Kedarkantha – A Himalayan fairyland

A week long trek, Sandakphu, already done and dusted with close friends in May ’15, this time we decided to go for a snow trek. After a few iterations, we decided on climbing the Kedarkantha peak in Dec-Jan. At an elevation of 12,500 ft, Kedarkantha is one of the most sought after winter trekking destinations in India, and is located in the Govind Wildlife Sanctuary in the Uttarkashi district. Having never done a snow trek before, all of us were too excited to be there as soon as possible to experience the myriad variations the nature provided all of us with.

The 7 of us embarked on our journey from Mumbai to catch a train to Dehradun. The journey was long and happening, with all of us cracking jokes, making fun of each other, discussing what was awaiting us and telling one of our friends, a first time trekker, how beautiful it is to walk around the mountains enjoying the vista around, while making new friends delving into the simplicity of life.

We reached Dehradun sometime around 6pm in the evening on the 30th of December, 2015. The trek base camp was located in Sankri, another 200 km from the city. In such mountainous terrains, buses do not ply after evening since the roads take swerves which are pretty dangerous, even to the most experienced of drivers. We looked around for a place to spend our night, and found a very nice hotel close to the railway station. The room was spacious enough for 6 people to fit in easily, and costed a mere 1200-1400 bucks.

The next morning, we woke up at around 4 am, since we had to get ready to catch the bus to Sankri which left at 5 am. We reached the bus stop just beside our hotel at 4:45 am, and all of us had some hot tea and bread/omelette from the nearby stall, to relieve us of the cold the city had gripped us with.

The journey was enthralling to say the least, the bus meandering through the mountain roads with the Yamuna, not in its vigour but tranquil state, accompanying us all along. There were many school children in the bus with whom we were having a lot of fun, asking them many questions in the process and singing along with them. After travelling for about 8 hrs, we arrived at Sankri, the base camp for both Kedarkantha and Har Ki Dun treks. Also visible from this very place is Swargarohini, the mountain that dominates the Har Ki Dun valley and which is believed to be the gateway to heaven, the route which the Pandavas took.

It was 31st December and the new year preparations were in full flow at the YHAI camp. Everyone was in a jovial mood, and why not, when there was every reason to be super excited. We roamed about the camp and the alpine laden roads, contemplating on the life of wanderers, and if I could be one. There is something magical in the mountains that instills in me a sense of calm and happiness, which is beyond words.

At night, the departing batch performed songs for us, and we had a great time munching on the special dinner prepared on new year’s occasion and dancing to the tunes of Garhwali music. A local named Shahrukh and his troop entertained us thoroughly with their shayaris and impeccable dance moves. It is one of my favorite new year eves ever.

The next day we acclimatized ourselves and on the day after, we started our journey to the top. The terrain was steep and surrounded by alpine cones, providing us with a picturesque view. The anticipation was building up and after some time, we got our first glimpse of snow, to which each one of us celebrated by jumping in the air. All of us were giving different poses and were eager to be clicked with Mr. Snow! As we moved further, the snow became dense in patches, probably where there was shade or little sunlight, to no snow at places getting ample amount of sun rays. I also did my first snow slide for a good 50 meters or so, riding on my poncho.

We reached our camp “Juda Ka Talab”, but there was no lake to be seen around, to which I was a bit surprised. The camp leader ended my curiosity by telling that it was some distance ahead and we would get a chance to visit it only the next  day when we trek to the next camp. After unpacking and having some food, I made a small snowman which looked pathetic, to say the least. In the evening we had hot drinks and I sat on a rock appreciating the amphitheater of snow clad mountains in the background.

At the sun went down, it was getting cold and we started collecting wood and pine cones to light a bonfire. After many unsuccessful attempts, we could finally light fire, and all of us sat around it singing old Bollywood songs, couples snuggling up taking advantage of the romantic atmosphere building up and getting a good enough reason to warm each other in the cold. The sky was clear and the stars blanketed us all over.

SAMSUNG CSC

The next morning we started for Luhasu. After trekking for almost 500 m, we reached Juda Ka Talab, the lake which was frozen at this time of the year. We all kept our rucksacks aside and jumped onto the ice sheet. We did a lot of stunts there trying to ski, playing cricket with sticks and snow balls, fooling around while clicking many pictures and what not. One of us went to the extent of removing shirt and display his body. After spending almost an hour there, we were alarmed by the guide that we would gate late, and so started to move.

