The subterranean world of reverence and worship – Patal Bhuvneshwar

16 . 11 . 2018

‘The subterranean world of reverence and worship Patal Bhuvneshwar’ is a blow by blow account of my brush with
this mysterious cave shrine located in Pithoragarh District. You can find a detailed account of Patal Bhuvneshwar HERE.

Information signboard as you approach Patal Bhuvneshwar

No cameras

‘Deposit your cameras and mobile phones at the counter!’ – a tough-looking guy in the ticket window made this seemingly-harmless announcement. We had just taken off our shoes to get inside the mysterious underground world of Patal Bhuvneshwar cave. Something deep within me shattered. I was not interested in subjecting myself to the inconvenience of slithering down a steeply descending 30-metre-long narrow tunnel without my camera. More so as the Oxygen levels were going to be especially low in the underground cave during monsoons.

Entrance of Patal Bhuvneshwar

Uttarakhand Tourism had organised a Blogger Bus 3.0 Tour. As a part of the tour, I had just reached Patal Bhuvneshwar, a highly-revered underground cave shrine just 13-km from Gangolighat in Pithoragarh District. As we hiked towards the shrine, I had noticed a signboard that proclaimed Patal Bhuvneshwar to be an ASI-protected monument (ASI = Archeological Survey of India). It was the 19th of July 2018. Only a few days ago, our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi had questioned the pertinence of ‘No Cameras’ rule in many of the ASI-protected monuments. Its fallout was ASI promptly issuing an order that photography may be allowed in almost all of ASI-protected monuments.

Cameras and ASI order

Armed with the knowledge of this recent ASI order, I proceeded to persuade the ticket issuer that we be allowed to take cameras inside. While he would not be persuaded, he suggested we talk to the ASI official posted at the shrine.

Ramesh Ji, a Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam official, was leading our tour. He spoke to the ASI official. The ASI official denied receiving any order allowing photography. But he connected Ramesh Ji with his State HQ. Soon after, we received the relevant order that finally got us the permission to carry our cameras in. Long live WhatsApp!

To the left is the manifestation of the spine of Shesh Naag

Camera under threat

Our guide, a young local lad, led us down a treacherously narrow passage. He repeatedly cautioned us to latch on to the riveted chains to avoid slipping. At my age, gravity becomes larger than life. You become acutely aware of how it can make you tumble down. So, as I did my best to cling to those chains while gingerly stepping on non-existent footholds, my camera banged around the rocks. Seeing me worried about equipment damage, our kind-hearted guide offered to lug the camera during our descent. With thanks writ large on my face, I handed my camera over!

Tongue of Kala Bhairav

After what seemed like eternity, I finally reached the bottom of that rocky burrow. Short of breath, I settled down on a boulder to wait for our group. Secretly, I was happy and thankful to have made it thus far. Little did I know my happiness was to be short lived!

Swan with its head turned

One slip and you break your camera… and a few bones

As our pilgrimage tour of Patal Bhuvneshwar progressed, our guide cautioned us of a slippery floor. It was a cave after all. The floor beneath was nothing but unpredictably undulating rocks that had become smooth as glass over the centuries – what with hundreds of thousand feet having walked that surface. Furthermore, this already-hazardous rocky deck had monsoon trickle of water!

A bunch of calcified stalactites considered to be a manifestation of Lord Shiva’s knotted strands of hair.

Timidly and squeamishly, we began our slow progress into the cave. Every few steps, I would be leaning on our guide’s shoulder while he would point towards some wonder or the other. As one delicate step followed another, the mysteries of the cave began to unravel.

Lights. Camera. Action.

We learned the ridged floor beneath is considered a manifestation of the spine of Shesh Naag (a multi-headed mythical cobra). A little further, we found ourselves gaping open-mouthed at the calcified stalactites that are said to be Lord Shiva’s knotted strands of hair. I must say nature did a fine work of carving this beauty. From here on, I was clicking away merrily!

Another naturally formed carving that is a likeness of a Hindu god Ganesha

Skanda Purana has a reference to Patal Bhuvneshwar. Legend has it this cave was the hiding place of King Nala after he was defeated by his wife Damayanti in a game of Chaupad. Inside the cave, there are four entrances – RanDwar (Door of War), PaapDwar (Door of Sin), DharamDwar (Door of Faith, Worship, and Righteousness), and MokshaDwar (Door of Liberation from Rebirth).

Want to read about another instance when my camera was under threat? Head over to Hola Mohalla at Anandpur Sahib – Watch out for your camera.

A Shiva Linga inside the cave

 

It is said that PaapDwar was closed after the death of Ravana (the Lankan King who abducted Sita – Lord Rama’s wife – in the Indian Epic ‘Ramayana’). RanDwar was closed after the war of ‘Mahabharata’.

So, we passed through DharamDwar and entered MokshaDwar. Some of the other manifestations we saw were of Kala Bhairav with his mouth open and tongue protruding, Lord Shiva riding a lion, a swan with its head turned, and the thousand feet of Airawat – the mythical elephant!

Garbh Griha or Sanctum Sanctorum

After performing a small ‘Puja’ at the GarbhGriha (Sanctum Santorum) Shivalinga, we made our way back to the cavernous hallway (!) we had entered through. And a group photograph later, it was time to exit!

Camera leads the way

My camera was again dangling around our guide’s neck as he proceeded to lead us out one guarded step at a time and I followed him. Climbing over unevenly-formed steps, some of them over half a metre high, characterised our initial progress. Soon, I found the only way was hauling myself physically by clutching the chains riveted along the passage. In my exuberance of having witnessed this magical world, I forgot about the physical effort needed to extricate myself from this cave. Despite being wary, I soon found myself out of the burrow-like passage. Throughout my stay inside, I did not feel any scarcity of Oxygen.

Fellow blogger & celebrity author Anamika Mishra posing under the thousand feet of Airawat, the mythical elephant

Soon, we were our usual chatty self again. Upon exchanging notes we realised stupefaction and wonderment were the common refrains. So, my dear readers, if you happen to visit Kumaon region and are in the vicinity of Gangolighat, make sure you visit Patal Bhuvneshwar. It is listed amongst the World’s Seven Subterranean Wonders. And is definitely a must-visit at least once!

‘The subterranean world of reverence and worship – Patal Bhuvneshwar’ is a blow-by-blow account of my brush with this
mysterious cave shrine located in Pithoragarh District. You can find a detailed account of Patal Bhuvneshwar HERE