More than just one way to Kedarnath

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Sharp at 6:00 a.m. I awaken to the sound of a chopper on its way filled with pilgrims going to one, or two or all four shrines of Chardham. Their journey began early morning at the Dehradun helipad.

Sub Inspector Pathak from Kedarnath Police Station confides in us: “From 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, they make anywhere between 35 to 40 chopper sorties to Kedarnath. Of course there’s an hours break in between.

Seven weeks after the portals of Kedarnath Temple were flung open on 29th April 2018 till today, 5 lakh 75 thousand pilgrims have made their way to the highest Shiva shrine. The temple is amongst the most sacred of Shiva temples and the Mandakini Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in Garhwal Himalayas. Pilgrims, some 55,772 have come here to 11,676 ft above sea level, taken off from the helipads at Dehradun, Haridwar or from the proximity of Guptkashi, Sonprayag, Phatta.

A Mussoorie resident, Vineet Aggarwal preferred the chopper from Haridwar for his aged parents to visit Badrinath and Kedarnath. Happily he tells us: ‘It would have been nigh impossible for my mother to walk to the shrines. But the helicopter has made her dream pilgrimage come true!’

Of course there are many who make their way up the steep incline from Gaurikund (5400 ft) riding astride a sturdy mule, as they clip-clop their way to the shrine. Hundreds of mules and horses give you a flavour of the old pilgrim trail where the chattis dot the ascent to the Shrine. Thus far, some 18,4048 pilgrims have taken the ride by paying somewhere between rupees 1400-1600 one-way.

But what’s warms the cockles of the heart is that most folks take to the pilgrim trail on foot, trekking 16 long kilometers from Gaurikund to Kedarnath. When reports last came in, a whooping 33,93,07 pilgrims have walked along the narrow and arduous path to the shrine, for many it is a journey of faith.

Sages have said, ‘All that is gold does not glitter. All those who wander are not lost.’ And thats true for those who come to Kedarnath.