Set amidst towering snow-capped mountains and lying beside a lake of pristine blue water, the Sikh shrine of Sri Hemkunt Sahib looks, even to the not-particularly-pious, a place of almost unbelievable beauty and peace. Seven peaks - known as the Sapt Sring- surround the shrine, looming over lush green pastures. The lake’s rocky shores are covered with snow through most of the year, but when the snows melt, the almost mythical yellow-green flower known as the Brahma Kamal, the `Lotus of the Gods’, blooms amidst the rocks. It’s a place of a rather wild and untamed beauty- and one of Sikhism’s most important shrines.
The tenth and penultimate guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, meditated for years in these mountains, finally leaving his earthly form and uniting with the Almighty. The star-shaped Gurudwara Hemkunt Sahib, at a height of over 4,000 mt, is as such, a memorial to Guru Gobind Singh and a reminder of the saint’s mission.
Every year, during the summer months, thousands of Sikh devotees from across India and overseas complete the arduous trek up to Sri Hemkunt Sahib. As a daily ritual, two congregational services are held at Gurudwara Hemkunt Sahib, one at 10 am and the other at 1 pm. Kirtan (hymns), ardas (prayer) and the daily hukamnama (the verse which appears at the top of the page of the Guru Granth Sahib, when randomly opened by the granthi, and understood as God’s commandment for the day) are integral parts of the service. Pilgrims to the shrine join in, after having taken a dip in the holy waters of the lake. The water of the lake- known as Amrit Sarovar- is ice cold, but doesn’t daunt the devout. Much of the Sarovar, in fact, remains frozen till mid June.
Also next to the lake, and not too far from the Gurudwara, is a Hindu temple of considerable significance. The lake, which is known also as `Lokpal’, is believed to have been the place where Lakshman, the brother of Ram, meditated. Other myths connect the lake to the Hindu deities Vishnu and Shiva. The temple is an important Hindu shrine, but a number of Sikh pilgrims also visit it while returning from Hemkunt Sahib.