Prayag is the Sanskrit equivalent for ‘river confluence’, a place where two rivers join. Panch Prayag refers to the five different confluences of various rivers in the state of Uttarakhand. All the rivers that form the five Prayags are tributaries of River Ganga and are considered very holy. In fact, the river is called Ganga after the confluence of all its tributaries, i.e., after the last prayag, Devprayag.
Ganga and its tributaries
According to popular Hindu belief, Ganga, the River Goddess decides to descend to earth. However, the sheer force of Ganga could not be handled by earth. Hence, the force was divided along 12 channels which flows through different glaciers, mountains and valleys, each joining few other rivers at 12 different locations, to eventually unite and form one single River Ganga. Due to this reason, the five prayags, where different tributaries of River Ganga merges with other tributaries, are considered very sacred. Several pilgrims visit all the prayags throughout the year to take a dip at these places.
Of all the 12 tributaries of River Ganga, the main river which contributes most of the water is River Alaknanda. River Alaknanda originates at one of the glaciers, a few kilometers upstream from Badrinath. Vishnuprayag is located 32 km downstream from Badrinath, where River Alaknanda is joined by River Dhauliganga. River Dhauliganga (also called River Dhauli) originates at an elevation of more than 5000 m / 16500 ft at Basudhara Tal, and flows for more than 100 km before joining River Alaknanda at Vishnuprayag. Apart from the religious significance, Vishnuprayag is also a starting point for numerous treks/hikes along the high mountain ranges. Few popular treks in the region include Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Lake, Nar Parbat, Kagbhusandi Lake and many others. Vishnuprayag is at an elevation of 1372 m / 4500 ft, and has a small temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, which has a huge religious significance. According to the legend, the sage Narada performed penance at this place to please Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu was impressed with the devotion of the sage, and was blessed with his cosmic energy at this place!
River Alaknanda flows further down after Vishnuprayag to meet River Nandakini at Nandaprayag. The place is named after Raja Nanda who has performed a ‘Yagna’ at this place and gave generous donations to the people to seek blessings of God. Nandaprayag is at an elevation of 1358m / 4450 ft, and has a Nand temple situated on the rock on which King Nanda performed the Yagna.
After flowing through Vishnuprayag and Nandaprayag, River Alaknanda is joined by River Pindar at Karnprayag at an elevation of 1450 m / 4757 ft. Apart from the religious significance of the prayag, Karnprayag is also popular as the Town of Karna (from Mahabharata). It is believed that Karna earned the Kavach-Kundala from Sun God at this place. A temple dedicated to Karna is also located at Karnprayag.
The next prayag in the downstream is Rudraprayag, where River Alaknanda joins River Mandakini. River Mandakini originates from Chorabari glacier on the hills of Kedarnath, and flows about 50-60 km before reaching Rudraprayag. River Mandakini is also joined by River Vasukiganga river at Sonprayag. Rudraprayag has many legends associated with it. It is believed that the sage Devarshi Narada has meditated in one of the rocks (now named Narada Shila) at this place to please Lord Shiva. Impressed with the devotion, Lord Shiva appeared in his ‘Rudra’ avatar to bless the sage Narada with the gift of music. The name of the place is derived from this avatar of Lord Shiva. A temple dedicated to Chamunda Devi (wife of Rudra) is located at Rudraprayag. The main road forks at Rudraprayag, where one of them goes next to River Alaknanda and will take you to Badrinath. The other road goes parallel to River Mandakini all the way till Gaurikund (at the foothills of Kedarnath). You can also visit Tunganath Temple which is the place where the hand of Lord Shiva was found (owing to the story that Lord Shiva’s body was found at five different places: the back being found at Kedarnath).
Bridge to cross River Mandakini
View from the bridge
This bridge was submerged in water during the floods of 2013!!!
Devprayag, the last of the Panch Prayag, is the confluence of River Alaknanda with River Bhagirathi, which originates from one of the glaciers at Gangotri. It is one of the most spectacular confluences in the region, and it is after this confluence that the river gains the name Ganga. Devprayag is located at an elevation of 830m / 2700 ft, and the name translates to “Godly confluence”. For the pilgrims, Devprayag acts as a gateway to the four most religious places in Uttarakhand: Yamunotri (birth place of River Yamuna), Gangotri (Birth place of River Bhagirathi), Kedarnath (birth place of River Mandakini) and Badrinath (birth place of River Alaknanda).
River Bhagirathi joining River Alaknanda at Devprayag
Bhagirathi (Green) and Alaknanda (Brown) Rivers
Apart from the religious significance, the prayags also have natural beauty that is soothing to the eyes! The crystal clear water, which flows down in the summer after the glaciers and other ice starts melting, is naturally very cold. Taking a dip in the ice cold water is itself very exiting! The riverside also provides some beautiful picturesque natural beauty all throughout the state of Uttarakhand (fondly called as Devbhoomi, or Land of Gods).
Some of the photos of the riverside, hills and valleys of Uttarakhand are below:
On the way to Kedarnath
On the way to Badrinath
Living on the edge… I mean.. Driving on the edge
On the way to Badrinath