The Garhwal Himalaya situated in the Indian Subcontinent can be related to be very close to the Gods. The air out here is fragrant and spiritual. The snow clad peaks and the gurgling historical rivers like the Ganges, Bhagirathi emerge from here. As one sees all this, it is easy to imagine that this place is indeed the playground of the Gods. This region has been the abode of countless holy men who mediated and attained enlightment. The aura in some of the remote locations is indeed filled with auspicious vibrations. The Himalaya are filled with the power and passion of Lord Shiva and in this part of India , one can find more shrines dedicated to him than to any other.
Out here in the Garhwal ranges are five of the most important temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, known as Paanch Kedar. The most famous of them Kedarnath along with the other four thus constitute the Paanch Kedars. These are situated in remote accessible areas and test anyone who wishes to reach them. The follower of Shiva is taken far from the maddening crowds of civilization when he decides to worship him in these places tucked away and in the bosom of the Garhwal Himalaya. Lord Shiva was at home amongst the mountains and in Kailash, and this is what is synonymous with the Paanch Kedars. Those who undertake this trek will find the air filled with positive vibrations and a certain glow within which cannot be explained. The air is saturated with the presence of Lord Rudra and one can easily picture him striding across the mountain ranges, his matted hair mingling with the clouds and eyes looking in all directions and downwards on to the wellbeing of his followers.
So which are these shrines of Lord Shiva?
These as per the laid down order are
Kedarnath, Tungnath, Rudrananth, Madhmaheswar and Kalpeshwar. Kedarnath is also a part of the chota char dham while the other three are Badrinath, Yamonatri and Gangotri.The Garhwal region abounds in emblems and figures of Lord Shiva and these five shrines sprawled over the vast Kedar valley at altitudes ranging from 1500 mt to 3680 mt speak volumes. Kedarnath (3584 mt), Tungnath (3810 mt) , Madhmaheswar(3289 mt),Rudrananth(2286 mt) and Kalpeswar(2134 mt).
These shrines with the exception of Kalpeshwar are only open for few months each year and remain snow bound the remaining part of the entire year. They can only be accessed by treks across mountain ranges. The following article deals with an overview of details & experiences for accessing these locations.
Background. The Mahabharata is one of the oldest epics in the world and was written by sage Vyasa. There is no subject that it does not deal with. The Pandavas after their victory in the epic war settled down at Indraprastha. At the end of their human lives they decided to give up their kingdom and go to the Himalaya, mediate to seek forgiveness and blessings from Lord Shiva as atonement for their sin of killing family members (cousins) . Lord Shiva did not wish to meet them when they reached Kashi, which was said to have a presence of the Lord always. Hence they continued northwards and at Guptakashi they had a glimpse of the Lord who then transformed into the shape of a bull (Nandi) and dashed Northwards. It was at Kedarnath where the Pandeva’s could finally catch up with him and here the Lord dived into the earth in five pieces, with the Hump rising at Kedarnath, arms at Tungnath , stomach at Madhmaheswar , face at Rudrananth and hair locks at Kalpeshwar. The Pandeva’s built the five shrines at these places and worshipped him thereby making him lose his anger and blessing them thus enabling them to atone for their sins.
After this they departed earth and their mortal bodies while proceeding towards Swargarohini . That tale can be read here
Kedarnath, home of Lord Shiva, of all the places that I have visited till date this is the place that holds very dear to my heart, there is something out there that draws one to oneself within, situated between towering mountain peaks desolate in looks and cold all the time yet the warmth that infuses inside the heart somehow, that is irreplaceable. I felt I could stay here for days to come and could feel the drive that forced many a mendicant to remain at Kedarnath braving the hostile climatic conditions
The Kedarnath shrine, one of the highest revered shrines in India, is more than 1000 years old. Kedarnath is deep in the Himalayan mountains and the backdrop is a frame of huge snow covered peaks including Kedar peak and Kedar dome. The temple is situated at a height of 3584 mts above sea level and the river Mandakini runs alongside, emanating from high up in the Himalayan peaks. The Shiva lingam here is a natural rock manifestation in shape of a buffalo hump (swayambhau) The temple is made up of huge granite slabs while the inner walls of the assembly hall are decorated with various figures of deities and idols are also enshrined. There is also an inner sanctum where the main idol is kept. The inner assembly hall also has Nandi seated, eyes fixed on the Lord, and devotees whisper their message into his ears to convey to the Lord. A huge sculpture of Nandi is also there outside the temple in the courtyard facing the inner sanctum ready to fulfill any task of the Lord.
The present temple was built by Shri Adi Shankar Acharya, founder of Advaita philosophy who was sent on this earth to reestablish the Vedic way of life. He decried that the head priest of the temple will be from Kerala, Namboodiri Brahmins and to this day the tradition continues. The main aarti is the Evening Aarti (Sandhya Aarti) and morning Aarti (Mangal Aarti). The vibrance in the air and the intense dedication in which the head priest performs these 45 min aarti infuses an aura inside the temple and no one can remain unaffected.
Presently post 2013 calamity, the administration of housing the devotees and related requirements is undertaken by NIMMS in a very professional manner. There is no grievance in respect of accommodation and fooding because of the precise way of handling this aspect. Bio metric scans have now become mandatory for all those who wish to visit the shrine and are undertaken at various places like Guptkashi , Phata , Gaurikund etc.
Kedarnath, the most remote of the char dhams can be reached by a 16 km trek from Gaurikund. The temple opens around April end post Maha shivratri and closes at the onset of winter around Diwali. It is still the way it was decades back and the floods of 2013 have washed away all the commercialization that had crept in over the years.
The trek starts from Gaurikund passing through important way points where rest and refreshments are available. Additionally, horses are available for those who cannot trek and also porters are available. It is recommended to start early from Gaurikund in order to reach Kedarnath by around four in the evening because the temperature drop is severe as one ventures deep into the mountains.
The path this time was is on the right of the mountain valley as opposed to the original one which was on the left which had been completely destroyed by the 2013 floods, the scale of devastation was so evident even to this day and I could imagine what must have happened on that fateful night and the next morning. The devastation was a constant companion till Garud chatti and Kedarnath itself as we trudged through snow and ice on paths that had been roughly cut and cleared by the BRO in order to ensure that the temple opened on time.
So many pilgrims come to this holy place with age or social standing hardly a deciding factor, aged individuals making the trek over 16-17 hours to reach the place in the darkness and then going straight to the temple to lay eyes on the idol of Lord Shiva. It is very difficult to describe what the eyes see in places like this, it has to be seen and experienced individually. But I would definitely recommend that a night stay option
Trek Duration 01 day one way