Chardham Yatra - Kedarnath via Rudraprayag

 Uttar Kasi to Rudraprayag (Day 10 – July 10, 2006) : 175 Kms – 6 hour drive

We left Uttar Kasi early morning by 7:00 am, drove to Rudraprayag. En route, we saw the Tehri Dam. The scenic beauty along the drive is simply marvelous. We stayed at Monal Resort, one of the excellent resorts in the Rudraprayag area.

Rudraprayag is so named for Rudra (Siva) and for the ‘prayag’ (or confluence) of two rivers, the confluence of River Mandakini and River Alaknanda. According to legend, Lord Siva appeared here as Rudra to bless Narad Muni.

Rudraprayag to Kedarnath (75 Kms by car to Gaurikund with 14 kms walk from Gaurikund to Kedarnath).

These two days, this day and the next, day 11 and day 12 of this trip were eagerly awaited by Sarasa and myself. In fact, all pilgrims look forward to these 2 days when they get to worship Lord Siva in Kedarnath, among the great temples of Siva.

The plan is as follows: The trip to Kedarnath is a 2-day event, on the first day, we travel to Gaurikund (about 3 hours driving time from Rudraprayag), pack a small bag with stuff for over-night stay leaving our suitcases etc. at Monal Resort in Rudraprayag, the car will stay at Gaurikund because no motorable road exists beyond Gaurikund, we walk the 14 Kms distance from Gaurikund to Kedarnath (or use horse or doli for those who won’t be able to walk), reach Kedarnath by evening, have darshan at Kedarnath Siva temple in the evening, stay overnight at hotel in Kedarnath, have darshan in the morning at Kedarnath temple again, visit Adi Sankara’s Samadhi near Kedarnath temple, after breakfast start the return walk of 14 km to Gaurikund, get into the car at Gaurikund, drive back the 75 km in 3 hours, get to Monal resort on the second day evening.

Today is the much-awaited day for going to Kedarnath to offer our prayers to Kedarnath Siva, one of the 12 jyothirlingas, the ‘swayambhu’ diety, the long walk to get to Kedarnath from Gaurikund.

Legend of Kedar Siva: The Kedarnath shrine, one of 12 jyotirlingas of Lord Siva, is located in a scenic spot situated against the backdrop of majestic Kedarnath range. (Kedar is another name for Siva). According to legend, the Pandavas, after the Mahabharatha war, felt guilty of having killed their own brothers and sought blessings of Siva at Kasi for redemption of their sins. Siva eluded them repeatedly, went and stayed ‘incognito’ at Gupt Kasi, a town en route to Gaurikund from Rudraprayag (the name, ‘Gupt Kasi’ is assigned to this place because of the stealth nature of living by Siva over here to avoid the Pandavas). On being followed by Pandavas, Siva eluded them repeatedly and took refuge in Kedarnath in the form of a bull. On being followed again, He (the bull), dived into the ground, leaving the hump on the surface. Pandavas recognized Siva and prayed. Siva felt the sincerity of the Pandavas, had sympathy on them and gave the darshan to them here at Kedarnath. The ‘idol’ in Kedarnath is in the form of the hump of a bull and is not in the traditional ‘linga’ form. The remaining portions of Lord Siva appeared at four other places and are worshipped as his manifestations. The arms at Tunganath, the face at Rudranath, the belly at Madhmaheshwar and His locks (hair) with head at Kalpeshwar. Kedarnath and the four of these shrines are treated as ‘Panch Kedar’ (Five shrines of Siva).

Kedarnath Temple is one of the holiest Hindu pilgrim sites. It is perched at an altitude of 3,584 meters amidst towering snow-clad Himalayan peaks on the head of River Mandakini. The Kedarnath Temple is built, in its present form, by Adi Sankaracharya in the 8th century. In front of the temple door is a large statue of Nandi as a guard. The mandapa walls are adorned with idols of the five Pandavas and Draupadi. There is also an image of Lord Ganesha. The shrines close for winter on the first day of Kartik (Oct-Nov) and re-opens in Vaisakh (April-May).

