Monday, September 1, 2008

Panch Kedar Treks - September 1992

The middle Himalayan range of the Garhwal region, also known as Rudra Himalaya, stretches from Kedarnath in the west to Badrinath in the east. It is in this range that the five Kedar shrines – the Panch Kedars are situated at altitude ranging from 2500m to 3600m. The five Kedars are Kedarnath, Madhmaheswar, Tungnath, Rudranath and Kalpanath. All these five Kedars are the manifestation of Shiva in various forms - Kedarnath (hump of a bull), Madhmaheshwar (belly), Tungnath (arm), Rudranath (face) and Kalpanath (hair). All the trek routes to Madhmaheshwar, Tungnath and Rudranath come under the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary.

My trekking group was very keen that we attempt Panch Kedar treks for our '92 slot. After getting necessary background information including the rough trek map from GMVN, Rishikesh (they were very prompt in replying all our querries), we decided to do the trek in the month of September. Jambukeswaran, my trekking partner and an expert on religious convention suggested that we undertake the treks from west to east and also visit Badrinath after completion of the trek. All things settled, we boarded the Frontier Mail from Mumbai for New Delhi. The overnight Mussoorie Express took us to Haridwar the next day early morning. We reached Rishikesh by a bus and stayed in a hotel near GMOA Bus Stand for overnight. Next day, we took an early morning bus which reached Gaurikund in the late afternoon. After walking one km from the bus stand through a congested path, we checked in GMVN.

Gushing Mandakini rivr near Rambara on way to Kedarnath
Kedarnath Trek (14+14 kms)We left Gaurikund (1981m) early morning for 14 km trek to Kedarnath (3584m). The first 7 kms trek, all along Mandakini river ,was a gradual climb on a broad muddy path. After crossing a wooden bridge over a stream, we reached Rambara. The trek from here to Garur Chatty (5 kms) was of a steep climb followed by a 1 km of level walk up to GMVN which was located about 1 km before Kedarnath temple. In the evening, we paid obeisance at the Kedarnath temple.
Kedardome as seen from Kedarnath
Trijuginarayan Trek (5+5 kms)
Next day, we trekked back to Gaurikund and after spending overnight at GMVN, the follwing day, we took a morning bus to Sonprayag from where a 5 km trek through forest led us Trijuginaryan temple. This was the place where Vishnu was said to have solmnised the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. The temple is made of grey stones. We saw pilgrims taking bath from the water drawn from a small well located in the temple complex. Some religious ceremony was also in progress in the temple. After spending some time in the temple complex, we trekked back to Sonprayag and stayed in a hotel opposite the bus stand.

We at Trijuginaryan temple

Next day, we got an early morning bus for Ukhimath which was proceeding to Badrinath via Ukhimath. We learnt that the bus was called Bhookh Hartal, so named because it was introduced on Gaurikund-Badrinath route via Ukhimath-Chopta-Gopeshwar only following the hunger strike by villagers around Ukhimath. This was to be our bus for the road journey until Gopeshwar for treks up to Rudranath. The bus stopped on the main road from where a 1 km walk through the village path led us to Ukhimath temple.
Ukhimath temple complex
The temple is called Omkareswar and it is the winter seats of Kedarnath and Madhmaheshwar. The priests of these temples also stayed in the Ukhimath temple complex during winter. After paying obeisance at the temple, we met one of the temple official who arranged a Nepali guide for our Madhmaheshwar trek. The family of Madhmaheshwar priest staying in the complex invited us for tea. The priests at Kedarnath, Madhmaheshwar and Rudranath are from Karnataka and they are rotated at these temples every year. The priest's family gave us a cloth bag containing vegetables and other items with a request hand over the same to the priest at Madhmaheshwar.
Madmaheshwar Ganga as seen from the suspension bridge
Madhamaheshwar Trek ( 26 +26 kms)The 26 km trek to Madhmaheshwar started from Mansuna village, 8 kms jeep drive from Ukhimath. The first 3 km trek was a gradual descent through paddy fields. After crossing a suspension briedge over Madhmaheswar Ganga and after a gradual climb of 6 kms through forest, we reached Ransi village. We stayed overnight in a villager's house which had a toilet and a bathrom. In the evening, we visited a local Shiva temple where we saw some locals offerring brahma kamals to deity. We had a good dinner and breakfast in the owner's house.

The house in Ransi we stayed
The following day, we trekked on a gradual ascent to Gaundhar along the Madhmaheshwar Ganga which flows through the valley. The glen was deep and stretched into horizon. It was interesting to note that while the valley adjoining the trekking path was full of grass, the valley on the opposite side was full of dense forest. While on this part of the trekking path, I saw a couple of dark brown colour snakes quickly crossing the trekking path and moving into the grassy patch. I also saw many large chameleons moving on the boulders near the path. Perhaps, the warm weather must have compelled them to come out of their pits. At Gaundhar, we took a break for lunch at one of the all-in-one shop.

