Joshimath is one of the most interesting places in the inner Himalayan range of Garhwal. It is the Tehsil and Block headquarters of administrative entities of the same names and also the headquarters of an army brigade and home to the Garhwal Scouts paramilitary force. Joshimath is also a base camp and hub for experiencing the outstanding natural scenery and trekking potential of the adjoining areas .
The town of Joshimath is also the most important town on route to Sri Badrinath and thus a major halting station. For those on a Char-Dham tour, Joshimath is a suitable place for overnight stay before departure next day to Sri Badrinath, a further 48 km away. Its religious history, magnificent scenery, bracing climate and well-stocked market provide visitors with all they need for pilgrimage, or a holiday.
The Jyotirmath of Shankaracharya
Adiguru Shankaracharya meditated and attained enlightenment in a cave here. Here too he also wrote his famous Shankar Bhasya and set forth in the great task of reviving the Hindu religion which by then was eclipsed by the growing influence of Budhism. At first, a Math was established at Jyotirmath and a dham at Sri Badrinath, and later on three more Maths and three dhams were enshrined in the four corners of the country. Atop the cave is the Kalpavriksha, a mulberry tree, that is said to be 2400 years old and has developed a girth of almost 36 meters. These are still there to see today.
Unfortunately, the Math today is in distress. There are three Shankaracharyas in Joshimath these days and they all claim to be the true apostles of the Adi Guru. There is the old original Math and below it a second Math has come up in the recent past. The old Math sprawls over vast gardens of roses and fruit trees and exudes an atmosphere of old traditions, serenity, devotion and simplicity. The building looks ancient. The second math is near the old one, looks of recent origin, and appears symbolic of prosperity and power from its architectural style.
Of late, one more Shankaracharya has appeared on the scene, taking the number to three.
The three Shankaracharyas in three different Maths, offer pravachans and function independently. It is a blessing of Adiguru that many pilgrims unaware of this controversy visit one or the other math and pay respect to the same Adi Guru. But the unabated rivalry among the three camps has started eroding the credibility of an institution which is held in highest esteem by the nation. Something needs to be done urgently to resolve this problem in order to maintain the sanctity of this great institution.
The Temples of Joshimath
Amongst the many temples of Joshimath, the most famous are the Narsingh Temple and the Durga temple. According to Rajtarangini, King Lalitaditya Yuktapida, who ruled Kashmir in the eighth century A.D. established the temple of Narsingh Bhagwan during his digvijaya yatra. In 2017 a large imposing new temple has been built for Lord Narsingh at the site of the old temple and the diety has been shifted to his new home. The statue of Narsingh Bhagwan is carved out of a Shaligram and it is an exquisite work of art. It is generally believed that one arm of the statue is becoming thinner year by year, and ultimately, in kaliyug this arm will break. When this happens the mountains of Jaya and Vijaya at Vishnuprayag will collapse, so closing the way to Sri Badrinath. This will cause a great deluge and catastrophe in the world. Since the cycle of the cosmic system will not cease, a new world will emerge and Sri Badrinathji will reappear at a place called Bhawishya Badri. Bhawishya Badri is almost 17 km from Joshimath and located eastwards in the glorious valley of Tapovan.
Garhi Devi Temple – 3 km from Joshimath is a small place called Selang which today has turned into a hub of Vishnugarh Hydro Project activities. From Selang a 2 km road bifurcates to Garhi Devi temple which is located on a ridge. From the ridge the beautiful country side of Salur can be viewed and on the other side of river Alaknanda is the green valley of Urgam. The temple is visited by devotees regularly and more so during the Durga Puja.
Pandukeshwar– The village of Pandukeshwar is reputed to be as old as the Temple of Sri Badrinathji. It is said that after a brief sojourn here the Pandavas proceeded on to Swargarohan and their father King Pandu lived here for the last days of his life and attained nirvana.
The temples of Pandukeshwar are dedicated to the Yogdhyan Badri, and it is here that some copper plates were found which may authenticate some history of these temples. When the temples of Sri Badrinath close for the winters the idols of Kuber and Uddhav are brought to the Yogdhyan temple here. For this reason Sri Badrinath is considered worshipped in the Yogdhyan temple during the winters.
Pandukeshwar is 4 km from Govind Ghat, and midway between Joshimath and Sri Badrinath, 24 km from each place.
A trekker’s and mountaineer’s paradise
Joshimath is rapidly developing into a popular hill resort. Several peaks including Nanda Devi, Dronagiri, Nilkanth etc. are visible from certain vantage points, and at sunrise and sunset these soaring pyramids of snow constitute a glorious feast of colour.
Joshimath is the base for mountaineering expeditions to Trisul, Kamet, Dronagiri, Nanda Devi, Tolma Himal, Nilkanth, Devastan, Changbang etc peaks and treks to the Kuari Pass Complex, Valley of Flowers, Sri Hemkund Sahib and Niti, India’s last village on the border.
Auli – 14 km up- hill the town of Joshimath are the beautiful slopes of Auli and Gorson, which over the years have developed into a regular ski resort. An aerial ropeway takes visitors from Joshimath to Auli, where they can see some of the fabulous meadows during summer , ski during winters and see the glittering peaks all around.