Monday, March 13, 2006

Kedarnath : The land of Shiva

The Himalayas blessed with gushing rivers, majestic snow clad peaks, enchanting lakes, revered temples and rich plethora of fauna and flora is described as ‘Abode of Gods’. The blissful air of divinity and postcard-picture beauty of the Himalayas lends it a touch of paradise.
The Garhwal region of the Uttaranchal state of India captures every essence of Himalayan beauty. It’s in the Garhwal Himalayas that the sacred shrine of Kedarnath is situated. At an altitude of 3581 meters, Kedarnath is one of the most respected, sacred and holiest places of Hindus. One of the twelve jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva, Kedarnath offers ample scope of trekking and more importantly a divine experience of being near to the Almighty. Kedar is another name for Lord Shiva, the protector and the destroyer whose various forms express various passions like love, hatred, fear, death and mysticism. All over Garhwal there are hundreds of shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva.
According to the legend, which goes back to the time of Mahabharata, after the battle at Kurukshetra the Pandavas felt guilty of having killed their brothers (The Kauravas) and thus followed Lord Shiva to seek his blessings for redemption. However, Lord Shiva eluded them and took refuge here in Kedarnath in form of a Bull. On being found, he dived into the ground leaving his hump on the surface. His remaining parts appeared at four different places; arms at Tunganath, face at Rudranath, belly at Madhmeshwar and locks (hairs) at Kalpeshwar. The four shrines mentioned above along with Kedarnath form the Panch kedars. There’s a sixth one too called Bhawishya Kedar, which according to legend will come into existence once the present day Kedarnath ceases to exist after some catastrophe, which will change the topology of Himalayas.
The journey to Kedarnath starts from Rishikesh, the Gateway to the Himalayas. Kedarnath is some 225 km from Rishikesh. From Rishikesh one follows the holy river of Ganga to reach Deoprayag. Deoprayag is one of the six sacred confluences of river Ganga. It’s this place where river Alaknanda coming from Badrinath (Another sacred shrine devoted to Lord Vishnu) meets the river Bhagirathi coming from Gangotri and its from Deoprayag onwards only that the river takes the name Ganga. From Deoprayag one follows Alaknanda and reaches Rudraprayag, which is the second important confluence. Here river Mandakini coming from Kedarnath meets Alaknanda. From Rudraprayag one road goes along Alaknanda to Badrinath and other goes along Mandakini to Kedarnath. Thus one leaves Alaknanda and follows the swiftly flowing blue waters of Mandakini. Following the Mandakini river through the deep forest covered valleys and mountains amidst breathtaking beauty of Himalayas one reaches Kund, another important place en route Kedarnath. Finally we reach Gaurikund, the last motor head to Kedarnath. You can decide to halt here or proceed directly to Kedarnath after some rest. Don’t forget to take a dip in the hot water spring here at Gaurikund.
Kedarnath is 14 km trek from Gaurikund passing through lush green forest, which offers spectacular beauty. Huge snow clad peaks in the back drop and beautiful water springs en route do not let you feel the tiredness of the difficult trek and one keeps moving enjoying the glorious views offered by the nature. The constant sound of Mandakini river flowing alongside echoes throughout the valley and helps in keeping oneself charged up and revamps the spirits. After a 7 km trek one reaches Rambara, last place on the route having proper facilities of accommodation and food. A cup of tea and tasty Aloo ka Paratha refreshes you and after a rest of half an hour or so one proceeds further. By the time you arrives at Garurchatti the journey seems to have overtaken you. Lack of Oxygen and a very steep slope makes the trek extremely difficult. The final few Km to Kedarnath do take a toll on you but then this is what makes the journey worth. Finally one reaches Kedarnath after a physically absorbing yet exciting trek.
Surrounded by lofty snow covered peaks, Kedarnath temple is an imposing sight. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple is some 1000 years old and was built in 8th century AD by Adiguru Shankaracharya. A conical rock formation inside the temple is worshipped as Lord Shiva in his Sadashiva form. The Samadhi of Adiguru Shankaracharya is located just behind the temple. The peaceful environment and beautiful surroundings of Kedarnath generates a divine feeling of being near to the god. Mother Nature is at her best in Kedarnath, showering all her blessings on this auspicious place.
There are several other nearby places providing enough opportunities for those who believe in adventures and excitement and want to explore the natural beauty of the region. One can trek one more km further along Mandakini to Gandhi Sarovar to get the splendid view of the lake there. Equally exciting are the treks to Vasuki Taal, Trijuginarayan and the Panch Kedars, all distinguished by wild orchards and picturesque Bugyals (Vast regions of mountains covered with grass used for the purpose of cattle grazing). These places are located at higher altitudes (Above 4000 meters) and offer splendid view of some of the well-known peaks in India like Nanda Devi, Mt. Kamet etc.

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