We reached Luhasu camp around noon and the camp leader there briefed us on the precautions and safety measures to follow to reach the Kedarkantha peak the next day on time successfully. It is here that mine and a friend’s health began to deteriorate a lot (probably due to acute mountain sickness, we still do not know till this date). The hot soup and food came as a respite as both of us struggled to keep ourselves energetic. Both of us had contracted diarrhea, and getting out of the sleeping bag every 30 mins to face the bone-chilling cold at night to go to toilet was too much to take. As mentioned by the camp leader, the temperature here at night was a staggering -16°C! The night somehow passed by.

The cooks woke us up at 2 am and served us hot horlicks. They also served us hot gulabjamuns in that cold and at that height, where even simple food is difficult to get. Hats off to all the staff involved. They simply amazed us. We started getting ready and had to leave for the summit at 4 am. Both of us were having difficulty gathering energy to climb up. The camp leader suggested us to rest and scrap the plan to go to the peak. However, we were determined to at least give our best and try for it.

We gathered all the courage we had and started for the summit. But in absence of full bodily strength, we started lagging behind the rest. As it was completely dark, we also had to be very careful while stepping, taking care not to step on hardened snow, which is slippery and very dangerous. Another very close friend of ours was the one who was supporting us throughout and was moving along with us, God forbid something happens which needed immediate attention. It would have been very difficult for the two of us had he not been there.

Here, I would like to recall a couple of events which happened on the course of climbing the summit, when I had my heart in my mouth. At one point, my friend slipped and fell there, rolling towards the gorge. Luckily, he was stopped by a tree trunk. The second one was when I slipped on the hardened snow turned into ice, and fell there on the soft snow at the sides of the main pathway, gradually sloping into a gorge. I tried hard to get up, but the snow was not letting me. As I tried to push the ground to stand, my feet went inside the snow and I slipped further back. I lay there thinking what to do. My friend then held his stick to me, so that I could hold it and pull myself towards him, after which they both gave me hands to support on and get back on the track.

We brushed off the incident and moved along, now even more determined. At one point, we thought that we have almost arrived since the peak was in view and very near, only to realize that the actual peak was way ahead when we arrived at that place. But, the view ahead from there was simply amazing. All around we could see white-as-milk snow covering the length and breadth of the mountains, with a few skiing trails in some parts. Small green shrubs were present in areas where the path was narrow between the mountains. I have not been to Europe, but from what I have seen in pictures, this was nothing short of Swiss Alps. We forgot all our worries, and nothing could stop us now. It was dawn now, and the view of first sun rays bursting though the sky glistening the snow covered mountain ranges in a golden yellow was something to behold. It was 7 am by the time we reached the peak, and the sunlight provided us with some much needed warmth.

The 360° panoramic view of the different mountain ranges all around the Kedarkantha peak was something none of us will ever forget, and something that cannot be put into words. You got to be there to experience it! Even the pictures do little justice to the majestic view the peak provides. It was as if we were fortified safe inside, the only difference being the fortification made of mountains rather that the conventional brick walls. There is also a Shiv temple with a trishool at the top, where we clicked a group pic as well. It would be unjust if I do not mention the mountain dog who accompanied us all along the trek, to the summit and back.

While returning back, we slid along the snow tracks many a times and reached Luhasu quicker than we had expected. The clothes had become wet because of the snow and so we changed into dry clothes. After eating, we moved on and reached the next camp at Hargaon. The path here was relatively less covered in snow and we walked along red mud with dense trees on both sides, giving us the feel of walking through a jungle.

The next day, we started for Sankri and merged to the original route from where we had tread by while going to Kedarkantha, near a small bridge. We knew that the camp was now very near. We reached the camp and recounted the beautiful experience we had during our journey to the top and back.

At night, it was our time to perform. All of us narrated something about our experience about the trek; while some of us sang songs, recited poems, and so on. We collected our trek completion certificates, after which Shahrukh was on the podium again, entertaining us with his new list of hilarious shayaris, and the local men, women and kids dancing on beautiful Pahari songs.

The next day we left for Dehradun at 6 am on a bus. On reaching Dehardun, we went to the same hotel, got fresh and then roamed about the city on foot, exploring the various eateries. We had a very peaceful and tight sleep at night, relieving us of all the tiredness we had accumulated in the last one week. We had also planned for rafting and bunjee jumping at Rishikesh, but had to cut-short our trip due to health reasons. We caught our train back to Bombay the next morning, bringing an end to a very memorable and satisfying trip. A trip which I would remember for the exquisite views, and the sheer mental strength I gathered during tough times.

I would like to end the blog with a quote which is one of my all time favorites, the deep meaning of which I realized only after climbing this particular summit. It says, “IT IS NOT THE MOUNTAIN WE CONQUER, BUT OURSELVES.”

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