May 1, 2023

The 2013 Kedarnath Tragedy and the Post-calamity Eco-conscious Development

Written By: Vandana Sharma ‘Diya’


Kedarnath prides itself as being the heart of India’s spiritual culture. Located in the state of Uttarakhand at an altitude of 11,755 feet in the Garhwal Himalaya mountain ranges, the Kedarnath temple lies at the confluence of the Mandakini and Saraswati Rivers.[1] This temple is the highest of the twelve Jyotirlingams in India. The first reference related to the Kedarnath temple finds mention in the Skandapurana[2] and thereafter in various other ancient texts.[3] There exist several theories regarding the origin of the temple. According to local folklores, the temple was built by the Pandavas. Yet another version mentions that Raja Bhoja of Malwa built the same in the 2nd century. It is however popularly accepted that the present Kedarnath temple was built by the great Advaitic seer Adi Shankaracharya. The divine architectural wonder of the temple has stood the test of time and still remains as the cultural nerve centre of Bharatavarsha. Geologists claim that the Kedarnath temple was under snow for nearly 400 years during the little ice age, sometime between 1300-1900 CE.[4] However, nothing has affected its glory and charm.

The largest natural disaster to hit India since the 2004 tsunami occurred in June 2013, when a midday cloudburst with a focus on the northern state of Uttarakhand triggered devastating floods and landslides. The amount of rain recorded in June 2013 was 385mm, which is far greater than what the state typically experiences. Major overflows were caused by debris blocking the rivers.[5] Although all thirteen of the State’s districts were devastated, Bageshwar, Chamoli, Pithoragarh, Rudraprayag, and Uttarkashi were the worst afflicted. The catastrophe occurred during the busiest travel and pilgrimage period,[6] greatly increasing the number of fatalities and increasing the magnitude of destruction. In the Mandakini valley, the effects of the disaster were most noticeable. Flooding occurred at the Kedarnath Shrine and the adjoining areas of Rambara, Agastyamuni, Tilwara, and Guptkashi due to torrential rainfall and the collapse of the Chorabari lake. Significant damage was also done to nearby pilgrimage sites like Gangotri, Yamunotri, and Badrinath. The catastrophe resulted in a significant loss of human and animal life.  It severely damaged both private and public assets. The flash floods affected over nine million people and countless animals.[7] Over 4000 people died in the tragedy, which was attributed to nature and was written off as an “Act of God,” although it is clear that human meddling was also a prime reason for the catastrophe. The present article aims to identify the environmental factors and human trigger points that led to the calamity. It also aims to review Modi government’s Nature centric re-installation efforts for the restoration of the glory of Kedarnath Dham. Finally, the article aims to highlight that the seed of eco-conscious development lie in the rich philosophy of Bharatavarsha.                                                

Research Methodology

The study was conducted as a qualitative library method. The same is primarily based on secondary data taken from a variety of literary sources, most notably reports from the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and the Government of Uttarakhand, as well as numerous books, research papers, and articles. For this study, reports submitted by news agencies like Asian News International (ANI) have been meticulously followed. Official websites of Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Environment, Planning Commission of India, Archeological Survey of India and Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board, have also been consulted. Additionally, locals were questioned to learn about their perspectives. Documentaries on Kedarnath and Uttarakhand have also been consulted to arrive at a conclusion. 

The Natural Causes of 2013 Kedarnath Tragedy

Kedarnath’s natural setting and environmental sensitivity most definitely had a role to play in the 2013 tragedy. Let’s briefly understand the natural causes that led to the disaster. 

  1. Geographical setting: The positioning of Kedarnath makes it extremely vulnerable to natural calamities. The Delhi-Haridwar ridge further adds fuel to fire and makes Uttarakhand in general and Kedarnath in particular a geographically sensitive region. The Delhi-Haridwar ridge beyond the boundaries of Delhi submerges bellow alluvium and penetrates below the Himalayan rock. This ridge also lies on the Indo-Australian plate[8] which is slowly shifting towards the North and is putting extreme pressure on Uttarakhand in the Himalayan range.
  2. Rain prone area: The entire Kedarnatha region is prone to excessive rainfall. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the phenomenal rainfall between June 14 and 18 resulted in devastating landslides. The rainfall between 15 June and 18 June 2013 was measured at 385.1 mm, against the normal rainfall of 71.3 mm,[9] which was in excess by 440 per cent. The rain was caused by convergence of the southwest monsoon and westerly disturbances that lead to the formation of dense clouds over Uttarakhand. The Rudraprayag district and surrounding areas experienced severe flooding as a result of the Mandakini River erupting due to heavy rain which resulted in elevated river The torrent of water that rushed down from the Kedarnath and Rambara regions delivered a massive silt load that was made up of enormous rock boulders which washed away everything that came its way. Additionally, the massive amount of water caused excessive erosion throughout the region, which led to colossal landslides.

