Kedarnath Dham – A Devotional Trip
It was the first week of November 2020 and we were not left our home since February. My friend mentioned many times lately to plan a trip to Kedarnath Dham but it did not materialize due to the professional and personal commitments and external conditions. There is a saying that you cannot meet the God until God calls you, whether it is their abode on this earth or in heaven. Out of the blue, one fine evening my friend called me, and our plan was set for a week later to visit Kedarnath Dham. In the next couple of days, we even did the required bookings and plannings.
We chose the mode of travel as Road trip, one of my favorite way of travel. We left our home at dawn on 5th November to pick our friends from their home. Within half an hour, we all are on the way to Haridwar. It was a 3-4 hours journey to Haridwar. The roads were clear and the weather was pleasant. We were driving without any halt as we all want to reach Haridwar as early as possible because from Haridwar we booked a cab to Guptkashi which is throughout a hill road going under construction. On hills, you never know when you have to wait for hours due to landslides or traffic jams. The journey till Haridwar was smooth and comfortable. We had reached Haridwar Railway station by 8 AM where our cab was waiting for us. We shared quick pleasantries with the driver before he took us to the parking where our car was going to park for the coming three days. The parking was quite spacious and safe. We transferred our luggage to the cab and in the flick of the time, we are on our way to Guptkashi where we had booked a hotel to spend the night.
It was 10 AM in the morning and we haven’t had our breakfast so far. We asked the driver to make a stop at a restaurant and within half an hour we are at Regenta. We had ordered Aloo Parantha and Paneer Parantha with Tea. Paranthas was great as it had good stuffing but the tea was worst, like plain hot water. After one hour, we were back on our way to Guptkashi. The weather was pleasant and the surroundings was an eye reliever. On the way, we faced a few minutes of traffic jam at few places due to the widening of the highway. The road was two-lane and the government is widening it to four lanes. Future looks promising from a road traveler’s perspective. We took our first stop at Devprayag, a place where River Alakananda and River Bhagirathi meets. The different color of the water is clearly visible before both merges. There is Devprayag (Raghunathji) temple at Sangam which is dedicated to God Vishnu, ‘The Preserver’. The place is a mesmerizing and relaxing. After spending some time, we were back on our way to Guptkashi. But we were not aware that within half an hour we had to stop again due to the construction going on for widening the road. Within minutes, there was a long line of cars behind our cab and as usual, there was another row made by some people who were always in hurry knowing that they can’t go much further. And after that, a long wait starts…
After 3 hours, the road was open and traffic movement started. We were now back on our way to the destination and after that, there were no blockade. The next stop was Samrat Resort for lunch. The resort is built at a beautiful location. One can have a mesmerizing view of the turning of the Alakananda river from the resort balcony. We placed our order and spent time on the balcony till the order came. The taste of the food was good along with the quantity but the tea was as usual bad. As we were already behind the schedule, we quickly finished our lunch and back on the way. The sun was going to set and darkness was sweeping. Guptkashi was approaching and at 8:30 PM we were at the hotel for the night stay. I can say the hotel is quite ok but they have built another section (the construction is still going on) and the rooms are new and unused. The temperature was quite down and one can feel the chills of a cool breeze. As we were tired of the long 12 hours journey, we ordered and did our dinner within an hour and went to bed for a nice sleep.
The next day, I woke up early. The darkness was still around me. But that darkness was incapable to camouflage those huge magnificent mountains behind whom was the shrine of Mahadev, Kedarnath Dham. I sat in the balcony to watch the sunrise before I move for a morning walk and explore the area. The chilling breeze was flowing and giving a soothing feeling to mind and body. The sun was rising and one can watch the mesmerizing beauty of those mountains. By that time my wife also joined me. Then we had moved out of the hotel for a walk.
As we were walking a dog also accompanied us. During the walk, we bought few packets of biscuits for our four-legged friend. After one and a half hours of walking, we were back to the hotel. We got ready and had breakfast before moving to our ultimate destination. We packed our stuff and put the luggage in the cab. As we had planned to spend the night in one of the Dharmshala at Kedarnath, so we separated the necessary stuff in a bag which we were going to take with us. We had booked a helicopter from Guptkashi to go to Kedarnath Dham and there was a limitation of the luggage. One can take extra luggage by paying the necessary costs. There is no road to the shrine, either you can use a helicopter or walk 22 km to reach there and that walk is not easy.
At 9:30 AM, we left for Aryan Aviation for the Helicopter ride. It was just 7 minutes away from the hotel but we were excited to reach Kedarnath as soon as possible for a sight of the shrine. On reaching the helipad, we left our excess luggage in the cab and went to the counter to get the ticket. To our disappointment, the person at the ticket counter confirms that we can take the helicopter only after 1 PM because we have a night stay. The preference was given to those who were returning on the same day. After that, we were just looking at the watch. It was quite difficult to spend every minute because there was not much to do in the vicinity. We were sitting and talking.
