From Risk to Rejuvenation: Kedartal trek with Bikat Adventures

“For the first time, I realized why our ancestors prayed to a burning ball of gas, and I did the same, religiously.”

19th May, 2019

The white snow ended at the blue sky. One wrong step, I knew, would throw me several meters down into the gorge on my left. I am a Capricorn, and the mountain goat in me refused to accept my quivering confidence as I strode up.

Kedartal Lake, Surface Elevation: 5000 meters.
the pristine lake of Shiva waited patiently somewhere in an unforeseen world.

Mountains are a no man’s land—a kingdom of rocks and snow, created to never be won over but invoke awe and reverence, more so at Gangotri.

Gangotri dham
Gangotri temple right before the evening Aarti

Gangotri in Uttarakhand is one of the Char Dhams ( 4 prominent pilgrimage sites in India) from where the trek to Kedartal begins.

Note: Booking done via Bikat Adventures 6 months before the trek.
Cost: 13,700INR + Tax = 15,500INR

Day 1: Bangalore to Dehradun

Fortunately, I got a direct flight from Bangalore to Dehradun. I availed the local cab service that is present right before the airport exit. For Ola services, you have to walk out of the airport area, which I didn’t prefer doing with all my luggage; they don’t let them in.

I stayed at Queen’s Pearl Inn hotel near ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal), Dehradun. The manager, Mr Anup and his staff were quite hospitable. I extended my stay when my family visited me after the trek. You can contact him directly at 9131865691.
Our Bikat team was to meet at ISBT, Dehradun, the next day, but it got delayed by more than an hour.

Day 2: Dehradun to Gangotri: An 8+2-hour Long Ordeal

En route Gangotri

A mountain jeep will take you from 1467 ft to 11200 ft in a single day through the most precarious hairpin turns you would have ever seen.* Be quick to change from shorts and shirts to pullovers and pajamas; else the evening cold will freeze you into stuttering every syllable.

Cramps, nausea, fatigue, and chills—if you don’t experience any of these, congratulations on being a superhuman.

Our driver got into a heated argument as we enjoyed the view
Traffic en route Gangotri
Highway traffic on these precarious paths: something to look forward to
Temperature starts to drop quickly as you ascend

It was dark when we reached Gangotri. We waited for our Bikat crew to escort us or inform us about our stay for about half an hour. When it got uncomfortably cold, we started walking towards the market to save our lives. Amidst the hustle and confusion, and after a few phone calls, we wandered through the market to finally reached our hotel. I quickly realized that ours was an all-male group.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience to arrive at the hotel and not even receive a cup of tea or an acknowledgment. We were shown our rooms by a cold hotel manager who informed us that we would have to buy the food when we asked for something warm. A hard and uncomfortable handshake with the then Bikat supervisor made me doubt my decision to go solo for the trek.

Note: Bikat doesn’t take the responsibility of food until you start climbing up the mountain

Bonus: Neither do they intimate you about the last ATM on the way. Please read the terms and conditions carefully. I didn’t and realized I was in trouble—didn’t have enough cash. The nearest one is in Harsil (25km from Gangotri).

Hotel Rooms: I won myself a separate room after blasting the hotel staff when he asked me to share a place with one of the male trekkers. The room was basic, comfortable and cosy.

People recommended Kirti Lok, affordable with good food and amazing balcony view
Don’t judge my photography skills: I devoured the veg maggie after coming back from the trek
Forgot the name – If the restaurant looks like this, refrain from entering. Girls strictly avoid it,especialy at night
Source: Dreamstime

Restaurants At Gangotri: Packed with people, pickles, and perverts, staff at Restaurant 1 (don’t remember the name, above is the image) show unnecessary interest in you if you are a female. I tried Kirti Lok Restaurant, which was decent, comparatively cheaper, offered good food and great view of river Bhagirathi.

View from Gangotri temple
Way to the Gangotri Ghat
People were taking a holy dip in the bone-chilling water of Bhagirathi river at Gangotri Ghat

In the refreshing morning light, the atmosphere of this place no less than enchanting. Gangotri is set in the lap of rugged mountains, intertwined beautifully with divinity; all I could do was stand and stare in awe as the world went bustling around me. There were so many ways to absorb it all in, each angle, every direction put the place in a new perspective.

Shops at Gangotri laden with ornaments, copper vessels, brass idols of gods and goddesses and things used in Hindu religious ceremonies

Note: Gangotri has a small corner shop for trekking essentials including pullovers and raincoats, near the bridge that leads to the other side of the ghat. However, the stock is limited and you may not get the right size or color. You may ask the locals for directions.

Day 3: Acclimatization and Acquaintance

We hiked to a cave dwelling of a local saint
The cave is slit under a massive rock
Inside the cave dwelling: we felt we were being intrusive and left immediately after

As a part of the acclimatization walk, we trekked uphill somewhere near Gangotri. I let a sigh of relief when I came to know that one of the trek leaders was a female. After a brief intro with the leaders, we shared some trek stories and experiences. We stopped at a point to discuss the do’s and don’ts, then move ahead to explore the area.

Surya Kund at Gangotri
The massive, powerful waterfall cut through the chiseled, cheese-like rocks; found that cute and appetizing for no reason..yum yum..

The evening aarti at the Gangotri temple was a remarkable sight to experience as people gathered in hordes to witness it. We sang together and offered our reverence to the river Ganga, which is known by the name Bhagirathi here.

