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Kalpeswar : The 5th Kedar
Kalpeswar : Introduction
And then, amidst the beautiful mountains of the Himalayas, appeared the matted tresses of Lord Shiva at a place which looked like the heaven in its pristine & unparalleled natural beauty. The place is Kalpeswar, the abode of the 5th Kedar , which you must see to complete the pilgrimage to the five shrines dedicated to Lord Kedarnath, a name of Lord Shiva.
Kalpeswar : Geographical location
Kalpeswar is located about 2.5 km from Urgam, a tiny hamlet about 12 km from Helang, or about 24 km from Joshimath on the NH 58, the hilly highway going from Delhi to Mana village beyond Badrinath, near Indo-China border . These are all situated in the Garhwal region of the state of Uttarakhand, India. Of all the 5 Kedars, only Kalpeswar remains open all over the year, the rest are closed for about six months a year due to heavy snowfall.
The legend of Kalpeswar
Kalpeswar, the 5th Kedar, is associated with the story of the Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata fame. It is said that after they won the great clan war against their cousins the Kauravas, they came to the Himalayas to perform penance to wash away the sin of killing their relatives & teachers by worshiping Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva was, however, angry with them as they had killed their own blood, & disguised Himself as a buffalo to avoid the Pandavas. Lord Krishna, who was the advisor to the Pandavas, showed them the way to identify Lord Shiva amongst the other cattle. They did just that, but as Bhima the second Pandava brothers was about to grasp the buffalo, Lord Shiva disappeared into the earth & reappeared at five different places in the Himalayas in divided anatomy. The place where is back appeared is the Kedarnath (the 1st Kedar) ; where His face appeared is Rudranath (the 2nd Kedar); where the arms appeared is Tunganath (the 3rd Kedar); where His navel appeared is Madamaheswar(the 4th Kedar) & where His matted tresses (Jata) appeared is Kalpeswar (the 5th Kedar).
Religious importance of Kalpeswar
The pilgrimage to the 5 Kedars (Panch Kedar Yatra) is one of the most important pilgrimages to the Hindus. A visit to Kalpeswar, the 5th Kedar, completes this strenuous pilgrimage. Ideally, one should visit all the five Kedars at one go, following the standard serial (1st to 5th). However, many perform the same in installments, visiting the same in different attempts.
The Journey to Kalpeswar
To go to Kalpeswar one has to reach Urgam, a tiny hamlet about 12 km from Helang, or about 24 km from Joshimath on the NH 58, in the Garhwal region of the state of Uttarakhand, India. Helang is on the NH 58, & is well connected with Haridwar, the gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas.
Helang to Urgam
From Helang a rough motorable road, after crossing Alaknanda river winds up the mountains to reach Urgam. This road runs along the Kalpa Ganga river, which meets the mighty Alaknanda near Helang. The road ends at Urgam, a tiny hamlet. There are few stalls offering tea & snacks there. One can arrange for ponies here for the remaining 2.5 km of the route, but the trek is very soft, almost without any tough portion, & it is better to walk along the trail.
Udgam to Devgram
The trail passes through the pristine Urgam valley famous for barley & potato cultivation. On either side of the trail lie the undulating barley fields with the mountains in the distance. In the distance one can see the snow-clad peaks, & if the weather is clear, one can have a glimpse of the mighty peak Nanda Devi. All along the trail the mountain river Kalpa Ganga lies on the right side. The track is part cemented, especially near the Devgram village. The village is a fairly big one, with few guest houses as well. So if someone wants to stay there , one can have good accommodation.
The small temple of Budha Kedar can be seen adjacent to the trek route amidst the barley fields.
Devgram to Kalpeswar
Beyond Devgram the trail passes through a patch of dense forest. There are many types of trees & shrubs in the jungle, & many flowers too. In the distance one can see a beautiful waterfall. A large number of birds, some with colorful plumage, can be seen along this track.
The trail ultimately reaches the spot where one has to cross the Kalpa Ganga river to reach the cave-temple of Kalpeswar. Previously, there was a small cantilever bridge over the river. But it was damaged in the floods, & now one has to descend to the river bed, cross the river along a narrow wooden bridge, & then climb up a small hill to reach the cave-temple.
The Cave-temple of Kalpeswar
The cave-temple of Kalpeswar is at an altitude of 2200 meters (7218 feet) on the top of a small hill by the side of the Kalpa Ganga river. It is surrounded by dense forests, & only the sound of the swiftly running Kalpa Ganga & the occasional chirping of birds break the silence. Only few sadhus reside there permanently, Santosh Giri Maharaj being one of them.
The cave-temple is divided into several chambers. The first houses the stone-built Nandi, the celestial Bull who is the vehicle of Lord Shiva.
The next one houses an stone idol of Lord Ganesha, & a small one of Lord Shiva & Goddess Parvati .
The third one, a small temple, houses a Shiva Lingam known as Adi Kedareswar.
The next chamber houses the Kalpeswar Lingam, a fairly big one, stone-built. It can be touched by the devotees, & one feels a deep pleasure & gratitude to touch Lord Kalpeswar.
The last chamber has a portion of what is called the Jata (matted tress) of Lord Shiva with water coming out from it. Santosh Giri Maharaj explained that this is a rare thing to see & touch where actually the sacred river Ganga is emerging from the Jata of Lord Shiva.
The Jata (Matted tresses) of Kalpeswar
But where is the famous Jata of Lord Shiva?
Santosh Giri Maharaj smilingly showed the Thing. The surface of the huge rock under which the cave-temple is located, bears wavy lines, very much like the matted tresses of a huge head.
Yes! It is there - the matted tresses of Lord Shiva, the famous Jata of Kalpeswar! It is an awesome sight. One can easily imagine the huge head of Lord Shiva with the abundant matted hairs, lying there to be seen or touched.
Om Namah Shivaya.
Though an important pilgrimage centre for the Hindus, all can enjoy the trek to Kalpeswar. The beauty of the whole journey, with the beautiful flora & fauna of the Urgam valley & the distant snow-clad mountains all around, makes this journey a memorable one.