Human Interference that Triggered the 2013 Kedarnath Tragedy

Besides natural and environmental factors, the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy was also instigated by human interference. These were:

  • State governments casual approach: Warnings issues by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Delhi, were not heeded by the state government. The first such warning was given on June 13, 2013 when rainfall was recorded at 35.6-64.44mm. Daily warnings were given thereafter, with a warning being given on June 16 and 17 of expected rainfall of more than 244.5mm[10]. All of these were ignored by the state government.
  • Ignorance of the locals and the government: The local people of the area had constructed houses on the west stream of the Mandakini River that had been dry for When the river returned to its original course as the calamity arrived, these constructions were washed   away. The government and locals both are to be blamed for poor housing designs, cheap materials used (un-burnt bricks and mud) and wrong housing development techniques. The locals also indulge in disposing of waste, plastic bottles, polythene bags etc in the rivers that added to the chances of the disaster taking shape.
  • Population Explosion: An increase in population had put pressure of immense magnitude upon the entire Kedarnath and Uttarakhand region which became one of the reasons for the disaster. The average population density per sq. km in the state of Uttarakhand in the year 2001 was recorded at 84.89. By 2011, this had increased to 100.86.[11]
  • Deforestation: The cutting down of trees and bushes for construction of roads and other infrastructure, led to soil erosion which made the entire region of Uttarakhand, and Kedarnath in particular, vulnerable to devastating landslides and floods.
  • Discarding the bodies of mules and ponies in the rivers: In the Mandakini River, which emerges from Chorabari glacier and mixes with Ganga, hundreds of dead mules are dumped. Besides contaminating the river, this also obstructs the water flow in the river. The bodies of dead animals, are many a times left on the path to the temple which not just leads to foul smell due to decomposition but also pollutes the divine environment of the shrine.[12]
  • Unregulated promotion of tourism: Pulling international and national tourists to Uttarakhand did increase revenue of the state but it also added greatly to the 2013 tragedy. For people staying in the regions of Delhi, NCR and adjoining areas, Uttarakhand became a second home. The upsurge in the number tourists and pilgrims also opened doors for hotels, motels, lodges, restaurants, small time vendors and more. This added to the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy. It is to be noted that from 2000-2010 the number of tourists increased by 300% (from 1.11 crore to 3.11 crore).[13]
  • Unmindful and erroneous construction: Lack of environmentally sustainable development and ignorance towards existing flaws became a major reason for the Kedarnatha 2013 tragedy. This included construction of roads, bridges and other structures in landslide prone areas, steep slope foundations and unsuitable places. Riverbeds were recklessly mined for sand, and due to the accumulation of construction debris, land contours and rivers changed their flow. Construction of hydroelectric dams in this sensitive region also paid scant heed to environmental concerns. It is to be noted that there are seventy large dams in Uttarakhand region and 680 incomplete dams that were present before the Kedarnath 2013 tragedy. The drainage systems were also faulty. New structures were constructed on old and feeble drains which acted as a barrier towards rainwater. Finally, there was a lack of education and awareness of multiple issues with respect to preserving the environment and of dealing with disasters.

Eco-consciously Reconstructing Kedarnath’s Cultural Heritage (2014-2022) 

Post the 2013 disater, the Modi government came up with a well-thought-off plan to rebuild Kedarnath in an ecologically conscious and conceptually sound manner. The eco-conscious hill-town developmental plan of Kedarnatha was quick in receiving the Platinum Indian Green Building Council Grading (IGBC).[14] A risk mitigation strategy is added to it, and it includes recruiting and educating community marshals as well as managing hazardous conditions. A vernacular architectural style has been adopted for all buildings using local construction materials, technology and craftsmen. In order to make Kedarnath a world class pilgrimage mountain town, the development will revolve around the 3PECH Formula (preservation, protection and promotion of Environment, Culture and Heritage).[15]

.                                                                                          Source: Self

Fig.3. 3PECH Formula for the Protection, Preservation and Promotion of Environment, Culture and Heritage at Kedarnatha

Significant developments that have taken place post 2013 Kedarnath tragedy under Prime Minister Modi are:

