Sunset Kedarnath. Pranams.
  • A personal experience of Kedarnath Yatra. When the time is right the yatra happens.

They say, some things happen only when “bulava aata hai”. I think my time had come too, finally, for my long-awaited trip to Kedarnath.


For years together, I had been reading about people undertaking the Char Dham yatra or a trip to Kedarnath and Badrinath. I would read about how arduous the journey was or how people get stuck in bad weather or how rains caused havoc during the travel. In my head, I always planned this trip but the task seemed quite daunting.


Just a few days before Diwali, one of my old colleagues texted me late at night and asked if I would like to go to Kedarnath. Just the two of us. But it had to be in the next few days as the shrine would close thereafter for winter. I couldn’t believe that here was my call to the abode of Shiva, so no was not an option. Since we were moving houses in the next few days and Diwali was close, I wondered how I would accommodate this trip, in between. When the time is right things just happen.


We left Delhi by road early in the morning. All along we kept our fingers crossed for the much-awaited darshan. I love road trips, so, even though it was a long journey, we made the most of it by stopping at dhabas or to click photos of the picturesque route. The drive after Rishikesh is when the plains end and the mountains begin. The entire drive thereon is sheer beauty - winding roads through the pine and deodar trees of Shivalik Mountains with the emerald-green waters of Ganga flowing alongside. 

Thali at Guptakashi. 

After about 12 hrs on the road, we reached Guptakashi by 7 pm. We were famished and too tired to move around the town, so decided on an early dinner instead. The very cheerful guesthouse attendant served us a hot traditional Garhwali meal which my growling stomach was too happy to receive.


I must add that a few years back too I had come to Guptakashi on work and had visited the ancient Vishwanath temple there. I had learnt that it is good to begin the Kedarnath yatra after paying obeisance at this temple. 

Map of Trek.

Although our tickets for the chopper the next day were being organised, we were told to be mentally prepared for the 16 kms trek as there was a fat chance that we might not get tickets. The reason being that almost all chopper service providers had stopped flying as the shrine was about to close that weekend. Only two were still functional - Pawan Hans from Phata and the Himalayan Heli Services from Sersi (22 km from Guptakashi) which we were to take. Note that Sersi is 23 kms from Guptakashi. You can book chopper tickets online at Himalayan Heli Services.  


We rose at dawn the next day as excited as little kids looking forward to the most important leg of our journey. Nothing makes me happier than being in the mountains. So, my joy was double-fold. The first thing after being out of bed was to step out and have a look at the sunrise in the mountains. From Guptakashi, one can see the snow-capped Chaukhamba peak straight ahead from between thick pines and deodars. The sky was azure with a light fleece of clouds strewn here and there. It was a bright day with promises to hold.

View from the chopper.

A hearty breakfast and multiple cups of tea later, we were headed for Sersi. Our tickets were ready and we were very eager to get on the earliest possible ride. Sersi is a quaint little hamlet in the lap of the Himalayas with just a few huts and shacks selling refreshments. We were wary of the COVID precautions, so followed them very carefully.


The flight from Sersi to Kedarnath is all of 7 minutes. Five passengers (and the pilot) for each trip with a return fare of Rs 2500/. Those few minutes are well spent, as you marvel at the mountain peaks and valleys over which the pilot manoeuvres the helicopter. This was my first time ever in one, so it was an experience that made every minute spent worthwhile!


The moment we got off the chopper, we found ourselves in a small bowl of a valley, with the Kedarnath peak standing out right in the front. The shrine, a 7-8 minute walk, looked tiny at the bottom of it. The temperature had suddenly dropped by several degrees and it was quite cold, though sunny. I had come prepared for a “white darshan” too as it had snowed heavily just a few days back. We could see the remnants of snow around us though.

Morning view Kedarnath.

Since we had managed to get a mid-morning flight, we practically had the entire day and night to spend at Baba’s abode. We checked-into our dharamshala, where we dumped our backpacks and went out for our first glimpse of Shiva - the Supreme. There are a lot of pandits who approached us for organising a puja. You can choose to have an elaborate one or simply perform a quiet darshan inside the shrine.


Kedarnath means "the lord of the field" and comes from the Sanskrit words kedara (“field”) and natha (“lord”).


At an altitude of 11,755 feet, this is where the river Mandakini originates from the Chorabari glacier. Mandakini flows alongside the entire trail until it merges with river Bhagirathi at Rudraprayag.

It is said that Kedarnath is the place where Lord Shiva released the holy Ganga from his matted tresses. The holy shrine of Kedarnath is an imposing stone edifice of unknown date.  

Day view of Kedarnath. Pranams. 

