My adventurous pilgrimage in Devbhoomi

sayshh

Member
So far in the Chhota Char Dham, we have covered 2 dham, that means we are done with half of the trip. But the experience of Kedarnath itself was so eventful, that I have to split it into three posts.

Kedarnath (part 1)

This part is about reaching Kedarnath, which happened somewhat as planned.

22-Sept-2018: Uttarkashi - Guptkashi

We woke up to a gloomy morning. The rain that started previous night had continued unabated. We started the journey after having (complimentary) breakfast at the TRH. On our way to the day's destination Guptkashi, we would be passing through Tehri dam and Rudraprayag. I had seen so many photos of Tehri lake with its typical turquoise blue water, and I was looking forward to this day since the start of the tour.

Expectation (not my click) :whistle:

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Image courtesy: euttaranchal.com

Reality #-o

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There is nothing worth mentioning about the journey till we started seeing the Tehri lake. Despite the gloominess, this still was probably the best thing we saw during the day. The clouds were lingering around the mountains, and it did present itself in a different kind of beauty.

One of the better views

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Our guide kept narrating some trivia and history about old Tehri as the bus moved along the Tehri lake.

Floating cottages of GMVN, accessed by boats

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As it was raining most of the time, there was no opportunity to take photographs. The below section is going to be just narration about reaching Guptkashi.


Soon hunger started making its presence felt, especially since Tehri lake was no more visible to keep us entertained. Again we chanced upon a small restaurant by the curving road. The restaurant was not prepared for a sudden influx of 18 hungry souls, so it took a while to get the required quantity prepared freshly and served.

Journey onwards was the same laborious uphill and downhill drive, and there were not much points of interest with weather playing spoilsport. Some people of our group had not withdrawn money in Uttarkashi (ATM hunt and rain), so we stopped at an ATM in Srinagar. By evening we reached Rudraprayag, but we were running late and proceeded non-stop. Now river Mandakini accompanied us, flowing in her usual form. But signs of devastation caused by her raging form in 2013 could be felt everywhere.

The Sun was almost setting. Everyone's patience was running thin and tea break had become crucial. We stopped by a small tea shop by the muddy road (destroyed in 2013, and still being restored). Our guide used this opportunity to brief us about reaching Kedarnath tomorrow. He also collected and shared everyone's phone numbers.

The briefing went something like this:
"The tour bus will drop you at Sonprayag tomorrow morning (23-Sept-2018) and return to Rampur TRH. From Sonprayag you have take local jeeps to Gaurikund. It is roughly 6 hours of travel one way on foot/doli/pony to Kedarnath. You will be staying in Kedarnath for only 1 night, so take minimal luggage required. Day after tomorrow (24-Sept-2018) do an early morning darshan and start descending to Gaurikund immediately. We will reach Sonprayag by afternoon or early evening and regroup."
Now I realized I had to take a firm decision on how I will reach Kedarnath. Thinking to myself:
Should I attempt walking all the way? What if the knee pain comes back? Will I get stranded?
Hmm.. taking a pony seems to be a wise option.
While I was drowned in these thoughts, we reached our stay at Guptkashi by 8:30 PM. I decided to discuss this with my cousin over dinner. After recollecting the experience at Yamunotri, we arrived at a conclusion(!!) that the pain is pronounced on downhill slope, and climbing up should be manageable. Also my cousin had a knee support band. So we decided to walk to Kedarnath by foot, and return to Gaurikund by ponies. :eek: We had to extensively rearrange the luggage to carry just 1 night's worth of requirements in small backpacks. Then went for a walk wearing (to get a feel of) the knee support band before going to bed, still wondering if I had made the right decision. Tomorrow will tell us...

23-Sept-2018: Guptkashi - Gaurikund - Kedarnath


One bad decision can lead to another, and yet another...


Due to the incessant rain, there was not much chance to click photographs. Everything was wet, wet, wet...


The rain continued to pour as we stepped out of the TRH after tea. Short while later we got dropped at Sonprayag. From here we separated into smaller groups and took jeeps to reach Gaurikund. Though we both had umbrellas, we bought cheap barsati for Rs. 50 each at a small shop for extra measure.

