My Himalayan Travels – Day 4
On day 4, I reverse back on the same route from Kedarnath to Gupt Kashi thereby completing one mini circuit.
Please see the route map for Day3. I wake up to a glorious sunrise reflected in the snow capped mountains visible from the room.
I had a quick shower and set off to the temple. The Kedarnath temple was supposed to be set up by the Pandavas. According to the legend, the Pandavas were trying to pursue Lord Shiva to ask for his forgiveness for the war that was fought in Kurukshetra. I had mentioned earlier that Lord Shiva went into hiding in Gupt Kashi in the form of a bull. Bhima, with his indefatigable spirit, tried to catch the tail and hind legs of Lord Shiva. But Lord Shiva, with a long experience of evading repentant sinners, was too quick for Bhima. He vanished into the earth but emerged in five places called the Panch Kedars. In Kedarnath, the hump on top of the bull emerged as a “pyramid linga”. The other places that he emerged were the arms in Tungnath, the nabhi or navel and the stomach region in Madya Maheswar Mahadev, the face at Rudranath and the hair at Kalpeshwar Mahadev.
All the Panch Kedar spots are very hard to trek. I managed to squeeze in Kedarnath, Tungnath and Kalpeshwar Mahadev into this yatra but could not do the other two since the body could not handle those arduous climbs in very cold areas.
Anyway, Lord Shiva is easily placated with love. So the Pandavas did finally catch up to Shiva and erected this beautiful temple in Kedarnath.
It is situated at a height of 3583 m (11,755 ft) above sea level. The snow clad, glacier covered mountains form a perfect back drop to this impressive temple. They can also pose the maximum threat as the temple is in the path of potentially dangerous avalanches that can come from the mountains.
But the Kedarnath temple has proven itself resilient to damage from inclement weather. In 2013, there was a very bad storm in Uttar khand. All the surrounding buildings were destroyed and there was quite a carnage of pilgrims and local people. But nothing happened to the temple. Scientific explanations abound of course. Hind sight is 20-20 and scientists are great in retrospective abilities. But I would be curious to see how many of them could have predicted the fact that the temple would withstand bad weather before the event happened.
Most of these temples have a Kshetra Palaka – the protector and owner of the place. In case of Kedarnath, Bhairavnath plays this role. Bhairavnath is an aspect of Lord Shiva as the controller of time – The Kalabhairava. Bhairavnath has a small shrine dedicated to him on the surrounding hill. The linga there resembles the Kedarnath linga. It is pyramidal in shape. I set out to see this linga. It is about a 1.5 km walk from the Kedarnath temple. The vistas were amazing. Here is a great view of the back side of the Kedar temple.
As you start walking, you will find the source of the Mandakini river. The river starts off as small rivulets from the melt of the snows behind Kedarnath. These rivulets merge to form bigger streams. The waterfalls and others contribute to make a big river capable of carving out such spectacular gorges.
The short trek to Bhairavnath seemed too hard for my tired legs. I was scarcely able to make my way to the top along this winding path.
Finally, I was able to see Bhairavnath ji at the top. During winter months when Kedarnath closes, it is him who is supposed to play the role of the protector of the area.
From the top of the hill, one can see the whole town of Kedarnath. It is a small hamlet consisting of a handful of hotels and small huts with the beautiful temple of Mahadev towering all above them.
As one looks down at the town from this height, one can scarcely suppress the astonishment at the fact that the temple seems to be in the direct path of all the glaciers and avalanches and has yet managed to ward them all off in 2013. Scientists have their reasons but I have my own reason to call it a miracle.
Another thought that stuck me is the amazing tenacity of our pilgrims to walk across this distance to come to this tiny place in the middle of nowhere. It is indeed the great Adi Shankara who installed these temples in various corners of India. He customized the Hindu Sanathan dharma for this age (the Kali Yuga) and made visiting these places as part of the new Hindu ethos. Adi Shankara was supposed to have disappeared at the age of 32 here at Kedarnath. There was a samadhi (tomb stone though there is no body per se under the tomb stone) installed here. But apparently, the Samadhi was washed away in the 2013 flood. In some sense, I think it is befitting that we don’t see the Samadhi of a great soul like Adi Shankara. To constrain this great timeless soul to a small place is too limiting.
With all these thoughts, I started descending the steps of Bhairavnath to come back to Kedar and from there down the mountains to Gaurikund. Today’s objective was to goto Joshirmath in the Badri side but that objective had to be revised due to intense fatigue. All I could do was to come back to Gupt Kashi to the same room that I rented on the way up.
I had another glimpse of the great Kedarnathji and saluted him. Now, I am on my way down.
There are helicopters that ply between Gupt Kashi and Kedar. My objective was to see if I could procure a seat in the helicopter. Unfortunately, that did not happen since these are booked months in advance by enthusiastic pilgrims. So, I had to be content to walk down the entire way despite my painful legs and general breathlessness. Praying that the Lord Kedarnathji would see me through this ordeal, I started putting one weary leg before the other on the way back. Thankfully, our porter Rajesh Chauhan was still there to carry the luggage.
But to paraphrase PG Wodehouse, even the weariest river needs to wind down to the sea at some point in time. Thus evening found me nestled back into Himalayan Comforts at Gupt Kashi. I did feel like I am on top of the world. So with these thoughts, I wrapped myself in blankets to get a well earned repose.