We left early, by 7:00 am, to Gaurikund. During our previous day’s travel, one of the tires went flat, our driver Deepak changed the tire using the spare tire, in the evening got the flat tire repaired. On our way to Gaurikund the next day, however, he realized that the repair job done on the flat tire the previous evening hadn’t worked, so we stopped on the way at a small store on one of the small villages, got the tire repaired correctly in about 20 minutes and were on our way. I was stuck by such self-contained shops in the small village on our way to Gaurikund from Rudraprayag, that such store is open at such early hour of 7 am (or even earlier, we don’t know!), could have the tire repaired in about 20 minutes and be on our way! This is India’s resilience, India’s strength lies in its 600,000 or more villages, the people are so simple-minded yet contributing vitally to all aspects of the economy.

On to Gaurikund! In an hour’s time, by 8:30 am, we got stuck, this time, by a big mud-slide on the way that had blocked traffic for the past 2 days! At first, we were worried but then our guide and escort, Vivek, and driver Deepak, who are used to such delays, quickly assured us that there is nothing to worry about at all, just that each of us have to carry our bags (that we have packed for our over-night stay at Kedarnath), walk the 1+km distance (such a long line of cars are already waiting since the past 2 days) to walk across the mud-slide, where many taxis are eager and waiting to take the pilgrim tourists from the site of the mud-slide to Gaurikund (which was an ‘unexpected’ business opportunity for them!), the pilgrims can then go on with their ‘business’ of going to Kedarnath etc. and bring them back from Gaurikund to the mud-slide site if the mud-slide area is not cleared for traffic by then, the pilgrims will then cross the mud-slide and walk back to the waiting cars etc. This is what we did! We also instructed Deepak, our driver, to come to Gaurikund if the work is completed and the mud-slide area was cleared for traffic. The road-crew of Uttaranchal did an outstanding job and cleared the mud-slide that day afternoon by 4 pm or so, so we were told by Deepak, who could travel via the repaired area to Gaurikund and halted there for the night. With another half-hour delay due to our having to walk and get to the taxi to take us to Gaurikund and the ensuing delays, it was about 11 am by the time we reached Gaurikund.

Gaurikund is so named because there is a kund (water pond) with hot water springs and a Gauri Temple nearby. Legend has it that this is the place where Goddess Parvathi (Gauri) meditated to attain Lord Siva. It is the base for trek to Kedarnath. Our original plan, if executed without any delays on the way, would have put us by 9:30 am to 10 am at Gaurikund, would have afforded us enough time to take bath and worship at the Gauri temple before proceeding to Kedarnath. Due to the delays that we faced along the way to Gaurikund, with time already 11 am, with 14 km walk (or by horse or by doli) in difficult and trying conditions and our desire to worship at Kedarnath temple in the evening itself, we skipped the bath at Gaurikund and proceeded straight to Kedarnath.