Then we proceeded to the Gauri mata temple. After praying for the best [-o<, we had breakfast. Apart from us two, another member of our tour group was also going by foot. We decided to stick together and started climbing. Due to the rain, waterfalls by the trek route had swelled and many of them were flowing over the path. We were making reasonable progress, and stopped for a tea break and hot pakora near Jungle Chatti. This is when we realized how nice a hot tea can be... and also how water was trickling through the barsati and wetting the clothes. #-o


Me trudging along in the rain
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We proceeded onwards, taking it easy, especially I didn't want to push myself and I was doing quite okay. My cousin was a little ahead of me. As we were climbing the switchbacks towards Bheembali, I stopped as usual to rest for couple of minutes. I tried to continue... but... I couldn't keep a step forward with my left leg!! I called out to him few times till he heard me. He stopped and said "I'll wait, take your time and come".

For the next 5 minutes I tried many ways to see if I could move, but NO! :eek::-( Left knee wouldn't bear my weight! My cousin realized something is wrong and approached me. Luckily 100m ahead there was a small shop, and with his help I reached the shop and sat down. Had tea and biscuits and rested for few minutes, but upon getting up there was no relief. Soon I decided that I should take a pony, but were in the middle (almost). The shopkeeper suggested that we may get them from Bheembali which is a little distance away. Obviously there was no way I could reach even there.

We both sat there. I was going through all kind of emotions and thoughts, but in that process we were wasting precious time. So with a heavy heart I asked my cousin to move ahead. I decided to get any pony that is going back empty to Gaurikund, utterly disappointed that it has to end this way. :-(:-(

I don't know if I should call it good luck or bad, three men carrying empty
pitthu were going down. I called out. After estimating my weight to be around 72-74 kgs they quoted an exorbitant price. :D Having no other choice, I agreed. I got into the rather comfortable seat after taking off the barsati. I was covered by a plastic sheet from head to toe and asked to sit still.

From here onwards my experience was quite a strange mix. I was comfortably seated with the plastic sheet blocking rain and wind. But my clothes, shoes, socks were wet. So I was still shivering, and my feet were going numb. All I could see was a grey sky. The only thing breaking this monotony were the short conversations exchanged with my cousin. The relaxing pitter-patter sound of rain falling on the sheet was pulling me into sleep. Ever used the sound of rain to fall asleep? :p

The three men took turns to carry me, and we stopped near Lincholi for a break. My carriers ordered aloo paratha, me and my cousin settled for some hot Maggi noodles. I was out of the cocoon now, and I could feel the cold air. It is funny when you eat with shivering hands, and noodles keep falling back into the plate! :lol: The convoy proceeded after the plate was emptied into the stomach. The sky had turned darker shade of grey, that's all I could make out. Soon it became dark, and my cousin confirmed that we had reached. I thankfully settled the dues for my carriers.

Having a rest of 3 hours seemed to have helped my leg, and I could walk independently, but limping badly. After checking in at the reception, they directed us towards a dormitory. Rest of the tour members had reached already and were resting. First thing we did was - remove the shoes! :-& Running hot water was a godsend, it felt heavenly and restored the sense of feeling in the fingers and toes. Quickly changed into dry clothes, ordered dinner inside the room and retired to bed.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Time is precious - when in doubt about physical fitness, play it safe and utilize pony/doli/pitthu from the starting point
  2. Normal footwear such as sandals will suffice (or even preferred) as the trail is completely paved
  3. Trust your umbrella more than the cheap barsati :mad:
Adventure will continue in the next post...
 
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sayshh

Member
The adventure of Kedarnath continues in this post...

Kedarnath (part 2)

When nature has other plans... Landslide(s)!

