Journey to Kedarnath

There is no place on earth like India. It seems to contain a never ending stream of temples, mountains, yogis, sadhus, astrologers and mystics. Over the past three decades I have visited some pretty amazing places there, but none quite compares to Kedarnath, the “Himalaya villa” of Lord Siva.

Kedarnath is one of the twelve Jyotir Lingams, which are twelve temples in India that possess a special energy or the subtle light (jyotir) of Siva. The Hindu equivalent of what New Agers call an “energy vortex”, Kedarnath is an amazing and vibrant site, located at twelve thousand feet at the foot of two Himalayan giants, Kedarnath Peak (23,000 feet) and Kedar Dome (22,000 feet).

My first trip to Kedarnath took place a few years ago when I led seventeen adventuresome souls on a trip to India. I gave the group the option of making a side trip to Kedarnath, telling them that it required warm cloths, and an adventuresome spirit, and the willingness to hike (or ride a horse) for 14 miles into mountains. I was pleasantly surprised when the group voted unanimously to go. I nearly regretted my suggestion, however, when, after a grueling day of hiking up the mountain in light rain and snow, we arrived at our hotel to a small surprise.

Now just imagine how it feels when you have been hiking all day in freezing rain up a mountain in the middle of the Himalayas. As you arrive exhausted at your destination, darkness sets in, the temperature drops, and the snow begins to fall more seriously. Your only consolation is that there will be a simple room in a daramshala waiting for you. Walking up to your hotel, you are prepared for the fact that the room will not have any heat, but you are totally unprepared to find that the hotel manager has sold all of your carefully reserved and prepaid rooms to someone else!

Needless to say, there were a few very nervous and unhappy campers in our group at that moment. Imagining the prospects of spending that snowy night out in the freezing cold,  a few members of our group  went into crisis mode and had minor meltdowns. Fortunately, we had faced this sort of thing before on previous trips. In fact, it was for this very reason that we had prepaid all of the rooms in advance. And even more fortunately, Rajiv, the travel operator who organized all of ground operations for my trips, was an expert at dealing with wayward hotel operators. After an hour of rather delicate negotiations, he ultimately convinced the manager to eject the occupants of our rooms and to reinstate us.

The next morning, all of our efforts and austerities paid off as we were treated to one of the most spectacular sites on planet earth. The ancient Kedarnath temple stood against the background of several giant, snow covered, Himalayan peaks. Outside the temple, a band of sadhus (Hindu renunciates) sat on the ground, talking, drinking tea, and waiting for passing pilgrims give them alms. We entered the temple and attended the morning puja (Vedic ritual) to Siva. Energized by this transformative ceremony and by the sheer power of this place, we left the temple, stopped briefly at the hotel for a hot breakfast, and then made our return journey down the mountain.

Over the years, I have heard from several of the people who accompanied me on that trip to Kedarnath. They all remembered it as a great, consciousness expanding adventure, and were very glad they made the decision to go. This has just reaffirmed my belief that it is important to occasionally move out of the safe cocoons we spin for ourselves and to occasionally take a chance. Security and comfort are grossly overrated. Some of the most significant and important experiences in life require a little effort, discomfort and the willingness to take a risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.