The Lord of The Field
Kedarnath is one of the most sacrosanct pilgrim spots of north India and is flocked by people from all corners of the globe. Besides its religious significance, it is also visited by those who love to conquer the rough terrain of Garhwal. Lapped in the green hills of the Himalayas, the serene atmosphere here, with its cool and gentle breeze, offers an ideal tourist retreat.
Kedarnath is situated in the Uttar Kashi district of the northern state of Uttaranchal. Very close to the Indo-Chinese border, it is the source of the Mandakini River. It is couched in the scenic locales of the Garhwal Himalayas at 3583 meters above sea level. It is very cold in the winters with the ground being covered with snow. In the summers, the mercury barely crosses the 20°C mark. The place experiences about 150 cm of rainfall during the monsoons and so the best time to visit is between May and October. Kedarnath is near to Rishikesh (234 km) and Dehradun (250 km).
According to legend, Lord Shiva wished to elude the Pandavas, who had come to seek penitence for having killed their kin in the battle of Kurukshetra. He took refuge in Kedarnath in the form of a bull. Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers, found Shiva amongst a herd of cattle. Having identified the meanest and most arrogant of the herd as Shiva, Bhima is said to have grabbed him by the hindquarters. What remains at the shrine in Kedarnath is the rear end of the bull, with the rest of its body scattered throughout the Garhwal. Shiva dived into the ground leaving behind him a hump on the surface. This conical protrusion is worshipped as the idol. It is the main site of the Panch Kedar temples.
SITES TO VISIT
The Kedarnath Temple is believed to have been built by the Pandavas and is almost 1000 years old. In the 8th century AD, it was refurbished by Adiguru Shankaracharya. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the idol is in the form of a pyramidal lingam. It is one of the 12 jyotirlingas in the country and is revered highly. The statue of Nandi, the divine bull of Shiva, stands at the entrance of the temple. During the winters, the statue is carried to Ukhimath, and is reinstated in Kedarnath in the month of May. The breathtaking view of the Kedardome peak behind the temple is a major attraction.
The Samadhi of Adiguru Shankaracharya is located just behind the temple and is the final resting place of the saint. The Bhairavnath temple, situated to the south of the main temple of Kedarnath, is dedicated to Lord Bhairav, the deity who guards the main temple in winter when it is closed.
A solid path near to the main bridge, before the town, crosses the Mandakini to the left of the valley and ends 4 km away at the glacier. At its edge is the Chorabari Tal Lake, now known as Gandhi Sarovar, as some of Mahatma Gandhi's ashes were scattered here. It is also said that Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava, departed to heaven from this lake.
Close by, around 800 m from the lake, is the source of the Mandakini. One can also cross the river by the small bridge behind the temple, and scramble up the rough boulder-strewn moraine to meet the main track.
At a distance of 6 km from Kedarnath is Vasuki Tal, which is perched at a height of 4135 meters above the sea level. It offers a splendid view of the Chaukambha peaks and is an important spot in the itinerary of trekkers. The trekking base to Kedarnath is at a distance of 15 km and is named Gauri Kund, where there is temple dedicated to Gauri, the consort of Lord Shiva. One can also find thermal springs of medicinal value here. At the confluence of the Son Ganga and Mandakani rivers is Son Prayag, at a distance of 20 km from Kedarnath.
Around 25 km from Kedarnath is Triyuginarayan, the mythological venue where the wedding of Lord Shiva and Parvati was solemnized. It is a short trek of 5 km from Son Prayag. An eternal flame, which is said to have been witness to the marriage, burns in front of the temple even today.
At a distance of 49 km is Gupt Kashi, which is famous for its temples of Ardhnarishwar and Vishwanath. Ukhimath, at a distance of 60 km, is the winter home of the deity of Kedarnath and the Rawal (head priest) of the temple. Agastmuni, at a distance of 73, km has a temple dedicated to sage Agastya.
Situated on the Gopeshwar-Ukhimath Road, about 40 km from Gopeshwar at an altitude of about 2500 meters above sea level, Chopta is one of the most picturesque spots in the entire Garhwal region. It provides a breathtaking view of Himalayan ranges surrounding it.
Chandrashila (93 km) is a beautiful peak providing a captivating view of the other snow-clad peaks. The trek from Tungnath to Chandrashila offers a rare sight of the rhododendron forests and the alpine meadows. Deoria Tal is 2 km from Chopta-Ukhimath Road. This beautiful lake is at an altitude of 2438 m and gives a scenic view of the neighboring snow-capped peaks. This land is an ideal place for angling and bird watching.
The four other Panch Kedar sites are located in the vicinity of Kedarnath. Madmaheshwar, where the navel (nabhi) of Shiva fell, is at a distance of 74 km from Kedarnath, at a height of 3289 m. Tungnath (90 km) is perched at an altitude of 3680 m. Here Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of his arms (bahu). Rudranath (142 km), at a height of 2286 meters, is a very important pilgrim spot and Shiva's face is worshipped here. Kapleshwar (160 km) is at an altitude of 2134 meters and Shiva's locks are worshipped here.
HOW TO REACH
The nearest airport is Jolly Grant, Dehradun, at a distance of 251 km from Kedarnath. Small airlines have connecting flights here. The nearest railheads are Rishikesh (234 km) and Kotdwar (260 km), from where one can find trains to Dehradun. Kedarnath is approachable by road from all important places of the Garhwal hills-Rishikesh, Kotdwar, Dehradun, Haridwar, Badrinath and Gangotri.