Winter trekking: Chandrashila Vs Kedarkantha

I have done Chandrashila trek six times and Kedarkantha once. Instead of writing a detailed Kedarkantha blog, I have shared below the differences and similarities in my opinion between the two. Hopefully, it will help you in making the decision on which one to go for! If you still have any questions and would like to contact me, please feel free to message me on my Instagram: @mountain.affair

“Summer is gone with all its infinite wealth, and still nature is genial to man. Though he no longer bathes in the stream, or reclines on the bank, or plucks berries on the hills, still he beholds the same inaccessible beauty around him.” – Henry David Thoreau.

Most would be surprised, but trekking in the Indian Himalayas can be an all season affair depending upon what really tingles your senses. Apart from the countless treks in summers all across the Himalayas, the onset of winters can also present some unparalleled trekking experiences for those tired of the city buzz. The options may be lower, but the serene beauty of mountains enveloped in a thick blanket of snow cannot be seen anytime else. You don’t just get to witness the diverse winter topography of the Himalayas but also have the leisure of having the trail mostly to yourselves as far less people decide to take on the Himalayas during winters.

The Kedarkantha Trek and the Chandrashila Trek, both in Uttarakhand are two such spectacular treks which give you the opportunity to camp by pristine alpine lakes, walk through the magnificent forests of Pines, Cyprus, Maple, Oak; and the most thrilling of all, boast of a winter summit of a 13,000 feet Himalayan Peak. It may sound daunting but both treks are fairly easy and perfect for first time trekkers. One can either hire a guide from the village at the trailhead who can arrange all the camping gear, or if one wants to play it safe, get in touch with the numerous trekking outfits for a complete package. The village folk usually know the place the best, plus it’s great to contribute to the local economy.

Chandrashila Trek

Click here for Chandrashila Winter Trek pictures: Chandrashila Winter Trek, December 2013

Chandrashila Winter Trek
Chandrashila Winter Trek

Chandrashila Trek is usually done as a twin trek – a combination of a short hike to Deoria Tal in the first day, followed by a slightly more challenging trek to the summit itself in the next. The trailhead for Deoria Tal lies in a small hamlet called Sari which is at a distance of 13 kms from Ukhimath in Rudraprayag district. Situated about 415 kms from Delhi, the reasonably comfortable drive to Ukhimath takes you through Rishikesh, Srinagar, Rudraprayag, Agustmuni and Kund. Once at Sari, follow the well trodden path for little less than 2 kms to reach the natural lake of Deoria Tal at a height of 8000 feet. Nestled between thick forest and meadows, the lake provides a stunning campsite to spend the night and to allow your body acclimatize to the higher altitude. The reflection of the imposing Chaukhamba peak over the calm waters of the lake is quite talked about and photographers spend considerable time to capture that perfect image. As the sun sets, sit back and savour the unforgettable sight of the snow clad peaks turning fiercely orange as if on fire. Spending the night at the shores of the lake is highly recommended but if you are not comfortable camping, you may also get a room at the Forest Rest House situated very close to the lake depending upon availability.

The second leg of the trek starts from Chopta, popularly known as the ‘Mini Switzerland of India’, a small village in Rudraprayag district known for its undulating meadows and waterfalls dotting the entire region. Chopta is about 20 kms drive from Sari and you will start noticing the first patches of snow and glazed sheet of ice enroute. The trail to the summit of Chandrashila Peak starts from here and takes you through the revered Tungnath Temple – the highest Shiv temple in the world at 12,000 feet. The entire trail until Tungnath is well laid out and stone paved, but is a steady uphill trek of 3.5 kms. Couple of hours into the trek, leave the tree line behind and notice the snow covered meadows all around and the majestic massif of Chaukhamba Peak (23,400 ft.) always looking over you on your left.

