Conversations at 15,200 feet: Hemkund SahibJi

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Pilgrims at Hemkund Sahib have a conversation with an eccentric local who explains the story of Lakshman's idol being found in that area.

Hemkund Sahib (also spelled Hemkunt) is a Sikh place of worship Gurudwara, known as Gurudwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib Ji, devoted to Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666--1708), the tenth Sikh Guru, which finds mention in Dasam Granth, a piece of work believed to be narrated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, located in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, India. With a setting of a glacial lake surrounded by seven mountain peaks and each peak adorned by a Nishan Sahib on its cliff, it is located in the Himalayas at an elevation of 4632 meters (15,200 ft) as per the Survey of India. It is approached from Gobindghat on the Rishikesh-Badrinath highway. The main town near Govindghat is Joshimath.

Hemkund is inaccessible from October through April because of snow bound paths and glaciers. Sikh pilgrims arrive in May and set to work to repair the damage to the path over the winter, which tradition is called kar seva ("work service"), a concept which forms an important tenet of the Sikh faith.

The take-off point for Hemkund Sahib is the town of Govindghat about 275 kilometres (171 mi) from Rishikesh. The 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) trek is along a reasonably well maintained path to the village of Ghangaria(also called Govinddham). This path can be covered either by walk or by pony and a Gurudwara here gives shelter to pilgrims. In addition there are a few hotels and a campground with tents and mattresses. A 1,100-metre (3,600 ft)climb on a 6-kilometre (3.7 mi) of stone paved path leads Hemkund. Overnight stay is not allowed at Hemkund Sahib and so it is necessary to leave by 2 pm to make it back to Govindghat by nightfall.

From Delhi, tourists take the train to Haridwar and then travel by bus to Govindghat via Rishikesh. It is also possible to drive from Delhi to Govindghat, about 500 km and takes about 18 hours.

A recent study examining altitude sickness at Hemkund Sahib found that almost one-third of pilgrims who traveled to Hemkund suffered from Acute Mountain Sickness (a form of altitude sickness). As approximately 150,000 pilgrims are believed to travel to Hemkund Sahib each trekking season, almost 50,000 people are at risk of developing Acute Mountain Sickness each year. The authors stated the difficult nature of the trek, limited water consumption and lack of awareness regarding altitude sickness as the main contributory factors.

Source: Wikipedia

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