Standing in front of the temple with the snow covered Kedarnath peak standing tall right behind it is a scene hard to forget. The overwhelming sense of a force larger-than-life, is hard to explain. It can only be experienced.


The aura of the place is such that you feel Shiva’s presence very strongly. This imagery is what has stayed with me through the trip and for forever. 

Note Nandi in centre of pic.

A huge Nandi carved out of a single rock greets you at the entrance of the shrine. At the door, on the right, stands guard, the dwarpal, Ganesha. Once inside the vestibule, you see an adorable golden Nandi in the centre. One look around the rectangular pillared chamber, and you see beautifully carved idols in black stone adorning all sides. They are the five Pandavas, Kunti, Lakshmi Narayan, Krishna and Virabhadra - one of the guards of Shiva. It's said that the Pandava princes had visited Kedarnath for penance and to atone for their sins.


At the far end of this chamber is the sanctum sanctorum or the garbha griha, which houses the lingam of an irregular shape. Due to COVID restrictions, we were not allowed to go into the sanctum sanctorum, but could offer prayers from the outer chamber which is the prayer hall. 


Adi Shankara is believed to have revived this temple and also supposed to have attained mahasamadhi at Kedaranath. Behind the temple is his samadhi

Pandit doing puja. 

After completing the darshan, we performed the Maha Rudra Abhishek Puja which lasted about an hour. Sitting right outside the temple, surrounded by the Himalayas with its pristine air blowing against your face, your connection with Him is undivided.


The place is barely commercialised. There are just a few small places for the pilgrims to spend a night or two, living quarters for the support personnel and a few tea and trinket shops. It should stay so.

Author outside Kedarnath. 

Standing there, when you look around you, you just see towering Himalayas on all sides, Mandakini rapidly flowing down the slopes and the Bhairav Mandir perched on one of the adjacent mountains. The climb to this Mandir from the Kedarnath shrine is roughly about 20 min. 

Right behind the shrine is a huge rock called Bhim Shila where people pray too. The story goes such - during the devastating floods of 2013, the waters of Mandakini came gushing down the mountain and wiped out everything that came in its way. In the ensuing landslides, a huge rock rolled down and stopped right at the back of the temple, thus protecting it from any kind of damage.


It is really incredible that when all kinds of concrete buildings were decimated by the fury of nature, Shiva’s abode remained untouched.


The daily evening aarti is at 6 pm, which all looks forward to. Most pilgrims do a day trip, especially, the ones who commute by the chopper. Therefore, by late afternoon, the crowd had thinned out a lot. We were hungry so we went and sat at the only dhabha there, and savoured some Maggie and Chai.

Temple illuminated.

It was nice to spend some time with fellow travellers, who had come from different corners of the country, and exchange experiences. I was pleasantly surprised to see young people with a strong spiritual inclination, when in the past, one would hear about people proceeding for the teerth yatra, only in their twilight years.


After 4 pm, the weather changed and it started getting chillier. The prediction was -5 degrees for that night. Luckily, it was not windy, so our layers worked quite fine. The aarti began promptly at the said time and the mountains were engulfed in divine darkness with cheerful lights twinkling from the shrine. The chanting and singing notes of the prayers reverberated in the valley. The clang of the huge bell travelled far. Such experiences are truly mesmerising and soul-stirring, when you are high up in the lap of the Himalayas with only the sound of Ganga and the prayer notes echoing through the valley and everyone’s heart!


The dharamshala we stayed in served a satvik and fulfilling meal, which is no mean feat at that altitude. It was getting extremely cold even for someone like me, who belongs to the mountains of Kashmir. We called it an early night as we planned to have the darshan of Baba at dawn, when the shrine opens at 6 am, and catch the first chopper out. The rest of the day would go into driving back to Delhi.


The nights, I must tell you, get freezing cold, so one needs to plan accordingly. Wear enough layers, woollen socks, a cap, a muffler and a bomber jacket!


We woke up to a bright dawn, with the first sun rays lighting up the peaks where the snow glistened like gold. We offered our final prayers and the only thing we carried back, other than our precious memories, was a prayer-bead string blessed by Baba Kedarnath.

We reached Delhi, just in time for Dhanteras and Diwali. It snowed heavily at Kedarnath, a day later. The closing ceremony was performed with full honours and a police band, amidst a thick white blanket of snow, the day after Diwali. The shrine would now open only on Akshaya Tritiya in May next year.


Author is a professional who lives in North India.


Also read/see pictures of 

1. Kedarnath and Badrinath Yatra

2. Kedarnath

3. In Hindi travelogue to Kedarnath

4. In Hindi Devibhoomi ke Panchkedar

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