Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.
Best travel plans are those which are unplanned. And this trip was no exception. It has been almost a year since I went on any trip; All thanks to the corporate life and the commitments. But now, I've left that life behind and have been on my own for quite some time. Thanks to being a full time content creator and a photographer. So, this is how it all came to be.
A normal discussion between two of my friends (Mayank and Sachin) was something which resulted in this trip and if for not them, the trip could not have been a possibility. Sachin was back in town after a long time, and he primarily had the itch to go somewhere and Mayank supported him. Though both had quite a deep conversation about the destination. I was still not part of the discussion and had no idea that in few days we will be moving from 45 degree celsius temperature of New Delhi to -3 of Himalayas. The plan of two people now had me as third person and before we could realize the number shot up to 8 people. 2 of Sachin's office friends (Priyanka and Smita) from Pune would join us in few days. Also Mayank's 2 cousins (Rakesh and Saurabh) and his sister in law (Kritika) would be part of the travel memoir too.
The destination which was selected is one of the char dhams or in other words, is one among four holy pilgrimages of Hindus in india and across world. Name of the place is Kedarnath. Kedarnath is a small town in Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand State of India. This place is famous for it's Kedarnath temple which is 3,583m above sea level near Chorabari Glacier, the head of river "Mandakini".
May end being the peak season for travellers in this region meant that we will have transport issues. 16, June 2013 was the day when almost everything was destroyed in the flash floods, and we were still skeptical of the road conditions. Hence we decided to travel by public transport. We started looking for the best possible transport options, but due to lakhs of devotees visiting Kedarnath, it became little problematic. Finally we were able to get Volvo bus till Dehradun and from there we took a Trax vehicle by Force motors. And to be honest, it served us to the point where it took us from Dehradun to Sonprayag and back, but it was barebone and had practically no features. It did not have AC, did not have seat belts, the doors could open anytime, window rollers were broken, seats were the most uncomfortable I've ever rested myself on and what not. But the engine was solid as rock and probably the only good thing about this vehicle.
We took bus from New Delhi at midnight and reached Dehradun by morning 0500 Hrs. From there we took taxi at 0700 Hrs which dropped us at Sonprayag at about 1800 Hrs. This is the last point till which vehicles are allowed. Identifying this area is really easy. Just look up and you will see choppers flying every 5 minutes. When we got off from taxi, we were worried about getting a place for night stay as Sonprayag at this point was filled with thousands of devotees and the way they were sleeping gave us winter chills. But somehow we were able to get exceptionally good stay, all thanks to Garhwal Mandal Guest house. We got dormitory for reasonable price and it had clean bathrooms, restrooms and clean beds. Dinner was also exceptionally good and after filling our tummies to brim, we called it a day.
Next day would start at 0500 Hrs and one by one everyone got ready. The dormitory did not have option for warm water, so we took bath in freezing cold water. Had light breakfast and we checked out from our dorm by 0700 Hrs. From Sonprayag we had to reach Gaurikund which is approx 5 Kms. This is the point where we realized our mistake. After the floods of 2013, Government had made it mandatory to register every visitor. Now, this can be done at two places. One in Rishikesh and another at Sonprayag. We had no idea about this and ended up wasting over 2 hours to get ourselves registered. Once we got ourselves registered, another struggle started. We had to wait in a kilometer long queue to pass the bridge and from other side we were to get taxi which will drop us at Gaurikund for mere 20 bucks. .
The above photo will give you approx idea of the number of people at Gaurikund. this is only one part of it. The whole trek was almost as crowded as this one. The point from where the trek starts, the notification board says 16 Kms one way. This would turn out to be false because the GPS of my phone and step counter indicated 19 Kms once we finished the trek, Thats huge error margin.
If you are going to this place thinking that you would get natural air and fresh mountain fragrance, then I advise you to be prepared to smell horse shit the whole route. Most of the time the Ponies would not give you any space to walk and the palkiwalas does not make things easier too. Though I completely respect them. It takes unmatched stamina and courage to carry people on back and walk the whole route. But, If you can't walk then I highly suggest that you take chopper and save yourself time and energy. It will cost you approximately same as hiring a pony.
All of my cribbing about what is not good at this place ends right there. One look around and you forget all the chaos, the stinking smell and droves of people. All becomes blur in front of the majestic beauty of Himalayas. As you start climbing, the route becomes steeper and more beautiful with every curve. Mandakini flowing beneath feels like a dramatic musical score in an adventure movie. You don't realize when the scorching heat starts turning into cool breeze and soon you are digging deep in your backpacks to find gloves and woolen caps. The weather is unapologetic and can change at any moment. Hence it's vital to be aware of changing weather and be prepared for anything. If you don't miss out on signs the mother nature throws at you, you wouldn't get stuck in sticky situation.
As we got closer to our destination, we now had an awakening and respect towards mother nature. The gigantic mountains, valleys and everything our nature has provided is much bigger then our self inflicted egos and pride. Trip to Himalayas will always teach you to be humble and caring. And if not, you wouldn't get a second chance at redemption. The route now is longer due to the fact that the original trek was washed away in the floods which took lives of thousands of people. Many of which are still missing. We always heard about it, Saw it on TV and internet, but realized the magnitude of the destruction when we looked at the pathway which used to be the only route till 2013. Most of it is non existent now. All through our journey we all kept wondering how it must have felt to be stuck in such situation, where you knew you have no way out and this would be your last day on earth. What would be your thoughts, your emotions and fears? We wondered about everything which we saw and imagines and kept on thinking why? Why would people still come here? Why would they risk of getting stuck in same situation? why risk life.
As soon as we reached the base, looked above and got awestruck with the sheer beauty of snow covered peaks and gigantic mountains all around us. It felt like, that even after all the destruction we humans bring with ourselves, the Himalayas were still welcoming us. They still loved us. And the fact that everything was destroyed in the floods except the Kedarnath Temple. You may call it coincidence or a miracle that a huge rock got struck right behind the temple, diverted the water and as result not even a scratch was inflicted on the temples structure. Faith can fill you up with different set of feelings and practical mind with another. But in the modern day and age, It's our duty to balance both equally.
Next morning we woke up at 3 AM and were ready by 4 AM. Ran straight for temple because we were told that people start getting in queue from 2-3 AM itself. Keeping that in mind, we were pretty late and thankfully the queue was not too long. Queue started moving by 5 AM and we were able to get inside temple by 8 AM. Photography is prohibited, hence I could not click anything inside but honestly speaking, once you're inside, you will get a sense of accomplishment and you would thank your stars that you were able to have this moment. But this feeling could not last as people started pushing and the pandits started shouting so that we move. It's a small temple and there is practically no place inside to stand a moment and cherish the moment. We were out of temple before we could even capture everything in our memories but one memory we created that day. We felt pure happiness.
And below are the people who made this trip memorable.