From 5 to 22 September 2013 a group of ten UK Yuvak Mandal karyakars retraced Nilkanth Varni’s footsteps by embarking on a pilgrimage through the eastern region of the Himalayas.
Guided by Pujya Ishwarcharan Swami and other senior sadhus the youths pilgrimaged to Muktinath, Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar.
The primary purpose of the yatra was to pray for the continued good health of guruhari Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Throughout the pilgrimage and especially at the main pilgrim sites the youths engaged in dhun, arti, mahapuja, bathing while chanting the Swaminarayan mantra and prayers, to truly making this a ‘bhakti yatra’.
Muktinath - Mandir of Spiritual Vibrations
Muktinath Mandir, in the beautiful setting of the Annapurna Mountain range, was the first destination. From Kathmandu the youths reached Pokhara. Their flight from Pokhara to Jomsom was cancelled due to bad weather. However, they arranged two jeeps and traveled the 250km to Jomsom through very rough and dangerous terrain, following the Kali Gandki river. The yuvaks spent much of 11.5-hour journey in devotion, singing the arti, ashtak and chesta en route.
From Jomsom (Altitude: 2682m), the yuvaks took a further two-hour drive to reach Muktinath (Altitude: 3710m).
First, while chanting the Swaminarayan mahamantra the yuvaks bathed under the near freezing water pouring from the 108 gaumukhs which are placed in the outer courtyard of the mandir. This sacred water symbolizes all the sacred Pushkarini waters from all 108 Sri Vaishnava Divya Desams, including Srirangam, Tirumala, Vaikunth, and others. Then they bathed in the two kunds directly in front of the mandir, which were equally cold!
Thereafter, the youths had darshan of Vishnu Bhagwan’s murti in the Muktinath Mandir, which is the highest mandir in altitude in the world. They placed the murtis of Nilkanth Varni and Guru Parampara on the lap of Vishnu Bhagwan. Then they all sang the arti and the Swaminarayan dhun, performed tap ni mala and then 51 pradikshinas of the central shrine of the mandir.
After darshan in the mandir, they took the short walk to Pulhashram to the shrine commemorating the spot where Nilkanth Varni Maharaj had meditated, standing on one leg for two-and-a-half months. The group felt the divinity resonating there.
From Muktinath, the yuvaks returned to Jomson and then to Pokhara. On 10 September, the yuvaks went on an air excursion deep into the Himalayas, flying into valleys close to the rock face, as close as five nautical miles from Everest (Sagamatha) and witnessing 13 of world’s highest mountains during the flight.
On 11 September the yuvaks headed from Nepal into neighbouring Chinese-controlled Tibet towards Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash.
Lake Manasarovar – Source of Holiness
From Kathmandu the yuvaks took four days to reach Lake Mansarovar by road to help them acclimatize to the higher altitude conditions, since Manasarovar is a fresh water lake situated approximately 4700 meters above sea level.
On 14 September, at 5.00 p.m., the yuvaks reached Lake Manasarovar. To the immediate west of the lake, over the mountain pass is Lake Rakshastal, where Ravan performed penance, and to the north is Mount Kailash, considered to be the most holy mountain in the world.
With sunset approaching, the youths quickly prepared their tents and other essentials whilst they still had some daylight for aid. That night, after singing chesta the yuvaks spoke to Pujya Ishwarcharan Swami, who reminded them that 11-year-old Nilkanth Varni had travelled there by foot, all alone. He had stayed there for five days without anything to eat and in temperatures that froze the lake.
In the fresh morning wind chill, the yuvaks brushed their teeth and sponge bathed. As this was the first day in such conditions, even the slightest drop of cold water on the skin felt deadly and painful.
Later that morning, the yuvaks conducted a 90-minute mahapuja on the bank of Mansarovar praying for the continued good health of guruhari Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Shortly after commencing the mahapuja, the clouds began to break up revealing a full and clear sight of the magnificent and divine Mount Kailash.
Following the mahapuja, the yuvaks also performed arti, sang fagwa and bhajans, and also read sermons from the Vachanamrut and Swami ni Vato shastras.
Then, in pairs, the yuvaks took a full body dip in the deep blue, freezing waters of Manasarovar, whilst calling the jaynaad, and offered abhishek to the murtis of Nilkanth Varni and Guru Parampara. The youths were charged with enthusiasm in the knowledge that Nilkanth Varni Maharaj himself had bathed in the sacred lake.
Mount Kailash – Axis of the World
Next, the youths set off on a full pradikshna of Mount Kailash, which would take 2.5 days. Mt. Kailash is also renowned as ‘the axis of the world’, since the four faces of the mountain almost perfectly align towards the four points of a compass.
While turning the rosary and chanting the Swaminarayan mahamantra to pray for the good health of guruhari Pramukh Swami Maharaj, five yuvaks completed the parikrama by foot and five used the aid of local ponies.
At every side of Kailash, the yuvaks took rest, absorbed the scenery and paused to reflect upon their lives and satsang. They also prayed for Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s good health, encouraging the tour guides, sherpas and support team to take part also.
The first night was spent on the North face of Kailash. They conducted the evening arti, and sang the dhun and bhajans adjacent to Mt. Kailash. Due to the thin air, the yuvaks struggled to sing without taking deep breaths, but they persevered in their devotion.
The following day was very cold. When they reached the Drölma Pass at 5600m, once again the yuvaks sang the arti and dhun, praying for Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s health.
The difficulty of the steep descent from 5600m on the narrow winding mountainous, rocky and cliff edge route was overshadowed by the beauty of the views, especially the incredibly stunning emerald lake Gaurikund.
On route to their final camp,the yuvaks witnessed other pilgrims performing full body prostrations (dandvats) around the whole mountain, a feat which takes approximately 27 days. The yuvaks were touched and inspired by the devotion of these pilgrims.
The youths completed the final leg of the pradikshana the following day. They thanked the sherpas and guides who had supported them and headed back to Lake Manasarovar to spend their final night in the tent.
The Greatest Altitude –Blessing from Swamishri
On the last night, sat on the banks of Lake Mansarovar, the ten yuvaks had by far their best and most memorable experience as they spoke to Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj via telephone, who said, “Jai Swaminarayan, amara vati darshan karjo.” (“Jai Swaminarayan, do darshan on my behalf.”) The yuvaks were overwhelmed to learn that Swamishri had been updated regularly of their yatra and they believed that it was Maharaj and Swamishri’s guiding hand that made the yatra a safe and successful trip.
To conclude their yatra at the feet of guruhari Pramukh Swami Maharaj, some of the yuvaks reached Sarangpur on the evening of 23 September. When Swamishri came out to give darshan, the yuvaks performed a tap ni mala directly in front of Swamishri. Swamishri was extremely pleased and instantly began clapping when the yuvaks were introduced to him with a brief description of their Bhakti Yatra.
Thus, the youths completed this devotion- and prayer-filled pilgrimage, experiencing the spiritual vibrations of Hinduism’s sacred pilgrim sites.