Mother Nature has a mind of her own. From erupting volcanos to vast caves and fantastically deep oceans, her creativity knows no bounds.
Wonders of nature have always mystified human beings. Man made wonders literally pale into insignificance before them. One such natural phenomenon which held me spellbound is Patal Bhubaneshwar.
According to legends, mythology and folklores, this underground world is abode of lord Shiva and 33 Demi gods. 800 verses of Manaskanda in Sikanda purana glorify Patal Bhubaneshwar.
Patal Bhubaneshwar is a limestone cave temple 14 km from Gangolighat in Uttarakhand. It is located in the village of Bhubaneshwar. The cave is 160 m long and 90 feet deep from the point of entrance. Limestone rock formations have created various spectacular stalactite and stalagmite figures of various hues and forms. This cave has a narrow tunnel-like opening which leads to a number of caves. The cave is fully electrically illuminated. Built by the flow of water, Patal Bhubaneshwar is not just one cave, rather a series of caves within caves.
According to scriptures, He who wants to feel the presence of eternal power should come to the sacred Bhuvneshwar situated near the confluence of Ramganga, Sarayu and Gupte- Ganga. The cave is said to be as old as the earth itself.
The legend says , King Rituparna of the Sun dynasty (Surya Vansha) discovered the cave in the Treta Yuga . In the Kali Yuga or Kalyug, Adi Shankaracharya discovered this cave in 1191 AD. That was the beginning of the modern pilgrimage history, at Patal Bhubaneshwar.
The journey inside the cave has to be carried in feeble lights, holding protective iron chains. The Stone formation of Shesh Naga can be seen holding heaven, earth and underground called Patal Lok.
Havan (fire sacrifice) is performed in a dimly lit, solemn atmosphere, under the spell of holy chants. You’ll also be impressed by the visit as these parts are said to form part of the celestial heights of Shiva’s abode in Mount Kailash. The cave, it is believed, is connected by an underground route to Mount Kailash. It is believed that the Pandavas and their wife Draupadi, the heroes of the Mahabharata, proceeded towards their last journey in the Himalayas after meditating here, in front of Lord Shiva.
This hidden pilgrimage site , situated at 1,350 m above sea level, is mainly dedicated to Lord Shiva. Almost every god that you would have heard of resides in this mystifying cave. It is also believed that you can worship at Patal Bhubaneshwar is equivalent to worshipping the Chota Char Dham of Uttarakhand, comprising Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Jamnotri.
Patal Bhubeneshwar was in my thoughts for a long time. I had heard so much about this wonder of nature from one of my friends who had visited this place. Alas; he is no more. He was my colleague in All India Radio, working as an engineer. About five years ago, we planned a visit to Pithoragarh and beyond in Uttarakhand. Since it was a long journey, we decided to break journey midway at Nakuchiatal. My son, Ankur drove the car all the way. My wife Uma and grandson Rishabh were with us.
The plan was to explore, besides Pithoragarh, Munsiari and Jhula ghat on the Indo Nepal border. At my request, my son included Patal Bhubeneshwar at the last minute.
The visit was really worth it. Journey was pleasant and backdrop of the pilgrimage site breathtaking. Mountains, lush green surroundings and serene and peaceful atmosphere added to the charm of visit.
Opening of the cave was narrow and getting inside was difficult, specially for older people. Steps had been cut in the rocks to climb down inside the cave. And it was a different world down there. The water seeping through rocks has created images of all hues and colours. A Shivling is there right in the middle of cave.
Ground underneath was slippery and you had to hold on to chains for stability. With holly chants reverberating in the cave and standing before Shivling, it felt like a perfect state of bliss.
The priest family, the Bhandari's are performing religious rites at Patal Bhubaneshwar since the time of Adi Shankaracharya, more than 20 generations in the line. They are treasure house of legends, lore's, anecdotes and information about this holy place. According to one belief, the original human head of lord Ganesha which was cut down by lord Shiva lies here.
This form of Ganesha is popularly known as Vighnaharta. The head is believed to be covered in a layer of limestone with an 8-petaled lotus-like formation (Brahma-Kamala) on top. Area around this pilgrimage site demands more attention and can be better developed as a tourist site.
At Pithoragarh, we stayed at Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam guest house, a reasonable budget friendly place. Next day, we visited enchanting hill station of Munsiari. We again chose KMVN guest house for stay.
Gori Ganga river flows by the side of Munsiari. The town is also used as a base camp for mountain trekkers and nature lovers. Munsiari lies on the ancient salt route to Tibet and is entrance point to Johar valley, which extends along the path of the Gori Ganga river to its source, Milan glacier. View from our second floor balcony was breath taking. Tall Himalayan range, lush green forests and Gori Ganga flowing nearby was a lovely site. People of this little heaven on earth are proud of this serene hill station. They say with pride, Sari dunia ek Taraf, hamari Munsiari ek Taraf.
Munsiyari is a popular trekking destination, and serves as a base to various popular trails. Some of the popular treks in the area include the Khalia top trek, which is a 2-hour trek which rewards one with lush green meadows and traces of snow, and the Thamri Kund trek, which is a much more modest and easier.
Our last destination was Jhulaghat, a village on Indo Nepal border.It is just 36 kilometres from Pithoragarh. River Kali or river Mahakali, flows westward between both countries, thus acting as a natural boundary. Connecting the village is the iconic Jhula ghat suspension bridge . There are several interesting places to visit, thus giving a glimpse of the true Himalayan beauty along with river Kali flowing in the distance.
The best part about visiting the region is that you can explore the other side of the border without any visa!
Comprising of a population of slightly more than a thousand, Jhulaghat offers a mixture of religious and adventurous tourist attractions. Dhwaj temple is one such attraction which offers magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and river Kali.
Another interesting thing to view in Jhulaghat is the musical Ramleela event, organised for over a century now.
If you so desired, you could cross bridge on Kali river and enter Himalayan kingdom. Do not worry, sentries on both sides of bridge would not stop you. An example of Indo-Nepal friendship. You could venture into a small Nepali market and buy a momento .