I can’t resist adding this beautiful and divine song from Devon Ke Dev – Mahadev, which fits so perfectly with this post ❤
We were all set at the helipad waiting room right on time but then, as it is bound to happen, the clouds settle down to form a mist and it starts to drizzle, which turns into a downpour. The helicopter can’t take off without any vision and all we could do was pray that it would end soon. Who knew for how long Kedarnath temple would be open in the evening? We were frightened of that and watched as the rain fell in icy sheets.
I spent my time reading a pamphlet about Char Dham the officer handed us. I was surprised to find out my thinking of helicopters available from the land to the mountain was true. It is not accessible to Yamunotri and Gangotri but there are helicopters available to fly people from Delhi/Dehra Dun to Kedarnath to Badrinath and then back to Delhi/Dehra Dun. The money required for a person to fly privately like that is Rs. 1, 000, 00 though 😀
Finally, the rain stopped and after two flights, it was our turn. They took all of our weights individually to calculate the approximate amount the helicopter could carry and since it couldn’t take all of us in one trip, my maternal uncle was designated to the trip after ours. We were taken to a backroom of the helipad terminal where the officers gave us clear instructions about the do’s and don’ts during the ride – phones switched off, arms tucked in, no noise and no waving.
Mum and I were pleased when the officer told us we were going to sit at the front with the pilot. My grandparents, Uncle and Aunty were to sit at the back. My scarf was tied securely around my neck; Mum, Grandma and Aunty secured the ends of their shawls and as the helicopter approached us, four guys towed us forward. One to shepherd my mother and me to the front seats; one for my grandparents to climb on the left two of the back seat; one for Uncle and Aunty to climb on the right; and one to stow our luggage inside the carrier. Everything was so strategically planned that they pushed us forward quickly as the helicopter began to land.
The windy force from the blades was something we didn’t anticipate and Mum and I grabbed each other with a soft cry as it pushed us back when it touched ground. The passengers from inside were made to get out quickly, their luggage taken out so ours could be stowed in, and then we were guided to our seats properly. Everything happened in just thirty seconds and as soon as the doors were locked in place, it lifted into the air and turned around.
As much as I was excited about this being my first helicopter ride, it didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous and as soon as the door shut on my side, my hands clasped together as I chanted Lord Shiva’s name repeatedly in my head. I didn’t stop until we landed at Kedarnath.
The view from the helicopter was absolutely breath-taking.
We were raised a thousand feet into the air and looking down, I was stunned by how all the houses became like small toys, the Mandakini River flowed through the valley and after two minutes, we were able to view the people climbing up the path to Kedarnath. It was a series of twists and turns with a steep slope and there were tents located halfway up, so that if people were tired to carry on, they could rest there. The journey, as told, took only six to seven minutes and we landed safely down on the helipad, where we were rushed out quickly to get the next set of passengers in. Our backpacks were delivered to us in the blink of an eye and we moved to wait behind the fence for my maternal uncle to arrive in the next flight.
Kedarnath was much more freezing than I feared it would be.
Even with my sweater and jacket on, I shivered and we rushed into the waiting room for some warmth. But with so many people in there, I didn’t even feel like staying in and went out for the fresh air, no matter the temperature. My Grandma was thrilled with the close proximity of a nearby rocky mountain that had some snow and ice on it. It was located in bits and pieces but the close-up view of snow was something you don’t get every day.
Grandpa took us to the side to show the top of the temple visible from there, behind which it was completely cloudy, and we thanked Kedarnath for bringing us there successfully. We took time to look around and enjoy the chilly climate, despite shaking. It was seriously one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in.
I could watch the view all day.
My maternal uncle arrived and as soon as he did, Grandpa went over to book beds to rest for the night.
Mum and Grandma were discussing something so I was standing alone, staring around.
I walked away to look at a gravel lain slide on a small hill and that was when something caught the corner of my eye.
It was white.
Curiously, I turned my head around and staggered backwards by what I saw.
When we looked at the temple earlier, we saw nothing but a horde of clouds behind it.
But right now, the clouds had moved aside.
Revealing the thickest and biggest snow mountain I saw at Char Dham.
