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Kedarnath Travel Guide – Unforgettable trip to the land of Shiva

Kedarnath Itinerary

by Su and Titu
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Kedarnath travel guide

Kedarnath is one of the most revered and geographically stunning Shiva temples in India. The temple flanked by the massive Kedarnath and Kedar Dome peaks instantly takes your breath away. Located in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, it is one of the four major Hindu pilgrimage sites that form the Char Dham Yatra. Every year thousands of pilgrims embark on this journey of faith, devotion and self discovery. Though we did a lot of online research before the trip, we felt there were several things it didn’t prepare us for. For that reason I thought I’d pen a detailed Kedarnath travel guide to make your trip planning easier. So let’s unravel the myths, legends and reality of this mystical land.

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Enchanting Kedarnath

Kedarnath Travel Guide

Brief history and Mythology

The origins of the Kedarnath Temple is intertwined with the epic tale of the Mahabharata. After the great Kurukshetra war, the Pandava brothers sought redemption for their sins and wanted to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva.

However, Lord Shiva, in his divine form, decided to elude them and took refuge in Kedarnath by disguising himself as a bull. The Pandavas, determined to find Lord Shiva, followed him to the Himalayas. Later, Arjuna recognised the bull as Lord Shiva and pleaded for forgiveness. Lord Shiva was impressed by Arjuna’s devotion and determination and granted a boon. He proclaimed that he would remain in the form of a jyotirlinga (a manifestation of Lord Shiva) at Kedarnath for eternity, blessing devotees and providing them with liberation.

Over the centuries, the Kedarnath Temple has undergone several renovations and reconstructions. It’s thought to have been initially constructed by the Pandavas, but the current building, dating to the 8th century, was reconstructed by Adi Shankaracharya, a renowned philosopher and spiritual leader.

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Real life Nandi in Kedarnath

Location

Kedarnath is located in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, India by the Mandakini river in the high Himalayas. Furthermore, the temple stands at an elevation of approximately 3,583 meters (11,755 feet), nestled amidst majestic snow-capped peaks and breathtaking natural beauty.

How to reach Kedarnath?

The nearest airport is Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, approximately 239 kilometers away. From there, you can hire a taxi / shared cab / bus to reach Sonprayag. Taxi’s and private vehicles are not allowed beyond Sonprayag. Nevertheless, shared jeeps ply between Sonprayag and Gaurikund, the starting point of the Kedarnath trek.

Rishikesh is the nearest rail station which is well-connected to various cities in India. Subsequently from Rishikesh, you can travel to Sonprayag by road.

We hired a private taxi with a driver for the entirety of our trip. Since it was just the two of us, it wasn’t the most cost effective option. Nonetheless if you are travelling in a group this would not only be economical but also convenient.

Lastly, you can also take the helicopter to Kedarnath from Guptkashi, Phata etc but we don’t recommend this.

Kedarnath Travel Guide and Itinerary

Many people tend to visit Kedarnath as a part of the Char Dham Yatra which begins from Yamunotri to Gangotri followed by Kedarnath and Badrinath. However our’s is just a week long itinerary to Kedarnath.

Kedarnath Travel Guide – DAY 1

Himachal – Dehradun

We took an overnight Volvo bus from Mandi, Himachal Pradesh to Dehradun, Uttarakhand. It took us around 10 hours and we reached next morning at 6:30 am.

Kedarnath Travel Guide – DAY 2

Dehradun to Guptkashi
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Confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini at Rudraprayag

Our taxi picked us up from Dehradun bus stand and thereafter we started our long drive to Guptkashi. Enroute we took a brief pit stop at Devprayag to check out the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river. Devprayag is the last prayag (confluence) of Alaknanda River and from this point the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi River is known as Ganga.

Later we crossed Rudraprayag and Augustmuni. Rudraprayag is one of the Panch Prayag of Alaknanda River, the point of confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini. There are several ancient temples in this area but we didn’t visit any this time. Having previously undertaken the Char Dham Yatra, this trip solely focused on Kedarnath due to time constraints. Guptkashi (secret Kashi) has the ancient Vishwanath and Ardhnareshwar temples and Manikarnik Kund. If you have the time it’s definitely worth visiting these marvels of Devbhoomi.

