I’ll admit right away that I am terribly biased about Kedarkantha. It was the first winter trek explored by Indiahikes. The trek left a deep emotional impact on me. Back in 2011, things were not exactly going right with Indiahikes. We had empty coffers, low registrations and morally wondering whether to give up on our quest to discover more trails. That is when we decided to explore Kedarkantha in winter. I was spell bound by the trek. Somehow over the years I have not able to get out of my fondness for Kedarkantha.
But if I have to leave aside my personal biases and don the hat of an objective trekker — things become difficult. Deoriatal-Chandrashila, as a winter trek, took my breath away. It left me delirious with the experience.
If I compare day to day then, grudgingly, I have to give it to Deoriatal. Deoriatal pips Kedarkantha as a better winter trek by a shade. Mind you, it is only a shade. I’ll give you my reasons.
The moment you step on the Kedarkantha trek you are in the forests. Tall pine trees, oaks are around you. This is mesmerizing. Walking on the brown carpet of leaves feels like another world. In a couple of hours most trekkers are transported to a land of beautiful clearings. If you are lucky, you get snow on the forest floor.
Deoriatal is different. You climb over the picturesque village of Sari — a setting stolen off a postcard. The valley is deep and wide. In less than two hours trekkers get to Deoriatal. Mark my words, this campsite can leave even the skeptical gaping.
Snow covered Deoriatal with the massive Mt Chaukhamba towering over the lake makes most trekkers stand rooted to the spot. The sight is unbelievable and so is the setting of the lake. Surrounded by grassy knolls, it makes a bewitching place to observe the sight of these big mountains. It takes a while for it to sink that we actually camp here.
Kedarkantha on Day 2, mostly on snow, climbs through oak forests, which incredibly get prettier as we get higher. It is almost like a fairy tale. The forest floor is covered by an unending carpet of untouched snow. In between, branches of trees climb to the sky. Through this you snake your way up the mountain. The sun plays tricks on the snowy landscape with its many designs of light and shade. It is like a vibrant wintry canvas coming alive.
Deoriatal on the other hand takes you through jungles on Day 2. These jungles are different every hour of the trek. I have yet to come across forests that have so much variety in a single day’s trek. There are dark forests and forests that look like tunnels. At other times the forests passes through clearings and streams. You will try and tip-toe your way to enjoy the humming of the various birds at Deoriatal. When you add the snow covered forest floor, frankly, it is too much of a good thing to take in a day.
At this stage both treks are neck to neck. It is hard to separate Kedarkantha from Deoriatal. Both treks are very different to each other, yet, they are equally beautiful. The climb through the forests of each trek has been exhilarating.
The difference between the treks comes in the summit climb. This is where Chandrashila edges out Kedarkantha. It is the view that you get from the summit. From the Chandrashila summit you get to see all the big mountains of India. Not only do you see them, you see them very close. You see Mt Nanda Devi, Trishul, Chaukhamba, Kedarnath, Neelkant and almost every other well known summits you can think of. Almost every trekker breaks down in tears at the Chandrashila Summit.
On the Kedarkantha summit the view is terrific too. It is a 360 degree view of mountain ranges. You feel you have climbed the top of the world because everything else is below you. You can see mountain ranges far and wide. What you miss out are the big names in mountain summits.
So there you have it. While I rate both treks equally, I’ll give Deoriatal Chandrashila a slight higher grade for the grand summit views. And perhaps for the variety in the jungles.
As a winter trek, frankly don’t choose one over the other. Do one this year and the other next. You can’t miss out on either. If you find groups full in one of the treks, simply choose the other.