While the most of India is exposed to scorching summer heat, the nature in the Himalayas has a different plan for the tormented souls. Comes the month of May and pilgrims from all over the world embark on the sacred Char Dham Yatra hosted by the soaring pinnacles in the state of Uttarakhand. Kedarnath, one of the four destinations of this pilgrimage circuit, wakes up from hibernation after staying unreachable for months due to heavy snowfall.
And, the mystical abode of Lord Shiva turns into an asylum offering refuge to visitors from different regions and religions.
If you plan Kedarnath Yatra 2016, here’s an exclusive guide to help you.
Importance of Kedarnath
Kedarnath Temple is among the 12 Jyotirlingas (places where Shiva is worshipped as an endless pillar of light or Lingam) and also the remotest in the group. At the height of about 3,583 m., it is also the highest among the Jyotirlingas. Lord Shiva is honoured as the master of Kedar Khand (as the region is historically known as) and hence worshipped as Lord Kedarnath. The temples is one among the 4 destinations of Chota Char Dham Yatra, the other three being Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The temple is also one of the Panch Kedars (five sacred shrines of Shiva) and 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams (the greatest Shiva shrines on the continent).
History of Kedarnath
Mythology: According to the popular legend, the five Pandavas brothers were desperate to meet Shiva after winning the war of Mahabharata. Shiva, enraged at the massacres and dishonest tactics followed during the war, chose to avoid them and disguised in the form of a bull. When Bhima, one of the brothers, recognized Shiva, the latter eloped inside the earth and reappeared at five different places (called Panch Kedars), his hump appearing at Kedarnath. Pleased by Pandavas’s devotion, Shiva relieved them from their sins and established himself at this place as a triangular Lingam to bless his devotees henceforth.
Known History: Though the original temples was built by Pandavas, the present day structure dates back to the 8th century AD by Adi Shankara, credited as the founder of the modern Hindu beliefs. For centuries, the annual pilgrimage is organized and thousands of pilgrims take the Kedarnath Yatra route to access the shrine.
Planning the Yatra
Location: Kedarnath Temple is located in Kedarnath Town which is flanked by the towering peaks of Garhwal Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand (Uttaranchal). Having proximity to the holy River Mandakini, the town enjoys the breathtaking views of snow-clad Himalayan peaks.
Schedule: The shrine, along with the other three Char Dham destinations, open from April-end or early-May to October-end or early-November. For the remaining part of the year, these shrines remain unreachable due to heavy snowfall. Kedarnath Yatra timings for 2016 are from 09 May 2016 to 09 November, 2016.
Weather: Kedarnath weather is indeed the most important thing to evaluate before planning the trip. The monsoon months from July to September are usually not recommended due to torrential rainfall and high risks of floods and landslides. You may keep a watch on the weather forecasts on the internet to choose the safest time for the pilgrimage.
How to Reach: If you are a foreigner, it is advised to first board a flight to New Delhi (about 452 km. from the base camp at Sonprayag). You may cover the distance by road from New Delhi or board a flight or train to the nearest access points. The closest airport to Sonprayag is at Dehradun (about 251 km. away), while the nearest railway station is at Rishikesh (about 212 km. away). You may easily book cabs and taxis from any of these places.
Trekking Route: The traditional Kedarnath trek route from the base camp at Gaurikund, which was about 14 km. long, was unfortunately washed away during 2013 flash floods. The new route begins from Sonprayag (or Sitapur) and is about 19-21 km. long. The concerned authorities offer facilities like tents, medical aids, food and more on the way. Palanquins and ponies are also available for the devotees.
Kedarnath by Helicopter: Apart from being long, difficult and not a viable option for all, many pilgrims prefer Kedarnath Yatra helicopter packages. The new trekking route is dangerous at places and lies in the glacial region which is not free from risks. You may book helicopter for Kedarnath or for the entire Char Dham pilgrimage circuit in advance with the help of an online tour operator. A number of charter companies host helicopter services to Kedarnath from three points – Dehradun, Agastyamuni and Phata. You may choose one of them according to your convenience and budget.
Arrangements: The town of Kedarnath is slowly coming back to life after the flash floods of 2013. Still, the town has significantly lost hotels, lodges, restaurants and other concrete structures. As a result, makeshift tents are the main options to stay at. Bio-friendly toilets are arranged after every few meters.
The food may cost you INR 70-80 (per meal per person) while a cup of tea costs around INR 10. It is advised to buy a BSNL connection for your mobile phone as other networks don’t offer services in the region. As it may take few more years for the pilgrimage to offer improved facilities, it is another reason to do Kedarnath Yatra by air.
What to Carry: Heavy woollen clothes, comfortable trekking clothes and shoes and raingear are among the top things to pack. Canvas shoes, mufflers, hats/caps, sunscreens, moisturizers, flashlights and extra batteries are other items that must be in the list. Pack important medicines like painkillers and those for vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, cold and fever. Dry fruits, chocolates and glucose are recommended to get instant energy.
Important Things to Know:
- Kedarnath is a Hindu pilgrimage destination. Dress up decently and remove shoes before entering the shrine.
- Avoid scammers and fraudsters who may try to offer lucrative deals.
- Take permissions or follow the instructions while using cameras.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking. Don’t consume non-vegetarian food near the temple.
- Prefer to drink packaged water only.
Things to Do at and around Kedarnath
- Kedarnath Temple: A magnificent structure guarded by lofty mountain peaks, Kedarnath Temple promises huge peace and respite to the visitors. Devotees may perform pooja/aarti at the temple (requires booking in advance and may cost up to INR 20,000).
- Religious Sites: Adi Shankara’s Samadhi and Bhairon Temple
- Lakes: Gandhi Sarovar (Chorabari Tal) and Ratus Kund
- Gaurikund: The place where Shiva accepted to marry Goddess Parvati. It is famous for a temple dedicated to the goddess and hot water springs.
- Natural Beauty: You won’t be able to take your eyes off of the Kedarnath massif consisting of snow-laden peaks of Kedarnath, Kedar Dome and Bharatekuntha. In addition, there are lush green meadows, waterfalls and unmatched splendour all around.
- Trekking: Adventurers may choose to trek to Chorabari Lake and Vasuki Tal which offer mesmerizing beauty and amazing peace.
- Excursions: Triyuginarayan is the place where Lord Shiva married Parvati. Chopta, Chandrashila, Deoria Tal and Auli are the places blessed with enthralling natural beauty. Some of the well-known pilgrimage options nearby include Guptkashi, Sonprayag, Panch Kedar (Madmaheshwar, Tungnath, Kalpeshwar and Rudranath), Ukhimath (winter home of Lord Kedarnath) and Rudraprayag.
Chardham Yatra is an ideal expedition to experience the profound spiritual magnificence India is known for. Start planning it from today to make the best out of it.