Friday, August 11, 2017

Spectacular Images of Kedar Khand

Kedarnath is the famous Hindu Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the Gadwal Himalayan range of Uttarakhand near Mandakini River a tributary to Ganga. It is at an height of 3,583 meters (11,755 feet). It is an impressive stone edifice of unknown dates. It is believed that Pandavas established the Linga here and the temple complex is constructed after Adi Shankaracharya's visit to the place. There is a huge triangular shaped linga in the sanctum sanctorum surrounded by the statues of Draupadi and Padavas.

I would like to share my experiences through images and narration in words. As I said in one of the previous blogs photography is all about good weather, timing, patience and luck. I must say all of these three things were on my side during my trip to Kedarnath. It was a wonderful trip for me as I had both experiences and memories together. Experiences and memories rarely go together. I was really fortunate to have both. Luck was on my side as the weather was absolutely clear most of the time and had a whole long day to photograph and therefore had enough time and off course I had enough patience to capture them in spite of a difficult trek.

Due to traffic jam we were dropped at Sitapur, 2 kilometers before Sonprayag from where the actual journey to Kedarnath begins. So, we walked up to Sonprayag and from there we were taken in a jeep to Gaurikund which is 5-6 kilometers from Sonprayag. They charged Rs. 20/- per head for that. 

The long queue you see in the image below is for the jeep to Gauri Kund. It took us 2 hours to catch the jeep and reach Gaurikund.

At Gaurikund people take a holy dip in the hot water springs and trek for Kedarnath. When we reached there we tried to find the Kund (pond). Not finding the kund we asked a police man to show us the way to kund and he pointed at a tap of water where people were taking bath. Looking at our amused faces, he said the kund was washed out in the 2013 devastation and therefore the authorities have made an alternate arrangement. The hot water is now guided through pipelines to help the pilgrims take their bath. We decided not to have bath anymore and moved towards the trek to Kedarnath.

You have to go through a check post showing bio metric verification passes for char dham. You can take them here if you have not taken elsewhere. The trek to Kedarnath is 18 kilometers from here through a terrain of difficult man laid roads. You can also go by booking horses or ponies, pitthoos, palkies etc. from here. You have to book at counters available and the rates are decided by the Government. It was around Rs. 5000 for a round trip during our visit. One can also book helicopters that might cost around Rs, 10,000 round trip. 

We were a group of seven people, split in three batches. Two of them took the horse and two of them went on trek 2 hours before us. Me, my wife and a friend began our trek at 11 AM from Gaurikund.

Trek to Kedarnath is the mother of all treks of chardham. Though the new trekking path is neat and well maintained, it is difficult and tiresome. The unpredictable weather make things worst. It may sun, rain and snow anytime of the day. So one should go with proper clothing carrying warm clothes (as the temperature might be freezing cold), rain coats especially the thick jackets to protect from snow fall and a torch light if it gets dark. 

The images below shows you the means of commuting to Kedarnath. You can see a guy carrying a woman on his head in a basket. It is called a Pitthoo. The other lady is seen walking with a stick in her hand.

In the picture below you can see how the pilgrims are carried away on horses and ponies.
Crossing the check post at around 11 Am, we walked through a crowded narrow street and this is what we noticed after 10 minutes of walk. These beautiful green top mountains welcomed us at every mile we added. The specialty of these mountains is that you find these tri-mountains up to Jangal chatti which is 4 kilometers up the mountains from Gaurikund.
We were completely lost in the beauty of these mountains and valleys as we climbed upwards. From Bheembali (6 kilometers up the mountains from Gaurikund) you see some of these springs of water emerging out from the mountains at different places. This clean and pure water flows down the hill and merges in the river Mandakini.
Mandakini is a tributary to river Alaknanda that meets at Rudraprayag. Look how deep down is the river Mandakini flowing. It is hardly possible for the naked eye to witness this beautiful stream of water.
River Mandakini originates from Chorabari glaciers near Kedarnath. I was deeply fascinated by different colors of the water in some of these rivers in Uttarakhand region. The water of Mandakini river is a very attractive blue which continues till it meets Alaknanda at Rudraprayag.
From Rambara which is 7 kilometers from Gaurikund, a naked eye can catch slight glimpses of the river Mandakini crawling through steep narrow path.

