Madhyamaheswar Trek in the Monsoon
Situated in the Garwhal region of Uttarakhand State in North India, Madhyamaheshwar (3,497 mts – 11,473 ft) is the fourth of the Panch Kedar group of temples. It is mentioned in the Hindu epic Mahabharata that after the battle of Kurukshetra, Lord Krishna advised the Pandavas to take blessings from Lord Shiva so that they are pardoned from fratricide (sin of killing their cousins) and killing of Brahmins – the priest class. Lord Shiva was not interested to pardon the Pandavas. He stayed in the disguise of a bull at Guptkashi located in the same state.
The bull disappeared when the Pandavas tried to hold on to it. It reappeared again at Kedarnath, whence Pandava Prince Bheema pounced on it. The bull fought back desperately. Ultimately the bull’s body broke up into five parts and fell at five different places – known as the five Kedars or Panch Kedars. Out of these the stomach of the bull fell at Madhyamaheshwar (Madhya – middle, Maheshwar – Lord Shiva). The other body parts came out at Rudranath, Kedarnath, Tunganath and Kalpeshwar.
The Pandavas then prayed at these five places and gained forgiveness from the Lord. It is also known in the area that the stone temples present at these places were build by the Pandavas. The historians have doubt on this and they proclaim that the temples age not more than 1500 years.
Apart from being a holy place, Madhyamaheshwar is a beautiful trekking route. The ideal season for trekking at Madhyamaheshwar is May-June or October – November, but then you miss the flowers and lush greenery of the valley. In August, the rains turn the scenic beauty of the place to no less than a paradise.
You get more than 100 species of flower blooming in this region. If you are lucky, you may spot a monal pheasant while walking through the jungle of silver birch and rhododendron. Madhyamaheshwar is also a part of the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary, one of the largest bio-reserves of the world.
Also if you climb up a height of 250m from Madhyamaheshwar, you will come up to a huge bugiyal(grassland)housing a miniature shrine with a large Shiva Lingam (an iconic representation of the Hindu deity Shiva), known as Buddha Madhyamaheshwar. You get fascinating views of snow clad Chowkhamba, and its adjoining peaks. If you are not religious enough, this view should be enough reason to go for this trek. The trek is rather easy with enough halting options. Apparently this was my first trek, exactly three years ago.
However, Madhymaheswar is neither an obvious choice for pilgrims, nor a frequent trekking route. The pilgrims prefer Kedarnath and Tunganath and the casual tourists head for Deoriatal from Ukimath to get a distant view of Chowkhamba.
We drove to Rudraprayag via Devprayag amidst torrential rain in a shared jeep on the day we reached Haridwar from Kolkata by the Doon Express. The drive was fascinating and we were not complaining despite not stopping for lunch. From Rudraprayag we hopped into another shared jeep to Kund. From there, we boarded a ramshackle bus to reach GMVN (Garwhal Mandal Vikas Nigam) guest house at Ukhimath around 04:30.
With a brief chat with the GMVN Care Taker Mr. Bisht about getting a guide for the trek, I set of to a walk around the village of Ukhimath with my trekking partner Nishesh Singh. There is an Ushamata temple at Ukhimath where the idols of Kedaranath and Madhyamaheshwar are brought down during winter by a spectacular procession called ‘Doli Yatra’. During winter the people of Madhyamaheshwar comes down to UKhimath. We reached at the temple when the evening ‘aarati’ (prayer) was being performed.
The temple looked rather new from outside but as you enter inside; you can understand that it is just an outer structure. Most of the original structure is intact. The stone Shiva Lingam was covered with a conical brass material with a carving of an enormous face with moustache. This is used like protection to the lingam. You can actually see the Lingam when this brass head gear is removed for the daily sringar of the lingam. Sringar actually means dressing up in hindi, but here I guess it is actualily the daily cleaning up of the lingam.
Next day we drove Ukhimath to Uniana – the starting point of the trek. Our team comprised my trek partner Nishesh Singh, our guide Shankar Singh and I. We were planning to go in a shared jeep, but the day being Sunday all schools were shut and there were no passengers. In the end we booked an entire Tata Sumo @ Rs 500. On the way we crossed the Jugasu Bridge over the Madhyamaheshwar Ganga river, which have been rebuild after it broke down in 1998 devastation.
We were accompanied by a fourth member who joined us from Uniana, 63-year-old Mohan Singh, a Garwhali trekking to Madhyamaheshwar to buy cattle. He was very friendly and very soon we understood he was very well known to the locality.
We reached Uniana pretty fast and had a hot breakfast of maggie noodles with tea. We started off immediately after the breakfast. A few minutes later we crossed a small bridge and a landslide zone. The sky was not looking good and I expected rain at any moment.
Within minutes it started raining which turned from bad to worse. We decided to stop at Ransi about 3kms from Uniana. It has a small temple of Rankeshwari Devi. We started after the rain slowed down, first with a visit to the Rankeshwari Devi Temple. There are interesting sculptures in this temple.
As we trekked up hill carefully through the rock infested slippery path, I saw a little kid coming barefooted down this terrible path with ease . The kid literally zoomed down past me only to be stopped by Mohan Singh. Mohan Singh seemed to know every one in the way and this kid was no exception. He was the old grandfather who has lived and seen the hills like the back of his hand.