Tungnath is steeped in history, legend has it that it was built by the ‘Pandavas’ over 1,000 years ago. It is one of the five ‘Panch Kedar’ temples located in Uttarakhand, second only to Kedarnath in the pecking order. But during winters, the symbolic image of the deity and the temple priests are moved to the winter seat at Mukumath, about 10 kms. before Chopta. This means that it is largely devoid of the pilgrimage rush. Take a well deserved break at the temple and spot the lone peak of Chandrashila to the East. It is a steep climb of 1.5 kms to the summit but every muscle pained will be all worth it once you reach the top. From the summit of Chandrashila peak, literally meaning ‘Moon Rock’, at a height of 13,100 feet, you get splendid panoramic views of the Himalayan range comprising snow peaks of Nanda Devi, Panch Chuli, Bandarpoonch, Kedarnath, Chaukhamba, Neelkanth, and also the Garhwal valley. According to a popular legend, Lord Rama meditated here after defeating the demon-king Ravana, while another legend says that the moon-god Chandra spent time here in penance. A small shrine dedicated to Ganga sits pretty at the summit but closes during winters at the same time as Tungnath temple. Let your cameras go on an overdrive before beginning the descent back to Chopta via the same trail.

Kedarkantha Peak Trek

Click here for Kedarkantha Winter Trek pictures: Kedarkantha Winter Trek, December 2014

Kedarkantha Winter Trekking
Kedarkantha Winter Trekking

The trek to the Kedarkantha Peak starts from the quiet village of Sankri, about 435 kms from Delhi via Musoorie, Naogaon, Purola, Mori and Naitwar. Sitting precariously on a hill side, the isolation and the laid back attitude of the village provides a perfect setting to unwind after a long drive and to prepare for your upcoming trek. Apart from a couple of modest privately run hotels, one can also stay at the guesthouse maintained here and open throughout the year by Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN).

The first day of the trek takes you to the now frozen lake of Juda Ka Talab situated about 4 hours to the South of the village. Though advisable to take a guide along with you, the route which is stone paved for most of the part, can be figured out by a regular trekker after some due diligence. The initial hike is marginally steep but gradually levels out before rising again for the last 30 minutes. The entire trail is over a brown carpet of leaves and under the shadows of spindly Maple and Oak trees. But as you gain altitude, be ready to encounter the first patches of snow sometimes almost a foot deep. The suggesting sound of snow crunching under your boots really prepares you for what lies ahead in the trek.

Juda Ka Talab, about 2750 meters above sea level remains hidden till the time you are almost directly upon it. The sight of a frozen lake with fine hairline cracks running across it and sprinkled snow on top is something to behold. The lake starts freezing around mid December as the sun hardly seeps through the surrounding dense forest. Under right conditions, the thick sheet of ice over the lake even allows you to walk over it but tread carefully and always stay near the shore. The plentiful clearing around the lake provides you a dream-like site to spend the first night of the trek.

About 4 kms from the lake is the second campsite, usually referred to as Kedarkantha Base Camp, situated at the foot of Kedarkantha Peak. The trail heads further south into the dense forest and climbs steadily for the first hour then gradually easing up. Virtually the entire landscape bathed in white, the trail cuts across couple of small clearings and some abandoned shepherd huts. With most of the water sources frozen around the Base Camp, it helps to have a guide and his expertise in finding a reliable supply of water during such conditions. A bounty of dry firewood lies scattered all around to light a campfire as the summit of Kedarkantha Peak now clearly visible calls you from a distance.

It is advisable to start the 3rd and the final day of your trek early as you will be descending all the way back to Sankri after summiting the peak. Climbing to the summit and back to Base Camp should be done before noon because as it gets hotter, snow turns into slush, making it slightly trickier to walk on. The trail to the summit is over a rising ridge for majority of the part and a continuous 2 hour uphill climb sometimes wading through knee deep cotton snow. As if awarding you for all the efforts, the summit at a height of 12,800 feet offers some breathtaking 360 degree views as far as your eyes can take you. Spread like a garland all around are the Bandarpoonch, Yamunotri and Gangotri range of Himalayas and the distinct towering Swargarohini Peak (6,252 mts.) and the Black Peak (6,387 mts.). Spend some time at the summit and soak in the grandeur of the mighty Himalayas before making your way back to Sankri.

