Kedarnath, one of the most important Shiva Temple in India, grabbed widespread attention when the Himalayan Floods of June 2013, witnessed the total devastation on the holy pilgrimage of the Char Dham. Located at an altitude of 3900 m above sea level, Kedarnath is only accessible after a grueling 14 km trek. Before I begin the story of my visit to Kedarnath about a week before the floods, I’d like to pay my respects and homage to the pilgrims and everyone who perished at the fury of nature.
Now, the obvious question anyone could ask me is, why would I visit Kedarnath as I’m not a pilgrim. My answer is simple, I just wanted to explore the unparalleled beauty of the Himalayas and I wanted to understand and experience the Char Dham Pilgrimage. So, here I am, sitting in my room and telling you how beautiful and vibrant Kedarnath really is. Trust me, it was one heck of a trip.
It all began at 5 am at Dehradun when I set out to Parade grounds and got myself a Jeep to take me to Rudraprayag. It cost me Rs.350 and was a 7 hour ride through the twisting and turning hill road with the mighty brown Ganges spurting parallel to it. I befriended my fellow traveler Ritu Rana and being a native of Uttarakhand, she told me about the do’s and don’ts and I did take her advice seriously. After breakfast at Theen Dhara, the the journey took me through Srinagar (there’s a Srinagar in Uttarakhand as well) and finally to Rudraprayag. Being the peak pilgrim season, the traffic was horrible and I did get stuck in occasional traffic jams. 12 pm, and I’m in Rudraprayag! But it was not time to cheer yet. I still had some 85 km to go before I reach Gaurikund. After lunch, I had to walk all around Rudraprayag, carrying my heavy rucksack to find a working ATM.
I then took another Jeep to Guptkashi which is a Rs.70 ride. The Ganges changed color to deep green and was gushing down with tremendous energy and what made this trip adventurous was that, half the roads were missing due to landslides. I’d think twice before driving on these roads. From Guptkashi bus stand, I boarded another jeep to take me to Gaurikund. It was uphill route and the progress was slow, technically, there was no road and just puddles. But on the bright side, the view outside was very beautiful. Nearly 7 km before Gaurikund there was a 2 km long traffic block. Since there is only limited space available in Gaurikund, there is a gate 5 km before it and they let in a vehicle only if another returns from Gaurikund. My driver told me it could be about 3 hours wait, and so everyone got out of the Jeep. I joined a Marathi father and son and walked 2 km to the gate where we crossed it and hoped on to a bus that just passed the gate. Gaurikund was awfully crowded and I had a hard time finding the GMVN guest house. I reached there keeping my fingers crossed, as I had not booked a room in advance. I was lucky and I got myself a bed in the dorm. It was nearly 7 pm and it was pretty cold up there. After tea and dinner, I settled in my bed. Little did I know, I was going to have one of my greatest adventures till date.
Before I start, I’d like to make a disclaimer! The place is so amazing that I might run out of adjectives in describing its beauty. So kindly bear with me. I started off at 4.30 am after a morning tea. The air was a bit icy and I wore a sweatshirt and a shawl and carried a bottle of water and a packet of biscuit with me. Since I’m a young guy, bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, I decided to walk all the way up. Even though it was dark, the road was very crowded with pilgrims, both on foot and on horses and the road was kinda soggy and dirty, though pebble paved. The interaction between cool breeze and the sweat trickling down my body gave me jitters. The entire 14 km stretch is a gradual uphill path stretch and the view of the waterfalls, the river and the snow-capped mountain is so refreshing that you tend to push forward despite aching muscles. I took intermittent rests and never raced anyone. There are kiosks and resting places all throughout the road. The waterfalls are huge and its like a silver thread running from the top of a mountain. After 7 km (2 hours or so), I reached Rambhara, a small village bustling with horses, shops and pilgrims taking a well deserved break.
During the entire climb, I could see helicopters criss-cross every minute. After some 8-9 km or so, i got really tired that i could hardly take a step. But I still kept going, but my progress was painstakingly slower. But the closer I got to Kedarnath, my destination, I felt the stamina and valor return.
The lush green meadows were dotted with snow and ice. Accompanying me was the gushing Mandakini river smashing on the rocks with bone crushing force. Finally after an epic 5 hour and 15 minutes trek, I arrived at Kedarnath Temple which I must say is a pretty good timing for an amateur like me (Average time is 6 hrs). The majestic Garhwal Himalayas on the backdrop boasted of the resplendent bounty of nature and the serene atmosphere of the place offered me a mesmerizing and captivating view. The stone temple, though small, was one of the most important Shiva temples in the country and a devout center and I could see numerous Shiva sages around it. After visiting the temple, I stopped by to get a few souvenirs and after a tea, I started the arduous trek back down. Initially, the trek was much faster compared to the uphill one. I took every available shortcuts, jumping over rocks and wading dangerously close to the river. After about 7 kms (1.5 hrs), I could hardly feel my legs, my knee shivering with exhaustion and my calf muscles were about to rip out. The last 7 km took over 2.5 hrs and my whole body ached. The horses were reckless as they’d literally hit n run. It was saddening to see the people carrying pilgrims on their shoulders and on palanquins. Man!! They sure have superhuman strength and they even take 2 or 3 up and down trip a day!! Finally I reached back in Gaurikund by 3 pm (Downhill took about 4 hrs) and a shocking news awaited me – NO ROOMS AVAILABLE!! That’s the last thing you wanna hear after you are so dead tired. I consulted with a few friends I made in GMVN the previous day and they suggested going to the next town and trying my luck.
So there I was, sitting in a jeep, covered in thick layers of dust (thanks to the amazingly dusty roads), keeping my fingers crossed. Finally at 6, I reached GMVN guest house in Guptkashi and I was lucky to get the last available bed in the dorm. The bed felt so soft and smooth, even though in reality it was not even close. After a shower, I felt a slight fever and headache. After a quick dinner, I was about the get some sleep when my luck favored me again. My roommates were GMVN tour operators and they were about to leave to Badrinath the next day. They offered me a ride with their group which I gladly accepted. With all the physical exertion taking its toll on my body, I took a paracetamol and slipped into a deep sleep.
Tomorrow was going to be another big day. And of course, I felt all refreshed and healthy the next morning. Badrinath, here I come!!