  1. Adi Shankaracharya Samadhi and virtual museum: On 5th November 2021, PM Modi inaugurated Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya’s Samadhi and the virtual museum.[16] The museum embodies Bharatavarsha’s rich heritage, culture and furthers Adi Shankaracharya’s The 12 feet high statue of Adi Shankaracharya weighing 35 tons is placed atop a Shriyantara. Sculpted by the Mysore based sculptor Arjun Yogiraj, the samadhi and statue symbolise the country’s rich heritage, culture, literature, art and environmental consciousness.
  2. Smriti Vana Memorial: The Smriti Vana Memorial came into existence on June 17, 2019 in the memory of the people who lost their lives during the 2013 Kedarnatha t[17] The Smriti van memorial park is creatively utilising all large boulders that came down from landslides during the mishap. No other material has been used in developing the Smriti Vana Memorial other than the natural boulders and native vegetation. This Memorial Vana also promotes eco-awareness, preserves indigenous plants and fosters a culture that contributes to the preservation of the entire area. Additionally, it will be developed as an ecotourism destination where visitors can commune with nature and find inspiration to conserve and protect the environment.
  3. Three Meditation Caves along the Kedarnatha route: To preserve and promote the culture of silence, dharana, dhyana, Samadhi and yoga, three mauna meditational caves have been developed along the route to The caves are administered by the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVL).[18] These caves will not only promote the ‘Bhartiya Parampara’ that is rooted spirituality but will also add aesthetic value to the scenic beauty of the Kedarnatha route. Each cave is well equipped with electricity, water and toilets. Shri Narendra Modi, in 2019, meditated for 17 hours at the Rudra Gufa.[19] This cave is an underground cave constructed by the Nehru Mountaineering Institute. Also known as “Dhyana Gufa”, it is barely half a kilometre from the main Kedarnath shrine.[20]
  4. Construction of the 12.5 km Sonprayaga-Gaurikunda-Kedarnath Ropeway and Animal Welfare: The 12.5 km[21] ropeway to Kedarnath, bridges the gap between Sonprayag and Kedarnath. However, this stretch remains an extremely eco-sensitive region. Since the Kedarnath development pledges to be eco-conscious while also ensuring the preservation of cultural and historical value of the site, it went through an entire process of acquiring approvals from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). With the construction of this ropeway, at a cost of Rs 1200 crore, the distance between Sonprayag to Kedarnath Dham will be greatly reduced. When completed, this ropeway will be the longest ropeway in Uttarakhand and at 11,500 feet, the highest ropeway in the world.

.                                                                                            Source: Self

5. Saraswati-Mandakini Ghats & Retaining wall: After the 2013 floods, a huge amount of water began gushing down the Mandakini and Saraswati rivers along with volumes of debris. Damage of immense magnitude was done to the river edges. To avoid any such devastation in future, a 350-meter-long river edge, pitra-ghats and protection walls are being developed to maintain our heritage and also provide protection against any unforeseen circumstances. These developments will take place along the eastern and western banks of Saraswati-Mandakini rivers, respectively. The developments of ghats will not only provide devotees a platform to perform puja but will also ensure an aesthetic view of the region. The retaining wall will also define the flow of the rivers and will ensure protection against soil erosion. It is also important to note that these developments have taken place along the existing terrain elevation in order to avoid any major transformation to the same. This part will also have a cafeteria, washrooms, seventy purohit quarters, changing rooms, visitors facility pavilion and more. To give a visual treat to the pilgrims, and for the further development of heritage and culture, wall murals and art works will be created. Both the edges follow a slope that will not let the water stay near the temple and surrounding area. The point where Saraswati and Mandakini will meet will be known as the “Sangamghat”. Eight guest houses have also been constructed on this ghat.

  1. Construction of Bio-digestible Toilets on the Kedarnatha Trek Route: Culturally Bharatavarsha has celebrated cleanliness since time immemorial. The same has been revered through ages. Be it Patanjali’s Yogasutra where “Sauca” becomes the first pillar of Niyama or Adi Shankaracharya who stresses upon the purity of Antahkarna, cleanliness becomes the first step towards knowledge, wisdom and spirituality. The earlier trek route to Kedarnath shrine had no facility of toilets which made the journey extremely difficult. Now, 323 toilets have been built along the route to Kedarnath. The Kedarnath Dham now prides itself with DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organisation) designed bio-digestible toilets.[22] These toilets are unique and degenerate waste in an environmentally friendly way with the help of bacteria that anaerobically digest the waste. These toilets are also portable and can be stationed anywhere.[23]
  2. Waste Management at Kedarnatha Area: In May 2022, a picture of garbage pile at Kedarnath went viral on the internet. After a thorough investigation, it came to light that many pilgrims who visited the site had littered carelessly and this became a national concern. Whilst the public is being educated on this issue, the government is also devising strategies to meet the challenges of food waste, temple waste, bio-medical waste, rural solid waste, construction and demolition waste, hazardous waste, electronic waste, plastic waste, water waste and sewage treatment, ground water contamination, recharge and extraction, air and noise pollution, illegal mining and more. Further, systems like the Recykal Deposit Refund System (deposit a plastic bottle and get a refund of Rs10), Material Recovery Facility (for picking up dry waste), Micro Auto Gastification System (MAGS) and Smart Xpress Composter System (SXCS) have also come into being to strengthen the waste management system. Although, there is a 3R method to deal with waste (Reduce-Reuse-Recycle), this paper suggests the following 5R[24] method in order to deal with the same.

