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Kedarnath Pilgrims Progress

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Waterfall streaked mountains, deep river gorges, lush green meadows blushing with the bloom of wildflowers… the stunning Himalayan landscape stays with you as you undertake the demanding 14 km trek to the holy pilgrim town of Kedarnath in Uttarakhand. (Kedarnath is the most arduous yet satisfying of the four stage Char Dham pilgrim trail, considered to be the most sacred by Hindus. The others are Yamunotri, Gangotri and Badrinath.)

One kilometre from Kedarnath, the path, mercifully, levels out and you get your first view of the pilgrim town in the distance - a conglomeration of buildings wedged at the base of a green valley. This is the abode of Lord Shiva who manifested himself in the form of a lingam shaped like the hump of a bull.

According to legend the Pandava brothers of Mahabharata fame had set off into the Himalayas to find Shiva and ask him to forgive them for all the blood letting – especially of their guru – during the epic war. The lord, however, was not inclined to bestow favours cheaply (just as he demands his pint of sweat from pilgrims even today before granting them darshan) and disguised himself as a bull that mingled with cattle grazing on the slopes. But the heroes of the epic saw through his disguise and pursued him. Just before they caught up with him though, Shiva sank into the ground leaving behind only the exposed hump. This is considered to be the most holy of the 12 jyotirlingas or naturally formed lingams, around the country. Incidentally this is the only dham where pilgrims are allowed to touch the main deity.

At sunset the entire town, residents and pilgrims gravitate towards the main temple which is bathed in a flood of lights to attend the evening aarti. The ceremony is a symphony of bhajans, the beating of drums and the tolling of bells. Indeed, the temple, poised proudly with the Himalayas as a backdrop, is the heartbeat of the pilgrim town where priests perform ceremonies for visiting devotees. During the peak season months of May and June these rituals start early in the morning and continue late into the night.

Aside from the main temple and the small shrines scattered around the town, the other main attractions in Kedarnath include the samadhi of Shankaracharya, the sage who brought about a resurgence of Hinduism in India and a sacred water tank that bubbles each time one says ‘Bub Bub.’ After the spiritually purifying experience high up in the Himalayas, one sets off on the 14 km trekking trail back to the transit town of Gaurikund and onwards to the next leg of the Char Dham circuit.

Fact File

Kedarnath is the third leg of the holy Char Dham yatra in Uttaranchal. The other stages of this pilgrim trail, considered to be the most sacred by Hindus, are Yamunotri, the source of the river Yamuna; Gangotri, the source of river Ganga; and Badrinath, the abode of Lord Vishnu.

One may even undertake one or two dham yatras. The popular coupling of the two dham circuit is either Yamunotri and Gangotri to the west or Kedarnath and Badrinath to the east.

Good trekking shoes are a must on the yatra especially on the Yamunotri and Kedarnath legs. Since Kedarnath involves an overnight halt, one should carry one’s overnight clothes in a small backpack.