“A true pilgrimage requires letting go of the very things most people try to hold onto. In seeking after what the soul desires, we become pilgrims with no home but the path the soul would have us follow.”
Treks have always fascinated me. I am not good at trekking and am slow. To me, every trek is a challenge where I test my limits and push them to the edge. I love the feeling when I finally complete a trek! It is like a personal badge that I show myself when I have phases of low confidence and self loathing. They are like happy pills to me.
Moreover, being in nature for a few hours and exploring on foot! Is there anything better that a Nature-lover can ask for?
MY TREK TO NEELKANTH
On my first Solo trip to Rishikesh (October, 2016), I had made up my mind to trek to the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple as soon as I got to know about it. Two other people- a traveller and a student from Rishikesh whom I had met in a temple joined me for the trek.
We started at about 10.30 a.m. from the Parmarth Ashram Gate and reached the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple by 4.00 p.m. . However, the trek can be managed within 4.5 hours with ease. We stopped a lot on the way to have tea at the stalls and couldn’t resist waiting a few minutes to admire the view.
The trail to Neelkanth is very serene (unless, you happen to be there on a special occasion) and there is a lot of greenery. One can feel some spiritual presence on the way that has a calming effect. The trail is in the midst of hills and dense forests connected to the Rajaji National Park. The air is pure and the view of Rishikesh from that height is jaw dropping!
One must complete the trek before it gets dark as there is a chance of encountering wild animals post sunset. They give us humans our time in the day. We better not disturb them at night when they roam around and claim the land.
At one point, we encountered a group of students from a Martial Arts School. They jumped and ran down the steep shortcuts with ease! That gave me some confidence to take the shortcuts.
Midway on the trail, we happened to find this creature. Snake? Lizard? No Idea. But I freaked out!
Hot steaming tea and discussion about Indian Politics at the time of Independence, talking to the tea shop owners about the trek, being dead tired and asking the people on their way back about the remaining distance! Well, at one point, I thought that we would not make it before dark. But, we did!
Once, the uphill part of the trek got over, we were accompanied by this super cute and energetic Furry being on the downhill part. I love mountain dogs! They are friendly, smart and know the place better than any human. They are the best guides ever! (I remember the first mountain dog that I had encountered, in Himachal. I was initially very scared only to find out that he was guiding us on our way back. We named him Guide!)
The temple had no rush when we reached. It was quiet, calm and peaceful (unlike the season times, when it is crowded and one has to stand in a queue to get a peek at the main idol of the Temple.) There was a natural spring there where most devotees took a bath before entering the main Temple.
After visiting the Temple, we had hot steaming masala maggi at one of the stalls there. Then, as it was getting darker, we could not trek back on the trail. Hence, we took the shared jeep back to Rishikesh. We struck up a conversation with the people in the Jeep and they told us about the concert by Krishna Das that happened every year in Rishikesh. We got down at the Lakshman Jhula, explored the area a little and then, bid farewell to each other.
THE TALE OF THE POISON AND ELIXIR
(See page for image author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
“Neelkanth Mahadev Temple” gets its name from the incident when Lord Shiva drank the poison that came out during Sumudramanthan* (Churning of the Oceans). He couldn’t swallow the poison as in his stomach rested the entire universe that would be destroyed by the poison. Hence, he held the poison in his throat which was so potent that it turned his throat blue. Consequently, Lord Shiva earned the epithet- Neelkanth (Neel- Blue, Kanth- Throat). To calm his throat, the “Moon” came out of the churning process as well. And, that is how Lord Shiva acquired the moon on his hair. It is believed that the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is located at the place where Lord Shiva consumed the poison.
*The Devas and Asuras churned the ocean for “Amrit”, the drink of immortality. They used the “Mandara” Mountain as the churning rod and Lord Shiva’s serpent “Vasuki” offered to serve as the rope.
REACHING NEELKANTH, PARVATI TEMPLE AND JHILMIL CAVE
The Temple is located at the confluence of two perennial rivers- Pankaja and Madhumati and is surrounded by three valleys- Manikoot, Brahmakoot and Vishnukoot. It is located on a hill at the height of 1330 meters.
One can trek to the temple (12-14km, majority of it being uphill) from the Ram Jhula or take a shared Jeep (70-100 rupees per person on one way). It takes an average of 4.5 hours to trek and 1-1.5 hours to reach there by road (bus/shared taxi). It is advisable to leave by 9.30 a.m. at the latest for the trek. You need not carry water as there are plenty of small tea shops on the way that sell water bottles, juices and small refreshments. However, it is advisable to carry some chocolate bars for instant energy.
If you happen to reach Neelkanth early. There is the Parvati temple at a further steep trek of 2 km, post which there is Jhilmil Cave (2 more kms from the Parvati Temple).
PLEA TO THE TREKKERS AND TRAVELLERS
It is my humble request to all the trekkers and travellers to carry a separate bag in their backpack to store all the wrappers and garbage that they wish to dispose off. Please do not litter the trail. Throw the garbage bag in a dustbin when you find one. Be a responsible traveller and respect Nature!