Gaurikund is at an elevation of 1,982 meters and Kedarnath is at about 3,582 meters. The elevation of nearly 1,600 meters is to be accomplished in 14 km or an average of nearly 11.5% gradient. This is pretty steep. If we consider the last 6 km distance, the elevation at a pt 8 kms from Gaurikund, is 2,660 meters. This tells us two aspects of the climb. The gradient for the first 8 kms is about 8.25% (2,660 meters minus 1,982 meters divided by 8 kms). The last 6 km thus has a gradient of about 15.4% (3,582 meters – 2,660 meters by 6 kms). Thus, walking the last 6 kms, with an average gradient of over 15% (meaning some areas may have lesser slope with some others greater slope, sometimes as high as nearly 20% or so!) is indeed lot tougher than the first 8 kms walk. Rain, which has bothered us only for about an hour so while we were at Gangotri during the first 10 days, finally has started to come down heavily with dark clouds overhead. These statistics would discourage most persons but not the many pilgrims (including us) who have waited for this day for a long time! Sarasa and Amita decided to hire a doli, our over-night bags were also sent in the doli, Chetan, myself and our guide Vivek started the walk at 11 am. We walked, and walked, and walked, will take a break for some time, have some tea (or Limca or Fanta), Parle biscuits, Honey-Oat Oatmeal cookies, Bisleri water bottle, walk, walk again. By 2:30 pm (after about 3.5 hours walk, we have just covered the first half of the 14 km walk and that too, the easy gradient zone!). Sweater over the shirt, rain-coat, umbrella, water bottle, a walking stick to get support on the stone-laid path, wet and slippery with some areas containing dirt and horse manure etc., stunning scenery on the sides, lots of pilgrims walking alongside with you, horses carrying persons – men, women and children (yes, children!). Many families come to worship together, we saw children as young as couple years old to kids, teenagers, many families in their thirties and forties, some families with old men and women – with those unable to walk being on horseback or by dolies. It is a sight to see and watch all these persons, many on horses or dolies, many walking, rain or shine! All these persons are trudging along happily oblivious of everything else, with the sole aim of worshipping Kedarnath Siva. Since I was walking at a slightly faster pace than Chetan, Vivek walked at Chetan’s pace to keep him company, I was able to wait for them thus get some rest on the way. I also used the occasion to chant Rudram chamakam in my mind (the number of times I could chant was many!) and many other Vedas. The stunning beauty of the mountain peaks, River Mandakini flowing way down some 300 to 500 ft down or more, small waterfalls, deep gorges, rain, rain clouds! I did not feel any strain due to walking (very difficult to believe but it is true and I repeat that I never felt any strain or tiredness due to the walk), towards the end I felt cold especially due to the rain and the height but other than that it was a pleasant walk, long though it was!

Sarasa and Amita reached by 6 pm at our hotel in Kedarnath. We have booked our stay at Punjab Sind Awas, a good hotel. However, when they reached the hotel, eager to change the clothes because they are all wet (in spite of rain-coat and umbrella) and to switch on the heater, they found that the hotel doesn’t have any heater! The room is as cold as, or colder than, the outside, Kedarnath is cold due to rains, evening time and being at an altitude of nearly 12,000 ft. Your only option is to wrap around the one, two or three (or as many as you want) blankets the hotel provides and hope that the shivering and cold will stop. While Sarasa and Amita were thus spending the first half-hour after their arrival inside their rooms wrapping themselves in blankets, I reached there at the end of the 14 km walk by 6:30 pm eager to change my wet clothes and turn the heater on! As Sarasa did before me, I also had to settle for blankets to keep warm! It takes a while to understand why there are no heaters – where electricity supply is irregular, heaters aren’t going to be of much help; relying on good old blankets is lot better! The walk itself took nearly 7.5 hours to cover the 14 km distance (slightly less than 2 kms per hour!). Whether we stopped on the way to rest ourselves after walking short distances on this steep gradient or we stopped frequently to watch the stunning scenic beauty of the area and River Mandakini, we do not know!

After rest for about 30 minutes at the hotel, Sarasa and I went to the temple by 7:15 pm, once inside the temple we forgot about all the day’s travails, and instead were in a state of peace and joy – joy that we are finally in front of Kedarnath Siva, the ‘swayambhu’ and jyotirlinga Siva. We saw the evening aarti from about 7:30 to 7:45 pm, after which we went to the hotel. The priests here contact the pilgrims, suggest poojas to be performed etc., we arranged with a priest to perform Rudra Abhishekam to Kedarnath Siva next day morning. The priest wanted us to be ready by 5:45 am, we can perform abhishekam to Kedarnath at 6 am, we can chant Rudram Chamakam (he said he will also chant, in addition to other chants he will have to do etc.).

Darshan at Kedarnath Siva, afterwards return to Gaurikund (Day 12 – July 12, 2006) : 14 Kms by walk & return to Rudraprayag by car – 75 kms, 3 hrs drive

It was raining all through the night. By about 4 am or so, the rain stopped.

