It was November 1792.
The hilly terrain of Badrinath, where, since ancient times, pilgrims had bowed with awe and devotion, was covered with a pure white blanket of snow.
Yogis and sannyasis were meditating in the caves and recesses of the Himalaya mountains.
The soul of the murti of Bhagwan Shri Badrivishal was invoked into the portable murti of Uddhavji, and had been taken 5000 ft. below to the village of Pandukeshvar on the banks of the river Alaknanda, where it would reside for the six months of winter.
For six months, the trekking paths between Joshimath, through the snow-clad Himalayan peaks, to Badrinath would be silent, without any human visitors.
Even the streams, previously gushing from the icy peaks, had begun to freeze, forming long snake-like columns. The trekking paths had turned into deathly glacier trails. And the rumbling sound of the flowing Alaknanda froze and became mute.
This beautiful pilgrim trek, which has attracted the devout for centuries, had been transformed into an icy death trap.
Adding to the treacherous conditions, dark clouds hovered above, raining their bullet-like ammunition of hailstones.
The temperature dropped menacingly because of the swirling, biting cold wind, which became colder as it made contact with the icy terrain.
But suddenly, from between the tall, lifeless icy peaks of this Uttarakhand region, a lone trekker appeared. Amid the flashes of lightning and roars of thunder, giant rock boulders slid down the mountain face, thumping to a halt by the trekker's feet. In response, he only uttered "Hare... Hare..." in his sweet, child's voice, which echoed throughout the Himalayan valleys.
For a moment, even time stood still. Where, even in their dreams, the most courageous and experienced men fear to tread, what was this 11-year-old child yogi doing? Where, in this hostile weather and on treacherous paths, was he heading for? Barefooted, bare-chested and without even a warm cap on his head. Was this child travelling on this path of death to make history or what?
Who was this child yogi?
His name was Nilkanth. His lotus-like eyes gleamed with the radiance of a firm conviction. Walking barefoot on the icy terrain had grazed and numbed his soft, delicate feet. Despite the oozing blood from his feet, Nilkanth's determination was stronger than even the Himalayas.
He had no equipment, no companions, not even any source of warmth. He had no tree shades, no comfortable cushions. He had no food, not even any fruit - living totally just on air!
For six months, where not even a single human voice could be heard, he trekked amid the icy, mountainous slopes.
Why had this child set out? And what was his goal? He was heading towards Kailas-Manasarovar.
His pilgrimage had begun in Ayodhya. He was born in Chhapaiya, a small exotic village near Ayodhya. For ten years, he had given his mother, Bhaktimata, and father, Dharmadev, the bliss of his divine company. With their passing away to the divine abode, he had embarked on this tough pilgrimage with a definite purpose.
In the annals of world history, this unique pilgrimage has stood out as the only one undertaken by an 11-year-old child.
Many events throughout history have stirred man's emotions, left man amazed for centuries, and remained beyond the realm of human understanding.
Nilkanth's pilgrimage to Manasarovar and Gangotri is one such historic event.
Among all the yogis, sannyasis and others who set out to venture in the Himalayas, Nilkanth's story is unique. His selfless journey of unflinching determination undertaken for the spiritual uplift and salvation of mankind, will provide perennial inspiration.
Nilkanth embarked upon his journey, 212 years ago, in January-February 1793, during the peak of the Himalayan winter. This presentation of thoroughly researched articles revives his epic journey to the icy plains of Manasarovar and Gangotri. They include many features not previously published.
Those who have undertaken a pilgrimage to the Himalayas, even once, will truly appreciate the challenges faced by Nilkanth. And all will certainly bow their heads in reverence and hail his name, Jai Nilkanth!