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Guru Nanak's Odysseys
– Travels to Holy places in the Himalayas –

Onkar Singh*

An apostle of love of God and humanity, Guru Nanak, the Founding Prophet of the Sikh Faith, travelled extensively to spread his gentle gospel of truth, the unity of God and the brotherhood of man. He was accompanied by Mardana, a Muslim minstrel friend, who played the rabab, a stringed instrument, for the captivating divine hymns he sang rapturously in praise of the Lord and equality of mankind.

Guru Nanak undertook four marathon journeys called udasis. He was motivated to undertake these after his enlightenment. He had a deep mystical communion with God during a dip in River Bein. When he emerged, his telling statement was “Na Koi Hindu, na Mussalman” – there is no Hindu, no Mussalman. They are all human beings created by God and, despite their distinctive religions and beliefs, they are equal before the Creator who equally abides in everyone. The call came to him to propagate this truth and put humanity on the righteous path.

Nanak was in his twenties when he made the peregrinations. And for about twenty six years from 1498 to 1524, he travelled far and wide with a missionary zeal, unmindful of the inhospitable terrain. In the words of the learned Sikh poet, scholar and historian, Bhai Gurdas, “Baba traversed the nine regions of the earth as far as the land stretched”.

He travelled throughout India and went to many neighbouring countries and regions, including Tibet, China, Mount Kailash, Bhutan, Sikkim, Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Mecca and Baghdad in West Asia. He visited several pilgrimage centres, monasteries, temples and mosques, fairs and festivals. He met people of different cultures and religions. He forged a bond of love and respect among people of diverse faiths.

Atop Mount Kailash
Guru Nanak set out on his third udasi (1513-1518) to the north up to Tibet and China. Eventually, he made his way to the holy places of pilgrimage in the Himalayan mountain-range, a trek both difficult and arduous. At last, he found himself on top of Mount Kailash (Sumero), a sacred place in four religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bon faith, the indigenous religion before Buddhism became the dominant religion in northern Tibet. It is the holy abode of Lord Shiva. The mountain is near Lake Mansarovar and Lake Rakshastal in Tibet. Nanak is said to have gone to Kailash from the Gharwal region of Uttar Pradesh through Gangotri. At Mount Kailash, Guru Nanak had discourses with the learned saints and fakirs, the most famous of which is his meeting with Siddhas, the descendants of the great Tantric Goraknath who lived and meditated in mountain caves. They claimed to possess miraculous powers. Nanak recorded the discourses with them in the Siddha Gosht in the form of a dialogue in verse. He was against the cults of tantric and magic, witchcraft and sorcery.

The Siddhas asked Nanak many questions. They wanted to know how was the World in the plains? Nanak told them that there was a “famine of truth”. “Falsehood, sin and corruption are rampant. The dark age is the scalpel, the kings are butchers and righteousness has taken wings and flown away.” He told the Siddhas to be a part of the world like the lotus in the water that remains dry. His religion was for the householders, not for ascetics. He composed a hymn dissapproving of asceticism. “Ascesticism does neither lie in ascetic robes nor in walk staff, nor in smearing one's body with ashes. Ascesticism does not lie in the ear rings, nor in the shaven head nor in blowing a conch. It lies in remaining pure amidst impurities.”

The wise tantric yogis acknowledged Guru Nanak as a spiritual visionary. However, they wanted to test his virtuosity. They asked him to bring water from the lake. As Nanak dipped the earthen pot to fill it, he found jewels and diamonds in the lake which broke the pot. Nanak joined together the broken pieces and filled it with water much to the amazement of the Siddhas. He broke their magic spell. They became followers of Guru Nanak and came to be known as Nanakpanthis.

This was Nanak’s first visit to the Tibetan plateau. He visited Tibet four times. His second visit was at the invitation of the Lamas of Sakya, a sacred monastery in Southern Tibet. There is a legend that Guru Nanak broke the spell of the witches that troubled the local people by turning them into masks. Annually, Nanak’s visit is celebrated with masks and dances. To commemorate Nanak’s visits, some Lama temples have kept Nanak’s idols for worship. His footprints have also been preserved.

According to mythology, many demons, witches and deities existed before the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet.

In Sikkim
Guru Nanak came to North Sikkim from Tibet after visiting Sakya monastry. He visited several valleys in Sikkim. Many local legends abound about his visit, some almost bordering on being mythical. In Chungathan valley, there is a local legend that Guru Nanak solved the water problem faced by the people by hitting the frozen lake (named Guru Dongman after his visit) with his walking stick. The ice melted. The water of the lake is “nectar” for the people. Guru Nanak blessed the valley people who became prosperous. A gurdwara has been constructed there known as “Gurdwara Nanak Lama”.

In Lachen Gompha ( Lama temple), a lamp is lit day and night in memory of Guru Nanak’s visit to the Gompha.

In Ladakh and Kashmir
Guru Nanak came through Chushul Pass to Leh (Ladakh) and Kashmir from Tibet after visiting Mount Kailash. A tree nearby Leh, where Nanak reposed and preached is held in reverence by the local people. Local legends narrate his visits to serveral places in Ladakh, including Skardu and Kargil. He visited Hemus Gompha, south of Leh and held discourses with the Lamas. Gurudwaras have been constructed at these places. A gurudwara known as “Pathar Sahib” stands on the Leh-Nimamu road. Legend has it that a jealous demon rolled a boudler down the hill to kill Nanak. But Nanak was unhurt. The boulder lies on the roadside with deep impressions of Nanak’s body.

From Kargil, Guru Nanak proceeded to the Kashmir valley. He visited the famous Hindu pilgrimage centre, Amarnath and delivered sermons to the pilgrims performing the yatra. From Amarnath he went to Mattan, east of Srinagar. He met Kamaluddin and Brahm Dass, two learned Muslim and Hindu friends. Kamaluddin asked Nanak how could one become a true Muslim? Nanak replied composing a hymn that to be a true Mussalman, one needed compassion, faith, honest living, humility, virtuous deeds, a rosary of God’s will and prayer for His grace. Kamaluddin felt inspired and bowed before Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak had a long discourse with Brahm Dass, who had been told of his saintliness by Kamaluddin. He had brought two camel loads of books just in case Nanak asked him questions. “But I have none to ask,” said Guru Nanak. Brahm Dass became a follower of Guru Nanak. In Mattan, a gurudwara has been constructed on the spot where Guru Nanak sang hymns.

From Mattan, Nanak went to Srinagar. He visited Baramulla and Uri before reaching Jammu from where he headed homewards. In Kashmir, there are several gurudwaras commemorating his visits.

It’s something to be cherished that wherever Guru Nanak went, he left his mark as a great sage, mystic, poet and gifted singer. People of all faiths were drawn to him by his unique message of truth, love of God and all mankind. Those who came to listen to him, were moved by his passionate appeal for an understanding among people to live in peace and harmony with one another.



Col. D S Grewal – Guru Nanak’s Travels to Himalayan and East Asian Region.


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