The State of Uttarakhand was carved out of a very large State of Uttar Pradesh in the year November 2000. The region consists of seven districts of Garhwal and six districts from Kumaon. Garhwal region or better known as Garhwal Himalayas is endowed with a very large number of important religious shrines, smaller temples and Gurudwaras. The region is reverently called as Devbhoomi, amidst the proximity of mighty snow clad Himalayan peaks, the snow melted rivers and streams and is visited by huge number of pilgrims and tourists. The temples and Gurudwaras offer a constant flow of tourists in summer season after the snow melts. The most known and aspired for destinations in Rudraprayag district of Garhwal Himalayas happen to be Kedarnath and Badrinath. Haridwar and Rishikesh situated at a distance of 220 km and 244 km respectively from New Delhi, is the gateway to Garhwal destinations. The tourist traffic picks up from first week of May and continues till end September. There is no dearth of package tours being organized by plethora of transport operators from New Delhi, Haridwar and Rishikesh. Even Uttarakhand Govt. enterprise Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited ( gmvnl ) has been bery active in this field and has been operating travel packages since as early as nineteen eighties, Online booking facility offered by gmvnl has made life easier for tourists. One can also book travel packages from their liaison offices all around the country. Yet a laymen just arriving at Rishikesh sans any kind of reservation or otherwise, where ever they put up, will not find it difficult to catch hold of one of the tour operators to get seats. With some kind of a home work and working out itineraries of their own, tourists they can plan their itinerary and hire a vehicle small or big from Haridwar or rishikesh.
Our focus on this blog will be on trek trip to Kedarnath; the following sketch offers an idea of the route starting from New Delhi through Haridwar, Rishikesh on the way to Kedarnath.
We pick up the threads somewhere near Gaurikund, which is the starting point of Kedarnath trek. There are four over night options to stay while going towards Gaurikund. One can stay at Gaurikund itself. The other three options are Rampur, Soneprayag and Chandrapuri. In my three treks to Kedarnath, I had the pleasure of staying at Gaurikund in year 1984, Chandrapuri in the year 2006 and at Rampur in the year 2007. There are a number of private gust houses and gmvnl guest houses at all the places mentioned which will be dealt at the end.
Gaurikund will rank as one of the most chaotic places I have seen at Garhwal region. There is a circular plot of land at entry to the town, where the vehicles drop the pilgrims and tourists as fast as they can and rush off to park the vehicle at a place half a km away. The tourists having made it to this place in the morning, amidst the traffic jam that one encounters at the entry point will breathe a sigh of relief. Devouts have a bath at the holy tank at Gaurikund, known by the same name, prior to undertaking the Kedarnat journey. The dwelling with a lone narrow lane, having shops on both sides, sell all kind of items for the yatris undertaking 14 km trek. There are bamboo walking sticks, ponchos - use and throw away raincoats, woolens, shoes, caps and whatever one can think of. The food is best taken at gmvnl guest house located at a slightly higher elevation along the same lane; one has to climb some steep steps to arrive at the restaurant. The food is generally good vegetarian stuff; aloo parathas and maggie noodle is a preferred breakfast for most. It is some what time consuming to wait for your bite to arrive. Outside across the railings, looking down, one sees the sea of humanity, like a mountain stream flowing by.
After a breakfast under their belt the yatris get ready for some trying time. Those who need ponies or palkies ( palanquins carried on shoulder by four persons ) will have their plates full, often haggling with the ponywallas and palkiwallas to fix their prices, although there is a signboard indicating rates displayed by Uttarakhand Govt. There are ‘pittoos’ or porters who carry the luggage or children below twelve or old women in their baskets. The trekkers get an early respite after coming out of the melee from a narrow road funneling into a stone paved track going up the hill. The distress at this point will be smell of horse dung pervading in the air, as the pony camp is a little further off. Once the pony camp is crossed, suddenly the air will seem sweet and fresh and one is aware of the roaring river Mandakini flowing by the side of deep gorge.
The initial few kilometers are the most difficult period for the lay trekkers, till the body system is getting accustomed to the effort in negotiating the steep gradient. The ponywallas at this point of time play a psychological game of getting you to hire a pony at albeit higher rates. Understandably the rates increases as one travels more distance – a demand and supply situation one may say. There are some toilets at the initial stages, although not very clean one may say. There are no derath of shops selling mineral water, frutie, Maggie noodles, aloo parathas on the roadside eateries. The chatties as they are called help one to get a much needed rest to get his breath back. After trekking 7 km roughly halfway mark, one reaches Ramwada (also called Rambara), a dwelling with a lot of chatties and river flowing very close proximity. It is a scenic place. The first sign of alpine grandeur is visible here. There is a small gmvnl guest house here right on the river bank; hardly anybody stays here.
