How would I go about it now that I knew I was going to trek to Kedarnath temple?
My friend Pankaj guided me. He put me on to his close friend who was a senior trek leader and with whom he had done tough treks.
I wanted to know the how and what of Kedarnath as in where do I go from Haridwar, where do I stop, where can I get accommodation? I was going on a journey where everything was left out in the open.
Vishu as Pankaj fondly called him was a big help. He gave me all the info but most importantly in his own way he gave me the confidence I could do this. Ditto with Pankaj whom I credit big time. He simply said You are a tough woman, tu kar legi(You can do it)
Believe me, those so called simple words can be such a boost to a person. Especially to a woman traveler going on her first solo trek.
Vishu told me I was to take a bus, an early morning bus to Sonprayag. This would take at least 9 hours journey. So the earlier I got into it, the better.
I would find some lodging, a guest house to stay back at Sonprayag. Then the very next morning I could trek from Gaurikund which was 5 kms away from Sonprayag and that would be my start to Kedarnath temple. The total distance for trekking one way would be 19 kms.
Since the devastating landslide in 2013 that destroyed the original route completely, the new route had increased from 16 to 19 kms.
He also told me to pack up for it, carry some dry hard candy, packed fruit juices, Elektral Packets some salty snacks to keep me going.
Ideally the first day, 10 kms trek would be good, then I could camp half way at this place Lincholi for the night where they had tents, then trek the remaining 9 kms the next day and then stay back at Kedarnath that night and start back down the following day.
I was totally pumped up. At least I had the outline and a path to get going.
After I arrived in Delhi airport, I took the metro to get to the station and I must say, Metro is a blessing. Safe, clean and easy!
The bane of having to book a taxi and be on alert all the time, the bloody traffic to get into the city, all that was done with thanks to the Metro.
So next time, you get an opportunity to get into Delhi, please, just please use the Metro!
My train was at 11.30 pm and I would arrive at the unearthly hour, 3.20 am at Haridwar. I knew it would be a sleepless night, what I didn’t know was later I would have what is called a nightmare night.
As I woke up groggily and the train reached Haridwar station around 4 am, I walked out and saw the whole world was already buzzing about. This was no ordinary town.
There were hundreds of devotees already getting into buses and making their way either to Rishikesh or Gangotri or Yamunotri or Badrinath or somewhere else. The options were immense.
I started asking around as to which bus would take me to Sonprayag. It would not be the government ones but private buses. And right across the station were people already shouting destinations their buses were going to.
I got into one, got the front window seat and immediately paid for the seat next to me too. Yes I did that because it was a tiny seat and I really wanted to put my feet up or even lean a bit and it was a 9 hour journey to wherever I was going.
Finally the bus set off at 5.15 am. I remember not caring about how fast the bus was going or how rocky the ride was or anything, I was just happy and very sleepy catching a few winks whenever I could..
At one point when the sun rose, I saw the most beautiful sight.. The beautiful Mandakini river glazing, shining like a silver hue, like a painting and following us throughout the journey.
I started chatting with the bus conductor as we stopped for Breakfast. He was shocked I came as far as from Hyderabad and was doing this Kedarnath trip on my own. Something I would hear from all the people I would meet on this trip.
He gave me some sound advise.He told me not to stay back at Sonprayag but take a shared taxi to Gaurikund which was just 5 kms from there and stay back for the night. There were lots of options to stay there and anyways the trek was starting from there.
I so wish I had listened to him then which I didn’t. I told him nope I will stay back at Sonprayag and manage with whatever was there which I regret like hell now.
Finally at 2 pm we reached Sonprayag. It was a major hub because all buses drop offs and pick ups happened here. This was THE point.
There was the Police station, the Biometric Scanning office -mandatory for anyone who was doing the Yatra. Check posts started from here.
And the only transportation that could go to up to Gaurikund were shared jeeps – monitored by cops with IDS and ponies – yes the same ones that would be used if one wanted to for the journey to the temple.
