Kedarnath Trek Travel Guide
If you seek the pristine beauty of mountains, why would you undertake an arduous road trip, hundreds of kms away, then trek 14 kms to visit a rather small shrine in one corner of an over-populous country? Kedarnath is a part of the popular Chota Char Dham Yatra/pilgrimage (Badrinath, Gangotri, Yamunotri) in Uttarakhand. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is one of the 12 jyotirlingas (abode of Lord Shiva) in India.
Undertaking a trek to Kedarnath Temple is not for everyone and takes a lot of determination, which can result in some astounding outcome. The long winding path of 14 kms is aligned with River Mandakini (a tributary of Ganga), which flows along. The trek culminates to a flat piece of land, where the temple resides, surrounded by tall snow-clad hills. The picturesque location is almost straight from the movies. On one hand, one marvels at the legend of the place, while on the other hand, one gasps for each breathtaking panoramas.
The temple itself has stood the test of time for years. The most recent devastating flash flood in 2013 ruined the expanse of the field surrounding the temple while a huge boulder protected the shrine, miraculously. Tales of this have been told and retold to millions of Shiva devotees, arousing the belief in the Lord further.
Many Paths to One
Kedarnath is approachable by road and even by a few helicopter services. We happened to visit Kedarnath in 2012 before the floods rampaged the hills in 2013. We opted for a helicopter service as we happened to know someone who is a pilot and was rendering his services for the holy shrine, at the moment. An ex Indian army officer, he even owned a resort there and offered to run us through the experience of visiting Kedarnath for absolutely free of cost. We were delighted and humbled. We undertook the journey of travelling to Kedarnath almost effortlessly and escaped taking a long winding trek.
The helicopter takes about 10 mins from its pick up point to the helipad closest to the shrine. From there, it is a 10-20 mins walk. Since it was a VIP visit for us, we also got a fast track entry to the shrine. It was a fortunate day for us and we could capitalize on our good luck. We returned back and spent the other part of the day resting. We experienced the sunset sitting in the middle of nature and mountains, with a hot cup of tea, listening to the symphony of the insects.
“Travel Teaches Tolerance”
The Kedarnath Temple is at a height of 3,583 m (11,755 ft). The trek starts at Gaurikund, where natural thermal springs welcome the pilgrims with a refreshing bath before they set forward towards the shrine. The trek can be undertaken on ponies or one can hire porters, who can carry people on their back, at a price. Oxygen levels can drop to a significant level at this height and the pilgrims are advised to take it easy.
The historical significance of the temple dates back to post Kurukshetra War, as stated in Mahabharat. The Pandav brothers came here to seek penance from Lord Shiva for killing their kin.
It is risky to take this pilgrimage, as the roads are prone to landslides. Precautions must be taken not to travel during the monsoon season. Kedarnath is prone to floods, not so often but 2013 floods have put Kedarnath on the map of most risky places to travel to especially during the off-season.
When Faith Overcomes Risk
Travelling for the purpose of paying my respect in the physical temple of God has left in me an indelible mark of an unquestioning faith in the divine presence. As we capture the aura of the place and set ourselves for a mission, praying to the Lord to grant our wishes, while aligning ourselves with the divine, we make the power of the belief in God to grow stronger with the attainment of those wishes.
The tragedy that took place in June 2013 at Kedarnath has perhaps been etched into the minds of many, who were directly or indirectly affected by it but the aftermath of such a calamity can only be disposed off in good spirit as the will of the Lord and a reason to welcome a definite change in the lives of affected people.