Kedarnath Trek and My experience

Rishi Sinha

I trekked to Kedarnath on 29th May from Gaurikund and back to Sitapur on 30th May. Stayed overnight at Kedarnath. Want to share my experience so folks who all are planning can benefit. This post is a mix of what I learned from my mistakes, some rant, positives and negatives.

Planned itinerary:
D1: NCR to Haridwar
D2: Haridwar to Guptakashi
D3: Guptakashi to Kedarnath
D4: Kedarnath to Guptakashi
D5: Guptakashi to Badrinath
D6: Badrinath to Rishikesh
D7: Rishikesh to NCR
D8: Buffer

How it went:
D1: NCR to Haridwar
D2: Haridwar to Guptakashi
D3: Guptakashi to Gaurikund
D4: Gaurikund to Kedarnath
D5: Kedarnath to Guptakashi
D6: Guptakashi to Rishikesh
D7: Rishikesh to NCR

We were 32 in total of all age groups from kids to elders. I joined last minute as it was a long weekend for me. We made advance payments to the agent who booked us at all the places as per the planned itinerary. We also paid a sum of INR 10,000 per head for 25 people for Helicopter as advance to another agent, this was for return trip from Guptakashi to Kedarnath.

Everything went planned till we reached Guptakashi, well not really but the group made it to Guptakashi 7 hrs late. However, we were able to leave for Kedarnath on the planned date. Our biggest mistake - we started from Guptakashi at 7am, post breakfast. We had to cover a distance of 33 Kms till Sonprayag + 5 Kms by local jeep to Gaurikund. We got stuck in traffic, inching slowly towards Sonprayag. It took us 7 hrs to reach sonprayag, yes a distance of mere 33 Kms.

There are about 4 to 5 checkpoints before you reach Sitapur, which is about 1 KM before Sonprayag. At every checkpoint the traffic is held up for 20 to 30mins, and then they allow a few vehicles to pass before blocking the road again. On speaking to local police, they told us this is done to ensure smooth movement of yatris from Sonprayag to Gaurikund and beyond. They control the influx of yatris at these checkpoints. Such checkpoints are also setup between Augustmuni and Guptakashi. Fair enough and makes a lot of sense when you see the number of registrations happening on daily basis.

We started late only because the group arrived late at Guptakashi spending the entire day traveling from NCR in 2x tempo travellers, they had left NCR at 2am. The hotel staff told us to leave at 3am, but most had no strength to start early. We reached Sitapur parking by 2pm. Sitapur has a parking dedicated for tourist buses, tempo travellers and cars. Not everyone is allowed till Sonprayag parking, which is a KM ahead. My dad requested the cops at Sitapur checkpoint to let one of the tempo travellers with elders pass thru. There is a registration booth where you have to scan your registration certificates, there are about 3 barcode scanners, all you need to do is scan the registration certificate to mark your presence.

From Sonprayag parking till the point where you get local jeeps to Gaurikund is about 500m walk. The jeep covers a total distance of 5KMs to Gaurikund. The fare is INR50 per person. From the point where you get down till the point you get mule, pithu and palki is about a KM walk. Our group was divided at Sonprayag and the trekkers went ahead. By the time we reached Gaurikund it was close to 4pm. We were shocked to learn that the Yatra for the day has been stopped and will resume next day morning at 4am.

The hotel staff, the agent, the police - no one informed us about Yatra getting closed post 4pm. Frustrated we took the hotel at Gaurikund for the entire group. We had booking for the night at Kedarnath which was cancelled. Rested the night, started the trek at 3:15am. 6 of us trekked while the rest took mule and pithu.

Before I proceed, here are the options available if you decide to go by the trek route:
  • Mule: Costs INR 4,000 upward and INR 2,000 back.
  • Pithu: Costs INR 6,000 to INR 7,000 upward and about the same downward.
  • Palki: I have no idea about this but please keep in mind, palki bookings are done a day in advance.
  • Trek

You can also hire pithu and mule in between but then the rates are not regulated and they can ask you any amount.