Madhmaheshwar valley - one side grass, the other side dense forest
From Gaundhar, it was a steep climb of 12 kms to Madhmaheshwar. The climb became steeper after Nanu. From the top of the ridge, a 1 km walk on a level path led us to aamlet. The temple was located at the far end of the hamlet. We reached Madhmaheshwar (3490m) in the afternoon. We met the priest and handed over the cloth bag given to us by his family at Ukhimath. He looked pleased after checking the contents. He must have got the vegetables of his liking. He directed us to occupy a room on the first floor house of the Temple Council.
Madhmaheshwar on the left and Temple Guest House in the middle
The temple set in a meadow was made up of grey stones. The gurgling waters of the three small streams around the temple was the only sound breaking the serenity of the place. The place became very cold in the evening and we had to come back to our room covering ourselves with blankets. It was only when the nearby dabha owner came to our room to tell us that the dinner was ready, we reluctantly came out of the room.
Next morning, after having a quick bath, we went to the temple to witness the morning pujas for which the priest had specially invited us. The puja was a short affair with priest placing Brahma Kamals on the lingam with chanting of mantras. This was followed by an aarti. After the conclusion of the pujas, we proceeded to a 1 km climb to Budha Madmaheshwar which was located on a table top. From here, we had a ring side view of Chaukhambha peaks.

Chaukhambha peaks as seen from Budha Madhmaheshwar
After taking leave of priest, we commenced our return trek to Ransi and then to Mansuna the next day. The weather was fine through out the trek. At Mansuna, we got the share jeep for Ukhimath. We stayed at GMVN which was located near the road side facing the Mandakini valley. The Rest House was very clean and the food , though basic, was good.
Tungnath Trek ( 3.5+3.5 kms)
Next morning, we departed for Chopta by Bhookh Hartal bus. At Chopta, we kept our haversacks in a tea shop and commenced 3.5 kms of paved trek to Tungnath. As we proceeded, we could see beautiful Chopta meadows slopping towards the road. The stony path looked like a long stair case. On the way, I met a Mumbai photographer who was on a photography assignment. He said that he was camping in Tungnath for the last two days waiting for a clear weather to take pictures of himalayan view, but no success so far. After precipitous climb, we reached Tungnath (3680m) in fine weather. But the strong cold breeze made us uncomfortable.

Chopta meadow
After a visit to the temple, we spent about an hour in the temple vicinity to enjoy the scenery. There were some pilgrims and a group of school children who had come here for trekking. Since the sky was cloudy, we did not venture for trek to Chandrashilla.

Tungnath temple
By afternoon, we were back in Chopta and checked in GMVN Rest House which was strategically located for the snow-clad peaks on the north-west horizon. [ GMVN Rest House at Chopta has been closed since then]. Our evening was spend in the GMVN lawn waiting for the sunset view on the peaks. Although it was cold outside, the constant supply of hot bhajias and tea from a dabha located just outside the compound of GMVN made our day.

GMVN Rest House as seen from Tungnath trek path
Rudranath Trek (22+22 kms)
There were two options to trek Rudranath which was our next trekking destination - Mandal-Anusuya Devi or Gopeshwar-Sagar. GMVN had suggested us to take the Sagar route. As we prepared for the road journey to Gopeshwar the next day, we learnt that buses were off the road due to a flash chakka jam agitation. We had almost resigned to spend a day more in Chopta when we heard of roaring noise of the bus which was seen at the foothills. It took about 20 minutes for the bus to reach Chopta and it was the Bhookh Hartal bus. We had to make a great efforts to get into the bus as it was crowded. We had no option but to travel a 40 km journey on a bumpy road standing all the way to Gopeshwar. We checked in GMVN located just opposite the bus stand.

In to the dense forest on way to Rudranath
We were told that the trek to Rudranath was the most difficult of the Panch Kedar treks. Since we planned to reach Rudranath on the same day, we left Gopeshwar at 4.00 in the morning by a pre-arranged jeep for a 5 km drive to Sagar which was the starting point of the 22 km trek to Rudranath. The first 3 km trek was of a gradual climb through fields after which we reached a small meadow. We sat down here to eat whatever eatables we bought with us. Fortunately, a shepherd served us tea. With this, we were rejunuvated to resume the most difficult stretch of this trek - the 12 kms climb to Panar.

A great expanse on way to Rudranath
The trek to Panar was a gruelling steep climb through dense forest, often slippery with thick foliage. At some places, we were required to wade through thick high grass, a perfect place for a leopard to hide for his pray. There was no well-beaten path and at few places, we were required to walk through the uprooted trees. Understandly, our going was slow. Luckily, the weather was fine. Earlier, we were told by GMVN Manager at Gopeshwar that this forest was inhabitted by leopards and bears. He advised us to trek together with sticks to ward off wild animals.

