Uttarakhand , the moment this name figures in conversations the primary thought that run through the mind are two : Himalaya and Spiritual Belief. This state has been the focal point for the above two factors right from the ancient times. It has been the gateway to spiritual belief and becoming one with nature right from the times of Sri Adi Shankar Acharya himself. Thousands have come here in search for peace; many have found their true inner calling among the dense forests and virgin rivers that flow through the lower Himalaya. Home to the greatest of all ancient rivers, the Ganges herself; on her banks many a great spiritual soul has contemplated life and its essence. Boasting of some great trekking options the region is a must on the Bucket list of any traveler.
Uttarakhand is blessed with a certain iconic influence and this is the occurrence of the Paanch Prayags. Prayag translated into English means confluence. Prayags are considered sacred in the Hindu context these prayags are centers of religious significance and have a rich history. Panch prayag are the places where the five different streams of Ganges confluence at five different places with one another.
So let’s see the five prayags in Utarakhand in ascending order of geographic location:
Dev prayag As one proceeds further from the holy town of Haridwar upwards, the plains give way to the mountains as range after range starts appearing and the road moves further ahead into the mountains. We finally reached the first of the Prayags: Dev Prayag after covering around 83 Kms. Encircled by high mountain peaks on three sides, the National Highway 58 passes alongside fringes of the main town.
The most holy of all the Prayags being the confluence of the Alakhnanda originating from the Satopanth glacier with the Bhagirathi originating from the Gomukh glacier has its importance equal in significance to the Triveni Sangam at Allahabad. It is a sight to see the green icy waters of the Bhagirathi meeting the deep muddy brown waters of the Alaknanda. Dev prayag mesmerizes the traveler who comes wandering here. The entire knows Universe hears the name of the river which emerges post this confluence; the Ganges. All these three mighty rivers have cut deep into the earth making significant flow channels and the confluence is a sight to watch.
One pays respects at the temple of Lord Rudranath which is out here. The temple of Rudrananth is built here (the temple closes by 1230 in afternoon). The sangam can be reached by alighting a steep series of steps which lead to a overhanging bridge on the Bhagirathi and after crossing it one is on the opposite banks of the river. The town of Dev prayag is built around the sangam and the temple itself.
After the prayag one can move ahead towards the town of Srinagar which is another significant town on this sector. The beauty of this region is that almost every place whether big or small has a historical link and significance. Srinagar is the last city of the plain before the start of the mountains of Garhwal. This town lies on the banks of the Alaknanda.
Rudrprayag; the next way point and second Sangam/Prayag in sequential order. It is the confluence of the Alakhnanda and the Mandikini. One can walk down right till the confluence. There is the temple of Chamunda devi and Narad muni at the confluence. A bit higher up is the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Here once can visit the sangam as well as the temples of Lord Shiva, Chamunda Devi and Narad Muni. What a contrast these prayags were from the hustle and bustle of Haridwar and Rishikesh. The traveler is actually able to appreciate the significance of the natural beauty as well as the historical significance because there is calmness and peace all around allowing one to appreciate the scenario spread out. The roads till this point were very much in good condition and large distances could be covered quickly. It is however to be remembered that they still are mountainous roads and due caution and care needs to be exercised by the driver.
One can also from Rudraparayg visit the legend of Koteswar Mahadev.The route to reach this temple is clearly defined and is around three kms from the bridge on the Alakhnanda. The temple is on the opposite banks of the Alaknanda with the route to Badrinath on the across bank. After reaching a small hamlet, one needs to walk down a set of stairs for around one km in order to reach the temple, the cave where the Shiva Linga is instituted further down. I strongly recommend a visit to this temple as it emanates a very positive vibe.
The confluence of the Pindari river, arising from the Pindari glacier and the Alakhnanda occurs at Karnaprayag. The town is built around the confluence and is a small town that is crowded. It is not easy to reach the confluence owing to the rampant construction that has occurred. One of the reasons for the crowd could be because this town connects the Garhwal region with the Kumaon region. One can visit the Uma Bharati temple as well as the Adi Badri temple. In the yester years this place was pristine and beautiful surrounded by the rolling mountains on all sides and that is the reason that swami Vivekananda along with Guru Turianand ji undertook deep mediation for eighteen days.
History speaks about the warrior Karna who mediated out here to achieve his invincible weapons and then there are legends of this being the place where Karna was cremated by Lord Vishnu himself. There is a rich history out here which somehow has been eroded over the years.
The confluence of Alakhnanda and Nandakini rivers, Nandaprayag does not receive many visitors or pilgrims. The town is built on the fringes of the National Highway 58 which passes through this region. The town is nestled in deep mountainous territory and historically speaking this region was the capital of Yadu Kingdom. Though the town is nothing much to speak of yet if one wishes to spend some time here to introspect, it is a good idea. The calm and serene atmosphere that abound here is ideal to think about the inner self. The fresh mountain air makes one breathe in deeply and open up the spirit and mind.
One can also visit the holy town of Gopeshwar which is hardly an hour’s drive , one can visit the famed Gopinath temple. The Gopinath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva has significant importance in this region and is highlighted with the presence of a 5 mt trident which I think is similar in metallurgy to the trident of Maa Mookambica at Kodachadri Village, Karnataka. Both these weapons are exposed to the nature however remain unaffected by the same
Vishnuprayag is the final of the prayags, situated in highly mountainous territory prone to landslides, the national highway is narrow and tricky out here. Legend says that Lord Narad mediated here to spread Lord Vishnu. The confluence of Alakhnanda and Dhauliganga (originating from the Niti pass way up ahead) happens here. Up ahead are mythical and historical places like Pandukeswara, Hanuman chatti and then finally Badrinath ji.
There is a temple built at the confluence, supposedly by Ahalya Bai dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The confluence out here is quite stormy and it is highly recommended not to venture into the waters for both the rivers are thundering as they come out of the narrow mountain valleys.
This particular prayag is the most remote of all and also the most pristine in terms of being one with nature, there is no commercialization out here with confluence is in its truest form.
The prayags represent a major chunk of the social fabric and are an integral part of the region . They have stood there since time immemorial and have woven the lives of the people around them . They are a must visit as per me .