As per the internet and the board at Gaurikund, the trek is 16 KMs. The actual trek is 22 KMs each way. It took us 12 hrs to reach the temple, in comparison a mule takes about 5 hrs, pithu will take about 6 to 7 hrs. Coming to the trekking experience, except for sharing the path with the mules it was wonderful! We took a lot of breaks, we were in no hurry to return the same day. There are enough facilities enroute. We took stops at every 500m or 100m, depending upon the elevation.

You will find the below on the trek route:
  • Ample toilets
  • Food: Parantha, Maggi are available at almost every small dhabas
  • Glucose stalls
  • Lemon soda stalls
  • Tea stalls also serving coffee, cold drinks, Frooti, Amul flavoured milk
  • Shops selling Raincoats, sticks
  • Water: Bisleri or natural, there are taps connected to waterfalls, we refilled at many places
Lincholi has a medical centre too. This is about 4 KMs before the base camp. Base camp also has oxygen facility, for those suffering from AMS can stop here and get help. Base camp is 2 KMs before Kedarnath, mules are not allowed beyond base camp. The base camp is visible right from Bhimbali, which is towards the start of the trek.

The trek surface is not smooth at all, the rocky surface is broken at many places. There is mud, slush at some places. To make things worse, mule poop and urinate on the trek itself. One has to be very careful, the broken patches can break your leg. While coming down I slipped thrice. Mules losing control and people falling was a common scene. 4 of our family members fell down from the mule. After starting at 3:15am from Gaurikund, we made it to base camp by 1:45pm, here we stopped for lunch and took an hour long break. We also had to stop for 30 mins due to heavy rain. Trust me when I say this, the real trek starts after you cross the river Mandakini to the other side, it is all upwards from there. Like those hairpin bends, just up up and up. You need to be mentally strong, keep it slow and steady, do not rush, do not ask folks returning how much more time/KMs left. Just keep moving. Everyone has their own version, most will scare you.

We finally reached Kedarnath temple at 3:30pm. The sight was to behold. We were so excited that we forgot we trekked 22 KMs, climbing 6,000ft to reach the temple. We took Darshan and checked-in by 7pm. Had dinner and went off sleep. Next day we started our trek downwards to Sitapur where our tempo traveler were parked. It took us 6 hrs to reach Gaurikund. We were stuck in mule traffic for 30mins! Had lunch at Gaurikund, by the time we reached Sitapur is was 6pm. Checked-in back at Snowpods at Guptakashi.

