I walked on the cement pavement. The road looked similar to the ones in Chennai, but my surroundings were nothing like the big city I called my home. Huge snow-capped mountains flanked both sides of my little path. In the distance I saw even more snowy peaks and wondered how long it would take me to reach there. ‘Was a climb to those pristine white glaciers even possible?’ I pondered. Almost in response, the wind howled noisily, and that felt like warning enough. The path was not for everyone, but for those with devotion in their hearts and a spirit of tapas in their minds.
I stood there in awe, I couldn’t believe I had finally reached the legendary temple of Kedarnath. I had heard numerous legends and I was waiting to see if all of it was real or not!
Along with a sea of devotees, I walked towards the temple. It was -4 degrees and my bones were shaking but there was excitement and enthusiasm in my body. At the gate, I saw many people take off their shoes and I wondered for a moment how cold the stone floor would be. But I closed my eyes and chanted, ‘Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya’, and took off my shoes. The stone floor was cold but not as bad as I had imagined.
I walked around the temple and was in awe about the architecture and the strength of the stones that were used to build it. I had read that the temple of Kedarnath was under snow for nearly four hundred years. ‘How did this building survive?’ I wondered. I looked closer and spotted several yellow lines on the temple walls that point to glacial activity in the region. The temple not only survived being under the snow for four hundred years but also escaped serious damage from glacial movement.
The temple truly felt like it was a sacred space that was protected by Lord Shiva.
As I walked behind the temple, I saw the famed ‘BhimShila’. Well, in 2013, massive flash floods swept through Uttarakhand. The deluge claimed 197 lives. About 236 were injured and 4,021 went missing. A total of 2,119 houses were fully damaged, 3,001 severely damaged and 11,759 partially damaged – literally everything in the Kedarnath complex was destroyed except the temple. As the floods began, a giant boulder dislodged itself and fell just behind the mountain – saving the temple from all damage. That boulder is named “Bhim Shila”. Miracle or just great architecture, the shrine survives and continues to attract the devout to this day.
I respectfully went inside the temple and was in awe at the sculptures that lined the walls inside. There were sculptures dedicated to Kunti, Draupadi and the five Pandavas. I walked slowly taking it all in and as I walked, I overheard the couple behind me. ‘Did you know that the rocks with which they built Kedarnath are not found within a 300 km radius?’ I was stunned. The lady went on, ‘And I have heard in the old days, the priest would finish the aarti in Kedar and then walk to Badri to do the aarti there’.
Walk to Badri?? I had died walking up here! I couldn’t fathom how any mortal could scale two mountains twice a day! As these thoughts swirled in my head, I reached the sanctum sanctorum where the Shivalinga sat in a blanket of flowers and prayers. I folded my arms and prayed, not for anything but just with gratitude. I thanked the mountains for allowing me to see this place, the weather and Lord Kedar.
I opened my eyes and slowly made my way out of the temple only to be greeted by little white snowflakes from the sky! This truly had turned into the most magical day!
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas