Sikhs believe that this holy place, known as Hemkunt (lake of ice), is the tap asthan (place of meditation and prayer) at which the tenth and final living Guru of the Sikhs Sri Guru Gobind Singh achieved union with God in his previous incarnation. From there, the Guru was summoned by God to be reborn into the world to teach the people the true path. The temple built on the shore of the lake commemorates his mission. It also shelters the Guru Granth Sahib, the eternal scriptural Guru for the Sikh community.
In the Indian epic and Puranic literature, Himalayan landscapes are described as the dwelling places of gods and goddesses. Pilgrimage shrines mark the places where the landforms themselves - mountains, rivers, forests, and lakes - are said to have acquired sacred qualities. High above the tree line, in the midst of a natural rock garden of moss, ferns, and flowers, is one such sacred place: a small, blue-green lake fed by water which cascades down from the surrounding mountain walls.
The community is itself recognized as a collective Guru, and pilgrims, as they walk the path toward Hemkunt, share the sacred journey with its members. In this way, all three forms of the Guru - the source of spiritual guidance - are understood to be present at Hemkunt. Sikh pilgrims go there to be inspired to walk the same difficult path that the Guru walked, both in body and in spirit, and to, through the Guru's grace, realize their connection with God in the same place where the Guru realized his. At Hemkunt Sahib, Sikhs feel closer to the Guru and, through the Guru, closer to God.
The holy pilgrimage of Sikhs, Hemkunt Sahib, is covered with snow capped mountains, giving it a mesmerising look. The Sapt-Sring, seven hills, have surrounded the holy shrine and the lake. 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 holy site has been considered a pilgrimage long before Guru Gobind Singhji came here. It was previously called Lokpal, meaning 'Keeper of the World'. The place has been associated with the tenth guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh. It is said that his earlier incarnations resided in Lokpal, and this was a reason that Guru Gobind Singh came here. Gobind Singhji came for meditating and later wrote his experience about the place in his biograpy.
Hemkunt Sahib finds mention in Bachitra Natak, autobiography of Guru Gobind Singh. But the place has been considered to be Lokpal, a place supposed to be existing from the times of Ramayana. It is said that Lokpal was the place where Lakshman sat on meditation. Lokpal has been associated with Lakshman, for being his favorite place. There are many folklores that go with Lakshman and his attachment with this place. The place has also been associated with Vishnu and Shiva, for Gobind Singhji also talked about Ramayana and his own association with the place in his earlier incarnations. He said that it was ordered by lord to him, about finding the place where he meditated as Dusht-Daman sage. Gobind Singhji also wrote about his last live's experiences here.
The Hemkunt Sahib Gurdwara
The small town of Hemkunt Sahib has a star shaped Gurdwara, dedicated to Guru Gobind Singhji, the last guru of Sikhs and his saintly teachings. The place was not established as a pilgrimage centre till 20th century, as it was a hidden from people's reach. The autobiography of Gobind Singhji has mentions of Hemkunt Sahib, but the chapter was not believed much, as there was no sign of such place. Pandit Tara Singh Narotam, a nineteenth century Nirmala scholar, was the first Sikh to trace the geographical location of Hemkunt. Later, renowned Sikh scholar, Bhai Vir Singh was instrumental in developing Hemkunt after it had been, discovered in search of the Guru's tap asthan.
Guru Gobind Singh, while on his penance here wrote about his earlier incarnations. In 'Bachitra Natak' the great Guru relates his story in the following words- "I shall now relate my own story, how God sent me into this world. I was busy performing penance on the hills of 'Hemkunt' where seven peaks are prominent. The place is called 'Sapt Shring’ where King Pandu had performed Yoga, there I practiced austerity and worshipped the god of death."
There is a small lake near the Gurudwara, called Amrit Sarovar, is considered very holy and it’s a ritual to bath in the lake. This 'lake of ice' is also sacred to the hill people who live in the valley below. They tell of the gods Lakshman, Hanuman, Shiva, and Vishnu, the tales of their deeds woven together with images from local landscapes. Long before the Sikhs knew the lake as the Guru's tap asthan, these people knew it as Lokpal, and made annual pilgrimages to its shore. For them, as for Sikhs, the journey continues to be an act of devotion, and the holy lake itself is a place for prayer and worship - a place where wishes can be fulfilled. Though the lake remains frozen for almost entire year, it doesn't stops a devout to take a dip in the freezing waters of lake, to pay homage to Gobind Singhji.
Hemkunt Sahib is situated 4000 mt above sea level, 40 Km from Joshimath. Hemkunt Sahib is reached by trekking 19 Km from Gobind Ghat. Gobind Ghat can be reached by buses and taxis from Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Rishikesh is 250 Km from Gobind Ghat. Alternatively visitors can go to Joshimath (40 Km) or Gobind Ghat (20 Km)
Located in the Uttarkhand Himalayas bordering Tibet and Nepal, it is accessible for only four months of the year. Between June and October, sun and monsoon rains melt the ice and snow that is its namesake. Then, the steep stone footpath that leads to the lake is crowded with pilgrims and tourists. They journey to the base of the route on foot from neighbouring mountain valleys, or from the plains in buses, cars, and trucks, on scooters and bicycles, even by foot. Then for two days they climb upward. Some walk, some ride mules, and some are carried by porters. Finally, at the top of more than a thousand stone steps, the holy lake, the Sri Hemkunt Sahib Gurdwara, and the Sri Lakshman Mandir come into view.
There are no stay options in Hemkunt Sahib, as only the 'Sevadars' are allowed to stay in Gurudwara during night. Pilgrims are ordered to go back to Gobind Ghat or Joshimath. There are good stay options in Gobind Ghat and Joshimath.