The humbling experience that comes with witnessing the magnificence at such scale only strengthens your decision to plan another trek in the Himalayas. Just how incredible and invigorating the experience of being exclusively with nature can be, can only be realised when you leave your cubicles behind and embark on the ultimate adventure in the lap of the Himalayas, be it summers or winters.

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42 thoughts on “Winter trekking: Chandrashila Vs Kedarkantha

  1. Hi again Karan!

    With precious help from your blog I successfully completed my first (first because there shall be more) trek to Tungnath this last weekend. The experience was incredible to say the least. This trek has inspired me to continue doing this as often as I can. I’m now contemplating a winter trek to Kedarkantha and guess what I stumbled upon during my search…another blog entry by yourself 🙂 I would really appreciate if you could share some more details about your trek back in Dec’14. exact dates, how many nights you camped, any guides or porters you hired, any specific equipment required? I have driven upto Chakrata, so have a fair idea of the driving time from Delhi. But other details will certainly be of great help.

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hello again! I’m glad you had a great time at Chandrashila! That is what trekking in nature does to you! You try it once, and you just want to keep going back again and again 🙂 Kedarkantha is a beautiful place, especially in winters. There are quite a few treks I’ve done but haven’t written about yet. Need to find time for this. :/ Maybe we can talk on the phone about this? You can mail me your number on sfcbt@yahoo.com and give me a time. I’ll call you.

      Cheers!

    1. Hi Pratik. Honestly, I would’t know about renting shoes or backpacks for trekking. But, I also wouldn’t suggest you to depend on Sankri. It is a small village and I’m almost certain you won’t find trekking shoes or backpack to rent. I would suggest trying it in Delhi instead of Dehradun. IMF (Indian Mountaineering Foundation) in Satya Niketan rent such equipments. If you ask me, I wouldn’t suggest renting trekking shoes. You will be better off buying a decent pair that you can use whenever you want in the future. A wrong fit or quality of shoes can really spoil your entire experience of the trek.

  2. Hello sir …its a great article…and very helpful for those who r interested in outdoor activities…i am planning for my first trek to chandrashila….but I am too confused about the toilet arrangement..how to arrange all those…please share your valuable experience..so that I can complete my first trek.

    1. Hi Amit. Thanks for visiting my blog. Toilet arrangement depends on when you are going. If you are going during winters, the toilet at Tungnath will be closed. Unfortunately the only option is to find some spot away from the trail behind some trees / bushes / boulder. Carry toilet paper rolls with you and hand sanitizer. Try to dig a small ditch and then once you are done, just cover it with loose mud / gravel. Burn the toilet paper when done. At Deoria Tal, you have this option or else you can go to the Forest Rest House to use their toilet. After March, the lodges open up at Tungnath which has toilets. I would suggest get done with your business in Chopta. It is difficult to find an isolated hidden spot at Tungnath and Chandrashila because it is above tree line. But don’t worry about such things. It is all a part of your adventure! 🙂

  3. Hello sir,
    Need a few tips on boots I need for winter trek & camping in the cold.
    Winter trek is last week of December to first January. It is from Joshimath-Malari- niti/Ghansali with an expert guide in a 2WD Scorpio self driven. Guide will cook for us. But
    Is there a need for 4WD?
    Should we buy specific boots like Forclaz 500 for keeping water away& warm in the night? I don’t have one and am not keen on buying one since I trek very less & foot size EU 46/US 13. What are my options.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Akash. While it isn’t necessary to have a 4WD, but it definitely helps. A lot of sections of the road will be covered in ice sheets and it can get tricky to drive on them unless you chain the tyres. I have seen many locals drive over the ice sheets even in cars like Alto and Santro. So if you are skilled enough with 2WD, a 4WD isn’t absolutely necessary.
      Although having good water resistant boots is highly recommended for winter treks, you can do without them if you are not keen on buying them. Just try not to let snow enter your shoes. Because during the day time, the feet will get wet and as soon as its evening, the wet shoes will freeze into solid ice. Try to stay clear of snow and don’t let it settle on your shoes for more than a couple of seconds. As a makeshift arrangement, tie a polythene around your ankles covering your shoes to avoid snow entering the insides of the shoe. I am pretty sure you will have a bonfire in the evening. Keep your shoes close to the fire to let them dry. Another thing you can do is wear 2 layers of socks. Between the two layers, wear a polythene bag on your feet. This way, only one pair of socks might get wet while keeping your feet and the other pair of socks dry. Cheers!

