Himalayan Heritage Foundation

Center for policy research on Himalayan Region

Harmukh Ganga in Kashmir- A Divine Journey

Sunil Raina gives a both chilling and informative overview on the spiritual tour to Harmukh Ganga, a must-go destination for every Shaivite.

Written by: Sunil Raina || Posted in category: Traditions || Dated: 2016-01-25

Harmukh Gange

The call of the mountains was strong. So when my friend phoned to ask if I could join him on a pilgrimage to an ancient place in north Kashmir, I said ‘yes’, without even asking him where we were headed.A month later,when I had to book my tickets, I called my friend for details. He said we were going to Harmukh-Gangabal.According to Kashmiri Hindu theology,the mountain — with the lake at its foothills — is the abode of Shiva and Parvati.The name instantly sent a surge of excitement through me. My joy knew no bounds.Childhood memories took me back to the time when my grandmother used to tell us mythological stories about the place.What Arunachala is to Tamil Nadu and Kailash is to Tibet, Harmukh is to Kashmir.

The assembly point for the yatra is at Naranag, a small village in Kangan tehsil, 60 km from Srinagar.Though now in ruins, the village was once a flourishing temple town built by Lalitaditya Muktipida of the Karakota dynasty, in seventh century CE. At one point, the village was studded with a thousand Shivalingams.Apparently,rulers of Karakota dynasty travelled daily from their capital at Parihaspura — now called Pampore — to Naranag to offer oblations to Shiva.Today, the site is under supervision of the Archeological Survey of India.Yet its poor upkeep and lack of signages leave many questions unanswered. But once you reach there, the scenic setting turns disappointment into enthrallment.The symphony of the gurgling stream and rustling deodar trees,lift one’s spirits to sublime heights. Early next morning, we did the Chadi ( holy mace) Puja, a ritual performed before the commencement of the yatra to Harmukh-Gangabal Lake.We set off towards the first mountain range, Buthsher. My friend advised me to take a pony as the trek was arduous. I declined, as I had ascended tougher terrains on my own earlier.A couple of hours later, I realised how wrong I was. Not that I showed any symptoms of fatigue,but the steep climb made me realise that we are prone to self-exaggeration quite often without knowing ground reality. The strenuous journey opened up new vistas of natural beauty as we pushed ahead.The lush green forest, the tall deodars, glistening streams, chirping of birds, the lone cloud following us, zigzag paths, hoof marks of horses, herds of sheep and our spirit egged me on. After four hours,we reached Mount Buthsher’s summit, where a solitary tea shop run by a Gujjar nomad is the only refreshment point en route. After a well-deserved rest,we resumed our trek and the rugged folds of the mountain gave way to undulating meadows. Surrounded by snowcapped sentinels, freshwater streams and grazing herds of sheep, I so wanted to stay there forever. Suddenly, it started raining.“We should request Mother Nature to hold the rain for some time,”a group member said.The Indrakshi mantra flashed through my mind and we recited it.To our utter surprise, the rain stopped and we thankfully resumed our trek. From this beautiful meadow to Gangabal Lake, the path is gentle — there are neither steep gradients nor rocky mountains around. Late afternoon, we crossed a small lake,Nandkul, whose ancient name was Kalodaka or Nandisaras. According to legend, the lake was the combined residence of both Kala or Shiva,and his faithful attendant Nandi.The lake water is greenish at the periphery and blue at the centre, representing Nandi and Shiva respectively. The first view of Harmukh — the highest peak in Kashmir Valley — can be had near the Nandkul river. My grandmother would often tell me that Harmukh was Shiva himself.

I could feel Shiva’s energy emanating from Harmukh and enveloping me. I was transported to a different time and space, a different dimension. Next morning turned out to be clear and sunny. I came out of my tent to see how Shiva portrays himself on the canvas of nature.To my surprise, as soon as the sun’s first rays shone on Harmukh peak, it appeared as if Shiva was wearing the diadem.The rays on the snow-clad Harmukh looked as if the sun was kissing it and Shiva was blessing His own creation. Soon, other pilgrims had gathered and out came all the cameras. I slowly walked towards Gangabal Lake, a few hundred metres away.The turquoise lake, also known as Harmukh Ganga,is 13,500 ft above sea level. Since it was Ganga Ashtami that day — eighth day of the waxing moon in the month of Bhadra — we took a quick dip in the icy waters before performing the obligatory shraadh for our ancestors.According to Nilmat Purana and Kalhana’s Rajtarangini,the Harmukh Ganga was considered among the holiest tirthas of Kashmir. After the rituals, while circumambulating the lake,we reached the source of the lake where multiple streams from Mount Harmukh poured into it. It appeared as if Ganga was gushing out of the matted locks of Shiva and forming the lake below. I began to now understand the meaning of chit-ananda,experiencing the splendour of this wondrous place. I felt completely one with the universe. It was a yatra that put me on the path to Self-discovery.

Author is a founder member Himalayan Heritage Foundation.He writes on Kashmir Shaivism & spiritualism.

Keywords: Harmukh Ganga, Tradition, Shaivism, Shaivite Shrines, Travel