Kedarnath is a highly revered site among the twelve "Jyotirlingas" of lord Shiva. It is also one of the Char Dhams of Uttarakhand. Kedar meaning powerful is another name of lord Shiva, the protector and the destroyer. The shrine of Kedarnath, located at an altitude of 3581 meters, is amongst the holiest pilgrimage of the Hindus.
Kedarnath is set amidst the stunning mountainscape of the Garhwal Himalayas at the head of the Mandakini river. The shrine is very scenically placed, and is surrounded by lofty snow-covered mountains. Just behind the temple, is the high Keadardome peak, which can be sighted from a great distance. The sight of the temple and the peak with its perpetual snows is simply enthralling. Situated in the backdrop of the majestic Rudra Himalaya range, Kedarnath is a 14 km trek from Gaurikund.
According to legends, the Pandavas sought the blessings of lord Shiva to atone their sin after the battle of Mahabharata. Lord Shiva eluded them repeatedly and while fleeing took refuge at Kedarnath in the form of a bull. On being followed, he dived into ground leaving behind his hump on the surface. The remaining portions of Lord Shiva appeared at four other places and are worshipped there as his manifestations.
The arms appeared at Tungnath, the face at Rudranath, the belly at Madmaheshwar and his locks (hair) with head at Kalpeshwar. Kedarnath and the four above mentioned shrines are treated as Panch Kedar.
The temple, believed to be very ancient, has been continually renovated over the centuries. The present temple, built in 8th century A.D. by Adi Shankaracharya, stands adjacent to the site of an earlier temple built by the Pandavas. The inner walls of the assembly hall are decorated with figures of various deities and scenes from mythology. Outside the temple door a large statue of the Nandi Bull stands as guard.
The shrine closes on the first day of Kartik (Oct-Nov) and re-opens in Vaishakh (Apr-May) every year. At the approach of winters in the month of November, the holy statue of Lord Shiva, is carried down from Kedarnath to Ukhimath, and is reinstated at Kedarnath, in the first week of May, when the shrine re-opens. During its closure the shrine is submerged in snow and worship is performed at Ukhimath. Kedarnath Temple is open for devotees from 6 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm. Shingar Darshan is from 5 pm onwards and Aarti is performed at 6:45 pm. The Kedarnath Temple committee office organises booking for special pooja which is performed before the general darshan in the morning.
Many ashrams and dharamshalas provide cheap accommodation. There are also many private hotels and restaurants, although most have only basic facilities. Also beware that Kedarnath can be extremely crowded during peak pilgrim season. The state-run guest house is generally booked throughout, so arrive early if you want options.
+ more about Kedarnath