Kedarnath Calling

by Veena Maheshwari (India)

A leap into the unknown India


It is impossible to not listen, when mountains are calling. It is a very common thing to travel around these days, and our youth is developing this passion like a wildfire these days. But going solo to the unknown takes a lot of courage and strength, especially when you are a woman. There are many female solo travelers today, but it is not very common to find them that easy. This is my story, Veena Maheshwari, a 23-year-old woman who takes up the most difficult journey of her lifetime alone. Kedarnath, a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva (known as one of the 12 Jyothirlings) on the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river, Kedarnath is located in the state of Uttarakhand, India. For extreme weather, the temple is open to the public only between the months of April (Akshaya Tritiya) and November (Kartik Purnima, the autumn full moon). The temple is one of the four major sites in India's Chota Char Dham pilgrimage of Northern Himalayas. This temple is the highest among the 12 Jyotirlingas. The temple is not accessible through roads but has to be reached by a 16 kilometers uphill trek from Gaurikund. It was a total 10 hour journey from Haridwar but I didn’t even flinch at traveling so much as it filled the journey with the breathtaking view of mountains, hairpins turns and river that follows you till the end of the journey. So I got down at Son Prayag and found accommodation in a small shed where villagers of that area were hoarding after the perilous journey. I woke up early in the morning around 3am and started out from Son Prayag by boarding a jeep to Gaurikund, which was 4 km away. The trek began, at around 5am from Gaurikund through small paved ways. It was very difficult to walk for 5 minutes straight as some paths were very narrow and they were mostly steep uphills. We stopped every 5 minutes to rest and eat or drink something. By 3pm, the base camp started being visible at a distance but still a long way to go as the trek was getting steeper and steeper. And now it was showering a little, and fog was covering our paths completely. As the snow mountains came clearer into our view, the temperature also fell with each kilometer covered. Our aching legs, and exhausted body was collapsing a little by little with each footstep. Somehow we made it to the base camp and we all just sat there in the fog looking at what we just accomplished. The temperature was unimaginably freezing, and it was hard for everyone to sleep in the tent with the sleeping bag of a very low quality. At 3am, I woke up and tried waking others up but nobody else responded. So I went to the temple area myself which was a bad idea as I had no way to contact anyone if I needed help. As the temple came into our sight, I broke into tears as others felt emotional as well. We made it and it was the best feeling ever. By 8am, we began walking back to our base camp to get our luggage. I knew it was impossible for me to walk all the way down so I told the group that I would go by pony. We reached Gaurikund in another 4 hours and immediately hired a jeep to Son Prayag. As I bid farewell to those wonderful human beings and felt that world was not that bad after all. Reaching back Delhi (my hometown), I knew I should tell this tale as it was not just my story but story that proves that humanity is indeed divine if you believe in it. To all those wonderful beings who showed up from nowhere to help me get to Kedarnath and get me home safe.