We commenced our road journey from Haridwar at 8.00 in the morning by a hired Maruti van. Although it was almost a rain-less day, we encountered first landslide near Byasi on way to Devprayag. After about an hour or so, the debris were cleared and traffic resumed. The next landslide was somewhere between Pipalkoti and Joshimath resulting in the partial road block and slow movement of traffic to and fro Joshimath. We reached Joshimath at around 6.00 p.m. by which time the last gate for the road beyond Joshimath was closed for the day. We had to stay overnight at Joshimath [Kamet Hotel @70/-].
Day-2 : Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangaria [20 kms by road and 14 kms by trek]
The mule track was all along Lakshaman Ganga stream which eventually meets Alaknanda river. After about 3 kms, we reached Pulna, a small hamlet where many pilgrims stopped for a while for rest. At this point, it started raining which became heavy as we proceeded towards Bhyundar. The rainwater flowing across the mule track made our progress slow. The water level of the Lakshaman Ganga stream had already started rising and at some places it was close to the trekking path. There were many waterfalls on the way, a couple of them being the large ones. By the time we reached Bhyundar, we were completely drenched even with our ponchos on. The rains and the cold weather made us shiver as we stopped at Bhyundar for rest. After a cup of hot tea, we decided to move ahead as walking was a better option in cold weather than taking rest.
Cloud formation over Valley
The valley opening between two mountains
It was around 11.30 a.m. as we entered the valley. The weather was cloudy with occasional light rains. It was a mesmerising feeling for us to walk in the midst of green carpets with long stretches of wild flowers plants as far as my eye could see. Many of the flower plants were as high as 6-7 feet. The observation of Frank Smythe was, however, no longer valid after 60 years as a narrow path made by a steady flow of trekkers existed. [ I understand that forest authorities have paved this path with stones]. Nevertheless, in many places, it was impossible to avoid brushing with plants and flowers while walking in the valley. In some places, we had to physically push these plants sideways to walk further.
First encounter with mass flowering as we entered the valley
We saw varieties of wild flowers many of which I had not seen in any of my earlier visits to Himalaya. It was a visual treat for all of us to see from an higher elevation the light breeze swinging the flowering plants giving an impression of a multi-coloured carpet being laid in the valley. We were surprised that compared to the pilgrims crowd at Ghangaria, there were not more than 8-10 trekkers in VOF including our group to see the nature's spectacles. One of the members of other group was heard complaining to their Leader in Marathi. " Have you brought me here all the way from Mumbai just to see therda chi phula ( Impatiens flowers) which I could have seen in Borivali National Park in rainy season?" Each person has his own perspective of looking at the nature. The pilgrims were here mainly to complete their visits to Hemkund Saheb. Additionally, they would rather make a visit to Badrinath than 'wasting' one day in VOF for seeing some jungli phuls (wild flowers).
After crossing the glacier, the climb became steeper which was obvious as we were to gain altitude by more about 1300m in a 6 kms trek. The steep climb forced us to take rest quite often to regain our normal breathing. Even the mules carrying pilgrims and other supplies were breathing fast as seen from the foam accumulated around their nostrils. On this stretch also, we came across some of the wild-flowers we saw in VOF. As we gained altitude, the wild flowers were replaced by a series of brahm kamal plants. As we were close to our destination, the weather turned cloudy and in some places we were virtually walking in cloud and mist making our progress slow. Fortunately, it did not rain much. We reached Hemkund at around 11.00 a.m. At first, the constant movement of cloud and mist around the lake did not give us any idea of the topography of the area. After taking a quick dip in the ice-cold water of the lake, we took a round of the lake starting with Lakshaman (Lokpal) temple and ending with a visit to Gurudwara with star-shaped roof which was under renovation .
Since we had already done trek to VOF and Hemkund Saheb, we were well acclimatised to this part of the steep climb. After Garud Chatti, it was about 2 kms, more or less, of a plain walk up to Kedarnath. Having done this trek 5 times so far, I can say that psychologically, this is the most difficult part of the trek/piligrimage as after having done about 5 kms of a steep climb from Rambara, Kedarnath temple looks so near but it was too far to reach. This is also the place where many pilgrims get breathing problem despite walking on a plain path as they are at an altitude of about 12000 feet. But for nature lover, all pains and fatigue are soon forgotten when they encounter the grassy patches full of wild flowers , especially in rainy season, on both sides of the path with a soft sound of gushhing water of Mandakini river .
Zig-zag trekking path to Kedarnath from Rambara
Kedarnath temple complex in the shadow of cloud-covered Kedar dome
we had an 'exclusive' darshan at Kedarnath temple since there was not a single pilgrim inside the temple. This encouraged Jambukeswaran to go for some special puja. After taking the receipt for the said puja, we again went inside the temple, sat in front of the hump-shaped shivling, chanted the mantras with priest and bathe the shivling with water, milk and ghee. It took about half an hour to cokmplete the ceremony.
We started from Kedarnath around 8.00 a.m. in ther sunny morning. As we walked towards Garud Chatti, the Kedarnath peak which had so far elluded us due to cloudy weather was now visible. After a short stop at Rambara, we reached Gaurikund at 12 noon. After locating our driver near the bus stand ( there was no cell phones those days) we commenced our last lap of journey to Haridwar which was smooth. We reached Haridwar by 7.00 p.m. We returned to Mumbai after taking a day's halt at Delhi.
Meadow on the other side of Mandakini near Kedarnath
Pilgrims returning from Kedarnath going towards Garud Chatti