It took us around 9 hours to reach our hotel near Guptkashi due to traffic jams on the way. It should have taken around 7 hours along with the pit stops otherwise. Some patches of the roads were under construction as well.

Where to stay in Guptkashi?

Char Machan Resorts – In this remote region, accommodation options are scarce, with only a handful of resorts available. Among these, Char Machan Resort stands out as a luxurious choice. It’s important to note that ‘luxury’ here refers to a well-maintained property with essential amenities such as hot showers and comfortable beds.

After a taxing journey with minimal rest and the prospect of a challenging trek to Kedarnath ahead, finding a quality hotel for rest and recuperation was our top priority. Char Machan proved to be the ideal choice, offering a serene atmosphere, stunning mountain vistas, and a delectable buffet dinner to complete the experience

In case you’re on a budget, there are several guesthouses and homestays around to cut costs.

Cost per night for 2– INR 7500 with breakfast and dinner.

Pro-tip:

While our stay at Char Machan was delightful, in hindsight, we realized that opting for accommodation in Sonprayag would have been a more convenient choice, even though the options there are limited to basic hotels and guesthouses.

Our visit to Kedarnath coincided with the bustling Dussehra holidays, and the sheer volume of visitors was enormous. It took us nearly three hours by car to traverse a mere 25 kilometers, reaching Sonprayag from Char Machan Resort the following morning

Kedarnath Travel Guide – DAY 3

Guptkashi to Kedarnath
1) Guptkashi to Sonprayag

We had a light breakfast and departed from our resort at the crack of dawn, around 5:30 am. The distance between Char Machan resort and Sonprayag parking is 24 km. In the past, it was permissible to drive vehicles up to Gaurikund, but after the horrific floods of 2013, the last point for vehicles is now Sonprayag. There is a huge parking area at Sonprayag and thereafter you can transfer to a shared jeep towards Gaurikund.

Due to the overwhelming influx of tourists and the immense traffic congestion, our journey to Sonprayag was extended to a frustrating three hours. Ideally, the duration should have been a mere hour.

Time taken: 05:30 am to 08:30 am (3 hours)

2) Sonprayag to Gaurikund

Our driver dropped us in close proximity to the parking area, and thereafter, we proceeded towards the designated shared jeep section. To our astonishment, we were greeted with a long and winding line of individuals eagerly awaiting their turn to board the jeeps, with thousands of people hoping to reach Gaurikund. I must admit, the crowds were disorderly and the authorities seemed unable to maintain control. Reflecting upon my previous visit to Kedarnath two decades ago, I recall it as a serene sanctuary, a haven of tranquility. Unfortunately, the present circumstances starkly contrasted with my previous experience.

We were on the verge of abandoning the queue and seeking an alternative location due to the looming possibility of a stampede. However, we opted to persevere and evaluate the situation as time progressed. Regrettably, we found ourselves waiting for a duration of over 2 hours in line for the shared jeep. The distance between Sonprayag and Gaurikund is a mere 5 km. Despite the proximity, commencing the trek from Sonprayag itself was prohibited by the authorities.

Finally, the shared jeep dropped us off at Gaurikund but it was already 11 am. The jeep fare was INR 40 per head.

Time taken: 08:30 am to 10:30 am (2 hours in queue)

3) Gaurikund to Kedarnath

At long last, we embarked on the much awaited trek from Gaurikund to Kedarnath. The new trekking route spans a distance of approximately 19 kilometers. The previous route, which was 14 kilometers, succumbed to the force of nature in 2013. The route is steep throughout and you climb from Gaurikund (elevation 1,982 m) to Kedarnath (elevation 3,583 m). As for the registration, we had done it online beforehand; however, no one conducted any checks.

The current route is well marked, and many establishments serve food and refreshments. There are several public toilets along the route as well. Horses or palanquins can be hired from the booking counters at Sonprayag and Gaurikund, but we urge you to refrain from doing so. Witnessing the cruelty and abuse inflicted upon these animals was a deeply distressing and disheartening experience.

