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Hemkund Sahib – A Trek To The ‘Lake of Snow’

Hemkund Sahib – A Trek To The ‘Lake of Snow’

India, Uttarakhand

After making it to the base camp, i.e. the village of Ghangaria, I had to decide which was to be done first – The Valley of Flowers or Hemkund Sahib.I asked many locals on what’s the best order, and most of them suggested me to do the toughest first, which was Hemkund Sahib.

A village where there is no wifi, no mobile networks, no sign of urban civilization. A village in the lap of the Himalayas, tucked away from the craziness of the world. It breathes beauty, radiates the warm and beckons everyone to discover themselves in the absence of the chaos that modern cities bring. #Ghangaria, the base camp for the Valley of flowers and the Hemkund Sahib. This village made me prepare for the trek, as I soaked in the splendour and breathed the mountain air. #incredibleindia #journey #ontheroad #travelblogger #ig_india #indiatravel #wanderlusting #wanderlust #travelgirl #thesologlobetrotter #nature #happy #instatravel #travelingram #storiesofindia #nofilter #uttarakhand #uttaranchal #tripototakemetohampta #tripoto #himalayas #ganga #devbhoomi #trekking #nomad #travelwriter #passionpassport #natgeo #india

  Hemkund Sahib – The Challenge That Lurked

Apart from being uphill, the trek to Hemkund Sahib gains a rapid altitude of about 1300 meters or over 4200 feet within a few hours and a sudden rise in altitude can affect us in different ways.

I had heard from people at Govind Ghat that over 50% of the people trekking to Hemkund Sahib are prone to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). This worried me honestly more than the difficult trail. I had been unable to acclimatise during my winter trek to Kuari Pass. Also, I was trekking by myself without any group this time, and this bothered me more.

Anyways, I HAD to trek now that I was here. I chose to tackle the tougher beast first.

Hemkund Sahib
 I had a long day ahead to make it to the top that looked like this from Ghangaria

I started the trek early, at 6 AM on a morning that seemed clear (little did I know that it would be temporary!). It was a little accomplishment to me already – Hey, I woke up at 4:30 AM. (Yes, I’m TOTALLY NOT a morning person) and was out of Ghangaria in a few minutes. The chilling morning and the wind already looked intimidating. The ascent began quicker than I had expected, and within a few minutes, I was on a cobbled path that curved upwards.

Hemkund Sahib

Heavy mist surrounded above, and I could see many streams and the lush canopy of the mountains soaked with the raindrops. A family from Amritsar was ahead, and many people were making the journey on horses. I could feel the exhaustion already. I made promises that I would start exercising, eat healthy food, do Yoga regularly (You know, all those thoughts that never materialises, of course, 😀 )

  Hemkund Sahib – The Legend

Hemkund in the Sanskrit language means a Lake or a bowl of Snow, a name attributed to the glacial lake. Hemkund Sahib is a sacred pilgrimage site for the Sikhs and is dedicated to its 10th leader, Guru Gobind. It’s the highest Gurudwara in the world at over 15,000 ft or 4640 meters. Also, after Golden Temple in Amritsar, Hemkund is the second most visited Gurudwara in India.

The pilgrims take a bath by immersing in the ice cold glacier lake (at -10 degree C temperature!) and then attend the prayers in the Gurudwara. The flash floods of 2013 that wreaked havoc in Uttarakhand deeply impacted this place and the entire cobbled path was washed away and had to be rebuilt. (That must have been so tough!)

For those who cannot trek, there is a helicopter service that flies you to the Gurudwara and back for about 3000 INR. This service is not regular and is heavily dependent on the weather. You need to book at Govind Ghat in advance if you want to avail copters.

I passed through gorgeous waterfalls at many places, and as I climbed, the path below began to look steeper and disappeared amidst the thick fog. After a while, it started raining heavily.

Hemkund Sahib

I pulled out the raincoat and wrapped my camera. The family stopped to wait for me after they had noticed that I was alone. Rain posed a new challenge – first of all, it made the weather super cold as it brought strong winds with it, and the already present fog thickened, totally blurring the trail. Plus we were gaining altitude at every turn.

Well, when the going gets tough, you should just stick around! Plus having no shelter to escape rains kind of propelled us to keep moving forward.

The only thing that looked positive and gave me a purpose of moving was the majestic landscape that grew more dramatic as the altitude gained. I was also one of those lucky people to see Brahma Kamal, a rare wildflower that blossoms once in 12 years.

Hemkund Sahib
                                                                       Bramha Kamal – The Bright Yellow Flower

I made way taking small steps and people around me kept encouraged me. An old man (one of the priests) passed through and blessed me.

Hemkund Sahib

The last leg lasting for about half an hour was the toughest of all. I realised I was among the clouds when I looked below to see the path that I had just trod disappear! The altitude had caught me then, despite my efforts to resist.

After trekking for about 5 hours covering a distance of 7 km, I reached the summit. The partial view from above was stunning. I was thrilled.

I felt dizzy and my head throbbed with pain. I thought I would pass out anytime. I quickly found a bench and sat. Pilgrims were taking a dip in the frozen waters of the lake. I fought to stay awake and was successful. After the dizziness subsided, I took a walk around.

Hemkund Sahib

I went inside the Gurudwara and luckily, I got to witness the entire ceremony, which was something new and was very serene. The old priest that I had met looked at me and smiled. I got to savour hot tea and lunch – a fitting reward for an exhausting trek.

Hemkund Sahib
The glacial holy lake at 4640 meters at Hemkund Sahib

After spending a few hours, I made my way back totally drenched in the heavy rain which didn’t stop at all until reaching the base camp. It was evening, I was shivering and could not feel my legs by the time I was back in the hotel.

But I couldn’t be happier. I had cleared the tougher of the two, which turned to be the right decision – because the valley of flowers truly felt like a cake walk after Hemkund Sahib!

Hemkund Sahib
The Highest Gurudwara in the world at Hemkund Sahib – Yes, Those are raindrops on my camera lens

Recommended reading: A Trek to the Valley of Flowers

                                         Trek to the base camp Ghangaria

Have you been to Hemkund Sahib? If not, you must go – It might be tough, but if I made it alone, You could do it too!

Check my DIY travel guide to the Valley of Flowers & Hemkund Sahib to plan your trip. I did both under 4000 INR. I’m not kidding!

Update: Hemkund Sahib opens for travellers in May 2017.

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Reshma Narasing is a dreamer, a bibliophile, a hopeless travel addict, a passionate writer, and a girl who gulps down large mugs of coffee many times a day. The Solo Globetrotter is the place where she takes people like you virtually, sharing her combined love for traveling and telling stories.

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About the author

I’m Reshma Narasing. I am an avid dreamer, a bibliophile, a hopeless travel addict, a passionate writer, and a girl who gulps down large mugs of coffee many times a day (yes, caffeine helps!) I dream of traveling to as many places as life takes me. I love to...