From 8 to 26 September 2011, a group of 18 karyakars from across the UK participated in the first ever Yuvak-Yuvati Mandal India Trip. This inaugural trip followed the Himalayan travels of young Nilkanth Varni Maharaj and the footsteps of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s Uttarakhand Yatra of 1987. The itinerary included some of the most sacred places of Hindu pilgrimage, including the four ancient temples of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, collectively known as the ‘Char Dham’.
The trip commenced with a two-day visit to the awe-inspiring Swaminarayan Akshardham complex in New Delhi. Visiting the exhibitions depicting the life of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and watching the Nilkanth Kalyan Yatra large-format film provided everyone with a taste of the journey ahead. With further inspiration from Ishwarcharan Swami and Atmaswarup Swami, the group collectively sung a heartfelt dhun in front of the murti of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the main mandir, before departing for their 12-day yatra to the Uttarakhand region of the Himalayan mountain range.
The whirlwind yatra began in Haridwar with the karyakars experiencing the mass arti of the holy Ganga River at Harikipedi and bathing in the icy waters just as Swamishri and the sadhus had done in 1987.
The first Dham, Yamunotri, was reached on the third day with an ascent of 6km by foot at 10,800ft. Having successfully reached the top, the karyakars had darshan of the holy Yamuna River and mandir.
With several landslides and road challenges throughout the journey, on day four, the karyakars reached the second Dham, Gangotri, at 11,200ft. The karyakars undertook a mahapuja for Swamishri’s health and also wrote an inspirational prayer for all future visitors.
The next day, the group was given permission by the local authorities to visit Gaumukh – the ice-shelf opening and original holy source of the river Ganga. This perilous yet scenic journey was completed in a single day with a 14km-horsetrail along the Bhagirathi mountain range and a 6km-trek over boulders, through streams and across dry riverbeds in a valley at 12,700ft.
On day seven, with a steep 14km-trek by foot, the karyakars reached Kedarnath located at the highest altitude of 11,700ft and considered to be the most ancient of the four Dhams. After a night spent in cold conditions, the descent was made by helicopter allowing the group to witness the stunning mountainous scenery.
At sunrise on day ten, the karyakars awoke to the darshan of the golden Nilkanth Parvat, described as the most beautiful, most difficult and the most elusive peak in the central Himalayas. This was the spectacular backdrop of the snowy valley of Badrinath, the fourth and final Dham.
After mandir darshan, the karyakars visited the ancient town of Mana, where the holy sites of Vyas Gufa, Ganesh Gufa, Saraswati River and the road on which the Pandavas ascended into heaven are located. This place is extremely auspicious for all Hindus as it considered the site where the Vedas, Upanishads, and Mahabharata scriptures were written.
Descending from the central Himalayas, the karyakars visited the holy town of Rishikesh. The air on the banks of India’s most sacred river was filled with a divine presence as the arti of Gangamata was followed by the resounding chorus of the Swaminarayan arti.
In the following days, the group enjoyed the breathtaking Sat-Chit-Anand watershow at Akshardham Gandhinagar, visited Amdavad Mandir and also Amli-Vali Pol.
The trip concluded with the karyakars having two days of divine darshan and blessings from Swamishri in Mumbai. This was a fitting end to their spiritual journey, culminating at the holy feet of the guru in whose divine footsteps they had attempted to follow.
After Swamishri’s blessings on the final morning of their trip, the yuvaks and yuvatis returned to the UK, spiritually reinvigorated with a true sense of samp, suhradhbhav and ekta, together with a fuller understanding of the superhuman journey that Bhagwan Swaminarayan undertook alone as a teenage yogi.