  4. Thank you very much for the kind advice. We are decent drivers but have no experience on ice actually. So we’ll take your advice on chain.
    Is there any way I might get boots on rent? Should I invest in pair of new boots which I will use newly on the trek? I am not going to go winter trekking always.Also the trek is for couple of days only. The guide will cook which means fire is also going to be there. Also my car will always be there near the camp to sign off for the night in worst case scenario.
    Our base will soon be shivnandi(rudraprayag) after the trek. We have also kept the option of going into one of the lodges if the trek gets cumbersome.
    Can you also suggest a few places or treks that might be worth considering?We are amateur trekkers.
    Also any safety tips on possibility of avalanches,landslides in winter?
    Thank you very again. Have a nice day!

  5. Hey thanks for sharing all these about kedarkantha and chandrashilla, I get to know lots of things about trekking, Actually I am planning for kedarkantha trekking in this winter so, it would be great if you can tell exact days. Thankyou in advanace

  6. Hi. Thank you for sharing details on Kedarkanth. I am planning to visit Kedarkantha in the last week of December 2016. Can you help me know if i go on my own, do i get to stay in the camps up there or will i have to carry my own tents? And are there any food arrangements om our way up? Also a small estimate of the cost for this trek 😀 thanks again.

    1. Hi Madhura, although you can definitely do the Kedarkantha trek on your own especially since many people will be trekking during the last week of December, but there are no camps or food arrangements on the trek. You will have to take a guide with you who will arrange everything for you. The cost will depend upon the number of people in your group. More the people, lesser the cost. But to give you an idea, the guides charge approximately Rs. 1500 per person per day which includes tents, equipment, food, guiding etc. Do let me know if you have any other queries. Cheers!

  7. Hi, I want to do either Chandrashila or Kedarkantha in Dec 2016. I’d like more snow and better scenery. Which of the two do you think is a better trek?

    1. Hi Pooja. For more snow and better scenery, I think Kedarkantha would be a better option. Although when you reach the summit of Kedarkantha, your luck for better scenery will mostly depend upon the weather that day. If the clouds are hanging low, then you won’t be able to see any of those far flung high peaks which you usually get to see on a clear day.

  8. Hi, it was a great article, i am planning to go to one of these treks and i feel that will be my first and last trek in India as i am getting shifted abroad.
    Can you please suggest me which one to choose among both, i am expecting better scenery, open snow fields and better overall experience.

    P.S. i will be travelling around mid of december

    1. Hey Ravi, out of these 2, I think Chandrashila has better scenery and more open snow fields as it is surrounded by meadows all around. The view from Chandrashila summit is splendid! Do let me know if you have any specific questions. Cheers!

    1. Hi Rupank, sorry for the delay in reply. But yes, you can trek to the summit of Chandrashila peak in the last week of December. I personally have trekked there on 29th Dec and also saw some other people making their way to the top. This is quite a popular winter trek.

  9. Hey I’m planning to go solo for Kedarkantha this christmas. Can we talk about this over skype or something? I’ve done KuariPass- Pangharchulla , Dodital, Har ki Dun before but that were with trekking groups so I never thought about budgeting and stuff. This is gonna be my first solo trek so needed some information about costs for guides or can i do it without guides, any permits required, any tips on what prep i must do and stuff like that. Would be great to hear back from you.

  10. Hi, I want to do either Chandrashila or Kedarkantha in Mid March 2017 or April 2017. I’d like more snow and better scenery. Which of the two do you think is a better trek? And could you suggest me, better trekking group for the doing the above ?
    Seeking your kind assistance.