We got up by 4:30 am, finished our bath and my nitya puja etc. and were ready at the temple by 5:45 am for the Abhishekam to Kedarnath Siva. This was the day we have been waiting for, the day to do Rudra Abhishekam to Kedarnath Siva. There were lots of people (about 30 or so), as per the custom in many North Indian Temples, everyone can go inside Garbha Griha, touch the idol, you can also prostrate with your head touching the deity etc. We did the Rudra Abhishekam, puja etc. from 6 am to 6:30 am, Chetan and Amita also came along with us and they also did puja and Rudra Abhishekam. To be able to do Rudram japam and the Abhishekam for Lord Kedarnath at 6 am – such a great feeling of joy, peace and happiness!

We all came out of the temple by about 6:45 am, walked around in the beautiful scenic settings of Kedar range, with River Mandakini flowing in force! Adi Sankaracharya’s Samadhi site is behind Kedarnath temple. A big-size ‘danda’ is kept in front of a wall (symbolizing Adi Sankaracharya’s ‘danda’). Nearby is the place from where Adi Sankaracharya disappeared! Adi Sankara told his disciples to wait there and that he will return shortly. When he did not return, his disciples went looking for him and found flowers at the place where he said he is going to! None has seen Adi Sankara since that time and it is believed that this is where he left his mortal remains (or didn’t leave his mortal remains, he went with his mortal body to Heaven!). Standing at the site, we offered our pranams to the Great Acharya!

Came back to the hotel, had breakfast of coffee only since bread toast & cereals were not available in the hotel. Vacated our rooms from the hotel & started the return journey walk of 14 kms from Kedarnath to Gaurikund by about 8:30 am. The rain that was continuous the previous day and night but had subsided by about 4 am commenced when we started the return walk. By 9 am, the rain started coming down fairly hard. In that sense, the rain accompanied us both days – on our walk to Kedarnath and on our return walk to Gaurikund! While walking down the slope is better than climbing up, walking down these steep slopes is not a piece of cake either. One has to be very careful that one doesn’t slip or twist one’s knee or fall forward! We walked slowly and carefully and reached Gaurikund by 2:00 pm or so. The mud-slide on the way to Rudraprayag from Gaurikund got cleared the previous day itself, our driver brought the car to Gaurikund, we got in by 2:15 pm and drove back to Rudraprayag. Arrived at our Monal Resort Hotel by 5 pm. The 28 km walk in 2 days, in steep slopes, did not bother me at all, very difficult to believe that such steep gradient walk did not cause any pain at all, not even the slightest feeling of discomfiture – I can only attribute this to Kedarnath Siva’s grace and blessings!

When we switched on the television set in the hotel at Monal Resort after our return from Kedarnath, there was the news item that this day, Wednesday, July 12, was the start of ‘Sravan’ month and that Abhishekams done for Lord Siva on this day is extremely auspicious and is equivalent to doing abhishekams to Lord Siva during the whole month, nay, even the whole year. Many persons were doing Abhishekams to Lord Siva at Haridwar, Rishikesh, Lucknow, Rudraprayag etc. on this date. Many of these villagers leave their villages about six to eight weeks prior by walk to go to Gaumukh to bring Ganges water from the origin of Ganges to do Abhishekam for Siva in Haridwar, Rishikesh or Kedarnath or Lucknow as the case may be. We neither planned to be at Kedarnath in time to do Abhishek on the first day of Sravan nor did we even know about the start of Sravan month because we follow the Tamil/Malayalam calendars only whereby months of Aani and Aadi (or Mithunam and Karkidagam) are generally followed by us and the first day of Karkidagam falls only on July 17. For us to realize that Lord Siva, Who we worship, gave us the blessings to do Abhishekam to the Kedarnath Jyothirling Swayambhu Siva on the first day of Sravan month raised ‘goose bumps’ in us. Such are the blessings, and grace, of the Gods that we worship!