.                                               Fig.14. Suggested 5R approach for waste management

8. Intelligent Traffic Management System and Pedestrian Friendly Pathways: The pathway for pilgrims has been defined and is predominantly connected through public spaces such as the temple path, Saraswati Ghat and temple These paths are guided by way finding signage. “Specially able  people,” emergency and supporting services will move along the peripheral path through battery operated/electronic vehicles (ATV – All Terrain Vehicles). These electric vehicles will be managed by the control decks situated along the Mandakini River. Being a prominent pilgrim site, it was important to create circulation of the crowd during peak hours. Thus, a pathway towards the main shrine has been developed in a manner that allows a person to reach the temple in a span of 8-10 minutes. The site is also universally accessible and barrier free. The pathways comprise of street guidelines that incorporate public facilities i.e., benches, luminaries, dustbins, planters and sculptures.

  1. IT Connectivity and Digitisation: The site is enabled with radio frequency based local internet network, presently used to provide essential services such as Wi-Fi by point to point and point to multipoint wireless communication system. The area is also well equipped with “Smart Public Addressal System” through which wireless outdoor speakers can be operated, these speakers are durable and can stand harsh weather conditions.
  2. Eco-friendly Street Lighting System: The street lights will be high-end in technology however they will be operated by solar energy and thus they will be environmentally
  3. Disaster Management System: A sensitive place like Kedarnath that is prone to earthquakes and floods requires a strong Disaster Management System. Therefore, risk mitigation through preparation of disaster risk reduction plan has been put in place. Further, identification, training and retraining programs related to dealing with such disasters have been developed. Building of proper civil infrastructure i.e., retaining walls, embankments and more have been developed to reduce devastation of immense magnitude during natural calamities. The area is also being well equipped with the provision of evacuation plan, disaster shelters and refuge centres that can shelter 28,000 people during catastrophes.
  4. Laser/Light and Sound show: A laser light and sound show at the Kedarnath temple has been conceived as a means of cultural development. The show is called “Adi Ananta Shiva.” This 25-minute show will depict the association of Lord Śiva with Kedarnath area. It will also story-tell the great epic Mahabharata and will further showcase the 2013 tragedy. The aim of this show is “cultural and historical learning through entertainment and storytelling.” The laser-light show effectively turns the temple’s left wall into a giant “screen” for a spectacular display. This show is operational 7 days a week. The same will further become a source of employment and livelihood for many locals.


The 2013 Kedarnath tragedy was not merely an “Act of God/ Nature,” but also involved considerable human involvement and governmental incompetence. However, after the catastrophe, changes were undertaken based on recognising the errors of the previous administration and emphasising environmental conscious development. It is crucial to realise that any growth carried out at the expense of Mother Nature cannot be either sustainable or advantageous. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi has frequently discussed environmentally conscious and holistic development. In fact, he is the first Indian prime minister to actively promote the advancement of nature, stray animals, and wildlife in addition to human development and upliftment.

Without a doubt, Advaitavada, as propounded by Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya is the spirit of Bharatavarsha. Advaitavada also becomes the conclusive thought of the Vedic and Upaniṣadic literature. According to Advaitamata, everything manifests from the Supreme Brahman, lives in “It” and finally merges back into its source. Since, Advaitavada is the fundamental guiding principle of Bharatvarsha’s ethical, social, political, religious, environmental and overall thought and practice, every development should keep Advaitavada at its core for the well-being of all creatures. Advaitavada is not limited to human beings nor is it human centric as in case of Abrahamic faith systems. In fact, it sees the entire creation as a single unit and fosters no preference towards any creature, specie or being. Thus, keeping Advaitavada as the guiding philosophy at Kedarnath Dham, it is suggested that the developments taking place must be for the overall wellness of all beings (humans, animals, trees, rivers and more).

