It is believed that since time immemorial Lord Vishnu sits in perpetual meditation in Badrinath, a holy town in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Spiritual seekers have down the ages come to seek his blessings at the beautiful temple in the Himalayas, located at a height 10,279 ft, nestled amidst picturesque mountains, on the banks of the sacred Alaknanda river.
It is not an easy journey, never was 1000 years ago, and still continues to test the courage, patience and resilience of those who make the arduous trip. It requires a bit of madness, a whole lot of love and unexplained devotion. But for those who do, a glimpse of the black stone statue of Badrinarayan (the name by which Lord Vishnu is worshipped here) and the spiritually charged atmosphere, makes this pilgrimage to Badrinath temple, a life changing experience.
Landslides are common here, particularly during the monsoon months and after, and considering the fact that the area is snowbound during the winter months, it leaves very little time for the pilgrims to make the journey, but they are ready to face any risk for their favourite God. Badrinath is one of the most visited temples in India, and has been attracting more than one million pilgrims every year.
The black stone statue of Badrinarayan is said to be self manifested and sits in a meditative posture. The story goes that while Lord Vishnu was meditating, his consort, Goddess Lakshmi, protected him from the extreme cold weather in the form of a Badri (jujube or Indian date ) tree. This is how the place got its name. These berry trees were common here once, but are no longer found in the area.
My journey to Badrinath also proved to be quite adventurous. When our tour group reached the outskirts of the town, landslides were happening and the local authorities had stopped all vehicles. Our booking was already done at the Sarovar Portico hotel in Badrinath, but as we couldn’t reach the town, we had to search for alternate accommodation. Because a few thousand passengers were stranded, all the lodges and hotels in the vicinity were full that night. I really thought we would all have to spend the night in our cars, when our excellent tour manager Rupesh Jha, found a homestay after a lot of effort. At the Ganga Resort Homestay we got nice rooms, warm food and wonderful hospitality. It was nothing short of a miracle that we got the exact number of rooms as the families in our tour group.
The next morning, the roads were still not cleared, so we had to trek for 30 minutes through boulders, rocks and mountain streams. At the other side, jeep taxis took us to the temple. One look at the beautiful sight of the temple, and all the challenges enroute, were forgotten.
Inside the sanctum sanctorum, no words can express what I felt as I gazed at the black stone idol. It is believed that Lord Vishnu is doing penance here for the welfare of all living beings. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to make the journey.
During winters, when the Badrinath temple is shut for six months, the Utsav Murti (idol used for public functions) is brought to the Narsimha Temple in Joshimath. It is worshipped along with Narsimha avatar, the presiding deity in this temple and the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, depicted as half lion and half man.
The spectacular temple is a must visit in Joshimath, which has many other attractions like Bhavishya Kedar (which will be the future Kedarnath temple, when according to prophecy Kedarnath temple will disappear). There is also the Adi Shankaracharya monastery, which has many shrines. It was fascinating to see the statues of nine planets, the 64 statues of Yoginis (various aspects of the divine feminine), and the cave where the highly revered monk had done meditation.
Another interesting attraction at Joshimath is the more than 2500 years old Kalpavriksha tree, which is worshipped here. Popular lore states Adi Shankaracharya had got enlightenment under this tree. There is a tiny Shiva temple at the tree trunk, and I had to really bend low to enter it. According the mythology, Kalpavriksha is known as the wish fulfilling tree. I am sure that for thousands of years people had stood below the branches and have prayed for their heart’s desire to come true.
I did not make a wish. The fact that I was able to visit the land of the meditative God, was much more than a dream come true.
How to reach: You can take a taxi from Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport to Badrinath. The distance is about 311 kms. Chartered choppers are also available from Dehradun to Badrinath.
Accommodation: Sarovar Portico, Badrinath is the best hotel and a short walk from the temple. Those taking helicopter services can also stay at the Reliance Guest House.
Best time to visit: Badrinath is open from May to October, Joshimath can be visited all around the year. Joshimath is in fact the start point of many Himalayan trekking routes and expeditions.