Hemkund Sahib

Hemkund (also Hemkunt) Sahib, (or fully, Gurudwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib Ji), is a Sikh worship and pilgrimage site. According to the Holy Granth Sahib, it is believed that Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708), the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, in one of his great holy compositions entitled “Bachittar Natak” recounts he had meditated and unified with God after prolonged meditation in his previous birth on the shores of a lake surrounded by seven snowcapped mountains.

Based on this composition, a retired Sikh priest from the Indian army (and a few others) found Hemkund in 1934 as they were trekking through this region. They connected it with the place from Guru Gobind Singh's autobiography, which contains a description of the place, and the first Gurudwara was constructed in 1936. Design and construction of the present Gurudwara was started in the mid-1960s.

The shrine is encircled by seven snow clad peaks and their associated glaciers. Streams from Hati Parvat and Sapt Rishi Peaks feed the lake and a small stream called Himganga flows out of his lake. Hemkund Sahib Gurudwara, the World's Highest Gurudwara, is an imposing star shaped structure of stone and masonry at the edge of Hemkund Lake also known as Lok Pal, 2 km. in circumference whose crystal clear water mirrors the image of snow clad Sapta Shringa Peaks (5,500 m, 18,000 ft).

According to Hindu mythology, Hemkund or Lokpal as it is also known, is where Lakshman, the younger brother of Ram, meditated by the lake and regained his health after being severely wounded by Meghnath, son of the demon Ravana, during battle. Apart from the Gurudwara, there is a Lakshman temple built on the bank of the lake.

• Hemkunt is a Sanskrit name derived from Hem ("Snow") and Kund ("bowl").

• Hemkund Sahib is located in the Himalayas at an elevation of 4,632 meters (15,197 feet).

• Hemkund Sahib is inaccessible because of snow from October through April, with the first Sikh pilgrims arriving in May to work and repair the path damaged by the winter. This is another example of kar seva ("work service", an important tenet of Sikh faith of belonging to and contributing to the community).

• One must be in good health to make this trip. The last section of 5 km (3 mile) is a strenuous climb from 10,000 ft to 15,000 ft, not recommended for those with poor heart condition or not in good physical shape. As a test, one should be able to run 5 km in less than 50 minutes. Horses, ponies and palanquins are available for rent.

• It is not mere physical prowess that is required, but mental fitness as well, as one will be traversing some paths which are three feet wide with a towering cliff on one side and a thousand foot drop on the other.

• The roads are scary, parts unprotected on the precipice side of the road. Road closures lasting a day or so are common once the rains start with monsoons causing landslides.

• Give yourself time to get used to heights of more than 15,000 ft. Ascend slowly so that you can acclimatize yourself. A recent study at Hemkund Sahib found that almost one-third of pilgrims suffered from altitude sickness worsened due to the difficult nature of the trek, limited water consumption and lack of awareness regarding altitude sickness.

• 1 metre is 3.28 ft, thus 1,000m = 3,300 ft; 3,000m = 10,000 ft; 5,000m = 16,400ft.