Road signs at Rudraprayag, where the river Mandakini meets its sister Alaknanda, say Kedarnath is just 89 km away. However, for vehicles trying to go up, the shrine may be many months away. As one rides up national highway 58, which runs along the left bank of the Mandakini, a couple of deep craters show up near Nalapani, a hamlet about seven km from Rudraprayag, and then the road simply disappears.
A combination of landslides and corrosion by the overflowing Mandakini has erased the road for 500 metres from this spot.
Baba Kewalnath, who comes from Bageshwar, is stuck at a platform outside Jay Gangav Hotel. “Na neeche, na oopar. Hum 20 din se idhar hain (Can’t go up, can’t go down. I am stuck here for the past 20 days),” he says, even as he is trying to light his chillum.
This is not the only breach, he informs. Between here and Agastya Muni, less than 10 km away, there are breaches at three places, he says.
Reconstruction has not even begun. The site lies deserted, without even a warning sign. “The road will not open before four to six months. It may take even longer,” says a local courier.
Locals from Tilwari, another town up hill, trek for about half an hour to Nalapani to take vehicles to Rudraprayag. Young mothers with infants headed for hospitals, office-goers and elderly people cram into rashly-driven local vehicles.
Even the seven-km stretch between Nalapani and Rudraprayag is littered with boulders and sand sliding from every corner. At some places, it is barely enough for a small four-wheeler to pass.
Elsewhere, the Rudraprayag bypass connecting it with Srinagar is also shut as the bridges and approach roads have been badly damaged.
Tisharam, who runs a tea stall at the Rudraprayag, said, “The road is practically deserted these days. It used to be jam packed in these times.”
Only people who seemed to have beaten the odds are the porters, that operated in the stretch when times were better. Early in the morning, a couple of porters and their mules have managed to trek all the way down from Gaurikhund, the base camp for Kedarnath, about 75 kilometres from Rudraprayag. They have to sneak into the town before police checks begin.
Cops have clamped down on porters coming into Rudraprayag as several instances of looting has been reported in the mountains. By 9:30 AM, a small police post has come up near TIsharam’s tea shop. They start checking incoming small vehicles that ply locals from Nolapani for presence of any Nepali porters. “Videshi koi hai?”