Though I staunchly believe that true pilgrimage (Yatra) is delving and discovering the self as a part of the Supreme, I took up the Chardham Yatra (Pilgrimage circuit of 4 sites), last season in India. Had I not travelled for the pilgrimage I would not have seen the beauty woven together by the Garhwal Himalayas, the mystical clouds, the different shades of greens, rivers and waterfalls, glaciers and snow and the zeal and faith of numerous pilgrims?
After the freezing winter, the Chardham Yatra begins on Akshaya Tritiya (end of April or early May) and remains open till Diwali (end of October or early November). The Chardham Yatra of Uttarakhand is one of the most popular pilgrimage circuits of the Hindus in India, comprising of two Shakti sites-Yamunotri and Gangotri, one of India's most popular Shaiva and Vaishnava sites- Kedarnath and Badrinath Dham respectively. However, the beauty and adventure experienced from the trip are beyond the boundaries of religious limits.
Kedarnath (11,755 feet, in the lap of the snow-covered Himalayas, is one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in India, being a significant part of 3 pilgrimage circuits- Chardham, Panch Kedar ( A pilgrimage circuit of 5 different sites) and 12 Jyotirlingas (12 sites with self-manifested Lord Shiva shrines). Today, on this auspicious occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, the Temple would have opened, otherwise for COVID-19, like every year, and thousands of devotees would visit Kedarnath throughout the entire season. So today is the best day for Kedarnath travel guide.
The Trekking Trail
Before one starts for the Kedarnath Temple, she has to stay at a base, Guptkashi being the most popular place to stay. One may opt for Gaurikund or Soneprayag. These places are accessible from Haridwar/ Rishikesh/ Dehradun (Jolly Grant Airport) by cabs/bus. It takes around 7-9 hours. There are two ways to reach Kedarnath Temple from Guptkasi/Gaurikund – By helicopter or by taking the 16km trek route.
The old trek route from Rambara to the temple had been completely demolished in the devastating flood of 2013. The new trek route begins from Gaurikund with camps and stalls made for first aid and medical facilities, rest and refreshment. The trek level is moderate to difficult. The trek route is safe and provides gorgeous views which rejuvenate the wearied trekkers. However, the weather may change at any moment. There are areas where one needs to walk over glaciers for some time. River Mandakini, accompanies the trekkers, frivolously flowing parallel to the route. If you are planning the trek, prior consultation with a doctor is advisable. Carry water, chocolates, dry fruits (especially raisins) and camphor and/or portable oxygen. You can avail horses to ride (Rs.2500 one side) and palkis/dolis/ palanquins pulled by potters to climb uphill (Rs. 5000 and above depending on weight for both sides). If one decides to trek, she or he has to stay overnight, hence pre-booking is suggested.
The Helicopter Ride
Kedarnath travel guide to helicopter ride is to travel as light as possible. Based on weight and fuel, seats and number of people in a helicopter are allotted. Additional charges are levied above 80kgs; above 120kgs double ticket has to be purchased. Only 2kg luggage is allowed. It is extremely important to carry essentials required for a night stay even if you have plans to come back on the same day because the weather up there is terribly unpredictable and bad weather instantly calls for helicopter services being stopped. In such a scenario one may have to come down the next day. There are basic hotels, guest houses and tents for shelter, where you may instantly ask for reservation or help. For the same day round trip ticket, one is given 2 hours to visit the temple and come back to the helipad at the base which is 700m from the temple. The cost of tickets varies according to the helipads from where one flies (round trip costs Rs4500-Rs6900). The most popular helipads for chopper services to fly to Kedarnath base are Phata, Sersi and Sitapur. It hardly takes 7-8 minutes to fly to the Kedarnath base from where another 20 minutes' easy trek (700 m) is required to reach the temple.
One can feel an instant spark of awe and wonder on reaching in front of the temple with the majestic snow-covered peak behind it. The chants and temple bells also create a soothing effect. Space is an energy field where every sorrow seems washed away making one ecstatic. Numerous devotees and interesting Sadhus (saints and hermits) are seen around.
Shankaracharya's Samadhi Site
Shankaracharya's Samadhi site, behind the temple, is a must according to Kedarnath travel guide. Adi Shankaracharya, the 8th-century Hindu philosopher and theologian were last seen at Kedarnath, before he set off into the mountains. He had determined Kedarnath as one of the 12 Jyotirlingas that one should visit for salvation.
The Divya Bheemshila
The Divya Bheemshila, behind the temple is worshipped daily as a symbol of faith and protection. It is a 20 feet wide and 12 feet tall rock that fell from the mountains and anchored some 30 feet behind the temple and stood against the fury of waters flowing down from the Chorabari Tal and Mandakini River in the flood of June 2013. Some believe that the stone made the floodwaters gush through both the sides of the temple, safeguarding it, destroying every other thing in their path. The construction of the temple is also a reason which makes it capable of withstanding the most difficult hazards through ages. It is said that the Kedarnath temple withstood 400 years of the mini ice age and glacial movements.
There is a statue of Nandi (Lord Shiva's Bull) in front of the temple and another inside it. As a custom, pilgrims whisper their wishes inside the Nandi's ears. The temple walls have carved statues of Parvathi, Krishna, Draupadi and the 5 Pandavas. The garbhagriha, the most interior part of the temple, has the triangular shaped Shivling (Shiva shrine) representing the hump of the bull.
There is an intriguing mythological story behind the temple. After the Battle of Kurukshetra, the Pandavas were looking for Lord Shiva in the Himalayas, to ask for forgiveness for killing their kinsmen, the Kauravas. Bhima, the second Pandava, identifying Lord Shiva, disguised as a bull, tried to catch him. The Bull then went into the ground with his body parts coming out of the ground in various places later. In Kedarnath remained the hump, with four other parts appearing elsewhere. According to legends, the Pandavas built the five Panch Kedar temples across Uttarakhand. After the Kedarnath temple closes on Diwali, the shrine is brought down to Ukhimath, its winter abode.
As Kedarnath travel guide, there is a list of places which must be a part of one's plan – Gandhi Sarovar or Chorabari Taal, 5 km trek from the temple, the calm lake whose water rampaged everything in the flood of 2013; Bhairava Temple which is on the way to Kedarnath temple and Rudra cave, 0.5kms from the temple, a cave where the Indian Prime Minister, visited for meditation, in 2019. If one starts from Gaurikund, definitely pay a visit to the temple of Gauri Mata.
Kedarnath requires elaborate planning and prior reservations and this Kedarnath travel guide will definitely assist one.
Read about Prayagraj in India from our Travel and Living section.
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.