I had the distinct pleasure of leading Indiahikes’ first team to on the new Kedarkantha route from the Kotgaon a couple of weeks ago. What struck me about this trail was the peace and serenity it offered – and some really nice views. The teams that I’ve led from this trail were all delighted to be ascending a relatively virgin trail, away from all other groups that operate from the Sankri slope.
Having led teams from both slopes, here are some of my observations on the new Kedarkantha Route.
The village of Kotgaon
Kotgaon is a village right out of a storybook.
Right in the centre of the village, and often the first thing you see as you get out of your vehicle, is a large temple to Someshwar. It’s an old fashioned structure out of wood and clay. It is covered by a roof tiled with roughly hewn stones, and ends in decorative spikes clad in gold. There are a bunch of local traditions that surround this temple (and others like it in the region) – for example, the murtis in the temples are taken in procession from one village to the next every some weeks. The locals will happily tell you stories.
Surrounding the temple is the village green that functions as a meeting point for the elders, a playground for the children and – for me – an excellent place to tell ghost stories under the moonlight.
Kotgaon does not have hotels. Instead, trekkers live in people’s homes. These are one-storey structures of wooden planks or cement. The carpets, the snugly-spaced mattresses make it super-cosy. Too cosy, sometimes — trekkers don’t want to get out of bed!
There are some spectacular views of the Har Ki Dun and Devkyara valleys. The Swargarohini peaks dominate the skyline.
If I were to do Kedarkantha solo, I’d start from Kotgaon, no competition.
As we set off from Kotgaon we are surrounded by thick forests very quickly into the trail. There is no one else (in stark contrast to the Sankri route). One of the routes took us from near a shrine to Shiva (I think). This shrine is super cool. It’s a little wooden structure, shaped like a mini-temple. And it looks completely forgotten and abandoned, except for the many coins studded into its frame, and the relatively fresh flowers or coloured pieces of cloth that we sometimes see tied to it. It is surreal – this shrine looks like it could be from several hundred years ago, the stuff of stories and legends.
We encounter snow quite soon on the trek (of course, as I write this, even Sankri has experienced snowfall). In four and a half hours, we reach Khujey.
You know you’ve arrived when you encounter the wooden bridge that runs over a frozen stream. In summers this place is a bright, sunny green, full of the sound of the water flowing, but in January? It is a place of silence and contemplation, with all shades of blue, white, grey and black. You can see ripple-like patterns in the ice as the stream has frozen in mid flow. Fifteen minutes later, we reach the camp.
Khujey is a largish meadow, a couple of hundred metres long and about a hundred wide, surrounded by forests on one side and a rocky ascent on the other. At the edge, near the forests we have abandoned wooden huts that once belonged to the local wandering shepherds.
A three hour march through bird-filled forests and we reach our next camp. This little cup-like space nestled between some rocks has only enough space for one camp – ours. We are one heavy snowfall away from being knee deep in snow – it’s very exciting, we really are in the wilderness here.
One one side, the trail ascends steeply (that’s what we use to summit), and on the other, from where we came, there are some rocks to sit on and enjoy the sunset.
Oh, and sunset is early here. We are not that far from the summit, and located in a section of the valley that gets only a few hours of sunlight every day.
Bhuja Dhadi, in short, is character building.
Summit and back
On the summit day, we set off in darkness. Dawn breaks soon. We have a shorter climb than on the main Kedarkantha route, but often it is through a virgin trail, through powder snow, so it all evens out. Two steps up and the powder pushes you one step back. That’s how we boogie up the Kedarkantha trail.
In any case, summiting without the press of other trek operators around you is bliss.
This trail offers us a unique angle such that we can see Kedarkantha rimmed with gold as the sun rises and light falls upon it. We can also see the wind blow snow off the mountain, which gives the peak a wispy, mesmerising, golden aura as the snow-plumes catch the early morning sunlight.
As we descend we meet the crowd.
During peak winter, Kedarkantha can become a mela. Lots of tour operators, tents of all colours closely pitched, bluetooth speakers playing “Baby doll main sone di” – it’s an interesting scene. Honestly, it’s not my scene. And that’s why, for me personally, the Kotgaon route is so special!
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What you should do next
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