It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic setting for a temple than Kedarnath (3583m), 223km northeast of Rishikesh, which sits close to the source of the Mandakini overlooked by tumbling glaciers and giant buttresses of ice, snow and rock. The third of the sacred Char Dham sites, Kedarnath is among the most important shrines in the Himalayas and as one of India’s twelve jyotirlinga – lingams of light – attracts hordes of Hindu pilgrims (yatri) in the summer months. The area makes a refreshing change from the rocky and desolate valleys of west Garhwal, with lush hanging gorges, terraced hillsides and abundant apple orchards. Reachable via a new 15km trail from Gaurikund, Kedarnath is also a good base for short treks to the beautiful lake of Vasuki Tal.
In June 2013, however, Kedarnath was the epicentre of one of the worst Himalayan disasters in India. At the peak of the tourist season, continuous rain for five days and a cloudburst above the peak of Kedar Dome ruptured the Chorabari Glacier, 4km north, causing the Mandakini River to flood its banks. The ensuing flashflood wreaked havoc at Kedarnath and downstream as far as Rishikesh, with debris washing away hotels and other buildings, many illegally built on fragile riverbanks. According to official figures, over 5700 people died, though the actual toll of this “Himalayan tsunami” is much higher. With large chunks of the trail disappearing off the mountainside and the midway point at Rambara completely devastated, new trekking routes and a new tented camp for pilgrims were created, as Kedarnath slowly hobbles back to normality.