Everybody wants to by-pass Ramwada and complete the 14 km trek by late afternoon. One is warned of possibility of rains in afternoon creating difficulties. In my three treks to Kedarnath so far, only difficulty I faced was remaining alert so as not be nudged by ponies carrying the pilgrims. Beyond Ramwada, the gradient is little more steep. The stone paved track with has bend almost every 50 ft. I normally had a small breather after negotiating each gradient at the point of bend. Once loses the count of number of bends one negotiates for atleast five kilometers, till he reaches Garudchatti. The final two kilometers is fairly comfortable almost flat stretch. In early summer a lot of snow will be visible on the hills around. The river Mandakini keeps a constant company and plays hide and seek with melting snow around it.
My first trip to Kedarnath in the summer of 1984 evoked a feeling of divine presence after reaching the Kedarnath valley. May be it had some thing to do with the sanctity of the place or having a sense of fulfillment after having completed the arduous trek. The Kedar valley is endowed with green meadows all around, some wild flowers in bloom and a chill in air as one has reaches altitude higher than 11,000’. Finding an accommodation is not a very difficult proposition on arrival, There are plenty to chose from. The best accommodation here would be gmvnl guest house, which is difficult to book online during season as the gmvnl package tours get top priority. For my three trips, twice I stayed at gmvnl guest house and once at Bharat Savashram Sangha guest house, very near to temple. A leisurely walk around the valley, after a brief rest at lodge and tea and snacks to recoup the burnt out calories, is a pleasant experience. Some of the scenic beauty is breathtaking picture post card like.
Following day in the early morning is best for Kedarnath Temple visit. In 1984 during my first visit, we hardly had twenty people in the queue; these days devotees will be in hundreds. The return trek to Gaurikund generally takes 4 to 6 hours. Going down hill one comfortablely makes it by early afternoon.
Kedarnath Trek As I Recorded It
Kedarnath Trek As I Recorded It
Important Info for trekkers :
1) Destinations for overnight stay before starting Kedarnath trek:
a) Gaurikund : There is a gmvnl guest house, which can be booked online: http://www.gmvnl.com
Staying right at the point of starting the journey is the best option. However driving around noon time in this town is a difficult proposition, as most of the traffic flow is in the reverse direction. This town as such is overcrowded, not so clean and hence does not really appeal.
b) Soneprayag : Budget hotels will be available near the place of confluence of rivers Vasuki and Mandakini. The distance from Gaurikund is only 6 kms. No gmvnl guest house is available , hence one has to check in a hotel on arrival.
c) Chandrapuri: Reasonably good guest house maintained by gmvnl, where we stayed in the year 2006. This place is one of the hidden gems in Garhwal not visited by many, right on the bank of river Mandakini and offers good Himalayan view. The road distance to Gaurikund is 60 km.
d) Rampur: One of the best guest houses maintained by gmvnl, clean and tidy. The place offers a good view of Himalayan peaks, nice cool and calm surroundings. Most of the accommodation rooms are in minus floors. Stayed here in 2007 and traveled 16 km to Gaurikund very early in the next morning.
2) The condition of trek path : The entire route from Gaurikund and Garudchatti is stone paved. There after it is a mud track. There are plenty of roadside eateries or dhaba along the route, selling mineral water, soft drinks, amul flavoured milk, biscuits. The lunch is generally aloo parathas or Maggie noodles, The road has been widened over the years, yet one has to be careful about passing ponies, lest they nudge you.
3) The climate : Kedarnath is situated above 11,000’ altitude hence the morning and late evenings are quite chilly. One needs adequate woolens like thermals, jackets, caps, woolen socks, windcheaters etc.
4) Trekking shoes: One can wear trekking shoes, sports shoes or floaters, which ever one is comfortable with. It is better to carry minimum stuff for overnight stay.
5) The temple opens in early summer around first week of May. Exact date may be available from website
6) The temple closes around October before Diwali. The closing date again can be got from above website.
7) The road and trek route is shown in the diagram above.
8) Trekkers interested in staying additional day or two at Kedarnath can trek to Gandhi Sarovar ( Chorbari Tal ) at a distance of 3.5 km and Vasuki Tal around 7 km.