I had heard the name of Kedarnath many a times from several people remaining completely ignorant to its grandeur. I’ll be honest, I did understand it being an important place of worship and probably very difficult to reach but I was totally unaware of its splendor. It was only about 10 years ago that I got some clarity about it and only in 2016, I guess, when I researched about the temple. I had never been too interested in temples in my younger times but I indeed developed a huge interest after my exposure to some great pieces of information pertaining to the temple. It became a dream to visit Kedarnathji which finally materialized in June 2019.
Day 1 – New Delhi – Haridwar – Rishikesh – Devprayag – Srinagar, Garhwal (12 Hours)
Day 2 – Srinagar – Sitapur – Sonprayag – Gaurikund ( 7 hours)
Day 3 – Trek from Gaurikund – Kedarnath (Though it’s doable in 7 hours, I took 11 hours due to lots of shooting and clicking)
Day 4 – Kedarnath – Gaurikund – Sonprayag – Sitapur (6 hours)
Kedarnath Altitude – 11,660 ft
Temperature can go unto 25 degrees during the day and come down to 0 degrees at night.
Day 1 – 10th June 2019
It was going to be a very long journey on this day and we wanted to reach as early as possible, preferably by 7 pm but that is easier said than done 🙂 When we have a family group of more than 30 people, its bound to get late 😉 Anyway, we still managed to hit the road by 7 am and were on our way to Srinagar, Garhwal. We crossed Haridwar, Rishikesh and Devprayag on our way.
I have crossed Devaprayag on three occasions and stopped over just once to see the confluence of the rivers Alakhnanda, Bhagirathi and Saraswati (which flows underground and is invisible) somewhere from the top and that too only for a few minutes. I really want to stop over for at least a day, bathe in the holy confluence and spend ample amount of time there but we are always in a hurry to reach somewhere. Perhaps it will be possible if I plan only for Devprayag someday. It was about 9:30 pm when we reached our hotel in Srinagar and literally collapsed in the beds with our swollen feet.
Day 2 – 11th June 2019
We needed to reach Gaurikund as early as possible to be able to start the trek before 1pm because post that, nobody was allowed to start the yatra. This was to eliminate any chances of late night trekking due to safety reasons. Even though the plan was to leave by 6 am, we left at 7 am. Well, fair enough 😉 We reached Sitapur around 12 pm where the buses come to a halt. Our bus was parked in a huge parking on a dried river bed and we needed to walk till Sonprayag to hire a taxi for Gaurikund. A lot of taxies ply to and fro Guarikund, however, owing to the large number of Yatris (pilgrims) the wait time can be long. This is exactly why we reached late.
Since starting of trek was out of question now, we started to look for an accommodation to spend the night. After a couple of hours we found a decent lodge and settled ourselves in. It had been bright and sunny all day and suddenly around 5:30 pm the weather started to change. It rained heavily for an hour and that added a chill in the air. I remembered my trek leader in Hampta Pass trek emphasizing on the need to reach the campsite before 2 pm. There is a high probability of rainfall post 2pm or in the afternoon so to say. It got so cold that we got our woolens out and some slipped inside the blankets. We had an early dinner and slept soon after because the next day we needed to start way too early.
Day 3 – 12th June 2019
The alarm went off at sharp 1 am. Though reluctant to leave the comforts of the warm blanket and my precious sleep, I somehow managed to drag myself out of the bed. Everyone else was fast asleep and the only washroom in the dorm was at my disposal. By the time I got freshened up a couple of folks were up and by 2 am everyone was ready to go. We had a quick humble breakfast and finally at 3 am, we started our trek for Kedarnathji. It was still dark but not at all in quietude. A lot of other Yatris had also started for the trek, some on foot and some on mules. Most of the sections of the trek route were pretty well lit with only a very few dark corners. Nah, it wasn’t scary at all 😉
The route was conscientiously marked with the distance remaining and the name of the milestones we were to cross on our way. There were a lot of small temples almost every 2-3 kms (I hope I am not exaggerating) something which I have always noticed in the hills. They not only add a little to the vista but also fill the air with a divine energy which results from our own faith in the deities. With the dawn approaching the hustle and bustle around the roadside dhabas and shops started to increase. Around 6 am a sudden rainfall took us by surprise which forced us to take shelter in a dhabha and that also led us to have our early small breakfast until the rain stopped. It was daybreak and the rain didn’t really stop but slowed down into a drizzle when we resumed our trek. It got so cold that we noticed our breath vapors (EBC) and couldn’t help but play with it 😀
The total distance from Gaurikund to Kedarnath used to be 16 kms before the devastating floods in 2013 destroyed the old route completely. With the new route which involves crossing a river through a (dancing) bridge that leads to a steep ascent, the distance now is around 18 kms. It was a little before 7:30 am when we crossed this dancing bridge. Why do I call it a dancing bridge? Because it shook a lot when people walked over it. Nevertheless, it was a great vantage point. The river Mandakini looked scarily fierce flowing down the mountains, over the boulders and into the ravines. One can hear her roar even before you see it. I literally shook by just imagining the kind of frightful form it must have taken during those floods, destroying anything and everything that came in its way. Some of the mangled remains could still be seen in the river.
