Last Updated: January 10, 2020 Arun Joshi
No obstacle can stop you to reach your goal when it is a call from almighty and it proves to be true when we look towards the pilgrimages of India. Just like its diverse landscape of natural grandeur, the pilgrimages of India are also quite varied and test the patience and devotion of their dedicated devotees. While some of the pilgrimages of India are perched at extremely high altitudes, a couple of them are treacherous to access and most of the times remain closed during winters or heavy rains. But, no matter if it is a 14km long trek of Kedarnath or the most arduous route of Kailash Mansarovar, when the devotees decide to meet God, they don’t dare to cross lofty mountains.
This blog includes 15 most challenging pilgrimage routes in India which are hard to access yet are thronged by millions of devotees every year:
Kedarnath Temple, Uttarakhand
Located at a height of around 3583m, Kedarnath Shiva Temple is counted among the most peaceful Hindu shrines in the world. One of the twelve Jyotirlinga Temples and Pancha Kedars, this revered tourist spot is located on the Garhwal Himalayan range on the bank of river Mandakini. Built by Adi Shankaracharya, the great Hindu monk at around 8th century AD, this highly esteemed Hindu pilgrimage is the most distant shrine of the Chota Chardham tourist circuit and needs to be accessed on foot. The 14 km long trek to Kedarnath starts from Gaurikund.
Note: Due to the damage caused by flash flood in 2013, the trekking trail of Kedarnath had to be changed. The new route has Sitapur or Sonprayag as a starting point. In this case the total distance of the trek has become 21 Km. On the other side, trekking to Kedarnath is also possible via Guptkashi. It is to be noted that this route has been recommended by Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. Pilgrims need to drive to Chaumasi from Guptkashi and then on expected to trek 34kms via Kham Bugyal and Rerek Bugyal.
Amarnath Cave Temple, Jammu & Kashmir
Mysterious, beautiful and challenging to access, Amarnath temple requires enough of mental strength and physical sturdiness to reach. Located in Jammu and Kashmir State of India at an altitude of around 3888m, this consecrated shrine forms a significant part of Hinduism. The most famous cave temple in India, this Hindu shrine attracts huge crowd during the annual Amarnath Yatra. The main attraction of this highly esteemed religious site is the naturally formed ice lingam that changes size with changing season and waxes and wanes of moon.
Counted among the most difficult to access religious sites in India, Kailash Mansarovar is found today in Tibet which has been occupied by China since the war of 1962. The two popular religious sites of Mt. Kailash and Mansarovar Lake are the prime attractions of this world famous pilgrimage. Mt. Kailsh is 6,638 meters high mountain peak located in remote south-western corner of Tibet and stands as the source of four major rivers of Asia called the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej, Ganges and the Indus. Mansarovar is found at a distance of around 20 km away from the Mt. Kailash and captivates travellers for its blue and emerald green water. Kailash Mansarovar is a highly significant pilgrimage for the Hindus, Jains as well as Tibetan Buddhists.
N.B: After the war of 1962, Indo-China land route via Nathu La in Sikkim is again opened for the pilgrims. So, now onwards tourist can enjoy an easier and safer journey to Mansarovar.
Kartik Swami Temple, Uttarakhand
A delight for both adventure aficionados and devoted Hindus, Kartik Swami Temple is situated at an altitude of around 3050m and looks breathtakingly beautiful for its gorgeous surrounding. Raised at the end of a narrow with deep valley around, the temple vicinity offers magnificent views of snow clad Himalayan peaks. The temple is dedicated to Lord Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati and enshrines a naturally carved statue of Lord Kartikeya on a marble rock face. To reach Kartik Swami Temple, tourists need to trek 3km from Kanakchauri Village which is found on the Rudraprayag-Pokhri route.
Shikhar Ji Temple, Jharkhand
Perched at a height of around 1350m in Parasnath Hill of Giridih district, Jharkhand, Shikhar Ji Temple is one of the most auspicious religious sites for the followers of Jainism. It is believed that 20 out of the 24 Tirthankaras of Jainism have attained Nirvana in this hallowed spot. Popularly called Teerthraj (king of the pilgrimages), Shikhar ji Temple is considered the most sacred temple amongst the disciples of Digambara sect of Jainism. The temple needs to be accessed on foot. The base camp of the trek is at Madhuban which is around 14 to 18 miles from Giridih Station. The trek from Madhuban to the temple is around 28km and includes steep ascends and deep ascends at different spots.
Badrinath Temple, Uttarakhand
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Badrinath Temple is a divine religious site in Badrinath Town of Uttrakhand. The temple stands on the bank of Alaknanda River at an elevation of 3,133 m. It is one of the four pillars of Chardham Yatra pilgrimage circuit of India and gains equal importance for being an inseparable part of Chota Chardham Yatra of Uttarakhand. Vishnu is worshipped here in the form of Badrinarayan and a 1m tall black stone statue (Shaligram) is worshipped here.
Hemkund Sahib, Uttarakhand
Perched at an elevation of around 4632m in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, Hemkund Sahib or Hemkunt Sahib is the highest Gurudwara of Sikh community. Thronged by a huge crowd of international Sikh followers, this religious site is located on the banks of a crystal clear lake on the cradle of the Himalayas. This star shaped white marble structure is nestled amidst lofty mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls and dense forest. A 13km long trek from the village of Ghangaria makes it accessible for the travellers.