Gushing sound of the water passing through rocky terrains force you to wait and peep down the valley to have a glimpse.
We spent lot of time here enjoying the beauty of the nature at its best unaware of what lies ahead of us.
Whereas, the devotees were busy in walking up the hill without wasting their time. 
When I showed these photos to some of my friends who went earlier wondered and asked where I got these views?
Look at these beautiful rock formations. The connection of rock and water is amazing. Sometimes the rock remains on top of water and sometimes the water on top of rocks.
The connection is really difficult to understand. The rock tries to stop the water and water try to drift the rock. Is it a connection of friendship or enmity, difficult to say!
They clash together but that produces Music. So lovely to listen. Isn't it?
Both these forces are very powerful and never let an opportunity to show their strength.
Rocks stands tall silently and patiently with all strength and water flows roaring with full vigor.
Sometimes it appears that the mighty rock is enjoying the lady river dominating it.
You can see in the image below how the mighty rock is embracing the beautiful alluring river.
Don't you think the  beautiful rock formation is resembling some kind of form having fun in water and kissing one another?
They look like the heads of some aliens that we see them in movies.
 Roaring water flowing through the gates of rocks. 
My eyes caught up this beautiful pit on the top of the rock at a far sight and immediately captured in my lens. 

This is at Rambara which is 7 kilometers from Gaurikund. Kedarnath is more than halfway to go from here.
We reached here around 2 PM and had great fun. 
On reaching almost halfway mark, we decided to relax and enjoy the nature.
Spent sometime capturing the images, relaxing on these rocks and playing with the waters of river Mandakini.
Started at 11 Am from Gaurikund and reached playfully in a good time of 3 hours.
Since we trekked 7 kilometers in pretty good time of 3 hours we thought we will make Kedarnath in another 4 hours most probably.
Apart from that, the spell-bounding view of river Mandakini flowing with a roaring sound attracted our attention.
We were lost in the beauty of the nature. Never realized that we already spent 2 hours here.

As the sky turned dark surrounded by clouds, we realized now its time to move ahead. Packed my camera and all other stuff to head for Kedanath. Few miles later this beautiful view of the moon in the evening daylight caught my attention. Unpacked my camera and shot this beautiful view. This was the last capture of the day.
What left from here is sheer experience of lifetime. The trek from here was really steep for the next 7 kilometers. The speed at which we climbed first 7 kilometers was not possible here. Our legs were not moving, the breath was getting heavier. We realized the basic mistake that we committed. One should not sit while trekking and we did for 2 hours and our bodies got relax and were not moving enough freely as it did before. We decided not to eat food anymore till we reach Kedarnath. We relied on liquid diet like glucose that we carried with us and did not sit until we reach Kedarnath. Every time we got tired, we stood tall with spine erect till breath normalized. Sometimes we did half Uttanasana with hands on the rock for quicker recovery.

After climbing a steep terrain for three hours, we had the first glimpse of snow top mountains far across. We sensed that Kedarnath is not far from here. It was 7 PM and the Sun hid on other side of the mountain making everything dark. The weather got really chilled as we were passing through beautiful glaciers on our way. We had our warmers on and started walking with a hope to reach Kedarnath soon. You will not find any food stall around these 7 kilometers. Horses aren't moving anymore as most of them might have reached Kedarnath. Few pedestrians and Pitthoo walas left walking on the dark path meant for walking. 

Around 8 PM we saw few tents installed in front for overnight stay. This was the second base camp after Bheembali. Some of them insisted us to stay as it is not advisable to travel ahead due to unknown weather conditions. Kedarnath was still 4 kilometers ahead, we thought we can make it by 9 PM and began our trek further. We came across a lady who was isolated from her group. We walked through terrific terrain of glaciers going up and down. 

The climate was getting cooler as we progressed through those glaciers. Our speed came down drastically as the glaciers were really slippery and we had to step our feet very cautiously. Our hands, feet and cheek began to freeze and get numb. We were worried about the lady that accompanied us as she was freezing. We gave her a shawl and chappals as she lost hers on the way. 

We lost all our companions. We were just four people walking on those lonely dark night on a path surrounded by snow mountains. Nothing is seen to a far distance apart from creamy snow mountains on our sides and few street lights here and there. Utter silence all over. There was no sound besides our breath and our talk in between. I used to stop and look around; enjoy the beauty of snow covered peaks all around. I was living the best of my lifetime as I never imagined I would be walking in such a heaven on Earth in the dark night. It was really a heavenly feeling as the stars were seen so close to us as if we can catch them standing on a peak of the mountain. I lived that moment fully as I knew I will never get a chance again even if I wish to do such an adventurous act. The snow mountains were glowing in an unbelievably dark night as if they were embracing and showing us the way to Kedarnath. 

