Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Trek to Gandhi Sarovar – The Glacial Grandeur

The holy shrine of Kedarnath is visited by a large number of pilgrims and nature lovers from early summer after the temple re-opens around first week of May. The itineraries offered by most of the travel operators allow a full day’s trek from Gaurikund to Kedarnath. The following morning, some time is allotted to yatris for a darshan at the temple and the return trek to Gaurikund starts immediately thereafter. The buses or vehicles pick up the yatris by 2 pm and travel to the next night halt. Yet, if one is a careful observer, he will not miss a signboard near the steel bridge, near the temple indicating various sightseeing places around Kedarnath,

The map depicted in the signboard is awfully out of scale and will leave one with a lot of confusion. To make the matters simple the following list of important destinations and distances will make it lot easier for yaris to comprehend.
1. Sankaracharya Yog Samadhi : 200 m walkable
2. Bhairabnath Mandir : 1 km trek uphill
3. Gandhi Sarovar : 4 km trek uphill
4. Vasuki Tal : 8 km trek uphill

In my three visits to Kedarnath since 1984, only in the year 2007, I could have a itinerary, which allowed me to grab three hours in the early morning for a trek to Gandhi Sarovar ( also called Chorabari Tal at the snout of Chorabari glacier ) and back. Seemingly to make my task easier, there was a signboard near the temple, with a prominent looking arrow indicating the route to Gandhi Sarovar and mentioning distance of 3.5 km trek behind  the temple . A recce of the trek route in the evening, walking behind the temple took us to the a broken steel bridge over river Mandakini. The furious looking Mandakini whose source is the Chorabari glacier, looked difficult to cross by hopping across the rocks; the trek route looked as good as closed. We were back near the temple to make further enquiries with the local habitants. One Garhwali villager pointed to  us an alternative route over the hill on left hand side while facing the Kedar temple, which looked a bit longer but doable. The following sketch prepared by me based on my experience and some aerial shots from hill top, shows both the routes to Gandhi Sarovar.

We woke up much before dawn and got dressed in all our woolens, to undertake the trek, about which we had no idea, we did not have a guide either. Three of us trekkers veered to the left side, much ahead of the temple, walked on the steel bridge over river Mandakini and took to the stone paved trekking route, on a gentle upward gradient. It was easy going for at least two km before a huge glacier made its appearance. The glacier sloping from hill top about 40’ wide, totally covered the walking track, that was something we did not bargain for. For me, it was first of a Himalayan trek, where I came across such a situation. We had some kind of a conference and psyched ourselves and decided to cut across the white snow mass. There were a few foot marks of some adventurous guys, who preceded us along the same route probably yesterday. It was a very slow but cautious progress carefully tiptoeing on snow, with walking stick offering some kind of a support. After crossing the obstacle we coasted along for some 15 minutes then we encountered the next glacier. Exasperated we crossed four glaciers and continued walking up to a point where the trail seemed to disappear completely. Once again we were in a dilemma, whether to continue with our expedition; one of us volunteering to do a recce by further climbing up the hill along the mud track. After nearly ten minutes, the guy waved from top signaling that he has reached the goal! We took our time to clamber up and to reach a snow filled bowl shaped valley with a glacial lake Gandhi Sarovar in the centre. The Himalayan peak of Kedar Dome appeared gigantic and majestic in a cloudless blue sky. 
Kedarnath Peak
The glacial lake reflected the snow peaks in water which was frozen.  The snow mass in vicinity of the lake is the danger zone as it gets piled up on top of frozen water layer. A few days back there was a heavy snowfall, which made all the difference. 
Gandhi Sarovar
As I took my position on top of the hill recording still and movies, my two trek mates were adventurous enough to go down the slope of soft snow upto their calves to venture as close to Gandhi Sarovar ( earlier referred to as Chorabari Tal ) as possible. The pair looked so miniscule and insignificant engulfed by the nature’s largesse. Beyond the mass of snow in the valley appeared the base of Kedar Dome, called  Chorabari glacier. I was totally in tune with nature, soaking into its grandeur; the time lost its dimension thereafter. My thoughts process were interrupted as my trek mates made their appearance wadding through the white soft snow to the place where I was standing.

Climbing up the gradient in snow
With a sense of reluctance in our heart, we commenced our return journey from this heavenly place, as one does not get an opportunity of witnessing the Himalayan glacial glory from close proximity often in their life time. A few memory photo shoots later we were in a hurry to reach Kedarnath as early as possible to enable us to commence our trek from Kedarnath to Gaurikund and reach there by 4 pm, One of our trek mates took the short cut route, by going downhill along a steep goat track, crossing  the river Mandakini by stepping on boulders, reaching Kedarnath from behind the temple to Bharat Sevashram guest house. We two, however, decided to retrace along the same route crossing four glaciers. This time around negotiating glacier proved to be a more difficult proposition. The sun rising and with its warmth melting the top layer of hardened snow made it slippery. It was as if we were walking over a slab of ice; in spite of being careful, I slipped a few times, but no damage was done.
Crossing Glacier Enroute
The view of Kedarnath taken from top as a bird’s eye view shot was gorgeous. Finally we were on the way along the gentle downward slope. The wild flowers of yellow and violet variety made its appearance at periodic intervals. 

Kedarnath - A Bird's View
We reached Kedarnath around 8.30 am and after a brief rest and a hearty breakfast of Samosas and jalebis at Kedar Mishtan restaurant, commenced our return trek taking with us all the wonderful, exciting and adventurous memories. For interesting visuals try following captioned link. 
Gandhi Sarovar As I Recorded It 
Important Info for trekkers:
1)  The early summer trek to Gandhi Sarovar in first fortnight of May, could mean crossing a few glaciers. Since the sunrays heats up the top layer of ice and melts it, rendering it slippery, it is better to commence the trek at the crack of dawn.
2) June / July months may cause the melt down of all the glaciers enroute, hence the trekking will be easy.
3) It is better to hire a guide for this trek; one can do the recce of both the routes ( shown in the diagram above ) in previous evening, so as to be assured that the bridges over river Mandakini are intact.
5) It is understood from some of the photographs seen by me in net,  atleast part of the Gandhi Sarovar trek is through a cement track going up the hill. I presume the route is from behind the temple.
4) The trek to Vasuki Tal at a distance of 7 km is doable after the snow melts, in which case, one needs an additional night’s stay at Kedarnath.

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