To summarise my experience:
  • Stay as close as possible to Gaurikund if you have to trek, take a mule or hire a palki or pithu.
  • Start early. The weather is unpredictable up there. It was snowing on the day we returned.
  • If you are staying at Guptakashi, which is where most of the hotels are. Leave as early as 1am. We still saw long queue of vehicles heading towards Sonprayag at 8pm!
  • If you want to take your old ones to Kedarnath, take the helicopter. You can avail services from Guptakashi, Phata, Gaurikund. IIRC, the helicopter ticket prices include VIP Darshan.
  • Don't take the trek as a mission, don't have a target in mind, just keep moving and take enough breaks to eat and drink. Take a stick along, available at many places for INR 40.
  • I might be called out for this, but I had a pathetic experience with locals from the region. On return we booked 5 mules, you get license/cards from he registration counter that has to be handed to the mule owner. The mule owner took the cards and disappeared for 2 hours! We had to hunt him down and had to bring him back to the counter. Hotel owners were rude, we pointed out at the dirty linens, requested a change of linen, we were told "sir, yaha pe sheet nahi badalti log badalte hai" (Sir, we don't change sheets here, we change people). We were literally asked to leave.
  • Taking advantage of your situation: Locals will never leave an opportunity to loot you. Hotels, pithu, mule owners and even some restaurants. Ok, you earn or a few months, understand, but there is no decency in the way they communicate.
  • We had paid INR 10,000 advance per head for 25 people to a local agent. He wanted us to pay INR 5,000 more per person for helicopter bookings as there was a rush and we need to pay dynamic fare. Our money is stuck with the agent. Do not believe anyone, you can book the helicopter online via IRCTC.
  • If I had to do this again, I would stay at Srinagar (nearest town with all the facilities, most important a proper hospital). Drive to Guptakashi (about 2.5 hrs), take the helicopter to Kedarnath, return via Heliport to Guptakashi drive back to Srinagar.
  • Helicopters stop only for a couple of mins at Kedarnath, loading and unloading passengers.
  • Our agent took us for a ride, since our plan was delayed by a day. All our bookings (paid advance) were cancelled and we were asked to pay again. No adjustments even after having enough availability. At Snowpods, we arrived a day late on return from Kedarnath. The hotel management refused to adjust the booking from the previous night. She wanted to make full use of the opportunity to earn extra money.
  • Carry enough cash, we carried about INR 15,000 to INR 20,000 per person. If you pay online, folks charge you extra. They have Paytm/phoepay everywhere but you have to shell out more. One of the pithu guy charged us INR 1,000 extra for an UPI payment.
  • The mules are tortured. For no reason they are beaten by the owners, forced to carry overweight humans on top of them. It was a sad sight. You can see the mules refusing to move once they get tired. Soon after we started, we saw a mule dead on the trek route just 3KMs into the trek.
  • Make way for mules, pithu, palki if you are trekking else they will push you and make their own way.
  • The line for jeep on return from Gaurikund to Sonprayag is long! We spent 3 hours waiting for our turn.
  • If you are a group of 10 and want the entire jeep you have to pay INR 50 per head for the seats that will go vacant. The jeep used are sumos, boleros with seating capacity of 9 but they stuff 12 (2 at the front, 4 in middle row, 6 in the last row side facing seats). On return we were 10 in a jeep but the driver wanted us to pay INR 100 per seat for 2 remaining seats.
  • Absolute mismanagement at Gaurikund, a disaster waiting to happen. The trek path passes thru narrow alley with steps before it becomes wide. Like those narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk. Everyone has to go via this route, even the folks returning! It was chaos, cops were just standing and waving their sticks in air.

Places where we stayed:
  • Snowpods Kedarnath Resort: Good views, but that is it. The management is very greedy. The hotel staff however is nice, I had my Polo parked for 4 nights and tipped them to keep an eye.
  • Dev Lok, Gaurikund: Highly recommended. However, please note, the hotel is located 5 storeys above the trek path.
  • Jaipur House, Kedarnath: Avoid. Rude owner. Even after paying INR 8,000 a night, we were ill treated.
  • Shivalik Hotel, Kedarnath
  • Green View Hotel, Rishikesh: It was a part of the package, else we would have preferred staying somewhere else. Clean rooms, located very close to Janki Bridge.

Agent we hired: Get set go. Punjabi Bagh, New Delhi. Absolute horrible experience. The tempo travellers sent by the agency broke down twice, delaying our movement on Day-1 by 4 hours which basically costed us the trip. She had no understanding of the business, she lied to us by saying the payments were made but the hotel management denied receiving advance. Only after pressurising the agent, she made the payment after we checked-in. To top it all, she was a known!

Things I carried to Kedarnath on Trek:
  • Raincoat
  • Jacket
  • Sweater
  • Thermals
  • Decathlon heat patches
  • Extra pair of winter socks
  • Winter cap
  • Medical kit: Comprising of first aid and basic medicines
  • Powerbank
  • Plastic Sheets

The trek is very exhausting but absolutely worth it. The views from up there, the energy up there is something to experience. This has to be one of the best journeys that I have undertook in my life.