24-Sept-2018: Kedarnath - Tilwara
24-Sept-2018: Kedarnath - Lincholi

The night was spent mostly sleeplessly. But as instructed, we started for the temple by 7:00 AM. It was still raining.
#-oThis time we were using only umbrellas and barsati were left in the room. :cool: Having rested since previous evening, I was now able to walk, left leg was still painful, but manageable. I slowly started limping the final 1.5 kms to the temple. Progress was very slow for me, my cousin was walking ahead of me and waiting for me patiently.

Views after we started walking towards the temple
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View on the other side, note the old trek route
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More than an hour later (yes it took that much time for me!) we approached the series of steps leading to the temple, and slowly with each step the temple started coming into view. I suddenly got overwhelmed with emotions and froze. Just a day ago, I had almost given up, and now here I was with the temple right in front of me.

Finally! Temple in view (note the knee support band) ](*,)
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The rain, the cold, nothing mattered for few minutes. I don't know if I cried, but I felt a lump in my throat and involuntarily chanted "Om Namah Shivaya!" as we entered the temple. We took time and performed puja.

View of mountains behind temple
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When we came out, we realized our shoes had become mini swimming pools.
:shock: Can it get any wetter than this? There was no chance of visiting the Bhairavnath temple with my condition and weather. So we spent time around the temple and walked back to the dormitory after having tea and biscuits.

Next was the task of hiring a pony to descend. So we reached the ghoda padav after picking up our luggage (and barsati!). Already lot of people had gathered, and were vying for a ride off the mountain. It was heart wrenching to see many elderly people and women shivering helplessly. Not that we were doing any better! :-D After a lot of jostling, we booked 2 ponies.

Totally unaware of what's going to happen, we hopped on to the ponies relieved that we will be going down by afternoon and feeling better.
:-D It was the first ride on a pony for me, so I was clinging on to the handles. Rain kept lashing at us incessantly.

Landslide #1

All of a sudden I heard a loud bang. Alarmed, I looked in the direction of sound. A sizeable chunk of mountainside had broken off and the debris was rolling into the river on the other side (old trek route). :shock: :shock: The first landslide I ever witnessed, but the ponies and their guides walked as if nothing happened. :eek::eek:

Anyway we continued our downward journey getting battered by rain and wind. In a short while as we approached Lincholi, everyone was being stopped by the SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) personnel. They were not allowing anyone to proceed further.

Landslide #2

Upon enquiring, we came to know that somewhere ahead, the trek route had been destroyed by a landslide.
:( Now uncertainty loomed over our heads - lot of speculations were going around.

The pony guides shrugged their shoulders and casually said "ek-aadh ghante me khul jayega" (it will open in an hour or so). Nearby was a half completed dispensary in which people were taking shelter from rain and wind. There was a nice fire going in the main area, and many people were crowding around it. We also squeezed in and tried to get some warmth, but it was short lived.

In one of the rooms, an electric heater was being operated and priority was being given to elderly people, women and children to be closer to it. We tried to get into that room, but we were a bit far away from the heater, so it was like Birbal ki khichdi. Anyhow, the sheltered room, 40-50 people huddling together, along with heater was much warmer than outside.
:-D

Time ticked past lunch time, but hunger was the last thing on our mind now. To make matters worse, a grim announcement was made by an SDRF official. "Aaj rasta nahi khulega" (route can't/won't be opened today). So now the 200-250 people who were stranded like us had to find accommodation! Chaos reigned as everyone panicked and rushed to book shelter for the night. Since we were from GMVN tour, our tour guide managed to arrange some tent accommodation for all members. Saved us from jostling for booking at the counter - one less thing to worry about. O:)

The tent was a 4+2 tent which we shared with some other members of our group. Time was around 4:00 PM. Now that we had an assured shelter for the night, attention turned towards the demands of the stomach. We took simple meals (which was also in high demand). The restaurant was quite warm, and people had started settling into the corners to claim their space for the night. After lunch, I zipped myself into a sleeping bag and dozed off to sleep. When I woke up, it was dark outside.

I called up home and informed them about my whereabouts, but didn't reveal the actual scene. We went out to assess the situation, more helpless people had gathered in the restaurant for shelter. We had an early dinner, and were milling about the camp. GMVN was generously arranging mats and sleeping bags for people in the restaurant. =D>=D> People were asked to wait outside while the floor was mopped.