Gangotri Temple, Uttarakhand
Nestled on the cradle of Himalaya at 3,100m height, Gangotri Temple is a popular religious spot of India that completes the Chota Char Dham tourist circuit of India. Located in Uttarkashi district in the state of Uttarakhand, the temple is dedicated to Goddess Ganga and completes the Uttarakhand Chardham tourist circuit along with Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. It is claimed that Gangotri temple is the highest seat of Goddess Ganga in the country. Made in pristine white colour on the lap of magnificent Himalaya, this temple exudes a soothing aura to cool the strenuous mind.
Tungnath Temple, Uttarakhand
Located in the Tungnath mountain range of Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, Tungnath Shiva Temple is the highest Hindu Shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. Found at a height of around 3680m above the mean sea level, this pilgrimage is highest among the Panch Kedar tourist circuit and believed to be built around 1000 years ago. The temple stands on a ridge that divides the waters of Mandakini River from that of the Alakananda. The main attraction of this sacred site is the Chopta Chandrashila trek which passes through the temple is one of the most fascinating adventure travel destinations in India.
Another Hindu shrine catching attention of global tourists, Rudranath is a trekker’s paradise found at an altitude of around 3600 m above sea level. This natural rock temple is raised in the midst of bright rhododendron, dwarf and alpine pastures. One of the five interconnected temples of Panch Kedar, the temple encloses the face of Lord Shiva which is worshipped here as Nilkanth Mahadeva. The trek connecting Rudranath with Joshimath is around 45km long. There are certain other routes to trek to Rudranath from Sagar Village. The trek is full of oak, tall grass, and rhododendron forests.
The most spectacular monastery carved out of the mouth of a huge mountain, Phuktal or Phugtal is a nature’s wonder located near Padum in Zanskar Region of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir. Claimed to be the most isolated monastic establishment in the country, this Buddhist shrine is nestled at a height of around 3850m. The foundation of this gorgeous religious site dates back to 12th century. The vistas of the monastery on the limestone Cliffside beguile nature lovers. To reach the distant land of Phuktal, one needs to trek through a 7-km long trail accessible from the Padum-Manali trekking route.
Pavagadh Mahakali Temple, Gujarat
Pavagadh hill in Champaner, Gujarat, is known across the country for its famous Mahakali Temple which is located at a height of around 762m above the sea level. Nestled at the summit of Pavagadh hill, the temple is accessible via a 5km walkway that rolls through the heart of a dense jungle. The temple is located in a tribal area and considered highly auspicious among the devotees. The inner sanctum of the temple enshrines the idol of Goddess Kali which is only Mukhwato (the face) painted in red. Now days a ropeway is introduced in the temple premise which minimise the need of putting extra effort to reach the temple.
Yamunotri Temple, Uttarakhand
The seat of Goddess Yamuna and one of the four important pillars of Chota Chardham Yatra, Yamunotri Temple is located in Uttarkashi District of Uttarakhand. The source of river Yamuna, Yamunotri reaches at an elevation of 3293m and looks picturesque for being surrounded by lofty mountain peaks. The temple vicinity is accessible by trekking from Hanuman Chatti (6km) and Janki Chatti (4km). It is the first stop-over to the Chardham Yatra of Uttarakhand.
Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu & Kashmir
Whether one is a Hindu from South or Eastern part of India, the mere utterance of “Jai Mata Di” unites all. And that is why despite being challenging to access, the Vaishno Devi Temple is thronged by an uncountable number of tourists every year. 42km away from the city of Jammu and 12km from Katra, this highly revered Hindu temple is raised at a height of around 1585m. Vaishno Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Durga is worshipped in this cave temple as Pindis (natural rock formations). The trek to the cave starts from Katra and covers a distance of around 15km. Devotees need to walk on foot till the temple and that is how the wish of the devoted souls gets fulfilled. Now days helicopter services are also available in Vaishno Devi.
Hariyali Devi Temple, Uttarakhand
A famous Siddha Peeth at a distance of around 37km from Rudraprayag, Hariyali Devi temple is situated at a height of around 1400m. Nagrasu, a diversion on the way to Rudraprayag-Karanprayag is the starting point of the route leading towards Hariyali Devi. The principal deity of the temple is an incarnation of Goddess Durga who sits on the back of a lion.
The travellers, who can’t sit quiet without exploring new, must have better knowledge about such challenging pilgrimages. And I am sure there are hundreds of such temples in India which takes test of the mental and physical strength of the devotees. So, my well-read and well-travelled readers are asked to bring forth their valuable set of information to enrich this list.
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Published: 13 Jul, 2015
Having an experience of more than 16 yrs in the Himalayas, Arun is the main driving force & mentor at the Peak Adventure Tours, a leading adventure travel agency in India offers trekking tours in Indian Himalayas including Nepal, Bhutan & Tibet. A long history with exceptional experiences he is the “Marathon Man” in the field of adventure. Today Arun looks after the Peak Adventure and shapes & designs the venture of the organization. He is contributing to this blog as a regular guest author.