Title:  Pilgrimage and Trekking in the Indian Himalayas

Please click on hypertext links to see full colour photographs

Click here for a Web Site Map

 Please click here to go to report of the Safai Seva Project designed to clean and protect the natural environment around Sri Hemkunt Sahib
Includes messages and slogans in Punjabi, Hindi, and English for you to use in your own seva (community service)

In the Indian Himalayas, at the headwaters of the holy river Ganges, is the 'northern land' of sacred mountains and waters known as Uttarkhand. The contours of the valleys have been carved by the branches of the great river. Paths, etched into the earth by the footfalls of pilgrims, follow them to their source. It is said that in Uttarkhand the landscape itself is imbued with sacred qualities; certainly the beauty of nature is interwoven with the spirit of pilgrimage.

Signpost of LinksUnique among the sacred places in Uttarkhand is a small lake, high above the tree line and surrounded by rocky peaks. On its bank, near a stream which leaves the lake then flows down to meet the Ganges, are two temples.

One is a Sikh gurdwara.

The other is a Hindu mandir.

At an altitude of 4,329 metres, these are the highest temples in India.

Sikhs know this place as Hemkunt. For eight months of the year this 'lake of ice' is inaccessible, its water frozen beneath deep snow. When the monsoon rains begin, the ice and snow melt, and meadows of ferns and moss and wildflowers colour its banks. Then, in their thousands, Sikhs climb the steep stone path to the lake and bathe in its chill waters. They come in remembrance and prayer to see the place where their tenth Guru meditated and realized his oneness with God. To local Hindus the lake is known as Lokpal, and the temple there is dedicated to the god Lakshman. On festival days they journey to it from nearby Himalayan valleys to make offerings and give thanks. To these visitors, Sikh and Hindu alike, the lake and its environs are sacred.

Neighouring Hemkunt/Lokpal is an internationally famous national park. When he passed through the area after a climbing expedition in 1931, British mountaineer F.S. Smythe wrote that it "was the most beautiful valley that any of us had seen. We camped in it for two days and we remembered it afterwards as the Valley of Flowers." The name alone is enough to entice many trekkers from India and abroad to make the journey to this remote mountain meadow.

FooterWhile doing research on pilgrimage and tourism, I lived along the footpath to Hemkunt/Lokpal and the Valley of Flowers throughout the four month pilgrimage season. I returned again the following year to travel several times from the plains of Punjab into the Uttarkhand hills and back again. In all, I have visited the holy lake twenty times, and spent many months in the company of pilgrims and tourists. The results of my research have been compiled in a graduate thesis entitled Walking in the Footsteps of the Guru: Sikhs and Seekers in the Indian Himalayas.

While I was in the field, and since I have returned home, many people have expressed their interest in learning more about my fieldsite: its significance, its history, how to get there, what to bring, and so on. I have compiled the material on this web site as a guide to Hemkunt Sahib and the Valley of Flowers. I hope it will answer any questions you have about these fascinating places. I welcome any suggestions for changes, improvements, and additions.  E-mail me by clicking here.

To begin your exploration of Hemkunt Sahib and the Valley of Flowers, please click on the links posted on the signpost above. Return to this home page to explore the links below.

Link to Hemkunt PageLink to Travel Notes Page Link to Valley Page

Link to Mythology and History Page Link to Photos Page Link to Journey Page

Web Site Map          Seva          Thesis          Sikhnet