Joshimath - The Gateway to Heaven
An ancient temple town located at the gates of the tallest mountains administered within the country offers spectacular views of the Gharwal Himalayas. Adi Shankaracharya, who was born somewhere around the time of Jesus Christ, came here to meditate and eventually established a pilgrimage after he achieved ‘Jyoti’.
Originally called Jyotirmath, today Joshimath is the gateway to numerous trails and ancient routes among the snow-clad mountains. Joshimath is famous as one of the four famous Peeths established by Adi Sankaracharya.
When Badrinath temple remains closed for winter every year, one idol of Lord Badri is brought to Narsinh temple in Joshimath and worshipped for six months. Nanda Devi, the tallest mountain located entirely within administered India is reached only through the roads of Joshimath. Connected to these mountains are unbelievable stories of folklore, adventure, and secret missions.
Places located within a day’s trip from Joshimath
The Land of the Sapt Badri. The presiding deity of this region, you guessed it right, is Badrinath! In Gharwal Mandal or Gharwal division, there are seven sacred Hindu temples, dedicated to god Vishnu. The Alakananda river valley is popularly known as Badri kshetra. The name Badri comes from the word berries that were found in the forests of the ancient Vedic valley. One can visit the following temples, some of which double up as short treks, from Joshimath itself. You will be free for a day or two during your trek itinerary which you can either spend in a hotel at Joshimath or explore this breath-taking terrain through its lofty temples and coniferous forests.
The Alaknanda river flows below Joshimath
You will go through forests like these when you trek up the mountains!
- The town of Badrinath is home to one of the four pilgrim centres. Towering over this temple town are the peaks of Nara and Narayana. They represent the avatar of god Vishnu in their meditative state. Char Dham were the four sacred places established by Adi Shankaracharya in the four corners of India. Badrinath also has an ancient Buddhist muddled past prior to it being groomed as an important Hindu pilgrimage. The town is about 45 kms away from Joshimath, a 90 mins drive on NH7. The temple has a unique Tantra-Vidhi of Shrauta tradition, which is more common in South India. Also of South India, from the state of Kerala, is the head priest of Badrinath. Four kilometres, north of Badrinath is a village named Mana. The last village before the Mana pass leads us to Tibet. The village houses the Vyasa cave. This is where the Indian epic Mahabharata is said to have been composed. The views of the Swargarohini peak, a mountain massif known for its dramatic relief, are a delight. It is also an insight into the difficulty of these terrains for climbing. The Pandavas in the story of Mahabharata followed the trail on this mountain to ascend to heaven. That’s why the name of the mountain itself means ‘Ascent to Heaven’. It is written that only Yudhistira among the Pandavas succeeded.
- Adi Badri, near Karnaprayag, is an ancient temple complex, steeped in mythology. Named after the Mahabharata character Karna, Karnaprayag is said to be his cremation ground. The temple itself is just a three kilometres hike from Chandpur fort, an hour’s drive from Karnaprayag.
- Vridha Badri has an idol of Vishnu appearing as an old man, sculpted by the legendary craftsman Vishwakarma. Located in a shrine of Animath village, seven kilometres from Joshimath, it is open throughout the year.
- Bhavishya Badri, the toughest destination of the lot, is a prophetic place. It is closely related to the Narsinh temple in Joshimath. When the Nara and Narayana peaks of Badrinath block the way to the main shrine, this temple will house the deity of Badrinath in the future. This place can only be reached through a 6 kms trek from Saldhar, 19 kms drive from Joshimath. It is situated on the way from Tapovan to Lata in the Niti valley, on an ancient pilgrim route to Mount Kailash and Manasarovar. The Narsinh Temple in Joshimath has an idol established by Shankaracharya of Lord Narsingh. This idol’s hand, which like a strand of hair, is so thin that when it disappears according to mythology, it will be the end of the present day location of the Badrinath. At that point of time, Bhavishya Badri will appear as the new Badrinath. This according to mythology will be the end of Kali Yuga and the beginning of Satya Yuga.
- Yoga Badri is situated in the historical town of Pandukeshwar. Named after Pandu, the father of Pandavas, this town is the birthplace of Pandavas. The idol of Vishnu is seen in a meditative state in the temple. Thus the name Yogadhyan Badri. It is a half hour drive from Joshimath en route to Badrinath. Govind Ghat, the famous Sikh pilgrimage and the starting point of the ‘Valley of Flowers’ trek is also seen as on the drive from Joshimath on NH7.
- Dhyan Badri is another temple on this route that is reached only by trekking. It is located in the Urgam valley, close to Kalpeshwar on the banks of river Alakananda. It can be reached from Helang Chatti by a 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) trek en route to Joshimath from Badrinath. Kalpeshwar, is also a holy shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva and is a part of the Panch Kedar yatra.
- Ardha Badri is situated in Hera village with the smallest statue among the seven temples. It is accessible only after trekking from the Joshimath-Tapovan road. The route to this temple goes through Subhain.
