Everyone loves to travel. Travel not only allows you to explore the new world, it also allows you to detoxify your body and mind. So, what can be better than a jounrey to the hills. In the limited leave plan ,me and my friend had, we decided to travel to Do Dham- Kedarnath and Badrinath, both which are located in Uttarakhand state of India.
We started our journey from Mumbai to Delhi by Rajdhani express enroute to Haridwar. Rajdhani express not only makes your journey faster but also economical and comfortable. Upon alighting at New Delhi, we got refreshed at the Executive lounge while we waited for our train to Haridwar. The train was a regular express but we had no option since it was the first available train around noon.
Haridwar. The name itself means gateway to the lord. We were greeted with continuous rains, as we quietly walked towards our hotel in front of station – Hotel Shiv Murti. This was a very decent hotel and because we only had a overnight stay, we were happy with the rooms and other services. We were provided with our driver and car details before went to sleep with a vague assurance that there is no guarantee of weather. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the north Indian food and went to bed because worrying doesnt take your difficulties away. Next day started little early and we were ready by 6.45 a.m. and our saarthi had also arrived. There was bright sunshine meaning weather gods were blessing our way. Our Car was TATA GRAND and it was comfortable for me and my friend Deepak. We put our luggage, some packs of water bottles before chanting “Baba Kedarnath ki jai” & “Bolo Badri Vishal ki jai”.
Journey starts at 7.00 am. Our first halt comes in minutes as we cross the holy Ganges. We get down to wash our feet and take leave of our Ganga mata, with a promise from her to bring us back safely – Punar darshan, Punar Seva , means give us your darshan again with an opportunity of seva. The route to Rishikesh is on pretty flat terrain. Also, it is the route to Dehradun / Mussorie from Delhi, which means you are guaranteed heavy traffic 24 X 7. Our car entered Rishikesh, where we decided to have our breakfast – Puri Sabji. Puri Sabji and Paratha are very common breakfast in the north of India, also relatively cheap and makes your tummy full. So this breakfast gave our saarthi, the fuel to start our journey. The road ahead of Rishikesh is challenging because this is a hilly terrain. Rishikesh also has been a major tourist atraction bceause there are many spritual maths(organisation) in Rishikesh. These maths are center of attraction to many foreign tourists too. That said, it also gives opportunity for locals to provide different services such as trekking, river rafting, etc. The enthusiasts are taken to Byasi, a small sleepy town on Rishikesh Rudraprayag highway , for a great rafting experience. We cross Byasi, enjoying our journey through the hills. And after some time, we reach Dev Prayag. This place has the confluence of river Bhagirathi and Alaknanda. Devprayag is the place where world’s largest Sanskrit University is being built. We spend a few minutes at this lovely place and restart our journey to Rudraprayag.
Uttarakhand is called Devbhoomi and this state gives us ample reasons to approve this nice title. Almost every km or two travelled, there are small water tanks on road sides where people can have drinking water. Similar arrangements have been made for toilets, thus ensuring that there is no open defaction. The weather and continuous land slides in this area doesnt allow to have permanant structures, but the effort of successive Uttarakhand government over years has been beautiful. In the mean time, we crossed Srinagar. This is also called as Kirti Nagar. The weather was getting better as the sun moved up. Around 12.30, we reached Rudraprayag. Rudraprayag is a very important town in this state because it is from here that roads to Kedarnath and Badrinath get bifurcated. This also means that, in case of natural calamities, Rudraprayag has to take bigger role considering its proximity to both these importnat shrines as well as Dehradun and Haridwar from where help and essentials comes.
Our full tummy allowed us to move ahead towards Gauri Kund which is the base to move towards Kedarnath. From Rudraprayag, the river Mandakini is on the left and we cross small towns like Agastya Muni before reaching Kund. Kund is the junction place , the road on the left leads to Kedarnath while road that goes straight takes us to Ukhimath. We take the left, cross the bridge over river Mandakini and your motor starts negotiating the climb. We reach Gupta Kashi at 2.45 pm and take some steam hot Dal chawal ( Dal Rice). There are many private and government hotels/guest houses where pilgrims an stay. We had planned to stay in Gupt Kashi, but our saarthi Deepak had some contacts with a hotel and we thought of giving it a try. It was a small village Rampur and hotel was Shivalik Valley resorts. The hotel was amazing. We got a lovely room facing the river Mandakini, couldn’t ask for anything more. We climbed down and had some nice time on the banks of river,and then had a very beautful dinner. Our focus was clearly on the next day – the trek to Kedarnath.
The next day began as early at 4.15 am. The weather was cold and our hotel guy was kind enough to give us Tea at our rooms. The noise of Mandakini flowing just adjacent to our hotel always gave us a wonderful feeling. At 6.00 am, our saarathi Deepak took us to Gaurikund, which was around 6 kms from our hotel. As we got down from our car, we were surrounded by pony owners who were offering us different rates. We first decided to trek up to Kedarnath, which was 14 kms from Gaurikund. However, within 100-200 mtrs of walk, we realised that it was going to be a difficult affair, also because we had to come back to our hotel in the evening. We finally hired a pony. The rates for ony are different in different season. The best time considered to travel here is June and October and so not surprisingly, it is also the peak season. That also means, the rates of car to hotels to anything is on higher side. Those who wish to cover this darshan in less time can take choppers, which start from Phata near Guptkashi .The people who take this helicopter service are also given VIP or priority pass so that they can take darshan and come back quickly for their ride. The rates and facilities may vary and it would be nice to check with chopper providers. Also, whether the chopper will take off depends on the weather conditions.
So, we finally started our pony ride. Our pony caretaker was quite active and was always kept up with the speed of pony. The path way had enough width and most trek route has river on one side and mountains on the other side. At 8.00 am, we reached Rambara, which is exactly midway between Gaurikund and Kedarnath. We got down from the back of our ponies and they were taken to their food shelter where they were given their daily food. Our pony caretaker too had a breakfast. I bet, if normal city people have breakfast after a 7 kms trek, they would rest for the whole day 🙂 The people of hills, called pahadis, are very strong and active because of these physical activities. We again started at around 8.15 and then reached Kedarnath by around 10.15. So, the entire trek took four hours. It was monday, but there were heavy rains just before a week we travelled. Hence, the influx of pilgrims was less. We had darshan of Baba Kedarnath and spent some time there. There were shops which provide you with Ganga jal ( Ganges water) which is offered to Lord Shiva, who stays here as Baba Kedarnath ji. There is Adi Shankaracharya samadhi near this temple, but we had less time and hence at around half past twelve, we started our journey back to our base.
The horses are very good when they ascend, and little short of confidence while they descend – same like humans. SO, while we descended, we got back off pony’s back and help him relieved. Indeed, all our days work would not had been possible without him and humans should show atleast that much of kindness. The sun was setting and we were safe at Gaurikund by 5 pm. We called our saarthi who took us back to our hotel. We discussed with him, the route we take to travel towards Badrinath the next day. A great day, blessed by Baba Kedarnathji, without whose wish this was never going to be possible. Tired and hungry, we had an early wonderful dinner before we went to sleep. Bolo…