Mahatma Gandhi, gave us the practical philosophy of Antodaya, Sarvodaya, and Gramswaraja which have their roots in Advaitavada. According to Antodaya, the last being of the society must be provided with the necessities to live a life of harmony and peace. When all beings are rooted in harmony, it will automatically lead to Sarvodaya, which professes that there must be upliftment of all lives without discrimination towards any. When every life is taken care of and there is holistic development, it will become the foundation of Gramswaraja. The same professes that every village should be a self-sufficient unit that is independent and self-reliant. It is to be understood that limiting Antodaya, Sarvodaya and Gramswaraj to merely human kind is downgrading the very philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. The same must be understood in a holistic fashion and must take into account all beings from a crawling ant to the humongous mountain. Here it also becomes imperative to highlight Buddha’s Pratityasamutapada or the theory of interdependence. It must be lucidly understood that we are not independent units. Our independence, birth, growth and sustenance are directly proportional and dependent upon various beings. Thus, in the wellness of all lives lies our own wellness. Based upon the philosophical edicts mentioned above, following are a few suggestions that can be included in the development of Kedarnath and surrounding areas.

Environmental Measures

  • Increase the number of toilets and equip every toilet with sanitary napkins.
  • Removing mules from Kedarnath Area.
  • Establish Mobile Veterinary Clinics. Also, employ ‘pashu Mitra’s’ who should be trained as Para-vets.

Economical and Social Measures.

  • Construction and promotion of of Hunar Hatt and Uttarakhand Bhoj Anand under Vocal for Local for encouraging local art, handicraft, regional delicacies and cuisines of Uttarakhand.
  • Construction Vocational Training Centres for skill development.
  • Popularise Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Inviting Scholars from India and Abroad for short-term projects on local herbs, art, architecture, culture, environment and more.

Author Brief Bio: Dr. Vandana Sharma ‘Diya’ is a Post-Doctoral Fellow, Indian Council of Social Sciences Research, MoE, Academician, Indian Knowledge System, MoC and Principal Researcher, Kedarnath Dhama, MoE.


[1]Kinsley David, Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition, Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, 1998, pp.11,13 (Saraswatī River is mentioned in the Ṛgveda)

[2]Skandapurana; Kedarakhanda.

[3]Śhantiparva, Ch.35; Vanaparva, Ch.38; Lingapurana, Ch.12; Vamanapurana, Ch.36; Padmapurana, Ch.61; Kurmapurana, Ch.36;   Garudapurana, Ch.81;   Saurapurana, Ch.69;    Brahmavaivratpurana, Ch.17.


[5]National Institute of Disaster Management (MHA), India Disaster Report 2013, Delhi, 2014.

[6] Kedarnatha Temple remains open to public between Akshaye Tritiya (April) and Kartik Purnima (November).

[7] National Institute of Disaster Management (MHA), India Disaster Report 2013, Delhi, 2014

[8]The Australian continent and its surrounding seas are part of the Indo-Australian Plate, a significant tectonic plate that also stretches northwest to include the Indian subcontinent and nearby oceans. It was created around 43 million years ago when Indian Ocean’s mid-ocean ridge, which had been separating the two plates, stopped spreading, and merged with the Australian plate.

[9] National Institute of Disaster Management (MHA), India Disaster Report 2013, Delhi, 2014.

[10] Ministry of Home Affairs, Kedarnath Warning, Delhi, 2013.

[11] National Institute of Disaster Management, Uttarakhanda Disaster 2013, Ministry of Home Affairs, Delhi, 2015.p.29

[12]  (i)Shivani Azad, Carcasses of dead mules in Kedarnath thrown into Mandakini, Times of India, 2022, Carcasses of dead mules in Kedarnath thrown into Mandakini,

(ii) Interview with Mrs.Gauri Mulekhi, Trustee, People for Animals.

[13] National Institute of Disaster Management, Uttarakhanda Disaster 2013, Ministry of Home Affairs, Delhi, 2015.p.30

[14] On information gathered from Sh.Puneet Aggarwal, The Counselor at Indian Green Building Council (

[15] Developed by Dr.Vandana Sharma ‘Diya’

[16] Asian News International, PM Modi unveils Shri Adi Shankaracharya Samadhi and statue in Kedarnath, Uttarakhanda, 2021.

[17]  The Statesman, Smriti Van created in the memory of Kedarnath disaster victims, Dehradun, 2019

[18] Sacred Yatra,

[19] The Week, Kedarnath cave where Modi meditated, Uttarakhanda, 2019.

[20] E-uttaranchala, Rudra Cave Kedarnatha,

[21] National Highways Logistic Management Ltd, Ropeway, Delhi, 2016,



[24] Conceptualized by Dr.Vandana Sharma


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