The various confluences of tributaries of the Ganges are another attraction around Joshimath especially on route from Rishikesh. The closest such prayag, meaning confluence is Vishnuprayag. A mesmerising sight, the two rivers meet at these important junctions and are a treat for any nature lover.
- The Alakananda River one of the two main source streams for Ganga River originates near the Indo-Tibetan border near the village of Mana and flows through the town of Badrinath. As Joshimath arrives the river is joined by the Dhauli Ganga River at Vishnuprayag. This stretch of the river is popularly referred to as Vishnu Ganga.
- As the Alakananda cascades down the mountains it meets the Nandakini River at this quaint town of Nandaprayag. It was once the capital of the Yadu kingdom and is named after the Yadava king Nanda, the foster-father of god Krishna.
- Named after Karna, Karnaprayag is the confluence of the Pindar River, which originates in the Nanda Devi Mountain range with the Alakananda River. This place is mentioned in Kalidasa’s epic Meghaduta and is also the site of Swami Vivekananda’s 18 day meditation. There is also an ancient temple dedicated to goddess Parvati, in the form of Uma Devi.
- Rudraprayag is the site of merging of Mandakini River with the Alakananda River. This site is dedicated to Lord Shiva’s Rudra avatar. It is said that Shiva performed his Tandava dance here, the source of all creation and destruction. He also is said to have played his favourite musical instrument, the Rudra Veena here.
- Devprayag is considered as the holiest of the confluences in Hinduism, on par with the Triveni Sangam in Allahabad. The river after this point is now referred to as Ganga after the confluence of both the head streams: Bhagirathi, flowing rapidly on a steep slope and Alakananda, flowing with a smooth, unruffled surface. This sight is watched by millions as they descend here to pray at the site believed to be naval of god Vishnu.
All these towns of ‘prayag’ are on the way to Joshimath from Rishikesh and they can be covered if one has their own vehicle or a hired one with exclusive booking. All these towns are well connected and are in sequence of one after the other. Driving from Rishikesh, the first prayag appears at Devprayag and ends near Joshimath at Vishnuprayag. They offer spectacular photo opportunities too!
Once in Joshimath, there are many places you can explore within walking distance of your hotel
- Known as uttarāmnāya matha or northern monastery, the Jyotirmath institution is in charge of the Atharvaveda. Adi Shankaracharya has kept a shivling made of Sputnik in the matha after being enlightened with ‘Jyoti’. The temple of Badrinarayan and Rajrajeshwari Devi is located in the matha.
One more interesting feature of this matha is the Kalpavriksha. It is a 2400 year-old mulberry tree under which is a natural cave. Adi Sankaracharya did meditation under this ancient tree as he considered it to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva.
- Sitting nearby to the matha is the Bhavishya Kedar Temple. As per the legend, present Kedarnath will disappear along with Badrinath and re-appear in Bhavishya Kedar temple at Joshimath. This temple has a small shivling.
- Also housed in a small enclosure, opposite the main building, are the weapons of Pandavas. They gave up these arms before moving on to climb the Himalayas.
- The Auli ropeway starting from Joshimath is one of the longest ropeways in Asia. It facilitates an easy ride to Auli from Joshimath, which is otherwise an hour’s drive away. During the winter, it is thickly clad in snow and makes for a perfect ski destination. One that can rival Switzerland. The views of Nanda Devi from Auli are also fantastic and the place itself is known as Auli Bugyal. Bugyal means grasslands and are conductive to long walks and relaxation with the Nanda Devi mountain range in full view the entire time. Enough to de-stress any workaholic person.
- If you are interested in knowing about the sustainable development of the Himalayan region and its communities, which is important for the conservation of this sensitive ecosystem visit the local office of Pragya in Joshimath.
Clicked from the ropeway cabin in Auli. Spectacular views of Nanda Devi Mountain from here.
As you can see Joshimath is an important place because of its geographical location and also in mythology that reflects its ancient roots. There is a treasure trove of stories for both trekkers and history buffs alike. Find out about the botched up CIA mission carried out on the Nanda Devi mountain from experienced trekkers based in Joshimath. There exists a nuclear device ticking away quietly in the snow that is yet to be found. There are numerous articles and books on this secret mission that make up for an interesting read while you are there. You can also go ahead and guess, though it may seem far-fetched, that the destruction of Badrinath foretold in a legend may be connected to this tragedy! Coincidence or whatever you may call it the Nanda Devi Mountain and the Nara-Narayana Mountains of Badrinath are in the same line of sight from Auli. One can’t help but think about these mountains guarding the secrets of our future while we can only climb them in search of glory.
We organise plenty of treks with Joshimath as our base. If you are in need of trek assistance to visit any of the places mentioned above we can accommodate your plans and tailor a trek to these places around Joshimath.
Usually, we undertake the following treks from Joshimath on a regular basis:
Blog by: Bhavik Shah
Picture Credits of Badrinath, Bhavishya Badri, Vishnuprayag, Devprayag: http://wikimapia.org/1648003/Devprayag ; http://muttarakhand.com/tourism/panch-prayag/ ; http://www.antilogvacations.com/activity_Detail?Id=DUAB220715032313050_1 ; https://rawatprajesh.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/