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Tunganath: Divinity in Animation

By Suresh Nautiyal

THE thinking mountains, sleeping forests, sun-bathing bugyals (Alpine pastures), singing cascades, murmuring rivulets, whistling rivers, chirping birds, terraced fields full of yellow mustard flowers making abstract paintings at the instance of the winds, free flowing pure air amidst myriad of wild and stunningly beautiful flowers, and simple and shy people trying hard to make the both ends meet join hands to define the non-pareil Uttarakhand region in Himalaya or the newly created Indian state of Uttaranchal.

And, Garhwal is part of the non-pareil. Ruskin Bond, an ardent lover of the region and a resident of Mussoorie, the queen of hills in other words, rightly says that the mountains and valleys of Garhwal never fail to spring surprises on the traveller in search of the picturesque.

Crossing a small bridge on a rivulet and seeing one's own image in the crystal clear waters beneath is something unimaginable in the cities full of pollution. The rivers in the hills originate from the purest of the pure glaciers.

The greatest physical feature on the earth, the Himalaya, is bound to give an inexplicable but exhilarating divine sensation. The lure of its flora, fauna, seasons, sunrises and sunsets bring to it the people from all over the world. Where on earth one can find a more tranquil place full of divinity? After all, it is the abode of Gods and Goddesses and a dreamland for the mortal beings.

Lord Byron was perhaps right in saying that he lived not in himself but was a portion of that around him. To him, the high mountains were a feeling. And, one can have that feeling right in the hills of Garhwal.

In fact, the Himalaya has not only become an integral part of our heritage but also has assumed the socio-cultural, geo-political, anthro-economic and bio-ecological dimensions. Its part, the land of 52 forts (Garhwal), is simply like that.

Garhwal has five Kedar shrines ( Kedarnath, Tunganath, Madamaheshwar, Rudranath, and Kalpanath) like five prayags or confluences, besides lakes of divine charm. This is a country where every peak, lake or mountain range is somehow linked with some myth or the name of a God or Goddess. These elements make the local people deeply religious who have a rich tradition of folk deity worship.

In fact, there is a lineage of Shiva temples in the region. Other such shrines are at Jageshwar, Bageshwar, Binsar, Rameshwar, Pancheshwar, Kamleshwar, Koteshwar, Baijnath, Gananath, etc. All of them being devoted to the Lord Shiva, whose influence prevails throughout the region.

Whatever, it remains for millions and millions across the globe a perennial source of inspiration --- spiritual or otherwise. Temples and shrines that dot virtually every peak or riverside are an integral part of the Devabhoomi or the land of Gods and Goddesses.

Tunganath mandir or temple is one such example. The high altitude temple is a Seat of Swyambhu Linga or the Lord Shiva Incarnate. The temple, one of the Panchakedars or one of the five Shiva temples, is situated in Chamoli district of the Uttarakhand region. The mythology has it that Lord Shiva was enraged at the act of homicide enacted by the Pandavas by killing their brethren in the grand battle of Mahabharata. Aware of Shiva's annoyance, the Pandavas built the temple to please Lord Shiva and for their own salvation.

Others claim that the Adi Shankaracharya during his historic visit to the region had got it built. They cite the presence of Adi Shankaracharya's image in the garbha-griha or the sanctum of the temple. However, it also houses images of the Pandavas. Besides, the ashtadhatu images of Kaal Bhairava and Veda Vyasa are among the multitude of images there. A dark left-tilting one-foot high linga is the centre of attraction. The locals describe it as an arm of Lord Shiva. The arm of Lord Shiva is also associated with a legend.

Till date, the Tunganath shrine is an integral part of Garhwal or the Kedarakhanda, one of the five geographical zones of the mighty Himalaya. Garhwal is closely associated with the Pandavas who have left their imprints. Making life, customs, and culture an integral part of the Mahabharata legend.

The Tunganath temple, on the inner Himalayan range, is among a few shrines situated at a height of more than 13,000 feet from the sea level. This gives it the magic of its own. To get there, one passes through the most delightful temperate forests in the Garhwal Himalaya.

A journey to Tunganath is simply inspiring and divine. An ultimate destination with unequal and unparalleled splendour. The place exerts its magic on all who reach there with open mind and clear heart. Though comparatively small in dimensions, the temple leave an indelible mark because of its setting and the solid granite slabs from which it is built stoutly.

