It is hard to believe that the surprisingly small complex of Jageshwar holds an incredibly rich heritage, bursting with 124 shrines dating from the 5 to 18 CE. The forest watches over the temples, and at one time, this place must have been spectacular.
Today, an access road lined with shops and stalls runs right by the complex, a 50-ft high pole studded with floodlights and several street lamps stand among the shrines. Set in an expanse of unending deodar forest along the Jata Ganga, this medieval centre of Lakula Shaivism, considered to be one of the most sacred tirthas in the Kumaon region has a breathtaking backdrop of snow-capped mountains. This small town attracts a large number of tourist and pilgrims during the summer months.
How to reach
Jageshwar is almost 35 km from the hill station of Almora and you can either opt for shared taxis or private cabs. The nearest railhead is Kathgodam and it takes about 4 to 5 hours from the railway station to reach here. One-way taxis will charge you somewhere between INR 1,800 to INR 2,000 from Kathgodam to Jageshwar.
What to see
It’s best to wait for the sun to come up before you venture out; unless you are one of those who like to wake up at the ungodly hour of 5 AM, when the temple priest rings a bell to wake up Bholenath from his slumber. You must begin with the three main shrines of Jageshwar, Mahamrityunjaya and Pushti Devi. The Mahamrityunjaya Temple is the oldest of the remaining temples and that’s where the main puja takes place. The presiding deity is offered his meal of rice, dal and vegetables at 10 AM; the last aarti is at around 7 PM in summer and 6 PM in winter. To sit in a cold, simple stone chamber 1,100 years old, with an unflickering oil lamp and magnificently carved doors and pillars is an experience you can’t forget.
Most of the other temples in the parikrama are Shiva temples and are built in the simple Nagara style with stone lingams. There are other temples dedicated to Surya–the sun god, to Navadurga (nine manifestations of Goddess Durga). All the remaining idols from these temples (some have been destroyed, others stolen) are now housed in the ASI museum, which is located near the temple complex itself. Don’t miss a visit to the Archaeological Museum. Legend has it that Shiva came down to Jageshwar to escape the severe winter of Mount Kailash. To this day, there is a ritual covering of the Jyotirlinga with kilos of ghee on the first day of Magh month, to protect it from the extreme cold.
About 200 m away, the Brahma Kund spring has arrangements for pilgrims to bathe. For the adventure buffs, a steep 3 km trek to the Vridh Jageshwar Temple is a must and they will be rewarded with mesmerising views all across the journey.
Where to stay
For long, Jageshwar’s only comfortable stay option was the KMVN Jagnath Tourist Rest House (Tel: 05962 263028; Tariff: INR 990-1,900), near the main temple. The KMVN Rest House has an in-house restaurant. The best hotel now is the new Van Serai Forest Lodge (Delhi Tel: 011 4412 8785; Website:www.jageshwar.in; Tariff: INR 3,000-4,000), an excellent base for an extended study of the temples, while eating traditional Kumaoni food or taking picnic lunches into the rarely visited surrounding forests. They have 7 well-equipped rooms here.
When to visit
Jageshwar is one of those hill stations in India which can be visited all year round, however winter months are freezing. Thousands of devotees descend during Shivratri in March-April and for the Sravan Mela in mid-July to mid August. Pilgrims take a dip in the Brahma Kund during these occasions.
Where to eat
The in-house restaurants of hotels in Jageshwar are the best places to satiate your hunger pangs as you won’t find many dining choices. However, there are a couple of dhabas close to the temples where you can have yummy maggi, pyaz pakora, raita as well as aromatic tea and coffee.
Take the road less travelled this vacation and plan a trip to Jageshwar where time stands still even now.
About the author:
Jigyasha loves to read and travel.