Totally keyed up, I cried out for my mother and grandmother and they too were stunned speechless at this divine darshan of Lord Shiva. Because the God is always associated with snow. Lord Shiva’s intense meditation instigates all the heat to become absorbed in his body, hence the surroundings turn to ice. The mountain even had a pyramidal shaped rock, just like the lingam inside the temple.
The story of Kedarnath is associated with the Mahabharata. After the Pandavas finish their thirty-six year rule of Hastinapura and decide to find solace at the Himalayas to attain liberation, they wish to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and so they meditate upon Him. He doesn’t allow them to see Him, because they had killed their relatives in Kurukshetra, and thus takes the form of a buffalo. Bheema, the second brother, recognises the Lord in his disguise and launches himself forward to grab hold of the buffalo’s hind legs to prevent Lord Shiva from leaving them. He finally grants darshan, where it is named Kedarnath. The strange shape of the lingam is said to be in the form of Bheema grabbing the animal’s legs, hence the pyramidal shape.
Kedarnath did have a crowd and the distance to the temple was half a kilometre from where we stood. It took twenty minutes to walk there and on the way, we kept staring at the view around, the continuous admiration of the snowy mountain included. The ruins from the disastrous flood back in 2013 still held evidence.
I was so surprised to see how well rooms had been established to Kedarnath, ranging from small lodges to resort style cottages. The cottages were set in a square design, in the middle of which was a huge catering area that supplied dinner for the night.
We reached the temple, where there was a line waiting for darshan so we stood behind a North Indian family. There were two guys and a girl, all three around my age, from the family talking to each other and though I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, it was nice to listen to their jovial tone and laughter. The place was freezing cold. A mist began to settle down all around us and I lost sight of the huge snow mountain as well. We had to remove our footwear even before we reached the steps beside which everyone left their shoes because if you stepped out of line and returned back beside the steps, the people from behind start to think you’re just pushing yourself in and won’t approve of it.
My feet almost went numb within five minutes of taking off my sandals and I was shifting from side-to-side uncomfortably. It took another ten minutes to get partially used to it and I was thankful when we entered the temple at last. It was quite warm inside and the first idol I saw on my left was Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya standing together, who were carved from stone and covered with ghee. The next one was Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, bronze idols who were decorated in garments and jewellery and we finally reached Kedarnath. The lingam was in the second prahar from where we stood, plus was covered in silk garments and other accessories so we couldn’t get a proper view of the pyramidal shape. Well, we were lucky to get even two seconds of sight because the officials standing there kept ordering everyone to move.
I wasn’t satisfied with the less time of seeing Kedarnath. I mean, can’t they let us stand at least for five seconds?
But Aunty told us to not worry, because we were staying the night and we could come back at 3 a.m., get the VIP pass and watch a pooja that will be conducted in that early hour. Mum and I were immediately enthusiastic and we happily went to worship the idol of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati located outside to the right of the temple. From there, we viewed a large rock that held a miracle. During the 2013 flood, that boulder came tumbling at full speed towards Kedarnath. Had it hit the temple, it would have collapsed. But that didn’t happen. The rock got wedged to a halt just ten feet away and the barrier caused the incoming water to spout out in the opposite directions, leaving the temple and the huge idol of Nandi in the front unscathed.
There certainly was a powerful and divine energy, Lord Shiva, living in Kedarnath. No one can ever deny that.
After we finished our prayers, we quickly went over to save our toes by retrieving our footwear and putting them back on. It started to get dark and we steadily ambled our way through the large number of people waiting for darshan to get dinner. It was only half past seven but we had decided to turn in early to get enough sleep to get us ready for the Pooja at 3 a.m. Dinner was the usual of rotis, rice and dal and though my stomach was apprehensive about letting it in, I had no choice. So I could only hope it didn’t give me unbearable problems and ate it, swallowing the ranitidine pill after it and also eating a banana to calm things down.
After everyone had a cup of tea and coffee, we put our backpacks back on and headed to our room. It was actually a large hall of ninety mattresses with sleeping bags, another new experience. I’ve always wondered what it was like to sleep in sleeping bags and that night, I found out. The drawback was, there was no electricity.