Finally, at 2 PM, we onboarded the helicopter. It was a 15-minute journey one way and the helicopter takes round without stop. It was on land for that period only in which the passengers were deboard and onboard. In the blink of an eye, we were flying over the mountains filled with trees. The view was mesmerizing. This was my first helicopter ride and I was a little afraid in beginning but after few minutes I was enjoying the flight and view below. A river was flowing through the mountains. Some things one can not express in the words, this was the same. One can feel it when experience it. The time was passed so soon that we got the first view of the shrine and it was devotional. I wanted the helicopter to land asap as I was feeling a unique devotional rush inside me to view the temple. Soon, we were on the ground and on the way to the temple. The temperature was too low and we were feeling that chill. As we had to go upward and there was a lack of oxygen because of the height, due to which we were not able to move fast. The distance from the helipad to the temple is just 700 meters but looks like more than 1 km because of the ascent. There is a large circular platform from where one can see the first view of ‘Kedarnath Dham’, one of the twelve revered Jyotirlinga of God Shiva and most worship by pilgrims. After the first view, it was like just a few minutes to be at the temple.
Kedarnath Dham is a Hindu temple dedicated to God Shiva, located on the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river. Due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is open to the general public only between the months of April and November. During the winters, the vigraha (deity) from the Kedarnath temple is carried down to Ukhimath and where the deity is worshiped for the next six months. Kedarnath is seen as a homogenous form of Shiva, the ‘Lord of Kedarkhand’. The temple is not directly accessible by road and has to be reached by a 22 km uphill trek from Gaurikund. The temple was initially built by Pandavas and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest Hindu shrines of Shiva.
We spent some time in the temple courtyard. Then, we had started searching for a Dharmshala for the night stay. The rate of rooms in dharmshala varied from Rs. 800 to Rs. 5000 depends on the location and room size. But the real task was finding a room as all the dharmshalas were almost booked and finding a good room was an uphill task. But my friend is a jugaadu person, instead of the room he found a panditji who belonged from his native place. Now, we had a local connection who knew the place and people much better. He quickly dialed few numbers and identified a couple of options. We went with him to see and choose among different ‘available’ options. We identified one big room which was ok to spend the night. Just one piece of advice, do not keep your hopes high. The conditions are adverse and it’s not easy to maintain the property. On top of that, there is a lot of construction activity going on to rebuilt and make it safer after the 2013 flash floods destruction. In few years, it will be a great safe place to visit and with comfort to pilgrims.
After putting the luggage in the room, we went back to the temple courtyard. The priest was preparing for the evening aarti(prayer). People started gathering in front of the temple entrance for the aarti. Due to Covid restriction, people were not allowed inside the temple and they had to stand outside maintaining the social distancing rule. As there was still some time in aarti and it started to dusk, we decided to explore the area. There is a big boulder behind the temple. During the flash floods, it came from the top of the mountain and stopped behind the temple which saved the temple in that destructive flood. Due to this, people call it ‘Ganesh Shila’ or ‘Bhim Shila’ which means God’s Rock. The temple is surrounded by large snow-covered mountains on all sides. Outside the courtyard, there are a lot of shops for food or tea. We went back towards the big circular platform to see the available food options which we can try for dinner after the aarti. We spent some time at the platform. Till now, it was pretty dark. We went back to the temple as aarti was started. The atmosphere was devotional and the sweet sound of the bells giving me peace. After the aarti, we went for dinner. Again, don’t have high expectations. It’s just normal and there are not many options available. We chose the safest option, finished it quickly, and went again to the platform. The temperature was -9 degrees Celcius and few locals had started the bonfire to beat the cold. We also went there to get some heat but of no use. We decided to go back to the room for sleeping as we had to wake up early to take our place in the queue for God Shiva’s glimpse and worship. Before sleeping, we thought to have a cup of tea to defeat the cold. The tea was faded. Instead of helping in getting rid of cold, it spoilt the taste of the mouth. We were talking but the cold was increasing, so we covered ourselves by quilt. I did not realized when did I slept.
I woke up around 2 AM and I was feeling completely fresh. There was not a bit of sleepiness in my eyes. I was in bed for another 1 hour before getting ready. By the time I got ready, everyone woke up. I went to the temple courtyard on the pretext of getting into the queue but in reality, I didn’t want to miss the sunrise. As I reached the courtyard, I witnessed that approximately fifty people were already into the queue. I quickly grabbed my place and within the next 5 minutes, there were 20 people behind me. The queue was increasing with every passing minute. The temple was bathed in the light of the bulb. Actually, the whole courtyard is full of light. After almost an hour, a ray of light appeared. The sun was rising and this was the heavenly moment to live in. Actually, this place is heaven on earth. One has to be here to live it. The redness of the sun lay on the snow-capped mountains. After some time the temple was open and the morning aarti started before devotees get a glimpse of Mahadev. The aarti went for almost an hour and after that, the queue started moving. By now, others also joined me. Within few minutes, we were inside the temple, in front of the Mahadev. The feeling was blissful. We spent very little time there because of the restriction but it was the best time. We came out of the temple and then performed the rituals and dughdabhishek (milk bath) of God Shiva. After completing the puja, we were back in the room to pack the luggage. Half an hour later, we were going back towards the helipad. We were the first in line to board the helicopter. We waited for half an hour for the helicopter as there was some issue that occurred. After half an hour, we were again in the air but this time we had memories and felt like I left a piece of mine there. Twenty minutes later, we were in the cab going back to Haridwar. The return journey was as eventful as going to Guptkashi. We had to wait for three hours at the same place due to the road construction work. We took a halt at Devprayag again and after that another stop to grab some food. We were expecting to reach Haridwar by 3-4 PM but due to the jam, we reached at 9 PM. Without wasting much time, we load our stuff to my car and head back towards our home with some beautiful memories.