For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit all of us, we travelled in the third week of October 2020, a trip to Kedarnath via Rishikesh. Corona was posing a huge threat and we were fully aware of it. However, we did quite a bit of reading and understood that Uttarakhand was one of those safe states to travel to. We also learnt that Rishikesh and Kedarnath were less crowded than usual.
Before you read any further, if the pandemic situation is still the same as October 2020, kindly read this to know how we planned our entire trip to Rishikesh and Kedarnath and stayed careful.
Best time to plan a trip to Kedarnath
Every year, on the day of Shivratri, the priests will announce the date of opening and closing the temple. While the temple opens sometime in April, it closes on the day of Bhai Dooj. The remaining six months, Kedarnath faces heavy snow fall during the winter, making it impossible for people to visit.
Locals told us that beginning of September or just before closing is the right time to visit Kedarnath as the crowd will be lesser. We, however, would suggest October second or third week as the weather is just perfect.
Minimum number of days for a trip to Kedarnath
A trip to Kedarnath requires a minimum of 5 days from either Dehradun or Rishikesh. That’s because the Jolly Grant Airport, the nearest airport to Kedarnath is almost in between Dehradun and Rishikesh, thus serving as a good starting point for a trip to Kedarnath.
Day One: Dehradun Airport to Rishikesh
From Jolly Grant Airport (keeping COVID-19 in mind), we did not want to take public transport after exiting. On a regular day, this would have been the cheapest way to reach Rishikesh. The pre-paid taxis from the Airport could cost anywhere around Rs. 900 – 1200, depending on the location of the hotel/hostel. We walked a few metres away from the airport and saw a few taxi guys who were offering lesser rates to get to Rishikesh. We negotiated and took a taxi for Rs. 700 to Blue Jay Hostels (hostel review coming up soon!).
It takes about 40 minutes to cover approximately 20 km to reach Rishikesh.
Mostly the first day will depend on when you reach, check-in etc. However, walking to Laxman Jhula and dinner at one of the famous cafes/restaurants could be a great way to start soaking oneself in this small holy yet hippie town.
Day Two: Rishikesh to Sonprayag
Start at 9 AM from Rishikesh so there is ample time to reach Sonprayag. The usual route to Sonprayag will be via Devprayag, Srinagar, Rudraprayag, Agastyamuni/Augustmuni and Phata.
This route is about 215 km long and takes 9-11 hours to reach the destination. The construction along the route and the narrow roads leads to traffic jam in each and every corner. Sometimes, because of blasting and road construction, the Devprayag route may be closed. This detour of 30-40 km will add another 2-3 hours of journey time (via Tehri Garhwal).
Interesting things about Devbhoomi
- Devprayag is a confluence of two rivers – Bhagirathi and Alaknanda. River Saraswathi which originates underground also joins the other two rivers. This confluence forms the river Ganga or Ganges.
- Dhari Devi Temple between Srinagar and Rudraprayag. This temple is located on the banks of Alaknanda. The people believe that Dhari Devi is the guardian of the Chota Char Dhams of Uttarakhand. The authorities tried to remove the idol of Dhari Devi idol from the original place twice, once in the 1800s and once in 2013. The locals say that this has only resulted in natural calamities. The 2013 flood in Kedarnath washed away many villages and people. The country witnessed one of the worst natural disasters and some of the wounds are still fresh.
Other than traffic, lunch and tea, we never really stopped. We reached Sonprayag at around 7 pm, covering a distance of approximately 210 km in 10 hours. Yes, the roads were that bad. We checked in to GMVN Sonprayag and luckily got the entire dorm for ourselves.
Day Three: Sonprayag – Phata – Kedarnath
Start at 9 am to Triyugi Narayan Temple. It’s a 10 km drive with stunning views. This temple has a fascinating history and there’s an amazing vibe about the whole place.
Goes without saying, do not miss this temple during your Kedarnath trip 🙂
Kedarnath by Walk / Mules / Helicopters
Kedarnath by walk: The walk to Kedarnath starts from Gaurikund. Private vehicles and taxies are stopped at a check-point in Sonprayag post which there are SUVs which take us to Gaurikund. The walking distance between Gaurikund to Kedarnath is about 18 km (although it is mentioned as 16.5 km). The time to cover the distance is anywhere between 6 and 12 hours depending on one’s fitness level. So starting early in the morning will help in reaching Kedarnath before the night sets in.
Walking down took us exactly 5 hours. We started at 10 AM and reached Gaurikund at 3 PM. We booked a full taxi for ourselves for Rs. 300. Else you will have to share the drive with 8-10 other people which was a big no for us at these times.
Kedarnath on mules: You can go up in mules from multiple points. Costs differ from time to time, and also from the point you wish to take. Food, water and restrooms are all available along the way.
Kedarnath via helicopter: You can book helicopters in advance. We booked the 12 to 3 pm slot on Pawan Hans and took off from Phata. The helicopter took us from Phata to Kedarnath in exactly takes 9 minutes. You can also book the Prasad at the helicopter base.
Visiting the Kedarnath Temple
Once we landed in Kedarnath, we walked a bit and checked-in at Swargrohini Cottages. We reached on time to see the afternoon aarti before they shut the temple. Police ensured no one roams without a mask. If you have time to spare, you can also visit the Bhairavnath Temple, which is on the eastern direction.
If you are a single traveller, you can also stay in the Rudra Cave which is on the western side. Enjoy the evening aarti which starts at 6 pm and takes place for about an hour. The next morning, at around 5:30 am (please check sunrise time), catch the first rays of the sun hitting the mountains behind the temple. Such sights are magnificent.
You will see long queues to enter the temple. We, however, suggest that you enter the temple after 8 am when the crowds are much lesser. Lesser time in the queue and also more time inside the temple. Win-win, no? 🙂
The stone behind the temple is something you shouldn’t miss. During the 2013 floods, the stone diverted the gushing water to the sides of the temple, saving those who went inside to take refuge. The flood also destroyed the Samadhi of Adi Shankara. You can ask the pandits there to see the idol (we weren’t able to).
Important things to note when planning your trip to Kedarnath
- E-Pass: Please ensure you have taken two e-passes, 1. Uttarakhand on Smart Dehradun Portal and 2. Individual E Pass for the Char Dham, in this case, for Kedarnath.
- Commute: We didn’t see any public transport from Rishikesh to Sonprayag. This could be because of the COVID-19 restrictions. It would be best to hire a taxi or go by your own transport (bike/car).
- Food: There are many small roadside shops and few big tea shops, restaurants that you find on the highways. In Rishikesh, there are many nice Ganga facing cafes/restaurants such as Little Buddha Cafe, Freedom Cafe, VJ’s Pizza and many more. In Kedarnath, you have a lot of options closer to the temple. We recommend Tiwari Hotel & Restaurant.
- ATM’s: Withdraw cash in advance as ATM’s are few in number. Please note, mostly or only cash accepted. Very few places accept Digital payments.
- Water: Mostly, natural water, wherever available can be refilled. Less plastic, remember? 🙂
- Helicopter: There are multiple services. Book your helicopter to Kedarnath.
- Weather: November to March is heavy snow season, April to June is summer, July to August is usually the rainy season and winter sets in from September.
We had a wonderful darshan and once we came back, we self quarantined ourselves at home and we suggest you do that too. We are glad our trip was safe from the Coronavirus.
We can now safely say, “thank god we took this trip”, and if you are going, stay safe and travel safer!