New trek route
  • Gaurikund to Jungle Chatti(6km) through the Rambara Bridge
  • Jungle Chatti to Bheembali (4km)
  • Bheembali to Linchauli (3km)
  • Linchauli to Kedarnath Base Camp (4km)
  • Kedarnath Base Camp to Kedarnath Temple (1km)

Owing to the unavoidable circumstances mentioned earlier, our trek commenced around 11 am, exposing us to the intense afternoon sun. Though fatigued and dehydrated, our spirits were revitalised at the sight of the Kedar dome peak, and we arrived at Kedarnath just in time to witness a magnificent sunset.

Time taken: 11 am to 6 pm (7 hours)

4) Kedarnath

We checked into our hotel (New Himachal House), left our bags and headed for the evening aarti around 7 pm. Afterwards we walked around and had some tea and jalebis at Tiwari hotel. Lastly we had dinner at our hotel and called it a night.

Kedarnath Travel Guide – DAY 4

Kedarnath
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Kedarnath temple in all its glory

Since out hotel was located in close proximity to the Kedarnath Temple, we couldn’t sleep much, courtesy of the bustling ambiance. Our day commenced with a visit to the temple for darshan, followed by a simple breakfast back at our accommodation. While our initial intention was to trek to Vasuki Tal, but a recent avalanche in the vicinity led us to revise our plans.

Amidst the Dushera holiday hustle, the temple environs were teeming with crowds. Seeking solace, we embarked on a hike to find a serene corner where we could absorb the energy of this vibrant space. While wandering, fate led us to encounter a monk who graciously invited us to his ashram. Without a set agenda, we decided to follow his lead. After a 4-kilometer hike, we arrived at the tranquil Shri Swami Ramanand Sant Ashram, nestled in solitude and centered around an ancient cave. The quietude was a treasure we had been longing for, and the cave proved to be an idyllic spot for meditation.

Following this, we visited all the famous spots around. You can check the list below – Things to do in Kedarnath.

Kedarnath Travel Guide – Day 5

Kedarnath -Sonprayag -Rishikesh

Casting one last glance upon the mystical Kedarnath Temple and the towering peaks, we commenced our trek toward Gaurikund. The descent was notably smoother and considerably swifter. We started our descent earlier than planned, a strategic move to avoid the scorching sun and crowds. This ensured a delightfully pleasant journey back.

Time taken – 6:30 am to 10:30 am

Sonprayag to Rishikesh

From Gaurikund, we shared a jeep ride to Sonprayag before reuniting with our driver at the parking area, commencing the drive back to Rishikesh. The distance is around 205 kms but there were closures and jams on the way which delayed us. We settled into our hotel, enjoyed dinner, and concluded the day.

Time taken – 11 am to 8 pm (9 hours)

Where to stay in Rishikesh?

We stayed at Hotel The Great Ganga – it was 100 metres from Ram Jhula and the ghats. We had a good view from the room and food was lovely too.

Kedarnath Travel Guide – Day 6

Rishikesh

With only a day at hand, we opted to explore Rishikesh on foot, visiting notable sites like Ram and Laxman Jhula, Beatles Ashram, and some temples.

Kedarnath Travel Guide – Day 7

We took the bus from Rishikesh to Himachal and finally back home.

Kedarnath Travel Guide FAQ’s

Kedarnath travel guide
Kedarnath town flanked by massive Himalayas

Things to do in Kedarnath

  1. Kedarnath Temple – Serving as the primary attraction and one of the 12 Jyotirlings of Shiva.
  2. Bhairavnath Temple – Situated around 1 km uphill from Kedarnath, this temple is dedicated to Bhairavnath, the protector deity of the region. Moreover, it’s a great spot to enjoy a peaceful sunset too.
  3. Adi Shankaracharya Samadhi – Being a distinguished Indian philosopher and theologian, Adi Shankaracharya is credited with founding four prominent monastic centers, known as mathas, in various parts of India. Consequently, this newly erected samadhi stands as a testament to his enduring legacy and teachings.
  4. Vasuki Tal – This remote high glacial lake derives its name from its resemblance to the snake Vasuki, curled up around Lord Shiva’s neck. It’s an 8 km trek (one way) from Kedarnath and therefore not recommended for inexperienced trekkers.
  5. Chorabari Lake / Gandhi Sarovar – A brief 3-kilometer hike from Kedarnath leads to Kanti Sarovar, now known as Gandhi Sarovar. Though regarded as spiritually significant, this lake was destroyed by the 2013 floods and has since dried up.
  6. Meditation caves – For a meditative experience akin to ancient yogis, consider a visit to Hanuman Gufa and Dhyana Gufa, where solitude and reflection await.

