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Ganga, that most sacred of Indian rivers, is worshipped as the life-giving goddess who brought salvation to this land. Pilgrims bathe in the Ganga on auspicious days and her waters are used for purification rituals. This great river, emerging from the icy glaciers of the Himalayas, descended to earth with such force that the gods had to be called in to prevent a complete deluge. The mighty Ganga was split into 12 channels to temper her force and the siblings again unite into one single stream after Devprayag, where the two great streams of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi meet. Four other confluences higher up add up to form the five holy confluences or Panch Prayag, which pilgrims visit for worship.
The river Alaknanda, the main tributary of the Ganga, rises near Badrinath and flows down to meet the Dhauli Ganga River, 10 kms north of Joshimath at Vishnuprayag. Cutting a deep gorge into the mountains, the confluence is dark and mostly in the shadows.
At Nandprayag, 190 kms short of Rishikesh on the Uttarkashi road, the River Mandakini joins the Alaknanda. A temple dedicated to Gopalji (a form of Lord Krishna) marks the confluence.
21 kms below is Karnaprayag, the confluence of Alaknanda and the Pindar River which flows out of the Nanda Devi glacier. There are two temples here, one dedicated to Uma (the goddess Durga) and the other to Karna, the tragic hero of the Mahabharata.
At Rudraprayag, 137 kms short of Rishikesh, the Alaknanda meets the other major stream of Mandakini. This is an important commercial centre from where a road leads to Kedarnath, the source of the River Mandakini. Temples of Rudranath and Chamunda Devi mark the confluence.
Finally, 68 kms north of Rishikesh the Alaknanda meets the Bhagirathi emanating from Gomukh to form the mighty Ganga. Known as Devprayag, this is the most spectacular of all the confluences, with a huge promontory of rock marking the meeting point.
The area which encompasses the Panch Prayag is one of high mountains, with low temperatures through much of the year. Although all the Prayags can be reached by road throughout the year, itís better to give them a miss during the winter months, when it gets very cold.
Rishikesh is the best starting point for the Panch Prayag Yatra. The town is well connected by road and rail to much of northern India, with regular trains and buses coming from Dehradun, Delhi and other cities.
Hormed by the confluence of the impetuous Vishnu Ganga (known after this point, as the Alaknanda) and the Dhauliganga river, Vishnu Prayag, 1372 m, has an ancient temple called Vishnu Kund. It is said that the sage Narad worshipped Vishnu at this sanctified spot.
Visitors will find the Kagbhusandi Lake bewitching with its emerald green depths giving it a still surface, while on the banks, blossoms evoke the colours of nature in all her glory. The lake can also be approached from Vishnuprayag beside from Bhundhar village near Ghangaria.
22 km from Karnaprayag, Nand Prayag at 914 m forms the confluence of the Alaknanda & Mandakini (flowing from a glacier near Nanda Devi Peak) rivers. On their way to Tapovan across Kunwari Pass or on their way to Roopkund, it is popular with trekkers.
It is said that the confluence is named for the pious Raja Nanda. According to one legend, the king had been promised the boon of Vishnu as a son. Unfortunately, the same boon had been granted to Devki, the imprisoned sister of the tyrant king, Kansa. Ultimately, the gods found an ingenuous solution: Vishnu would be born as Krishna to Devki but would be brought up by Raja Nandas wife, Yasodha.
Situated 11 km from Gauchar, the icy flow from the Pindari Glacier becomes the Pindari river, and when it meets the Alaknanda at 788 m, the confluence is known as Karnaprayag. The wooded thickets of the hills surrounding Karnaprayag were the meeting ground for Shakuntala and Raja Dushyanta, immortalised in Kalidasa's immortal classic and a favourite ballad ever since.
The place derives its name from Kama, the son of the Queen Kunti and her fiery lover, Lord Surya (sun), Kama's lineage was kept a secret, but he propitiated the Sun God here, and acquired a pair of earrings & armour that made him invincible. Ultimately, he fell in the battle between the Pandavas & Kauravas, but remains a tragic hero for in life he never had the legitimacy he desired. Besides the temple dedicated to Kama, the temple dedicated to Goddess Umadevi, Narayan & Gopal stand at the confluence.
69 km from Gwaldam, Karnaprayag is on the main Rishikesh Badrinath highway. From here, the road to SriKedarnath (115 km) goes through Rudraprayag & the road to Sri Badrinath (128 km) through Joshimath. Karnaprayag is the base for treks to Roopkund and the Bedni Bugyals and the approach to the Pindari Glacier.
Named after Lord Shiva (Rudra), Rudraprayag is situated at the holy confluence of Alaknanda & Mandakini rivers, at a distance of 34 km from Srinagar. It is believed that to master the mysteries of music, the sage Narad worshipped Lord Shiva, who appeared in his Rudra incarnation to bless the sage.
It was here, also, that Shivas wife, Sati, was reborn after her self immolation because her father humiliated her husband. In her new life, as the daughter of Himalaya, she did penance here to ask the boon of Shiva as a husband once again. The ancient temple of Rudranathji is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Rudraprayag is the point where the two roads branch off to the holy Shrines of Kedarnath (84 km) & Badrinath (159 km). The entire region is blessed with immense natural beauty, places of religions importance, lakes and glaciers.
Devprayag is regarded as the most complete showcase of legends, heritage & traditions. 70 km from Rishikesh , here the Bhagirathi from Gaumukh & the Alaknanda from Satopanth unite and for most Indians, this confluence is no less holy than the Sangam at Allahabad. These three rivers flowing majestically through sculptured channels carved through the rocks have carved angular blocks of land around the confluence & the town is set into these three angles.
Located at a height of only 618 m, Devprayag is an invocation to the gods who have generously endowed this spot with tremendous natural beauty. It is believed that Lord Rama and his father King Dashratha did penance here. The temple of Raghunathji houses a tall image of Lord Rama made of black granite. The most celebrated event at Devprayag is the congregation of devotees, who come here to worship at Raghunath temple. There is also a small temple popular as Bharat Mandir of Rishikesh in recluse. It is said that on fearing attack by Aurangzeb the pujaris from Rishikesh installed the same idol at Devprayag as makeshift arrangement & later took it back to Rishikesh.
Srinagar the ancient capital of Tehri Garhwal is at a distance of 35 km from here.