A Katha of Kedarkantha
What if you want to trek in an active wildlife sanctuary? Spend New Year’s Eve in the wild cold? You want only a short trek, but exhilarating nevertheless? Fear not, all these boxes are ticked by the Kedarkantha trail.
Satiate your thirst, welcome to the winter trekking expeditions of YHAI. Kedarkantha is just the right choice for you! Designed to be enjoyed in December, it is almost a guarantee that you will see snow. The trek does not reach an altitude above 12500 feet at the summit top, which means the chances of altitude sickness aren’t as much as for some of the other treks. It is not a very steep trek and the altitude is manageable. So, what is the catch? Or rather what is the charm? It is the cold and the extreme cold, together with strong winds at some sections of the trek that make this an adventurous sojourn.
And yet, some like Laxmi Mordekar answer the call to this adventure – year on year. She has been there in 2017, 2018 and yes, again in 2019. A seasoned trekker and a camp-leader, Laxmi says, “I have had many adventures. A fracture one year did not deter my spirits and I was back!” Such is the pull of Kedarkantha.
Starting from Mussoorie, this rather short four-day trek covering roughly 30 km, is in the heart of the Govind Pashu Vihar National Park & Sanctuary in Uttarakhand. So, sure the trek starts from Sankri, but reaching Sankri from Mussoorie is quite the trek itself, albeit by vehicle. Reach Mussoorie at 7 am and your journey starts. The road takes you along Vikashnagar, Kempty falls and also will be a stone’s throw from Yamuna bridge. A note for the tourist-trekker as this route takes you along Kempty falls, there is no need to plan an additional visit here! Time saved is time gained. You will reach Jurmola, which is your last mobile connectivity point! A beautiful winding road great for photography opens up thereafter, though the treacherous mountain paths can cause motion sickness. You reach Sankri base camp in the evening. Remember, it is an active wildlife sanctuary, so all along you are advised to get back to base by evening.
Having reached Sankri, the next day is for orientation, training and the acclimatization walk. Visit the unique Shivji temple where the village keeps all the sports shields and cups that it has won – a humble obeisance to the deity. Its unique architecture is a draw in itself. The Sankri base – camp is a delight, especially come Christmas and New Year when it is festooned with gay décor to set the mood. Take care when you walk up and down the slippery steps, after snowfall or rainfall. The YHAI volunteers are known to keep a naughty count of the participants who have a nasty fall here!
The next morning you set out to Juda Talav. A rather easy forested walk with a tea spot and a lunch canteen in between, you might even encounter the batch coming down along the way! An hour after lunch, the magnificent Juda Talav in all its winter wonder invites you. Take care to heed the instructions as stepping on the frozen Talav is an accident, waiting to happen. As long as your eye can see, you can see this beautiful stretch of white sheet – pure bliss, dotted with trees. This is what makes Kedarkantha such a do-able trek – while you are walking in the extreme cold and snow, the presence of the tree-line is assuring!
The next day’s winding trail taking you to Luhasu to a height of 10250 ft’ approx is not steep but with a lot of snow to tackle and can be a task. This narrow path sees a lot of traffic – fellow trekkers (Remember Kedarkantha is one of the most trekked winter spots!), and of course the pack animals , especially the khachars who have right of way. Step aside gingerly and let them go – this is a rule of thumb whichever trek you might be on!
The summit day starts before the crack of dawn so you get to enjoy the sunrise at the summit. The night skies slowly opening themselves to wake you up will be a scene forever etched in your memory (and will make you come here, again). As the sky changes colour, the beauty of the surroundings becomes evident and strikes your heart. This is why you braved the snow, the random fall, the loss of breath, why you came up to 12500 ft’. Time seems to pass by quickly and as you descend down, you realise how windy it is, more so due to the disappearing tree-line. This chill can be nasty and fast. You will come down via the shadow route to Luhasu for much-needed hot lunch and return to Argaon camp.
The final day, when your heart is heavy to leave the trek behind and yet has opened up for all the future treks that have ignited your passion, takes you back to Sankri base camp. The path is mucky and slippery, but you hardly mind it now !
Each day at the Kedarkantha trek is an eye-opener, in every sense. Pleasurable vistas , open spaces, the far-away , yet close-by mountains are all a delight. Having ticked the Kedarkantha box at the far end of the year, you are now charged for the new year which , if you are fortunate , you can even celebrate with a cheer at the summit itself!
Time to plan your New Year’s Eve in the lap of nature!
By Sonia Kuncalienker