"The 2 biggies: Kedarnath and Badrinath" Kedarnath by toonhut
Kedarnath Travel Guide: 20 reviews and 42 photos
After a little snooze on my seat I awake as my head bonks the window as my bus takes sharp turn to see a different world outside. The air is clean! Green is all around! I even see fog and it’s only been 50 minutes into our ride. Mom, my terrific travel partner throughout this journey :) , gives back the reassuring mutual look of wonderment. I feel like an 8 year old going to Disneyland for the first time as I greedily peer out of the windows on both sides and bounce around. I soon realize the bouncing part was not me but thanks to the roads. All the bus rides we took provided a complimentary but mandatory service of making your innards feel like they are in a martini-shaker stuck on frappe the whole day by the time you reach your stop. The constant turns and hairpin-bends add to the cocktail. And these are the national highways =) ! There are amusing little signs painted across the route like leave sooner, drive slower, live longer; no hurry, no worry; 6 speed thrills but kills; or my favorites: be gentle on my curves; and dead slow, work in progress! In the afternoon we realize there is a major active landslide that won’t let us pass. All the male passengers must immediately leave to inspect the sight and then dawdle about for some privy reason. After more than an hour the remaining passengers finally decide to take a major 5 hour detour through even narrower streets! But now more buses had parked behind us so ours was sandwiched and stuck in between. Eventually cajoling out of that mess we proceed. I lost count of times our bus veered so close to the edge of the road/track that all you can see out the window is the straight fall into the valley or river below. At some climatic passes an elongated swear word ran in my head thinking if is this it :P The last 5 hours in the dark we snake around shadowy piney mountains under the moonlight following the river upstream – quite a spectacle. A ritual followed every time our bus halted to let an oncoming vehicle pass: complete silence, slooowly backup until some collective shouts indicate when to stop, let it pass, proceed, and passengers to resume loud giggles and chatter as if on a ride to Ms. Poppins hometown. After a 17.5 hour drive that seemed to never end we reached at 10.45 pm, I thanked the driver, and mum found a room at anyplace still open.
Our sleep was short-lived as the noisy hustle outside woke us at 4 am. After pretending to sleep 90 minutes longer we got ready for the 14km trek up to Kedarnath, the northern and highest most (3584m) Jyotirlinga of Shiv. We start early and make quick progress. The entire track is a constant ascent lined with huge uneven stones. For some streak of brilliance I decided to take with me around 7 kilos of ‘essential’ stuff in my backpack! Mom had about 2 kilos. I know… The track is incredibly beautiful as you follow the racing Mandakini river upstream through the valley and pass several landslide remains and waterfalls. It keeps charging you up. The vegetation changes and barrens-out closer to the top. The last 5 km got more joyful when it started to rain. The last 2 kilometers flatten out just in time because by then everyone is walking at around 1 kmph!
What I was unprepared for was the temperature at the top. The net got it totally wrong. It was not 11-14 C, more like 0-1 C. To make it better, even the best of the rooms on top are not insulated… and the power often goes out =) Piling on enough blankets to fixate you in your spot we pass a cozy night. Energized by watching the sunrise over the snow clad mountains all around, I was powered up for the day ahead. Not ready to spend another night of that, I decide to skip the trail to Vasuki Tal nearby but managed to squeeze in one short trek before we started heading down to Gaurikund. I insisted on carrying all the extra weight. Going down is incomparably easier but of course soon it starts to snow and later hail-snow. Every now and then I would be trailing behind mum, that speedy little thing =) Sometimes I had to tell her to slow down and wonder if she’s taking it in. By now we both knew how to negotiate the trail as mules dashed by, empty or with people aboard, as we heard the bells on their necks or hooves approaching. Avoiding the fresh presence they left behind became a bigger challenge. One particular stretch was an amazing slosh of mud, water, and mule business.
One of the most vivid moments came when I was walking close to a particularly steep valley side of the trail, where a land slide had broken the little fencing, and my right ankle buckled. Then my left ankle. Somehow I regained just in time and for a weird reason 4 seconds later I saw myself grinning with big eyes and lightly laughing to everyone else’s surprise.
As we neared the end I quietly smiled at the faces climbing up, tired after 4km, at how fortunate they are they don’t know how relentless or cold the trek is, as I was blissfully unaware 24 hours ago.
Another night at Gaurikund and at 4.30am I decide to step outside with a torch, jacket and trunks to take a dip in the hot spring pool nearby. It’s funny how though there are separate sections for men and women, the women nonchalantly step to the men’s side and gaze about. The implied reason is ‘I’m looking for someone’ =P
[Sorry, will have to add details of Badrinath right here. VT doesn't a page on it yet]
Off in the bus again at 6.00am after an ETD of 5.30am now to Badrinath (3133m). This driver takes another shortcut which turns out to be a better maintained road and less potholed than the highways! But it is tinier. It’s funny how all at once you want to see where your fate is headed every time the bus creeps to the edge of the road-ridge but then don’t want to either. You want to feel Que Sera Sera like almost every other co-passenger has inured themselves to it but can’t. And this was before entering the last 120km of the national highway leading up to Badrinath, or Landslide Valley as I like to call it. I have never (and hope to never) passed such a collection of landslide remains at almost every 100 meters!! No kidding! Boulders, grovel, sand, or all, just spewed across the roads. To top it the roads were muddy because it had snowed 5 inches the night before. Somehow we still arrive on time, I thank the driver, and hunt for a good place to lodge. Turns out it was colder here than thought too: 1-4 C.
It is an idyllic little village, at least in late October, surrounded by two salt-and-pepper-snow-clad mountain ranges on both sides. Serene. The main temple has heavy Buddhist influences everywhere and the head priest wore a black coat – a unique sight for a Hindu temple. I decided to not miss any trails this time and headed for a 2km one to Charanpaduka. Since I could not find the shrine, my trek turned out to be 3km up the mountains until the crude trail just ended. At that point I was the only person there nestled between the cold but warm embrace of the peaks. Here you can understand what John Muir meant when he said “Going to the mountains is going home”. As I walked down and the sun began to slowly retract its curtain over the icy massifs in the distance, I found the tiny shrine!
Next day we visited the nearby village of Mana. After a little dithering I am glad I decided to proceed to Vasundhara waterfalls 4.3 km farther up after buying a little snack from The Last Indian Shop. Mum decided to head back and both days to my amazement managed to find a very empty and peaceful temple (but always crowded when I entered). This goat trail was the worst paved, if any, of all I had done and I hoped often that my shoes do not betray me now. Right near the end was a nearly 300m long rocky and slippery landslide remain between me and the waterfall. The trail was completely indistinguishable now. Sine I could see a few souls making it, I decided to march on. I don’t know how but I found myself at the very top of the landslide =) Eventually, and thankfully, I made it to the waterfall and spent some reflective time in the sunshine as large clumps of snow occasionally fell from the high ridges on top. Returning back this time I managed to wind up crossing the landslide from its far base end, too close to the drop below. By the end I realized “aahhh, the best way was in between the two” =P
At all cost avoid coming here or to Badrinath in summer. That is high visitor season and the magic serenity of the place... more travel advice
Almost anywhere in Uttarakhand a torch and sunscreen will come handy often. more travel advice
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