The little girl was offering an excuse for not going to school to Mohan Singh, when her mother came down looking for her. She folded her hands and said “Namaste” with a smile to us and went on to Mohan Singh. She touched his feet and Mohan Singh put a hand on her forehead offering her some blessings. Then he gave her a packet of medicines. Later I came to know that whenever Mohan Singh goes to the town, he carries a list of medicine needed for everyone.
I like the way people greet every stranger in the hills of Garhwal with a traditional “Namaste”. In the metro cities we are rapidly forgetting this tradition and are slowly getting used the westernized “Hi” and “Hello”. Also there are quite a number of well educated people in the Uttarakhand mountain areas. Appearances can be very deceptive here. You may find the unshaven guy who is sipping tea with you in a local shop in the hills is actually a Sales Tax Commissioner who has come to his native place for a holiday.
The path was getting muddy and slippery. Nishesh and I had our share of occasional slips and falls. There were numerous waterfalls on the way at their gurgling best. We came across a waterfall which was on our pathway. We waded through and came across a wooden bridge where another huge waterfall was gushing down.
We took many photographs in the pouring rain. We reached Gondhar around 2.30pm and were welcomed with a ready made hot lunch of rice, pulses and vegetable curry at Bharat Goundar’s. Later I came to know that Mohan Singh had taken an initiative to send a prior message of our arrival; hence the ready lunch.
Post lunch and change of clothes, we proceeded to Bantoli (1800 mt) about 1.5kms from Gondhar. Balbir Singh’s Vishwa Lodge at the top of a hillock had a magnificent view of the confluence of Madhyamaheshwar Ganga and Morkhanda River. Unlike the village of Gondhar, there is hardly any house around. Sitting down on the edge of the valley sipping a hot cup of local tea, it is a treat for your eyes as you see bluish fog rising up from the valley as dusk sets in.
Shankar Singh was busy drying out wet clothes in the kitchen with the cooking stove. He was a very silent kind of chap, just doing his job. Mohan Singh joined us smoking a biri.
Slowly he said “If you pray for anything, anything at all at Madhyamaheshwar Shiva temple, it is bound to be fulfilled. Take my word for it.” I believed him. Maybe I would have not believed in the city. However, after walking in the rain amidst misty lush green road and then sitting in this magical atmosphere with a hot cup of local chai I believed him. If anybody would have said that fairies come down at night to have a dip at the waterfalls near the village of Gondhar, I might have believed that too.
We started at 6:30 am next day for Madhyamaheshwar. The path was constantly uphill. However the spectacular cloudscape in the lush green valley along with hundreds of multicolored flowers made us forget the exhaustion of the climb. We reached our first halt at Nanu (2350 mts). The scenic beauty was increasingly breathtaking. Thankfully it was just drizzling.
At Paikhamba (2620 mts) we came across the most dense jungle of the trek. The route was full of dried leaves, loose wet mud and tree roots at unpredictable places. There were lovely flowers of various colors soaked in raindrops. We reached Kun (2780 mts) around noon.
The climb was steepest here and we reached Madhyamaheshwar around 2:15 pm. The sky looked cloudy and we had little hope of seeing Chowkhamba or any other peak the next day. We settled at Ashutosh Lodge (a one roomed mud hut) for the night fixed again before hand by Mohan Singh. There was hot water ready for us too ! However in the village the only lodging facility which has an in house toilet was the lodge under the temple authority. Although we stayed at Ashutosh Lodge, we had to book one room at the lodge for Rs 100, so that we get access to the toilet!
The aarati at Madhyamaheshwar temple was mesmerizing. Standing barefooted on ice cold stone with several people chanting mantras around us was an unforgettable experience. I observed that like the temple at Ukhimath, the lingam was covered with a conical brass material with a carving of an enormous face with moustache.
The tall, bearded South Indian priest came to us and talked. He mentioned that very few tourists visit the temple. “Most of them goes up to Buddha Madhyamaheshwar Bugiyal to see the peaks and are not bothered about the God.” He said with a sad look in his face. The priests of this area are of South Indian origin since the time of Shankarachraya, who believed in the cultural exchange in this vast country.
I woke up at 4 am the next day to find some stars visible. Before taking an emotional leave from us, Mohan Singh showed us a shortcut to reach the bugiyal. Taking a chance we took a steep climb to Buddha Madhyamaheshwar. Shankar Singh led the way and we reached a lush green meadow. We waited hopefully for even a glimpse of Chowkhamba. Slowly the clouds cleared and like magic there was sunlight basking all over the place.
We could see many of the snowclad peaks – Chowkhamba, Mandani Twin Peaks and Kedar Dome. The peaks of Chowkhamba looked pretty close. The Shiva Lingam of Buddha Madhyamaheshwar (here Buddha means Ancient) inside its small stone shelter sits near a water body.
After our euphoria of viewing this heavenly sight mellowed down, we came down to offer puja at the temple. In the day light, I had a close look at this stone structure. Apart from the story that the temple was made by the Pandavas there is another popular belief. It says that a cow belonging to a king used to bath the Shiva Lingam with its milk on a regular basis. As a result the king was deprived of milk. Enraged he hit this Stone Shiva Lingam with his sword. Later the king repented and built up this temple. That is why here the Shiva Lingam is bit tilted .
There are two other mini sized temple outside the main temple – Gourishankar and Parvati Temple. After visiting those as we entered the temple, the priest said that this sunshine was a miracle. There had been no sunshine the last 45 days here! Mohan Singh said that whatever one asks for from the God at Madhyamaheshwar Temple gets fulfilled. I could not ask for anything. God had given me a miracle without even asking for it.