The Kedarnath Temple and How it Changed My Life
I staunchly believe that true pilgrimage is delving and discovering the self as a part of the Supreme. In spite of being a believer of spiritual pilgrimage I took up the Yatra (pilgrimage) to Kedarnath Temple in October, 2019. The beauty of the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand allured me. The trip changed my life. I realized that it was not me who planned the trip but it was a calling that I answered.
Flying to Kedarnath Temple
We were waiting at the Phata helipad for the confirmation of helicopter ride to Kedarnath from before the break of dawn. Helicopter availability is not as easy as perceived. We had pre-booked tickets for Rs.4800 for a day’s round trip. Yet the ride was confirmed on that booked day basis first come first serve. I was more than delighted to be the first one to get the physical ticket yet the wait after that was unbearable. The mercy of the weather definitely is something to be grateful for. Weather up there is absolutely unpredictable. Bad weather calls for immediate stop of helicopter services. Even though I am chubby, I was happy that I didn’t have to pay additional charges for that because additional charges are levied above 80kgs and I am 70. We carried the absolute essentials in our backpack, in case we got stuck for the day. It hardly took 7-8 minutes to fly to the Kedarnath base. From there we comfortably trekked for 20 minutes’ (700 m) to the temple. Flying over high mountains with streams, forests of different shades of greens, mystical clouds, River Mandakini, glaciers and snow clad peaks, was magical.
The Kedarnath Temple and my first Thoughts
I could hear voices inside my head as I was climbing the plight of steps leading to the Kedarnath Temple. I didn’t know what exactly was happening to me. It definitely was no sickness from height because I am used to high altitudes of Himalayan Mountains. I felt an instant spark of awe and wonder on standing in front of the Kedarnath Temple with the majestic snow covered peak behind it. The chants and temple bells created transcendental effect. I felt drawn to an energy field where every sorrow seemed being washed away, making me ecstatic. I sat on my knees, raised my hands towards the sky and then bowed to touch the head on the ground. Tears rolled down my cheeks. The space was that of pure joy. It was mystical. Slowly my heart beats turned normal. My tears wiped away my self-doubts. From then on I do exactly what I want or feel is right. Life has a reason and has become more beautiful.
The Visitors and Sadhus of Kedarnath Temple
The zeal and faith of numerous pilgrim, devotees and interesting Sadhus (saints and hermits) make this space around the Kedarnath Temple remarkable. Are you wondering why did I call the Sadhus interesting? Well, check out the photos below. Their way of dressing up is so unique. First, they are real subjects for photography. Second, they are cool posers.
The Kedarnath Temple
The Kedarnath Temple at 11,755 feet above sea level, in the lap of the snow covered Himalayas, is one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in India. It is a significant part of 3 major pilgrimage circuits in India. They are Chhota Chardham, Panch Kedar* and 12 Jyotirlinga (12 sites with self-manifested Shiva shrines) Circuits. After the freezing winter, the Kedarnath Temple opens on Akshaya Tritiya (end of April or early May) and closes just after Diwali (end of October or early November). The winter abode of Kedarnath Shrine is at Ukhimath.
There is a statue of Nandi (Shiva’s Bull) in front of the temple and another inside. Pilgrims whisper their wishes inside the Nandi’s ears in the hope of being fulfilled. The temple walls have carved statues of Parvati, Krishna, Draupadi and the 5 Pandavas. The garbhagriha, the most interior part of the temple, has the triangular shaped self-manifested Shivling (Shiva shrine) representing the hump of the bull. There is an intriguing mythological story to it.
The Mythological Story behind Kedarnath Temple
After the Battle of Kurukshetra, the Pandavas were looking for Lord Shiva in the Himalayas, to ask for forgiveness for killing the Kauravas, their kinsmen. Bhima, the second Pandava, identified Lord Shiva who disguised as a bull. Bhima tried to catch him. The Bull then went into the ground with his body parts coming out of the ground in various places later. This is the story behind the Panch Kedar* Circuit. In Kedarnath remained the hump, with four other parts appearing elsewhere.
The Divya Bheemshila is a 20 feet wide and 12 feet tall rock located behind the Kedarnath temple. It is worshipped daily as a symbol of faith and protection. The rock fell from the mountains and anchored some 30 feet behind the temple and stood against the fury of waters flowing down from the Chorabari Tal and Mandakini River in the flood of June, 2013. Some believe that the stone made the flood waters gush through both the sides of the temple, safeguarding it, destroying every other thing in their path. However, the construction of this timeless ancient temple is what makes it capable of withstanding the most difficult hazards through ages. It is said that Kedarnath temple withstood 400 years of mini ice age and glacial movements
Shankaracharya’s Samadhi site
The sacred site of Shankaracharya’s Samadhi (place of death), in the vicinity of Kedarnath temple must be visited according to Kedarnath travel guide. Adi Shankaracharya, the 8th century Hindu philosopher and theologian was last seen at Kedarnath, before he set off into the mountains. He had determined Kedarnath as one of the 12 Jyotir lingas (Shiva shrines) that one should visit for salvation.
We flew back after staying for 3 hours up there at Kedarnath. The weather was fantastic. We had an amazing experience at Kedarnath. Many prefer night stay at Kedarnath Dham. Basic hotels dharamsalas and tents are available. The aartis in the evening and night are great to watch. Garwhal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) does an excellent job of managing tourism and hospitality.
Trek to the Kedarnath Temple
The old trek route from Rambara to the temple had been completely demolished in the devastating flood of 2013. The new trek route begins from Gaurikund with camps and stalls made for first aid and medical facilities, rest and refreshment. The trek level is moderate to difficult. The trek route is safe and provides gorgeous views which rejuvenate the tired trekkers. There are areas where one needs to walk over glaciers. River Mandakini, accompanies the trekkers, frivolously flowing parallel to the route. If you are planning the trek, a prior consultation with a doctor is advisable. Carry water, chocolates, dry fruits (especially raisins) and camphor and/or portable oxygen. You can avail horses to ride (Rs.2500 one side) and palkis/dolis/ palanquins pulled by potters to climb uphill (Rs. 5000 and above depending on weight for both sides). If one decides to trek, she has to stay overnight.