Walking for two hours in this beautiful world, we heard a dog barking from a far distant place. We sensed that we are now close to a place where we can shelter now as it was freezing more. It was already 10 PM. It took us another hour to reach the place where the dog was barking. We finally saw a human face apart from us in these 3 hours. We asked whether we can get any shelter here. He guided us to a camp where we had our dinner and shelter at night. The person accommodated us wondered at the way we walked through in the night. He said it was quite dangerous as anything could have happened. A heavy rain, snow fall or even flood who knows. Anyway we got a shared accommodation in a cottage with 7 more people.

It was another experience. We could not sleep as the bed and the bed sheet were terribly cold. My spine shook for a while the moment I laid on bed. It is not the blanket or bed was bad. As our body got warm, the bed and bed sheet also got warm later. The geyser did not work for the night and the water was terribly cold and was making the contacted body part numb and senseless for few minutes. Even the drinking water was terribly cold; not able to drink a gulp of water. Somehow we tried to sleep but hardly managed to sleep couple of hours as it was getting cooler with the dawn awakening. The next morning when I woke up and walked out of the cottage I realized why it was so cold. There was a huge rock of glacier at the back of the steel cottage we were in. 

That was how the previous day end and a new day began with views of this beautiful peak outside our cottage.

After showers we walked to the Kedarnath temple which was still a kilometer away. This is that beautiful temple established by Pandavas and later the monument developed by the great Adi Shankaracharya. It is highest among the 12 Jyotirlingas.
Inside the temple there is a huge naturally built and irregular triangular shaped linga. It is around 3 to 4 feet broad and tall. We thanked Lord Shiva the main deity, Pandavas who believed to have built the temple and Adi Shankaracharya who revived or rebuilt the temple here. Had there not be a temple here, why would anybody will go there? Many would have deprived of experiencing this heaven on Earth.
I found similarity in the wooden carvings on top of all the temples in Uttarkhand. I don't really know what that symbolizes.
Have a close look at the below image, there is a flower shaped structure in the middle that I mentioned in my earlier blog on Guptkashi.
Beautiful isn't it?
There was a long queue for the darshan. It gave me some time to explore the surroundings and capture few things here.
You will see some of these stalls here. Poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Hotel. He visited this place a day before our arrival for inauguration of the Temple. The temple remains closed 6 months of the year during winter due to snow. During these six months the utsava murthy (festive idols) are shifted to Ukhimath and Kedarnath is prayed there. 
Kedarnath will be like this during winters and that is why it remains closed for 6 months. This is not my picture. I picked from Google for your information.

You can see colorful stalls selling pooja items used at the temple. These people live here for six months and go back to their villages again during winter.
Life for these hawkers post 2013 devastation has become really difficult. 
The items in pooja thali shown below is often offered by devotees to Lord Siva.
You can see some of these people waiting to bless you.
And some performing rituals outside the temple.
In June 2013 a multi day cloud burst occurred at Kedarnath and other parts of Uttarakhand causing devastating floods and landslides becoming the countries worst natural disaster since the 2004 Tsunami. Official number of over 6000 people died in the washout. More than 1500 were local villagers that died. Over one lakh devotees were struck at different places over few weeks due to road blocks and landslides. All rivers overflown washing out everything that comes in their way. The survived locals say that the rainfall that occurs in three years had occurred in one night. It cleared anything and everything that came in its way. 

The authorities have done tremendous job in clearing the debris and making new pathways for devotees to reach Kedarnath. The evidence of 2013 disaster can still be seen in Kedarnath.

Here you can see some of the remains of the disaster. A house or perhaps a shop or hotel destructed and not yet repaired. If you watch the surface carefully you will find that one of the floors is grounded completely in soil.
You can see in the below picture, three fourth of the structure is completely collapsed and submerged in the soil.
Few complexes are rebuilt while others remain the same. 
The reason might be that the owner or the family of those buildings have not survived.
The scenes around the temple are no different. It's destruction everywhere. There used to be a samadhi of Adi Shankaracharya around here. 
You can see the workers cutting stones that were flooded down behind the temple.
It is because of this huge rock the temple survived the 2013 floods. It came down with force and stopped just behind the temple, thanks to the two more rocks in front which stopped it from colliding with the temple. People call this rock a Bheemshila believing that Bheem erected the rock here. Had there not be those two rocks in front of this, the very Bheemshila would have destructed the temple. Anyway, these rocks saved the temple as the flood water gushed through the sides cutting the rock. There is certainly some damage to the temple complex as some idols inside were completely broken or washed away.
You can see the partial view of one of those rocks that stopped Bheemshila in the image below.
Four years after the floods, authorities are still working on removing the debris around the temple complex. 
I really wonder how these big machines were brought here as there is no way possible to drive here from Gaurikund. They perhaps would have been brought here in huge military air cargo.
In the mean time our lost mates appeared when were standing in the queue for darshan. We asked them to carry on and promised to join them at Sonprayag. We wanted to stay here for another day and explore Gandhi Sarovar etc which is 2 kilometers from Kedarnath but decided to trek down after darshan as we found many things were destructed, so nothing much was left to explore. It might take another few years to restore things to normalcy. 