A GMVN representative was trying to convince a group from Tamilnadu to move out of their claimed space corner, but they stayed put. Realizing that I am from South India, he asked me to explain to them. They cooperated after I explained to them in Tamil. In the meantime, sleeping bags started arriving. Once everything was settled, we went down to the shops for tea.

Then we retired to our tents, praying for a better tomorrow. As I drifted to sleep, I could sense that it had become much quieter. Hurray! Finally, it stopped raining!!
\\:D/\\:D/

But it's not over yet...
 

sayshh

Member
The saga continues...

Kedarnath (part 3)

One final hurdle.. another landslide...

25-Sept-2018: TIlwara – Badrinath
25-Sept-2018: Lincholi - Gauchar

Today we were supposed to reach Badrinath for overnight stay after a relatively pleasant drive. But nature planned something totally different, and we were running terribly behind schedule.
So when we woke up and came out of the tent, the sight of a clear sky and sunshine literally made us jump with joy. =D> It is amazing how much hope and positivity sunlight brings.


View from Lincholi camp
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Some things were still not in our favour though, all the pony men had fled with their ponies. :mad: Also the SDRF personnel were working hard to open the route, and it was expected to take couple of hours more. Still we were advised to start descending immediately to avoid losing any time. We quickly had breakfast, and started the hunt for ponies afresh.

Closer view of the Kedarnath peak
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The ghoda padaav at Lincholi was deserted, so we returned to Lincholi and waited for some time. Ultimately few empty ponies were coming down from Kedarnath. We quickly sealed the deal for two and hopped on. In a short while we approached the landslide area. Route was still being cleared, but people were queued up and allowed to cross one-by-one by foot. SDRF men were hand-holding people across this stretch. So we got off the pony and walked over the debris to the other side.

Glad to have crossed over to the "safer" side [-o<

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Ponies were the last to cross it, then we continued the ride downwards. Now we could appreciate, rather experience the beauty of valley. But riding a pony wasn't that comfortable, and I kept enquiring about a break frequently. :-D The pony guide kept saying "aur thoda aage rukenge" (we'll stop a little ahead).

View of peaks from the valley

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Just when I felt I could bear it no more, and even considered jumping off the pony, :-D we arrived at Jungle Chatti. There was a watering point for pony and a shop nearby. Even though I had little leg pain, I was very happy to place both my feet on ground. We had tea and biscuits while the ponies sipped water. The valley was lit with sunshine, and my shoes started developing patches of dry surface. =D>

View of the valley
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Gaurikund was "just" 4 kms away, and it was tempting for me to attempt walking all the way. Grudgingly I climbed on to the pony again. Short while later we were at the ghoda padaav of Gaurikund. I was so relieved to get off the pony. We paid for the ride and continued to descend by foot. Then took a shared jeep to Sonprayag. The tour bus was already waiting, and we regrouped with others.

So where is the final hurdle?

Landslide #3

Couple of members from our group had taken helicopter service from Phata. We started from Sonprayag with the intention of picking them up there. But... there was a massive landslide a little before Phata, which had taken 30-40 meters of road with it. There was a long queue of vehicles stuck on either side. While waiting in the jam, the tour guide reworked the itinerary and informed us that we will halt at Gauchar for the night.

The jam started clearing up in couple of hours. Traffic was allowed from one side at a time. As the bus approached the landslide, the tension could felt. No one spoke a word. Everyone had a silent prayer on their lips as the bus crossed the landslide zone. [-o<[-o< Soon as the landslide was crossed, people breathed a sigh of relief and the usual murmurs could be heard.

We picked up the remaining two members from Phata. I was feeling drowsy with headache. My cousin confirmed that I was having mild fever. I decided to take medicines if the fever persisted in the night and dozed off to sleep. Fortunately fever subsided by the time we reached Gauchar. We just had enough time to freshen up and have dinner before going to sleep.


Better (but hectic) days ahead...
 
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