Where to stay in Kedarnath?

Numerous guesthouses, lodges, and camps offer accommodation options in Kedarnath. Among these, we recommend considering GMVN’s Swargarohini Cottages. The cottages looked clean and had superb views,  however, due to their popularity, reservations fill up well in advance—booking at least 6 months prior to your trip is advisable. You can book directly via GMVN’s website. Since we planned Kedarnath just a few weeks in advance, we couldn’t secure accommodation here.

We stayed at New Himachal House which was a lodge right next to the temple. Though we had an ensuite room, it was rather dirty and we wouldn’t recommend it. You can book this via phone Pandit Girish Shukla – 7060753419.

Pro-tip: Book your accommodation well in advance particularly if your travel coincides with festivals or holidays. We visited during Dussehra and the overwhelming crowds left numerous pilgrims without lodging options, not even shared tents.

What is the best time to visit Kedarnath?

Kedarnath stays open from May through October, sometimes extending until November, coinciding with the festival of Diwali. Our visit in early October provided us with ideal weather conditions. The skies were brilliantly clear, devoid of any rain, creating a picturesque backdrop. Daytime temperatures were pleasantly mild, ensuring comfortable exploration. However, the nights were quite chilly, with temperatures dropping to around zero degrees. The ideal months for a visit to Kedarnath are May and the latter part of September onwards. It’s advisable to steer clear of July and August due to the heightened monsoon activity, which brings a considerable risk of flash floods and landslides.

Pro-tip: Check the weather forecast before your trip and keep an eye out for any advisory issued by the Uttarakhand Government.

How to register for Kedarnath Yatra?

You need to To ensure a smooth registration process for your Kedarnath Yatra, follow these steps:

  1. Online Registration: Register online beforehand on the Tourist Care Uttarakhand Website.
  2. Account Creation: Begin by creating an account on the website.
  3. Form Completion: After account creation, fill out the registration form with essential information. Include details like your planned travel dates, the destinations you intend to visit, your address, and emergency contact numbers. You will need upload a recent photograph.
  4. Submission: Once you’ve filled out the form, submit it through the website.
  5. Letter Printing: After successful submission, you’ll have the option to print a copy of your registration letter. Carry this letter with you. This will save your time during your trip.

How many days are required for Kedarnath?

Considering that most journeys to Kedarnath commence from Delhi or Dehradun, it’s advisable to allocate a minimum of 5-6 days for your trip. The weather in these regions can be quite unpredictable, making it wise to include a few buffer days in your itinerary for added flexibility and convenience.

What to pack for Kedarnath?

  1. Backpack – A comfortable, durable backpack with padded straps is ideal for the trek.
  2. Clothing – When it comes to clothing, pack trekking pants and a couple of tops. The key here is effective layering, as afternoons can become quite warm, especially during the trek, while mornings and evenings tend to be chilly. A combination of a base layer, a cozy fleece, and a reliable jacket to stay comfortable in varying conditions. Pack a waterproof / raincoat, woollen socks and gloves.
  3. Sturdy trekking shoes for the trek
  4. Sleeping bags – While we opted not to carry sleeping bags, having a few bedsheets on hand proved to be quite practical. This came in handy when we encountered less-than-clean bedding at our accommodations.
  5. ID’s 
  6. Printed copy of your registration letter for the Kedarnath Yatra.
  7. Personal medications and a basic first-aid kit
  8. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  9. Toiletries
  10. Powerbank
  11. Cash – There is an ATM at Kedarnath but best to withdraw cash beforehand.
  12. Snacks – Energy bars, nuts, and dried fruits for quick snacking.

Kedarnath Budget 

The budget for a Kedarnath trip can vary widely depending on your travel preferences, the mode of transportation, the type of accommodation, and the duration of your stay. Here’s a rough estimate of our trip. It will be significantly cheaper if you take public transport and stay at dorms.