Gangotri temple
View from the Ghat in the evening

Later that evening, I offered my last prayers to the Mountain Gods before the trek. It was quiet, there was no soul around, not even the person in the picture—only the rush of the river gave me company. I let the fear of unpredictability spill out right then, uncontrollably and drowned it in the river.
After that, I felt nothing in my head but my body was full of vigor and zeal—had the trek begun then, I would have been prepared to climb the mountains.

Day 4: Trek or Treat

It wasn’t as easy as it looks here: the initial ascent was tough and we panted our way up to this clearing
One the left: a deep Gorge with Kedar Ganga streaming down

The ascent is steep; you are breathing hard, sweat trickling down your spine, the raging Kedar Ganga on your left, sourced from Kedartal keeps you company. The narrow trail through the tall and sturdy pine trees show you the way. The gorge on your left and the mountain wall that you walk on leave no scope for getting lost.

The sun was at its best yet it felt comfortable wearing two layers of clothes

Our trek leader was fast and brutal when it came to breaks. At few precarious places, infamously known as spider walls (like the one below), he dug the way through the snow (yes, we saw it on the very first day) for us to place our feet affirm. Walking on an incline snow sheet with just enough space to put our feet was by far the trickiest part of the trek.

Walking on the spider wall
Our trek leader camouflaged against the rocks
Yet another spider wall ahead; I had lost the count by then

I had my heart in my mouth watching the porters carry our food and tents while crossing the precarious spider walls. Not as equipped with the gear as we were, these superhumans showed unfathomable strength and endurance. I hoped and prayed for their safety at every tricky turn or climb that we came across.

It was incredible of porters to cross these spider walls with all that weight on their heads and shoulders

Camp 1: Bhoj Kharak
We arrived in time, just before it started snowing. Unfortunately, our crew (the people carrying tents and kitchen stuff) were nowhere to be seen. It started snowing and there was no place to take shelter. We heard they started late and went on a different route. It was getting colder with each passing second as the mountain winds howled around us. Our trek leader managed to get some tea from other campers that had set up their tents at the same place.

I left all my fears and worries behind. In that instance, I had only one goal in life, to get a glimpse of Kedartal, bow my head in front of the pristine Thalaysagar and come back safe.
Our first campsite: Bhoj Kharak; The green tent belonged to another group of trekkers, ours were the dark green tents behind theirs
The beautiful gorge going all the way to Gangotri

We were cold and famished, but managed well with our packed lunch of aloo and roti. While some of us cursed and watched, the rest danced in the snow until the tent material was there. We rushed to help the crew pitch tents in the snow-wind-storm. The tea and soup were like a reward for coming that far; the dinner was a feast of butter paneer.

Welcoming the first snowfall with open arms

Day 5: Stumped by the Snow Mountains

We had lost the count of the treacherous spider walls—we found one every 200 meters. The vegetation was gone, the air was chilly, but the sun shone like a divine power over us. For the first time, I realized why our ancestors prayed to a burning ball of gas, and I did the same, religiously.

Our second-in-command and my tent mate. Damn, I forgot everybody’s names
Twinning because the sun was harsh on our eyes and skin up there

Then, at some point, Thalaysagar came into view. The gigantic, snow-laden mountain, the kind that would give you the feel of an explorer out in the wilderness, the one you would call ‘the holy mountain’, the stunningly, hostile mountain you think people would have died climbing (maybe they did), the God mountain, the Thalaiva of mountains, the Thalaysagar. I can’t forget that moment when I saw its peak light up under the first rays of the sun.

When I saw the glowing Thalaysagar for the first time, I left all my fears and worries behind. In that instance, I had only one goal in life, to get a glimpse of Kedartal, bow my head in front of the pristine Thalaysagar and come back safe.

Up next:
– Know how I escaped a rolling stone half the size of my head
– How I Almost lost my feet to hypothermia and my breath to mountain sickness

Kedartal Lake
A glimpse of Kedartal


7 thoughts on “From Risk to Rejuvenation: Kedartal trek with Bikat Adventures

  1. Any significant historical tale around? I have heard that Kedartal is surrounded by legendary mountains like Meru.

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    1. I read about Meru and its religious and mythological significance in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. More than that, the climb to the 5-peaked Meru is extremely precarious, technically challenging and next to impossible unless one wants to happily invite death. It’s not far from Thalay Sagar (near Keartal) and Bhrigupath (equally majestic beauties). Also, found that they made a documentary with the same name. Thanks for letting me know about it. It’s bizarrely beautiful!

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      1. To answer your question, yes there are many myths and tales around it – one such being that for the Lord Mahavir was taken to Meru by Indra shortly after his birth to be anointed as the chosen one

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  2. This is amazing😍😍😍….waiting for the next part!

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  3. Hi Sheeba! This has all the makings of a nail biting adventure! Beautiful pictures! I have heard and read so much about Kedartal from my mountaineer friends that I can’t wait to go there myself some day. Until then, I hope to make do with the next part of your travelogue 🙂
    Cheers & keep blogging!

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    1. It’s a stunning yet challenging trek. When I reached Kedartal, I remember thinking that I still had the energy to cross the frozen lake to reach the base of Thalay Sagar, though the energy I was left with could only take me one way, not back. 😛 That’s how alluring Thalay Sagar looked from Kedartal. 🙂

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