By Dr. Aparna Chattopadhyay
Dr. Aparna Chattopadhyay shares her wondrous experience as she descends to the dark underground cave temple of Patal Bhuvaneshwar
By rail: Kathgodam (90 km) is the nearest railway station for Almora. It is well connected with Lucknow, Delhi, and Howrah. Take local or private taxis or buses to reach Almora from Kathgodam.
By road: Almora is almost 380 km from Delhi and 466 km from Lucknow. It is connected by road with most places of Uttarakhand. Route: Nainital-Bhowali- Almora-Barechina-Dhaulchina-Sheraghat-RaiAgar- Patal Bhuvneshwar.
• April to June and September to November are the best months to visit Patal Bhuvaneshwar.
• The cave is equipped with electric lights.
• There is one guesthouse run by KVMN (Kumaon Vikas Mandal Nigam) at a walking distance from the cave. There are also a few private lodges situated near by.
• No cameras (video or still) are allowed inside the cave temple.
• A guide is provided by the administration and is mandatory.
• Entry is controlled based on the number of people already inside the cave.
History of Patal Bhuvaneshwar
This natural cave is situated at a distance of about 500 meters away from village Bhuvaneshwar on the hill slope. It is a limestone cave situated 13 km from Gangolihat in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. It is believed that Shankaracharya also visited this place in the year 1191 AD. There is an inscription on the entrance, dating back to 14th century AD.
As I stood amidst the lofty mountains and colorful wild flowers confronting the Himalayan range, I had the feeling that I had just experienced the most unforgettable and unique pilgrimage of my lifetime. I had just been to one of the most fascinating and intriguing places of the Kumaon region – Patal Bhuvaneshwar – the abode of Lord Shiva. It seemed strange and ironical to me that Lord Shiva, known to be eternally dwelling in the Mount Kailash and the snow-white Himalayas, felt the need to come down from the celestial heights of his heavenly abode to the Patal Loka’s dark underground cave for his spiritual musings. I glanced at the mysterious cave – 160 meters long and 90 feet deep, a wonder itself – located in the quiet and serene village Bhuvaneshwar. I was told by my guide that it enshrined stalagmite figures of Lord Shiva and 33 crore gods; it was, in fact, an intriguing cave city, a narrow tunnel-like opening leading to several other caves. Its earliest reference, I was told, was traced back to Skanda Purana, which elaborately describes the story of the king Rituparna, the ancient king of Ayodhya, belonging to the TretaYug. So here I was in a cave belonging to TretaYug – that sounded incredible!
A divine mural
To enter it, as instructed, I had to first ring the bell at the cave entrance, as one does on entering a temple. The entrance (shaped like the hood of the Sheshnag), was narrow and I had to slide down a ladder of 21 slimy stone steps, known to be the throat of the serpent. As my guide helped me down the wet and slippery steps, I felt as though I was going down into an abyss – quite similar to a mother’s womb!
|It was, in fact, an intriguing cave city, a narrow tunnel-like opening leading to several other caves|
It was moist, vacuum-like, semidark. The narrow steps at last ended into an underground atrium. Fascinating natural rock images were etched by nature along the limestone walls, leaving me totally awestruck. On encountering these mystical images, in my wonder and amazement, I felt as though they were an ethereal mural, created and designed by a supreme artist. Lined against the rocky walls so majestically, like sincere age-old sentinels, they were beyond time and space.
A 1,000-footed Airavat elephant in stone confronted me magnificently. As I looked up at the ceiling, I was bewildered to behold the Takshak and Vasuki serpents immortalized in stone, clinging to it. Lord Shiva’s wish-fulfilling Kamandala (water pot) – a heart-shaped rock – shone brilliantly. Just then, as I looked below, there were the amazing crystal-clear ribs of the Sheshnag on the cave floor, on which I had to balance and tread forward. It was an out-of-the world feeling.
My next awesome encounter was with that of the severed head of Adi-Ganesha, an eight-petaled lotus in stone, sheltering and sustaining it with a steady flow of droplets of holy water. Another mystifying sight was that of the narrow stone tongue of Kaal Bhairav – entering through it, reaching the womb inside, and emerging through its tail on the other end, is said to bestow upon one the boon of moksha.
Encounter with Shiva and Shakti
The most intriguing stone images, however, had yet to come. Moving a few steps ahead, I came face to face with the magnificent long locks (jataas) of Lord Shiva, adorning an entire wall. On his lofty hair strands, the holy Ganges water dripped incessantly and mysteriously from a rock above. On entering the heart of the caves and reaching the main sanctumsantorum, where Shiva and Shakti are worshiped, I bowed my head in reverence. The sacred spot was covered with a copper covering. It is said that at this spot, the divine energy had engendered a massive fire, which was later sealed with a copper lid by Adi Shankaracharya, and thenceforth, human sacrifices to the Goddess Kali were stopped.
Mystique of the Divine
Looking at these incredible structures, I was wonder struck at the mystique of the Divine. Stepping out of the haunting dark cave into broad daylight, I felt dazed for a while. It was an experience of a lifetime. After walking ahead a few yards, I looked back – Patal Bhuvaneshwar, stood there in all its mysterious glory, overlooking the steep green valleys and the Himalayan foothills. The scintillating view of the distant snow-capped mountains, from Kailash to Yamunotri, looked haunting. In all its tranquility, it looked beautiful. I felt the presence of an eternal power and pondered over my unique experience – so strange and yet so sacred – as though it was a quiet calling of the Divine. Perhaps it was.
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