We had another round of breakfast of yummy Aloo Paranthas and a cup of tea, right after crossing the bridge. The steep climb was to continue until we reached the top of the hill from where it was a series of gradual ascents and descents. The climb was certainly taxing but the regular chants of Bam Bam Bhole (बम बम भोले) and Har Har Mahadeva (हर हर महादेव) by the devotees worked as a catalyst for everyone. Age was certainly not a deterrent for many Yatris when it came to trek all the way to Kedarnathji. Whether it was young kids or teenagers or the middle aged or the really old people, all of them were walking with equal enthusiasm if not the pace. They all had one driving force in common. Their devotion, belief, faith and constancy to the deity. I was especially in awe of some very old women who were faster than some of their young counterparts.
I witnessed a couple of very interesting modes of transport other than mules. There were Palkis of two kinds, one that was carried by 4 men and the other by 2. Then there were Pitthoos, wherein a person sits in a basket which is then carried on the back as a backpack. The most notable thing about the men carrying the Palkis was the sync between all four of them. Watch my Vlog to see what I am talking about. They all walked in exactly the same speed, same stride, and the same foot forward. In short, all four were walking as one. It was incredible! During the steep ascent I got separated from the family members I was walking with. Everyone got separated. Some were walking alone like me and some had one or two companions. The views started to get better after reaching the top and I could find myself shooting and clicking more than often. I came across a lot of snow clad parts of the hills. At some places the snow was cut to open the route that made it look like a wall, a snow wall.
Right before I touched the last ascent of 3 kms I stopped over to see a helicopter taking off. I had never seen it before and I stood in awe fascinated like a little girl. Close to that Helipad I accidentally spotted a pink beverage in a dhabha. Not sure if I was right about it, I went to enquire and I was I delighted to find out that I indeed was! It was my all time favorite Rhododendron Juice! I enjoyed a glass of it and was back on the trail with the steep climb ahead of me. This part of the trail provided some of the best vantage points. The valley below looked very beautiful and the snow clad mountains ahead looked very inviting. I was only half an hour away from the base camp and was very hungry so at 1 pm I stopped over for lunch and after half an hour I was back on the trail. I reached the base camp, which was more like a huge Mule Parking area 😀 Hundreds of mules standing in rows facing away from the road was hell of an interesting sight!
It was 2 pm and in just about 10 mins the weather suddenly changed from bright and sunny to dark heavy clouds hanging over our heads and in no time, strong wind started to blow. Walking against this really strong storm like wind was really challenging. I had nothing to cover my face or eyes, it became freezing cold and I did not have enough warm clothes and on top of that taking every single stride forward was a real struggle. Soon it started raining and I took shelter under a shed of a nearby shop. Revisiting the same theory of reaching the campsite before 2 pm from my trek leader, I kind of regretted reaching late. I had spent a lot of time shooting and clicking pictures and basically admiring and observing everything little thing that fascinated me. This regret was short lived as the rain stopped after 10 minutes and I was back on the track to cover my last kilometer.
Soon I reached a point where I saw a big concrete open area covered with a shamiana under which tables and chairs were laid out. People were relaxing under it and enjoying the air from the fans provided and some were having their lunch. I spotted a couple of my family members among that crowd and was surprised to learn that I was still early as almost all of the family was still behind. The last one reached at around 4 pm or even later I guess. I had my lunch which was provided by the local mess against a token that cost 200 rs per plate. Fortunately it was bright and sunny again (typical mountain weather). I didn’t waste a single moment after lunch and clicked a lot of pictures and shot a few videos of the Mt. Kedarnath that stood majestically tall right in front. The panoramic view was so scenic that it would be impossible for me to describe in words. One has to be there in person to absorb the beauty of the place as no words or pictures can do any justice. While some elder members of the family were busy looking for an accommodation to spend the night because returning the same day was not at all possible; I spent my entire time staring at the surrounding mountains, especially Mt. Kedarnath, after all, I had seen it only in pictures until then.
