Sunday, April 26, 2009

Over to Uttarakhand: Jageswar - History in the cradle of nature

Perched in Deodar forests and lost in time and are the 8th century temples of Jageswar

Mystic surroundings of Alomra - like a water painting

India is a land of history and age old traditions that have remained alive even after many thousand years. Every nook and corner abounds with an interesting tale which, over the ages, has slipped into a myth - very much like a distant object which looks misty to bare eyes. At many places it seems almost impossible to differentiate between the myth and the actual history. This very limitation makes most stories of the ancient India more fascinating to hear, even if they might not attract a rational and logical mind. Uttarakhand is a place where there are myths around every place you go. The grand Himalayas had attracted the imaginations and fantasies of people since the earliest days of civilization. The invincibility and the grandeur made the Himalayas a very mysterious object to the people. And where ever there's an element of mystery there's also a natural spirituality and divinity associated to it. So very naturally Uttarakhand has been always depicted as a divine land. Each invincible peak or gorge or terrain or valley became the abode of some God and a place of pilgrimage. 

Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri have been places of piligrimage for ever. There's no clear historical account about who first established these places. The entire region of present day Uttarakhand was referred to as Kedarkhand in Vedic times (1500-1000BC), Uttarapanchal by the composers of Upanishads (700BC), Uttarakaushal in Ramayana, Uttarakuru in Mahabharata and Uttarapatti by Panini (600BC) & Kautilya (300BC). Kedarnath and many places close by have been referred to in the ancient Sanskrit literary works like Mahabharata (600BC) and several Puranas (600BC onwards). Badrinath has been also referred to in several Puranas. Near Badrinath is the Mana village - the last village before Tibetan border - where Vyasa is believed to have composed the Mahabharata in a cave christened Vyasa Cave. 

Perhaps the eraliest historical record of the 'Chaar Dhaam' or 'The Four Holy Shrines' - Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri can be traced to Adi Shankacharya (8th century AD), who had visited Kedarnath and Badrinath and is credited to have re-enshrined the temples at both the places. Over the years the temples have undergone several renovations. The present forms of the temples at both the places won't be older than a few centuries. Compared to that the temples at Jageshwar, Bageshwar & Baijnath - all around Almora - date back to 7th century AD. Not many people are aware of these temples, which are undoubtedly among the oldest existing temples and historical monuments of India. I don't think there would be many monuments in India much are older than these.

The area around Alora abounds with temples. I was specially attracted to Jageshwar, Bageshwar & Baijnath just because of the sheer antiquity of these monuments which were constructed between 7-18th century, first by the Katyuri Kings (7-12th century AD) ruling a greater part of present day Kumaon and Garhwal regions and and later by the Chand Kings of Kumaon. Jageshwar was also the site for cremation for the Chand Kings.

Jageshwar is around 35km east of Almora on the Almora-Pithoragarh road, Bageshwar around 70km north of Almora and Baijnath another 20km west of Bageshwar on the way to Karnaprayag. I was staying in Binsar, some 25km from Almora on the Almora-Bageshwar road. I had only a day in Binsar to see these temples. I chose the nearest one - Jageshwar. The drive to Jageshwar is wonderful. The road going to Pithoragarh is very scenic one passing through alpine forests. The gentle slopes of the hill covered with tall alpine trees and the properly maintained meandering road lapping around the forest provide awesome views. The fascinating thing is that it's every where the same view but still you won't get bored at any moment. Jageshwar consists of a group of 125 temples of various shapes and sizes built over a thousand years. We saw two of the temple sites with a cluster of 10-15 temples at each place. Each of these sites are amidst dense deodar forest. The surroundings provide an awesome backdrop to the temples. The easy slopes of the hills are covered with a type of long grasses which look like green carpets from a distance. The tall and dense deodar trees create a cool and serene atmosphere all around. The small hamlet of Jageshwar, the narrow insignificant rivulet flowing by, the thin road that has brought us to Jageshwar from the Almora-Pithoragarh highway, the quiet surroundings and the few people lingering leisurely - all very simple things but still seem so extra ordinary in the cradle of nature. In the middle of everything stand the temples some of which are  close to 1400 years old. It always fascinates me to think of the days when the earliest Katyuri King came to this place, got mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the place and constructed the first temple. Ages have passed but the beauty of the place remained in tact. I could feel the sheer joy the kings would have felt every time they came to this place. The breeze blowing through the deodar trees seems to also speak of the joy and the surpirse that the humanity has felt for the past many centuries.

On the way back from Jageshwar, I took a drive through the beautiful city of Almora which provides some of the best views of the Himalayas.

Though I didn't get tme to visit Baijnath the same day, but I managed to pass by it on the way back to Binsar from Auli. The temple at Baijnath is on the bank of river Saraju. 

The KMVN hotels provide decent accomodation at all these places - Jageshwar, Bageshwar and Baijnath - at the best possible locations. I would surely recommend people to visit Jageshwar during their stay at Almora or Ranikhet. Baijnath and Bageshwar are very close to Kausani. You should visit both these places from Kausani. If you are staying in Almora or Binsar or Ranikhet you can have a day trip either to Jageshwar or to Baijnath & Bageshwar. From Kausani Baijnath and Bageshwar shouldn't be more than an hour or so.

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