After finishing the darshan, we vacated the room, had a light lunch of Maggie noodles and started trekking down around 12 PM . I captured some of these beautiful images around our trek down but unable to hold more as the weather was totally different that day.
After coming here I clearly understood why Ganga river never dies. It is a live river throughout the Indian civilization. It is the lifeline river for Indian people for time unknown. This is why it is considered so sacred.
As the Sun rises and passes through, the snow melts and as the night falls the snow gathers completely covering the mountains in white tops.
Apart from this, there will be rainfall everyday in this region at least once. This also helps in keeping the rivers alive.
Clouds cover the mountains in few minutes and therefore capturing these snow mountains is pure luck and needs lot of time and patience.
It might appear as clear as this and then within few clicks the clouds gather.
You can see partial sky in the picture below.
In the very next click thick blanket of clouds began to cover the peak.

On other side, the mount appears absolutely clear.

You can see now the clouds appear in the next image.
I captured all these images in few moments trekking down as we have to reach back to Gaurikund by 7 as the jeep service to Sonprayag will not be available after that.
This peak was glowing like a white diamond in the night as I described earlier. It does glow like a white diamond even in the day. Is it not?
Another view of the same peak.
Look at the glow though there is not much snow on it.
Look at the clouds, they began to gather on the peak again.

These were the mountains that were showing us the way previous night.

One hour after our trek downwards, I sensed extreme change in the weather condition as it got dark around 12 noon. Packed my camera, put my rain coat and a thick jacket on as it was about to rain. And all of a sudden there was a snow storm. No where to hide, some people took shelter beneath the rocks but we decided to go on. The snow balls were bigger in size and hitting hard on our back. We just walked in screaming and laughing as we were having great fun. Never been into such situation before. No protection, no option but to go. The snow balls were hitting hard like someone is pelting stones on us. If we try to protect the head it was hitting the hands and sometimes terrible blows on our faces. As we walked down the size of the snow balls reduced. They got smaller and smaller. We enjoyed the snow drizzles here as it was not hurting and we could see the snow balls melting in air and getting thinner and flying with the wind. There was snow everywhere on the path and therefore we had to walk carefully as they melt and slip on stepping a foot on it. 

The snowfall stopped as we crossed the glaciers and came to the mountain which took long time for us to climb last night. The Sun came up fully shining now. We had to remove our jackets and raincoat. In the Sunlight we came to know what we missed in the dark last night. There were many shortcut footpaths made by regular walk of the local villagers. We followed these risky but effective paths and saved around 4 to 6 kilometer distance walking down. 

On reaching Rambara we encountered severe rainfall with roaring thunder shouts. The path became really slippery and also dirty due to horse dung all over. Riding horses is also dangerous here as we saw many horses falling down on the rider. Some injured their legs, their lower back and even the head. 

Trekking down takes less time but lot of strain comes on knees and calf muscles. The bamboo stick helps a lot for walkers as it takes half of the weight. The rain stopped and weather got clear again. From minus temperature to again we came back to 4 or five degrees. We had to remove our warmers as it was making us sweat and perspire. On reaching Bheembali we experienced utter darkness due to thick and dense fog covering the entire forest. We could only see upto 10 feet ahead. Somehow we managed to reach Gaurikund by 7 PM. We found the place full with crowd shouting and arguing. Never understood what was that for until we reach there. It was a queue in fact no queue, a gathering to pickup the jeep. We felt Oh Noooooooooo! All our energies were down, feeling terribly hungry, had to reach Guptkashi and it is already 7 PM. It was the most difficult thing we experienced throughout the journey. At 9 PM we got our turn to board the jeep and somehow we managed to reach Sonprayag where we found our mates. All our faces were dark, dim and no energy even to speak a word. We had our dinner at a South Indian restaurant and drove back to our hotel in Guptkashi. 

I made a little study about the preparations one has to do before visiting chardham. Every little thing came effective, the rain coat, buying warmers in the local market, hand gloves, torch light, glucose, dates, a stick etc., they all helped a lot. So guys, if you are first timers please take all these things along with you. So, see you again with my next update.