    1. Hi Sreeraj, out of the 2, if I had to choose one for better scenery and more snow, I would choose Kedarkantha. The wide sweeping views you get form the summit of the peak are splendid! And as for a group for Kedarkantha, you can message Pure Explore on their FB page (www.facebook.com/PureExplore) They work with the local guides and can suggest good packages in cheap prices. Cheers!

  11. Hi, I want to do a solo trek to kedarkantha, and looking for some information.. if possible kindly answer my simple queries 🙂
    1) I am doing snow trek first time, but i don’t want to join such as india hikes. Can we get a guide at sankri.
    2) As i am doing alone, and if i got the guide, can he help me to get food like maggie/boiled eggs at kedarkantha base side.
    3) I don’t want to carry tent, i have sleeping bag. Can i get a tent at kedar base for a night, its ok on shared basis also.
    4) What are timings for bus/taxi from dehradun to sankri to and fro. I got from ddn to sankri but not other way.

    Thanks in advance..

    1. Hi Rajat, thanks a lot for the message. I’ll try to answer your questions below:
      1. Yes, you can get a guide at Sankri. Just ask around a the village and pretty sure you will find a guide for the trek.
      2. There are no shops/dhabas on this trek once you leave Sankri. Hence, the guide will have to arrange everything (Cook, porters, food, utensils, fuel etc). Trekking alone can get slightly expensive as you’ll have to bear all these expenses yourself.
      3. As I mentioned, you will have to carry a tent with you. You will not get any tents at KK basecamp. There are a few shepherd huts there which you can consider. Those too will only be available if someone else has already not occupied it.
      4. There is a bus that leaves Sankri at 6 in the morning for Dehradun.
      I hope I was able to answer your queries. Please do let me know if you have any other questions. Cheers!

    1. Hey Siddharth! For a first time trekker, I would suggest Chandrashila trek. Reason being that the total distance to walk is lesser in Chandrashila trek. Plus, in this trek you have an option to stay at lodges instead of tents if you feel like. Otherwise both are equally gorgeous treks! 🙂

  12. Hi, have gone thru your blogs, beautifully written.
    I have some queries about Kedarkantha Trek. I am planning to do KK trek solo in Jan last, will be carrying sleeping bag, mat, stove, butane canisters, tent and ready to eat meals with me.
    1. Do i need any permit for KK trek.
    2. Can i do sankri to KK basecamp on day one and on day 2 base camp to peak and back to sankri?
    3. Water source.
    4. Transport from Dehradun to sankri. I’ll reach ddn early morning around 5:30 by Nanda Devi express.
    5. Will butane canisters work on those extreme cold(-5to-7degrees)
    I want to keep this trek very basic and self supported, dont want to hire any guide or porter as i want to save some money for a bigger trek in May.

    TIA.
    Rajan

    1. Hi Rajan, thanks for your message! I’ll try answering to your queries below:
      1. You do not need any permit for KK trek. At least it wasn’t required about 4-5 years back. Not sure if the rules have changed.
      2. You can do Sankri to Basecamp on Day1 and then Basecamp to summit to Sankri on Day2 provided you are fitter than the average person and used to hiking in the snow in Himalayas. It might get slightly tiring but it is doable.
      3. Water sources in January will all be frozen. You will have to melt snow for water.
      4. There are shared taxis and buses from near the Dehradun railway station to Sankri / Purola from 6 in the morning. If you can’t find one directly for Sankri, take a cab/bus for Purola. Change from Purola for Sankri.
      5. Butane cannisters will work perfectly in that cold.

      Let me know if you have any more questions. Cheers!

    1. Hi Ashok, thank you for your message. I went to the link you shared. The itinerary is almost the same as all other tour operators. But the cost of 14K is definitely expensive. In fact, we are organizing Kedarkantha trek with same itinerary and charging Rs.10,200 per person from Dehradun to Dehradun. Let me know if you’d be interested as we have a few seats left. You can also call me at 99536 29546. Cheers!

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