Morning woke up a bit early and got ready for the journey ahead. Took a couple of pictures of the lovely view and started to Phata which is 14.5 km from Guptkashi. It took around 40 minutes to reach Phata to the Pawan Hans Helicopter pad and office.
People going to Kedarnath, book helicopters from Phata. Various Helicopters services ply between Phata and Kedarnath. Bookings are done much in advance. Very few people are lucky enough to get a ride on the spot. The bookings open a few days before the season and normally get over very fast. So people who want to book online have to be on the lookout and ready to book, whenever the bookings open. People who do not book for helicopter go through a longer distance by trekking or on mules. There are 6 to 7 services and as the airtime is restricted, only 2 services are given time to ply for an hour for each services, post which they have to wait for a couple of hours before they can take the next batch. They work precisely taking care not to loose much time. By the time we can board, a person carries our luggage and keeps it in while the passengers have to board fast. The time in air is 8 minutes and again as soon as the helicopter reaches the Kedarnath pad, we have to jump with our heads bent low and run while a guys brings our bags, at the same time people who are boarding get in and their bags are put in and the helicopter leaves. They are like clockwork, precise.
We had booked for Pawan Hans helicopter service. When we reached their office, first our weight was recorded. Passengers have to be below 90 kgs otherwise they will have to pay for the extra weight. Each person is allowed a bag of 8 kgs or less weight. Nothing more. Per trip 5 or 6 people are taken. Depending on the weight of the persons the passengers are adjusted. We were a group of 4 tall people hence we were split up according to our weights. Two of us had to go with 4 other people and the rest 2 came later.
I was in the first trip and was lucky enough to be seated beside the pilot. For the 8 minutes in air, I had a birds eye view of the beautiful Himalayas, which was an unexpected bonus. Then we reached Kedarnath helipad and got down and ran and then took our bags. Searched for the GMVN tent to find out where our cottage was booked. Finally approached them and took the keys for our cottage.
One of the bunk bed
The cottage had 2 rooms, each room having 2 bunk beds, thereby making way for 8 people totally. We took a room for the four of us and it costed us Rs 2,400 and the other room was taken by another family. There was a common washroom for both the rooms, and a Rajai and woollen blanket are provided for each bed. After keeping our bags in, we waited for the other two of our party (my brother & cousin) to arrive. They came two hours later at around 2pm.
Till then I soaked in the atmosphere of Kedarnath. Admiring the Majestic snow clad Himalayas, the porters who carry people and bags, the makeshift eateries and everything. As soon as my brothers came, we kept their bags in the room and went to have lunch that was provided to the pilgrims.
Cream colour tents under which we sat and had our lunch.
Before starting on the trip checked in accuweather website regarding the probable weather in all the places that we would go to. So I knew that Kedarnath would be very cold. Maximum was 6 degrees and minimum was -2 degrees. So all of us wore thermal wear in the morning itself, then our regular wear and we had jackets on. Carried gloves and an extra pair of socks too for the night, since we were staying overnight. The weather there kept changing so fast, that it was sunny for few moments, cloudy the next.
As soon as we finished lunch, we left to the temple to have darshan of Kedarnathji. Stood in the queue. The queue was in open air with nothing overhead to protect us from the elements. Since the sun was shining and the weather was cool, we stood comfortably, taking in the aura and admiring the surroundings. The destruction of 2013 floods was still visible making me sad remembering the havoc that was wrecked. My brother saw raincoats (temporary ones made with thick polythene sheets) and wanted to buy for the 4 of us, the costed Rs 40 each. Though I thought we wouldn’t need it, he went ahead and bought 4 raincoats. We had progressed a little in the queue, when we came to know that the temple doors had shut and would be open only after an hour. We decided to stay back as going out of the queue at that point would take us back to the end of the queue which had increased by then.
Suddenly it became dark and cloudy and started to rain, we wore the raincoats that we had, quickly over our jackets, and it started pouring heavily. As if that wasn’t enough to get us shivering, hailstones started, scattering us, trying to take shelter from the make shift shops that were there on both sides of the path. What an experience! We decided not to remove our sports shoes until we reached the entrance of the temple. Braving the cold, shivering, we stood there hoping that the temple doors would open soon and we would be able to have our darshan soon. Finally after a long time reached the temple entrance, quickly removed our shoes and went inside for the darshan. After the darshan, went behind the temple to see the rock that had safeguarded the temple from destruction in the flash floods. By then feet had become numb and we didnt know where we were placing our feet. Hurried back to the shoes and saw a Naga Sadhu sitting there blissfully, without any clothes on, without shivering, doing meditation. The Naga Sadhus are something else, not like ordinary people.
By the time we were back in the room, it was 7pm. We went for dinner, which was arranged at the same place and had dinner. Luckily hot water was provided to drink, thereby warming us a little.
We had decided to reach the Pawan Hans tent first thing in the morning so that we could go back in the first couple of helicopters. After wearing gloves and socks tried to go to sleep. It was terribly cold and I couldn’t sleep a wink the whole night. For people who cannot tolerate the cold, it is better to go back the same day rather than staying overnight.
Thus ended day 2.