Year 2013. A devastating flood came and wreaked havoc in Kedarnath, Uttaranchal. This might not be a positive thing to share, but this was the time when a thought of travelling to Kedarnath came into my mind.
By the way, my name is Kaushal, and I am a local businessman in Dadar, Mumbai who runs a cloth shop. Every day, I see various kinds of people coming in and going out of my shop. Some buy too many clothes and some just look out for how good the shop is. At times, I might end up in having a heated argument when it comes to bargaining. Just the part and parcel of my business.
So coming back to my point, one fine day during the year 2013 this devastating flood came in Kedarnath. Each and every news channel portrayed this disaster. Thousands of kilometers away from this place, I was watching this TV telecast, sitting peacefully in my shop. This made me sad. But the other part of my mind began to wonder what this place actually is.
My father used to say so much about this place. He described it as a heavenly place and only the strong devotees of Lord Shiva pay pilgrimage every year. The trip involves a long painstaking climb of mount Kedarnath and is one of the difficult places in India to reach. In spite of this, lakhs and lakhs of people pay visit to this place every year. All this further increased my curiosity and this became my reason to visit this place. I am glad I did it.
It has been two years since the disaster wreaked havoc. After a lot of inquiry and some use of the Internet, I decided to visit this place. The usual trips to Kedarnath were at full swing as they made a quick recovery from that wreckage. Along with me, my old college friends Ramnik and Dev also decide to give me a company. We booked our trip via a travel agency that provided a complete trip plan and a reasonable tour package. They gave us June 18th 2015 as our start date and we had one week span to cover everything.
Our plan was to catch Dehradun Express from Bandra Terminus and get down at Haridwar. From there, the agency will pick us up and drop us off at a hotel in Rishikesh. It is from this place our actual tour starts and they assured us to cover all the possible places in vicinity and finally the tour will end in Delhi. Our return journey would be in Hazrat Nizamuddin Express that starts from Delhi.
So, the day came. Packing my bags, getting out from this usual hustle and bustle was a completely different feeling to experience. Apart from the usual visit to my village in Uttar Pradesh, this was the first time I am having such a long journey in my life. Ramnik already had been to Kedarnath once and Dev was just a newbie like me. We were seated in the Third AC coach (again a new thing for us) and yes, our journey towards the unknown (for me and Dev) began.
Next day morning, the train soared from the scorching desert heat of Rajasthan, like it was some sort of alien land. By evening, we reached Kota and the train was at halt for nearly one hour. Ramnik got out from the train and searched for something on the platform. It took a while for him and he returned with three big packages that had oil stains in it. When I opened the package, I saw big Kachoris in it! It was such a treat to have Rajasthani special in the middle of nowhere, just made my day.
After another long night and half a day of sitting, sleeping and eating, we reached Haridwar by 3 pm. From there, we had to catch a Volvo bus waiting for us. By evening, we reached Rishikesh and checked into our hotel room. It was a long and tiring day for us. At around 9 pm, a guide came in and asked for whether we would climb the mountain or book a helicopter. Ramnik suggested climbing and Dev hesitated with this decision. Now, we got into a discussion, where Ramnik was firm on climbing, and Dev was with the helicopter ride. But at the end, we all decided to climb. The agent also asked us to pack our bags as we have to vacate the hotel early in the morning.
Next day at 5 o’clock in the morning, we were seated in a local bus arranged by the tour guides. The journey to Kedarnath is about a twelve hour long ride and we would be getting down at Sonprayag, the base of Kedarnath. On the way, a local guide accompanied us and showed the hotspots of Rishikesh like Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula, Neelkant Mahadev temple and various lakes and tributaries of Ganga River.
By afternoon, the bus started to climb twisting and turning roads of the Himalayas. I just cannot describe the beauty of that place. If you are able to witness that kind of beauty in your lifetime, you are truly blessed to do so. That moment is surely going to remain engraved in your memory and would always drive you to visit this place again and again. As the time elapsed, we were inching closer and closer to Sonprayag. Everyone in the bus started chanting ‘Har Har Mahadev’, imbibing a strong sense of devotion and a surge of energy that only this place could give you.
By evening, we reached Sonprayag. We were guided to little market homes in a village that we got down. They were small tent-like houses and we barely had room for three of us. But in a place like this, it is no less than mini heaven. The villager who owned that house made some delicious Rajma chawal for us, as if preparing us for a long day trek we were about to have tomorrow.
It rained heavily last night. Probably we didn’t realize this in our sleep. Our agents asked us to reach Gaurikund summit before 10 am. When we got out with our backpacks, we saw a long, wet and marshy road through which we had to go. Since we made good communication with our fellow villager, he warned us about a road that we had to go through before reaching Gaurikund. He said that it was the worst road to walk through, if possible get a jeep or car. Fortunately, we saw a jeep passing by and the jeep driver agreed to take us to Gaurikund. Although it was quite an expensive ride, it was definitely worth the money. We went through such a rough patch, at times we were scared of getting stuck in the marshy pools. Somehow, we reached Gaurikund on time.
A local guide categorized us into people who wished to trek and people who preferred helicopter ride. We were asked to follow a local villager in order to start our trek. He told us about basic safety precautions to take and gave us whistles to blow in case of emergency. It was a 26 kilometre long trek and will take us 12 to 16 hours to reach the top. The villager asked to give our backpacks to them so that they can carry those luggages on the back of a pony. We kept our wallets and phones and gave rest of the luggage to them. To be frank, it was a long and tiring trek. The more we climbed, the more difficult it became to climb. However, the scenery that surrounded was itself a motivation for us to keep on climbing.
As we reached half way, we saw Dev’s health deteriorating. I blew the whistle and the villager came to inspect Dev. He claimed that Dev must hire a pony so that he could have some rest, but Dev refused to do so. After covering a distance of about a kilometer, he agreed to hire a pony. The villager called his fellow men and in about half an hour, a short man with his pony came along and carried Dev along with them. We continued our trek and finally, with little energy left in us, we reached the top by 8 pm.
After meeting Dev, Ramnik said we had to buy a tent and stay here the whole night. We saw people making their respective tents and hence we decided to do the same. The villager warned us about the theft that happens here and ensures that we buy secure tents. We bought 3 tents and ate the parcel meals that we bought during our way up. The night sky looked so beautiful and star studded that my eyes just could not get off it.
Next day, we found that someone just stole Ramnik’s phone last night. We searched everywhere, but in vain. He said let it go and move forward for the reason we have come this far. The plan was to take a bath at Mandakni River and get in line for the darshan. The river water was too cold to take a bath in. Somehow, we managed to do so and dressed up to stand in the queue. The temple was surrounded by huge mountains and the amount of satisfaction and pleasure it gives to our eyes is something unexplainable. If you want to experience it, just have a good trek, spend a night in these mountains and get ready to witness something magical here.
We stood in a very long queue and after an hour long wait; we finally got to seek blessings from the Lord Himself. It is a surreal experience, truly! It was that moment which made me realize why many prefer to visit this place almost every year. By afternoon, we had our lunch offered as a token to seek blessings in the temple premises (we call it bhandara in our local language) and decided to trek downhill. This time, we arranged ponies in order to save some time and also compensate for our already tired bodies. It took us about 6 to 7 hours to reach the foot of the mountain.
The guides had arranged vans for all the tour members to reach Sonprayag. From Sonprayag, we had another 8 hour long bus trip to Haridwar. Since we had 2 more days to go, they planned a mini tour of Haridwar and Delhi during those days.
In Haridwar, we got to visit various local temples and paid a visit to Gangotri. After an 8 hour long bus journey, we were able to see only a few places in Delhi due to shortage of time. We had a great time in Haridwar and Delhi, but it never seemed so much satisfying as the Kedarnath visit was to me, no offense. As our journey was nearing its end, I was more eager to go home and tell this story to my family. The two full days in the train seemed so long for me, but it passed and lo! I reached home safe and secure.
If you ever plan to visit Kedarnath, do it as soon as possible. You never know what kind of turn your life could take. Get ready to witness once-in-a-lifetime experience and amazing scenery that comes along with it. Even today, when I think about it, it feels like all this happened yesterday. Truly an amazing and magical experience worth having!