Three GMVN dormitories were booked which cost us 400 rs per person, however, it didn’t come with attached washrooms so we had to use the common washrooms. Since we had obviously missed our morning Darshans, we decided to go for the evening one. We all relaxed for sometime and around 7:30 pm, joined an already a kilometer long queue. While standing in the queue I happened to pay attention on the houses at some short distance. They were in ruins and I immediately realized that this must have been caused by the devastating floods. The small houses were washed away only these big and better constructed ones with 2-3 stories still stood, though terribly damaged. On a nicer note Mt. Kedarnath towered right ahead and appeared to be even closer and grander. Earlier that evening, I stood outside during the sunset to see the alpen-glow but alas there was none. The beauty of the mountains during the dusk, served as a distraction from the cold increasing with every quarter of an hour and soon, even that was taken away by the dark night.
We anticipated the wait time to be of maximum 2 hours but it sure felt much longer. With no sun in the sky to provide the much needed heat, it soon became freezing cold making it difficult for everyone. I for one, didn’t have enough warm clothes, just a full sleeves tee and a windsheeter with a flannel lining. I didn’t bring my woolens along thinking that I won’t need them since I will be returning back the same evening and that proved to be a terribly wrong calculation. I was shivering continuously with my teeth constantly chattering making it difficult for me to even talk. The cold became really intolerable and I wasn’t able to stand it any longer. Having said so, I had no choice but to endure no matter how much I wanted to run back to the dorm. Finally, it was around 9:30 pm when I removed my shoes and braced myself to join the mad rush entering the temple. No trace of any queue was to be found at the temple steps. It became even worse inside the temple where there wasn’t any breathing space. There wasn’t any space to even lift my hand up to my face. There was a constant push coming from the back to which I got used to within a couple of minutes 😉 I didn’t have time to complain because these few minutes inside the temple, weren’t coming back any soon.
I ignored every negative experience that might have been and started to focus on the ancient carvings and sculptures inside the temple. These were the carved images of Maa Parvati, Shri Krishna and the five Pandavas and to my fascination, they all were covered in butter or possibly Ghee. I wondered why though. After walking in a semi circle I reached a landing where a donation box was kept and a priest was standing behind it. Behind him was a corridor which led to the Garbhagriha, where Kedarnathji’s idol is placed. However, the access to that, was not allowed and the priest was quickly accepting the Prasad and giving the rest of it back to us. Before I could catch even a fleeting glimpse of the deity from this far, I was forced out like everyone else. I won’t lie, I was disappointed. Came so far, went through so much pain and hardship and still couldn’t even see the deity for even a second! Well, pretty soon I made peace with it and started to explore the area outside the temple and clicked a lot of pictures. I found an Aghori baba sitting close to the gate that I exited from and went to seek his blessings. Little did I know that these blessings would really manifest in the next few minutes!
I was taking a few selfies standing in front of the same gate when my husband noticed and told me that whoever wanted, could go inside the temple again for the Darshans. Of course, without wasting any minute I removed my shoes and rushed inside! This time that donation box wasn’t there and we could go straight to the Garbhgriha! I stood in disbelief at the door of the Garbhgriha staring at Kedarnathji. I couldn’t believe my luck! I had enough time to look at the walls, the carvings and all the decoration inside and only when I was truly satiated that I came out. There were very few people inside at that time because the darshans were already over and it was in the last few minutes before closing that we got that golden chance. I was exhilarated, ecstatic and emotionally overwhelmed! I had just been so fortunate that I will always remain grateful for. Feeling content in my heart, I walked back to the same shamiana for the dinner and post that, back to the dorms for a much earned good night’s sleep. Oh! And somehow I wasn’t feeling that cold anymore 🙂
Day 4 – 13th June 2019
I didn’t have to try very hard to wake up at 6 am the next morning. The stress of getting done with the toilet as early as possible to avoid a long wait made it easy 😀 We all got ready by 7 am and left for the base camp a.k.a Mule Parking 😀 After enjoying a nice hot cup of tea we started to descend by 9 am, had our breakfast midway and reached Gaurikund around 1 pm. We all had a quick lunch and started walking towards the security gate of Gaurikund to join another long queue for a taxi. It took an hour for our turn to come and we reached Sonprayag by 2:30, post which we walked to Sitapur and to our bus respectively.
After making sure everyone and everything was in place, we all left for our next adventure which I am going to cover in my next blog. So stay tuned 🙂 Until then you can watch this short vlog that I made on this Yatra.