Since monsoon floods put Uttarakhand out of bounds for at least a season, pilgrims are eyeing the Shrikhand Mahadev Yatra in Himachal Pradesh with greater interest than ever before. Be warned, however, that this is not for the weak of limb or faint of heart. The 35 km pilgrimage, one of the toughest in the world, ascends through alpine meadows beyond the snow line to a 72-ft high pinnacle of rock, dubbed as the Shivling, at 16,900 feet above sea level. The yatra, organised by the Himachal Pradesh government, typically takes 10 days to complete and prior registration is mandatory. Pilgrims begin the yatra at Jaon village, 170 km from Shimla and 200 km from Kullu by road. A 3-km trek leads them to the base camp at Singhad, the last habitation. From here. The journey requires periodic stops for rest and acclimatization. Private rest tents are available along the way. Pilgrims must carry water bottles, glucose sachets, warm clothing, rainwear, flashlights and rations of dry fruits and dates. Avoid overpacking and ensure that you undergo a medical checkup to determine your fitness before the trip. The Yatra is held in July every year and over 18,000 people visit every year. If you plan to make the journey next year, start working on your fitness.
According to legend, the demon Bhasmasur performed hard penance and pleased Lord Shiva, who granted him the power to turn anyone he touched with his hand into ashes. Drunk on egotistic pride, Bhasmasur attempted to touch Shiva, upon which the Lord fled with the demon in chase. He hid in a cave and later appeared on a mountain top, which is believed to be Shrikhand Mahadev. Shiva enlisted the help of Vishnu who transformed himself into the female enchantress Mohini and tricked Bhasmasura into touching his own head, upon which the demon turned into ashes.