The route to the Tunganath temple is not very arduous. Reaching Rishikesh from Delhi is just problem free. One can also go up to the Jolly Grant airstrip near Dehradun by an occasional plane. From Rishikesh, one can easily reach Karnaprayag and then Gopeshwar (212 km from Rishikesh). From there, on Gopeshwar-Ukhimath road, lies picturesque chatti of Chopta, which also serves as the base for the Tunganath temple. From Chopta, an ascending trek of three km. takes one to the temple of Tunganath. The elevated journey instils a sense of fulfilment.

The beauty of the Himalaya is always beyond imagination and poetry. Chopta (42 km from Gopeshwar) is situated at a height of 12,000 ft from sea level. Though a scenic spot neglected by the tourism department, greenery around Chopta is in abundance, perhaps because the place is also called Cherapoonji of Uttarakhand. However, the tourist rest house owned by the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) is a boon to the traveller. But a larger infrastructure needs to be developed there.

Dugalbitha is just at a distance of seven km from Chopta. A government bungalow there is available for the tourists on permit. A little ahead is Sari village from where an ascension of two km takes one to Deoriyataal or lake (8,000 ft) in which an image of mammoth Chaukhambha is quite awesome and inspiring.

The trek from panoramic Chopta to Tunganath is between three to four km. but in that distance one ascends several hundred feel. The feeling of uplift strengthens one to gaze at the ranges and the valleys for hours. The time seems to freeze here endlessly. Myriads of wild flowers and especially the blooming rhododendrons in summer heal the fatigued soul. Besides, dense oak and deodar forests, Alpine pastures, mountain ranges, diverse flora and fauna, and above all perpetual tranquillity drain out the human worries.

One can see the Himalayan ranges in their awesome avatar from this place except in case of clouds and rains, which are in plenty there. Weather is so uncertain that by the time you take a decision to make a move, there is rain or thunders.

Nevertheless, among the peaks and peaks and among the clouds and the clouds, there are moods and moods of Mother Nature. The environment is so hypnotic and mystic that nobody bothers to think about the worldly things. One can only find him or her under a spell of divine spell wondering how and why the mountains invoke divinity in the mortal beings.

The place looks like a perfect wilderness. On reaching Tunganath, at a height of 13,072 feet from the sea level and below Chandrashila peak, one finds nothing between earth and the sky except rocks. The 50-feet something high ancient temple is the highest Shiva shrine in the region.

In Tunganath, very ordinary facilities are available but irrespective of  that more than 10,000 pilgrims and tourists visit this divine place every year either to pay their obeisance to Lord Shiva or to just experience the panoramic views from the place. As you keep moving around, the multitude of clouds flicker touching your body and purified soul. This is how Hinduism comes closest to being a nature religion.

A little ahead of the Tunganath temple is Chandrashila or mountain of the Moon. The place is wrapped in mysticism where one is completely lost, perhaps trying to redefine one's own existence and the meaning of the very existence. Harmony is most evident in these remote places, reminding every moment that here is a place after all where Gods and mountains co-exist.

The observation of Kalidasa, the great ancient Sanskrit poet, is pertinent here. He must have visited a place like Tunganath while making an observation that there was a mighty mountain in North (of India) by the name Himalaya, the abode of perpetual snows, fittingly called the Lord of Mountains, animated by Divinity as its soul and eternal spirit. Spanning the wide land from the eastern to the western sea, He stands as if were like the measuring rod of the earth.

From Chandrashila (14,000 ft), a very great section of the Himalaya is visible. Legend has it that Goddess Chandrama (Moon) had spent a long time here in a penance. Bandarpoonchh, Chaukhambha, Neelkanth, Nandadevi, and several other peaks are clearly visible from this place. Chaukhambha (25,000 ft) looks so close as if at an arm's distance. The peaks also remind one of the fables that they are the ladders to the heavens. Nandadevi is of course clouded most of the times. Besides, a large part of Garhwal is seen from here, far away valleys and all that that is the grandeur of Garhwal. On the background of Tunganath is Ravanashila, where Ravana is believed to have accomplished tapa or penance. Wild buffaloes are regularly is site there.

Now, contradictions are arising from the existing conditions in the whole Uttarakhand region. The impact of environmental factors on the life of people is very deep and shocking. Apart from being tourists, we need urgently to think why the Himalaya is being increasingly described as one of the most threatened eco-systems in the world? The aim of tourism in the Himalaya should, therefore, be not to disturb its socio-cultural fabric. Its pity that tourism today has opened up new avenues for bringing about a change in the Himalayan economy, but in reality the very eco-system has been threatened.


Author: Suresh Nautiyal ( Click here to read Profile of Author)