ItemPrice for 2 people (INR)
Return Volvo bus from Himachal to Dehradun₹5000
Hotels 4 nights (with breakfast and dinner)₹23000
Taxi and driver for the entire trip₹4000 per day (approx)
Miscellaneous expenses₹3000
Kedarnath Budget Breakdown

We booked our accommodation and taxi via a travel agent (details in the next section)

Do you need a travel agent for Kedarnath?

Traveling to Kedarnath doesn’t necessarily require a travel agent. Our Kedarnath travel guide aims to simplify the planning process for independent travellers. In our case, we decided on our Kedarnath journey just about two weeks ahead of time, making it challenging to secure accommodation in Kedarnath through online bookings. Additionally, we needed reliable transportation for the trip.

Our initial contact with GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam) Yatra office revealed that only dormitory accommodations were available in Kedarnath as the ensuite cottages were fully booked. GMVN accommodations strictly required online booking. Since we preferred a more private lodging option, we explored alternatives.

After reaching out to several tour agents, we ultimately chose Three Sixty Holidays for their hotels and transportation package. We found them to be highly professional, offering a variety of quality hotel choices. Notably, they guaranteed an ensuite room in Kedarnath, the only ones to do so.

The package cost us ₹48,000 in total for a couple.

Inclusions

  • 4 nights in premium hotels (breakfast + dinner)
  • Sedan taxi transfer (Dehradun to Dehradun)

How to choose a travel agent for Kedarnath?

If you’re planning your Yatra well in advance and prefer to do it on your own, our travel guide provides all the details to facilitate your journey. However, if you favour a hassle-free experience with a tour agent, we wholeheartedly recommend Three Sixty Holidays. They ensured a smooth process and were forthright about the basic conditions of Kedarnath hotels in advance. We’re grateful we chose them, considering that we saw many pilgrims facing challenges finding accommodation during our visit. Even shared tents were fully booked, and while our hotel may not have been ideal, having an ensuite room provided a significant comfort advantage.

You can contact Three Sixty Holidays via email – sunil@threesixtyholidays.com or phone – +91 9258 360 360

Is there mobile network in Kedarnath?

Yes, Jio pretty much worked all over.

Kedarnath Travel Guide – Trekking tips and what not to do

  1. Register online beforehand to avoid queues and delays.
  2. Save time by staying near Gaurikund or Sonprayag before starting your trek as the roads and traffic to Sonprayag is terrible. As shown above, we wasted a lot of time stuck and got delayed to start our trek.
  3. Start your trek by 5 am to avoid the harsh afternoon sun. 
  4. Trek Distance and Duration  – 19 kms each way. Trek Duration can vary from individual to individual, but to offer you a reference point, our ascent took approximately 7-8 hours, while the descent required about 4 hours. It’s worth noting that we carried our own bags, each weighing 12 kilograms.
  5. Pack light – We underestimated the climb and carried our laptops, DSLR’s etc and our bags were heavy. Best to pack light to make the climb easier.
  6. Book accommodation in advance (at least 6 months in advance to ensure you get a good place like GMVN cottages)
  7. Carry warm clothing  as temperatures fall after sunset irrespective of the month you visit. In October it was -2 in the evenings.
  8. Ensure you pack a raincoat and a reusable water bottle. Afternoons often bring rain showers, so having a raincoat on hand is a smart choice. Additionally, there are water refill stations available along the route, so carrying your own bottle and avoid purchasing plastic bottles.
  9. Trekking without using horses is a responsible choice to minimize your environmental impact. Witnessing the overworked horses and the unfortunate sight of many of them succumbing to exhaustion along the way was truly heart-wrenching.
  10. Prior to your journey, consult the weather forecast diligently and attentively heed any warnings or advisories.
  11. Public Toilets are available on the way at various places on the trekking route.
  12. Don’t litter and please carry your waste back with you.
Read my honest unfiltered thoughts on how I felt about Kedarnath on instagram below:

Conclusion

We trust that this comprehensive Kedarnath travel guide serves as a valuable resource for planning your pilgrimage to the sacred abode of Lord Shiva. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions; we’d be glad to answer your queries. Do share this post with anyone interested to visit Kedarnath.

Do check out our other posts of our adventures in Asia too.

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