My thirst for travel took me to one of the most amazing ancient creations in the Himalayas. A legendary cave complex is full of natural stalagmites and stalactites which is a must watch for any traveler to this region. The caves are made of limestone.
We were staying in Ranikhet, Uttarakhand when the wanderlust lured us to this beautiful place called Patal Bhubaneshwar situated at the height of 1350 meters in Pithoragar district known as “Dev Bhumi” (abode of Gods) and “little Kashmir” for its virgin natural beauty. Its distance from Ranikhet is 115 km. and the nearest town is Gangolihat. The drive is awesome as the roads are smooth and the view captivating.
Mesmerizing landscape, exotic flowers, the sweet scent of pine and mighty Oak trees were the first welcoming sights as we maneuvered the twisting, turning, dusty so called road from the main town. We had gathered enough information and were really excited to see the nature’s wonders.
Patal Bhubaneshwar (Patal means Hell) is an ancient cave temple complex, a subterranean shrine of Shiva. The place was retrieved by Adi Shankaracharya in around 8th or 10th Century A.D. It is believed to be the replica of the mythical underworld of Hindu religion. One has to go through a narrow tunnel to view the underground stone carvings. It is about 200 steps and straight 90 ft down. The place is said to be abode of thirty-three billion Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
We had to crawl in a single line by holding the protective chains through a very narrow crevice to reach the cave. The lights are feeble and Photography in any form is not allowed inside the cave so one has to see it to believe it. The whole place is enshrined in mystery and mythology. I was enchanted by the giant birds, serpents, ghostly figures and human forms which looked so seemingly alive. It was a sight I will never forget. We were bare feet as shoes are not allowed and the slippery ribbed floor gave us an eerie feeling. I thanked my stars that we had an ASI guide with us, for the place sure gave me goose bumps. The only drawback of having him around was the constant flow of legends and stories which distracted us from observing the amazing beauty of the place.
The main temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and one can also see the Narsimh (half lion half human) incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Legends say that Lord Bramha comes to this place with the other gods to worship Lord Shiva who resides in this place. A little ahead is the natural rock formation of Sheshnag holding the heaven, the earth and the world beneath. There is a thin stream of water along the tunnel. One has to go through several small caves to reach the sprawling interiors. Each cave unmasks some deep secret buried in its belly. The lime stone stalagmites that emerge from the walls all over the complex are known as the Jatas (locks) of Lord Shiva.
The sanctum sanctorum gives you the feeling of being at the center of the earth. It is said that the tunnel is the backbone of Sheshnag the mythological serpent God with thousand heads. As we reached the middle of the cave we found a beautiful Ganesh statue. There was a lotus flower engraved on the ceiling right above it and water tricking from the lotus fell directly on Lord Ganesh’s head. The water made different shapes and the legend says that these shapes are that of various Gods and Goddesses from Hindu Mythology.
The cave has the replicas of Badrinath, Kedarnath and other four important religious places and due to this it is highly revered by the Hindus. The place also has some features from the Indian Epic Mahabharata. It is believed that the Pandavas stayed and meditated here during their last journey to the Himalayas.
The priests of this complex, who have been part of the shrine for more than twenty generations, are a treasure-house of legends, folklore, anecdotes and information about this holy place.
Some of the stone carvings of Gods and Goddesses depict them in erotic forms. It sure proved to be a surreal experience. The sheer unspoiled charm of the area that surrounds these wonders is awe-inspiring.
After this breathtaking experience we came out to inhale the fresh air fragrant with scent of incense sticks and flowers. We decided to walk about the place and after going just a little further got a spectacular view of Himalayas stretching over the horizon. It was an enchanting view of almost 600 km long mountain range stretching end to end from Garhwal to Nepal. Apart from the magnificent mountains our hearts were also captivated by the terraced fields and houses in the valley.
A hike in the Deodar forest revealed tiny caves scattered here and there that were the mini replicas of the big cave. It was a journey worth taking and we enjoyed every moment of it.
The evening sun was in its splendor and we relaxed on the green carpet of soft grass to enjoy the most beautiful sunset we had ever seen. It was also our last one for the trip. Filled with nostalgia and awe we drove back to Ranikhet. Silently watching the dark misty landscape.
The whole experience left unforgettable memories in our hearts.
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