So we had to use the flashlights on our mobile phones to settle down. Mum and I went outside for a bathroom break and on the way back, we saw a group of guys standing around a campfire they started and we walked towards them to absorb some of the warmth. They immediately made room for us and we stuck our hands right in the fire, yes you read right, and stayed there for five minutes until the numbness from our hands were gone. The water that gushed out of taps turned our skin to ice 😀
We walked back to the hall and once we sat down on our mattresses, we pulled on our socks to do something about the chillness that refused to leave our feet but we found no luck even after snuggling inside the sleeping bags. There was no way I was able to sleep with frosty feet so I was just lying, staring up at the dark ceiling. My mother was doing the same thing and a few times, we looked over at the other’s face to see if we slept or not, then we’d laugh on realising we were still awake. It was so cold!
I somehow drifted off to sleep but it wasn’t a deep one because I woke up twice. The first time was because the power came back on at midnight and there was a light right above me and flashing down at my face. The second time was because three people right above our heads decided to have a slumber party and were talking so loud. It was quite fun to sleep in the middle of so many people like that, despite the cold and disturbed sleep. I really loved the experience, for this is the first time I’ve slept in a hall like this ❤
Finally, my Grandpa’s phone rang with the set alarm at three a.m. and after we finished the necessities and got fresh, we headed out into the wintry early morning, where we saw only four or five people going up to the temple in front of us. No one dared to come into the cold like this, which gave us a lot of advantage. My Grandma and maternal uncle stayed back in the hall because they were very tired and couldn’t bear the cold, so the five of us got the VIP pass and entered the temple through a separate entrance to the side. There were a few people already inside so we waited in the first prahar with others until the people inside the second one with the lingam finished their poojas. I found a place to sit down by the side and rested my head against my knees until we had our turn to enter.
All the decorations were removed from the lingam and now I had a clear view of the pyramidal form. I couldn’t quite locate Bheema grabbing the legs of the buffalo and didn’t strain myself either, because I was so joyous at the fact I was actually standing there, beside one of the holiest shrines of Lord Shiva. I was already warm from the cosiness of the temple and this just generated such a tender sensation through my entire body.
Grandpa, Mum and I sat down with a pandit on one side of the lingam (there were four sides, with a pandit for each) and he made us chant prayers after him. We brought ghee packets and gave it to him, who accepted it and after a few more chanting, he made us pour theertham (holy water) over the lingam, which was followed by him making us apply sandal paste and kumkum to it as well.
If we were already overwhelmed at the fortune to just pour holy water over Lord Shiva and touch Him with the sandal paste, imagine what happened to our heart rates when the pandit slit the packets of ghee open and handed it to us.
‘Apply it yourself,’ he smiled.
Oh my God.
Squeezing the semi-solid ghee out, we collected it into our hands and with them slightly shaking with reverence and love for this beautiful God, we bathed one side of Him with the ghee. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. Once the last of the ghee was spread on the lingam, we got on our knees to touch out heads to it and I got some of the ghee stuck to my hair, which made me beam bright.
Once we finished the Pooja, we left the prahar with elated hearts, worshipped Goddess Parvati sitting in the first prahar and then stepped out into the main prahar to pray to Nandi Deva again. Two pandits sat beside Nandi and were handing out prasadams. They were the one who advised us to pray for as long as we wanted from the main hall and we stayed there for five minutes to take it all in before ecstatically going out the temple.
It was dawn outside and the first thing I saw after coming out the temple was the thick snow mountain in all its glory. We prayed to the Lord and the Goddess out there once more, as well as worshipped the mountain. It was like looking at Lord Shiva’s Vishwaroop (Cosmic) Form and I couldn’t find the heart to look away.
Feeling blessed for the rest of eternity, we headed back to our room, collected all our belongings and went to the helipad where our flight was scheduled at 6:30 a.m. We flew back down the same way we came up (this time, our ears got blocked during the entire ride, which got a hard time to pop out) and after having breakfast at our lodge down at Phata, we loaded everything back in the car and began the drive up to Badrinath, the final episode of the Char Dham Yatra 🙂