Harmukh Ganga Yatra The turquoise lake of Gangabal, also known as Harmukh-Ganga is situated at the height of around 13500 feet above sea-level. Since centuries, This pious lake has been revered by the Kashmiri Pandits(KP ).The pundits of the Kashmir used to climb-up to the mountain and immerse the ashes of the dead in the lake of Gangabal, and do the obligatory-“Shraddh”-of their ancestors. This lake is as pious as the Ganga at Haridwar.
The length of the lake is approximately 3 kms and breadth is around 1 Km. Gangabal finds mention in “Nilmat puran” as well as “Rajatarangini”. Authors like walter Lawrence and Sir Francis Younghusband too have mentioned about holy lake Gangabal and its association with the “Shraddh”.Sir Francis has even mentioned that the date of the annual pilgrimage used to be the 8th day of waxing moon in the month of Bhadra. The Day was also known among the Kashmirian hindus as “Ganga-Ashtami”.
Gangabal lake is situated at the base of the mighty Harmukh mountain. The perennial glaciers of the Harmukh are the main source of water to the Harmukh-Ganga as well as Nandkol Lake-which is some feet below the Gangabal.A rivlet joins the Gangabal to Nndkol. Rising close to 17000 feet above MSL, The Harmukh peaks dominate the view towards the north from a great part of the Kashmir valley.
According to Rajtarangini of Kalhan, the Harmugh-Ganga was considered among the holiest “Tirthas” of the Kashmirian. The ancient name of the peaks is “HARAMUKUTA” meaning “shiva’s diadem”.Their height is supposed to be Siva’s favorite residence. Hence Kashmirian tradition stoutly maintains that Human feet cannot reach the peaks summit. The gangabal lake at 13000 feet is looked upon as the true source of the “Kashmir Ganga” or “Sind river” or “sindu”. The old name of “Nundkol” was “KALODAKA” or “Nandisaras”, and was derived from the legend, that makes the lake the joint habitation of both “Kala”, i.e Shiva and his faithful attendant-Nandi. From the latter, the whole collection of sacred sites takes the name “NANDIKHETRA” by which “Kalhana” usually designated it.
It will be pertinent to mention here that the word-“Hindu” is the corrupted form of the river “Sindu”. The people who used to live on the banks of this river were termed by the foreigners as Hindus. Hence all the Hindus across the world owe their identity as a religious-sect- Hindu to the Harmukh mountain and the sacred lake of Gangabal-the true source of Sindu river.
Rajtarangini mentions, this holy lake was the final goal of the “Haramukutganga” pilgrimage, which used to take place annually in the month of “Bhadrapada”, and used to be attended by thousands of pilgrims. The bones of those, who had died, during the year, used to be deposited/immersed in the sacred waters of this lake.
It is also mentioned in some articles, that ,In earlier times, KP’s used to come here and do the Obligatory “Shraddh”(prayers offered to ancestors) and immerse the ashes of those who had died. Before, immersing the ashes into the lake, they used to stock the water for drinking and cooking, as immediately after immersing the ashes, the colour of the waters would change to Red, (because of some micro-organisms), thus making the waters unfit to drink or cook food in.
It was probably, during the reign of Mir Shamas-ud-din iraqi, when, in 1519 AD,10,000 KP’s were killed during pilgrimage to Harmukh Ganga as they had gone there to immerse the ashes of 800 Kashmiri Pandits, who were massacred during Ashura, a year ago. This yatra as well as all other yatras were banned during the Afgan-rule. And many yatras were rediscovered by the Kashmiri Hindus many decades or centuries later. The Famous Amarnath yatra is one such example.
The starting point of this yatra is Naranaag. It lies in the tehsil Kangan, District Ganderbal. There is a cluster of shiva-temple-ruins at Naranaag. These temples were built by the King Lalityaditya Mukhtapida(724-760 CE). Naranaag is a beautiful valley and is surrounded by the thick forests of Deodar.
Harmukh-Ganga pilgrimage was lost somewhere in the pages of History, until, APMCC/HGGT took the initiative in 2009 and re-organized the pilgrimage of Harmukh-yatra after a gap of more than 150 years. Though, a small group of KP’s sometimes used to undertake this journey before 1990. APMCC/HGGT charges only a nominal fee of Rs 100 towards the registration., Once the registered pilgrim reaches the Zeethyar-shrine in Srinagar, he/she becomes the responsibility of the organizers. The organizers of this yatra takes care of the Boarding, Lodging, food as well as the pooja for the “Shraddh” at Gangabal Lake.
The cost per pilgrim comes to around Rs 4500.APMCC/HGGT raises the funds amongst themselves and thus gives a discounted rate of Rs 100/pilgrim. APMCC/HGGT, since many years, have also taken the initiative to renovate the desecrated and dilapidated temples across Kashmir Valley.
This year too APMCC/HGGT is organizing the 7th Annual Gangbal Yatra.This year the “Ganga-Ashtami” falls on 21st September 2015.The yatra will commence on 20th sep.Last year a group of 95 pilgrims visited the Holy Lake.This year the number of registrations has been increased to 130.
There is so much associated with Harmukh Mountain and Gangabal lake.Visiting the holy lake is like reliving the History of Kashmiri Pandits.Last year, I visited this lake, and this year too, I am eagerly waiting… .