From Gaurikund the available forms of transport till Kedarnath temple was walking, ponies, palkis(palanquins & baskets) and if you had loads of money there were Helicopters with set pick up and drop off timings you had to book in advance.
But in terms of accommodation at Sonprayag, all I saw were a few houses, small ramshackle old buildings and I started asking around. And at one point I felt there were hundreds of people, all eyes on me.
Here I was, a solo female traveler, in fact the ONLY solo female traveler. Why wouldn’t they? There were no government guest houses.
On my way to I saw a big resort called Shivalik Resorts in Sitapur, just 2 kms before Sonprayag. And yup I wish I had stayed there too that night.
I was so dazed, confused and tired at that point. I asked a guy who was having this dhaba and he said he had accommodation. As I went up the narrow steep stairs it started getting scary. Scary as in it was a hell hole, no wait, a pit hole or a great combination of both!
I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was a room with a big bed and the bathroom looked like the Bubonic plague of London had hit it! Dark and wet!
I immediately got out and started asking for other options and the only decent one rejected me. Yup. Not giving it to a solo woman traveler. They were that frank about it.
The thing is most of these accommodations whether in Sonprayag or Gaurikund go by ‘Beds’ not by rooms. So each room had at least 4 beds as in a family or a group of 3- 4 friends could take it in bulk, so a solo traveler and a woman at that would have no chance of getting one.
I still should have gone ahead and taken that shared cab to Gaurikund but yeah if one seeks an adventure, they get it right? Maybe that’s what my mangled brains were doing so off I went to the first accommodation and took it.
The way I looked at it was it’s only for a night and I would start off as early as 4.30 am so hey let’s manage.
The guy Alam Chauhan was sweet. He knew I was feeling uncomfortable, he said Madam, I will bring the food to your room, chai whatever, don’t worry. I was like, I need to stay out of this room as much as possible and just shut my eyes for the night.
I got out and started walking towards Sitapur and entered into that beautiful resort. The moment i checked the rooms, I was like man, I should have stayed here but there was the logistics to deal with.
There would be no bus that would drop me to Sonprayag at 4 am from there. I would have to walk for 2 kms and in between there were signs on the road saying watch out for wild animals especially Bears . I decided that after am back I would stay here for the night.
I walked around, enjoyed the beautiful scenery, felt the fresh breeze on my face, had piping hot chai at the dhaba below my room.
I came to know that anyone doing the ‘Char Dham Yatra’ which included Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri – either one of them or all of them had to get a biometric scanning done and get their ID printed.
Super efficient unlike other government offices, they took a photo copy of my driving license, asked for my contact number and emergency contact number.
An ID was given with my photo and I would have to show this at check points and keep this with me until I completed my Yatra and get it scanned on my way back. It is an amazing system to keep track of Yatris (pilgrims).
They also had a medical fitness center and if one were at a certain age limit or were big or heavy structured they had to get a Medical certificate done.
By the time it was 7 pm my eyes were shutting down. The sleepless night, the whole tiresome journey was getting to me and I had to start the trek early.
As Vishu suggested, I would keep the backpack back at Sonprayag with the room owner and I would carry a light daypack.
And I would say that was a really good advise. Vishu kept insisting, go light just take essentials, go very light the trek is tough and that helped me a lot. So I carried the essentials with an extra set of clothes(I would be thankful for later!)
I had Maggi noodles and Chai at 8 pm as I had no lunch that day. It was the room, my tiredness, everything was getting to me.
I packed up everything, checked the door bolt which was not that strong and got into my sleeping bag as I was worried about any bugs entering or meandering in the room ( I wouldn’t be surprised if there was any) and I crashed off keeping the alarm for 3.30 am.
Around 1 am, I heard a loud banging on my door and suddenly the door opened and I mean wide open with a thrashing sound.
And I saw a man standing right in front of me totally pissed drunk in that darkness.