Trekking on the ridge on way to Rudranath
At around noon, we were out of the forest to reach Panar. Here a Sadhu, known as Nepali Baba, served us tea. He was staying in a cave and there seemed to be sufficient space for a few trekkers to stay overnight in this cave. Alternatively, once could pitch tent here. From Panar, it was a 7 km trek on a ridge with occasional short climbs and descent. As we were near our destination, the sky became overcaste and it started drizzling for a short while. But the mist on the ridge made the visiblity poor which compelled us to walk very slowly. At the end of the ridge, we found ourselves facing the red stone front of the Rudranath temple, huddled under a projecting rock, which was at a small distance.

Rudranath temple front. On left is the priest.
The location of Rudranath temple (3354m) is really awesome. River Vaitarni flows behind the temple and goes through the meadow where there are some scattered small lakes. A shephered told us that if we could wait until evening, we would be able to see a group of musked deers roaming in the meadow and if lucky, even bears could be seen. Unfortunately, the white clouds fully covered the Himalayan ranges. Although the weather was sunny, the cold breeze blowing from the ridge made us uncomfortable to stand and enjoy the stependous view for long. Later, we went to the priest's house which was located adjunct to the temple. The house was made up of stone slabs and the floor was plastered with cow dung. There was a make-shift firewood place and the flames from wood made the room somewhat warmer than the outside. He instructed our Nepali guide to stay in the stone hut located at the end of row and take some blankets stored in his house for our use. We attended the evening puja, followed by a dinner of kichadi prepared by our guide and retired for the day.
The night was very cold and even the two-three woollen blankets could not give me necessary comfort from the cold. None of us got any sleep in the cold night. How nice it would have been if we could stayed in priest's house which had a fire place. I just sat down with double blankets covering my body with chattering teeth and eagerly waited for the glimpse of dawn. We were told that the sunrise on the snow-clad peaks was magnificent in Rudranath. But the weather gods were not on our side. What we saw was an overcast sky and thick mist over the meadow. There was also the light rains. We could not withstand the cold and hurriedly went back inside the hut waiting for our guide to bring the glasses of hot black tea. With weather improving, we resumed our return trek opf 22 kms to Sagar which was covered in less than 5 hours. At Sagar, we took a share jeep to Gopeshwar and stayed in GMVN.
Kalpanath Trek (9+9 kms)
Next day, we got into 05.30 morning bus to Badrinath for a 44 km journey to Helang. After deposting our haversacks with a tea shop, we commenced our 9 kms trek to Kalpeshwar. After crossing a suspension bridge over Alakhnanda river, we were on a moderate climbing path.
Pine trees on a table top land on way to Urgam
After 2 kms, we were walking through the forest mostly of pine trees. After a further 3 kms of trek, we were in Urgam valley, one of the most fertile and beautiful valleys in the Garhwal region, with terraced fields. There were many houses on the upper slope of the valley. No doubt, we met many villagers on our trekking path.

Urgam valley. Urgam village is in the background
After the Urgam village, the last 2 kms trek led us to the top of the Urgam valley where the Kalpanath temple (2250m) was situated. The entrace to the temple was through a cave. We saw a few Sadhus mediating on a roof of a house near the temple.

Entrance to Kalpanath temple

We returned to Helang by afternoon of the same day. After collecting haversacks from the Tea shop, we proceeded by bus to Joshimath for the overnight halt. We travelled to Badrinath on the next day to thank the Badri Vishal for our successful completion of the Panch Kedar treks. In the afternnon, we walked to Mana village. After spending some time in around Mana, we returned to Badrinath for the overnight stay in GMVN.

Neelkanth peak as seen from Badrinath
The next day early morning, we got the first bus which reached Haridwar in the late evening. Thus our spiritual and adventerous trek of Panch Kedar came to an end.

All photos by the author


Vee said...

Finally! You did it! I remember the photos but never actually knew your experiences. its great getting a chance to read it. Lokking fwd to more!

T V N Rao said...

Hi. I am a retired professor and I am very keen to do the Panch Kedar trek. Any one interested? I have visited the Chardhams, Amarnath and Vaishnodevi. Walked every where. Please get in touch with me, if you are organising a panch kedar trek or are willing to join one. Thanks.

Suhas said...

Kamath maam its such a nice experince reading ur blogs...Got inspired by ur writings, done Chopta-Tunganath-Chandrashila-DeoriyaTal in Dec18.2011 to Dec30.2011.Thanks a lot. Seems addiction of Himalayas has no cure-Going for Roopkund in June2012.
Asst Professor

Sadanand Kamath said...

Thanks for appreciation.
My best wishes for your ensuing Roopkund trek.