you on terrain and at a high altitude, your digestive system shrinks and you do not feel hungry. After traveling about 90 minutes we entered Ukhimath.
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Ukhimath – Winter Seat of Kedarnath
Ukhimath, written as Okhimath is a winter house of Lord Kedarnath and Madyamaheshwar. Interestingly one of the priests of Ukhimath hails from Karnataka. Situated at an elevation of 1,317mts above sea level, Ukhimath is an interesting place apart from being winter house of ‘Babaji’.
As you reach Ukhimath, the enthralling broad angle vision of snow-capped mountains at a visible distance mesmerizes you. It is believed that the pundits of Kedarnath Ji own this place. Lord Kedarnathji ’s ‘doli’- palanquin arrives here once the doors are closed at Kedarnath during the winter season. However, the lord of the land here is called as Omkareshwar. Apart from the temple dedicated to Omkareshwar, we also see ‘panch kedar’ temple in the same complex. This facilitates the pilgrims who cannot visit other ‘kedars’ to offer his/her prayers to the lord. Devotees can perform ‘abhishek’. (dripping gods body with pious water) from the water collected from the nearby pond.
A very interesting place that attracts the visitor and connects back to mythology is the decorated hall. It is believed that in this hall Anirudh, grandson of Lord Krishna marries Usha, daughter of Vanasur. This information provides you a clue to the origin of the name- Ushamath. Ukhimath also know as Ushamath, is also believed to be a place where King Mandhata penances Lord Shiva to seek lord’s blessing.
How to reach Ukhimath
Ukhimath is approximately is at 70KM distance from Gupta Kashi. It takes around 1 hr and 30 minutes to travel the distance between Guptkashi to Ukhimath. There are decent lodging and boarding in Ukhimath area if a traveler wishes to stay.
Kalimath: Rarely chosen by travelers but an interesting place
Kalimath is another interesting place near Gupta Kashi. Visitors seldom visit this place. However, Kalimath, which is around 38 km from Guptakashi, is a divine place and is a ‘Shakti peeth’. The river Kaliganga, a tributary river of Alakananda flows here graciously. It is nice to watch children swim and play in this river. We sat on the river bank for some time before we entered Kalimath. A small boy met us and promised to take us around, he also provided us with interesting explanations.
Kalimath is held high in religious circles has a temple for goddess Kali. and is considered one of the “Siddha Peeths” in India. This place attracts devotees in large number particularly during ‘ Navratri’. The worships are offered to ‘a weapon’ or ‘Sri Yantra’ instead of an idol. Goddess lives in the form of ‘hatyar’ (weapon) is the popular belief.
There is a huge stone behind the temple complex, which people recognize as Mahishasur. Earlier people offered animals- ‘bali’ (sacrifice) to please the goddess. Now the animal offering has stopped and people offer fruits instead.
There are many small and big temples in around this complex. In one of the temples which is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, a ‘havan’– sacred fire is continuously being lit. Sanjay Tiwari in his explanations had asked me to see this fire in particular. He had also provided me an interesting narrative about the fire. Please remember the details provided at the fire lit at Triyugi Narayan temple – which is believed to be burning for last three ‘yugs well – that fire. Well….it is believed that. the sacred fire lit at Triyugi Narayan and the fire lit at the temple of ‘ma’ Lakshmi – goddess wealth at Kalimath are of same age. There are instances where these two ‘havans’ standing as a support system for the other. There is also a temple dedicated Saraswati-goddess of knowledge and a ‘bhairav ji’s’ temple.
In the premises of the temple, we will find idols of Nandi, Ganesh and many Shivalingas. Vishwas – the boy who accompanied us told us about a beautiful village by name Kunjethi, which is about 2 km away from Kalimath, where temples of Mata Manana Devi and Mankameshwar are situated. He was willing to take us by a shortcut road. Honestly, Gupta Kashi, suitable to its name has a lot of treasure hidden in it. Records also support the information about this place being native of mahakavi Kalidas, a Sanskrit scholar, and poet. Kavitha, his birthplace is just 3 km from Kalimath.
Tired physically and also mentally we said thanked the little enthusiast and came back to the hotel, only to dump ourselves on the bed as the new day had a lot of interesting agendas hidden in its pocket for us.
Dr. Nandini Lakshmikantha